Actions

Work Header

Retrograde

Chapter Text

Tim’s alarm clock had been unplugged for months now. He had figured out long ago that there was no point; the routine morning screaming matches filtering through the thin walls managed to do the job just fine.

“I’m not going!”

“God, can you go one fucking day without being difficult? Get dressed, please. I’ll make pancakes.”

“This is ridiculous. You never make Drake go! He practically skips every other day and you don't say a word to him!”

Tim sighed, lifting himself out of bed and using the wall for support as he stumbled toward his closet. He dug out a sweatshirt and a pair of shorts from one of the boxes he never bothered to unpack and pulled them on, eternally grateful that he no longer needed help getting dressed.

“You know that Tim has a medical excuse.”

“Tt, right. It's all an act. He’s been out of the hospital for what, a year now?”

“You seem to have an unclear perspective of how much recovery time is needed after getting shot in the head.”

Tim grabbed his forearm crutches from where they leaned against the wall near his bed, walking shakily across the hall and nudging open the door to Dick and Damian’s bedroom.

“Look, Damian, I told you that if you came with me this was how it was gonna be. If you don't like it then feel free to go back and live with—”

Tim cleared his throat. “I have a history test today, I can't be late,” he said flatly. They both turned to look at him, Damian standing on top of the bed with his arms crossed and Dick still under the covers on his side, leaning casually against the headboard.

“Tim!” Dick said with a warm smile, hopping out of bed and pulling the closest t-shirt on the floor over his head. “Good morning, how are you feeling?”

“I’m fine,” Tim said with a shrug. In truth, his head hurt like a bitch, but he couldn't remember the last time it hadn't. At least it wasn't one of the migraines that were so bad they practically immobilized him. “Did I hear pancakes?”

If either of them were embarrassed by the fact that Tim had been listening to their conversation, they didn't show it. “Yeah, I'll whip some up right now. Damian, get dressed.” And with that, Dick headed to the kitchen, leaving Tim alone with a glowering Damian.

They stared at each other silently for several beats. “When are you going to get the hell out of our lives?” Damian eventually asked from between clenched teeth.

“I would, but I wouldn't want to miss school,” Tim said without missing a beat. “Attendance is very important to me.”

Damian actually growled, and Tim took that as a sign to follow Dick into the kitchen before Damian attacked him. He got the impression that the younger boy had to restrain himself from doing so almost constantly, and after having seen him hold his own against Dick in a physical altercation several times, he wasn't looking forward to the day Damian finally snapped.

Dick was attempting to brush his teeth and flip pancakes at the same time, and Tim smiled fondly at his efforts. Dick really did try his hardest to take care of them and make their tiny two-bedroom apartment feel like a home, and Tim was forever indebted to him. After all, as far as he could recall, this was the only home he had ever had.

Dick and Damian were his brothers, apparently. Despite the fact that they obviously all had different ethnicities and last names. Dick tended to avoid Tim’s questions when he asked about it, and he had learned it was better just not to ask.

If he had any memory whatsoever of the time before he had woken up in the hospital a little over a year ago, he would probably know. But he didn't.

“Ere oo oh,” Dick muttered from around his toothbrush, handing Tim an oversized mug of coffee. He leaned over and spit into to sink. “Two or three pancakes?”

“Two is fine,” Tim said, clambering onto a stool at the counter. Dick turned around, and Tim eyed the marks on the back of his neck with a raised eyebrow. “Late night?”

Dick stared at him in confusion for a moment, before his face transformed into an embarrassed grin as he reached back to touch the love bites. “Uh, yeah, I got in around three,” he muttered, layering Tim’s pancakes with whipped cream. “I was, um, just…”

“You don't have to explain,” Tim quickly cut him off. “I just hope you're getting enough sleep.” Dick smiled softly at him, dipping his finger in the whipped cream and touching it to Tim’s nose before setting the plate in front of him.

“Don't worry about me, kiddo,” he said reassuringly. Tim did, anyway.

They were interrupted by Damian loudly clearing his throat from the doorway. He was glaring between them heavily, like he always did whenever Dick gave Tim any attention.

Dick smiled at him. “Hey. You want two or three pancakes?” he asked. Damian plopped onto the stool furthest away from Tim, pulling his hood over his head.

“I don't want any,” he muttered. Dick’s smile wavered, and Tim felt a fresh wave of resentment toward Damian.

“They're really good, Dick, thanks,” Tim said sincerely. Damian glared at him.

Dick’s face lit up again. “No pr—”

“What are those?!”

Damian was suddenly standing with his hands slammed on the counter, glaring daggers at the back of Dick’s head. Tim groaned.

“I thought you were working late last night,” Damian said loudly, his hands clenching into fists. “I didn't realize your job involved people biting your neck.”

“Damian, I—”

“Clearly you're not making any profit from such activities,” Damian interrupted sharply. “Otherwise we would’ve had more to eat than leftover Chinese food for dinner for the last three nights.”

All of the color drained from Dick’s face. Tim got out of his chair, his blood pounding in his ears as he turned to Damian. “Don't talk to him like that,” he said through clenched teeth.

“You stay out of it!” Damian snapped, grabbing a plate off of the counter and hurling it at Tim.

Tim’s reflexes kicked in immediately, and he grabbed one of his crutches leaning against the counter and swung at the plate, shattering it before it managed to make contact with him. He froze, his body thrumming with excitement and confusion as to why that action had felt so familiar.

“Damian, that's enough!” Dick said, running a shaky hand through his hair. “I’m sorry, okay? I’m really… I’m trying my best. I’m sorry.”

Damian took a deep breath. “Was it Todd?” he asked, calmly this time. Dick choked.

That’s enough,” he said again, frantically. “Come on, we have to leave if you're gonna make it to school on time.”

Surprisingly, Damian complied without much argument, stepping over the broken ceramic as he stomped out of the apartment. Tim and Dick followed more slowly, Tim willing his legs to work correctly as he supported most of his weight with his crutches. Their apartment building wasn't nice enough to have an elevator, so Tim had to go down the stairs on Dick’s back, much to his humiliation. He was just glad he wasn't in the wheelchair anymore.

Damian was already in the front seat of the car when they got there. Dick’s car was surprisingly nice considering their financial situation; he had told Tim once that it had been a gift from their dad, Bruce, but he hadn't elaborated much beyond that. Like with most things.

Dick chatted away the whole car ride, seemingly not caring whether or not either of them responded. Tim often admired how good the eldest was at brushing off their disputes and carrying on as if nothing had happened. Tim admired everything about Dick. He deserved so much better than a life of struggling to support a brain-damaged cripple and a psychotic brat that didn't appreciate him at all.

Damian got dropped off first. “Have a great day, baby bat,” Dick said warmly. Damian grimaced, climbing out and standing in front of the open door awkwardly.

“...You too,” he finally said, before slamming the door and running off toward the elementary school. Dick smirked.

“He’s sorry,” he said, glancing at Tim in the mirror. He sighed. “You okay, Timmy?”

Tim blinked. “What? Yeah,” he said. “Dick, I… I hope you know how much I appreciate. Everything.” Dick smiled.

“You don't have to do that,” Dick replied softly. “My feelings aren't hurt. He was pissed that he didn't have my full attention and tried to hit me where it hurt so that he’d get it. You know what they say about little boys and sharing.”

Tim nodded, scratching the back of his neck. “Well. It’s true.”

“I know,” Dick replied. They pulled up to the high school, and Dick turned around and ruffled his hair. “Good luck on your test. You'll do great.”

In reality, Tim was going to fail his test. He’d barely been at school for the last few months, and when he actually did show up he had a bad habit of sleeping through his classes. But he wasn't about to tell Dick that.

Tim hated school as much as Damian did, if not more. He had started attending after six months of lying in bed trying to recover the ability to perform basic functions like speaking and moving, and the transition was rough. Not to mention the fact that his social skills had been almost nonexistent at the time due to his complete retroactive memory loss, so friends weren't really something he had a plentiful supply of.

There were some things that made it bearable, though. One of them was the look on Dick’s face when he got a good grade on a test or an essay. Another was Vanessa.

Vanessa was his only friend, and she had been so ever since the first day he had rolled into the school on his wheelchair, terrified and confused. She was bizarre, to say the least. Her blonde hair constantly looked like it had been electrically charged, and her eyes were wide and ever-moving behind the thick rims of her glasses. She always had a bright orange binder under her arm, and Tim knew that it was filled with pictures she had taken of the object of her obsessive affection: the Batman.

“I go to Gotham whenever I have a free weekend,” she had told him once. “He’s incredible to watch in action, Tim. You have to go with me some time. Oh, look at this one!” She pointed to one of the photos excitedly, and Tim squinted at the smaller, more colorfully dressed boy flying beside Batman across the Gotham skyline. “That’s Robin. This is an older picture, he hasn't been around for a while. He disappeared around the same time as Nightwing and Red Robin, actually.”

The picture had been taken from far away and was barely visible. Tim still couldn’t explain why, when he'd seen it, his heart had begun to race frantically in his chest.

Regardless, he enjoyed listening to Vanessa’s endless passionate rants about the Batman. It made him feel peaceful, somehow.

“I’m a bit worried about him.” It was lunch time. Tim had possibly scraped a C on his history test and forced his eyes to stay open for two periods afterwards, so the day had been pretty successful so far. Vanessa passed him her fries, wordlessly pitying the single slice of leftover pizza Dick had packed him for lunch. As much as Tim hated Damian for pointing it out, their food situation was getting pretty dire. The pancakes that morning had been a rare luxury. “He’s gotten pretty violent lately. It all started a while ago, when he nearly killed Red Hood… Not that he would go through with it, of course! But, still, he almost did. He goes further now than he ever used to, and frankly, it’s concerning.”

Tim hummed in response, chewing on his pizza thoughtfully. “Maybe he's just fed up. Honestly, I’m surprised that he's gone this long without killing anyone. Especially the really dangerous criminals that the world would be better off without, like that Joker guy…” Vanessa was looking at him like he’d just spat in her food. He shrugged.

“How could you even say something like that?!” she snapped. “Batman is strong enough to resist that temptation. He would never stoop so low as to kill. That's what makes him who he is Tim!”

Tim swallowed. “Sorry.”

She continued to rant about the importance of Batman’s moral code even as the bell rang and they headed to their next classes. Tim nodded and threw in an offhanded comment when appropriate, simultaneously focusing on weaving his way through the throng of students exiting the cafeteria. He hated how much he had to struggle to do something as simple as walking, but he told himself that it could be worse. It had been worse.

It was hard to remember that, though, when suddenly his crutch was pulled away from his left arm and he was falling to his knees on the linoleum floor with a painful crack.

“Walk much, Drake?” an annoyingly familiar voice taunted him, and Tim grit his teeth as he used his remaining crutch to lift himself into a standing position. Vanessa ran to grab his left crutch from where it had been kicked several feet in front of them. Tim turned to the offender, not at all surprised to see Bud Tanner, one of the seemingly endless supply of assholes that liked to fuck with him just because they could, sneering at him.

Tim was used to this, unfortunately. “My feet work just fine, thanks for asking. How about yours?” Tim asked flatly. He swiftly lifted up his crutch and jammed it onto the other boy’s foot, his expression unchanging as Bud howled in pain and shoved Tim to the ground once again.

“You little shit! Try that again and I’ll make sure the next bullet you take to the head gets the job done.”

Vanessa was between them in a flash, pointing Tim’s fallen crutch at Bud like a weapon. “Leave him alone,” she hissed, her high-pitched, lispy voice surprisingly unintimidating. Bud scoffed.

“So now you're hiding behind little girls?” he said. “Didn't realize they shot your stones off, too.”

Vanessa prodded his chest with the crutch. “You don't know who you're messing with,” she said. “Don't you know that before the accident, Tim was a superhero? That's where he got all the scars from! Duh! He could totally kick your ass if he wanted to!”

Tim felt his face heat up and he brought up a hand to cover it with a groan. He knew she meant well, but Vanessa’s attempts to help had a tendency of making things much worse.

Bud’s expression turned from hostile to amused in an instant, and he burst into loud, condescending laughter. “Oh, wow, my bad,” he snorted. “I’d better leave you alone before your best friend Batman comes along.”

“Yeah, you'd better run!” Vanessa said smugly as Bud walked away, making sure to step on Tim’s fingers as he did so. Vanessa helped Tim off the ground and returned his crutches to him, smiling brightly. “He certainly won't be messing with you anymore.” Tim tried his best to return the smile. He really just wanted to go home and go back to sleep. He briefly considered going to the nurse and faking a migraine, but then Dick would have to leave work to come pick him up, and he didn't want to inconvenience him more than he already did.

“Definitely,” Tim agreed, wobbling slightly as they walked out of the now-empty cafeteria. “Thanks, Vanessa.”

His day was mostly uneventful after that; a blur of trying his best to catch up on his work despite the fact that attempting to concentrate only made his head pound. He was completely exhausted by the end of the day. By the time he made his way out to the pick-up lot to see Damian waiting for him, he didn't even have the energy to be mad at him anymore.

“Get the hell off of me!” Damian yelled in outrage when Tim leaned against the smaller boy tiredly. Damian got out of class half an hour before Tim did, and he took that time to walk over to the high school every day so that Dick could pick them up at the same place. “...What happened to your legs?”

Tim looked down at his knees, sighing as he saw that they had begun to turn purple with fresh bruises as a result of the incident earlier. “I fell,” he said with a shrug. Damian stared at him.

“You fell?” he asked judgmentally, as if he couldn't even imagine someone stooping so low as to accidentally lose their balance.

“Yup,” Tim said, trying to sound as dismissive as possible. “I miscounted the number of steps and I tripped. It happens sometimes.”

Damian scowled. “It didn't used to,” he said bitterly. He crossed his arms and looked away. “It shouldn't. Not to… someone like you.”

It drove Tim crazy that he had no idea what that meant, but he didn't press the issue. “I don't know if you’ve noticed, but things are different now,” he said, gesturing to his crutches. “Walking isn't exactly my speciality these days, you see.”

Damian frowned and looked as if he was about to respond, but they were suddenly interrupted by Dick’s car pulling up in front of them. Tim submissively headed for the backseat, having given up on that fight long ago. “Hey guys, how was school?” Dick asked brightly. Neither of them replied for a beat.

“Drake fell,” Damian finally replied, and Tim glared at him. Dick looked at Tim in the rearview mirror, his face full of concern.

“What? Are you okay?” he asked, and Tim felt himself flush. “What happened?”

“I'm fine. Nothing happened,” Tim said quickly, covering his knees with his backpack. Dick continued to look at him, but when it was clear that Tim wasn't going to elaborate, he took the hint and turned his attention to Damian.

“Well, okay. How about you, Damian? You never talk to me about school,” Dick continued, nudging the youngest playfully with his elbow. “Any cute girls caught your eye?”

Damian grimaced deeply. “Don't be ridiculous.”

“Or guys,” Dick quickly corrected himself. “Either is totally cool. Or both.”

Damian was slowly curling in on himself, and something told Tim that this line of conversation wasn't going to end well. “You would think so,” Damian muttered, his voice low. “Considering you'll have intercourse with anything that moves.”

Tim flinched and turned to look out the window, fully intending to make himself as scarce as possible. Not before he saw Dick’s face turn a flaming red, however.

The car was silent for what felt like an eternity.

Finally, just when Tim thought the awkwardness would kill him, Dick cleared his throat. “You know, Damian, I've been thinking a lot about what happened this morning,” he said, his tone much less light and friendly than it had been before. “And I've come to the conclusion that, quite frankly, my personal life is none of your goddamn business.”

Damian snarled. “Grayson—”

“I'm not done,” Dick interrupted sharply. “You are twelve years old, and I'm an adult. I shouldn't have to explain myself to you, or feel guilty just because you can't get a grip on your jealousy. From now on, my sex life is a completely off-limits topic, do you understand?”

Damian didn't respond, but Tim could basically feel the fury rolling off him in waves. They were nearly home by the time the youngest finally spoke up. “I'm not jealous,” he muttered.

“Whatever,” Dick sighed, pulling up to their apartment building and smiling warmly once again. “Anyway, I'll be home later tonight. If you guys want you can come down to the bar for dinner, or there's still pizza in the fridge.”

They clambered out of the car, Tim struggling with his crutches and Damian lingering near the passenger side door even after he'd closed it. He was fidgeting, and Dick seemed to notice, because he opened the window and waited for Damian to speak. Damian exhaled sharply.

“Come home after work,” he said, the words rushing out quickly. “Please.”

Dick sighed and smiled softly. “I will, Damian. I promise.”

And with that, he sped off down the road, Tim and Damian watching until the car was no longer visible in the distance.

Tim glanced at Damian. “You should give him a break,” he suggested. “He needs more human interaction than just the two of us, you know.” Damian grit his teeth and turned to stalk into the building. Tim followed, more slowly.

“No, he doesn't,” Damian snapped. “He doesn't need anyone but me. And he especially doesn't need you.” Tim brushed it off as a lost cause.

When they reached the staircase, Damian reluctantly allowed Tim to throw an arm around his shoulder and use him for support as they began the miserable climb to their floor. There had been plenty of instances when Damian had been angry enough at Tim that he couldn't be bothered to help him, and those occasions usually resulted in Tim struggling for well over half an hour on four flights of stairs. He was grateful that wasn't the case today. His headache was getting worse, and he honestly might have just sat at the foot of the stairs until Dick came home.

“Do your homework,” Tim instructed when they crossed the threshold into their apartment, because Dick would've appreciated the effort. Damian just laughed dryly.

“I’ll do mine when you do yours,” he retorted. Tim allowed himself to collapse onto the couch, slinging his arm over his eyes.

Tim tapped his head. “Can't. Migraine,” he muttered.

“Of course.”

In all honestly, Tim didn't really blame the younger boy for his contempt. He hated how pathetic he was as much as Damian did.

Tim passed out almost immediately, ignoring the voice in the back of his mind that told him he was going to severely regret falling asleep without taking his prescriptions. He found himself thrown into the same dream he had almost every night: he was standing in a cold, dark alley with a faceless figure, a gun held inches from his head. The gun went off, and Tim woke up with a splitting headache so bad that he momentarily thought he'd actually gotten shot again.

“Drake! Drake!” Damian yelled, and Tim couldn't imagine that getting stabbed in the ear would be any less painful. “Get up. We are going to Grayson’s bar for dinner.”

Tim just groaned in response, curling into a ball and burying his face into the back of the couch. He was afraid that he would throw up if he tried to speak. Damian didn't move.

“...Tt. You didn't take your medication, did you?” he asked exasperatedly. Tim groaned again, trying to shut out the pulsating behind his eyes. Damian muttered something and walked away.

Tim tried to even out his breathing. He knew that he needed to get up and take his pills or it would just keep getting worse, but he didn't think he would even be able to make it off the couch, let alone walk all the way to the bathroom. His limbs were actually locking up from the pain.

Of all of the negative repercussions of getting shot in the head, this was probably Tim’s least favorite. And that included losing eighteen entire years of his life.

Just when he thought he was going to have to give up and allow himself to pass out again, leaving the imminent unbearable pain upon waking up as a problem to deal with at a later time, he heard Damian’s footsteps come back into the room. “Sit up,” the younger boy demanded, and when Tim was unable to comply, Damian cursed under his breath and grabbed Tim’s arm to pull him into a sitting position. It was by sheer force of will that Tim managed to keep down the bile that rose as a result of the movement.

Damian held Tim up as he forcibly jammed the pills into his mouth, and then tilted a glass of water to his lips as Tim attempted to swallow it all down. By the time it was all done with, he was nearly delirious. Damian lowered Tim back onto the pillow, and Tim allowed his eyes to flutter closed, content with the fact that the next time he woke up he would feel better instead of worse.

When he did wake up again, several hours later, it was to fingers combing through his sweaty hair. He blinked his eyes open, relieved to find that the pain had mostly subsided. Dick was looking down at him in concern.

“Tim? Are you okay?” he asked. Tim shifted, realizing he was lying with his head in Dick’s lap. He glanced at the wall clock.

“...Shouldn't you still be at work?” he mumbled in lieu of a response, sitting up slowly.

“Damian came down to the bar and told me you weren't doing well,” Dick said casually. “So I took the rest of the night off.”

Tim groaned, rubbing at his eyes. “Dick, you didn't have to do that,” he said, feeling the familiar shame creep up on him. “I’m fine now. Honestly.” Dick shrugged.

“I got someone to pick up my shift, don't worry about it,” he said, brushing Tim off. “Are you hungry? We brought you back some takeout.” He handed Tim a styrofoam box from the coffee table, and Tim opened it to find it full of an assortment of bar food. He was starving, actually.

He glanced up from his burger to see Damian sitting on the far arm of the couch, glaring at him like he’d committed some sort of irredeemable sin, as usual. “Um,” Tim said. “Thanks. For earlier.” Damian’s eye twitched rapidly.

“Don't make an idiotic mistake like that again,” the younger hissed threateningly. “Grayson and I aren't here to be your live-in nurses.”

Damian—”

“No, he's right,” Tim said, cutting off Dick’s imminent scolding. “You… you already have two jobs to worry about, and you shouldn't have to worry about me on top of that. I’m… Dick, I’m so sorry.” And he meant it. He didn't know how to explain in words how much it killed him.

Dick sighed, running his fingers through Tim’s overgrown hair again. “You need to stop with that,” he said seriously. “Look, Tim, I know it seems like we’re struggling, but I promise that everything's going to be okay. Working on electrical lines and bartending is nothing compared to what I used to do, trust me.”

Tim hugged his knees to his chest and rested his chin on them. “Yeah, okay,” he said, trying not to let the weight of his guilt and uselessness consume him. Dick gave his hair one last ruffle before standing up.

“Alright, kiddos, it's bedtime,” he said, lifting Damian up and throwing him over his shoulder, much to the younger’s protest. Tim reached for his crutches and pulled himself off the couch, following the other two down the hallway and pushing open the door to the room opposite theirs. “Sleep tight, Timbo.”

Tim set aside his crutches, pulling off his shorts and digging around in his sweatshirt pockets to make sure he hadn't left anything behind before he threw it into the ever-growing pile of dirty clothes. He paused when his fingers brushed over what felt like a small slip of paper.

He furrowed his eyebrows, pulling out the folded sheet and observing it with interest. It looked like it had been unevenly torn from a ruled notepad, and it was soft around the edges, like it had been sitting in Tim’s pocket for quite some time. The thought made his heart speed up with anticipation. He unfolded the note carefully, a wave of excitement washing over him that he couldn’t quite explain.

There was an address on it, scribbled messily in what he recognized as his own handwriting. 9826 Overbrook Dr., Apt. 207, West Gotham.

And underneath it, the only hint as to what the address might lead to, was just a single letter.

J.

Chapter Text

“Tim?” Dick tapped on his bedroom door softly. “I tried to wake you up before and you said you were coming but… you haven't… moved.”

Tim tried to will himself to get out of bed, but instead he just curled further into the covers. It was one of those days.

He couldn't even blame it on a migraine, this time, because it was one of the rare mornings where he actually hadn't woken up to his head throbbing. He exhaled slowly. “I'm sorry,” Tim said, his voice softer and shakier than he'd intended. “I can't today.”

Dick was at his bedside in an instant. “Okay, no problem, that's perfectly fine,” he said immediately. “Are you in pain? Do you want me to stay home?” Tim shook his head rapidly.

“No, I'm… please don't,” he said. Tim couldn't think of anything worse than Dick having to call off just because he couldn't even pull himself together enough to get out of bed. Dick nodded in understanding.

“Alright. Well, I'll have my cell phone on me if you need anything,” he said, squeezing Tim’s shoulder once before standing up. “I’ll text Vanessa and ask her to bring over your homework after school, okay?”

Tim nodded, burying his face into his pillow. “Thanks.” You’re letting him down. You’re useless and pathetic and you're always letting him down.

Tim winced when Damian’s predictable bitching permeated through the apartment. “When are you gonna stop falling for his pitiful act?” he asked, and Tim could hear the exasperation in his tone. “He’s manipulating you, Grayson! And you're allowing yourself to be putty in his hands!”

“We’re not doing this today, Damian.”

“I don't care what happened to him, he’s still Tim Drake.” Damian's voice was suddenly much quieter. “And he is not the pathetic, sniveling wreck lying in that room.”

Tim squeezed his eyes shut. Maybe Tim Drake wasn't. He didn't even know who that was anymore.

He didn't manage to haul himself out of bed until well after noon, and it was only because he was afraid of Dick’s unwanted sympathy if he happened to get off early and come home to see that Tim still hadn't gotten up. He poured himself a cup of coffee and brought it out to the balcony, curling up on one of the plastic lawn chairs.

The fresh air made him feel a little better. Sometimes he liked to sit out there and imagine himself climbing on top of the railing and just… falling. Letting the wind catch him and flying off into the Metropolis skyline like a bird.

He took a deep breath, closing his eyes and trying to see the light at the top off the dark pit he’d fallen into. This would pass. It always did.

His phone suddenly vibrated loudly from where he’d set it on the railing. It was a text message from Dick.

hi timmy! hope ur ok. don't forget to eat!

Tim smiled slightly and made to reply, but his phone went off again before he had the chance.

oh, I wanted to tell u something.

I had lots of bad days after my parents were killed. I felt like nothing was going to be ok ever again. I couldn't eat or sleep or even get out of bed.

Tim swallowed, his hands shaking as he waited for Dick to continue.

sometimes bad things happen & no matter how hard we try, we can't just get over it and move on. and that’s ok.

i’m very proud of u!

Tim didn't know how Dick Grayson had originally come into his life, or how he had somehow ended up under his care, but he sure as hell knew that he didn't deserve him.

By the time three o’clock rolled around and Vanessa showed up with his missed assignments, he almost felt like he could function normally again. As always, just being around her improved his mood considerably. “I’m mad at you, Tim,” she said seriously, taking a seat next to him at the kitchen table. “Today Gina Stull tried to tell me that Nightwing would beat Batman in a fight, and you weren't even there to back me up! Like, can you believe that? Nightwing?”

Dick’s hand slipped, and he knocked the spoon out of his bowl of cereal and onto the tile floor. It was Friday, and he didn't bartend on the weekends, so he hadn't had to go back to work after picking Damian up from school. “Oh, I don't know,” Dick said as he leaned down to pick up his fallen utensil. “Nightwing’s younger and faster. More agile. I think he could hold his own.” Damian snorted.

“Batman would destroy him,” he said from the couch. Tim stared at them in surprise. He hadn't known either of them had so much knowledge about vigilante justice. Vanessa smirked at Damian in approval.

“Damn right he would,” she said matter-of-factly. “No offense, Mr. Grayson, but to say otherwise is extremely ignorant. It's not even up for debate, really.”

Dick raised an amused eyebrow at her. “Hm. Well, I'm not the expert here, you would know better than me,” he said with a shrug. “And seriously, Vanessa, call me Dick.”

“Speaking of which,” Vanessa said, hugging her binder to her chest excitedly. “I just bought my train ticket to Gotham for this weekend! Tim, you should really come with me this time. Seeing Batman in person is life-changing.”

