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it takes a house, a village

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Tim loves city life -- loves Gotham City most of all, impossibly and improbably, because it’s the one thing that he’s always been able to count on. There’s just something about the grime that gets everywhere, the bustle of people on the crowded streets, and the smell of exhaust in the air. Gotham will never be a tourist destination, will never cover architecture magazines -- it’s too dirty, too covered in layer upon layer of soot for that. But the city is dependable with its signs of life, the living, breathing heart of Gotham that runs through the streets he walks through every day.

There’s no good reason to live here in this crowded, messy, and unforgiving city, and about a hundred good reasons to leave, but not a single one of them is good enough to convince him.

Gotham City is home, home in a way that flows through his blood, all soot and smog traveling through his lungs - burning a bit, sure, but coming out alright in the end. Gotham is an ugly city and full of so much horror, but she’s Tim’s through and through; she raised him better than any of his parents combined.

The house that Tim grew up in was more a mausoleum than a home, set back from the street by a long driveway and bordered by impeccably-kept hedges and rose bushes. Inside were the wood-paneled walls and echoing hallways, none of it ever feeling quite as real as when Tim was leaping from rooftop to rooftop in Gotham City proper, or looking quite as good as the skyline from the top of a fire escape.

It’s never been a question, that he’d settle down somewhere in the city eventually. It’s always been a far off, “some day” sort of plan, alongside vague ideas of “after college” and “when I grow up.”

Tim’s grown up as he’ll ever be, an adult in a teenager’s clothing, alone and homeless and with too much cash to spare. He needs something to cling to, a place to call his own, a space to carve out for himself -- something that can’t be taken from him like everything else.

Tim’s got all these plans: The old theater made over and redone from the inside, old ghosts made modern and functional.

Except. Something keeps staying his hand. It’s just that when it really comes down to it, his plans are for the sort of house Bruce would choose. It sounds great on paper but when Tim tries to picture himself rebuilding his life, his plans don't quite fit right.

Maybe for once in his life, he’s tired of taking on baggage from others and making the most of it. Maybe he just wants something to be his first.

+

New Town is a hodge-podge of a few older crumbling blocks that survived the quake and brand new development projects. It’s turning into the sort of up and coming neighborhood people talk about down in the Diamond District, throwing around words like gentrification and pointing out the botanical gardens nearby as a sure sign it’ll turn into the sort of trendy, overpriced part of town they can move into and then discard once something more interesting turns up, after all the people who gave New Town its original charm have been driven out.

Not if Ivy has anything to say about it, Tim figures.

He’s strolling along one of the older blocks, turning over his living arrangements dilemma when he passes by one of the brownstones with a giant For Sale sign out front. Without even really thinking about it, Tim turns right around and walks into the open house.

It’s an elegant old house, with high ceilings and scratched wooden floors, three bedrooms and a lot of open space. He’s always wanted a blackboard wall, something to write on to keep track of cases and connections and everything else he’s got going on, and there’s a windowless wall in the master bedroom that would fit the bill just about perfectly. Below lies a basement that would make a good center of operations, and Tim’s already sketching out the systems he’d set up in his mind, with the main computer in the far corner and his spare Red Robin suits underneath the ceiling lamp.

The decision is as good as done.

If the real estate agent is shocked that someone walked in and wrote a check for the place on the spot, she doesn’t show it. Because it’s Gotham and a stone’s throw from Crime Alley, all she does is hand over the keys and close the door on her way out, leaving Tim alone in his new house.

“What the hell did I just do,” Tim says.

The walls don’t reply. He’s thankful for that because with the way his life goes, sometimes you never know.

Tim shoves his hands in his pockets and surveys the empty space that’s now his living room.

“Yeah, this can work.”

+

Tim wakes in the middle of the night to a crashing sound and jolts upwards in his brand new bed, situated on the bedroom floor without a frame. He made an immediate trip to the local furniture store for basic home supplies not long after the real estate agent had left so that he’d have everything delivered in time for him to spend the night in his new place. He’s never been all that fussy about the way to put things together, choosing the most practical sheets in the catalog, done up in greys and blacks that won’t show bloodstains.

Tim knows himself too well to go for anything fancier than the basics, knows that there are some nights when all he can do is peel off his uniform and pass out, leaving cuts and bruises until morning. He’s ruined enough clothes and bedding over the years, frantically trying to hide any signs of Robin before his father noticed, not that he ever really did.

Tim pictures the kitchen counter, strewn with wiring and all the makings of a Bat security system. Security system plans he had put on hold until tomorrow morning, which was clearly a poor decision if the sounds coming from downstairs are anything to go by.

“Can’t catch a break, can I,” Tim mutters, hauling himself out of bed and grabbing a flashlight from the outside pocket of his duffle.

He creeps down the stairs, careful to avoid the steps he’d noticed creak earlier, keeping the flashlight low by his side. Tim steps carefully from the foyer to the living room where the noise came from, readying himself for an attack. He flashes the light up, only to find --

Jason.

“What the fuck are you doing here, Drake?”

Tim fumbles for the switch and then stares, incredulous, as the living room is flooded with light. Jason, clad in worn-at-the-knees blue jeans and a sorry excuse for a flannel winter coat, is sitting cross-legged in the middle of Tim’s hardwood floor.

“What the fuck am I doing here? This is my house, Jason. What the fuck are you doing here?”

“Your house? Since when?”

“Since this afternoon.”

“Huh,” Jason says, tugging a hand through the white patch of hair near his forehead. “That explains why the For Sale sign is gone, then.”

Tim feels -- he doesn’t know what he feels. He feels tense, like a live wire, not yet sure if this is a fight or flight situation or something else. Sure, the last few times he’s found himself working with Jason on cases, they’ve managed to be mostly civil, but finding the other boy in his new home in the middle of the night is a different beast entirely. He becomes very aware of how vulnerable he must look, wearing only faded black sweatpants and a Superman t-shirt that hangs off his thin frame and has, quite frankly, seen better days.

He didn’t even think to bring a weapon down with him, an error in judgement that he’s kicking himself for. He could probably beat Jason in hand-to-hand if he manages to catch him off guard and get the right leverage. Cass’s training sessions flip through the back of his mind because she taught him something that would be useful for this exact situation. She’s always been good about that, being mindful of their similar statures, and how what would work best for Bruce or Dick might not work best for Tim. If he doesn’t get the crap kicked out of him, Tim makes a mental note to thank her for it.

Only, it’s three in the morning and he’s in his new home, limbs sleep-heavy, and the last thing he wants to do is get into a fight. Tim bites back a whine.

