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Beneficial to the Public

by Te

[Story Headers]

Beneficial to the Public
by Te
April 26, 2004

Disclaimers: Not even close to mine.

Spoilers: Major ones for "A Better World." Minor ones for other episodes, and vague acknowledgment of the older cartoons, too.

Summary: Tim loves his family. This doesn't actually help anything.

Ratings Note/Warnings. R. Content some readers may find disturbing.

Author's Note: I'm not sure who came up with the original idea, but Jack has been pretty damned instrumental in keeping it alive. Jack also made a freaking manip -- linked at the end -- and I'm very, very bad at resisting that sort of thing.

Acknowledgments: To Jack and L.C. for
audiencing and encouragement. Jack also pointed me to the title. Heh.

*

Being Robin has meant catching up on a lot of things, and catching up fast. Tim's pretty sure it wasn't the same for Dick, but, well, Dick created Robin. He's not so much the
replacement as the sequel, and everyone knows that sequels pretty much universally suck unless a lot of time and effort is put into things.

And he has.

And it's not like he minded, either. A lot of the things he's had to catch up on are pretty damned sweet, frankly. Like how to have a family -- a real one. Not like the kind on television and not like the -- he knows this now -- freaking pathetic excuse for one his Dad had tried and just completely failed to give him.

He loved his father -- he always will -- but this...

This is a place where people only disappear on you if they're doing good things, important things like saving the world and making sure no one's father winds up dead. This is a place where, if he's hungry, there's food he doesn't even have to cook all the time -- and never mind stealing.

This is a place where no one looks at him like they've forgotten that he's a kid who needs and wants stuff. Where no one looks surprised or pissed off if he outgrows his shoes.

And, okay, sure, things are a little rough these days, and he knows he's coping about as well with that case that's in the Cave now, with that case that's the only thing any of them have left of Babs but freaking memories -- He knows he's not really coping any better than Dick.

And he knows that Bruce doing his thing with the other Lords and basically never even coming home these days for more than a fresh suit is his way of completely not coping, but... well. That's family, too.

No one is supposed to be able to cope when people... when they die.

It's going to get better. That's the way it works. Bad things happen, and then more bad things, and everyone freaks out and wanders around looking like how the people in war zones they show on the news, and then it gets better.

Even if you have to make it better yourself.

He watches Dick flip and turn and twist like something both boneless and suicidal on the uneven bars and wishes Alfred was still around. His own cocoa is pretty good, but... he shakes it off. People die.

People die everywhere -- even if they're one of the Lords and an honest-to-God
superhero -- and you just don't...

He frowns to himself, and reflexively braces himself for a comment from Dick about brooding that really just completely fails to come. The thing about being part of a family, a real one, is that there's always someone who has to at least pretend they can cope, for the bad times.

It's scary that it's his turn, but it's okay, too.

"Dick."

Dick doesn't say anything, but he pauses mid-spin. For a moment, anyway. The cocoa's going to get cold. If he says that, he'll just remind Dick of Alfred, which probably wouldn't be the best thing he could do right now. At least Alfred had just been old and sick the way normal, every day old people get, though. That has to be something.

Tim deliberately stands too close to the bars, and braces himself not to flinch when the next turn brings Dick's feet within a few inches of breaking his jaw.

"Move, kid," Dick says, and moves up into a handstand. And stays there, even though his arms are shaking with fatigue.

"No."

He can't see Dick's face -- he's long since lost the tie for his ponytail, and now his hair is a tangled, sweaty mess over his face -- so he just watches Dick's forearms tremble.

"Come down, Dick."

"I'm training. Remember that? When's the last time --"

"Yesterday. When you slept long enough for me to be able to get to the equipment, asshole."

Dick just keeps holding the stand. His forearms are a little dark with blood, and his knuckles are white. Tim hurts in sympathy, and tries not to let too much of it into his voice.

"Besides, you're not training. You're just punishing yourself like you think it'll do any good."

And that makes Dick look at him, and his eyes are dull and bloodshot and almost alien. Almost.

Tim takes a breath and doesn't flinch. "Come down, Dick."

Dick keeps glaring at him for a while, for long enough that Tim wonders if he is going to swing and aim for him with his feet this time, but after a minute Dick's face...

It's like watching a cave-in or something. Like watching the ground just collapse in on itself to crush everything inside, except that it's Dick's face, so the only broken things are where Tim can't do anything about them. "Dick --"

Dick's dismount is the kind of thing that breaks normal people's legs. Normal athletes' legs. But it just makes Dick stumble, and keep stumbling until he's close enough that Tim can feel the heat pouring off him and smell all the sweat. "I'm down."

"I noticed," Tim says, and shoves the lukewarm cocoa at Dick.

Dick smirks and reaches for it, but his hand is shaking so much that he drops the mug. It hits the mats, so it doesn't break, but now there's cocoa everywhere, and Alfred is going to be...

Tim bites his lip and looks away from the mess. "It was cold anyway," he tries.

"Tim --"

"You can't... you can't do this, Dick. You can't be like this."

Dick hugs himself with his shaking arms and stares at the cocoa on the floor. "You've been trying to change me for a while now, kid. You ought to know by now that it doesn't work."

"Yeah, well. It's my job to keep trying." And it comes out way too seriously, but it makes Dick look at him again, at least. Even though it's more like a blank, exhausted stare than anything like... anything.

Dick reaches out to ruffle his hair, and it's the creepiest and saddest thing he's ever seen, because his face doesn't change. "You're good at it," Dick says, and he takes his hand out of Tim's hair and puts it on his shoulder, instead.

