Dick’s in the Bio-Ship with Alpha team when the communicator in his ear switches on. There are no words, just labored breathing, and Dick thinks, oh shit, Tim, because they just dropped Barbara back at the Hall of Justice and, less than an hour ago, they’d waved off Bruce who, after somewhat reluctant goodbye/be carefuls, had put one hand on Barbara’s shoulder and the other on Dick’s and said, like it wouldn’t be a jinx, “And look after Robin. Tell him I said goodbye and to watch his left flank and look after him.”
They’re all still feeling the blow of Jason’s death and Dick thinks maybe they always will, even though Jason’s back in Gotham, somehow miraculously alive, but with parts of him missing all the same. When he first reappeared, Dick tracked Jason through Bludhaven for three hours and when he’d finally caught up to him, he’d vaulted off a fire escape and failed to stick a landing for the first time in years. He’d looked at Jason and taken a stutter step back. Jason had a gun in his hand, a red hood pulled down over his face, and Dick hadn’t been able to croak out a word around the lump in his throat. They’d stared at each other for a long time before Jason walked away. Dick didn’t realize until later that he’d stretched out his hand.
Dick won’t ever consider Jason a lost cause, but what happened to him has made Dick, Babs and Bruce consciously overprotective of their newest Robin. Tim’s undeniably brilliant, can do things with computers that make Babs smile with pride, put together information with a speed that rivals Bruce and never misses with his grappling hook, angle and velocity and wind speed calculated with the utmost precision, but he’s new to the biz and there’s a hesitation to his movements that Dick never experienced, that needs to be overcome. Dick practices with him on the trampoline every night, flips and laughs and tries to take some of the solemnity out of the straight lines of Tim’s mouth.
Dick thinks of Tim’s shy, stilted smiles, the sound of his breathing after an intense spar, rushed and loud. “T-- Robin?” Dick says, but then Tim’s voice is overlapping him.
“Robin to all points,” he says, bullets and batarangs whistling in the background. “Send backup to--” Crunch.
“Robin!” Dick yells. He can hear Babs echo him and wonders if Bruce is out of range yet or if he can hear what’s happening and is grabbing Green Lantern by the throat and making him detour the League back to Gotham.
“Backup to 30th and Westview,” Tim gets out, his words slurred like his mouth is full of blood. There’s a wet thud followed by a clatter like steel pipes on concrete and Dick hopes to God Tim hasn’t lost his bo staff.
“Robin, what’s--” Dick starts, but Tim cuts him off. “I’m okay,” he says. “I’ll be okay until you get here. I’ve got to concentrate. Robin out.”
The line goes dead in Dick’s ear.
The whole of Alpha team is looking at Dick with wide eyes. “Get me to Gotham, right now,” Dick says to M’gann.
“Already on our way,” M’gann says.
Dick taps his earpiece again. He says, “Jason,” and waits. Jason hacked the Bat communication grid on his way back from the dead, and Dick felt pretty justified in hacking him right back. He does a ten count into the static silence and then yells, “Jason!” again, because ten seconds on Tim’s end could mean a broken arm, a knife to the gut, blood flowing out ounce by ounce.
“Christ, what?” Jason asks, sullen. “I’m not monitoring your communications 24/7 you know. Bruce is a close-mouthed asshole pretty much all the time, so it’s really not worth it.”
“I need you to get to 30th and Westview,” Dick says, ignoring Jason’s dig. “Are you close?”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Jason says. “I finally found a diner in this town that makes pancakes almost on par with Alfred’s and I’m two seconds away from cutting into the breakfast for dinner platter.”
“This isn’t a joke,” Dick hisses. “He’s fifteen years old and he could be bleeding to death in some fucking back alley!”
“Okay, calm down. I’m at 21st and Alexander and I’m on my way. ETA 3 minutes,” Jason says, and this time there’s no mocking, no give at all in his voice. Dick thinks he still knows Jason well enough to know that he’s been on his way since Dick said, “I need you,” but sometimes it’s hard to tell.
“Who the hell are you talking about by the way?” Jason asks. The quicktime pounding of his boots against pavement is audible over the link. Dick doesn’t want to hear them slow, but Jason has to know what he’s walking into, whose side he’s on.
Dick doesn’t know how to be subtle about this, and he wouldn’t have time anyway. Jason’s probably jumping rooftops, about to crest the highrise on 29th, able to look down at Tim in the Robin suit. “There’s…a new Robin,” Dick says.
Jason’s boots don’t slow. “Fucking hell, he did replace me,” he says, his tone a mix of exasperated admiration and teeth-clenched rage. “I heard rumors.”