“Why are you here, Jason?”

“My safe house was compromised. Saw the sale sign, figured this place would be empty and I could crash here for the night.”

“Well, it’s not empty.”

“Yeah, no shit.”

Jason looks uncomfortable, arms crossed over his chest, as if turning in on himself. It strikes Tim how young Jason looks -- he’s used to thinking of him as this larger than life figure, but right now, he looks like just any other kid in his early twenties.

“What do you mean, compromised?”

Tim pictures a bomb going off, leaving a smoking crater behind, or an angry pack of mobsters tracking Jason down. That would be so typical of Jason, who somehow manages to find trouble even when he swears up and down that he doesn’t pull this shit on purpose, not entirely.

“Dickie-Bird and B-Man paid me a little visit.”

Tim heaves a sigh of relief -- so the reality is somewhat less dramatic, although he supposes Jason probably would have preferred the angry pack of mobsters.

“Now there’s a band name.”

Jason laughs. He has a nice laugh, Tim thinks, and it’s an odd thought to have about someone he’s coached himself into thinking of in coded, clinical terms. Jason is an element to be accounted for, a reluctant ally and nothing more, but when he laughs like this, without reservation, in a way Tim’s never managed, Tim sees some of the boy he used to follow around so many years ago. He sees the Robin who laughed so freely and so often that Tim envied him, Tim who had spent all his life constantly biting things back because there was no one there to share it with.

“Look, I won’t subject us both to this awkward bonding session any longer. I can head out right now and find somewhere else to crash,” Jason says.

It’s the middle of February and there’s snow on the ground. At three in the morning, the likelihood of Jason finding anything that won’t involve him freezing somewhere in an alleyway isn’t particularly high. Hell of a price to pay just to keep Bruce and Dick out of his life but then again, Jason’s always been stubborn like that.

“If you promise not to kill me in my sleep, you can just stay here tonight,” Tim says.

Jason crosses his arms over his chest and Tim can tell that he wants to say something scathing, anything to move past the uncomfortableness of the moment. He doesn’t want to accept anything from Tim, and that rankles a bit more than it should. Tim plays with the frayed edges of his t-shirt, a nervous habit, and feels an irrational surge of anger at Jason’s reluctance.

“Can whatever half-assed complaints you were mustering up, I’m not gonna let you freeze to death on my watch, you idiot.”

“Fucker,” Jason mutters, tightening his flannel jacket around him. “Yeah, okay. Thanks.”

Tim nods and heads for the stairs, flipping the switch off as he goes. “Good night, Jason.”

Jason doesn’t reply.

He’s gone when Tim wakes up in the morning.

+

A month passes and more and more, Tim starts to feel settled. Finally getting his GED a few months ago had been the first step and now that he was enrolled at Gotham University and starting classes, and finding his own place to boot, it’s as if he’s finally able to grab a foothold after spending so much time in free fall.

He needs this foundation of normalcy because when his life was just the mission, there were days when it felt like it could swallow him whole and there’d be nothing left but Red Robin, a suit and an empty shell underneath.

His work on the house really starts to take shape. Tim’s computer and related Bat tech in the basement are fully operational, and true to his initial plans, he’s created a blackboard wall in his bedroom for keeping track of things. He converted the bathroom under the stairs down into the basement into a darkroom, and he spends maybe more time in that cramped space than he should. He’d be concerned about long-term exposure to chemicals if he weren’t so happy to have his own darkroom again.

Which is where he is right now, hanging up some photos to dry, when he hears the sound of footsteps above him.

“For fuck’s sake,” Tim mutters to himself. He grabs a batarang from his work desk and creeps his way up to the first floor, heading to the kitchen where he heard the footsteps coming from, only to find a familiar figure rooting through his refrigerator.

“Are you aware of the fact that your milk is expired?” Jason says. He’s holding a milk carton in one hand and the door to the fridge open with the other, eyeing the contents of Tim’s fridge with disgust.

“Toss it, then,” Tim says. “How the hell did you get in here? I have security.”

Jason rolls his eyes. “Give me some fucking credit, Drake, I am not exactly the caveman idiot you seem to think I am.”

“I -- I know that. I didn’t mean -- I’m just not -- “

“Used to many people getting one past you? Yeah, I noticed. Might want to work on that hubris, Mini Batman.”

Tim scowls. “I am not a Mini Batman. Look, why are you here?”

“Compromised safe house, the redux,” Jason says, nudging the fridge door closed with his hip and turning to face Tim. “I notice you’ve invested in a couch, it looks comfortable. Inviting. Waiting for someone to shower it with love and affection.”

“If you shower my couch with love and affection, I might actually kill you.”

Jason waggles his eyebrows. “Dirty mind, Timothy. Now that was unexpected, I’m almost proud.”

Tim flushes, the back of his neck burning. “Shut up. Just don’t make a mess, alright?”

“You’re the boss, Timbo,” Jason says. He flops onto the couch with a thud, throwing one arm over his eyes. “Sweet dreams.”

“Yeah,” Tim says, switching off the lights, a moment of deja vu. “Sweet dreams.”

Again, Jason is gone by morning.

+

“Why do you keep coming over here? There has to be better places to hide out, Jason.”

It’s the fifth time in three months, a pattern forming that Tim doesn’t exactly know what to do with. Sometimes Jason passes out on the couch and is gone by morning, but more and more often lately he's been sticking around well into the morning, making coffee and eggs and filling the empty spaces with his loud chatter. The wide, easy grin that comes after Jason pokes Tim in the side with a spatula and laughs at Tim's squawking stays with Tim afterward because he knows that look -- he could go and dig out some of his old photos of Robin and find its exact copy staring up at him.

He's off balance and he doesn't like it, so Tim decides to pick at the situation, to scratch beneath the surface and find out why Jason is really here.

Jason looks up from the book he’s reading, sprawled on Tim’s couch. “Last place they’d think to look for me.”

“Right. Because you hate me.”

Jason places the book face down on his chest. He rubs a hand over his eyes, a gesture of frustration that Tim has learned to identify and catalog. “I don’t hate you, Drake. I hate the idea of you, but I’m not enough of a jackass to continue conflating the two.”

It’s as if the ground beneath his feet has shifted unexpectedly, and Tim finds himself reaching a hand out, steadying himself against the door frame. Because meeting Jason properly the way he did that night at Titans Towers couldn’t have come at a worse time for Tim. He finally met his Robin and the reality was a far cry from his eleven year old hopes and dreams. Tim was already shattered in so many pieces that he’d compartmentalized, filed Jason away in a folder marked “enemy,” and did his best to try not to think about it.