Dick’s relaxed expression suddenly hardened. “That's nice of you, Vanessa, but Tim’s not really in the state to travel. Especially to somewhere as dangerous as Gotham,” he said. Tim frowned slightly, and Dick immediately backpedalled. “And, um, the three of us have plans this weekend anyway. Brotherly bonding time, you see.”

“We do?” Tim asked.

“We do not,” Damian said flatly.

“Yes, we do,” Dick said. “I did some wiring at the zoo the other day, and they gave me free tickets.”

Tim raised an eyebrow. “...The zoo?”

Damian rolled his eyes. “I'm not going to the zoo.”

Dick gave Damian a hard stare. “You’re twelve, Damian. Twelve year olds go to the zoo. It’ll be fun!” he said enthusiastically. “Sorry, Vanessa. Send Gotham our regards.” Vanessa shrugged.

“It’s cool. I’ll take lots of pictures for you,” she said to Tim. “Oh, speaking of which, I found some old photos in my closet that I haven’t shown you yet! I was gonna show them to you at lunch today, but someone decided to play hooky.”

Tim grinned sheepishly. “Sorry, Vanessa, I was—”

“Nope, I don’t want a valid explanation. I choose to remain unreasonably bitter, thank you very much,” she said dismissively. “Anyway, look at this. This was a few years ago, when the Joker broke out of Arkham, again. Check out this action shot! He’s so cool.”

Tim rested his chin on his palm and closely scrutinized the photos. “Doesn’t look too hard,” he said dryly. Vanessa deadpanned at him.

“You know I was just trying to talk you up when I told Tanner you were a superhero, right?” she said with an eyeroll. “You’re not the crime-fighting type, Tim. No offense.”

“I won’t quit my day job,” Tim replied. He squinted at one of the pictures. “Who’s that Batman’s chasing?”

Vanessa wrinkled her nose and quickly turned the page. “That’s Red Hood,” she said shortly. “...I don’t like him.”

Damian suddenly crawled over the back of the couch and joined them at the table. “I have a very high regard for your opinions,” he said seriously. Vanessa looked pleased. “Drake, she isn’t terrible as far as acquaintances go.”

“Thanks.”

“Aw, he likes you,” Dick said, ruffling Damian’s hair. Damian glared at him. “Are you gonna stay for dinner, Vanessa?”

“I might as well. I have to help Tim with his calculus homework, anyway. He’s hopeless without me,” she said with a long-suffering sigh. “What’s on the menu for tonight? Ramen noodles or takeout?” From anyone else, that might have come off as a quip on their living situation, but Vanessa said it with genuine curiosity. Dick smiled at her.

“I was gonna make spaghetti.”

“Um, Dick, last time you tried to cook we had to evacuate the building.”

“If at first you don’t succeed, Timbo.”

Dinner went by more peacefully than it had since, well, probably since the last time Vanessa had stayed for dinner. Damian liked her, which was shocking seeing as that brought the number of non-Dick people Damian liked to a staggering 1. It was probably out of respect for her that he left Tim alone when she was there. It was well-known that Vanessa took personal offense when anyone tried to bother him.

Dick actually succeeded in making mostly-edible spaghetti, and after a quick lesson from Vanessa, Tim managed to finish his calculus homework with slight confidence that he actually knew what he was doing. The state he had been in not even twelve hours ago felt like a far-off dream.

“Welp, see you at school Monday,” Vanessa said, slinging her book bag over her shoulder as Tim walked her to the door. “Have fun at the zoo. I’ll trade you stills of Batman for a really solid elephant shot.” Tim grinned at her.

“Be careful he doesn’t mistake you for Killer Croc. The resemblance is striking,” he said, narrowly avoiding her hand as she swatted at him. He laughed loudly. “Goodnight, Ness.”

Dick grinned at him when he made his way back into the kitchen to help with the dishes. “You look better, Timmy,” he said, trying to pass it off as a casual comment. Tim smiled softly.

“I feel better,” he said. “Uh, thanks for the messages earlier. They helped. A lot.” Dick shrugged.

“Just remember that I know what it's like,” he said, a little too lightly for the topic of conversation. “And you know… if you need extra help, the offer is still open. I promise we’re financially capable of sending you to see someone once or twice a week. If that’s what you want.”

Tim pursed his lips. “I’m okay. I can deal with this,” he said reassuringly. Dick ruffled his hair affectionately, and left it at that.

“So, anyway,” Dick said with a smirk. “You and Vanessa? Is there something going on there?” Tim stared at him.

“What? No. Not at all,” he said quickly. He felt his face heat up. “I’m not… um, I don’t think. Girls. I don’t think they’re my… thing.” Dick snorted.

“You don’t say. I’m astonished,” he said dryly. Tim raised an eyebrow.

“Oh,” he said awkwardly. “Uh, did you know before?”

Dick paused, like he was trying to figure out how exactly to respond to that. “It was implied,” he settled with, shrugging easily. “Hey, the same thing I told Damian yesterday applies to you, too. It’s not like I’m a stranger to having sex with guys.”

“Ew, Dick, you don’t have to tell me that.”

“Oh, because it’s some huge secret.”

They finished up the dishes, and Dick picked a sleeping Damian up off the couch and allowed the younger to cling onto the front of him with all of his limbs. They headed toward their respective bedrooms.

Dick stopped in his doorway. “Rest up for the zoo tomorrow,” he said over Damian’s head of fluffy dark hair, grinning widely even as Tim stared at him in horror.

“What? I thought you were joking about that,” he said. Dick laughed.

“Oh, no. We’re going to the zoo. Goodnight!”

--

It didn’t sink in that Dick was actually serious until they were standing in front of the giant archway that served as the zoo’s entrance. Damian had nearly torn apart the apartment in protest that morning, and he was still sulking with his baseball cap pulled low over his eyes.

“This is idiotic. This place is for children, Grayson,” he said through clenched teeth. Dick sighed.

“Newsflash, you're a child,” he pointed out. “Can you please, for one day, at least pretend to be a normal kid? Besides, the zoo is fun for all ages. Right Tim?”

Tim looked up from applying sunscreen on his arms. “Sure.”

This wasn't the first time Dick had dragged them out on one of his “brotherly bonding” expeditions. Tim didn't really mind, he knew it was just Dick’s way of getting them out of the apartment and trying to convince them they were just like all the other mundane, normal families. The effort usually fell short, however. Damian always found a way to ruin everything.

“Tim, are you sure you don't want to rent a wheelchair?” Dick asked, glancing at his crutches nervously. Tim waved him off. He’d taken one look at the row of rental wheelchairs and immediately felt his heart race in a near-panic, so he'd decided to opt out.

“I can walk,” he said. Damian looked at him in surprise and something that might have been admiration, but it was gone before Tim could properly analyze it.

It was about thirty minutes before Damian could no longer keep up his disinterested façade. He pushed several smaller children aside to push his face up against the glass at the tiger exhibit, and Dick grinned victoriously. “I knew he'd like it,” he said. “Cute animals are his weakness.” Tim snorted.

“Dick?” a voice suddenly asked from behind them. Tim looked over to see a pretty blonde woman smiling widely at Dick. She approached them, tucking her short hair behind her ear. “I didn't expect to see you here. I believe your exact words were, ‘there is no way in hell my little brothers are gonna have any interest in going to the zoo.’”

Dick looked just as happy to see her as she did him. “Well, I decided not to give them a choice,” he said with a shrug. He clapped a hand on Tim’s shoulder. “This is my brother, Tim. Tim, this is Lindsey. She's a general contractor for my company.” Tim waved.

“Hey.”

“Hello, Tim, it's nice to meet you,” she said kindly. “Your brother is a damn good lineman. You look good, Dick, it's not often I see you without the coveralls.”

Dick scratched the back of his neck sheepishly. “Nah. You… you look great. New haircut?” She giggled.

Something clicked in Tim’s head, and he felt his stomach drop as he realized the implications of his discovery. “Uh, Dick?” he said, eager to get a handle on the situation before it was too late.

Damian took that moment to return from the tiger exhibit, and Tim cursed under his breath. “Let’s move on, Grayson,” he said, pulling on the elder’s sleeve.

“Oh, Damian. This is my friend Lindsey from work,” Dick said, and Damian looked surprised, as if he hadn't noticed someone else was standing with them.

Damian stared at her blankly. “I don't care,” he said. “Let’s go.” Tim shifted uncomfortably.

“Don't be rude,” Dick said, swatting Damian on the back of the head. Damian looked thoroughly offended, but Dick didn't pay him any mind as he turned back to Lindsey. “Is Danny here?”

“No, Dick, I came to the zoo by myself,” she said with a playful eye roll. Damian’s face was getting darker by the second. “He’s right over there. Danny! Come say hi to Mr. Dick!”

A little boy ran over from the parakeet cage. He couldn't have been more than five years old. “Hey, buddy, remember me?” Dick said, kneeling down. The boy nodded rapidly, grinning to reveal a crooked smile.

“Hello, Mr. Dick!” he said brightly. “Are you coming to have a sleepover again soon?"

Lindsey laughed awkwardly, softly reprimanding her son. Dick and Tim completely froze. Tim held his breath, glancing over at Damian and bracing himself for the imminent eruption.

Damian, shockingly, said nothing. His face remained expressionless, although it was much more red than it had been before. “Let’s go,” he eventually repeated, his voice far too low and threatening to be coming from a ten year old.

“Yeah, okay,” Dick said quickly. Damian wordlessly latched onto his hand. Dick turned back to Lindsey. “Uh, well, I guess we should be moving on.”

“Oh, do you mind if we tag along?” Lindsey asked, and Tim really wanted to scream at the poor girl to take a hint.

Yes,” Damian hissed.

“Not at all,” Dick said, glaring at Damian sternly.

“This should be fun,” Tim muttered to himself.

Damian did an admirable job at keeping Dick as far away from Lindsey as possible, pulling the older boy along by his hand and forcing him to stay at his side as he observed the various animals. Tim watched with a small smile as Dick lifted Damian onto his shoulders at the giraffe encounter so that the younger boy could reach out and pet the creature. Damian frowned in indignation, but Tim knew he was secretly thrilled to have so much of Dick’s attention.

“Are you not having fun?” Tim jumped as Lindsey suddenly materialized beside him.

“Oh, um, I am,” he said. He gestured to his legs. “I just needed to rest for a minute.” She nodded, glancing at his crutches.

“What happened? If you don't mind me asking.”

Tim paused. “I got shot in the head.”

She stared at him for a moment, before letting out an uncomfortable laugh. “You can’t be serious.”

“No, I am,” Tim lifted his bangs up, revealing the bullet wound scar on his forehead. Lindsey covered her mouth with her hand. “It messed up my motor cortex, I guess. But the doctors say I should get full control of my legs back eventually.” She gaped at him.

“That's… that’s amazing,” she said in awe. “You are incredibly lucky.”

Tim let his hair back down, his jaw tightening. “That's what they tell me,” he said shortly, and she seemed to take the hint to end the conversation. He sighed. “Look, you seem really nice. Which is why I’m going to warn you that you should stay away from Dick.”

She looked taken aback. “Um, what?”

“Mommy!” Danny suddenly ran up and interrupted them. Well, Tim tried. “Can I ride the camels?” She stood up.

“Sure. Let’s go see if Damian wants to go too,” she said, glancing at Tim warily as she and her son made her way toward the giraffes. Tim pulled himself up off of the bench and shuffled after them.

“Hey, there you guys are! This giraffe just ate lettuce right out of my hand!” Dick said excitedly, and Lindsey giggled. He set Damian back on the ground. “There’s some left, wanna try?” He held the remaining lettuce out to Lindsey. She grinned.

“Okay,” she said, leaning over the railing and holding the food out. Dick stood close to her, smiling at her contagious laughter and habitually looking away from the giraffes to glance at her. She was really pretty, Tim thought. If the situation was different, he might congratulate Dick on getting laid by a hot mom. As it so happened, however, doing so would probably only result in Damian pushing him over the railing to get trampled to death by giraffes.

“Hey, it likes you,” Dick said as the giraffe licked at Lindsey’s hand. Tim glanced at Damian against his better judgement, only to see that the younger was continuing to stare at Dick with the same terrifyingly calm expression.

Lindsey laughed loudly, placing her hand on Dick’s arm to steady herself as she reached out further. That was the breaking point, apparently.

Damian was on them in an instant, slapping her hand away from Dick with malice. The look on his face with he glared up at her made the hair on the back of Tim’s neck stand up. “Don’t touch him, bitch.”

Not for the first time, Tim felt bad for Dick. He couldn’t help but think that the older boy should have seen this coming, however.

Dick attempted to convey some kind of apology, but it was obvious that it was one of those things that just couldn’t be fixed so easily. He grabbed Damian by the forearm, dragging him away silently as the younger struggled to release himself from his hold. Tim considered explaining to Lindsey that this was exactly what he had been trying to warn her about, but it didn’t really matter. He followed Dick and Damian without a word.

The car ride back was tense. None of them made a sound, just sat in uncomfortable silence until they came to a stop in front of their building. No one moved.

Dick spoke up first. “I just don’t understand,” he said, his voice low and serious. “You cannot possibly think that it’s okay to behave like that. What the hell, Damian? What the hell is wrong with you?”

Damian didn’t look away from the window. It was a long time before he responded. “She was behaving inappropriately,” he finally said. Dick gaped at him.

“No, she wasn’t!” he said in disbelief. “She’s my friend, she was being friendly.” Damian turned to stare at him darkly.

“Your friend.”

“Yes. My friend. I’m allowed to have those, you know. My entire life doesn’t have to fucking revolve around you!” Dick scrubbed his hands over his face. “At first I thought that it was just Tim and J—... I thought this was some sort of inferiority complex. I read that it happens sometimes, especially to the youngest kid, but this… I don’t understand what you want from me, Damian.”

Damian exhaled slowly. “You slept with her,” he said, quietly.

The silence that fell over them was so thick that it was nearly palpable. Tim closed his eyes and rested his forehead against the window. If he wasn’t afraid that they would actually kill each other, he would have gotten out of the car a long time ago.

“What?” Dick finally said. Damian grimaced.

“You had sex with her!”

Dick leaned over the center console, grabbing Damian by the front of his shirt and bringing pulling him forward until their faces were inches apart. Tim jumped in surprise. Dick wasn’t usually one to initiate the physical altercations. “That was a rule Damian,” he said through clenched teeth. “You follow my rules, goddammit, do you understand? If you can’t do something that simple then you can leave!”

Damian swallowed. “...You sound just like him,” he said, his voice shaking slightly.

Dick let go of Damian like he’d been burned. He buried his face in his hands. Damian straightened up. “You want me to leave? Fine,” he continued, his jaw clenched. “I’ll go back. I’ll go live with Bruce and pick up my life where I left off. Is that what you want, Grayson?”

“Get out,” Dick moaned, sounding more miserable than Tim had ever heard him. Tim didn’t have to be asked twice.

Tim waited by Damian’s door to make sure he got out too. He did, but not before getting in the final word. As usual. “I gave up everything for you, Grayson,” he said, and if Tim didn’t know Damian he would say that he almost sounded on the verge of tears.

Dick sped away without another word.

Damian didn’t speak to Tim at all (or, to Tim’s chagrin, help him up the stairs) as they made their way up to the apartment . Tim wasn’t really sure how to react. On one hand, he didn’t think that this particular conflict was any of his business, but on the other hand, he couldn’t help but feel like it was.

He waited a while before bringing it up. Damian was curled up on the couch, obviously refusing to go to his and Dick’s shared room without Dick present. Tim cleared his throat, tapping his fingers on the kitchen table idly. “Damian,” he said, testing the waters. Damian didn’t respond, but he didn’t throw anything at him, either. “Why don’t we live with our dad?”

Damian exhaled deeply. “Does it matter?” he asked flatly. He sounded tired. Tim shrugged.

“I just can’t help but think it’s my fault,” he said. Damian paused.

“It’s not,” he said quietly. They left it at that.

Tim stayed with Damian in the living room all night, not speaking to him but offering the opportunity for him to talk if he wanted to. Damian didn’t take it. Uncharacteristically, he didn’t say a word.

Dick came home at around four in the morning, and despite the fact that he smelled strongly of booze, Tim was relieved. He had been momentarily concerned that he wouldn’t come back at all. “Damian,” was the first thing he said when he came in the door, immediately heading toward the couch and kneeling down in front of the youngest. Damian was still awake; he’d been staring at the wall blankly for hours. “Damian, I’m so sorry. I am so, so sorry.”

Damian sat up, engulfing Dick into a hug without a word. Dick was still talking, but it was so soft that Tim could no longer hear. He suddenly felt like he was intruding on something private, and he took his leave.

When Tim entered his room, he went straight toward his dresser, pulling out the picture that he had stowed away in the top drawer. It was a painting, one of the fancy ones the rich people hung in their foyers. There were five people in it: three of them were Dick, Damian, and himself, and one was an older man Dick told him was their butler. The fifth, sitting front and center in a large, wingback chair, was Bruce. His father. Or so Dick said; seeing as this picture was the most Tim had ever seen of him, he couldn’t exactly confirm it. He ran his fingers over the painting with a sigh.

“What the hell did you do to them?” he asked the painting. It, like everyone else in his life, didn’t give him any answers.

Chapter Text

Tim was tired.

Admittedly, he was always tired, but this was the kind that couldn't be fixed with a cup of coffee (or eight). It was the kind that left him feeling worn out from the moment he woke up. He was completely, inescapably exhausted.

Ever since the day at the zoo, Damian had stopped picking fights with Dick completely. Which would have been great, were it not for the fact that he was now directing 100% of his aggression at Tim. They couldn’t even walk past each other without it turning into a screaming match these days, and frankly, Tim wasn’t sure how much longer this could go on before Damian ended up killing him in his sleep or something.

“Only you could get pushed around by a fourth grader. No offense,” Vanessa said, trying to keep both herself and Tim under her Batman-themed umbrella as they headed out to the student parking lot. “I feel bad for him. Acting out is a defensive mechanism, you know. Well, you would know, if you didn’t sleep through the entire first semester of psychology.” Tim sighed.

“Yesterday he tried to stab me because I accidentally bumped into him,” he said dryly. “Call me crazy, but I’m not that sympathetic.”

“Poor thing,” Vanessa said, fumbling with her keys as she tried to unlock her ancient station wagon. “I bet you didn't even tell him that you were coming to my house after school. And now he's going to walk all the way here from the elementary school, for no reason. In the rain.”

Tim cleared his throat awkwardly. “...Uh.”

“I don’t know how he could possibly resent you,” she said with an eye roll. She grunted in frustration as she tried and failed once again to unlock her car door. “Ugh, it’s stuck again. If you wanted to buy me a car with automatic locks for my birthday, I wouldn’t be offended.”

A red pick-up truck suddenly pulled up beside them, nearly hitting Tim in the process. He immediately felt dread settle in his gut. “Having trouble?” the driver asked, his tone much more condescending than polite.

Tim was so tired.

“No, go away,” Vanessa said, even as Bud Tanner got out of his truck and approached her. He snatched her keys out of her hands, easily holding them out of her reach. She scowled. “Give them back, or I swear to god I will suplex you.” The threat fell short, seeing as Bud was around two entire feet taller than her.

“Relax, I will,” he said with a shit-eating grin. “Just give me the answers for the physics homework that’s due tomorrow.”

“Bite me.”

Bud grabbed Vanessa’s arm to prevent her from shoving him, and Tim felt something inside of him snap. “Keep your hands off of her,” he demanded, his voice raised so that it could be heard over the steadily-increasing rain. Bud glanced over at him as if he was noticing him for the first time.

“If it isn’t the hero,” he said, walking over to Tim’s side of the car and getting close enough that Tim was forced to press himself against the rain-slicked vehicle. “Why don’t you do us a favor and go back to wherever the hell you came from, Drake? Metropolis’s freak-with-a-savior-complex quota is filled.”

Tim deadpanned. “Nice, did you come up with that one yourself?” he asked flatly. He glared up at the taller boy with narrowed eyes. “Give Vanessa her keys back. Now.”

Bud laughed. “Or else? You’ll make me?” he asked, pressing his hand up near Tim’s head, trapping him. “Your move, hero.”

“Tim, don’t,” Vanessa said, her tone resigned. “It’s not worth it.”

“Aw, there goes her faith in you,” Bud said with a taunting frown. “You’d better listen to her, we wouldn’t want you to lose your balance again.”

Tim exhaled slowly. “I’m feeling pretty steady, actually,” he said. “You, on the other hand, look a bit unstable.”

In hindsight, using one of his crutches to swipe Bud Tanner’s legs out from under him and send him crashing onto the wet pavement wasn’t one of Tim’s best ideas. But he would be damned if he was going to let himself keep getting stepped on. Damian was a lost cause, but this he could do.

Everything seemed to stand still for a few beats. And then, before he could even react, Tim was being tackled into the middle of the parking lot.

“I was wrong about you. You’ve got some stones after all,” Bud said, no longer smiling as he hoisted Tim partially off the ground by his collar. “You do know I have to beat the shit out of you now, right?”

“Of course,” Tim said, blinking the stars out of his eyes. “Don’t hold back.”

The first punch split his lip open. The second made his vision momentarily go black. He vaguely processed Vanessa screaming threats in the background, but he could barely hear her over the rain. He probably should have been scared, but there was a comforting voice in his head that told him he’d been through much, much worse than this.

It was over much sooner than he’d expected.

One minute, Bud’s fist was connecting with his nose with a crack, and the next, he was no longer hovering over him. Tim turned his head to the side, the blood pouring from his nose mixing in with the water running down the pavement as he tried to focus on the scene in front of him.

Bud was on his back, as if someone had tackled him to the ground. And standing over him, with hands hands clenched into fists and nearly shaking with fury…

Was Damian.

Tim frantically tried to sit up. “What the hell are you doing, get out of here!” he rasped, his thin voice drowned out by the rain. Vanessa was yelling something similar, but Damian just ignored them completely.

“Did you… did you just tackle me?” Bud asked in genuine surprise, picking himself off of the ground. Damian didn’t answer. “Go back to the playground, kid. This is none of your business.”

“...If it’s a fight you want,” Damian said slowly, his voice low and dangerous. “I promise you I’ll be a better match.”

Bud raised an eyebrow, looking around at the small crowd that had accumulated, as if looking for someone to share his confusion. “Um, I’m not really interested in beating up an elementary schooler,” he said. Damian laughed once, darkly.

“Luckily for you, I’m not interested in humoring you into thinking you can,” he said.

What happened next went by so quickly that Tim wasn’t entirely sure what transpired. One moment Bud and Damian were standing and facing each other, and the next, Bud was face-first on the pavement with his arm twisted at an unnatural angle.

It wasn’t that Tim didn’t know that Damian was more violent than the average ten year old. Some of his fights with Dick had been pretty bad, but Tim had always assumed that Dick had allowed Damian to land those hits under some kind of misguided, self-deprecating notion that he deserved it. And even if that wasn’t the case, those fights had been different. Neither of them had actually been aiming to hurt each other. This… this was a ten year old boy dropping a 250-pound wrestler without breaking a sweat. This was quick and calculated and trained.

It was absolutely terrifying.

There were at least twenty people crowded around the same small area, but not one of them moved or made a sound. They all seemed to be in similar states of shock. “Damian…” Tim choked out. Damian rounded on him immediately, the same anger still burning in his eyes.

What the hell is wrong with you?!”

Tim flinched as Damian picked him up by his collar, just like Bud had done moments before, bringing their faces inches apart. This time, however, Tim was actually afraid. “You should have been able to kick that guy’s ass blindfolded, with your hands tied behind your back! Why were you just lying there and taking it?!” he yelled, his eyes crazed as he tightened his grip. “You’re Tim Drake! You’re his son! You shouldn’t be submitting to anyone, especially not idiot school children like him!”

“I…” Tim’s mind was reeling. “Damian, I don’t know what you…”

Damian’s punch hurt much worse than any of Bud’s had. Tim didn’t know if it was because it had caught him by complete surprise, or because Damian just hit that much harder. “Fight back, goddammit,” he grit out, pulling his fist back to strike again. His voice cracked. “Fight back!”

Tim closed his eyes, but the next punch never came. “Damian, stop!” he heard Vanessa begging, and he looked up to see her hugging Damian’s arm to her chest. “Please!”

Damian grit his teeth, and Tim noticed with a start that he was crying. So hard that his tears were obvious even among the rain streaming down the face, so hard that his shoulders were shaking with it. He lowered his head and let go of Tim, not bothering to pull his arm out of Vanessa’s grip.

“Come on, we have to go. Now,” she said frantically, trying to drag Damian, who was suddenly completely drained, and Tim, who was still frozen in shock, toward her car. “Please, guys, someone went to get the principal, he’ll be here any minute…” Tim didn’t really think that mattered much, considering the vast amount of witnesses, but he put in some effort into helping her get the two of them into the car.

Vanessa rambled nervously for the entire ride, but Tim’s thoughts were still racing too quickly for him to process what she was saying. Damian didn’t make any noise whatsoever from the back seat.

“Tim?” Vanessa asked, and he snapped to attention. “Um, is Dick home? Because, if not, I think I should probably bring you guys to my house…” Tim blinked at her, before cursing under his breath.

“He’s… shit,” he said, checking his phone. Sure enough, there were twelve missed calls from Dick, all of them likely in panicked response to the fact that Damian hadn’t been there when he came to pick him up. Tim tried to call him back, but the line was busy. Shit. “He’s… he’s home. Just take us home.” It was a lie, but he didn’t think Damian would take very kindly to being babysat by Vanessa’s parents.

Also, deep down, Tim knew he was trying to prove to himself that he wasn’t afraid of Damian. Even though Vanessa seemed to think that he should be.

Damian flew out of the car the moment it stopped in front of their building. Vanessa turned to Tim. “...Call me later, okay?” she said with a reassuring smile. Tim nodded.

“Yeah, of course,” he said, taking a deep breath before following Damian inside.

Dick called back moments after Tim entered the apartment. “Where are you?” he asked, and Tim could tell by his tone that the story of what happened had already gotten to him. “Are you both okay?”

“We’re home,” Tim replied. He paused. “...We’re fine.”

Dick exhaled shakily. “I'll be there in five minutes,” he said, hanging up without another word. Tim lowered himself onto the couch and closed his eyes. They were so screwed.

Damian walked out into the living room moments later with a duffle bag, and started taking books off of the bookshelves and cramming them inside. “...Um,” Tim said carefully. “What are you doing?”

“Packing,” Damian said shortly. “We can’t stay here.”

Tim blinked. “I think you're overreacting a little,” he said. Damian glanced at him.

“Tt.” He paused, turning his back to Tim. “...I made a mistake. I let my emotions cloud my judgement and now we have to leave.” It wasn't exactly an apology, but Tim figured it was the closest he was going to get.

The door opened before Tim could respond, and a noticeably distressed Dick entered the room. He took one look at Tim and squeezed his eyes shut. “Did Damian do that?”

It took a moment for Tim to remember the state his face was probably in. He wiped at the dried blood with his sleeve. “No,” he said quickly. Dick let out a deep breath.