“We didn’t replace you,” Dick says, stressing the we, making himself complicit, because he let Tim convince him, helped Tim choose what to alter about the costume, what to keep, taught him to throw a batarang in a perfect returning curve, and because Jason never could stay mad at Dick the way he’s stayed mad at Bruce.
“You totally replaced me,” Jason says, unmoved. “I bet he’s got black hair and blue eyes and oh holy shit.”
“What? Jason, what?” Dick asks, alarm-meter ratcheting up past 11. Jason’s always been a little melodramatic, but violence has never really been something that surprised him. Out the window, Dick can see Wayne Tower. Almost there.
“Baby bird’s in a corner and there’s about ten of Marconi’s top enforcers down there with him. Hang on a second.” Jason’s Glock fires once, twice, double tap. “Nine.”
“Jason,” Dick admonishes, though honestly he can’t find it in him to be too disapproving of Jason’s methods in this situation.
“We should probably teach the kid not to antagonize the Gotham mob without us,” Jason says conversationally, voice slightly raised so Dick can make out the words over the sounds of knuckles against bone. “He looks about twelve, but that’s not going to make them hesitate, its just going to make them think he’s weak. Although, there’s some bodies on the ground here. I’m a little proud.”
Dick can see what Jason means, men splayed out on their fronts, faces pressed against the asphalt, as he drops out of the bottom of the Bio-Ship, punching one guy in the temple and leg-swiping another on his way down. Conner, Cassie and M’gann call their targets and take off in opposite directions.
The fight’s almost over by the time Barbara swings in, but she plants her feet in a guy’s chest and sends him spinning into a wall before she runs over to Tim. “Are you okay?” she asks, kneeling down and turning his face so she can see where a black eye is forming, large enough to peek out beneath Tim’s domino mask.
“I’m fine,” Tim says, letting her help him shove the guy he shocked unconscious with his bo staff off him.
“You let this kid out without even teaching him street fighting?” Jason says angrily, pulling Tim up and getting a shoulder under his arm. “It’s amazing he’s not dead.”
“Hey,” Tim protests. “I know aikido and kendo.”
“Oh, great, the Japanese defense and stick fighting arts,” Jason says, his sarcasm like a living thing. “So much more useful than the actual ass-kicking fighting arts.”
“We’re still training him,” Dick says, putting a hand on Tim’s shoulder as he runs an eye over his body armor, looking for places it might have been pierced.
“I’m really fine,” Tim says. “Can you just take me home so I can get bandaged up?” He moves his hand off his left arm. The palm of his glove is wet. “And by home, I mean your home, because my dad is actually between business trips and if I show up at the house looking like this, I’m getting sent to boarding school in Central City.” He looks at Dick and gives a funny smile. “He thinks I’m in a gang.”
Dick feels his heart kick in his chest.
Tim looks over Dick’s shoulder and goes still. “Nightwing,” Tim says slowly. “Why is half your team here?”
Dick glances back at M’gann nonchalantly standing over two slumped bodies. Cassie is holding another guy up by the collar, one-handed. “We were all together in the Bio-Ship when you called. I wasn’t exactly stopping to drop anyone off at McDonalds on the way.”
Tim makes a noise of utter mortification. “Oh God, now I can never be on the team,” he whisper-moans at Dick. “I’ll forever be that stupid kid you all had to ride in like the fucking cavalry to rescue from some glorified muggers.”
Dick looks down at Vincenzo Conti, who ought to be in Blackgate for murder one a dozen times over, struggling against the pressure of Connor’s boot on his chest. “Actually, I’m pretty sure you’re getting co-opted by everyone here for cross-training,” Dick says, considering the frankly appraising look Connor is aiming at Tim. “You’ll probably be spending more time at the Mountain than the Cave, especially with Batman off the grid. Which, by the way, B didn’t come down on these jackasses like an avenging fury solely because he’s no longer on Earth. There’s this intergalactic tribunal.”
“What,” Tim says.
“We can talk about it later,” Dick says.
Bruce might have a stroke when he gets home and sees the drastic changes at the manor, but Dick can’t help smiling.
Jason slots back into the family in a way Dick had worried wasn’t possible anymore. Alfred alternately feeds him extra helpings of pancakes and scolds him for cleaning his guns on the kitchen table and Jason spends hours on the mats with Tim, teaching him grappling, until Tim finally stops pulling his punches.
Dick puts on the Batman suit and takes Tim out on patrol.
“I can’t believe you guys didn’t want me to meet Jason,” Tim complains, jabbing a criminal in the trachea with the heel of his hand and flipping him to the ground with an ugly but effective takedown move. Jason is getting all the blame for the way Tim’s once perfect form has deteriorated when Bruce gets back. “He. Is. Awesome.”
Dick nods. “Hey, watch your left flank,” he says.