Seeing Jason the way he has in these past few months forces him to dig out the file and reassess, and while there is a twelve year old inside of him that’s thrilled, the older Tim knows better -- the older Tim fears for his heart.

So he shrugs, all feigned annoyance. “Could’ve fooled me.”

Jason’s eyes narrow at him. “Cut the crap, Drake. Daddy’s not around, you don’t have to feign disapproval for his benefit.”

“I have a first name, you know.”

“Fine, cut the crap, Tim,” Jason says. They stare at each other for a full minute, neither saying a word or budging an inch, before Jason lets out a loud, frustrated sigh. “Yeah, you know what, you’re right. There are better places I could be.”

Jason gets up and storms out of the house, shutting the front door with a slam.

Jason’s book lies forgotten on the couch. Tim picks it up, fingers tracing the worn spine, a Gotham City Library copy of Fahrenheit 451.

This doesn’t feel like the victory it should be.

+

Every day, Tim comes home from class or patrol late at night and expects to find signs that Jason was there: A milk carton left out or the book gone, but days and then weeks go by and Fahrenheit 451 remains right where Tim left it, sitting on the kitchen table.

And it's stupid because he has no reason to expect Jason. Tim’s was a convenient place to crash and nothing more, and any moments where it felt like they were building something, like they were becoming friends, were clearly imagined on his part.

Once while coming out of class, Tim sees a leather jacket out of the corner of his eye and whirls around, but it's just his art history TA, hair color and height all wrong, and he's left feeling stupid as people mill around him in the corridor.

"You've fucking lost it, Drake," Tim announces to the now empty hallway. He rummages through his coat pocket, pulls out his cell phone, and calls the only person he can think of.

"I'm off duty, this is me time, this better be a social call, kiddo." Babs's voice comes through the receiver, warm and amused, and Tim lets out a breath he didn't even realize he was holding, leaning back against the wall behind him. There's always been something about Babs’s voice that grounds him, that makes the world make a little more sense. Late nights and aching muscles and Oracle always in his ear, like a lighthouse helping to steer him home.

"Uh. Yeah, no. It's a social call. Do you know where I could find Jason?"

"How is that a social call, Tim?"

Tim flushes, one hand self-consciously rising to rub at the ear he knows from experience is turning red, for all that he knows she can't see him. "Just trust me, okay? I promise it's not business related."

"Okay," Babs says. Tim is definitely going to have to explain himself to her eventually, he can feel it. "Drop by the Gotham City Library this afternoon; you should find him there."

Tim frowns. "Because he likes to read?"

Babs's laugh echoes over the receiver. "No, kiddo, because I got him a job there as a librarian's assistant."

Well, that explains a lot.

"Okay, uh. Thanks, Babs, you're the best."

"You're gonna tell me what this is all about some day, you know that right?"

"I don't doubt it, Gordon," Tim says. "But I'm going to take a rain check on it for now."

At least until he figures out what the hell he'd actually say to explain himself. Because right now, it's anyone's guess.

+

Tim stops off at home to pick up Jason’s book before making his way to the Gotham City Library. He takes the long way there, letting the time spent on his Ducati with the wind rushing past clear his head.

It doesn’t help all that much. He hates how off kilter Jason makes him feel. He shouldn’t even be doing this. He should have taken their argument as the inevitable breaking off point that it was and put Jason out of his thoughts. There is nothing tying them together except for a mantle they both had taken from them before they were ready to let it go, a name they both used to bring meaning to their lives.

But there’s a new Robin now, and Jason and Tim are both too old to pretend they can muster up the optimism needed to wear the red, green, and yellow.

Tim locks up his bike in the library parking lot. With all the security he has on it, he’d like to see someone try to steal it; it’d almost be funny. Still, you never can be too careful.

The library has a musty, familiar smell, halfway between the scent of old books and industrial cleaner. The architecture is old and the interior decor worn down -- nothing here’s been renovated since the last city rejuvenation push in the 1970s, and it shows in the concrete walls and the brown and yellow patterned carpeting.

The woman at the front desk tells him that on a slow day like today, Jason can usually be found somewhere in the stacks either sorting through newly-returned books or reading through something for the library’s “Our Recommendations” billboard.

After about ten minutes of aimless wandering, Tim finds him in the Queer Lit section, sprawled out on the floor, jean-clad legs blocking most of the aisle. Tim raises an eyebrow at Jason’s bright red Wonder Woman logo t-shirt.

“Nice shirt,” Tim calls out.

Jason looks up. “Donna got it for me. You know I only rep the best.”

“Don’t think the big man will agree with you there.”

Jason rolls his eyes. “The big man can bite me.”

“So, uh,” Tim starts, wiping his sweaty palms on his jeans. “Donna got that for you? I didn’t know you two were in touch.”

“Yeah, we keep in touch. And well, you know. When pretty much your only friend in the world gets you a t-shirt, you figure you better wear it, you know?”

That hurts like a punch to the gut, and Tim stomps down on his disappointment. He should know better by now.

“Right. Well. You left your book? So I brought it,” Tim says. He digs out Fahrenheit 451 from the outer pocket of his messenger bag and leans down to hand it over to Jason.

“Thanks.”

“Look -- about what happened..”

Jason holds his hands up. “Don’t worry about it, Drake. You don’t owe me shit, I overstayed my welcome, I got the message loud and clear.”

“You didn’t,” Tim says. He didn’t know that he would be so sure about it until this very moment. “I didn’t mind. Really.”

“Okay.”

“Okay.”

They stare at each other for a few minutes, neither knowing exactly what to say, and Tim kicks himself for not thinking this through more. Then again, if he’d thought this through too much, he wouldn’t even be standing here.

Tim clears his throat. “Can I ask you something?”

“Maybe, maybe not. Depends on the question.”

“Why keep dodging Bruce and Dick? I mean. We’re on the same side, aren’t we?” You don’t kill anymore goes unspoken but implicitly understood.

“Because they think they won. Because they think that I’m doing it for them, for their bullshit ideology -- that I think they’re right. They’re not.”

“I -- I don’t get it.”

Jason runs a hand through his hair, tugging at the white bangs. “It’s not. The way B sees it is, if he started doing what I was doing, he’d enjoy it too much and he’d never be able to stop, right? And because he’s an egotistical jackass, he assumed it was the same for me.”

“And it wasn’t?”

“No. It wasn’t. The way I see it, what I was doing was necessary. Not - jesus, it’s not like I got off on it. But I was going down a road where...where nothing would ever get better, y’see? And maybe I’m just fucking sick of my life being that way.”