“Okay,” he said calmly. “The high school principal called and told me what happened, so you don't have to explain. The two of you and your legal guardian are expected to meet with the superintendent tomorrow afternoon.”

“So we have to be gone by tomorrow morning,” Damian said.

Dick rubbed at his eyes tiredly. “Yeah,” he agreed. Tim stared at him.

“Wait, what? We’re actually leaving?” he asked in shock. “Where? Why?”

Dick looked extremely uncomfortable all of a sudden. He scratched the back of his neck. “Well, see,” he said slowly, as if he were searching for the right words. “Your legal guardian is… not me.”

“He kidnapped us,” Damian said, offhandedly.

Tim had been naïve, really, to think that his day couldn't possibly be more shocking and upsetting than it already had been. He stared at Dick with wide eyes. “Oh,” he said, his voice cracking. Dick groaned.

Damian, that isn't true,” he said. “Um, from a legal standpoint, however… it might look that way, yeah.”

“Why would it look that way if it wasn't true?!”

“Well, I mean, I didn't exactly have consent to take you away,” Dick said nervously. “But at the same time, Bruce could have stopped me easily. And he could have found you at any time and brought you back, but he didn't. Which is the same thing as consent. Pretty much.”

Tim blanched. “Oh my god.”

Dick pinched the bridge of his nose. “Okay, that sounds bad, I know,” he said. “Look… you're just gonna have to trust me.”

“Uh, you just told me we have to flee Metropolis so you don't get implicated for kidnapping.”

“No, that isn't… I didn't say that,” Dick said in frustration. “I did not kidnap you. It would just… not be ideal for people to start poking around into our business, okay?”

Tim wanted to pull his hair out. He was so tired of getting nothing but vague answers to questions about his own life. “Okay,” he said. It wasn't, really.

Dick let out a breath of relief. “Thank you,” he said softly. “Anyway, only pack essentials. We're leaving first thing tomorrow.”

Damian tried to leave the room discreetly, but Dick grabbed him before he could escape. “We need to talk,” he said seriously, and Damian grimaced. “Take a walk with me. We’ll be right back, Tim.”

Tim nodded, and Dick was almost out the door when Tim was able to gather his thoughts enough to form coherent speech. “Wait,” he said quickly, and Dick paused with one hand on the door handle. Tim swallowed thickly. “When your parents were killed. Did you ever get closure?”

Dick looked understandably thrown off by the question, but Tim didn’t offer any explanation. He leaned against the door frame and carded his fingers through his hair. “Well, yeah, I did,” he finally answered. “Someone… someone made sure of it. Why?”

Tim shrugged. “Just curious,” he said, forcing a smile to the best of his ability.

The moment they left the apartment, Tim went into his room and dumped the contents of his backpack onto his bedspread. He shoved in a few changes of clothes, his laptop, and the wad of cash he had stored under his mattress he had saved from the occasions he’d babysat Vanessa’s little sisters. He opened up the top drawer of his dresser, removing the painting and pulling off the cardboard back of the frame. His hand shook as he removed the piece of paper he had hidden away in there.

9826 Overbrook Dr., Apt. 207, West Gotham.

J.

Tim pocketed it. He turned the painting over, taking in their smiling faces for the hundredth time. They all looked so happy. What had changed? How did things end up like this? He had so many questions. He wasn’t going to find any answers here, and he sure as hell wasn’t going to find them wherever Dick planned on taking them next.

Tim briefly considered rolling up the painting and shoving it in his backpack as well, but in the end he opted to leave it lying face-up on the floor. Hopefully Dick would gather some kind of message from that.

He left the apartment building through the back entrance, and waited until he was a reasonable distance away before calling Vanessa. “How are things?” she asked immediately upon answering.

“Not great,” Tim said bluntly, leaning against the brick wall of an alley. “...I have to leave for a while. Figure some things out. When Dick calls you, tell him not to look for me, okay? Tell him… tell him I need closure, too.”

There had been only one thing keeping him in Metropolis, and that was the fear of leaving behind the only life he’d ever known and going off in pursuit of something strange and unfamiliar. But now that he was being forced to flee that life anyway, there was nothing holding him back anymore.

Vanessa, unexpectedly, sounded excited. “It’s about time,” she said exasperatedly. “I’ll tell him, no problem. Good luck on your journey of self-discovery.

Tim had been anticipating a bit more concern, but he brushed it off. “Um, thanks,” he said. He didn’t know what else to say, but he also couldn’t bring himself to hang up yet. They sat in silence for a few beats.

Hey, Tim,” Vanessa finally spoke. “Promise this isn’t goodbye forever.”

Tim swallowed. “I promise,” he said, trying to keep the shakiness out of his voice. “Goodbye.”

He hung up and threw his phone into the alleyway dumpster. And just like that, Tim Drake left behind everything he knew and headed off to catch a bus to Gotham City.

Somehow, he knew he was going home.

Chapter Text

There were a lot of things that Tim Drake didn’t know.

He didn’t know where he grew up, or what his mother looked like, or even what her name was. He didn’t know why there were only two people from his previous life who wanted anything to do with him, or why they seemed to have taken a vow of silence when it came to telling him anything about his past. He didn’t even know why he didn’t know these things, because hell if he could remember what situation had landed him on the wrong end of a loaded gun in the first place.

But Tim Drake wasn’t ignorant. He knew who his father was. And now, as he stared up at the luminescent WAYNE autographing the skyline, the feeling of familiarity blooming in his chest was like a confirmation.

He couldn't recall the exact moment when he’d connected the dots and realized the picture in his dresser was of celebrity billionaire Bruce Wayne, because up until recently, he had adamantly pushed the thought aside. If he was being honest with himself, he was scared of finding out about his father. Terrified. Judging by the state of his body, he had been through years of some kind of physical assault, and Dick’s adamancy that he be completely estranged from Bruce made it difficult for Tim not to assume the worst. He didn’t know what kind of life he had lived before, but he did know it almost killed him. It had been easier just to allow Dick to shield him from it.

But none of that mattered anymore. He had pushed those fears aside the moment he bought his bus ticket to Gotham City. Vanessa had said to him, once, “you can’t just pretend those things didn’t happen, Tim. Whatever you went through in those seventeen years makes up who you are.” And she was right. As usual.

“Is this the place?” the cab driver asked, snapping Tim out of his reverie. He glanced out the window to see they had stopped in front of an apartment building even shabbier than the one he had lived in with Dick and Damian. Tim took a deep breath.

“I hope so,” he said, fishing the right amount of cash out of his bag and handing it to the driver. “Thanks.”

He stumbled back onto the streets of Gotham, shivering under his hoodie in the cool night air. Part of him was aware of how risky it was to be wandering around on his own in one of the most dangerous places on earth, but for maybe the first time in his recollectable life, he wasn’t afraid. Even though he couldn’t remember it, he knew, somehow, that he had been to Gotham before. That he had belonged here.

The building only had three stories, and all of the rooms opened outside, so it looked more like a motel than an apartment complex. Not for the first time, Tim wondered who the hell could possibly live here. He hoped whoever it was had answers. Other than barging into Wayne Tower and demanding an audience with Bruce Wayne, he didn’t have many other options at this point.

After a taxing climb up the metal staircase, Tim found himself standing in front of apartment 207, nearly shaking with nerves and anticipation. He glanced down at the piece of paper clenched tightly in his fist.

“Please,” he muttered to himself. “Please be what I’m looking for.” He raised his hand, and knocked three times.

There was no response.

He tried again, twice, to no avail. Well, he had prepared for this. He pulled out the bobby pin he’d stuck in his hair, just in case, and began picking. Dick had taught him how to pick locks after the fifth time Damian locked him out of the apartment. Tim hadn't mentioned, at the time, that he'd realized somewhere along the line that he already knew exactly what to do. It was just another bullet on the list of suspicious things about his past that he was probably better off not knowing.

The lock eventually opened with a click, and Tim prayed that whoever owned this apartment was friendly enough with him that they wouldn't have him arrested for breaking and entering. He turned the handle hesitantly, and stepped inside.

It was immediately clear to Tim, much to his sinking disappointment, that no one lived here. Although if it weren't for the thick coat of dust covering every surface and the cold, still atmosphere, he might have thought otherwise. The one-room apartment was completely furnished. There were dirty dishes in the sink and the bed was unmade. There was even an open newspaper on the coffee table, like someone had just been in the middle of reading it. But despite this, Tim could tell that no one had been here for quite some time.

He stepped inside, hoping to at least find some kind of evidence of whoever had lived here. He maneuvered his crutches over what appeared to be a shattered lamp near the door, heading toward the dresser near the bed. He didn't manage to find anything worth noting other than a pack of cigarettes stowed away in the top drawer. The kitchenette cabinets and the television stand proved to be equally unhelpful.

Tim sighed, sitting down on the patterned couch as his legs began weakening beneath him. He put his head in his hands. Of all the scenarios he had considered, a complete dead-end wasn't one of them. He had written down this address and pocketed it for a reason. It meant something. It had to.

He glanced down at the coffee table, his eyes falling on the most prominent headline printed across the open newspaper.

RED ROBIN, KILLED IN ACTION?

His head throbbed.

“Oh, boy, did you pick the wrong apartment to break into.”

Tim nearly jumped out of his skin, stumbling as he stood and turned toward the source of the voice. He immediately recognized the figure crouched in the window frame. “I’m not here to steal anything. Please don’t shoot me, mister, um…” Tim said. “Hood.”

He expected some kind of hostile response from the masked man, especially considering Vanessa’s rants about his violent tendencies, but Red Hood sat completely still. Tim held back the million questions he had as he patiently waited for him to make the first move.

Red Hood eventually stepped into the room, and before Tim could even react, he had pulled off his helmet with shaky hands and approached him until they were inches apart. Tim felt his breath catch as he found himself face-to-face with a boy not much older than he was. He had messy hair, as black as his own other than a single white stripe in the front, and bright blue eyes that were looking at Tim like he was a ghost. He reached out a shaky hand and lifted up Tim’s bangs, before flinching back like he’d been burned.

“Tim?” he asked, his voice small. Tim suddenly felt like crying.

“Yes. Yeah. It’s me,” he said. Red Hood took a step back and covered his mouth with his hand. Tim swallowed thickly. “Look, I’m sure you have a lot of questions, and god knows I do too. But I… I don’t remember who you are. I don’t remember anything.”

The other boy just stared at him, his eyes glazed like he was lost in his own thoughts. Tim shuffled awkwardly. “I have retrograde amnesia. Caused by severe brain trauma. The first eighteen years of my life are just... gone,” he explained further. Red Hood still didn’t say anything. “So, um. Yeah.”

The much taller boy finally snapped out of his reverie, his face falling into a bored expression. “Gotcha. Well, it doesn’t matter, anyway,” he said with a shrug. “We barely knew each other.”

Tim blinked. “I mean. Seeing as you immediately took off your helmet and revealed your secret identity, I don't really believe you.” Red Hood grimaced.

“What the hell are you doing here?”

Tim reached into his pocket and pulled out the address. “I found this a few weeks ago,” he explained. “You’re J, aren’t you? So what, Jacob? John? Jackson?”

Red Hood closed his eyes tightly, before turning away from Tim and heading back toward the window. Tim panicked. “Wait,” he said quickly. “Don’t leave, please. I came here to get answers. Dick didn’t want me to—”

Dick?” Red Hood stopped his retreat and turned around abruptly, his eyes flashing.

“Uh, yeah,” Tim said. “My brother. Well, he says he is, anyway.”

Red Hood stared at him for a few beats before bursting into laughter, but it didn’t sound the least bit happy. “You have got to be fucking kidding me,” he said, running a hand through his hair. He looked like he wanted to hit something. “Look. I have to go. I have to… think. I’ll be back. I promise.”

Tim sighed. Well, he’d waited this long. “Okay,” he said, shifting awkwardly. “Um, it’s just. Coming here was kind of a last second thing, so. I don’t have anywhere to go.” Red Hood’s face softened.

“You can stay here,” he said immediately. “I don’t live here anymore, anyway. Just… wait for me.” And then he was gone.

Tim watched him go, pressing on his chest as if he could stop his heart from racing out of it. “I’m not going anywhere,” he muttered to himself.

--

Red Hood didn’t return for several days, and there were only so many non-perishable foods left in the kitchen cabinets that Tim could live off of. Not to mention he didn’t even have basics, like shampoo, or a toothbrush. As much as he didn’t want to, he knew that he had to leave the apartment.

Up until this point, he had always had Dick to drive him, hell, sometimes even carry him, wherever he needed to go. It was a luxury he had taken for granted. He didn’t have enough money to keep spending on taxis, and the nearest convenience store was really only around the corner, but it was exhausting. What should have been a five minute walk took him half an hour. He persisted, though, because if he couldn’t even go out and buy a toothbrush by himself then he really was a lost cause.

It was becoming difficult to remind himself that he had made a good decision, leaving Metropolis. That stepping out of the glass case Dick had placed him in was necessary.

It was still daylight when he left for the store, but by the time he began his trek back to the apartment, dusk had already settled in. Tim cursed under his breath. He hadn’t wanted to walk the streets of Gotham at all, but walking the streets of Gotham alone at night crossed the threshold from inconvenient into dangerous.

He was probably as unworldly as a person could possibly be, but Tim knew about Gotham’s reputation, at least. He knew that he was currently in what was essentially a cesspool of crime and corruption. Even Vanessa, who was practically obsessed with the city, often begrudgingly admitted as much.

“Um, should I be concerned that you go and wander around there alone at night all the time, then?” Tim had asked her once.

Vanessa had waved him off. “Don't be silly. I’m not alone. I guarantee I'm safer hiding out ten feet away from Batman in a dingy Gotham alley than you are in your bed in Metropolis,” she'd replied with a grin. “When you have the Batman on your side, you're invincible.”

Tim wasn't invincible. Quite the opposite, actually. And he was most certainly alone.

“Hey, kid.” Tim paused, glancing over toward the source of the voice. There was a boy, probably not much older than he was, leaning against the brick wall of an alleyway with a cigarette dangling from his lips. “You got a light?”

“Uh,” Tim said warily. “No.”

He made to keep walking, but the boy suddenly did a double take and grabbed his arm. “Wait, I know you,” he said, squinting at Tim scrutinizingly. “You're one of the Wayne kids.”

The boy's expression suddenly turned hungry, and Tim didn't like it. He pulled his arm out of his grasp. “You’re mistaking me for someone else.”

Tim made to leave again, but the boy cornered him against the alley wall before he could. “Hey, buddy, I’m about to be evicted. I’m sure daddy wouldn't mind if you spared me some cash, right?” he said, glancing at Tim’s backpack with a sharp grin. “Why don't you let me take a look in your bag?”

It vaguely occurred to Tim that he should just give up his money and continue on his way. He only had, like, a hundred dollars anyway, and he was in no position to get the shit beaten out of him again. But, well. He was nothing if not stubborn. “I don't think so,” he said.

The boy sighed. “Aw, come on, man. I didn’t want to have to do it like this,” he said. “You rich fuckers really need to learn how to share.” Tim braced himself, prepared to take a hit.

What he wasn't prepared for, however, was the click of the safety coming off of a gun. Tim felt his world dissolve into white noise.

He had only felt this way one other time, when Dick had taken them to see fireworks on the Fourth of July. The first bottle rocket had gone off, and suddenly Tim couldn't breathe. It had taken fifteen minutes to calm him down, and Dick was overly careful not to so much as slam the car door too hard after that.

This was even worse. Staring down the barrel of a handgun, he felt like he was inside one of his recurring nightmares. He tried to react, tried to take off his backpack and hand it over in surrender, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t move, he couldn’t see, he couldn’t even hear over the blood rushing in his ears.

I’m going to die was the only thought he could manage. I’m going to die, I’m going to die, I’m going to—

The gunshot that Tim was anticipating never came. He vaguely heard the sound of a scuffle going on near him, but he couldn’t process what was going on no matter how hard he tried.

“Tim? Tim!”

Tim blinked. He could feel hands on either side of his face. He tried to even out his breathing, squeezing his eyes shut and willing them to go back into focus. “What are you doing here? Are you alright? Tim!”

Tim opened his eyes.

Never in a million years would Tim have expected to be greeted by the sight of the Batman, all terrifying six-plus feet of him, cradling his face in his hands and calling his name. His first thought was that the gun had gone off, and he had actually died this time. And for some reason the Dark Knight of Gotham starred in his version of the afterlife.

His second thought was that Vanessa was never going to believe this.

“Um,” Tim choked out, but he really didn't know what to say beyond that. His mind was slowly arriving at his third thought, which was that a weird, menacing man in a dressed like a bat knew him by name. He was really not ready to deal with this.

Batman immediately released him and took a step back. “Right,” he said, obviously attempting to keep his voice neutral. “Son, I'm going to have to ask you to come with me. I know that you're confus—”

Tim bolted. He couldn't explain why, but every instinct on his body was telling him to do so.

It occurred to him that there was no way in hell he could outrun Batman if he wanted to stop him, but by the time he got back to the apartment building, the cape and cowl were nowhere to be seen. Tim collapsed against the wall, panting as he tried to catch his breath and gather his thoughts.

He didn't process what had just happened until he tried to stand up and realized, with a start, that he had left his crutches back in the alleyway. Suddenly the Batman was the furthest thing from his mind as he glanced down at his legs in shock.

He had run the entire way.

--

“Hey.”

Tim nearly fell over in surprise, his knuckles white as he gripped the counter and tried to regain his balance. He turned unsteadily toward the source of the voice, feeling immense relief wash over him when he saw Red Hood leaning near the window in full costume. “Do you ever use the door?” Tim asked, turning back to the stove and flipping over his pancakes. Red Hood just snorted in reply.

“What’s for breakfast? I’m starving,” he asked, taking off his helmet and leaning against the counter near Tim. He seemed to be in much better spirits than he had been the other day.

Tim stacked the pancakes onto a plate and handed them to the other boy, before pouring some more for himself. “Pancakes,” he said, unnecessarily.

“My favorite,” Red Hood said with a grin. “How sweet of you to remember.”

Tim stared at him.

“Hilarious.”

“I try.”

They say in silence as Tim finished cooking and Red Hood scarfed down his plain pancakes. Tim’s hands shook with nerves the entire time.

“So. I guess I should apologize for running off the other day,” Red Hood said as he swallowed down his last bite, hopping off of the counter and perching himself on edge of the bed. “It’s just that I watched you get shot in the face and die over a year ago, so I was a little thrown off. But I'm good now. Spontaneous resurrection happens, trust me, I get it… what are you doing?”

Tim had finished his food and started making his way to the table, leaning heavily on the counter and limping along as he did so. Unfortunately, the running had apparently been some kind of adrenaline-induced miracle, which especially sucked because now he didn’t even have crutches. His walking was getting better, though, and he felt the same kind of victory he had when he stood out of his wheelchair for the first time every time he made it from the couch to the kitchen without faceplanting.

“Just another fun effect of severe brain damage,” Tim muttered as he carefully lowered himself onto a chair. Red Hood paled considerably. “And, um, I’m not completely sure what happened, but I am almost positive that I didn’t die.”

The other boy shifted on the bed, an unreadable expression on his face, before he snapped out of it and lounged back against the headboard. “Okay, well. You have questions right? Ask away,” he said casually.

Tim sat up straight, his mind racing. “Right. Uh,” he said. “First of all, how do we know each other? And what’s your name?”

Red Hood sat up abruptly. “Hold on. Ground rules,” he said seriously. “Don’t ask any questions about me. It doesn’t matter. I told you, we barely knew each other—”

“Which was a lie.”

“—and you came to me to find out more about your life, right? Try again.”

Tim blinked. “Okay,” he said. He paused in thought. “…You said you were there during the accident. What happened to me?”

Red Hood was quiet for a long, long time. “Dickie didn’t even tell you that much, huh?” he asked with a tired sigh. “Well, you know Gotham. It’s dangerous as hell. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and… yeah.” He groaned. “Fuck, kid, I can’t do this.”

Tim might have been more disappointed if he wasn't so goddamn used to this. “I'm sorry,” he said, unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice. “Recollecting the past must be so hard for you. I wouldn't know.”

Red Hood glared at him. “Oh, give me a break,” he snapped. “You know, Dick Grayson may be a lying, selfish piece of shit, but did you ever consider that maybe he had your best interests in mind when he took you away from here?”

“Obviously,” Tim said flatly. “That’s why I spent a year and a half as the object of his co-dependency and a twelve-year-old’s punching bag. But I think I’m ready to make that decision for myself now.”

The hostility immediately drained from the other boy’s features. He paused, before moving over to sit across from Tim at the table. “You asked me to help you with something, and I did because you had me wrapped around your goddamn finger,” he said tiredly. “Next thing I knew we were in an alley and you had a bullet in your head, and I was trying to help but there was nothing I could do, and… fuck. I thought you were dead. This entire fucking time, I thought you were dead.”

Tim felt a sudden rush of panic wash over him, and he squeezed his eyes shut tightly. “I’m alive,” he said, more to himself to calm his frantic heart rate. Red Hood stared at him.

“Yeah,” he said, almost breathlessly. “I’m… god, Tim. I am so fucking glad.” Tim felt his face heat up as they held eye contact.

He cleared his throat. “What now?” Tim asked. Red Hood shrugged.

“Beats me. Usually I’m the one making a shocking return from the grave,” he said. He shot Tim a grin. “Guess that makes you my replacement.”

Tim frowned. "...You're making it really difficult to follow the ground rules."

"Sorry, sorry," he said, trying to stifle his chuckles at what Tim could only assume was an inside joke with himself. "Let's just take it one day at a time, yeah? I promise I'll tell you everything eventually. But I'd like to enjoy this at least a little before it all goes to shit."

Tim nodded, slightly relieved. Maybe he wasn't as ready to face all of this as he'd thought. "Alright."

"Great," he said before smirking at Tim. "Welcome back, baby bird."

Chapter Text

Oracle to Red Hood.”

Jason lost his footing, just barely catching himself before he tumbled off of the rooftop. “Dammit, O, I told you to stop hacking into my comm,” he muttered.

Hm, but then who would let you know when the security system goes off at one of your safehouses?” she asked, unphased. Jason sighed.

“Which?” he muttered, already changing course to head back downtown.

Overbrook.”

Jason’s jaw clenched. He hadn’t been there since… “On it. Now, if you would, please remove yourself from my ear.”

I’ll take that as a thank you,” Barbara said flatly, before cutting out.

Jason grappled his way across Gotham, trying to tune out the unpleasant memories that he couldn’t help but associate with this place. Please, I need your help. After this I… I promise I’ll stay away. You never have to see me again. Jason…

He shook his head rapidly. Fucking hell.

It only took him minutes to arrive at the apartment complex, and he snuck in through the window, figuring he could get some enjoyment from scaring the shit out of the punk who decided to trespass on him. Everything was in the exact same place it had been the last time he’d been there, down to the shattered lamp on the floor and the dent in the paint where he’d thrown it against the wall. He winced.

Sure enough, there was some kid making himself at home on Jason's couch. “Oh, boy, did you pick the wrong apartment to break into,” he said in his best intimidating voice. The intruder jumped up in alarm, before turning to face him.

Jason’s heart stopped. His entire body froze. He felt all of the oxygen leave him and he suddenly couldn’t breathe enough back in under his helmet. The boy’s hair was longer, and he was much thinner, but it didn’t matter. Jason would recognize Tim Drake even if he were blind.

Which was interesting, because Tim Drake was dead.

He must have said something, but Jason suddenly couldn’t hear anything over the sound of his own heartbeat in his ears. When he could will his body to react, he ripped off his helmet and was in front of Tim in three steps, taking in the features he never thought he’d see again like they would disappear if he looked away. This was a dream. The same one that he’d had over and over again for more than a year, only to wake up in agony when he was ripped back to the real world.

Except in his dreams, Tim didn’t usually look like he’d just gotten the shit beaten out of him. And he definitely never had such a sad, faraway look in his eyes.

Jason reached out a shaky hand and lifted up his bangs. Sure enough, where there had been a fresh bullet hole last time Jason had seen it, there was just scar tissue. He flinched away. He wasn’t dreaming. Tim Drake was here, standing in front of him.

“Tim?” he asked, just to make sure. The boy looked so broken.

“Yes. Yeah. It’s me,” he said. Jason’s knees almost collapsed from the sound of his voice alone.

He vaguely processed Tim continuing to speak, something about amnesia and brain trauma and… oh. Oh.

Well, really, this was better than anything Jason could have asked for. Tim didn’t know him. Didn’t know who he was or what had happened. And it was sure as hell gonna stay that way.

“Gotcha. Well, it doesn’t matter, anyway,” Jason said flippantly. “We barely knew each other.”

Tim didn't look amused. “Right, okay,” he said flatly. “That’s why you immediately took off your helmet and revealed your secret identity.” Jason cursed under his breath. Ever the fucking detective.

“What the hell are you doing here?” he asked, his head spinning as he tried to surmise how the hell an amnestic Tim Drake had ended up in his long-abandoned safehouse.

Tim reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded sheet of paper. “I found this a few weeks ago. You’re Jay, aren’t you? So what, Jacob? John? Jackson?”

Time to go, Jason’s mind was telling him. If he left now, then Tim would just mark this off as an unremarkable encounter and move on with his life, blissfully unaware of Jason’s existence. All Jason had to do was walk out the door. He had already gotten used to the idea of life without Tim, anyway.

He turned around and made to leave, ignoring the miserable feeling in his gut. This was just like his dreams after all.

“Wait,” Tim said, and it took everything Jason had not to. “Don’t leave, please. I came here to get answers. Dick didn’t want me to—”

That stopped Jason in his tracks. “Dick?” he snapped, turning back around against his better judgement as a wave of anger crashed over him. Tim confirmed that he was, in fact, talking about the Dick, Dick fucking Grayson, and suddenly all of the confused feelings that had overwhelmed Jason from the moment he’d entered the apartment consolidated into burning rage.

That son of a bitch.

“Look. I have to go. I have to… think.” He paused at the look on Tim’s face. “I’ll be back. I promise.” God fucking dammit.

Tim needed a place to stay, and Jason knew it would be a horrible idea to invite him to stay there, so of course he did. And then he left.

His first thought when he got back onto the street was that he had every intention of kicking Dick Grayson’s ass, but he realized that he had no idea where the hell he was. Dick had been adamant about not mentioning where he’d run off to with the most recent Boy Wonder on the occasions where he’d visited Jason, and Jason had never really cared before.

But he knew how to find out.

“I know you’re still listening,” he said bitterly. “Did you know?”

I know everything,” Barbara said unabashedly. “…I’m sorry you had to find out like that. I didn’t know it was him.”

Jason scowled. “How the hell could you keep this from me,” he grit out, making an effort to remain calm.

It wasn’t my call,” she said. “And you know why.” Jason took a deep breath.

“Where is he?”

No way. I know that your version of confrontation is punch-first-ask-questions-later,” she said firmly. “You need to take some time to calm down, Jason. You don't know the whole story.”

“I’m all ears,” he said. Barbara sighed.

I don't know it, either,” she admitted. “He hasn't told me anything. You're the only one he’s kept in contact with.” Jason laughed darkly.