And leaves it there, so... well, one of the things about having a family is that you get to know them, better than they know
themselves, sometimes. And a hand on his shoulder is as good as an invitation, so Tim takes a step forward and hugs Dick. He feels almost feverish, and his shirt is wet with sweat and he's still shuddering a little from all the damned 'training.'

The Bruce-trained part of his mind wants him to think about getting some fluids into Dick, but it's more important to just hold on right now. Especially when Dick finally hugs him back.

"I miss her, Tim," Dick says into his hair, and his voice is low and rough.

"I know."

"We... she..." Dick trails off, and shakes more, and that's pretty much the only warning Tim gets before Dick's knees buckle.

It's all the warning he needs, anyway, and Tim helps lower them to the mats. The cocoa soaks through the knees of his jeans pretty quickly, and Dick is holding on tight enough that it's a little hard to breathe, but he can deal.

"It isn't... it isn't supposed to be like this."

Yes it is, Tim doesn't say, and just keeps holding on. "It'll get better," he tries, instead, and Dick snorts and Tim can feel him crying. He can't actually hold on to Dick any harder than he already is without getting uncomfortable too quickly, so he pushes his face against Dick's shoulder.

"I don't. Christ, Tim what are we doing? What are we fucking playing at here?"

And for a moment, it makes him angry. Dick should know. They're here because they can be, and because someone has to be, and if Babs was there... he bites his lip.

Eventually, Dick lets go and wipes at his face with his hands. Tim looks at the floor and thinks about where the all the rags and stuff are. He'll have to clean up before the stains get too bad.

"Thank you," Dick says. "And I'm sorry."

"It's okay." He tries a smile.

Dick snorts again and, this time the hair-ruffle is almost right. "No, it's really not, but... well. You are."

The smile feels better on his face. Family.

He watches Dick sit back, watches him frown at the cocoa on his bare knees and wipe idly at it. Tim can't decide if it's better or worse that he's in jeans. At least Dick doesn't have laundry nightmares ahead of him. "You know, Tim... I'm serious. About this." Dick gestures vaguely at the Cave.

"How do you mean?"

Dick looks hard at him. "None of this is a game. It never was, but... I guess I just didn't really think about that before. Not seriously enough, anyway."

Tim can feel his heart thudding in his throat, or... it's hard to swallow. "You're not thinking about quitting, are you?"

Dick looks at the floor again. "Maybe I am."

"Dick, you --" Can't, is what he was going to say, but Dick holding up a hand to stop him -- from doing anything -- works nearly as well as when Bruce does it.

"I'm thinking about it, all right. And maybe... maybe we all should."

"Because Barbara died?"

Dick looks at him like he's insane. "Yes, Tim, because --"

"People die all the time, Dick. Cops and fire-fighters and --"

"It's part of their job!"

Tim tries to sound as reasonable, as adult as he can. "It's part of ours, too, --"

"No. It isn't. It..." Dick frowns and stands and starts to pace, just as gracefully as if he was someone who actually slept and ate like a normal person instead of just trying to burn himself down to nothing. "Look, I shouldn't be putting all of this on you --"

"Don't you dare treat me like -- like some fucking kid, Dick."

And Dick stops. And looks at him, and it's... it's the right look, sort of, because it's the one they use with him when he's wearing the suit and saying or doing something exactly right, but it's also really sad in a way that doesn't feel like it has anything to do with Barbara.

It makes him want to be wary, and that just makes him feel kind of sick.

Dick reaches out for him again, but this time he doesn't touch. His hand just kind of hangs there for a second, just a little bit out of reach. Tim isn't sure whether he should try to take it or not, and before he can make a decision Dick scrubs it back through his hair. "Okay. Okay. You're right. I shouldn't treat you like a kid. You... you're a soldier in this stupid, undeclared war just like... us."

Tim nods slowly and watches Dick start to pace again.

"So... think about it, Tim. Think about what being a soldier has gotten us."

Family. And a lot of other things, too, and Dick should know that as well as he does. Tim crosses his arms over his chest. "I am," he says, and tries to catch Dick's eye again. Fails.

"This..." Dick gestures at the Cave again, taking in all the souvenirs, all the proof of everything they've all done and somehow making it look small and ridiculous. "We've been doing this all wrong."

He can breathe again. He can answer that. "I know that, Dick. They -- the Lords -- they all know that now. That's what they're doing -- what Bruce is doing. We're going to be doing things in a new way now, and we'll be... everyone will be safer." Bruce had told him all about it on the way back home from the Flash's funeral. And Tim has known for a long, long time that using the words 'Bruce said' is one the absolute best ways to get Dick to do anything but listen to you, so he doesn't.

He waits, and watches, and thinks about saying something along the lines of how Dick would've heard it all, too, if he hadn't been being such a brooding little freak, but, well, timing.

Dick moves to the penny and strokes it with one hand before wrapping both arms around himself again. "Dick..."

"A new way, hunh?" Dick's voice is flat and hard.

"Yes. Listen, Dick --"

"I think that's what scares me more than anything else, Tim."

"We --" Tim blinks. "What?"

Dick sighs and turns, leaning back against the penny and folding his arms into a more neutral position before -- finally -- looking at him again. "Think about it, Boy Wonder. All of them, the Justice Lords, up in their Tower planning the future of the world."

Tim frowns. "I don't think that's what they're doing."

"No?" Dick's smile is humorless. "Maybe I'm being cynical. You talked to Bruce. I talked to Superman."

"And?"

"And..." Dick sighs again, and the look in his eyes is... really bleak.

"Dick --"

"I just... I've never seen him angrier, Tim. Not even after that thing with Darkseid -- the first thing, and it was a little before your time, but --"

"When he did the mind-control thing?"

Dick blinks and looks at him.