Tim lets out a breath he didn’t even realize he was holding. “I understand.”

Jason laughs and it’s a harsh sound, emotions scraped raw. “No, you really don’t. But I appreciate the effort, Drake.”

The buzzing of the fluorescent lighting above them is the only sound in the otherwise quiet library, as Tim mind races to process Jason’s words.

“For what it’s worth, Drake,” Jason says. “I am sorry. For a lot of the other shit, not so much. But for you, yeah.”

“I -- I, yeah. Me too.” Sorry for what, Tim doesn’t know. Sorry that you died, sorry that everything got so fucked up, sorry that Gotham is a shitty, ugly place that they’ll never be able to walk away from because they love it too much. Sorry for a lot of things that aren’t even his fault, not even a little bit, and yet here he is.

Jason shakes his head at Tim like he’s thinking the same thing. “You’re too fucking forgiving, Drake. One of these days, that shit’s gonna get you killed.”

Tim shrugs because Jason’s not saying anything that Tim hasn’t already thought of himself. But it’s a quality he strives not to outgrow because for all that it could get him killed one day, he’d rather be too forgiving and dead than live a long and healthy life, closed off and untrusting. Like Bruce.

“Yeah, probably.”

Jason barks a laugh and it echoes in the stacks. “You’re a real piece of work, Timbo. Get the hell out of here, I’ve got to get back to work.”

“So, I’ll see you around?” Tim hates the hopeful lilt but can’t seem to help himself.

“Yeah, I guess you will.”

+

“I hate everything in the universe, do you want to consume a bottle of white wine with me immediately? If you say no, know that I will just sit here on your curb and drink it anyways.”

Tim snorts, swinging the door to his house open. It’s half past eleven in the morning, the bright sunshine streaming in through his windows. Now isn’t exactly prime civilized drinking hours but Steph looks frantic, eyes red from not enough sleep, stiff posture screaming that something’s gone horribly wrong.

“And hello to you too, Steph. What’s up?”

“My mom is moving to Star City!” Steph cries, pushing past him into the house.

“What, why?”

“Her sister lives there and she’s, well, she’s got debilitating arthritis and my aunt has no one else to care for her except for my mom. And since my mom’s a nurse, she’s obligated, like of course she should go. And I know I shouldn’t feel resentful, I shouldn’t, that’s what family is there for, blah blah blah -- except that’s total bullshit, you know? It’s not like my aunt was ever there for us. We went through some serious shit and we barely even got a phone call from the woman.”

“Steph,” Tim says, placing his hands on Steph’s shoulders. “Deep breaths. I don’t think you breathed once throughout that entire sentence.”

“Don’t be rational, I hate it when you’re rational when I don’t want to be.”

Tim takes the bottle of wine out from beneath her arm. “Then we’re gonna have to open this.”

Ten minutes later and they’re already each two glasses in when Tim remembers, belatedly, that they’re both horrible lightweights.

“This probably won’t end well,” Tim says.

“Hey, now. I’ve been in college longer than you. I can handle myself.”

“Yeah, and since you’ve been in college, how many college parties have you actually been to?”

Three, I’ll have you know, Mister Snootypants Killjoy.”

“How many weren’t undercover operations for Oracle?”

“Oh fuck off and drink your wine, Boy Lush.”

Tim laughs and almost chokes on the wine he was in the middle of swallowing. “Damnit, Steph.”

“Enjoy this precious time with me while you can, dollface. Pretty soon I’ll be transferring universities and shipped off to Star City, where I can hang out with the only guy who I think might actually be a bigger tool than Bruce. Wait, can I still be Batgirl if I’m not in Gotham? Probably not, right?”

“...did you just call me dollface?”

“My entire life has been upended, roll with the times, Timmers.”

“Do you have to go? You’re an adult, Steph, you can live on your own.”

Steph pours herself another healthy-sized glass of wine. “I could live on my own if I had the money to live on my own, which I don’t. And I’m not going to accept any Bat-shaped charity, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

It’s probably a terrible idea and he knows it even as he’s saying it but he blurts it out anyways. “You could live here.”

Steph places her glass down with a loud clatter and levels him with an incredulous look, blue eyes wide. “Did I not just say something about no Bat-charity?”

“It wouldn’t be charity?” Tim says, already warming up to the idea. “I have two spare bedrooms, right? People rent out rooms all of the time. Living expenses are technically part of your scholarship at GU, we could, I don’t know. Work out something that you’re happy with.”

“Timothy Jackson Drake-Wayne, that is either a wonderful idea or a terrible idea, and I’m not sure which one just yet.”

“We could drink on it?”

“Yeah, we’re definitely gonna drink on it.”

Another ten minutes and they’re sitting shoulder to shoulder on Tim’s kitchen floor with their backs up against the counter and the bottle in front of them, glasses long since abandoned.

“We’ve really gotta work on this. This whole -- lightweight thing? Hazard. Bat-training should help with this.”

Steph giggles. “Could you imagine Bruce ordering us to do tequila shots in his drill sergeant voice?”

Do it better,” Tim says in his best impression of Bruce’s training drill intonation.

“You salt-licking method was inefficient,” Steph says.

“Develop an equation for superior lime slicing.”

“No, stop stop stop. If we keep this up, we’ll ruin drinking forever because it’ll always be linked with the B-Man and the B-Man is a fun-sucker.”

“We should make him a plaque. Bruce Wayne, professional fun-sucker. You know he crashed one of my dates once? Literally crashed through the fucking window into the restaurant. It’s not like he didn’t know I was there!”

“Bruce Wayne, professional fun-sucker and cockblock?” Steph asks. “Do you think that’ll fit on a plaque?”

“Tiny font, Miss Brown.”

“So how do you think this’ll work?”

“Uh, the font? I don’t know, Steph, I’ve never made a plaque before.”

Steph leans over and flicks him in the ear. “No, Boy Moron. You and me living together. You don’t think that’ll be weird?”

“Why would it be weird?”

Steph turns her head to stare at him, both eyebrows raised high. “I’m gonna pretend you didn’t just ask that incredibly stupid question.”

“Do you think that -- that we’d have reason for it to be weird? That, I don’t know, there would be -- “

“Tension? Do we have, uh, tension?”

“I -- no? I don’t think so?”

Steph taps a finger against her lips thoughtfully. “Only one way to find out, Boy Romeo.”

Tim scrunches up his nose. “I always hated it when you called me that. Talk about some terrible life choices, Romeo.”