“Well, don't I feel special,” he said. “Do you think he flipped a coin to see which of the two of us would be his comfort fuck when he got lonely?”

She didn’t respond, but Jason could nearly hear the disappointment in her silence. He sighed.

“Sorry. I'm sorry,” he said, his mind already quickly calculating a new, much less preferred plan. “Alright, then, I guess I have to pay a visit to the second biggest asshole I know.” Barbara let out a little breath of surprise.

You have a death wish,” she said matter-of-factly. Jason thought she almost sounded concerned.

“Nah, I already used that one up,” he said, smirking to himself.

Jason really wasn’t looking forward to this. He spent the entire trip to the outskirts of Gotham contemplating whether or not he should turn around, go back to his apartment and mope alone until he had the nerve to face Tim. He shook the thought away every time.

Tim Drake was alive, had been alive for the last year and a half, and Jason had been intentionally denied this information. Someone was going to fucking answer to him.

He dropped down in front of the entrance, bracing himself before knocking three times.

“Master Jason,” Alfred greeted him moments later. “How… imprudent of you to visit.”

Jason pushed his way inside. “Nice to see you too, Al,” he said casually. “Where’s Bruce?”

Alfred eyed him suspiciously. “What is your intention here?” he asked. Jason shrugged.

“I just want to talk.”

“Ah, yes, because you are both so well-versed in the art of communication,” Alfred said with a sigh. “Although I cannot convey enough how strongly I advise against it, you may find him downstairs.”

Ah, great. A confrontation in a cave full of weapons. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

Bruce didn’t even turn around when Jason walked into the cave, his gaze glued to the monitor in front of him. Jason waited.

“You have a lot of nerve—”

“So, Tim’s alive,” Jason cut him off, and Bruce froze. He didn’t show any intention of responding, so Jason continued. “You fucking owe me an explanation, Bruce.”

“I don’t owe you a goddamn thing,” Bruce grit out, finally turning to face him. “How do you know this?”

“He showed up at my doorstep looking like he’d been to hell and back,” Jason said. “He… he didn’t know me. Didn’t even know my name.” Bruce’s eyes widened.

“He’s in Gotham?”

“Why shouldn’t he be!?” Jason snapped in frustration. “What, did you send him away to punish me? That seems a bit excessive, considering you made your point very clear the last time. But I guess that was all theatrics to make sure I didn't get suspicious, right?” He reached up and subconsciously touched the left side of his chest.

Bruce grit his teeth. “This has nothing to do with you.”

“Are you shitting me?” Jason said, nearly shouting now. “I’m the only one who doesn’t know Tim is alive, and you are so adamant about keeping it that way that you send him into hiding, and you’re going to pretend this isn’t about me?”

“That wasn’t my decision, goddammit!” Bruce yelled, his hands clenched into fists. “You’re not the one that Tim was being hidden from, I am!”

The cave fell into a tense silence.

“Dick took them away. I don't know where they've been because I haven't looked,” Bruce said, suddenly calm and collected. He pulled his cowl down over his face and headed toward the car. “You know where the door is.”

Jason snapped out of his momentary stupor, stepping in front of Bruce before he could move any further. “Don’t,” he said. “He's confused and scared, the last thing he needs is the fucking Batman coming after him.”

“Get out of my way, Jason,” Bruce growled. “The fact that Tim is alive changes nothing. Don't show your face in front of me again.”

Jason didn't move, but he didn't try to stop Bruce when he pushed past him, either.

“You're wrong,” Jason called, just loud enough so that he knew Bruce could still hear him even as he climbed into the car. “It changes everything.”

Chapter Text

“So, um,” Tim said, holding onto the fire escape tightly for support as he glanced down at the street below. “You hang out on top of skyscrapers often?”

“That isn't normal?” J asked, the corners of his mouth turning up in amusement.

Tim stared out over the skyline, able to see the lights of the city reflecting in the water from this high up. His breath caught as the cool nighttime air billowed through his hair. “It feels normal,” he said honestly.

J sat beside Tim in the ledge of the building, his helmet settled in his lap. “Thought you'd like some scenery. You haven't seen much of Gotham outside of that apartment, have you?” Tim shook his head. “Well, here she is. You can almost forget she's a complete shithole when you're looking from up here.”

Tim hummed. He closed his eyes. “Did I grow up here?” he asked, because they had decided to start small. As much as he wanted to know the big things, the details mattered too.

“As far as I know,” J said, lighting a cigarette. “We didn’t exactly move in the same circles, growing up. I was mugging people for pocket change so I could afford dinner, and you, well, as much as I hate to use the silver spoon cliché.” Tim snorted.

“That's hard to imagine,” he muttered. The closest thing he'd had to luxury in his current life was pancakes for breakfast. “But I guess it makes sense, with Bruce Wayne as my father.”

J gave him a funny look. “What? Bruce isn't your dad,” he said, before backtracking immediately. “Well, I guess he is, legally, but you had another one. Bruce adopted you after your real dad died.”

Tim’s eyes widened. “Oh,” he said, his stomach churning at this new information. J scratched the back of his neck.

“I couldn't tell you a lot about your other parents,” he said admittedly. “You and I… we didn't talk about stuff like that.” Tim shook his head.

“It’s fine,” he said immediately. He wasn't sure he wanted to hear about people he'd lost, especially since he hadn't even known he’d lost them. “So, Bruce is my adoptive father. That makes sense, I guess. What about Dick and Damian?”

“Dick’s adopted too, Damian is biological. And you have an adoptive sister, Cass, she’s cool,” J explained. “Bruce has this thing about taking in strays.”

Tim hummed, glancing at him. “So where do you come in?” he asked, trying to sound nonchalant. J looked back at him flatly.

“Off-limits,” he reminded him.

Tim groaned. “All right, I know,” he said bitterly. “You could at least tell me your name.” J sighed, his breath coming out in a cloud of smoke.

“Here's the thing,” he said. “Any day now either Bruce or Dick, I haven’t decided who my money’s on yet, is gonna show up at my apartment, kick my ass, and take you away. Then you’ll never see me again. So there’s really no reason for us to get to know each other.” Tim frowned.

“…How bad is it?”

“What?”

“Whatever you’re trying to keep me from remembering about you,” Tim explained. J grimaced.

“I’m not trying to keep you from anything. Have you considered that maybe I just don’t care about you enough?” he said bluntly. “If you haven’t noticed, I wear a mask. I don’t give up my identity to just anyone.”

Tim raised an amused eyebrow. “Oh, okay. You don’t care about me. That’s why you’re still here despite the fact that you keep insisting I should have nothing to do with you,” he said dryly. “That’s why you’re letting me stay in your apartment. That’s why you nearly cried when you saw me for the first time.”

J took a long drag from his cigarette, pointedly avoiding eye contact with Tim. “God, you haven’t changed at all,” he said tiredly. “You read me like a fucking book. It’s annoying.” Tim grinned.

“To be fair, you’re not exactly an amazing actor.”

J frowned deeply. “I did not nearly cry,” he grumbled.

“Your eyes got pretty red,” Tim pointed out. “It’s okay, you can admit it. I won’t tell anyone. Wouldn’t wanna ruin Red Hood’s tough street cred.”

“It would be really easy for me to push you off this building.”

Tim laughed loudly, and J made no effort to hide the grin that spread across his face. They sat in comfortable silence for a few moments, until J eventually flicked his cigarette over the edge of the building and stood up.

“Bad.”

Tim looked up at him, brushing his bangs out of his face when the wind blew them over his eyes. “What?”

“The thing I don’t want you to remember,” J said, securing his helmet back over his head. “It’s bad.”

--

J’s prediction that someone was going to come for Tim didn't come to fruition for the next few days, or even weeks. J himself had even stopped coming around as much, apparently too busy with his current investigation into some cocaine-smuggling ring to spare any time for Tim. So, after two weeks or so of living alone in a one-room apartment that he couldn't even leave without help, Tim took it upon himself to figure out how to hack into Red Hood’s comm system out of sheer boredom.

“This is cool,” Tim said, ignoring J’s protests as he watched the GPS marker on the screen move around Gotham. “Do you have a camera in your helmet I can connect to?”

Why, because this isn't invasive enough?” J muttered indignantly. “You should know that I really hate it when people hack into my comm.

“Why do you have a comm if you don’t want anyone to talk to you on it?” Tim asked over a mouthful of cereal. J chose not to respond to that.

It was strange, listening in on the Red Hood in action, because for the first time it really sunk in that J was actually a real, live, ass-kicking vigilante. It had always seemed a bit fantastical to him when Vanessa had gone off on her hero worship tangents. He had never really registered that the people she talked about were actually real. Yet here he was, alone in a strange, dangerous city with the exception of some masked crimefighter he’d only seen in shaky polaroids. His life had become really, really weird.

“My friend Vanessa hates you,” he said offhandedly, mostly thinking out loud.

You have friends?” J replied without missing a beat. “Hey, since you’re here, d’you think you can get into the CCTV on Graham and Fifth and let me know when the shipment is on its way? It’ll be a white van with H.G. Plumbing stenciled on the side.”

Tim was surprised by how naturally he was able to comply with J’s request, like hacking into traffic-enforcement cameras was something he’d done a hundred times. “Yep, got it,” he said. “And… not really. Just the one. We go to school together, she’s really cool.” He paused. “I wonder how she is.”

J’s line was quiet for a moment, other than the slight rush of wind that meant he was probably grappling between buildings. “How were things, in Metropolis?” he finally asked. “You miss it?”

“God, no,” Tim said, startling even himself with how immediate his response was. He hesitated for a moment. “I mean, Dick really tried. And some days it wasn’t… that bad. But. No.”

You were miserable, huh?”

Tim chewed on his thumbnail shrugged, even though he knew J couldn’t see it. “School sucked. A lot. I could never focus, which is probably part of the brain damage thing, but I also didn’t care. I tried to, for Dick’s sake, but remembering significant World War II battles seems much less important when you can’t even remember who the hell you are,” he said, admittedly. “And since that obviously wasn’t bad enough, everyone liked to screw with me because… because they knew I wouldn’t fight back, I guess. Because I was just that weird invalid who showed up one day with a bullet hole in his head.”

Wait, wait,” J cut in. “Did you get bullied?” Tim thought he almost sounded angry. Then again, he always did.

“Well, I would have phrased it in a less embarrassing way,” he muttered. And he continued, because at this point it was like the floodgate that had been keeping all of this back had finally broken down. “I could handle the kids at school, though. That was… whatever. The worst part was coming home to someone who despised me even more than they did. I honestly believed sometimes that Damian would have been happier if that bullet had killed me. And even though Dick tried his best to make sure I didn’t just feel like a complete waste of space, he was never there, because he worked two jobs so that we could keep our pantry filled with ramen noodles and cereal, so I was always just… alone. And sick. And exhausted.”

J was very quiet. After several minutes, Tim decided he wasn’t going to respond, and he cleared his throat. “Anyway, that doesn’t matter. I left. And now I’m here,” he said. “And I’m… happy. For the first time in my life, as far as I can remember.”

Jesus, Tim,” J said, his voice a little shaky. He sighed. “I mean, you’re living alone, in Gotham. In my piece of shit apartment. Your standards for happiness are concerningly low.”

“I’m not alone,” Tim pointed out. “I have you.” J groaned. He was silent for a moment.

…Me too,” he said, after some effort. “I’m happy, too.

Tim grinned, and was about to reply, but he was suddenly startled by another voice unexpectedly crackling over the line.

Oracle to Red Hood. Batgirl wants to know if you need any help, she’s in the area,” the female voice said calmly. She paused. “Did you know there’s someone else on this line?”

Goddammit,” J swore irritably. “Yes, I know, it’s Tim. And tell Batgirl I’ve got it.”

Oh! Hi Tim,” the girl said. Tim blinked. “How have you been?”

“Uh,” Tim said.

Oh, don’t worry, we’re friends,” she said reassuringly. “I can’t tell you my name on the comms, though, sorry.”

“Oh,” Tim said. “That’s okay. Um, I’m fine, how about you?”

J made a disgruntled noise. “I’m glad we’re bonding, but I’m kind of trying to bust a drug cartel here,” he said exasperatedly. “Tim, is the shipment on it’s way yet?”

“Not yet,” Tim said, still carefully watching the CCTV.

So you have him playing Oracle?” she asked. J sighed.

No. He, much like yourself, wasn’t invited.”

“I was bored,” Tim explained. “And I can’t walk or do anything, so I figured maybe I could help out with this… vigilante stuff.”

Trust me, I get it,” Oracle said. She paused. “Are you… staying in Gotham? With Red Hood?”

I’m letting him stay in the safehouse,” J answered for him. “Until someone else claims him, anyway.”

She hummed. “Gotcha,” she said. And then, joyfully, “N’s going to kick your ass.”

I honestly can’t wait for him to try.”

Good luck with that,” she said with a sigh. “Anyway, I’ll leave you to your drug bust. It was nice to talk to you, Tim.”

“Uh, yeah, bye,” Tim responded. She cut out, and the line was quiet for a few moments. “Who’s N?”

J exhaled loudly. “Your big brother,” he said bitterly. Tim frowned.

“Oh,” he said. This wasn’t the first time he had expressed grievances toward Dick. “How do you two know each other, anyway? Oh, hey, there’s the van. Shipment’s on it’s way.”

In the biblical sense, mostly,” J answered dryly, and Tim blanched. “Hang tight for a minute.”

Tim waited quietly while Red Hood worked, receiving only brief sounds of altercation from the other line for several minutes. He didn’t really pay it much mind, until he was startled by the obvious sound of gunshots.

His pulse immediately picked up, and he tried to keep his breathing even as he sat frozen. He didn’t manage to completely calm down until after the shooting stopped, however. “Are you okay?” he asked shakily after a few beats of tense silence. J grunted.

Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,” he said, unbothered. “Sorry about that.”

“Was… was that you shooting, or something shooting at you?”

J was quiet for a long moment. “The latter,” he said, sharply. “I don’t use guns.”

--

It was dawn, the sun not yet risen but the sky slowly beginning to go from black to navy. J had come to visit him after patrol, claiming that he had been nearby and was too tired to go all the way back to his current apartment. He was dirty, covered in blood that may or may not have been his, and his hair was disheveled from being jammed under a helmet for hours on end. He was sitting and leaning against the balcony railing, a cigarette between his battered knuckles. Tim wished he could take a picture.

“Those things will kill you, you know,” Tim said, just for conversation’s sake. J turned to glance at him, his face only inches away as they sat side-by-side.

“That would be funny, wouldn’t it?” he said, his voice soft, as if he didn’t want to disrupt the quiet morning. “After all this, lung cancer being the thing finally knocks me down for good.” He laughed once, dryly. Tim stared at him.

“Uh, hilarious,” he replied.

They didn’t speak again until the sky turned from navy to cobalt. In this lighting, Tim could see just how dark the circles were under J’s eyes. He could see the faint scars marring his face and the little curls in the front of his hair. “Hey,” he said thickly, before he could lose his nerve. J hummed in acknowledgement. “I think I had feelings for you. Before.”

J didn’t answer for a long time. He lit another cigarette, his hands shaking slightly as he did so. “Really,” he finally said, betraying no emotion in his voice. Tim shifted nervously.

“I mean, I don’t remember. Obviously. But still, I… I don’t think I’m wrong,” he said. J had completely tensed up beside him. “And, I think… I think that you broke my heart.”

J snapped out of his stupor, standing up and pulling his gloves back on stiffly. “Sounds like something I’d do,” he said shortly. “I have to go. Fuck, I’m sorry. This was all a huge fucking mistake.”

Tim felt a panic wash over him. He knew that if he let him leave this time, he would never come back. “Don’t go,” he choked out, using the railing to pull himself up onto shaky feet. And because he was sure, somehow, more than he’d ever been sure of anything, that it was the right thing to say, he added, “Please, Jason.”

Jason froze. He swayed on his feet for a moment, like he’d been punched, before turning to Tim with wide eyes. “Say that again.”

“Jason,” Tim repeated. He was overwhelmed, suddenly, his words rushing out in a burst of emotion. “That’s your name, right? I know it is, because I remember it, I remember it.” He was shaking so hard it hurt. Jason was staring at him like he was greatest and worst thing he’d ever laid eyes on all at once.

“Tim,” he said, leaning against the railing like suddenly he was the one whose legs didn’t work.

Tim didn’t wait for him to finish. He put his hands on Jason’s shoulders, holding them there for balance as he lifted himself up and kissed him. Jason’s body went rigid, before he gave in, resting his hands hesitantly on Tim’s waist before kissing him back.

It was so much. Tim thought that the sheer amount of thoughts and emotions running through his head might kill him. But, most prominently, he felt at ease. This was how things were supposed to be. This was right.

Tim pulled back after a few moments, his heart racing in his chest like he’d just run a mile. “Is this okay?” he asked between breaths. Jason looked devastated.

“No. This is the furthest thing from okay,” he said, before leaning in and kissing Tim again.

Chapter Text

Jason stayed at least long enough for Tim to nod off, but by the time he woke up, the warm shoulder he had fallen asleep on had been replaced by the hard arm of the sofa. Jason was gone.

Tim was disappointed, but he couldn’t say he was surprised. They hadn’t talked much after what happened. Jason had just seemed drained, like he was holding the weight of the world on his shoulders, and although Tim had been extremely confident in his actions at the time, it didn't take long for the doubt to start eating away at him. After all, he had acted on the way he knew he felt about Jason, but he had been relatively presumptuous about whether or not Jason even felt the same way. He’d kissed Tim back, sure, but he hasn't seemed particularly… happy about it. And Tim couldn’t seem to escape the inexplicable sadness he felt alongside everything else.

He gave it three days of radio silence before he allowed himself to accept that Jason wasn’t coming back. He made a last-ditch effort by hacking into the comms again, just in case. Maybe Jason found an important lead and didn’t have any time to spare to check on Tim. Maybe Tim was overreacting. He opened up the line and said Jason’s name, only once, and was met with nothing but static in return.

The cold, empty atmosphere that Tim had felt in the apartment when he’d first arrived a few weeks ago slowly started to creep back in. He was alone again, except this time it was worse because he was actually alone. He didn’t even have Damian’s cold, uncompanionable presence or Vanessa’s comforting rambling just a phone call away. He was in a strange, dangerous city where he knew absolutely no one and had no ability to contact anyone he did know.

Sometimes, when he sat out on the balcony and Wayne Tower caught his eye in the distance, he allowed his mind to entertain the possibility. Every time, he pushed the thought aside. On a basic level, he couldn’t go through with it because he simply had no way of getting there. He had used up all of his money on food, and he couldn’t walk for obvious reasons. But if he was being honest with himself, he was dreading the day that he finally met Bruce Wayne.

If Dick had hammered one thought into Tim’s mind over the past year and a half, it was that his past was bad. That it was something dangerous and evil that Dick needed to hide him away from. And at the forefront of all that was his father, Bruce, the man who never once tried to visit his son that had just been through a life-altering accident, who had let his twelve-year-old move away with someone who clearly had no experience taking care of children, who Dick was so eager to keep away that he had risked legally kidnapping them.

It wasn’t that these thoughts were anything new. He had always known that he’d lived a life where people shot him, and stabbed him, and burned him, and done whatever the hell else had left the scars that patterned his entire body. When he had left Metropolis, he had been so frustrated and desperate for answers that he had convinced himself that he was willing to face all of that. But things were different now.

He had come to Gotham to find himself, but instead he’d found Jason. And suddenly he didn’t care if all of the questions he had about his life before remained unanswered forever. He just wanted him back.

Which was why, when there was a knock on the door a few days later, Tim nearly faceplanted in his haste to answer it. Although, logically, he knew that Jason wouldn’t knock on his own door, he was still disappointed to see an unfamiliar girl standing in the doorway.

“Oh my god, it’s really you,” she said in disbelief, before nearly throwing herself into his arms. It was only because of her support that they didn’t go toppling to the ground. “Jesus, Tim, I missed you so damn much. Are you okay? How have you been? Wow, you're skinny. Didn't Dick feed you?”

Tim blinked. “Um.”

She froze. “Oh, right, I forgot. Erm, well… technically, you did,” she said, carefully removing herself from him. She grinned brightly. “Stephanie Brown.”

Tim reached out and hesitantly shook the hand she extended. “Okay,” he said awkwardly.

“Barbara told me that you were here, and that I should come check in on you,” she explained further. “I cannot believe that you’ve been here for weeks and Jason didn’t tell me, the asshole. Always trying to have you all to himself. It was bad enough that Dick wouldn't let me see you for the past year and a half.”

Tim’s head was spinning. “I… what?” he asked. “Sorry, it’s just that—”

“You have amnesia, I know, I know,” she said with a sigh, helping him over to sit on the couch. “I was there when you woke up in the hospital. You looked me in the face and asked me if I was your nurse.”

“So... I'm assuming you weren't?” Tim asked, grinning slightly when she shoved his arm.

“Wow, you're still obnoxious. That's comforting,” she said, but she was smiling too. “Anyway, I’m your best friend. Also your ex, but we don’t really talk about that because we were super young and it was before we both realized we were gay as hell. Good times.”

Tim raised an eyebrow. “Wow. Uh, cool,” he said. He paused. “I didn’t know I had a best friend.”

Stephanie hummed. “Yeah, well, someone had to do it. I stepped up and took one for the team,” she said. He chuckled. She reminded him a lot of Vanessa, which… he guessed made sense, in a weird way. “Anyway. You look like shit, Tim. What are you doing here? Last time I checked Dick practically had you locked away in a tower.”

“Thanks,” Tim said dryly, rubbing at his tired eyes. “Um, he what?”

Stephanie rolled her eyes. “I tried to get a hold of you for months, but Dick can be Bruce-level stubborn sometimes, I swear,” she said bitterly. She transitioned into a deep, mocking voice that Tim assumed was supposed to be an impression of Dick. “‘No one is seeing Tim unless they hang up the cape for good.’ He’s so dramatic. I mean, Tim, I love you and all, but it’s not that easy to just give up your entire life in exchange for visitation rights.” Tim stared at her blankly.

“The cape?”

“…Okay, you know what, it doesn’t matter,” Stephanie said with a long-suffering sigh. “The point is that I missed you, dork.”

“I would say the same, but I didn’t know you existed until like, five minutes ago,” Tim said matter-of-factly. Stephanie frowned.

“That’s… really sad,” she said. “But at least you do now. You are staying, right? Have you seen Bruce yet?”

Tim shifted nervously. “I don’t… know. I don’t know what I’m doing here,” he said honestly. “I found this address in my pocket one day and I just… ran away. Dick doesn’t even know I’m here. Neither does Bruce. And I think, for right now, I want to keep it that way.”

Stephanie nodded in understanding. “Fair enough. I don’t plan on telling them,” she said with a shrug. She side-eyed him. “So. You’ve been living with Jason, huh? How are things with you two?”

His chest clenched a bit at the reminder, and he groaned. “I haven’t seen him in almost a week,” he muttered.

“Yeah. Babs told me he went AWOL,” she said with a shrug. “He’s like that, though. Especially now. I wouldn’t worry about it.”

Tim shifted a little bit in his seat. “This is… different,” he muttered, suddenly inexplicably certain that he could trust this girl he barely knew. “He’s avoiding me. We, uh, kind of made out.”

Stephanie nearly fell off of the sofa. “What?!” she squawked. Tim scratched at the back of his neck awkwardly.

“Is it really that surprising?” he asked. “I mean, I assume we were like… together at some point. Or, maybe not, maybe it was all one-sided. I don’t know.” Stephanie was staring at him like he had grown another head.

“What the hell are you talking about? That’s the opposite of true,” she said. “Before the night of your accident, you and Jason hadn’t even talked to each other in like, six months.”

“What?” Tim asked incredulously. “Why?”

Stephanie paused. “Well, you were right about it being one-sided. But not on your part,” she said carefully. “You rejected him, essentially, and it got… awkward.”

Tim’s stared at her. “Okay, I know that isn’t true,” he said. “I… liked him, before. I remember. Kind of.” She quirked an eyebrow at him.

“Really?” she asked, grinning slyly. “Gross.” Tim rolled his eyes.

“I just wish I knew what happened,” he said tiredly. “I wish I knew a lot of things.”

Stephanie glanced at Tim, her expression suddenly serious. “You know what, Tim? Maybe there are some things you’re better off not remembering,” she said. “I just want you to be happy.”

Tim laughed once, humorlessly. “For some reason, I doubt I will be.”

--

Two weeks and three days after Jason left, he came back.

“Hey,” he said, his hands in his pockets as he leaned against the door frame. Tim forgot to stop pouring his coffee, and burned his hand as it overflowed onto the counter.

“Ow, shit,” he cursed. “Um. Hi.”

Jason scratched the back of his neck. “You hungry?”

And that was how, forty-five minutes later, they found themselves sitting across from each other at a restaurant so excessively high-class that they were only able to get a table after Jason introduced him to the usher as “Tim Drake-Wayne”. Jason didn’t seem to have any intention of acknowledging the fact that he’d just reappeared out of nowhere after an unexplained seventeen day absence, and Tim was so relieved that he didn’t even care.

“Is this your usual scene?” Tim asked somewhat sarcastically, his heart nearly failing at the prices on the menu. Jason scoffed.

“I’m more of a 24/7 burger joint guy,” he said. He paused, suddenly looking at the menu with extreme interest. “This was your favorite restaurant, so.”

Tim blinked, a thought suddenly occurring to him. “Wait, is this a date?” he asked bluntly. Jason rolled his eyes.

“I see the ‘World’s Second-Greatest Detective’ title isn’t wasted on you,” he said. Tim gave him a puzzled look, and he laughed once to himself. “Yeah, Tim. It’s a date.”

“Oh. Okay,” Tim said, unable to stop the grin from creeping over his face. “Good.”

It was immediately clear to Tim that Jason had changed in his absence. He was much less tense, and for the first time Tim didn’t feel like he was being cautiously held at a distance. Whatever had been holding him back anymore was either no longer an issue, or he had just decided that he didn’t care. Tim was glad for it, regardless.

“Not to make things awkward,” Tim said conversationally part-way through their meal. “But if this is a date, we should probably talk about the fact that you told me you’ve slept with my brother.”

Jason choked a little bit on his water. “Uh, or we could not?” he said wishfully. Tim just stared at him expectantly, and Jason groaned. “Okay, look, it’s not… there weren’t feelings involved, or anything. Frankly, the only feelings I currently have for Dick Grayson are very, very negative ones.” He paused. “I was in a really bad place. It was a coping thing, I guess. I thought that was what it was for him, too, but as it turns out, I was the only one mourning your nonexistent death.”

Tim’s eyes widened. “Dick didn’t… tell you that I died, did he?”

“He didn’t tell me that you didn’t.”

Tim’s chest clenched uncomfortably. He really, really didn’t want to doubt one of the two positive relationships he’d ever had, but he was beginning to question what the hell Dick had been thinking. He’d always led Tim to believe that they were living the way they were because he was protecting him, but from what? Having any family or friends? Being anything even resembling happy?