"It's the Lords, Dick. Like I'm not gonna do the reading?"

Dick grins at him. "Okay, point. So you know how bad that was. And he still wasn't..." Dick shakes his head. "I don't think he believes anymore."

Tim swallows bile. "Someone could say the same thing about you right now, Dick."

Dick just keeps smiling. "Kid, the only thing I don't believe in right now is myself. And maybe... it doesn't matter. All I'm saying is this: I don't think any of the Lords are in the best shape to be making any plans right now, world-changing or not."

And... okay, so he doesn't think the Lords are anyone's family. They have Bruce to contend with, and Bruce is hard enough for him to deal with, sometimes, and he's not even a big, suspicious metahuman. But... but. Maybe they should be. "That's what we're here for, Dick. All of us who aren't in the League but are in this war." And it isn't stupid, either.

Dick just looks at him.

"We have to --"

"I have to go home. I have to go home, and shower, and get out of these clothes -- and thanks for not pointing out how much I reek, by the way -- and... I have to think."

"Dick --"

"Don't push, Tim." There's nothing left of the smile. "Not... not right now."

Tim bites the inside of his cheek hard and nods.

And watches Dick leave. He supposes it's a victory that he puts his helmet on before taking off on the bike, but if he spills his legs will be hamburger.

Tim misses Alfred... really a lot. He could've... he should've given lessons, is all. The way Bruce and Dick and... and Barbara had given lessons. How to deal with family members when they go insane.

And he guesses he shouldn't be surprised. Barbara used to tell stories about how Dick had been the kind of kid who smiled more often than not, and always told jokes, and was just happy, and it's not like Tim couldn't see it -- it was always waiting just below the surface whenever it was just the two of them, or the three of them, and Bruce was nowhere around. It's just that the surface has always been about being angry, about Dick always being just one incautious word from storming off.

Leaving.

And he's learned to trust Dick to come back, and to be there when you really needed him, but...

Maybe he shouldn't, so much. Maybe one day he's going to pull out of here on the bike and never pull back in again.

Maybe this was the day.

He was never the one who could reach Dick, who could make him see why there were good parts to being one of them. He thinks, sometimes, that Dick looks at the suit -- his suit and just sees all the way it was like the one Dick had worn in the Robin years. All the ways the sequel was trying to be the replacement, even though Tim would never even...

He needs to stop biting his cheek before he bleeds anymore. He needs to... clean up the Cave a little. At least get the cocoa. Working will help the Cave feel less empty, and then he can do his own training, and then eventually Bruce will come back and they'll...

He isn't sure what they'll do. Not really.

But Bruce hasn't given up, and Bruce never will. Sometimes families just get smaller, and part of being an adult is knowing how to deal with that.

Tim licks the blood from his teeth and stares at the case. If you tilt your head just a little to the side and squint, you can see past the glare of the spotlight and all of the carefully mended bullet holes become really obvious. He doesn't squint.

He doesn't have to.

"You knew this was important," he says, and touches the front of the case lightly enough not to leave any marks. "I won't forget."

*

Bruce has been spending more time in Gotham. He hasn't really said anything about it, but he also doesn't have to. He wears his JL
communicator in his right ear, and the Batcommunicator in the left. It isn't that the Lords don't need him, or that he doesn't feel like dealing with them -- though he probably doesn't -- it's him.

It's Gotham, and the fact there's no Batgirl to spell them anymore, and the fact that Nightwing spends less time here than he has since before he came back, and... him.

It's a lump in his throat that makes it hard to breathe, because the last thing Tim wants to be is a burden.

But, well. The world is changing, and Dick had never even bothered to call and say 'I told you so.' He probably knew what kind of response he'd get. Gotham is... there are a lot of things that need to be done, even beyond rounding all the usual suspects up for their one-way -- at fucking last -- trip to Arkham.

After their trip through the clinic, anyway.

It's kind of weird. Gotham is a lot safer than it used to be at night.

And a lot crazier than it ever had been during the day.

"It won't always be like this, Robin," Bruce says, and it's not like Tim isn't used to having his thoughts read off his face, either.

"I know."

The new suit had been a shock, but it looks much better on a sunlit rooftop than the old one would have. They're mostly coordinating right now. Watching, and waiting. The demonstration in front of City Hall is peaceful so far, but there've been others.

The police are out in force. Montoya and Bullock are the street command, but everyone with half a brain knows that the Commissioner is out here, somewhere. Doing his own watching and waiting.

Everybody copes with grief in their own way, and the last time they'd met with Gordon all he'd had to say was "it's about time."

Tim thinks it might have been different if it wasn't his daughter, or if she hadn't died, but, really... he didn't need Bruce telling him how much they needed Gordon. How much of a difference he could -- and will -- make. Whatever Gordon's reasons, he's there for them, and they're going to use him.

They're going to make this work, and no one is going to stand in their way.

The Dick in his head wants to know what he's doing looking at a bunch of civilians like threats, but that really isn't fair. Whether or not Dick would say something like that, he has to know as well as any of them that the number of real, honest-to-God non-combatants in the world is much lower than anyone thinks.

He could be in school right now.

If he looks about thirty-seven degrees right and about a dozen or so people-lengths into the crowd, he could see a knot of his classmates. And it's just... it could've been scary, and maybe it even should be that so many people are out here screaming for someone to do something about the Lords.

As if anyone could.

Maybe it should mean more than it does to him, but...

If he looks about eighty degrees to his right and zooms in, he can see a family watching from their window. A mother, a father, and two cute little kids who might wind up orphans someday because of a mugger, or because of some supervillain with more weapons than sense, or something else.

Dick was right. They had been doing this all wrong.

They'd been thinking too small.