Steph is warm and solid next to him and they used to sit like this all of the time, wrapped around each other as if there was no one else in the world. She still uses the same two dollar drug store shampoo she’s always used, familiar rosemary scent sending him back four years in time to rooftops and playground swings, to the adrenaline rush of being fifteen and on top of the world. She’s close enough to kiss and it’s a weird thing to realize because he hasn’t thought of kissing Steph in a long, long time.

“This is such a bad plan, Tim.”

“Yeah, probably,” Tim says, and then he leans in to kiss her.

Their noses bump a few times but they finally get the angle right, and it’s kind of a sloppy kiss, which he’d just chalk up to them being drunk, but his head is already starting to clear a little and he knows that Steph can hold her alcohol better than him.

A couple of beats later and then: “Okay, that was not good.”

Tim pulls away. “Yeah. I feel like we used to be better at that.”

“Okay, okay,” Steph says, gesturing widely with her hands. “Let’s try that again, call that a Mulligan.”

“Yeah, okay,” Tim says, leaning in again but Steph then starts giggling against his mouth. “Come on, Brown, get serious.”

“I can’t,” she breathes out, “this is ridiculous.”

“It was your idea!”

“Yeah but then I realized that I really, really didn’t want to be kissing you.”

“Ouch,” Tim says, holding a hand over his heart. “Words hurt, Steph.”

“So, that answers that question, I guess. At least it does for me. Are we on the same page here?”

Surprisingly, they really are. Tim doesn’t know quite when that happened. There was a time in his life when he was sure that he’d be in love with Steph forever but the spaces where they used to fit together aren’t the same. They grew apart and grew up in different directions.

And the part of him that aches for a simpler, happier time before everything went so very wrong in their lives might always be sad about that, but if there’s one lesson he’s had to learn all too well lately, it’s how to keep moving forward.

“We are,” Tim says, reaching out to tuck a strand of hair come loose from Steph’s braid behind her ear. He leans over and kisses her on the forehead. “It’s been real, Girl Wonder.”

She smiles at him brightly. “Hey, cool, we can live together. The day is saved! High five! So, when can I move in?”

“Whenever you want. This weekend, maybe?”

Tim picks up the wine bottle to drink more but pauses just as he’s about to take a sip as a sudden thought hits him. “Hey, aren’t you dating that detective? Nick Gage?”

“We’re not exclusive, if that’s what you’re asking. He probably won’t come after you with a shovel and even if he did, I mean come on. He’s cute but he wouldn’t stand a chance.”

“So what are you doing?”

Steph gives a half shrug. “Oh, you know. Hot clandestine Batgirl make-outs. Some hot clandestine sleepovers that my mom doesn’t know about because she thinks I was out hero-ing. And how messed up is that, that I’m now more comfortable with my mother knowing that I fight crime than that I’m having sex again?”

“Do you know how many times my dad grounded me because he thought I was out having wild underaged teen orgies? After he found out the truth, I think he would have preferred the sex.”

Steph cackles, taking the bottle back from him to take a sip. “Seriously? He thought that about you? Now there’s a laugh riot.”

“Tell me about it.” Tim tugs at the end of Steph’s long blonde braid lightly. “Are you cool with that? The whole non-exclusive thing?”

Steph arches an eyebrow at him. “Assume much? It was my idea, actually. I like him a lot but that whole big committed relationship thing, that’s not something I feel up to right now. And just so you know, if you make your judgey face, I will beat the shit out of you.”

Tim holds up his hands in a gesture of surrender. “No judgey face. Judgement free zone.”

“I bet you’re judging like at least a little,” Steph says, holding out her thumb and forefinger close together. “On the inside. You can’t help it.”

“It’s a character flaw, alright, I’m working on it.”

“That’s all I ask.” Steph slants him a sly, sideways glance. “What about you, Boy Romeo. Any saucy developments in your love life? Got your eye on anyone?”

Jason’s face comes to mind unbidden and Tim shakes his head fiercely, swallowing down the conflicting feelings he really doesn’t want to analyze too closely right now. Bottle that one up for a later date, Drake.

He reaches out, takes the wine from Steph’s right hand, and takes a long sip, finishing it up.

“Nope.”

+

“Hey, important question, Ex-Boyfriend Wonder -- why is there a dangerously unhinged murderer passed out on our couch?”

“Not passed out,” Jason mumbles, turning over and pressing his face into the sofa cushions. “Resting.”

Tim looks over from where he’s scooping coffee grinds into a filter and shrugs. “He does that.”

Steph raises both eyebrows. “Does he.”

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t he try to kill you?”

“Wanted him dead, he’d be dead,” Jason says, now barely intelligible behind the cushions.

“Oh, now that’s reassuring,” Steph says. “Were you not going to tell me about this when I moved in?”

“It didn’t seem important?” Tim answers. Even as he says it, he knows how ridiculous it sounds. “You know, Damian tried to kill me a few times too.”

Steph crosses her arms over her chest and gives him that look she always used to give him when they were dating, the look that let him know she thought he was being deliberately obtuse and she wasn’t going to stand for it. “Damian is a child, Tim. He is an adult who should know better. You think there haven’t been times when I was pretty tempted to push you off a roof?”

“Hey!”

Steph raises an eyebrow at him and Tim just wilts a bit because yeah, no, that’s fair.

“But did I? No. Because innocent people don’t deserve to be attacked just because they’ve pissed me off.”

Tim can see the lines of Jason’s back from here, gone all tense -- shoulder muscles taut beneath his worn out t-shirt.

He used to think that if Steph and Jason ever met, they’d get on like a house on fire. That was in the old days, when Jason was a myth behind glass Tim had constructed inside his head and Steph was still his girlfriend, when Robin and the Spoiler were still young and naive -- before life had forced them apart, made them brittle.

But this was a foolish thing to think -- if Jason had never died, Tim and Steph probably never would have met. Tim would never have been Robin, never would have had the people in his life that he has now. He never would have been charmed by that loud and funny girl who smacked him around the face with a brick, never would have kissed the Spoiler on a swingset after midnight.

What a strange relationship to have with someone, knowing that their death gave you some of the best times in your life.

Tim’s stomach lurches, his appetite gone.

A worried knot forms inside Tim’s gut -- Jason’s going to say something and there’s going to be a fight any minute now, and they haven’t even gotten the chance to get the coffee brewing yet.

Only there isn’t a fight at all.

Jason is sitting up, tugging his boots on and making as if to go. He looks defeated -- like he did that day in the library, like some days it’s all a bit too much. Tim wants to say something, wants to tell him to stay, but it’s not as if Steph is wrong. She’s very, very right -- in a lot of ways, her reaction is the most genuine out of the family because it’s not tempered by nostalgia or Bruce’s bullshit. Steph’s reaction comes from looking at all of the facts in front of her and deciding that someone who hurt the people she cares about isn’t someone she should give a free pass.