The mood eventually lightened again, and they spent the rest of the meal easily conversing. It was never hard for Tim to forget all of the stressors that constantly inhabited his mind when he was with Jason.

“Hey, so, this girl came to visit me the other day. Stephanie?” Tim said conversationally after a while. Jason nodded in acknowledgment. “Anyway, she told me some things. And… I don’t know if this will mean anything to you, but… I want to you to know that, regardless of what I might have said in the past, I meant it when I told you I had feelings for you before. I know that I did.”

Jason looked surprised by the declaration. He chuckled, running his hand through his hair nervously. “Yeah, I know that. I knew that back then, too,” he said. “That wasn’t the problem.”

“Well,” Tim said. “It doesn’t matter. There isn’t a problem, now.”

“God, do I wish that were true,” Jason muttered. He paused for several long beats. “I’m fucking terrified, Tim.”

Tim smiled softly. “For once, I’m not.”

Jason got them a cab back to the apartment, and helped Tim up the stairs to the front door. They stood there wordlessly for a few moments. Tim cleared his throat.

“You wanna come inside?” he asked with a suggestive grin. Jason looked amused.

“It’s my apartment.”

Tim sighed and rolled his eyes. “It was a joke,” he muttered. He pushed open the door and limped inside, nervous all of a sudden. He lowered himself onto the couch and shifted awkwardly. Jason moved to sit beside him, lounging back casually and closing his eyes.

They sat in silence for several minutes. Jason turned to look at him, eventually. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I won't leave you again.”

Before Tim could even come up with the words to respond, Jason’s mouth was on his. It was nothing like last time, when they had been hesitant and unsure. This was deep and confident and hot, and Tim found himself shaking with the intensity of it when they finally came up for air. One of Jason’s hands reached up to tangle in Tim’s hair and he moved to kiss along Tim’s jaw, sucking on the sensitive skin there. Tim groaned, reaching down to pull at the hem of Jason’s shirt.

Everything stopped very suddenly. “Wait, Tim, stop,” he said, almost panicked. Tim pulled away.

“S-sorry, I’m sorry,” he said, although he was slightly confused because there was no way he’d misread that. “I just… assumed.”

Jason shook his head. “No, that’s not…” he said with a groan. He reached up and idly touched the left side of his chest. “That’s not what I mean. I want this. I just… I didn’t want to shock you.”

Tim raised an eyebrow. “Uh, what?”

Jason hesitated, shifting nervously before reaching back and pulling off his shirt by the collar. Tim immediately understood.

There on Jason’s chest, written in ugly, raised scar tissue, was the word TIM.

Tim brought a hand up to cover his mouth involuntarily. “Oh my god,” he said. “Jason, what…”

Jason’s mouth set into a grim line. “It’s… a reminder,” he said vaguely. Tim gaped at him.

“You couldn’t have gotten a tattoo?!” he asked in disbelief. Jason laughed dryly.

“I didn’t exactly have a say in the matter,” he said. That, if possible, made Tim even more horrified. He reached out a shaky hand, tracing over the raised flesh. Jason exhaled slowly. “Tim…”

Tim cut him off by capturing him in another deep kiss. He suddenly didn’t feel like talking anymore.

--

Tim was startled awake by an impatient knocking on the door.

“Not it,” Jason grumbled, rolling over to face the wall. Tim smiled fondly, his heart immediately speeding up at the sight of the body sprawled beside him. He traced his hand down Jason’s side and pressed a kiss to his shoulder.

He was so fucking happy.

The knocking came again, even more urgently this time, and Tim sighed before rolling out of bed. He haphazardly pulled on his discarded clothes that had been strewn across the room.

“Should I be expecting another close friend that no one ever bothered to tell me about?” Tim asked as he pulled on his socks. Jason grunted.

“S’prob Steph,” he muttered. “She’ll never leave you alone now that she knows where you are.”

Tim used to wall for support as he made his way to the door, hasting to answer before whoever was on the other side knocked a hole through it. He opened the door, and froze.

He looked much more exhausted and grim than he had the last time Tim had seen him, but the person standing on the doorstep was unmistakable. When he saw Tim, he smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes.

“Hey, Timmy,” Dick said.

Chapter Text

We all die. We’re all going to die. We have to. It’s part of it.

Tim had said that to him, once. And Dick knew that. This life was going to kill all of them. They had all accepted that and, for the most part, come to some sort of peace with it.

But it wasn't supposed to be like this. It was supposed to come from an enemy they just couldn't defeat despite their best efforts, it was supposed to be a sacrifice for something bigger, it was supposed to be noble. What happened to Tim was none of those things.

When Dick had watched Tim get wheeled away into the emergency room, a fresh bullet wound in his forehead, it never even occurred to him that he might survive. He had just sat in the waiting room, covered in blood and shaking and trying to listen to Barbara’s soothing words as he awaited the imminent bad news. He remembered everything about that day: Stephanie running into the room sobbing and hysterically asking if Tim was dead, Damian crawling into his lap and curling his trembling fists into his shirt, Bruce pacing anxiously and continuously trying to get Dick to tell him what happened. Jason calling him 37 times, and Dick ignoring every single one.

Most vividly, though, Dick remembered the doctor coming into the waiting room and telling them that, miraculously, Tim would live. He cried until his face was swollen and his throat was raw.

That night, as he was falling asleep with his head on Bruce’s shoulder in an uncomfortable hospital chair, he started thinking. About second chances, and how they all took them for granted. They had all been through so much. Barbara had been paralyzed, Stephanie brutally tortured, Jason murdered, for god’s sake. But one way or another, they were always fortunate enough to fight another day. And fight they did. They were all too stupidly seduced by the Life to stop.

Tim woke up a few days later. The first words out of his mouth (well, the second, technically. While he was comatose, at one point, he had muttered the word Jason. But Dick didn’t like to think about that) were “who are you?”. These words had been aimed at Bruce, who shortly afterward had encountered Jason and make his feelings about the whole matter very clear (Dick didn’t like to think about that, either).

To Dick, Tim’s amnesia meant that things could be different this time. It wouldn’t be another case of one of them bouncing back from near death, rubbing some dirt on their wounds, and getting right back into the heat of it. Dick was tired of testing fate, tired of depending on the fact that they would always get a second chance. It was time for him to do something about it.

So very, very long story short, Dick packed Tim away into one of Bruce’s cars and whisked him off to his safehouse in Metropolis. He got a couple of jobs, because there was no way in hell he was using Bruce’s money for this, and enrolled Tim in high school so he could still get a diploma. Those first few weeks were the hardest of Dick’s life. It was… difficult for him to see Tim in that state, and to balance taking care of him and making enough money to sustain them both. It was around that time that he started visiting Jason, and that helped. But that’s another story.

Damian showed up on his doorstep not long after that. Dick had, of course, encouraged all of the others to join him and Tim in hanging up their capes, but he hadn’t honestly expected anyone to take him up on his offer, least of all Damian. To this day, he still didn’t know why Damian had left his own father to become a part of their dysfunctional family of three. He didn’t know half of the things that went on in that kid’s mind, really.

Once upon a time, Dick had his heart set on spending his life in a black and blue costume, fighting crime and saving people. Now, there were only two people he cared about saving. And in his mind, this was more important than anything he ever could have done as Nightwing.

Which was probably why he took it so hard when Tim left.

On some level, Dick understood. After all, he had run away himself when he was sixteen (from Gotham to Metropolis, ironically). But what broke his heart was that he had been trying to be better for Tim than Bruce was. Just the thought that Tim might feel the same resentment toward him that he had felt toward Bruce all those years ago made his chest ache. So he didn’t go after Tim, even though every instinct he had was telling him to, because if Bruce had gone after him back then, he would’ve just hated him even more.

“We can talk about it. If you want,” Damian said, looking vaguely uncomfortable as he sat cross-legged on the floor across from Dick. They’d still had to leave their apartment after everything that had happened, but Dick hadn't wanted to go too far in case Tim decided to come back, so he somehow managed to come up with the money to rent an apartment even shabbier than their previous one. They didn’t have any furniture yet, besides the mattress that Dick had managed to take from the other apartment. So they sat on the floor. “I don’t enjoy seeing you like this.”

Dick sent Damian what he hoped was an encouraging smile, leaning over and ruffling his hair. “What did I tell you about worrying about me? I’m fine,” Dick said with a halfhearted shrug. “I just wish I knew if he was okay.”

Damian hugged his legs to his chest, resting his chin on his knees. “He’s okay,” he mumbled. “He’s Tim Drake.”

Dick sent him a small smile. “Yeah, you’re right,” he said. “How about you? Are you okay?”

Damian rolled his eyes. “Like I care that Drake is gone,” he said haughtily. “I just hope that next time we see him he’s no longer such a snivelling, pathetic wreck.” Dick sighed.

“Damian,” he said disappointedly. “He’s—”

“He’s recovering, yes, I know,” Damian cut him off, burying his face deeper into his knees. “I’m not an idiot, Grayson, I understand. I know why he can’t walk up the stairs or defend himself against moronic bullies. I just… hate it. I hated seeing him like that. It made me sick.”

Dick paused. “It’s okay to be upset,” he finally said, carefully. “What happened to Tim was awful. And you had to witness the effects of it more than anyone, probably even me. You don’t have to act like you hate him all the time to hide the fact that you actually have feelings.” Damian snorted.

“I do hate him,” he said flatly. He paused. “…But I would not wish what happened to him upon anyone.”

They were quiet for a moment.

“What are we going to do now?” Damian asked. It had been about a week since Tim had disappeared. About six days since Dick had gotten a text from Barbara saying He’s here. He’s safe. I’ll keep an eye on him, which he had left unanswered. He hadn’t gone to work in the same amount of time, nor had Damian gone to school, so he suspected they were now on the run from truancy charges on top of everything else. The answer to Damian’s question was that he had absolutely no idea.

Dick laid back against the hardwood floor, lacing his fingers behind his head. “Maybe I should take you back to Bruce,” he said quietly, to the ceiling.

Damian’s response was immediate. He jumped over Dick, planting his hands firmly on each side of his head as he glowered down at him. “No. I’m not going back there,” he snapped. Dick smiled sadly.

“I don’t know how to take care of you, Damian,” he said with a sigh. “I thought I could do this, but I already fucked up with Tim. I don’t want to do the same with you.” Damian rolled his eyes.

“I can take care of myself,” he said stubbornly. “But if I’m gone then who’s going to take care of you, idiot? Lindsey from work?” Dick barked out a laugh.

“You are such a little shit,” he said exasperatedly, pulling on one of Damian’s cheeks until the younger swatted him away. “Fine, fine. We’ll figure something out. Looks like it’s just you and me now, kiddo.”

Damian smirked triumphantly. “It’s about time.”

They slowly began to get their lives back together. Dick went back to work, but only at the bar, so that he had the daytime free to spend with Damian. Damian adamantly refused to go back to school, and now that Tim was gone Dick supposed that they didn’t really need to pretend that he needed to anymore. So they just… hung out. Like in the old days. And for the first time in a long time, Damian seemed happy. He no longer picked fights with Dick every single day, and he even smiled sometimes.

Dick knew that some day, he would have to go back and deal with the mess waiting for him in Gotham. But for a moment there, he thought that he and Damian were going to be okay on their own.

That sentiment was destroyed with a phone call Dick received two months later.

“This is Dick,” he greeted the unknown number, fumbling with his keys as he tried to put them into the ignition.

Hi,” a familiar voice said, and he dropped his keys completely. “It’s me.”

It had been a long time since anyone had even bothered trying to get into contact with him, since they knew that he would just ignore it if they tried anyway. But if he was being honest with himself, he had been hoping that someone would call him eventually with updates on Tim, so he stayed on the line. “Babs,” he greeted, somewhat awkward after so long. “What’s up? Is everything okay?”

She paused. “I’m not completely sure,” she admitted. “That’s why I called you. It’s about Tim.”

Dick immediately felt his heart rate pick up. “What happened? Is he alright?” he asked frantically.

He’s fine,” Barbara replied calmly. “I’m keeping an eye on him like I said I would. The thing is… don’t be mad.”

“I really wish you wouldn’t use something like don’t be mad as a lead in,” he said anxiously. “Just tell me what happened.”

Barbara sighed. “The thing is, he’s been staying with Jason,” she said somewhat hesitantly.

Dick was quiet. He waited patiently for her to tell him that she had just made the worst, most unfunny joke ever, but she didn’t.

When it was clear that he wasn’t going to respond, she continued . “I wasn’t going to tell you because, frankly, Tim is old enough to make his own decisions. And I knew that as soon as you found out you would rush back to Gotham and take him away again,” she said. She was right. It was taking everything Dick had not to put his car into drive and rush back to Gotham as they spoke. “The reason I am telling you is because… Jason is gone. I don’t know where, or why, but he disappeared completely a few weeks ago. I sent Steph to check on Tim, and I’ve been watching him, but… I’m concerned. Jason might never come back, and he can’t just stay there alone.”

Dick took a deep breath. “Okay,” he said, resting his forehead on his steering wheel. “Just… tell me something. Does Tim know?”

Barbara paused. “I don’t think so,” she said. Dick squeezed his eyes shut.

“Okay, great,” he said quietly. “I have to go.”

Dick,” Barbara said. “I’m sorry. But Jason needed this. What you did wasn’t fair, to either of them.”

Dick really could have stayed on the line for hours refuting that statement, but he suddenly had better things to do. “Bye, Barbara,” he said shortly, before hanging up.

He got out of his car, no longer the least bit concerned about getting to work, and took the stairs two at a time as he made his way back up to the apartment.

“Forget your keys again?” Damian asked dryly when Dick barged through the door. Dick knelt down in front of Damian, trying to keep his emotions at bay in front of the younger boy.

“Listen, Damian, we need to talk,” he said seriously. Damian raised an eyebrow, and Dick sighed. “I know you’re not gonna be happy about this, but we need to go to get Tim.”

Damian snarled, immediately taking several steps away from Dick. “Why?” he snapped.

“Because he needs us,” Dick said. “I shouldn’t have let him go in the first place.” Damian clenched his hands into fists.

“Where did this come from, Grayson? Everything has been fine without him! We don’t need him!” he said frustratedly. He looked down at the ground. “…Why can’t I just be good enough?”

Dick pinched the bridge of his nose. “Damian, this isn’t about you,” he said exasperatedly.

“Of course not. It’s never about me. It’s always about Drake,” Damian grit out. Dick sighed.

“Can we please talk about this later?” he said, taking Damian’s coat off of the back of the door and tossing it to him. “Come on.”

He left the apartment and headed back down to the car. After about five minutes, Damian followed him, crawling into the passenger seat and slamming the door behind him. “One of these times, I’m not going to follow you,” he said coldly. Dick ignored him and started the ignition.

The drive from Metropolis to Gotham wasn’t short, by any means. They didn’t arrive until well into the next morning, and Damian was curled into a ball and sleeping propped up against the window by the time Dick finally pulled up to the address Barbara had texted him. Dick decided to leave him in the car. Hopefully that would alleviate the imminent drama at least somewhat.

He knocked on the door of apartment 207. Impatiently.

Dick couldn’t determine what was different about Tim, when he eventually opened the door. He was still too skinny, and his hair was still too long, and he still looked vaguely like he could fall asleep at any moment. But there was… something. “Hey, Timmy,” he said, forcing a smile. Tim stared at him.

“Dick?” he asked in surprise. There was a crash somewhere behind him. “What… how did you find me?”

Dick scratched the back of his neck. “Erm, long story. Look, Tim, I know that you didn’t want me to look for you, and that you probably hate me or whatever,” he said. “But I really, really want you to come back with me. I promise I can do better, just… give me another chance. Please.”

Tim looked down at his feet. “Dick…”

There was another noise from somewhere in the apartment, and Dick narrowed his eyes. “Can I come in?” he asked casually.

“Please, I insist,” Jason said, suddenly appearing at Tim’s side and pulling the door all the way open. “It’s been a while, Dickiebird.”

It took all of Dick’s self-restraint to keep calm in front of Tim. He stepped inside, his jaw clenched tightly as he and Jason stared each other down. He tried to force another smile, but it probably came out as more of a grimace. “Babs told me you skipped town,” he said. Jason hummed.

“Maybe you and Babs should both stay the hell out of my business,” he said with a shrug, as if it were a light-hearted suggestion.

“Um, who’s Babs?” Tim asked. They ignored him.

“Jason, can I talk to you? Alone?” Dick asked warily.

“Why?” Jason asked. “You don’t want Tim to know how much of an absolute piece of shit you are?”

Dick scrubbed a hand over his face tiredly. This was really, really not how he was hoping his day would go. “Look, I don’t want to fight,” he said. “Can you just let me explain—”

He stopped mid-sentence, doing a double take and locking his gaze onto Tim. Tim raised an eyebrow. “What?” he asked uncomfortably. Dick took a step toward him, rubbing his thumb over a dark spot on his neck.

He took in the state of Jason and Tim for the first time. Jason was only wearing one sock, Tim looked like he hadn’t brushed his hair in a week, and he was pretty sure he was wearing Jason’s t-shirt. Suddenly, Dick knew what it was that was different about Tim.

“Oh my god,” Dick said, his blood pounding in his ears. Tim flushed, swatting his hand away and rubbing a hand on his neck embarrassedly. Dick turned to Jason, unbuttoning his coat and throwing it over the back of the sofa. “Okay, now we’re gonna fight.”

It may have been excessive to tackle Jason through the window, but in Dick’s defense, he wasn’t really thinking clearly at the time. All he could comprehend was how badly he wanted to beat the living shit out of Jason Todd. Consequences be damned.

Jason took the brunt of the fall on the sidewalk below, but he still managed to shove Dick off of him and get on his feet quickly enough to dodge the next attack. “I’ve been waiting two months for this, Dickie,” Jason said, grinning at him with bloody teeth. “No holding back on me.”

Dick scowled, kicking Jason in the ribs and subsequently taking a right hook to the jaw. “You… god, you unbelievable bastard,” Dick said breathily, too overwhelmed with rage to even speak coherently. “How dare you touch him. How dare you take advantage of the fact that he doesn’t remember you. Do you honestly think that Tim would go anywhere near you if he knew what you did to him?”

Jason tackled him around the middle, sending them sprawling onto the pavement once more. Dick felt the breath leave his lungs as he hit the ground. “Shut up!” he grit out frustratedly. “You tried to rewrite his entire fucking life without anyone’s consent, and you’re gonna lecture me about taking advantage of him? Do you have any idea how miserable he was when he came to me?”

“Oh, it would’ve been all sunshine and rainbows if I let you be in his life?” Dick said, elbowing Jason in the chin and getting back to his feet. “Newsflash, he didn’t want anything to do with you even before the accident, so stop acting so goddamn entitled.”

Jason threw a punch, and Dick dodged it, only to catch a knee to the gut instead. “Entitled? You don’t think I deserved to at least know that Tim was alive?” he asked, his voice breaking with rage. “God, I thought you were the one person who gave a shit about me, Dick.”

“Stop it. This isn’t about us,” Dick snapped. “This is about Tim, and what’s best for him. I did what I had to do.” Jason threw another punch. It landed this time.

“How the hell can you still stand there and pretend what you did was what was best for him?”

Dick grit his teeth, slamming Jason up against the brick wall of the apartment building. “To answer your question, no. You didn’t deserve it,” Dick said, his voice dangerously low. “You can sit there and blame me for ruining Tim’s life all you want, but we were both there. We both watched you pull that trigger. I didn’t shoot Tim Drake, Jason, that was you, and this is and always will be your fault.”

The fight left Jason completely after that. He stared at a point somewhere over Dick’s shoulder, and just sort of… slumped over in defeat. Dick took a step back and turned around.

Tim was standing there, leaning against the wall of the apartment building, his legs shaking as he tried to keep himself upright. They gave out, eventually, and he landed hard on his knees. The look on his face was terrifyingly blank.

Jason backed away, taking a cigarette out of his pocket and lighting it with bloody fingers. “You came here to take him back, right? Go on then,” Jason said, his voice coming out weaker than he probably intended. “I told him from the very beginning that he was better off staying the hell away from me.”

And with that, Jason Todd turned took off down the street without so much as a backwards glance.

Chapter Text

“Grayson, what the hell happened?!”

Tim vaguely heard the familiar sound of Damian yelling (which he had definitely not missed), but it sounded like it was coming from underwater. Everything felt… numb. Including, unfortunately, his legs, meaning that Dick had to carry him on his back to the car (which he had also definitely not missed).

Damian was referring to, Tim would imagine, the fact that Dick’s face was split open and bleeding in at least three different places. Dick didn’t seem all that concerned about it. Part of Tim was still reeling over the fact that he had just watched his brother win a fight against someone who had about three inches and fifty pounds on him, but it was a small part. There were other things much more prominently on his mind.

“Nothing. Everything’s fine,” Dick said, trying and failing to sound calm as he loaded Tim into the back seat.

“Who did that to you?” Damian asked, obviously not convinced. He looked around, somewhat dazed, like he had just woken up. “Where are we?”

Dick ignored him. “Are you okay, Tim?” he asked gently. Tim leaned his forehead against the window, squeezing his eyes shut. His head was throbbing. It occurred to him, vaguely, that he hadn’t had a single migraine since he’d left Metropolis.

He didn’t bother answering Dick’s question. He thought it was pretty obvious.

He felt the car begin moving, and he took deep breaths to calm himself down. It was fine. He could do this. He could go back. Maybe things would be different, now. Maybe Dick would move them somewhere else, enroll them in a new school, start working less. Maybe Damian would stop trying to make his life a living hell constantly. Maybe he could finally accept the fact that his life with Dick and Damian, no matter how much he detested it, was better than whatever the hell kind of corrupted, horrible life he had lived here.

You can’t just pretend those things didn’t happen, Tim. Whatever you went through in those seventeen years makes up who you are.

Vanessa’s words rang through his mind again. He opened his eyes and watched the dark, dirty alleyways of Gotham pass him by. Any one of them could be where it had happened. Where a bullet had been put in his brain, where he lost his memories and his legs and his freedom. Was this who he was? Someone who fraternized with dangerous vigilantes and paid for it? Someone who got betrayed and hurt by the ones he loved? Or was he the poor, depressed charity case in Metropolis, barely making his way through high school at nineteen years old?

Which one did he want to be?

The buildings cleared, and if he craned his neck slightly, he could see the top of the tallest skyscraper in Gotham’s skyline. WAYNE autographed the morning sky. And just like that, the haze in Tim’s mind was lifted.

There was a third option.

“Dick, pull over,” Tim said, sitting up suddenly. Dick almost immediately slammed on the brakes.

“What’s wrong?” Dick asked, pulling over to the side of the road. Tim was already halfway out the door when the car stopped.

It was just like last time. He wasn’t thinking, he wasn’t hesitating, he was just running. With every step he took, he felt lighter, like for the first time he wasn’t drowning in his own anxiety and fear. This was who he wanted to be. Someone who wasn’t confined to a wheelchair or crutches, someone who wasn’t trapped in someone else’s idealistic dreams or dark secrets.

He had come to Gotham for two reasons: to find out who he was, and to find his father. It was about damn time he got started.

He didn’t stop running until he got to Wayne Tower, and he wasn’t at all discreet about bursting into the lobby. Dick, as he’d expected, wasn’t far behind. But it was too late to stop him.

“I need to see Bruce Wayne!” Tim all but yelled at the secretary, breathing heavily as his heart hammered against his ribcage. She just stared at him in surprise, so he continued. “My name is Tim Drake. I’m his son.”

--

Tim wasn’t really sure what he’d been expecting when he finally came face-to-face with the man that he’d both dreaded and anticipated meeting for the last year and a half, but he definitely hadn’t thought it would be so… awkward.

Bruce hadn’t spoken to him much when he arrived at Wayne Tower, just rested his hands on his shoulders and asked him gently if he was okay. Then the four of them went back out to Dick’s car, and after Bruce and Dick seemed to have some sort of non-verbal conversation, they drove off again. Tim wasn’t sure where, but he didn’t really mind. He was more concerned with the stifling atmosphere.

Dick looked more tense than Tim had ever seen him, and Damian was alternating between glancing at Bruce and pulling his hood low over his eyes. No one was speaking besides Dick, and when he did, he pointedly didn’t address Bruce. Bruce seemed too busy looking out the window to notice.

“So, Tim,” Dick said, clearly making a large effort to keep his voice from sounding strained. “I couldn’t help but notice that you can run now. Is this a new development, or…?”

This seemed to peak Bruce’s interest, because he looked away from the window and turned toward Tim slightly, as if anticipating his answer. Tim cleared his throat awkwardly. “Well, I’ve done it before… once. When I was running away from Batman,” he said, his voice fading as he realized how ridiculous that sounded. The atmosphere in the car seemed to change immediately. Dick and Damian both turned to look at Bruce, but then promptly tried to act like they hadn’t. Bruce continued to stare straight ahead. “Um, anyway, I don’t know if I’ll still be able to. It’s like my brain temporarily makes the connection with my legs again, but then it just… stops.”

There was a pause. “We’ll have the family doctor take a look when we get home,” Bruce said shortly.

“To the manor,” Dick corrected under his breath.

“Okay, cool,” Tim said, shifting in his seat. “Thanks.”

They were silent for the rest of the car ride.

Eventually, Dick pulled up to what Tim had always imagined a mansion might look like if he ever had the opportunity to visit one. It was a far cry from what he was used to, that was for sure. It was breathtaking.

“Wow,” Tim said, leaning forward to get a better look. “This is your house?”

The corners of Bruce’s mouth turned up slightly. “It’s yours too, Tim. This will always be your home if you want it to be,” he said. Dick braked a little too roughly.

Tim climbed out of the car on shaky but functional legs. He wasn’t sure that this new development would last, but he was nearly teary with relief at the fact that he could walk up to the mansion without assistance.

They were greeted at the door by an older man who Tim recognized from his painting. The butler. He smiled at Tim immediately. “Welcome home, Master Timothy,” he said in a British accent. “You have been greatly missed.”

“Tim, this is Alfred,” Dick introduced, still stiff. Tim blinked, smiling back a bit awkwardly.

“Er, hi,” he said. “Just Tim is fine.” They all stared at him.

Alfred cleared his throat. “Master Richard, might I suggest you show Master Timothy to his room?” he said. “And wash the blood off of your face, while you’re at it.”

Dick’s bitter expression was temporarily replaced by a sheepish one. “Right,” he turned to Bruce. “When I come back, we need to talk.”

Bruce just hummed in reply, glancing at Tim briefly before exiting the foyer. Damian looked between Dick and Bruce’s retreating back, as if indecisive, before shoving his hands in his pockets and stalking off in a completely different direction. “Come on, kiddo,” Dick said, forcing a smile and nodding his head toward the stairs. Tim followed silently.

They scaled the steps and headed down the second floor hallway. Tim stared at the pictures lining the walls as they passed, his stomach sinking as he recognized several portraits of himself that he had no memory of posing for. He looked so… happy in all of them. Happier than he could ever remember being.

His eyes locked on one picture in particular, and he found himself slowing to a stop as his blood ran cold.