He can feel the sun through his cape, but he's still enough, inside and out, not to be sweating too much. Not even when the bottles start being thrown.

He looks at Bruce, and watches him watching. Calculating trajectories and probably picking up something subtle and important about how things will go from the tone of the crowd noise.

"Not yet," Bruce says, without looking around.

Tim settles into himself and watches things get uglier. Tear gas, most of which dissipates before it gets up to where they are, but Bruce taps his arm, anyway. He puts his mask on and switches to infrared.

It takes a little getting used to. The jumble of red bodies is hard to see against the sun-andfriction heated ground, but he's been training.

After a little while, he can make out the police from the others, because riot gear generally registers as cooler right up until someone finds a way to set it on fire, and anyway, they move in a far more orderly fashion than everyone else.

"I'm here," Bruce says, not to him.

Tim makes a point of paying more attention to the crowd, just in case.

"I have my own riot to deal with right now."

It's a weird feeling, not knowing whether you want to smirk or be terrified. Things are kind of crazy all over these days, but, well. Omelets and eggs.

"No."

He's ready to break a few.

"I said no."

Sounds like Bruce is, too.

"Fine. Batman out."

One shared look and they're up and swinging, cutting through the smoke and then getting swallowed. People call their names.

People go down, right, left, and center. Tim's new staves are weighted with a thin, solid bar of titanium through the center. Other staves have even neater tricks, but this is the one for civilians. It doesn't take long. These people are high on their own self-righteousness.

Most of these people wouldn't know a real fight if -- there. Heh. It hit them in the face.

They scatter quickly.

"The ringleaders, Batman?"

Commissioner Gordon is the one who answers, though, fading into view out of the dissipating smoke and gas. "Most of them down, Robin. The rest --"

"Need to be found, quickly." Bruce is using his Bat-voice, and it makes Gordon look at him seriously.

He has a cut on his forehead, and his mustache looks a little ragged. He looks... more than a little ragged. He's lost weight, and he didn't have much to spare. "You think there's more to come from these idiots?"

"It won't be bottles next time," Bruce says, and shoots his grapple.

Tim gives Gordon his patented Robin-can't-explainthe -inner-workings-of-the-Bat shrug and follows. The plane meets them, black and ominous against the bright, afternoon sky. Tim wonders, idly, when it'll get a new paint job, and buckles in.

"So who are we going after?"

Bruce pauses mid-pre-flight rundown, and stares down at the console for a moment.

"Bruce...?"

"I think I should take you home."

It makes his heart seize for a moment, and then it makes it seize again, because... 'think.' And 'should.' He eyes Bruce hard, and watches Bruce just continuing to stare at the controls like they'll tell him something more than the encyclopedia of information required to fly a Batplane. Something more important. He has to think quickly.

"Tim..."

"You need my help, or I wouldn't be here. I'd be in school right now, but I'm not, so which of the ringleaders are we going after?"

Bruce bites his lip, and it's just a little thing, but it's also Bruce, which means that Tim wonders why Bruce can't hear the way Tim's heart is hammering in his chest. But he can't, and Bruce needs him, so...

He pastes on something like an impatient look. Are we going to sit here until tomorrow afternoon? Come on, Bruce."

"I'm not going after the ringleaders right now. Not..." Bruce takes a deep, shuddering breath and finishes the pre-flight before giving Tim a long, serious look. "I'm going to Washington, Tim."

It takes a moment to sink in, but just a moment. He'd been there when Clark -- when Superman had come to the Cave to talk to Bruce about it.

All of the things they'd have to do before they could get anything real done, and at the time Tim had thought they were just
pretending that they didn't know Tim was eavesdropping, because that was the kind of thing they did sometimes, but...

Maybe they weren't.

Cool.

It's not hard to look impatient at all, anymore. "Let's roll."

Bruce's mouth pulls into a firm line, and he nods.

It's the kind of thing people will talk about -- quietly -- for the rest of their lives. Where were you when Superman melted the president to slag? Tim Drake will say: "I was home sick from school, watching TV, and I still can't believe it," because that's the sort of thing Tim Drake would say, if anyone asked him.

Robin will say "Right about then, I was in a semi-controlled fall through a few of the White House sub-basements, while way too many of Luthor's exo-suited thugs made things interesting for me, Hawkgirl, and Lantern."

Assuming he survives.

His communicator is picking up Batman's reports loud and clear, but he can't seem to make himself heard, and anyway, he has more to do right now than fiddle with the thing. And it's painfully -- literally -- obvious that Luthor's new and improved version of the Secret Service -- and what great fucking initials there -- have yet to get the word about their boss.

His electrified staff is running out of juice, and not even the d-cel line keeps him from dislocating his left shoulder when Hawkgirl takes one too many energy bolts to the helmet and he has to catch her.

Tim wonders if school would've been so bad, really, and takes the last ten feet or so to the ground sliding. His hand is wet -- he's bleeding, and he's too amped to feel it right now, but --

But nothing. He plants himself in front of Semi-conscious Girl and hears his shoulder popping back into place more than he feels it, which is good, because thug+exo-suit equals enemy too freaking big to see around.

But then? He's fought Clayface.

He does a fair impression of the whimper he's sure to be making assuming he lives long enough for the adrenaline to wear off, and the guy closes on him just like he should.

Right into the last solid jolt from his staff. The guy screams so sweetly that Tim almost can't regret the fact that he's down to a stick made of the finest, useless space-age polymers and few batarangs.

And then just the stick, because the batarangs make a nice, big boom out of what was left of the ceiling on top of another exo-thug. Which is when yet another floor drops out beneath him, and he has no fucking idea what he's going to hook the grapple on, but he shoots it anyway and... nothing.