Tim wonders what happened to him that he no longer feels the same way. He knows he should.

So Tim doesn’t say anything, just watches Jason walk out the front door, closing it behind him with a quiet snick, an eery reverse of the last time Tim saw Jason walk out that door.

Steph blows out a breath, tugging one hand through her tangled blonde hair, worrying at a knot. “I’m not gonna say I’m sorry.”

“Good,” Tim says, “you have no reason to be. You’re not wrong.”

“And yet.”

“And yet.”

Steph’s brows furrow, like she’s trying to puzzle something out, and then: “You’re soft on him, aren’t you.”

Tim shrugs. “He’s been better lately. We’ve been, I don’t know, spending time together. I’ve learned to trust him, I guess.”

Steph shakes her head. “Typical Drake cluelessness. That’s not what I meant, Nerd Wonder. You’re soft on him like you were soft on me.”

Tim rubs the back of his neck, fingers working at a knot, and carefully avoids Steph’s gaze. “Maybe you’re not wrong there either.”

“But?”

“But that’s not something that I’m ready to deal with just yet.”

“Hmph. Fine, whatever. But it’s okay, you know. When you’re ready to deal with it, it’s okay. We’ve both moved on. I mean, I moved on with a hot detective who makes me breakfast tacos and you moved on with a possibly murderous zombie that you’re legally related to, so. Does this mean that I won our break up?”

Tim lets a laugh escape before he can stop himself. “Have I told you lately that I love you?”

“A girl could stand to hear it again.”

“I love you, Steph.”

“I love you too, moron. Now get the coffee going.”

+

Two days later, Tim comes home from class to find Steph and Jason singing the lyrics to “Jack & Diane” woefully off-key in the kitchen, while making what looks like a cross between mac and cheese and a casserole.

“Uh, have I entered the right house?”

“Nope, fuck off, you actually live next door,” Jason says, pouring more cheese onto their concoction.

Tim raises an eyebrow at Steph, who salutes him with a spatula. “We’ve reached an understanding.”

“An understanding?” Tim says, confused on multiple levels until he catches sight of the bruise blooming on Jason’s jaw. “Aha. I see you’ve become acquainted with Steph’s right hook. Hurts, doesn’t it?”

“Like a motherfucker.” Jason’s wearing an apron that says KISS THE COOK. Tim doesn’t know where he got it from. He’s pretty sure that they didn’t own an apron yesterday. He’s also pretty sure that Jason still doesn’t live here.

“Like I said, an understanding. We had a good long talk, didn’t we, Jaybird?”

“That we did, BG.”

“Now that’s something I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall for,” Tim says.

“No, I don’t think you would have,” Jason says, quiet and sure, and Tim wonders what he means. Jason clears his throat, and his entire posture shifts and straightens, an obvious move to change the subject that Tim lets him have. “You hungry?”

“Yeah, although, uh. What the hell is that? It looks like heartburn in a pan.”

“Rich people,” Steph and Jason say in unison, giving Tim a pitying look before bursting into laughter.

“I’ve created a monster, haven’t I?” Tim says.

+

When Cass shows up in the middle of the night, rain-drenched and with a duffle slung over her shoulder, Tim isn’t even a little bit surprised.

He slouches against the door jamb and gives his sister a lopsided grin. “Tim Drake’s Halfway House for Wayward Bats, can I help you?”

“If I spend another night in Wayne Tower, I think I’m going to kill Dick.”

“It’s the aggressive cuddling, isn’t it?”

“They’re all so concerned about letting me know that I’m still part of the family. I know. I -- I understand. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy,” Cass says, shaking the water from her hair, which only serves to make her look even more like a dangerous (but still drowned) cat. “I don’t -- I don’t like the constant reminder.”

“Got a spare room, if you want it. Family means not having to pay rent.”

Cass grins, small and sly. “Good because I don’t really have a job.”

They stand there in the doorway for about thirty seconds before Tim shakes himself and moves forward, pulling Cass into a hug. She wraps her arms around him, slight but strong, stronger than the rest of them combined, and it’s so good to have her back that Tim finds he has to swallow around a lump in his throat.

When Steph jumps onto them both from behind, shouting “Kowabunga!” before wrapping them in a giant, nonsensical group hug -- well, Tim’s not all that surprised about that either.

+

Steph and Tim stumble in with their arms full of groceries and find Cass is sitting at the kitchen table, frowning at the bottles of nail polish and other assorted makeup products around her. A bemused Jason keeps giving her looks from over the top of the paperback he’s reading on the sofa.

“I give. Are they bombs or something? Do they need to be defused? Because I can do that,” Jason says.

“I have to go undercover. Fancy event. I hate this stuff,” Cass says. She picks up a nail polish bottle and and wrinkles her nose at it as if she really did wish it was a bomb after all.

Steph jerks her head in Tim’s direction. “Get Boy Wonder Number Three over here to help you out, he’s good at that stuff. And do you see how difficult you make my life, Jaybird? Now I have to refer to you by a numbered system.”

Jason cheerfully flips her off over his book, crossing his big heavy combat boots over each other on the coffee table. Steph reaches over and smacks the top of his head as she walks by, laughing.

“Just let me put this stuff away and I’ll be right there,” Tim says, plopping his brown paper bag down on the table.

Steph waves him off. “I’ll do it, help Cass before she wages World War III over there.”

Tim shakes his head, pulling up a chair backwards to sit at the table. “When do you have to be out by tonight?”

“Ten,” Cass says. “Gala event, smugglers that I’ve been tracking since Hong Kong.”

Tim checks the clock. Half past six. “Plenty of time to get you sorted, give me your hand,” he says, picking up one of the nail polish bottles and shaking it.

As he’s helps his sister get ready, Tim feels Jason’s gaze fall upon him. At first he ignores it, figuring that Jason will just get bored and go back to reading his book like he always does, but it never stops. Eventually, Tim looks up from applying Cass’s mascara, and raises an eyebrow in Jason’s direction. “Yes?”

“Didn’t know that your skill set extended to professional Bat makeup artist,” Jason says, and there’s bait in there somewhere, a test that Tim doesn’t know the end result of and therefore refuses to rise to.

“I have steady hands,” Tim says mildly, going back to his work.

“B really made sure you knew how to do everything, huh?” Steph says, and there’s some bitterness there, a wound that’s mostly healed but still hurts if prodded. Tim can’t exactly blame her there -- Bruce has never been the most communicative or understanding mentor, but he really pulled out all the stops in emotional constipation when it came to Steph.