“Tim?” Dick asked when he realized he was no longer following. “Hey, are you okay? You’re shaking.” He looked up to see what Tim was staring at, and his face fell.

The boy in the picture was much younger than Tim was used to, and his hair was missing the telltale white streak, but he was still recognizable. Tim felt a familiar panic start to claw its way into his chest.

“Tim,” Dick said again, but this time his voice was full of sympathy that Tim wasn’t at all unfamiliar with. “Listen, we should talk about J—”

“No!” Tim interrupted, wincing at the volume of his own voice. He tried to steady his breathing, but he was on the verge of hyperventilating. “No, I… there’s only so much I can take, Dick. Please just… It’s fine. I’m fine.”

Dick placed a hand on his shoulder and squeezed once. “Okay,” he said calmly. “Come on, your room is right down here.”

Tim ripped his eyes away from the picture and didn’t look back.

It was almost overwhelming, Tim thought as they stepped into the threshold of what was apparently his bedroom. The bed itself was nearly as big as his room had been in Dick’s apartment. Tim didn’t even know what to do with so much space.

“I know, I know, it’s not the luxury you’re used to,” Dick said with a light grin. “But I think it should do for now.” He made sure to emphasize the for now.Tim took a step inside, before turning around to face Dick seriously. It was as good a time as ever to have this conversation.

“I’m not going back to Metropolis, Dick,” he said. Dick’s smile faltered.

There was a pause. “Hey… it’s been a long day. We don’t have to talk about this right now,” he said, slipping back into the stiff attitude he’d had since Wayne Tower.

Tim looked down at the ground. “You don’t want me to be here,” he said. It wasn’t a question. Dick sighed.

“No. I don’t,” he confirmed. “None of this is what I wanted.” All of the previous humor was completely gone from his face, now. Tim grimaced.

“But why?” he asked. He swallowed. “Do you think Bruce is gonna, like… hurt me?”

Dick looked taken aback. “What? No! Of course not,” he said quickly. “Oh my god, Tim, it’s not like that.”

“Then why? I just… I need to understand,” he said, almost pleadingly. “I need to know why you felt like you had to take me away from my friends and my family and my home. Please, Dick. Justify yourself.”

Dick flinched, looking away with a grimace. “Look. No matter how much you might resent me for it, I’m not sorry for what I did,” he said firmly. “I did it for you, because I wanted to protect you, because I saw an opportunity to save your life and couldn't just let it pass by. I did it because we lived the kind of life where you could get shot in the fucking face by someone you trusted and I couldn't even hate him for it because these things just happened in our line of work, and we were always just expected to cut our losses and move on. I did it because Bruce Wayne was in absolutely no position to take care of someone as scared and confused and broken as you were back then. But most of all, Tim, despite what everyone seems to think, I did it because you asked me to.”

Words left Tim completely as he stared at Dick, strange scenes flashing through his mind that he couldn't quite grasp. He felt pain shoot through his temple, and he winced and put a hand to his head. “I… what?”

Dick sighed. “Although, I don't know how much consent counts for when you were nearly catatonic,” he admitted, rubbing the back of his neck. “You don't remember much from those first few weeks, do you?”

Tim tried to think back, but everything before the day he started at Metropolis High might as well have disappeared with the rest of his memory. “Not at all,” he said. Dick smiled sadly.

“Well, I didn't just take you straight from the hospital to Metropolis. We still lived here for a while,” he explained. He paused. “I wanted to take you away from the beginning, but I didn't make the decision until…”

Tim waited for him to continue, but he seemed to be conflicted. “Until?” Tim urged frustratedly. Dick looked away.

“Until Bruce messed up. Bad. And you asked me to get you away from him,” he said. “I’d really… rather not go into detail.”

Tim’s head throbbed again as the unfamiliar images continued to flash through his mind. It was something like… a cave, and there were two men, and so much blood, and he was terrified

“Ugh,” he said, grabbing his head again. Dick stood up, ruffling Tim’s hair lightly.

“Look… I'm sorry, but I really have to go see Bruce,” he said. “I promise we’ll talk more later, okay?”

Tim nodded. “Yeah, okay,” he said. He didn't really feel like talking anymore, anyway.

Dick paused halfway to the door, turning around and meeting Tim’s gaze seriously. “I love you, Tim,” he said.

“I know,” Tim replied without hesitation. Because despite everything, he did.

--

“Can I come in?”

Bruce’s large, intimidating figure lingered in Tim’s doorway, and Tim couldn’t help the nerves that suddenly ran through him. “Yeah! Sure. Of course,” Tim said, scrambling to stand up from his perch on the enormous bed. “Uh, what’s up?”

Bruce paused for a moment, simply observing Tim. “How are your legs?” he asked. Tim looked down, still overwhelmed with relief at the fact that he could stand.

He grinned widely. “Good!” he said. “Dr. Thompkins said that it’s hard to determine the complications of brain damage, but she thinks that my injury was mostly psychosomatic. So like, due to stress, or whatever. But she said that she thinks it should only improve from here as long as I keep exercising my legs and such, especially because… because I’m in a better environment now.”

Tim was aware that he was rambling, but he couldn’t help it. This was the first time he’d been alone with Bruce, and the first time he’d even had an opportunity to talk to him. He’d never been so nervous.

Bruce smiled at him, very slightly, but it was there. “I’m glad,” he said. He paused. “Tim… I know that you don't know who I am, and I don't doubt that you probably resent me for not being in your life these past nineteen months. That being said, it may be inappropriate for me to ask this, but… I hope that you will consider staying here. I can take care of you. I’d like to, if you'd let me.”

“Okay,” Tim said, so quickly that he surprised even himself. He cleared his throat. “I would like that too, um. Mr. Wayne.”

Bruce nodded, shoving his hands in his pockets. “Good, then. Thank you,” he said. “And… you can call me Bruce. You did, before.”

And with that, Bruce turned and made to leave the room. Tim shifted. “Wait,” he called out before he could stop himself, and Bruce stopped in his tracks. Tim took a deep breath. “Dick told me why he took me away, kind of, but… I just, I need to know… why did you let me go? Why didn’t you ever come after me, or even stop by to see how I was? You’re… you’re my father, and you seem to care about me, so I just. I don’t understand why you let me feel so alone.”

Bruce’s shoulders tensed, and he turned around slowly. There was a long moment where neither of them said anything. They just looked at one another; Tim’s eyes pleading, Bruce’s resigned.

“I…” Bruce started, looking frustrated himself as words failed him. “What happened to you was my fault. I put you in danger, and you deserve better than that. A better life. A life away from me.” He paused. “I let you go not because I was unwilling to oppose Dick, but because I agreed with him.”

“Then why are you asking me to stay now?” he asked desperately.

Bruce sighed deeply. “I’m sorry that I made you feel like you didn’t have a father who cared about you. You do, and you always will. But what that means is that I had to care about you enough to let you go when I knew it was what was best for you,” he said. “However… you’re my son, Tim. And I missed you.”

Tim was throwing his arms around Bruce before he could even think about what he was doing. He was just so… overwhelmed. Everything was so different than it had been when he had woken up that morning that he almost felt like another person completely. But he knew he had made the right decision, coming to Bruce. He felt… safe. He knew that tomorrow morning, instead of waking up and wondering if it was worth getting out of bed at all, he would walk downstairs unassisted and have breakfast surrounded by people who loved him. No one would try to hurt him, physically or emotionally, no one would disappear on him without a word, no one would try to manipulate him into being who they wanted him to be. He felt like the weight of the world had lifted off of his shoulders.

Bruce hesitated, before resting his hands lightly on Tim’s back. Tim sniffed once before pulling away. “Sorry,” he said sheepishly. “It’s been a long day.”

Bruce’s smile was obvious, this time. “You should rest,” he said gently. “Alfred will inform you when it’s time for dinner.”

Tim watched him leave, and shortly after wandered out onto the balcony. For once, his head wasn’t full of dark, painful thoughts. His mind was completely clear.

He stuck his hands into the pockets of his sweatpants, frowning when his fingers brushed what felt like a piece of paper. He pulled it out, his face dropping into a blank expression when he realized what it was.

9826 Overbrook Dr., Apt. 207, West Gotham.

J.

He tore it into pieces, tossing them over the edge and watching as they fluttered off across the grounds of Wayne Manor.

Chapter Text

“Rise and shine, boy wonder!”

Tim winced, sitting up in bed and squinting against the sudden sunlight streaming into his bedroom. “Steph…?” he muttered, rubbing his eyes. She perched on the end of his bed and grinned.

“Hiya,” she said brightly. “Once I heard you were back here I came right away. How are you?”

Tim stretched lazily, running a hand through his sleep-messy hair and shooting her a lopsided smile. “I’m… good. Really good,” he said truthfully. “I like it here.”

Stephanie hummed, her face becoming slightly more serious. “I’m glad,” she said. She paused. “Hey, so. I talked to Jason before I came here.”

Tim’s stomach lurched uncomfortably. “I don't care,” he said firmly. She frowned.

“Tim,” she said in a mildly disappointed tone. “You should at least—”

“Do I smell breakfast?” he asked, cutting her off and sliding out of bed. “Come on, I'm starving.”

Stephanie stared at him, before rolling her eyes and sighing heavily. “You're a wuss, Tim Drake,” she said matter-of-factly, but she let the issue drop and followed him downstairs.

Much to Tim’s delight, everyone was sitting peacefully around the breakfast table when he walked into the kitchen. Damian wasn’t screaming at Dick or trying to physically harm him in any way, nor did he immediately attack Tim the moment he entered the room. It was a nice change.

“Morning, Tim!” Dick said brightly, gesturing to the seat beside him. “How’d you sleep?”

Tim blinked, thrown off by the extremity of his mood change from the day before. He sat down and smiled back regardless. “Fine, thanks,” he said, helping himself greedily to the array of food before him.

“Can someone please explain to me why she is here? And eating our food?” Damian said, glaring daggers at Stephanie. “Can’t I at least enjoy a full day back in Gotham without having to see your face, Brown?”

Tim stared at Stephanie in awe. “He talks to you like that too?” he asked.

“What, you thought you were special?” Stephanie replied with a long-suffering sigh.

Damian scoffed. “If you underwent any positive change as a result of your injury, Drake, it would be your taste in companions,” he said. Tim immediately thought of Vanessa, his stomach turning slightly as he did so. He felt almost guilty for getting rid of his phone back in Gotham, and therefore any means he had of contacting his friend. He missed her.

“That’s enough, Damian,” Bruce said off-handedly. “Stephanie’s just as much a part of this family as anyone.”

Stephanie grinned smugly. “That’s right,” she said. “I’m like, the gay cousin. Or, wait, actually, Kate kind of got to that one first…”

“If anything, you're the ugly stepsister,” Damian said under his breath. Stephanie stuck her tongue out at him.

“Anyway,” she said, loading bacon onto her plate. “Tim, I was thinking we could go to your old apartment today and get some of the things you left there.” Tim raised an eyebrow.

“I had an apartment?” he asked. Stephanie nodded in affirmation.

“I can drive you guys there,” Dick offered. Stephanie deadpanned at him.

“I’m twenty years old, Dick, I can drive,” she said with an eye roll, stuffing her face full of waffles. “Just because my preferred means of travel is jumping from rooftops doesn’t mean it’s my only one.”

A heavy silence suddenly fell over them. Tim laughed uncomfortably. “Um, what?”

Stephanie seemed to realize her mistake, and she shrunk under Bruce’s glare sheepishly. “Oh, so. We’re still keeping that on the DL,” she said. “My bad. I don’t think it really matters if he knows at this point, though.”

“It matters,” Bruce and Dick said simultaneously. Stephanie sighed. Tim frowned.

They finished breakfast in relative silence, and Stephanie dragged Tim off of his stool and out to her car the moment he finished the last bite of his food. “Sorry, but I can’t deal with your family’s oppressive drama,” she explained when they were alone, rolling her eyes. “Besides, it’s been so long since we’ve just hung out, you know? Well… you don’t know. But it has.”

Tim hummed in acknowledgement. “So… where exactly are we going, again?”

“The apartment you lived in before the accident,” she clarified as they made their way into the city. “I thought maybe… I don’t know, seeing some of your old stuff might spark a memory or something.”

Tim was quiet. His heart ached, suddenly. “Stephanie…”

“No, I know,” she cut him off with a forced laugh. “I know the chances of you ever getting your memories back are slim to none, I was there when they said it. But brain injuries are unpredictable, right? I just… I’m not gonna give up hope.”

“Yeah, okay. Maybe,” Tim said vaguely. Hope wasn't really something he could afford to have. It was hard enough having to deal with everything as it was, but waiting around for something that probably wasn't going to happen would break him.

Stephanie cleared her throat. “Anyway, it's only about ten minutes from the manor. Bruce didn't want you to be too far, since you were only seventeen when you moved in and all,” she rambled, all traces of her dark mood gone instantly. “I lived here with you for a while, actually. Until someone decided he was eligible to be our third roommate, and I started to feel like a major third wheel. So I moved in with Cass. My girlfriend, your sister, you'll meet her eventually.”

Tim raised an amused eyebrow. “Someone?” he asked curiously.

Stephanie glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. “Just some guy who was stupidly, annoyingly in love with you,” she said casually. Tim’s amusement disappeared, suddenly. “You and him… you were really close. Until one day he told you how he felt about you and asked you to run away with him, or whatever, and you kinda shut him down. Long story short, he moved out and you guys stopped talking for the most part.”

Tim exhaled deeply. “Glad you're respecting my wishes to not talk about him,” he muttered.

“Hey, I named no names. You're being awfully presumptuous,” Steph pointed out. She paused. “He really cared about you, Tim.”

Tim felt that horrible, clenching sensation in his chest again. He grimaced. “You're wrong,” he said bluntly. “If he gave a shit about me, he would have just told me the truth from the beginning. Instead, he intentionally misled me and acted like he was some kind of victim, all so that he could protect himself from the possibility of me finding out that he destroyed my life. He took advantage of my situation, he abused my trust, and in the end he got exactly what he wanted from me. Don't tell me he cared about me, Stephanie, because he didn't. Because if he did he would have at least tried to fucking justify himself instead of just walking away.”

The car was stiflingly silent for what felt like an eternity. “I’m sorry,” Stephanie finally said. “I shouldn't have brought it up.”

Tim shook his head. “Hey, no, it's fine,” he said, a bit flustered. “Er… I’m sorry too. I’m sure you weren't looking forward to us hanging out just so I could unload all of this crap onto you.”

Stephanie snorted. “I’m your best friend, Tim. That's what I’m here for,” she said with a smile. “You don't have to bottle everything up all the time, you know.”

Tim knew. He would, anyway.

They pulled up to an apartment building, and Tim could already tell from the outside that it was a huge upgrade from his previous occupancies. Stephanie hit the button for the very top floor when they got into the elevator, and Tim stared at her. “Did I live in the penthouse?” he asked in amazement. She deadpanned at him.

“Your dad is Bruce Wayne, Tim,” she said pointedly. “Never doubt that you were a spoiled rich kid.” He laughed in disbelief.

They stepped out into the ridiculously immaculate apartment, which was relatively empty besides a few pieces of furniture and a bunch of packed boxes. “Dick and I already started getting your stuff ready to bring to the manor,” she explained, before scowling. “That was before he decided to whisk you off to Metropolis, though. No one’s been here since.”

Tim hummed, walking over to the window and looking out over the Gotham skyline. “This is awesome,” he said.

“Hell yeah it is,” Stephanie said with a grin. “We had some good times here. Hey, I’ll grab some of these boxes and take them downstairs, why don’t you check out your bedroom? Second door to the right.”

Tim nodded in acknowledgement, walking down the hallway in amazement at the fact that the apartment had four rooms, all around the size of his at the manor. He stepped into the door that Stephanie had indicated, realizing immediately that she and Dick must not have gotten to it when they were packing, since it looked relatively untouched. The bed was unmade and there were clothes scattered all over the floor, which told him that the accident hadn't altered his cleaning habits much. There was a three-monitor desktop setup in the back corner of the room, sitting on a desk that was covered in what seemed to be paperwork for Wayne Enterprises. The walls were covered in Star Trek posters, large maps with inexplicable pins stuck into them, and various pictures of him with Stephanie, Dick, and others that he didn't recognize.

It was like he was looking at little pieces of his own life from the eyes of a stranger. It was… disconcerting.

He sat down on his bed. There was a notepad and a pen on the beside table, and sitting next to it, still attached to its charger, was a cell phone. He picked it up curiously, and it lit up to a screensaver of Stephanie flipping the camera off. There were over a hundred missed calls, text messages, and emails, most of which were from people he’d never heard of.

There were only four voicemails. One from someone named Babs, and three from the same unknown number. They were all received on the same night almost two years ago, except for the last one, which was dated three days later.

He clicked on the one from Babs first, since he recognized the name from passing comments over the last few days. When she started talking, he realized he recognized the voice, too, from the comm channel.

Hey, it’s me,” the voice crackled through the phone speaker. “I got that address you asked me for. Can I just reiterate, again, how bad of an idea I think this is? I know you’ve worked hard on this case, but I’m sure B benched you for a reason… ugh, I’m wasting my breath, aren’t I. I guess if you’re gonna do it, I’d rather you didn’t go alone. Write this down. 9826 Overbrook Drive, apartment 207. West Gotham. Tell him I say hi. And… be careful, okay?

Beep. Tim hesitated only briefly before selecting the next one with shaky fingers.

He immediately regretted it. This time, it was a male voice that greeted him, and it was even more familiar. Tim’s heart began to race as he gripped the phone tightly.

Fuck, Dick won’t answer his goddamn phone, I swear to god I’m going fucking insane,” Jason hissed, his voice verging on hysterical. “Tim… please… I, jesus, why am I even calling you? You’re obviously not gonna… fuck. Okay, I have to call Dick again. I’ll call you back. I’m coming, okay, just hang in there, I’m… goddammit. Bye.

Beep. Tim clicked the next one, swallowing back the bile that had suddenly risen in his throat.

Listen to me. Fucking listen, Tim Drake. You’re not dead. You cannot be dead,” Jason continued, still every bit as frantic as he had been in the last message. “What am I supposed to do, huh? How the fuck am I gonna be able to live with myself? How am I gonna live without you? God, I am so fucking sorry. I… what have I done… please, just, please? Please be okay. I’m begging you. I’ll change, I’ll be a better person, I’ll never kill anyone ever again, just don’t you fucking die on me. Please.”

This time when Tim looked at the phone screen, his vision was so blurred that he could barely read it. He was shaking. Every instinct he had was screaming at him not to listen to the next one, to turn the phone off and get rid of it and carry on in blissful ignorance.

His thumb hovered over the fourth and final message. He squeezed his eyes shut and clicked it.

Hey. It’s me, Jason. It’s been three days since I heard from you, or anyone really, so,” Jason sounded much calmer this time, almost concerningly so. In fact, there was no emotion in his voice at all. “I’m not stupid. I know what happens when you take a bullet to the head. You’re… you're gone. You’ll never hear this message. You’ll never pick up no matter how many times I call you. I know that… but I just have to say this anyway, okay?”

There was a long pause, where the only sound in the room was Tim’s heavy, uneven breathing. Jason cleared his throat.

I am so goddamn in love with you, Tim. I don't think I ever told you that. Even after you chose Bruce and Gotham over me, even though we’ve avoided each other for the past six months… that never changed. And it won't, ever,” Jason continued. He sighed. “So… yeah. That’s it. I guess it's time for me to say goodbye now.” Another long pause. Tim listened to Jason’s soft breathing, clutching onto the phone with both hands like a lifeline. When he spoke again, his voice was soft and shaky and horribly sad. “Goodbye, baby bird.

He was a mess when Stephanie found him several minutes later. He couldn't even remember the last time he’d allowed himself to cry, but now he didn’t know if he would ever stop. Stephanie wordlessly ran over and wrapped her arms around him tightly. It just wasn’t fair. How much could one person possibly be asked to endure? All he’d wanted to do was forget Jason Todd and move on, but how the hell was he supposed to do that now?

“I told you,” he said when he had settled down enough to speak clearly, his voice weak and small.

Stephanie ran her fingers through his hair as he buried his face into her shoulder, wordlessly allowing him to drench her shirt. “Told me what?” she asked calmly.

Tim took a shaky breath. “That I was never gonna be happy.”

--

“Uh, can I come in?” Tim asked, tapping lightly on the door to Bruce’s study.

Bruce looked up, giving him a small, smile. “You can,” he said, setting down the pen he’d been writing with. “Something on your mind?”

There were more things on his mind than he thought humanly possible, actually. “I’ve just… been thinking a lot,” he said, shifting nervously. “The thing is, I really wanted to be okay with not knowing everything. I mean, I know now from experience that when people tell me I’m better off not knowing some things, it’s probably true. But, I just… I don’t want to keep running away. So, I have a question to ask you, and I really hope that you decide to answer it honestly.”

Bruce folded his hands in front of him, regarding Tim with an unreadable expression. “Alright,” he said. Tim took a deep breath.

“Are you Batman?”

It was a suspicion that had been in the back of his mind ever since that day Batman had saved him, but hidden deep in the part filled with things that he refused to acknowledge. It wasn’t hard to put two and two together. Tim obviously had some kind of connection to several of Gotham’s vigilantes, Batman had seemed to know him so intimately that he’d dropped character at the sight of him, and he had picked up on enough passing comments to have a good idea of what it was that everyone was so intent on hiding. The thing that bothered him about it, though, was that he had been absolutely terrified of Batman, even after he saved his life. It was… concerning, to say the least, that he’d felt that way about someone who was potentially his own father, so he’d chosen to repress his gut feeling up until this point. Just like everything else.

Bruce’s expression didn’t change much. It was a long time before he spoke. “Come with me,” he finally said stiffly, leading Tim out of the office.

Tim tried to commit the route they took to memory, but he would probably end up getting lost if he ever tried to retrace his steps. Eventually, somehow, they ended up in what Tim could only describe as… a cave. And if the tech, gear, and gadgets filling the immense area were anything to go by, his assumption hadn't been wrong.

“…Wow,” Tim said, a little breathlessly. “So, I’m gonna take this as a yes.”

Bruce looked at him seriously. “Dick thought that it was better to keep this from you, for the time being. I agreed with him,” he explained. His face softened slightly. “However… I think that it’s about time you were allowed to make these decisions on your own. This, Tim, is our life. What you do with this information is up to you.”

Tim blinked. “Our?” he asked, his eyes settling on the Red Robin uniform encased in one of the several glass displays. He thought back to Vanessa, telling him that Nightwing, Robin, and Red Robin had all disappeared around the same time. To the newspaper article in Jason’s apartment, the title RED ROBIN, KILLED IN ACTION? jumping out at him unsettlingly. “Oh. Wow.”

Not for the first time, he wished he could talk to Vanessa.

He continued to wander around the expansive cave, taking it all in in amazement. There wasn’t a particular moment that triggered it, but all of a sudden, he realized that he remembered.

“I’ve been here before,” he said distractedly, his mind trying to piece together the memory. Bruce raised an eyebrow.

“Yes. Many times,” he confirmed, but Tim shook his head.

“No, I mean… after,” he said, wincing as the details became more and more clear.

He remembered pressing himself into a corner, confused and terrified, desperately wishing that the wall behind him would open up and take him away from the scene before him. He remembered witnessing the most brutal, violent fight imaginable, between a man dressed as a giant bat and another man in a red helmet, completely convinced that it was going to end in one of them murdering the other. He remembered blood, and yelling, and the one in the red helmet clutching his chest in agony. He remembered Dick showing up at some point and putting a stop to the fight, before engaging in a screaming match with the Batman. And most prominently…

He remembered begging Dick to get him as far away from there as possible.

“Tim?” Bruce asked in concern as Tim stumbled. “Are you okay?”

Tim swallowed thickly, forcing a nod since he couldn’t trust himself to form words. He took a minute to calm himself down before speaking. “Do you ever have trouble,” he said. “Distinguishing the good guys from the bad guys?”

Bruce paused. “It isn't always so black and white,” he said.

Tim nodded again, idly wondering how much more his faith could be shaken before he broke completely.

Chapter Text

“Are you sure there’s nothing you want to talk to me about?”

Dick was sitting on the edge of Tim’s bed, watching worriedly as Tim burrowed deeper into his comforter. He understood Dick’s concern, seeing as he hadn’t so much as gotten out of bed for the past several days. All of the positivity he’d had when he first arrived at the mansion had completely burnt out, and suddenly he was more lost than he’d ever been before. He could feel himself reverting to the his worst days in Metropolis. Dick probably recognized that, too.

“Can I ask you something?” Tim mumbled into his pillow. He turned to face Dick. “What was it like? Being a… vigilante.”

Dick grimaced. He and Bruce had gotten into a house-shaking yelling match when he’d found out what Bruce had revealed to Tim, which was understandable, seeing as he’d spent almost two years trying his hardest to keep Tim from finding out exactly that. “It was…” He sighed. “It was exhilarating. I loved it. Don't tell Bruce, but… I miss it, sometimes.”

Tim hummed in acknowledgment, before pausing. “Was I any good at it?” he asked softly. Dick smiled sadly at him.

“You were incredible, Tim,” he said with a sigh. “Solving mysteries and kicking ass was your entire life. That's why I had to take you away from here, because I wanted you to… I don't know, find some other purpose. One that wasn't constantly trying to kill you.”

Tim burrowed into the pillows once more, exhaling deeply. “I have no idea what my purpose is, Dick,” he said. “Whoever I was before… he’s gone. I’m not him anymore, and I don't know if I ever can be again. I always thought that maybe when I came here, everything would go back to how it was before, but how the hell am I supposed to go back to being a vigilante when I still have trouble even walking down the stairs? When I get a debilitating migraine the moment things get stressful? God, I can't even look at a gun without blacking out.”

Dick was quiet for a long time. “You know what, Tim?” he finally said. “I have no idea how you feel.”

Tim immediately closed up. “Yeah, sorry, I know,” he said. Dick shook his head.

“Let me finish,” he said, grabbing Tim’s hand before he could retract completely. “I can't empathize with what you’re going through, but I think I know someone who can. Feel like getting out of bed today?”

And that was how, forty-five minutes later, Tim found himself standing in the middle of what he could only describe as some kind of technologically-advanced secret base concealed in the clocktower in downtown Gotham. He supposed he really shouldn’t have been shocked, knowing what he did now about the life these people lived, but this kind of thing was gonna take him a while to get used to.

He scanned the giant monitors covering the walls, displaying several CCTV cameras across Gotham, as well as different audio wavelengths labelled with names like Batman, Batgirl, and Black Bat. Tim ran his hand over the keyboard. “Wow.”

“We call it the Watchtower,” a familiar voice said from behind him. He turned around, immediately knowing who she was despite having never seen her face. “Hey, Tim. It’s great to see you.”

“Tim,” Dick said, gesturing to the girl in the wheelchair. “This is…”

“Babs, right?” Tim interrupted with a smile. “Nice to finally meet you.”

Dick blinked, looking between them in confusion. “Oh, um, okay. You know each other. Gotcha,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck. “So uh, how’ve you been, Babs?”