He holds on to Hawkgirl and hopes they're heading for the super-secret White House sub-basement full of mattresses.

They aren't.

They are, however -- and thankfully -- heading right down into the secret sub-basement of the Manhunter, who catches them neatly and flies them back up to a more stable level. Extra stable, because Tim thinks it could be pitch-black and they'd still all be able to see perfectly by the power Lantern's giving off.

He'd never seen the guy in action before, but he can definitely see why Batman approves. He wraps some exo-thugs up in a bubble and looks at them. Looks at him.

"I'm pretty sure Hawkgirl's just concussed."

Lantern gives her a worried look and wraps her in... something. It's green, and it'll probably protect her from a small nuclear blast. Manhunter puts her down in a solid-looking corner. And puts him down in front of Lantern.

"Uh. I don't suppose you could juice me up with that thing?"

Lantern snorts and shoots Tim's staff full of... well, something, and then turns to Manhunter. "Situation?"

"There is a small army preparing to move out into the city three floors below. I have already sabotaged most of their vehicles, but I thought it best to gather reinforcements before attempting anything more... direct."

Tim spins his oddly-glowing staff and moves his shoulder as subtly as he can.

Lantern looks at him. "You up to this, kid?"

Not subtly enough. Still. "I've fought with worse."

Lantern narrows his eyes at him. Manhunter glows at him. He can't decide which is more disturbing. He looks right back, though. A childhood with Batman gets you used to disturbing things.

"Indeed," Manhunter says, and then he's being encased in a green bubble and flown down through the great big hole they've pretty much blasted into the White House. Flown down to go up against...

Well, the Manhunter had called it a small army, and the thing is... the word 'army' is probably the most important one there. As in United States Army.

As in the reason why Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman aren't with them right now is that they've assassinated the president and probably have to do things like figure out which members of the freaking Cabinet need to die, too. Maybe Wonder Woman is smashing the Capitol to bits or something.

And, yeah, okay, so it was also Luthor, but...

He feels something... odd, and looks up to find Manhunter giving him another one of those glowing looks. Reading him. There's a strong temptation to think something obscene with a strong side of 'read this,' and... Manhunter smiles. A little.

Heh. Tim guesses he did.

Don't worry, he thinks, as clearly and distinctly as he can. New World Order-lag isn't the same as punking out.

Manhunter just glows at him a little more before facing forward, and then they're down, and moving, as quietly as they can, and... guns, a lot of them, aimed directly at them, but Lantern has a wall up before anything can so much as miss them by too little, and there are no exo-suits down here, and Tim has no freaking idea just what Lantern did to his staff, or how long it'll last, but he's been dodging bullets for years.

And these guys don't even know what's
knocking them down.

He could get used to this.

"That would, perhaps, be for the best," Manhunter whispers in his head.

Right.

By the time Bruce stops... doing whatever he's doing and joins them, it's all over but the loud, pained, and often obscene shouting. Hawkgirl flies him over, and helmet blackened and dented over one eye.

She sets Bruce down and they move apart so smoothly that it's... exactly like they've been a team for a while. Tim smiles ruefully to himself. He's so not allowed to be jealous of the Lords. Not after all of this.

And everything else, too.

Bruce doesn't say anything, just cups his chin and tilts his face up. And frowns.

"Lenses."

Tim switches the staff -- carefully -- to his left hand and flips the lenses back with his right. Bruce frowns a little more.

"I dislocated my shoulder. It'll be fine."

The frown's getting downright epic.

And then Lantern comes up and claps Bruce on he shoulder, earning a frown all his own.

"The kid did fine, Batman."

Bruce doesn't say anything. He says it just as loudly as Lantern doesn't say anything. If it were Dick, they'd be not-saying-anything about punching each other soon, but it isn't, and the Lords are... different.

He's really going to have to figure it out. In the meantime...

"So what's next on the agenda, Batman?"

"Your agenda involves going home and..." Bruce frowns again, but it's the I-miss-Alfred frown. Or the I-miss-Alfred frown he's willing to show in public, anyway.

Good enough. He pastes on the 'aw, Batman' face.

"You go on," Lantern says. "We can finish things up here." He smirks. "We know you don't do the public thing."

Tim takes that as his cue to start heading toward one of the brand new exits they've made to the surface and a world that, presumably, doesn't smell like smoke and cordite, but Bruce tightens his grip on his jaw.

"That's going to change," Bruce says. To both of them.

Lantern raises an eyebrow.

Tim already knew.

And then they leave, Bruce holding on to Tim as he shoots his line. Tim thinks about protesting, but really... he's just fine with Bruce doing the lifting. He pulls out a couple of emergency painkillers and dry-swallows, and Bruce does an excellent job of not looking at him while he winces and tries to pretend it's just the taste.

He lets Tim walk to the plane on his own power, but once they're in -- and out of view -- he buckles Tim in himself, crouches in front of him, and brushes his hair off his forehead. And looks at him. Even for Tim, even now, it's hard to tell exactly what's on Bruce's face with that cowl on.

"Tim."

"Yeah?"

"That... wasn't how I expected it to go." Bruce's voice is strange. Like if Bruce Wayne was a real person trying to sound like Batman, and failing at it.

Tim frowns. "Well, you know. If you're going to kill a president, things are going to get crazy."

"We didn't..." And Bruce sighs. "We didn't come here to kill him."

Tim frowns. But... he guesses it makes sense. None of them really do that. Or they didn't. And anyway, if Batman did... it would've been planned better. Still, it doesn't really explain why Bruce is all... like this. His head's more than a little fuzzy from the painkillers. "What's wrong?"

Bruce just keeps looking at him, and for a moment his face is blank. But then he smiles, a little. "Too much. But..."