“If the fate of the human race ever rests on a reality show-style cosmetics competition, I am reasonably sure that I would not completely screw us as a species,” Tim says. “Dick’s awful at it, though, it’s hilarious.”

“Does this surprise anyone because I mean. Disco Dickie haunts my dreams and my nightmares,” Jason says, his Murakami paperback long since abandoned facedown on the coffee table.

Tim laughs. “Don’t forget the mullet.”

“I’m torn between ‘tell me everything’ and ‘I never want to know,’” Steph says. “Mostly I want to know everything. Do you think I could get money out of blackmailing Nightwing?”

“The secrets of Disco Dickie are better left unknown, young grasshopper,” Jason says. He and Tim share a conspiratorial look, Jason smiling widely in a way that makes his eyes crinkle and reveals the dimples in his cheeks. Tim can feel the back of his own neck flushing, an answering smile quirking at the edges of his lips he can’t control.

Tim ducks his head away, only to find Steph assessing him with a knowing look on her face, one eyebrow raised upwards. He studiously ignores her.

“I think you’re all set, then, Cass,” Tim says. Cass smirks at him and he rolls his eyes. She and Steph have clearly ganged up on him.

“I could tell Damian that you’re the one who put all that Britney Spears on his iPod,” Tim whispers to her.

“I could kill you and make it look like an accident, little brother,” Cass says.

“Love you too, Cass.”

Cass leans over and kisses him on the cheek. “Thanks for the help, Tim.”

“Steph, will you help me with the rest?” Cass asks, jerking her head upwards towards the stairs.

“No problemo, Miss Cain,” Steph says, bowing to Cass exaggeratedly before pulling Cass out of her chair. The two of them bound up the stairs, taking the steps several at a time, followed swiftly by the slamming of Cass’s door shut.

Traitors, the both of them.

“They’re gonna wind up ruling the entire city between the two of them one day, you know that, right?” Jason says.

“Why do you think I stay on their good side,” Tim jokes.

Jason leans against the kitchen counter in silence for several minutes as Tim organizes and cleans up after Cass’s undercover makeup bonanza.

“What?”

“Nothing, it’s just,” Jason starts, waving his right hand around in front of him. “Before I met you, I had this idea of you inside my head and I was all fuckin’ wrong, you know?”

“Good wrong or bad wrong?”

Jason huffs a laugh, eyes crinkling again. Tim swallows hard. Danger, Will Robinson.

“Good wrong.”

+

Tim wakes up to hear the creaking of his door opening and he rolls over to see the bright red numbers of his alarm clock. 4:30.

“Who the hell?”

“It’s, uh, it’s me. Jason.”

“What is it?”

“Could I -- uh, the couch is occupied. You know what, never mind, fuck it, sorry for waking you.”

Tim sits up, squinting at Jason’s outline highlighted by the thin strip of light from the hallway.

“Occupied by who?”

“Demon brat.”

Tim swears. “And here I thought the exorcism would keep him out.”

Jason laughs softly, the only other sound aside from the creaking of the old wooden floors. “He and Steph were out patrolling late on this side of town, so she told him to just kick it on the couch. Look, I’m just gonna go back to my safe house -- “

“Don’t be stupid, I’ve got plenty of room,” Tim says. He pulls aside the covers on the other half of the bed. “It’s 4:30 already, you might as well stay.”

“You sure?”

“Not if you keep asking me,” Tim says through a yawn.

“Right.” Jason comes in and closes the door behind him. It takes a few seconds for Tim’s eyes to adjust but when they do, he sees Jason awkwardly tugging off his boots one at a time and stripping off his kevlar and yeah, Tim is maybe reconsidering just a bit.

Good show, Timbo. Invite the guy you’ve had several vivid wet dreams about lately to sleep in your bed with you. What could possibly go wrong?

There’s a sliver of moonlight shining in through a gap in the curtains. Jason strips down to a t-shirt and his briefs and Tim can see a hint of something when his shirt rides up, a scar and what looks like black ink, like a tattoo. He wants to ask about it but that would mean that he’s been staring, so he says nothing.

“You don’t snore, do you,” Jason asks, settling in on the other side of the bed.

There’s several inches between them but still Tim feels self-conscious, all too aware of how easy it would be to close the distance and finally answer the question he’s been asking himself for months now. He pictures himself losing control of his senses and just going for it, but the thought makes him feel prickly all over, like he’s too small for his skin.

Between the late hour and the bulk of Jason making Tim’s room seem smaller than usual, the whole thing has an air of unreality to it that Tim can’t shake.

Tim pulls at the blankets, shifting nervously. It’s too quiet now and Tim has a moment of irrational fear that Jason can listen in on his thoughts, so he distracts with chatter.

“It’s my bed, if I snore, tough shit,” he says.

Jason just laughs.

“And don’t hog the blankets, I’ll kick you out to go bunk with Damian.”

“I’m afraid that he’d fuckin’ bite me or something.”

“And that’s what you’d get for hogging blankets,” Tim says.

“You’re a vindictive fucker, Timothy,” Jason says.

“And don’t you forget it,” Tim says, turning and hiding a smile into his pillow. “Good night, Jason.”

“‘Night, Tim.”

+

Batgirl and Robin spend the next two weeks working the same case and every night, Damian conks out on the couch, covered in cuts and bruises and blankets, looking so much younger in his sleep, like the regular eleven year old child he isn’t.

Tim should be annoyed at Damian’s constant presence and he is, a lot of the time -- Damian still snipes at him constantly and Tim still snaps back, only to feel embarrassed afterward that he lets the little snot get to him.

But Damian on the couch drives Jason to Tim’s bed every night, a warm presence that is at once so close and yet couldn’t possibly feel any further away if Tim tried. Tim doesn’t know what the hell they’re doing. There’s no way that Bruce and Dick are unaware of Jason’s whereabouts at this point, and he’s sure Jason knows that. Whatever motive still keeps Jason coming around, worming his way into Tim’s life and burrowing out his own space, hiding out from Bruce and Dick isn’t it.

It’s long past the point when Tim should have asked, should have demanded to know straight out what was going on here, and now the more time passes, the more Tim is afraid to ask, afraid to do anything to upset the balance they’ve created.

They fall into bed together every night, shit-tired and bone-weary, and they bicker and snarl at each other in the early morning, before the caffeine hits their bloodstreams, when their minds are still heavy with sleep. But now their bickering lacks that tinge of bitterness that always marked their earlier arguments. That day in the library, that moment of honesty -- it altered how they moved around each other, softened the jagged edges left behind by their shared legacy.