Barbara smirked, wheeling herself in front of him and crossing her arms. “Oh, you mean since our last conversation when you talked down to me and tried to make me feel guilty for treating Tim like an adult?” she asked, quirking an eyebrow. “Fantastic.”

Dick shifted awkwardly. “Barbara…” he muttered. “I’m really sorry about that. I was just…”

Barbara interrupted him with a laugh. “I know. It’s okay,” she said, reaching out and squeezing his hand once. “We were all just trying to do what we thought was best for Tim.” Dick nodded.

“Yeah, well. You’re not the only person I treated unfairly in pursuit of that,” he said. “I really, really missed you, Babs.” She smiled softly.

“I missed you too,” she admitted. She turned to Tim. “Both of you. More than you know.”

Tim cleared his throat, suddenly feeling a bit awkward. Barbara seemed to pick up on that, because she turned back to Dick and quirked her head toward the exit. “Now get out, you,” she said playfully. “Tim and I have some catching up to do.”

Dick put his hands up in surrender. “All right, all right,” he said, turning around and waving over his shoulder. “Call me when you’re ready to come home, Tim.”

“Uh, okay,” Tim said, watching Dick leave and waiting uncomfortably for Barbara to speak. Barbara smiled at him again.

“So, what do you think?” she asked, wheeling herself over in front of the monitors. “I built this all myself, after the accident. I didn’t want to let what happened to me stop me from doing what I loved, you know? Helping people.”

Tim hesitantly stepped beside her, looking up at the monitors in awe. One of the CCTV cameras caught a blur of purple, blonde hair whipping out behind the figure as she swung through the rooftops. “What, uh… what happened? If you don't mind me asking,” he asked quickly, instantly regretting it as he recalled how frustrating it had been to be asked that exact same question over and over. She just smiled at him, though.

“The life,” she answered matter-of-factly. “It can be mean, and brutal, and unforgiving. That's why I can't really be mad at Dick for trying to take you away from it. But in the end, it’s up to you to decide how to build yourself back up, not anyone else.”

Tim understood, suddenly, why Dick had brought him here. “How did you decide?” he asked. Barbara shrugged.

“I started focusing on what I could still do, not what I couldn't,” she said. She tossed something to Tim, and he fumbled with it before getting a solid grasp on what looked like an earpiece of some sort. “What do you say, Tim? Wanna find out what you can do?”

Tim hesitated, before putting the earpiece in and pulling up a chair beside her. She grinned at him and opened up the comms channel.

“Oracle to comms,” she said. “I have Red Robin here with me. Who’s in the field?”

Red Robin?!” Stephanie immediately responded in excitement. “So B finally revealed the family secret, then?

He figured it out on his own,” Bruce’s deep voice crackled through the earpiece. “Again.

Why am I not surprised. It’s good to have you back, nerd.

“Uh, thanks,” Tim said.

“Any update on the robberies, Batgirl?” Barbara asked, suddenly completely focused. Tim watched her work, entranced.

Yeah, I think I’ve narrowed down their next hit,” Stephanie said. She paused. “From what I’ve gathered, it looks like this heist is gonna be pretty big. And since B is busy with the Dent case and Black Bat is still out of town…

“You need backup, got it,” Barbara interrupted. “I’ll pass the message along to RH.”

Thanks, O,” Stephanie said cheerfully.

They sat in silence for a moment. Tim allowed his eyes to travel down to the one audio wavelength he’d been pointedly ignoring, his stomach clenching as the words Red Hood stared back at him. Barbara cleared her throat.

“Hey, Tim, I’m gonna step out for a minute,” she said, wheeling herself backwards away from the console. She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. “Feel free to try your hand at being Oracle while I’m gone. Or don’t. Totally your call.”

She winked, before wheeling herself out of the room. Tim swallowed thickly.

He wasn’t stupid. He knew what she was getting at, he just wasn't sure if he could bring himself to do it. He didn't have to, after all. He could just sit there and wait patiently for her to come back, without touching anything. It would be easier that way. And then Dick would pick him up, and he would go back to the manor and crawl into bed, feeling exactly as miserable as he had before he came here.

He hesitated, before pulling himself up to the console. The keys glided effortlessly under his fingers, just like they had when he’d assisted Jason with the drug ring that one time. It was easy. Natural.

He cleared his throat probably a few more times than necessary. “Red Hood, do you read?”

Holy fucking—” Jason cursed in surprise. There was a sound of a struggle on the other line, like he was fumbling to compose himself. “Tim?!

Tim was immediately overwhelmed with relief. Over the last couple of days, Jason’s broken, manic voice had been on loop in his mind, to the point that he thought it was going to drive him insane. But now here he was, and he knew Tim was alive, and he didn't sound like he was on the verge of hysteria. Tim felt like he could breathe again.

“Uh, I don't think you're supposed to use real names on the comms,” was all he could come up with to reply. Jason spluttered.

What are you… where… why…

“Ste… er, Batgirl needs backup at Gotham National,” Tim said, navigating Barbara’s organized files until he was able to find information on Stephanie’s case.

Um?

“There's a heist planned for tonight, too big for her to take down on her own. Everyone else is otherwise occupied, so…”

Wait, Ti… hold on a minute,” Jason said, still sounding extremely off-guard. "What are you doing?”

Tim paused. “I don't know,” he finally said. “Are you gonna help Batgirl or not?”

Jason laughed in disbelief. “Yeah, sure, fine,” he said, obviously realizing that Tim was going to neither explain further nor bring up their most recent encounter. “Tell her I’m on my way.”

“Got it. R…Red Robin out,” he stammered, before quickly cutting off the line. His heart was racing like he’d just run a marathon.

“Wow. Impressive,” Barbara said from behind him, and Tim jumped violently. “It would've taken me fifteen minutes to convince our resident brooding asshole to even consider helping.”

Tim scratched the back of his neck. “Oh, uh,” he said, but he really didn't know how to continue after that. Barbara just smirked at him.

“Hey, what do you say you come back tomorrow and help me out again?” she suggested. “I’m sure Red Hood would much rather have you in his ear than me. And trust me when I say I don't mind passing along the burden.”

Tim hesitated, placing his hand over his chest and trying to calm his still racing heartbeat. He felt… good, in a way. “Yeah, alright,” he said.

He continued to observe Barbara at work for a while, trying to pick up on as much as he could. It was surreal, watching these people he’d gotten to know over the past few weeks suddenly dodging bullets and leaping between rooftops. Surreal, but normal, somehow.

When Dick picked him up later that night, he was thrumming with excited energy. “Have a good time, I take it?”

“Yeah,” Tim confirmed with a grin. He looked up at the dark city skyline, feeling like he was in on something important, something special. He tried to imagine how the Tim Drake of a few months ago, staring unenthusiastically at scrapbook photos of Gotham’s vigilantes, would react if he knew this was where he’d be now. “Hey Dick? Can I borrow your phone?”

Dick raised an eyebrow quizzically. “Uh, sure, why?” he asked, digging around in his pockets.

Tim took a deep breath, finally ready to do something he should have done a while ago. “I need to talk to Vanessa.”

Chapter Text

It’d been almost two years since Dick had officially hung up the fingerstripes, but years of training had heightened his senses in a way that would likely never fade with time. Which was probably why he was able to determine right away that the soft, almost inaudible patterings coming from the roof above him were unmistakably footsteps.

It was also probably why his first instinct was to go investigate. After all, his little brothers were in the manor, he wasn't about to let some weird roof-lingerer break in and potentially hurt them. And if he was a bit eccentric about swinging up onto the roof from his balcony, it was just because his body missed the exercise.

He waited a moment for his eyes to adjust to the post-midnight darkness before he was able to focus on the dark figure a few feet away. The figure appeared to notice him at the same time, however, and didn't seem interested in giving Dick a chance to interrogate him.

“Wait!” Dick said, immediately taking off after the intruder. He had always been fast, faster than Tim or Jason or even Bruce, and fortunately that was another trait that seemed to have stuck around. He caught up to the figure relatively quickly. “I said wait!”

Before he was even sure what he was doing, he was grabbing the dark figure around the waist and bending backwards, sending them both sprawling onto the rooftop. The intruder let out a loud exhale, like the wind had been knocked out of him. They were both quiet for a few beats.

“Did… did you just suplex me?” Jason asked in disbelief, trying to catch his breath. Dick rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly.

“You didn't wait,” he said with a shrug. Jason groaned. “So… do you come here to spy on Tim every night, or was this just a one time thing?”

Jason was quiet for several seconds. “I just.” He sat up, pointedly avoiding eye contact with Dick. “Is he doing okay?”

Dick sighed. “Define okay,” he said. He paused. “He’s… a little lost, right now. But he's strong. He’ll get through this.”

Jason nodded idly. Dick waited for him to say something, but he just continued to stare out into the night, his expression concerningly blank. Dick cleared his throat. “You know… there's a front door. If you get bored of creeping around on the roof, you could always come inside.”

Jason finally turned to him, deadpanning. “Tempting,” he said, rubbing at his chest absentmindedly. “I’ve been wanting some more body art, actually.”

Dick gaped at him in horror. “Jason,” he said, scandalized. Jason rolled his eyes.

“What the hell is your deal, Dick? Last time we saw each other you tackled me through a second-story window and now you wanna play happy families?” he asked bitterly. “News flash, I haven't been welcome in there in a long time. I’ve got the scars to prove it.”

Dick shifted awkwardly. “Look, I may have overreacted,” he muttered. “You just… God, you make me so angry, you know that?”

“It’s occurred to me, yeah,” Jason replied dryly. Dick glared at him.

“You shot Tim.”

“…I know.”

“He trusted you, and you betrayed him.”

“I know,” Jason snapped. “Look, I get it, I’m the scum of the fucking earth. Is that all?” He stood up, and Dick immediately scrambled to follow him.

“Wait, don't leave,” he said quickly, pinching the bridge of his nose in frustration. “I’m sorry, I really didn't come up here to guilt trip you.”

“Then what do you want from me?” Jason asked between clenched teeth. “Should I get on my knees and beg for forgiveness?”

“No—”

“I regret what happened more than I’ve ever regretted anything. It keeps me up at night. It eats away at me every single day,” Jason continued, his voice breaking. “But no matter how much I want to, I can't take it back, Dick! So fuck off!”

They were quiet for a long time. Dick cleared his throat. “Actually, I just wanted to talk,” he said, to answer Jason’s question. Jason turned away from him with a scowl.

“We’ve talked,” he said. Dick shook his head.

“About Tim, yeah, but I want to talk about us,” he said, almost pleadingly. Jason looked almost surprised at that. “We’ve, uh, kind of been avoiding bringing up the whole, we-slept-together-for-a-year thing.”

Jason actually blushed, and it took all of Dick’s self-control not to tease him about it. “We really don't have to,” he said uncomfortably.

“Yeah, we do, because I think you have the wrong idea,” Dick said, scratching the back of his neck. Jason deadpanned at him.

“Oh, really? So you weren’t using me as a coping method?” he snapped. “What, then, were you trying to ease your guilt? Sure, you let me think I murdered the one thing I cared about for a year and a half, but fucking me completely made up for it, yeah?”

Dick visibly cringed. “No, god, it wasn't like that,” he said desperately. “I would never… I wasn’t… I didn’t use you. It was kind of the opposite, actually. I, uh, wanted you to use me.”

Jason paused for a long time. “What?” he finally asked, his eyes narrowed. Dick cleared his throat.

“Jason… I never wanted to cut you out of my life. You're my family, and even though I probably didn't… express it in the right way, you're just as important to me as Tim and Damian are,” he said, feeling awkward for the first time in the conversation. He shifted. “But when I came to see you, you wanted absolutely nothing to do with me. You didn't need me, until I offered you that, and then suddenly… you did.”

Even in the dim moonlight, Dick could see Jason’s face pale. “Jesus,” he said, running a hand through his hair. He turned to Dick in disbelief. “You know you're like, horrifically codependent, right?” Dick grimaced.

“I’m working on it,” he muttered.

They were quiet for a long time. Jason sighed and sprawled out on his back. “Look,” he said. “I’m not saying I’m not still pissed at you. I am. But… I probably would have done the same or worse, if it was you who did that to Tim. Probably worse.”

Dick grinned at him. “Yeah?” he said. Jason rolled his eyes.

“And, um,” he started uncomfortably. “I really did need you, during that time, so. Thanks. For being there for me.” Dick waved him off.

“No thanks needed. You're a good lay,” he said, and Jason gaped at him. Dick laughed. “Let’s never do it again, though.”

Jason spluttered. “Yeah, no shit,” he said indignantly.

“Besides, I’m under the impression you've replaced me with Tim,” Dick continued, quirking an eyebrow. “Which is still so not cool, but we’re having a moment, so I won't get into it for now.”

Jason threw an arm over his eyes. “You don't get it,” he muttered. “Tim is different.”

Dick scrutinized him with a frown, taking a moment to contemplate what he could possibly mean by that. Then, suddenly, something clicked. “Jason, you don't…” he trailed off, his eyes widened. “You're not like, in love with him, are you?"

Jason removed his arm and stared at Dick flatly. That was enough of an answer.

Dick covered his mouth with his hand. “Oh my god.”

“It’s okay.”

“I didn't… I had no idea…”

“I know.”

“If I would have known, I never would have… god, I am so sorry,” Dick said, running a hand through his hair. “Were you and him like, together? Before?”

Jason shook his head. “Nah,” he said with a wistful sigh. “He was too busy being a hero.”

Dick leaned back on his hands. “This explains so much,” he mused “After you and him stopped talking, he changed. A lot. He was so detached and distracted, like there was constantly something bothering him. It got to the point that Bruce benched him because he was worried about his mental state.”

Jason looked surprised at that. “…I didn't know,” he said. He grimaced. “Anyway, none of that matters now. Tim doesn't even know me anymore.” Dick frowned.

“That isn't true. Barbara tells me he's gotten pretty good at being your own personal Oracle.”

“Yeah, but that's… work stuff. We don't talk talk. And you know what? It’s better that way,” Jason said, the bitterness leaving his voice as he turned to Dick seriously. “I’m just happy knowing he’s alive. That's more than I ever could have asked for.”

Dick felt his heart clench violently on Jason’s behalf. “But you love him.”

Jason laughed once, unhappily. “Yeah,” he said. “That's why… I’m doing this for me. I can't keep taking my chances just for it to blow up in my fucking face every time. I can’t, Dick.”

And that, Dick could understand. He was no stranger to keeping the people he loved at a distance. He hesitated, before laying a hand on Jason’s shoulder comfortingly. They sat there like that silently for several minutes before Jason eventually stood up again.

“Well. I should get going before daddy comes up here with his shotgun,” he said, earning an exasperated look from Dick.

“What are you gonna do now?” he asked. Jason shrugged.

“What I’ve been doing, I guess. I have an incurable addiction to vigilante justice,” he said dryly, shoving his hands in his pockets. Dick snorted.

“Trust me, I get it,” he muttered. “I think I’m suffering from withdrawal.”

Jason raised an eyebrow. “Yeah?” he asked. “Will I be seeing the old fingerstripes back out there anytime soon?”

Now that he thought about it, it had been a long time since Dick had put any consideration into his own future. He had been much more concerned about Tim’s life than his own. But now that Tim was figuring things out for himself, maybe it was time to start thinking about what the hell he was going to do. “Maybe.”

Jason nodded. He paused, glancing back toward the area of the roof that Dick knew was right above Tim’s bedroom. “Hey. Take care of him, okay?”

Dick rolled his eyes. “Duh,” he said. He smiled at Jason sadly. “You take care of yourself, Jay.”

“Duh,” Jason replied with a farewell salute. And just like that, he lept off of the rooftop, and Dick watched him go until he disappeared into the night.

Chapter Text

Vanessa sat across from him at a patio table, her frizzy hair jammed haphazardly into a Batman baseball cap and her Transitions lenses concealing her eyes in the sunlight, her mouth running a mile a minute as she tried to catch Tim up on everything that had happened since they’d last seen each other. Tim couldn’t stop smiling.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” she asked dryly. He grinned.

“You’re just so beautiful,” he said cheekily, laughing as she rolled her eyes and blew her straw wrapper at him. “I mean it, Vanessa. I missed you so much.”

She sighed. “I guess I missed you too,” she said. “You’d better have a good explanation for waiting so long to call me, jerk. You do realize I’ve been to Gotham like, five times since you left, right? And you’ve been here the whole time? Inconsiderate, honestly.”

Tim rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. “Sorry. A lot has happened,” he said, flipping through his menu distractedly. “It… took a while for me to figure things out. I think I’m getting there now, though.” She hummed.

“Tell me all about it,” she insisted, resting her chin on her palm and eyeing him with interest. “Did you find your dad?”

Tim nodded, wishing desperately that he could tell her that his dad was Batman, if only to see the look on her face. But he couldn’t. He leaned forward, lowering his voice so the customers at the tables surrounding them couldn’t hear. “Yeah,” he said. “You know Bruce Wayne?”

Vanessa choked on her drink, coughing violently for a few moments before regaining composure. “Bruce Wayne? He’s your dad?” she asked in disbelief. “Really?” Tim blinked at her.

“Um, that was a really weird reaction,” he pointed out. She shrugged, suddenly completely calm once more.

“I’m just surprised that your dad is a famous billionaire, relax,” she said, waving him off. He narrowed his eyes at her suspiciously. “So, what, did he welcome you back with open arms? Have you been living with him this whole time?”

Tim sighed. “Not… exactly,” he said.

And so he launched into the story of everything that had happened since he’d arrived in Gotham (leaving out a few top-secret details, obviously). It was strange, being the one doing all the talking while Vanessa sat back and listened quietly, and it was only then that he realized how much had really changed since he left Metropolis.

Vanessa was quiet for a long time after he finished, as if she was taking in all of the information. Then suddenly, she grinned. “I can’t believe you have a boyfriend.”

Tim gaped at her. “What? He’s not my boyfriend,” he said firmly. “Did you miss the part where he shot me?”

Vanessa seemed far too unconcerned. “Did he do it on purpose?” she asked casually.

“Does it matter?” Tim asked, although honestly, he wasn’t sure he had the answer to that question either. Vanessa shrugged.

“It might,” she said.

Tim was quiet for a long time. “It might,” he agreed, eventually.

Tim waited until they left the café and were completely alone before bringing up the actual reason he’d asked Vanessa to come to Gotham. He cleared his throat, unsure of how to begin. “Hey, Ness?” he started. “I need to ask you something. But… I can’t really explain why I’m asking it.”

She glanced at him, shoving a stick of bubblegum into her mouth. “‘Kay,” she said. He shuffled his feet nervously.

“You know Red Robin? The vigilante who worked with Batman?” he asked. She deadpanned at him, and he chuckled. “Right, duh, of course you do. So, uh, what I was wondering was… do you happen to know anything about the night he died?”

She cracked her bubble gum loudly, her expression unchanging as she continued to walk casually through the backstreets of Gotham. It was a long time before she decided to speak. “He’s not dead,” she said.

Tim pretended to be surprised by that response. “The newspapers said—”

“Tim,” Vanessa cut him off, moving to stand in front of him, her expression suddenly very serious. They stopped walking. “To answer your question, yes. I was there.”

Tim froze. “What?

Vanessa frowned deeply, suddenly looking much more uncomfortable than he'd ever seen her. “Yeah. I was hiding, taking pictures… you know, what I usually do,” she said uneasily. “I saw Red Robin get shot that night.”

Tim had not been expecting that. Sure, he'd figured that Vanessa would have more information about what had happened than most, but he hadn't been anticipating an eyewitness account. It took everything in him not to change the subject and shy away from the terrifying truth that was suddenly so accessible.

Before he could say anything, Vanessa continued. “At the time, I actually did think he died. I mean, hello, who survives a headshot, right?” she said, glancing at Tim pointedly. Tim’s blood turned to ice. “But then a few months later, some kid shows up in Metropolis with a bullet scar on his forehead, along with his two brothers who fit the physical descriptions of the vigilantes who happened to disappear shortly after Red Robin’s ‘death’. Funny, huh?”

Tim blinked, completely thrown off guard. “You knew,” he said. “From the beginning.”

“Yup,” Vanessa said unapologetically. “I knew that you were Red Robin before you did. Nightwing and Robin were almost just as easy. I still didn’t know who Batman was, but, well. I do now.”

Tim paled. “Vanessa, you can't—”

“Tell anyone?” she finished, rolling her eyes. “Please, like I’d want to. You do realize that this makes me the ultimate Batman fan, right?” She grinned, and Tim laughed in disbelief.

“So, what, did you just become friends with me in the first place so you could use me for my vigilante connections?” he asked, only somewhat teasingly.

“At first, yeah,” she replied honestly. Before Tim could even react, Vanessa threw herself into his arms, causing them both to stumble back and come dangerously close to falling. “But now I know that Tim Drake is much cooler than Red Robin. Still not as cool as Batman, but a close second.” Tim chuckled, hugging her back tightly.

She released him after several moments, and they began walking again. “So,” Tim said. “About… what happened to me that night.”

That same uncomfortable look crossed Vanessa’s features once more. “Right, that,” she said. He looked at her expectantly, but she made no move to continue. He sighed.

“Ness, please. I need to know,” he pleaded. She looked at him, her eyes glassy and far-away.

When she spoke, it was so quiet that Tim almost couldn't hear it. “Do you want me to show you?” she asked.

“What?”

Vanessa shrugged, picking at her chipping nail polish. “I got it on video,” she said.

Tim stopped again. “What?

She winced. “I didn't know that was gonna happen. I’ve never watched it. Trust me, seeing it once was already the most horrifying moment of my life,” she admitted, her lips pursed tightly. “I don't really know why I never deleted it.”

Tim didn’t know what to say, so she reached into her backpack and pulled out the familiar orange binder that Tim knew was full of pictures of Batman. She turned the back cover, unraveling the string on a small envelope that was glued back there, and pulled out a thumb drive. She held it out to him.

He tried to take it, but she didn’t release her grip. “Vanessa…”

“Listen to me,” she said, infinitely more serious than he had ever seen her. “Just because I’m giving you this doesn’t mean you should watch it. This is… it’s graphic and it’s scary and it’s real. You are who you are regardless of what’s on here.”

Tim swallowed, tugging lightly and managing to free the drive from her hand. He stared down at it, a hundred thoughts running through his head. “I am who I am because of what’s on here,” he finally said, curling his fingers around it tightly.

--

“Vanessa here. It’s November 16th, 11:48 p.m., and I just followed Red Robin and Red Hood into an alley off Main Street,” Vanessa says excitedly, her voice a hushed whisper as she focuses the camera in on the figures below her. The video is taken from a high vantage point, like she’s perched on a roof or a fire escape above them. “This is the first time I’ve seen them together in months. It must be my lucky day.”

In the alley below, Red Robin is tampering with something while Red Hood stands guard boredly. “Why are we here again?” Red Hood asks, his voice muffled by the helmet.

“Testing the gas line. If it has traces of Crane’s toxin, then my theory was right,” Red Robin says, all business. “There have only been a few cases of exposure so far, which makes sense, because it hasn’t been cold enough for most people to turn on their heat yet. But by the time winter hits, everyone in the city will have their gas going, and they’ll be affected by the toxin in their own homes. If I’m right. Which I probably am.”

Red Hood nods, pulling one of the guns out of the holster on the back of his pants. “Since you brought me along for backup, I’m guessing you’re expecting things to get ugly,” he says.

“Crane and his goons know I’m onto them. It would have been stupid to come alone,” Red Robin says flatly, suddenly stopping what he was doing and turning to Red Hood. “Maybe I should have, though. I seem to recall specifically telling you not to bring guns.”

Red Hood puts his hands up defensively. “Hey, relax, Boy Killjoy. They’re loaded with blanks,” he says. “For intimidation purposes only.”

The video cuts out for a few seconds, like Vanessa had stopped recording out of disinterest. When it comes back, the atmosphere is much less calm. “Scarecrow’s men found them,” Vanessa continues to narrate in a hushed tone. Below, Red Robin and Red Hood stand at the ready as they’re approached by several armed men.“I can’t believe I’m going to get footage of Red Hood and Red Robin fighting side by side, this is the best night ever.”

The two below make quick work of the goons, fighting together with a natural ease. It isn’t long before they’re the only two standing conscious in the alley once more. Red Robin straightens up and dusts himself off. Red Hood stumbles.

“Tim,” Red Hood says, his voice strained. Red Robin doesn’t look at him.

“No names in the field,” he says shortly, going back to the gas line. Red Hood leans against the wall, his chest rising and falling heavily.

“They… injected…” he chokes out, pulling off his helmet and sucking in deep lungfuls of air. Red Robin finally turns to him.

His eyes widen behind his cowl as he seems to finally process what’s happening. “Dammit, I forgot you haven’t been immunized,” he says frustratedly. He grabs Red Hood’s forearms tightly as the taller begins to outwardly panic. “Hey, calm down, okay? You’re gonna be fine.”

He holds two fingers up to his ear. “Red Robin to Nightwing. Red Hood’s been exposed to Crane’s toxin and I need an antidote asap. We’re in the alley on the corner of Fifth and Main,” he says quickly. He turns back to Red Hood. “Hey, Jason, listen to me. It’s not real. It’s me, Tim, and I’m not gonna hurt you.”

Red Hood backs away, his eyes increasingly wide and frantic. “No,” he says, his voice cracking as he grasps onto the brick wall of the alley like a lifeline. “No, please, stop…”

Jason,” Red Robin says again, firmly, pulling off his cowl. “Look at me. I’m not gonna let anything happen to you. Whatever you're seeing is just a hallucination.”

Red Hood doesn't even seem to be able to hear Red Robin at this point. “No! Get the hell away from me!” he yells frantically. The camera is unsteady, like Vanessa’s hands are shaking.

Red Robin steps toward Red Hood again. Red Hood reaches behind him and pulls out one of his guns, holding it to his own temple.

Red Robin goes very, very still. “Jason,” he say quietly, almost inaudible. “Hey. Listen to me. Give me the gun. I can help you, I promise, but you have to give me the gun.”

Red Hood doesn't make any move to obey. “I want it to stop,” he says shakily. “I need to make it to stop.”

Red Robin’s features are still as calm as ever, but he's shaking almost as hard as Red Hood is. He’s quiet for a few beats, as if trying to decide on a plan of action. “All right, go ahead. Shoot,” he finally says, though he doesn't sound nearly as confident as he probably intended. “There's nothing in there but blanks, anyway, right? That’s what you told me.” Red Hood doesn't respond, so he continues. “I know you didn't lie to me, Jason. I know that gun isn't loaded. You promised me.”

He takes a small step forward, and Red Hood’s grip on the gun tightens. Red Robin slowly reaches a hand out. “Give me the gun. It’s empty. Just give me the gun.”

Red Hood lets out a strangled, horrified sound. “Make it stop,” he says again. His finger tightens on the trigger.

“No, Jason!” Red Robin yells out, jumping toward him and closing the gap between them.

What happens next goes by so quickly that it’s hard to tell exactly what transpires. One moment, Red Robin is grabbing the gun and pulling it away from Red Hood, toward himself instead. Then there's a gunshot, and blood, so much of it. Red Robin just kind of sways there for a moment, blinking dazedly. And then, all at once, he falls to the ground. Hard.