"We're going to fix it." Bruce brushes more hair off his forehead, or tries to. The sweat is really making it pretty disgusting.

"Yes," Bruce says, "we are."

And there's just the slightest hint of extra in that 'we.' It makes Tim like it always does. Like he could take on the world. Like they could. Together.

And they will.

They are.

Just as soon as he sleeps for about a year.

Bruce smiles at his yawn. "Don't worry about co-piloting this time around. You need your rest."

For taking on the world, he thinks, or maybe actually says it. He's not sure. He really is tired.

*

The new uniform is pretty sweet. On a practical level, he's never been as well armored in his whole career, and the things he's got in his belt would've made the Tim he was six months ago come in his pants and, like, yearn.

Because six months ago the only grenades at his disposal were tanglers, and he wasn't even allowed to let loose with the shuriken. And, okay, so part of it's a little messed up. That the world they live in now kind of requires him to be a walking weapon just waiting to go off on some idiot's face before they go off on his, but then they actually are making a
difference.

Joker is never going to kill anyone else's friend and sorta-kinda big sister. Hell, Joker is doing so well that the reports from Arkham say he's getting trustee status.

The new president is kind of an ass -- it really would've been better if Ross hadn't gone all crazy like that -- but he's also never going to put on a stupid power suit and terrorize people.

And Gotham is... well, that's the other reason for the suit.

The Gotham night is pretty much his, now, and back when he was scrabbling down at the docks for a next meal, he never would've imagined it could ever look like this. That it could ever smell like this.

There hasn't been a garbage strike since the takeover, and there won't be, and it's starting to get to the point where the only criminals he has to worry about are the really stupid ones, and the ones who honestly need help. That's actually the hardest part of being solo more often than not these days -- figuring out who to call when the target is down.

One channel on his outside communicator gets whoever it is taken away. The other gets them taken Away. It's a big responsibility, especially since some of the people who go Away don't ever come back, but Bruce trusts him to handle it. Gotham was one of the first places to get this organized, and the rest of the Lords are working to make sure the rest of the world does, too.

It's his job to keep it that way, so he has to be careful.

And if someone goes Away when they should've just gone away...

Well, they should've known better than to go out after curfew.

He swings through the streets, and this part of town is quiet enough that he can hear the streetlights clicking through the changes as he goes. There are a few people parked illegally, but that's it, and that's so not a job for a Robin.

The fact that it might be one day is both thrilling and terrifying, and he laughs as he flies. And then stops laughing, because there are people. Huddled around a fire in a trashcan, but even from this rooftop he can tell that they're dressed too well to be homeless.

And anyway, the shelters shut down just like the rest of the city -- and are policed better than they ever had been. That's the whole point: every crime matters now. Not just the ones big enough for the cops, or dangerous and crazy enough for them.

Nothing slips through the cracks. Not ever.

He pulls out his directional and slips out the outside-communicator, replacing it with the plain old earpiece and...

"... stupid. We should at least be inside," says the man in the cashmere coat.

"Suck it up, Jackson. There's no way to tell which 'empty' buildings the fucking gestapo has tagged and which they don't. Remember Luis? No? Because nobody has fucking seen Maria Luis in three weeks," says the man in the fur-lined gloves.

He remembers Luis. She tried to kill him. And this is just... such bingo. He's not really a detective, but this kind of work is more about being a spy, anyway. Following the rats to their little holes and smoking the bastards out.

He sits, and listens, and checks his mini-CPU. 'Jackson' is probably William Peter Jackson, late of Hudson U. Political science professor, flagged in the system for his history of -- peaceful -- protest.

He still has his job.

He really ought to know better.

The others are harder to pinpoint, even when he factors in probable income. The information on Jackson's known associates is some fifteen years out of date. They're going to have to do better.

Bruce says they've gotten some of the finest CIA interrogators to work on getting them as much information as possible, but they'd had to pull a lot of them out of the woodwork kicking and screaming. It took a lot to find the people who knew all about the domestic spying the government supposedly wasn't doing.

It's a shame they hadn't thought to keep Luthor alive to make him talk.

Tim double-checks the recorder to make sure it's going. This isn't about incriminating these guys so much as getting as much out of them as possible so they can follow wherever it leads. So he can. It's still a rush.

He hopes it never stops.

"Nice suit. Good to see you're taking up your career as a supervillain in style."

And that's so not from the doomed idiots in the alley. He grabs his staff and spins and... "Dick."

In civvies, of course. But Dick is Dick, and there's no rooftop he couldn't get up to -- silently and easily -- even without all of his equipment.

Tim tucks the staff away and checks on his targets. Still chatting up a storm, this time about a possible strike on the Hall of Records. They really are antiques. He slips the earpiece out and watches Dick watch him. "What are you doing here?"

"Making one last bid for sanity, Tim." He's not whispering quietly enough, and he's got his arms crossed over his chest like Mr. Disciplinarian 2002.

Right. "Dick, if you want to talk, we can do it somewhere else. I'm kind of working here."

"'Working?' Is that what you call it? Is that honestly what you think?"

Tim shifts until he can get a good view of his targets while still looking at Dick. "You know I was there when you completely failed to have a conversation with Bruce. Nothing's changed." You still threw your suit in his face. You still left.

"That was Bruce, Tim. I..." Dick glares at the rooftop for a second. "Okay, I'm doing this wrong. I can't try to tell myself that you aren't Bruce if I'm going to treat you like him, right?" Dick gives him a rueful smile.

Tim gives it back. He really can't... it's Dick. He takes a breath. "I know you're worried about a lot of this, and I know you've been worried, and it's... you're right. It's huge. But --"

"It's wrong."