Now Tim knows things like how Jason takes his tea differently in the mornings than in the evenings. He knows that “rich boy” said with a teasing smirk, eyes crinkling, is now more a term of endearment than anything else. He knows that for all Jason might play at not giving much of a shit, he wants so much for Steph and Cass to like him -- Tim can see it in the way he talks to them, in the way he’s always much more open and vulnerable when they’re around. He knows that Jason knows every word to just about every Bruce Springsteen song in existence because he sings them under his breath when he’s doing things around the house, and he knows the sound of Jason’s soft snoring in the night, achingly close, and the more he thinks about it, the more Tim realizes just how utterly screwed he is.

“I am so screwed,” Tim groans, falling backwards against the couch cushions.

“Literally or figuratively?” Damian asks. His little brother is perched next to him on the couch, cross-legged, soft grey hoodie up and white earbuds hanging around his neck, iPod abandoned on the coffee table as he flips through some case files. “Because if it’s literally, that would be unfortunate. I have money on you finally copulating with Todd at the beginning of the next month.”

Tim sputters. “You what?”

Damian shrugs. “Grayson’s idea. He’s a fool, he thinks you’re already together. He vastly underestimates your emotional cowardice.”

“How does Dick even know?”

“Drake,” Damian says flatly, turning and giving Tim a deeply judgmental and all too effective Bat stare, which just isn’t fair and shouldn’t be possible - he’s eleven, for fuck’s sake. “Everyone knows.”

“This is the worst. You’re the worst. Why are you even here?”

“Are you going to kick me out?” Damian asks. “I don’t care very much either way but watching you suffer is vaguely entertaining.”

“You’re horrible.”

“So you keep saying,” Damian says, and there’s something lurking there, young and hurt and familiar. An image comes to mind of a small boy, alone and unwanted, in a house too big for him. Tim winces.

“Nah, I guess I won’t kick you out. Too much effort,” Tim says, nudging Damian in the side lightly. “Hey, so what do you know about Discowing?”

“Drake, what are you on about now?”

Tim grins, sensing revenge on the horizon. Placing bets, honestly, who the hell does Dick think he is.

“Boy, do I have some pictures to show you or what.”

+

Seven gangsters, a back alley, and a good old fashioned punch-up. There are nights when Gotham crime becomes overwhelming, when the weight of all of the bad here can be too much, but then there are nights like this. Nights like this are straightforward and fun, and he can admit that much to himself now, that this is fun for him. It gets Tim’s blood pumping and it reminds him of why he got involved with this whole mess in the first place.

Red Robin and the Red Hood back to back, feeding off of each other, and it’s not quite standard Bat formation but their little bit of everything fighting styles work well together.

“Aw, Red, these fuckers are barely puttin’ up a fight. You never take me anywhere nice,” Jason says, punching one guy out and headbutting another in two swift motions.

“I’m saving all the fun crime for your birthday, Red,” Tim says, sweeping another guy’s feet out from under him with his bo staff.

“There better be ninjas or I’ll never forgive you.”

“A hundred ninjas with a bow on top, Red.”

Jason laughs as he knocks out the last gangster and starts pulling out zip-ties. “Gee, chum, how thoughtful of you.”

“You want me to call it in?”

“Yeah, and then let’s head home.”

Tim stops in his tracks and stares, oblivious to O’s voice in his ear. Home. Home, where they live together, where they sleep in the same bed. Home where Jason’s books are scattered in small piles underneath the windowsill in Tim’s bedroom. Their bedroom. Home where Jason’s worn flannel jacket is slung over Tim’s desk chair.

“Earth to Red Robin?” Babs says loudly, startling Tim out of his stupor.

“Uh, yeah. Sorry, O. Hood and I took out some of Falcone’s men in the back alley behind the old Methodist church, can you have someone sent to pick them up? I gotta go,” Tim says, tapping his comm link off before Babs can reply.

“Jason?”

“Yeah,” Jason says, brushing off his hands after tying up the last gangster. “What?”

“You’re an idiot.”

Jason’s eyebrows raise. “Fuckin’ excuse me?”

“It’s okay,” Tim says, walking up to him, getting close enough that they’re almost-not-quite touching. Tim’s thankful in that moment that Jason has long since ditched the helmet, he doesn’t know if his courage would last the amount of time it would take him to remove it. “I’m an idiot too.”

“Well, no arguments there -- “

“Shut up, Jason,” Tim says, before grabbing hold of his jacket lapels with both hands and dragging Jason down into a kiss. There’s a horrible moment when Jason doesn’t do anything and Tim thinks, there’s no fucking way I was wrong about this, but then Jason moans, desperate and hungry, and surges forward. Jason kisses how he does everything else -- he throws everything into it, like tomorrow will never come, like there’s nothing he’d rather be doing in this very moment than be kissing Tim, and to be the focus of that kind of attention sends a shiver down Tim’s spine. This feeling is addictive, he thinks, and that should probably scare him but right now, he refuses to let it.

“So, we’re finally doing this, huh,” Jason breathes, pulling away to rest his forehead against Tim’s.

“Yeah, we are,” Tim says, punch-drunk and smiling so wide he can feel it.

“I know how you wealthy playboys are and just so you’re aware, I don’t put out until the third date,” Jason says. His dimples are distracting up close.

“Such an idiot.” Tim laughs, places a quick kiss to the corner of Jason’s mouth.

“Let’s go home.”

+

Tim is perched on the edge of the windowsill, legs dangling over the side as he takes in the sight of the Gotham City skyline. The sky is a dusky purple, the sun not completely gone just yet, and for the first time in a long time, it looks like they’ll have a clear night.

If Tim turns around, he’ll see rumpled sheets, a cluttered room, all organized and lived-in chaos. He’ll see the space in the mattress where Jason pressed him into it, hands shaking as he pulled off Tim’s uniform the night before. His fingers find the places beneath his thin white t-shirt where Jason left marks all over his pale skin, like little placemarks to remind him where to return to later.

The smell of curry drifts up from the kitchen window below. Tim can hear the sounds of Damian and Steph bickering over recipe ingredients, Cass’s amused laughter, and beneath it all, Jason’s singing: Hey, I know it's late we can make it if we run, oh thunder road, sit tight take hold.

They know where he is -- they’re waiting for him to come down and join them, but he’ll give it a few more minutes. Tim knows they’re not going anywhere.

His breath catches, overwhelmed for a moment, but it passes.

He’s right where he wants to be.