“Oh my god,” Vanessa whispers, the video shaking so hard now that it's hard to make out the scene. “Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god.”

The image becomes slightly off-center, like the videographer is no longer as concerned about filming the scene as she is about watching it. There’s a yell from somewhere off-camera that sounds a lot like “Tim!”, and a blue and black figure swings down from the parallel roof.

Before anyone can react, Nightwing kicks the gun out of Red Hood’s hand and knocks him to the ground, before injecting him with what can be assumed is the antidote. He then turns all of his attention to Red Robin, who’s still lying motionless on the ground.

“Deploy the Batwing to Fifth and Main asap,” Nightwing says rapidly into his comm, trying to staunch the bleeding from the bullet wound. “Red Robin is down.”

Red Hood seems to come back to himself, and he stares at the scene before him like he can't process what exactly is happening.

He stares down at his hands, and then back to Red Robin’s still form. “No,” he says, his voice so soft that the camera almost doesn't pick it up. Vanessa takes a shaky breath, and then the image cuts to black.

Chapter Text

“Are you sure about this, Tim?” Dick said warily, stacking up the last few boxes near the door. “I don't really know how I feel about you living alone.”

Tim sat down on the edge of his bed, scanning the room to make sure he hadn't forgotten to pack anything. “I did before, right?” he pointed out. “Besides, I won't be alone alone. Stephanie lives right down the road from the penthouse, and it's only like a ten minute drive from the manor.”

Dick sighed. “Yeah, yeah, I know,” he said with a frown. “I guess I’m just gonna miss being there to take care of you.”

Tim smiled at him. “You're my brother, Dick. You'll always be there for me,” he said. Dick blinked at him in surprise, before a huge grin split across his face. “So, what are you planning on doing now?” Dick shrugged.

“I guess I’ll go back to Blüdhaven,” he said, as if he hadn't really put much thought into it. “Maybe even see if the fingerstripes still fit.”

Suddenly, Damian swung down from the canopy above Tim’s bed, hanging upside down so that he and Dick were face-to-face. Dick yelled in alarm and jumped back.

“How long have you been up there?!” he exclaimed. Tim just snorted.

For the past few days, Damian had been hanging out around Tim often. Literally. He would come into his room and climb on top of his dresser, or follow him into the study and perch on the back of his chair, or clamber onto the counter while Tim was making food. They never spoke, but Tim just let him be and went about his business.

“Take me to Blüdhaven with you,” Damian demanded bluntly. Dick blinked at him.

“Are you sure that’s what you want?” he asked, stepping back as Damian jumped down. “What about Bruce?”

Damian grimaced, looking down at the ground frustratedly. “Father hates me,” he muttered. “As he should.” Dick frowned deeply.

“Damian, your dad does not hate you,” he said firmly, kneeling down to Damian’s level. “Why would you say that?”

Damian shuffled uncomfortably, avoiding eye contact with Dick completely. He suddenly looked like he’d rather be talking about anything else. “I’m an inadequate son,” he finally admitted, his voice soft. “Father was in pain and I abandoned him. I left him when he needed me most.”

Tim cleared his throat awkwardly, suddenly extremely focused on picking the lint off of his comforter. Dick placed a hand on Damian’s shoulder. “It’s not your job to look after Bruce, Damian,” Dick said seriously. “But if this is how you feel, then why did you leave in the first place?”

Damian shrugged Dick’s hand off with a scowl, crossing his arms and turning away completely. “I was angry,” he muttered. Dick blinked.

“At Bruce?” he asked.

“No, Grayson, at you!” Damian snapped, whipping around and balling his hands into fists. “You left us! You left me! We were a team, and you just… you hung up your suit and took off without a word.”

Dick blinked in shock. “Damian, I…”

“I had to follow you because I knew if I didn't, I would never see you again. You weren't coming back,” Damian continued, interrupting Dick. “And it's just… it’s so unfair, because I gave up everything for you, I betrayed my own father and stopped doing what I loved, and even then you still hardly acknowledged me. It was always about him.”

He shoved a finger toward Tim, who was now very interested in counting the cracks in the ceiling above him. Dick’s breath hitched, and he carefully placed his hand back on Damian’s shoulder. He didn't flinch away, this time.

“I… I’m so sorry, Damian,” Dick said seriously. “I didn't realize that was how you felt.”

Damian sniffled, rubbing at his eyes frustratedly. “You chose him over me,” he said softly. “And I just can't understand what I did wrong.”

Tim’s heart clenched, a little. Dick groaned miserably. “You didn't do anything wrong,” he said reassuringly. “Listen, I can be… oblivious, sometimes, when it comes to things like this. You may have noticed that the complete inability to deal with other people’s feelings runs in our family.” He grinned a little at that, as if trying to lighten the mood. Damian just sniffled again, and Dick sighed. “I want you to know that I couldn't have made it by in Metropolis without you. I was… in a really bad place after what happened to Tim, and those first few weeks alone with him in Metropolis, I was so close to giving up. But then you showed up. And everything got easier, because you were my partner in it, like always.”

Damian’s tense posture relaxed slightly. “Tt,” he scoffed. “You are hopeless without me.”

Dick laughed. “Undoubtedly,” he agreed. He smiled fondly at Damian, ruffling his hair. “You're my best friend, Damian. That hasn't changed, okay?”

Damian scoffed again, but he was smiling a little bit too, now. “Whatever,” he said. Dick laughed again.

“Now that that's settled, it's time for you to go talk to your dad. We’ll decide whether or not you're coming with me after that, alright?” he said. Damian grimaced, and Dick punched his arm playfully. “Come on, I promise he’s not mad at you. He missed you a lot.” Damian sighed in defeat.

“Fine,” he said. He took a step toward the door, before immediately retracting and turning toward the bed where Tim was still sitting. “You're leaving soon?”

Tim glanced around his room. “Uh, yeah. Looks like everything’s packed,” he said. Damian took a step toward him, and Tim instinctively leaned back.

Damian scrutinized Tim carefully. He seemed to find something that he approved of, because his expression became softer than Tim had ever seen it and he nodded once. “Good luck, Tim,” he said not unkindly, before turning and leaving the bedroom. Tim stared after him in shock.

“I think he’s gonna miss you,” Dick said with a lopsided grin. Tim just laughed once in disbelief. Dick leaned down and picked up a stack of boxes, balancing them precariously as he headed toward the door. “Ready to head out?”

Tim took one last look around his room, before standing up and grabbing some boxes of his own. “Yeah,” he said. “I’m ready.”

--

Got our guy tied up on West and Fifth,” Jason’s voice crackled over the comm. “Mind telling our friends back at GCPD to come pick him up?

“Already done,” Tim said, pushing himself away from his computer and stretching. Barbara had helped him set up his own, smaller version of her Oracle base in his new apartment. Well, old apartment, technically. “Good work, Hood.” Jason hummed in acknowledgment.

Got anything else for me tonight?” Jason asked, and Tim could tell by the exhaustion in his voice that he was hoping the answer was no. Tim took a deep breath to calm his nerves, standing up and digging through his closet for a change of clothes.

“Yeah, there's one more thing,” he said, his voice all business as usual. “Change into civvies and head to the address I’m sending you now. I’ll explain when you get there.”

Jason paused. “Alright,” he conceded eventually. Tim pulled on his jacket and headed toward the elevator, keeping his comm in as he did so.

“Hey, um, can I ask you a question?” he asked carefully after a few beats of silence. Jason made a little sound, like he was surprised, and Tim didn't blame him. They hadn't had anything even resembling a personal conversation since Tim had taken residence in Jason’s ear a few weeks ago. Tim swallowed. “That night, with the fear toxin. What did you see?”

He’d spent over a week trying to decide what exactly he’d wanted to say to Jason, and eventually he’d figured this was as good a place as any to start. Jason was quiet for a long, long time. “Someone finally caved and told you what happened, huh?” he finally asked, his voice cracking harshly.

“Something like that, yeah,” Tim confirmed, trying to keep his hands from shaking as he stepped out into the early morning darkness. Jason laughed once, miserably.

That’s just like you,” he muttered. “You want to hear a pitiful, heart-wrenching excuse for what I did, right? You want to see the good in me. Well, I hate to break it to you, but you’re looking for something that doesn’t exist.

Tim paused. “I’m just curious,” he said calmly. Jason let out a slow, deep breath.

Does it really matter?

“Yes,” Tim answered immediately. “Dick and Bruce have been condemning you for two years for what you did, and I’m willing to bet that neither of them bothered to consider that you were a victim that night, too. But I have. And I want to know.”

Jason sighed deeply. “What do you want to hear, Tim? That it was the most horrifying moment of my life? That every nightmare I’ve ever had, every awful thing I’ve ever seen, was suddenly right there in front of me and there was nothing I could do about it? That when I held that gun to my head, it was because I genuinely would have rather died than live through that?” he asked. “Because, yeah, it was that bad. But that wasn’t even the worst part. The worst part was that the most terrifying thing I saw that night was the one thing that never went away, even after Dick gave me the antidote.

Tim shoved his shaky hands into his coat pockets, turning down another dark street as he neared his destination. “Jason…” he said, trying to stay calm and find the right words to say. “It wasn’t your fault, you were—”

Stop it,” Jason snapped. “I’m not gonna let you do this. I’m not gonna let you forgive me for what I did to you just because you feel bad for me.” Tim rolled his eyes.

“That’s really not what this is about. I already forgave you, Jason,” he said tiredly. “I’ve always known that it was pointless to hate whoever did this to me. I forgave you for what happened a long time ago. But I just couldn’t… understand. Why it was you. Why I felt the way I did about you, only to find out that you were the one who fired that gun. But I do now.”

Jason let out a shaky breath. “Enlighten me,” he said dryly.

“I took that bullet because of how I felt about you,” Tim said. Jason groaned.

God, stop making it sound like some… noble self-sacrifice, or something. If I hadn’t loaded that gun…

“But I knew you did,” Tim pointed out. “I didn't mean to get shot, I’m sure, but if I hadn’t… you would have. And you probably would have died.”

Jason sighed in frustration. “You’re missing the point. Tim, you lost eighteen years of your life because I was too goddamn stubborn to do what you all have been warning me to do for years!” he said exasperatedly. “How can you just act like that doesn’t matter?

Tim finally came to a stop in front of his destination, leaning casually against the side of the building in wait. “Because it doesn’t,” he said with a shrug. “That part of my life is gone now. I think it’s time to start from scratch.”

Jason didn't respond for a long time. When he did, Tim heard his voice behind him just seconds before it echoed into his earpiece. “You could’ve just asked me to meet you,” he mumbled.

Tim turned around, tapping his comm to turn it off. Jason hadn't changed much since Tim had last seen him. He maybe had more dark circles, and fewer injuries courtesy of Dick’s fist, but he still had that same wide-eyed look in his eyes when he stared at Tim. Like he was trying to drink in every inch of him. Tim couldn't help the smile that spread over his face.

He had been a little worried about what it would be like to see Jason again, especially after everything that had happened and everything he knew about him now. But Tim had undeniably missed him.

“Would you have come?” Tim asked. Jason rubbed the back of his neck.

“Probably not,” he admitted, glancing up at the flickering sign above them, illuminating his face in the darkness. “…Why are we here?”

Tim shrugged. “I was hungry,” he replied casually. “Come on.”

He stepped into the 24/7 burger joint, Jason hesitating only a few moments before following.

They ordered and found a booth, an easy task considering they were the only customers in the entire restaurant. Jason kept glancing up at Tim, as if expecting him to say something. When he didn't, Jason cleared his throat. “You got a haircut,” he pointed out. Tim grinned, tugging at the ends of his hair.

“Yeah. Alfred did it,” he said. “You like?”

Jason scrubbed a hand over his face. “God, okay, I can't do this,” he muttered. “I can’t just go back to the way things were and pretend that—”

Tim cut him off, suddenly, by reaching across the table and grabbing Jason by the collar, smashing their mouths together. It didn't take long for Jason to give in and respond, threading his salt-covered fingers through Tim’s newly cropped hair and letting out a groan like he was in pain. It was no romantic first kiss on a balcony with the sunrise at their backs; it was clumsy and awkward and tasted like salt and soda. It was better, though, because Tim wasn't desperately holding on like Jason would disappear from under his hands if he loosened his grip. This time, it felt like it was going to last.

They pulled away, but Jason kept his grip on Tim’s hair and pressed their foreheads together. He squeezed his eyes shut tightly. “Tim…”

“Stop resisting me,” Tim muttered. “For whatever reason, we couldn't be together before, right? Well, we have a second chance now. And I know we both want to take it.” Jason sighed.

“You don't have to do this,” he said softly. “It’s enough for me just knowing that you're alive.”

“Well, it’s not enough for me,” Tim replied simply. “I want this. I like you.”

“You shouldn't,” Jason groaned miserably. “Tim, I… I can protect you, from whatever’s out there. But I can't protect you from me.” Tim rolled his eyes.

“Thanks for the condescending sentiment, but I think I can handle it,” he said dryly. He smiled. “No offense, but I really don't think you're as deadly and dangerous as you want me to think you are.”

Jason deadpanned at him. He sighed, reaching up and pushing Tim’s bangs to the side to reveal his scar. He ran his thumb across it lightly. “Every time I look at you I’m gonna be reminded of what I did,” he muttered, but Tim could tell his walls were breaking down. Tim scoffed.

“How do you think I feel?” he asked, tapping Jason’s chest. Jason rubbed at the spot where Tim knew his own name was written in scar tissue with a frown. “We’ve both hurt each other. But I think we can make each other happy, too. I want to try.”

Jason just stared at him for a long time, as if searching for something in his eyes. Eventually, he sighed again, and leaned forward to press a kiss against Tim’s scar. “Okay,” he mumbled.

Tim grinned. “Okay?”

Jason sat back, running a hand through his hair. “Like I could ever say no to you,” he said. He glanced around the restaurant. “Just out of curiosity, is there a particular reason we’re having this conversation at a seedy Wendy’s?” Tim snorted.

“I heard you were a 24/7 burger joint kind of guy,” he said with a smirk. Jason’s eyes widened in realization, and he let out a loud laugh that echoed through the empty restaurant.

“Is this a date?” he asked.

In lieu of responding, Tim pulled Jason into another kiss under the flickering fluorescent lights, lacing their fingers together and laughing when an employee interrupted them with a clearing of her throat and asked if they needed anything else. Tim stole one of Jason’s fries and sat back, unable to stop smiling if he tried. Jason seemed to be having the same problem.

For the first time, Tim thought that just maybe, he was going to be happy.

Chapter Text

“Tim, please, you have to introduce me to him after the ceremony,” Vanessa whispered frantically from her seat directly behind him. Tim sighed, glancing toward where Bruce, Dick, and Damian sat idly in the audience. Vanessa tugged the back of his gown, nearly whimpering with excitement. “Oh my gosh, he just looked over here. Did you see that? Tim, that’s Batman.”

Tim laughed under his breath. “He’s probably admiring your cap,” he said with a grin. While most of the students had decorated their graduation caps with the colors of the universities they had committed to, Vanessa’s, unsurprisingly, was covered in a Batman collage she had made out of her own photographs. It was comforting to know that some things would never change.

Tim had decided to complete his senior year online, and after Bruce pulled some strings to settle the legal charges they probably had stacked against them, he had somehow managed to finish in time to graduate with the rest of his class. He knew he didn't have to, especially after Dick had explained that he’d technically finished high school when he was sixteen, but he felt an obligation to officially close this chapter of his life before the next one could begin.

“Tim Drake,” the vice principal called over the microphone, snapping Tim out of his reverie.

“Don’t trip!” Vanessa said cheerfully as he rose from his seat and approached the stage.

Tim made his way up the stairs, gripping the railing tightly, and walked across the stage to receive his diploma. He glanced down to where he knew his family was sitting. Bruce was looking on proudly, Damian was lounging in his seat with a vaguely bored expression, and Dick was waving to him, his grin so big it nearly split his face in half.

When Tim had first rolled through the doors of the high school, no one had been sure that he'd ever be able to properly form a sentence again, let alone pass all of his classes and graduate. He felt overwhelmingly proud, suddenly, as he took the rolled-up document in his hand. For the first time, he was glad that Dick had enrolled him here all those months ago.

And just like that, he was being hurried off the stage, and it was over. Metropolis High was part of his past. A memory.

Everyone gathered on the lawn outside the school after the ceremony, and it didn't take long for Dick to find him and envelop him in a bear hug from behind. “There’s my twenty-year-old high school graduate!” he said brightly. Tim rolled his eyes, grinning as he swatted him away. Bruce and Damian followed not far behind. Bruce was carrying a bouquet of carnations, which he handed to Tim with a smile and a pat on the shoulder.

“Good work, son,” he said. Tim beamed at him.

Suddenly, he felt a sharp tug on the back of his gown. He glanced over his shoulder and chuckled. “Oh, uh, Bruce,” he said, pulling Vanessa out from where she had concealed herself behind him. “This is Vanessa. My best friend.”

Vanessa was shaking, and looked like she could pass out at any moment. Bruce reached out a hand to her. “Nice to meet you, Vanessa,” he said. Vanessa grabbed his hand between both of hers and shook it enthusiastically.

“The pleasure’s all mine, Mr. Wayne, sir. I’m a huge fan,” she said, her voice coming out all high-pitched and squeaky. She still hadn’t released his hand. Tim elbowed her, and she let go, clearing her throat. “Erm, what I mean is, I admire your role as CEO of Wayne Enterprises. It's an excellent… enterprise. Can I get a picture?” She lifted her camera up and took a shot before Bruce could even respond. He blinked. “Beautiful! Oh, there's my mom, I gotta go. I’ll see you soon, Tim?”

Tim tried to conceal his laughter as he ruffled her hair fondly. “Yeah. Come visit me anytime,” he insisted. She grinned.

“Please, like I’d say no to a penthouse stay in my favorite city in the world,” she said. She waved to them as she started to back away. “Peace!”

Bruce watched her curiously as she ran off through the crowd. “That was… weird,” he said. Tim and Dick exchanged a glance, but before either one of them could say anything, Damian scoffed loudly.

“I see they'll hand a diploma out to just any brainless neanderthal,” he said, glaring at a spot over Tim’s shoulder. Tim turned around.

“Oh, god,” Dick muttered exasperatedly. Bud Tanner was standing several yards away from them, shooting a wary glance at Damian every few minutes. Damian took an intimidating step forward, and Bud took off through the crowd faster than Tim had ever seen him move. Tim laughed loudly, and Dick massaged his temples. Bruce stared at them all curiously.

“That was weird,” he repeated. It occurred to Tim, suddenly, that Bruce had absolutely no concept of what their life had been like for the year and a half they had lived here. It also occurred to him that it was probably better that way.

Dick seemed to agree, because he quickly changed the subject. “Alright, well, on that note, we should probably leave before someone calls the police,” he said, clapping a hand in Damian’s shoulder. “Gotta catch some Z’s before the night shift, right kiddo?” Damian scoffed again.

“Justice never sleeps,” he said, puffing his chest out. Dick rolled his eyes.

“Well, Dick does,” he said. He turned to Tim and Bruce. “See you guys at the manor tomorrow?”

“Oh, right. Dinner,” Bruce said offhandedly, though Tim suspected he hadn't actually forgotten. “Yes, I’m sure Alfred will be expecting you.”

Dick hummed. “Well, tell Alfred we wouldn't miss it,” he said, patting Tim on the head fondly. “Congrats, Timbo. I’m proud of you.”

They made to leave, but Damian paused, suddenly turning around and throwing his arms around Bruce somewhat awkwardly. “Goodbye, father,” he said. Bruce chuckled and patted him on the head.

“See you tomorrow, son,” he said. Damian pulled away and nodded stiffly, before running to catch up with Dick and clambering on his shoulders. Bruce and Tim watched them go until they disappeared into the crowd.

Bruce rested a hand on Tim’s shoulder. “I’m proud of you too, Tim,” he said seriously. “You've been through a lot these past two years. I know it couldn’t have been easy, coming back here.”

Tim shrugged. “It was home, for a while,” he said, turning toward the school and taking it in for what would probably be the last time. “But I’m definitely ready to go back to Gotham.”

Bruce was quiet for a long moment. Tim glanced at him, only to see him looking at something in the distance. “Do you need a ride?” he asked. “Or do you already have one?” Tim followed his gaze, his heart rate picking up when he realized what Bruce was staring at.

There, leaning against a tree a few yards away from them, was Jason, idly smoking a cigarette. He waved casually when he caught Tim’s eye.

“Uh,” Tim said awkwardly. “Can you… just wait here, okay? Please? I’ll be right back.” Bruce grunted once, and Tim took that as all the permission he needed before taking off toward where Jason stood.

Jason grinned at him as he approached, putting out his cigarette against the tree and pulling Tim into a tight hug. “Hey, babybird,” he mumbled into his hair. Tim softened in his embrace.

“What are you doing here?” he mumbled into Jason’s jacket. “Were you here for the ceremony?”

“I was. Thanks for the invite, by the way,” Jason said, pulling away and pulling Tim by the hips so that they were pressed together against the tree. Tim felt himself flush.

“It wasn't that big of a deal,” he muttered. “It’s kind of embarrassing.”

Jason rolled his eyes, tilting Tim’s chin up so that he had to make eye contact. “Embarrassing? You just graduated high school for the second time,” he said. “Ask me how many times I’ve graduated high school.”

Tim grinned, leaning his forehead against Jason’s. “Thanks,” he said softly. “I’m glad you're here.” Jason tucked a strand of Tim’s hair behind his ear and gave him a small, chaste kiss.

“I think you're the only one,” he muttered. Tim looked over his shoulder to see Bruce standing in the same place as promised, his eyes locked onto them and his face twisted into an expression that he couldn't quite interpret. “I should probably go.”

Tim sighed. “You don't have to,” he said, but he knew there was really no point in arguing. Jason smiled somewhat sadly, kissing Tim against before pushing away from the tree and picking his motorcycle helmet up off the ground.

“I’ll come over later tonight, okay?” Jason promised.

“Yeah. I’ll be waiting,” Tim said, waving him off as he turned and made to head toward the parking lot.

“Wait, Jason.”

Tim jumped slightly, turning to see that Bruce was suddenly right beside them. Jason froze, his back tensing as he slowly turned back around.

There was a moment where Bruce and Jason just stared at each other, as if they were assessing the other’s next move. Bruce seemed to relax first, and he cleared his throat. “How are you?” he asked, and Tim nearly cringed. Jason looked around in disbelief, like he was expecting someone to jump out with a hidden camera.

“Are you kidding?” he asked. Tim suddenly really wanted to be anywhere else.

Bruce waited a few moments to see if Jason had anything else to say, and when it was obvious that he didn't, he cleared his throat again. “There’s something I’ve been meaning to say to you,” he started a bit awkwardly. “I have been told, on occasion, that I have a tendency to deal with grief in a very… destructive way. Back when you were… Before you…” He paused, furrowing his brows like he was struggling to find the right words. Jason seemed to understand what he was getting at, though, because he raised his hand up to the white streak in his hair instinctively. Bruce sighed. “In the past, I had Tim to set me right. But I didn't, this time.”

Jason’s expression hadn't changed, but Tim noticed that the tenseness in his shoulder had subsided. “I get it,” he said flatly. “Tim’s your son, and I shot him. I can’t say that I really blame you for what happened. But that doesn't mean I don't resent the hell out of you.”

Bruce rubbed his temples wearily. “Jason. You’re my son, too,” he said, refusing to meet Jason’s eyes. “I know that you can't forgive me, but if it's any consolation, I regret what I did. And more than that, I… I regret making you think I didn't care about you.”

Jason was quiet for a long time, staring at Bruce like he was trying to analyze him. After a while, he uncrossed his arms and sighed. “You’re still an asshole,” he said dryly. “But it's a start.”

Bruce nodded, completely unaffected by the insult. Tim realized that this was the closest either of them was going to get to an actual apology, and they both seemed to have accepted that. “Dinner, tomorrow at the manor,” Bruce said casually. “I’m sure Alfred would be unhappy if you weren't there.”

Jason snorted. “Noted,” he said. “I'll think about it. For Alfred.” Bruce nodded again.

“Good. Well,” he turned to Tim expectantly. “That leads me back to me previous question.” Tim blinked in confusion, before he recalled the last thing Bruce had asked him.

“Oh, uh, right. You go ahead without me, I think I’ll stick around a little longer and ride back with Jason,” he said with a smile. “Thanks for coming, Bruce.”

Bruce smiled back, softly. “Alright,” he said. “I’ll see you both tomorrow.” He turned and headed toward the parking lot where he car waited for him.

“Ah, awkward family drama,” Jason said wistfully. “I missed it a little.”

Tim rolled his eyes. “There’ll always be plenty of that,” he said, eyeing Jason carefully. “If you stick around, anyway.”

Jason paused, obviously picking up the implications in Tim’s voice. “Hey,” he said, nudging Tim lightly. “Hate to break it to you, but you’re not getting rid of me, Timbo. Ever again.”

Tim smirked, standing up on his tiptoes and pressing a hard kiss to Jason’s mouth, holding him by the back of his helmet-messy hair. “Good to know,” he muttered against Jason’s lips. Jason pulled back slightly, staring at Tim in that way he did that made Tim’s heart race and his stomach drop. It was like he never wanted to stop staring at him, like he still didn’t believe that he was real, even after all this time. Tim moved Jason’s hand to rest over his heart, so he could feel that he was really here. He was alive. And he wasn’t going anywhere.

Jason smiled softly, kissing him one more time before pulling back and turning toward the school. Tim joined him, and Jason threw an arm over his shoulders. “You gonna miss Metropolis?” he asked.

“Nah,” Tim replied immediately. Jason snorted.

“I’m surprised you bothered coming back,” he mused. “I wouldn’t have.”

Tim shrugged. “Let’s just say I’m good at forgiving and forgetting,” he said. He shot Jason a crooked grin. “Not necessarily in that order.”

Jason rolled his eyes, mussing up Tim’s hair before picking up his helmet again and tilting his head toward the parking lot. “Come on, let’s get the hell out of this city,” he said. Tim couldn’t have agreed more. “Get ready for a really long, uncomfortable bike ride.” Tim groaned.

“Ugh, you really need to get a car,” he muttered, subconsciously taking Jason’s hand as they headed away from the courtyard. “Remind me why I didn’t just leave with Bruce.”

“Because you like me?” Jason suggested simply.

Tim paused, looking up at Jason. He took him all in, from his crooked nose that had broken far too many times, to the white scar cutting jaggedly through his left eyebrow, to his eyes that couldn’t quite decide whether they were blue or green. This was the only person he had ever really remembered, his face and name imprinted in memories that Tim didn’t even have anymore. This was the person that had completely and utterly changed his life. Tim felt overwhelmed with emotion, suddenly.

“I love you,” he corrected. Jason completely froze, his face going slack with shock, but Tim kept a tight grip on his hand and pulled him along. He looked over his shoulder with a grin. “Let’s go home.”