"Dick --"

"It's wrong." And Dick moves on him.

No, Dick comes closer. That's different. He reaches out, and doesn't quite touch Tim for a really long and awkward moment until he does, closing his hand over Tim's shoulder and...

It's not like Tim hasn't spent a lot of time with Dick when he was in civvies. When they both were. It's not like his face is some big, special thing. But his eyes are still hard to look at. Just huge and bleak and obvious, even in the gloom.

Tim looks away.

Dick's hand tightens on his shoulder. "See? You know it's wrong. You... God, those guys aren't even criminals, Tim." His voice is... he sounds desperate. "Tim, please. Listen to me."

He sounds exactly like someone who'd lost the woman he loved, then watched his family go crazy and kill the president and start taking over the world. Tim bites the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing. Perspective is a bitch.

"Please, Tim. You know it's not too late."

"Too late for what?" He forces himself to look up, and Dick just... searches his face.

It's hard, it's so hard to see that. This is where he's supposed to make himself look like something Dick can understand, so Dick can calm down again and they can be friends.

"Dick, we're not... you called me a
supervillain."

"I didn't mean that," he says, and it's really much too loud.

Tim checks back over his shoulder to make sure the targets are still nice and oblivious, and Dick grabs his face and forces Tim to look at him.

"Dammit, leave those poor bastards alone for a minute, Tim! You're not... you're not a storm trooper. You're Robin."

And you're not Nightwing anymore. "I know that --"

"You don't. You took an oath. The same one I did. The same one Bruce did, and I can't... why am I the only one who remembers the fucking words here, Tim?"

"We are protecting the innocent, Dick!" Great. Now he's too loud.

"How? By sending them off to be re-educated? Or are you just having them killed?"

Only the ones who don't learn. "Dick, you have to be reasonable --"

And that's all he gets out before Dick's shoving him back. He manages to avoid falling off the roof, but only by stepping on his recorder. It doesn't break -- Batman built it -- but it makes the idiots in the alley pay attention.

He's made.

"You did that on purpose," he says, watching them run.

"Someone had to."

He looks back, and Dick is giving him that dark, stubborn look that always made Tim wonder which of them was supposed to be the kid.

Well, now he knows.

Tim closes his eyes behind the mask, just for a second. When he looks up, Dick has gone back to looking like himself again. Or just looking like that hungry, sad person who's supposed to be Nightwing. "Don't do this, Dick."

For a moment, it looks like Dick is going to say something, but he just shakes his head and takes a running jump off the other side of the roof.

Tim hears him hit the first level of the fire escape, and then the next, and then it's too quiet to follow. He swallows, and taps his JL communicator. For a moment, he isn't sure if he wants it to be Batman or not, and he feels his heart trying to beat too fast.

"Wonder Woman here." Her voice is all business. It's what he needs.

"It's Robin. There's a problem."

And it feels weirdly like cowardice to be relieved, but, well. It's policy. This kind of alert goes to the Lords, whichever one of them is on call. And it's his job to raise the alert.

Whether he wants to or not.

No one ever said this was supposed to be easy.

He collects his equipment and slips in the playback unit. It would be easier and more efficient to just take it somewhere and lay it all out in reports, but by then his targets might have found places to hide.

That's not going to happen.

*

Sometimes he thinks the changes are too fast. Not for him, per se, but... sometimes when he sees Superman these days, he looks just a little too hard. Like something that could maybe snap with enough pressure. Like something that wants to snap.

And most of the others are okay, but he's a little worried about Bruce. The Lords -- and all the on-ground operatives like him -- have done a really good job of getting things in order. He thinks most of the older heroes are kind of surprised by that. It makes sense -- years of chaos, of the so-called never-ending battle.

The thing is, though, you're not supposed to fight a fire. That just gets you smoky if it doesn't get you burnt. You're supposed to put it out. And then stomp on the ashes.

Once you do... there's no fire anymore, and you can go back to your lives. And that's the whole deal. All of these people had been thinking of themselves as firemen and women, when really they were just the crazy people who kept flinging themselves at the fire and hoping that actually did something.

Well, they've learned, and now things are...

It is, kind of, a never-ending battle. It's just that the enemies are different, and require a different sort of response. And for people like Bruce, that has to be strange. His whole life spent making himself into this avatar of the fight they couldn't ever win, and now that they are winning...

Really, the truth is that Tim wishes it was just culture lag. It isn't. It's the cases, and the fact that there's a whole different reason for Dick's uniform to be there than there is for Barbara's, or their old uniforms.

Or maybe it's the same one.

Batgirl is dead, and so is Nightwing. They still call themselves Batman and Robin, but Tim frankly hadn't needed all of Dick's fucking... vitriol to know that calling himself Robin was as much a matter of convenience as anything else, when it came down to what he did. It's a new world, and they're new heroes, and that's all there is to it.

And Dick... is Dick.

He'll never stop fighting, and he'll never stop trying. He just had to pick the wrong damned side to be stubborn for, and because he's Dick, he's turned them into hunters.

And because Bruce is Bruce... Bruce could never be Batman enough to do what has to be done. It's disappointing, really. But having a family isn't just about knowing and loving all the good, strong things about them. It's about knowing the other things, too, and finding ways to deal with them.

He's good at that.

It's part of what's changing for him, and he's good at adapting, too.

Lots of people have official roles. Aquaman had been more than willing to take up the
responsibility for the oceans, and everything that moved along their surfaces, and Tim's willing to bet that there isn't a single Atlantean who won't move heaven and earth to keep them in power, as opposed to all of the people who've been fucking up their homes for thousands of years.

Manhunter takes care of liaising with all of the aliens who want to make contact, and the Lords as a whole are ready for any and everyone who want to do more than that.

Superman is the World's Greatest -- or maybe just Scariest -- Politician.

Other people have other official tasks, and then there are the unofficial ones. The little things that -- still -- have to be done quietly.

The world needs a Batman who works in the daylight.

But the world also needs people who can work in the shadows. Like him.

So, while Bruce theoretically catches up on the sleep he isn't really getting and really just spends way too much time paying way too much attention to the cases, he's doing what he does best.

Making a mess.

See, Dick is Dick, which means he believes in home and family as much as Tim does. That was the mistake he made, and he's sorry for it now. It was never that Dick was a quitter, it was just that he went about things the wrong way.

He wanted too much, or needed too much, or... that part doesn't really matter. What matters is that, in the end, Dick was always going to come back to Gotham, and make a little home for himself with all the little rats that had managed to escaped all of their little traps.

Dick needs people.

And Dick is due to come running for these people's screams just about... now.

Tim shuts off his flamethrower and tosses it, watching Dick watch him, and some things are too damned familiar.

Like the way Dick can't fucking stop checking to see if all of his rebels are alive.

Tim rolls his eyes behind the mask. "I just fired the shelters, Dick. They're illegal, you know."

Dick tenses, all over. He's lean and Tim can't decide if he looks more hungry or more dangerous. There are babies down here -- fat ones. If Dick's eaten one full meal for every three that he provides for these people, Tim will eat his own damned tear gas pellets.

"Speaking of illegal..."

"Shut up."

Tim raises an eyebrow. "You know, Dick, now would be a really good time to be nice to me."

Dick looks at him, at last. Really looks at him, and Tim wishes he'd tried to make himself sound a little less snide. He's never wanted to see Dick look at him like that. Like just another person to hold in contempt.

He shakes it off internally. No matter what, it really is too late for that.

"They shouldn't have sent you alone, kid."

It's too late for 'no matter what,' too. "But they did."

Dick starts to circle in. No matter how hungry he is, he still moves exactly like the deadly -- dangerous -- predator he is. "I've seen you in action, you know. You're not easy to catch on camera, but you aren't impossible, either."

"No?" Tim turns with him.

"You've gotten good, kid," Dick says, and pulls out the escrima sticks.

He doesn't tell Dick to call him Robin. "I've had good teachers."

"Not good enough," and Dick launches himself at him.

Momentum lets him make it. That's all that lets him make it. Tim's shot was perfect. He steps aside and lets Dick fall.

He's had good teachers. He thinks about Bruce setting up the targets. He thinks about Dick folding his hand around the guns, one after the other. Showing Tim every trick he'd developed for dealing with this part of training even though his hands had really been too small. Even though.

He thinks about playing games of quick-draw with the practice weapons, the ones that couldn't fire a thing even if you loaded them with real bullets. He thinks about. He turns Dick over.

The hole in Dick's forehead is small and neat and smokes obscenely, but it's still better than what's left of the back of his head.

Dick is... was Dick.

Dick believed, and played by the rules the rest of them tossed out the damned window. Right to the... Tim bites his lip, and leans in close.

"I came alone because I wanted to," he whispers, and closes Dick's eyes.

And then he calls in the officers who'll take care of Dick's... of the people. Dick hadn't called him Robin, but he hadn't called him by name, either. It's entirely possible some of these people will make it back into the world someday.

He stands by Dick's body and marks their faces in his own mind, one by one by one.

Eventually, it's just him and the body and the lieutenant.

"What do you want to do with the body, Robin?"

It's a really good question. By rights, they should be making an example. It's entirely too easy to imagine whatever idiots they haven't rounded up deciding Dick should be a symbol of the continuing 'resistance,' and some fool will convince a hundred other fools that Dick isn't really dead.

By rights, they should get nice and primitive and hang Dick's head somewhere public.

He thinks about Bruce, and gives the lieutenant the name of the cemetery where Bruce's parents are buried, instead.

The man doesn't question.

Tim waits until he's alone, and calls it in.

"I knew you were right for the job, Robin."

"It's what I'm here for, Superman."

"Mm. What about Bruce?"

Stay away from him. He puts a smile on his face so that one will be in his voice, too. "That's what I'm here for, too. Robin out."

It's absolutely true, of course. Robin isn't Batman's sidekick, or even his partner.

Robin is Batman's balance.

And a new Batman needs a new Robin, so... so.

He heads back to the Cave, and doesn't wash off the smoke or cordite before joining Bruce at the cases. He doesn't try, because it would be an insult.

There's a long silence. The Cave is pretty dusty in a lot of places, but the cases really just aren't. He's not the one who keeps them clean.

"You did it," Bruce says finally.

"Yes."

Another long silence. Bruce has the cape folded around him, and if he's moving, Tim can't see it.

Tim stares into Batgirl's blank, mannequin eyes and waits.

"Why."

"Because I was the only one who could who had anything like the right."

He waits for Bruce to say something about how no one had the right, so he could say something about how he was there, at Bruce's side, when he'd started actually using all of the nasty, lethal moves he'd learned from nasty, lethal people back when Dick had been a baby.

About how if there are rights, anywhere, they have to be applied as evenly as possible, or else everything falls apart.

About how Dick had left.

"What's going to happen to his body?"

Tim breathes, and realizes he hadn't been. "I'm going to have them bury him as close to your parents as possible without implying anything about... us."

Bruce nods slowly, and finally turns to face him. "Thank you."

And Tim. He tries, he really does, but he...

He hugs Bruce as hard as he can, pressing his face to the armor over Bruce's chest, and it isn't until his head starts to hurt that he realizes he's trying to make himself cry.

He can't.

Bruce holds on to him, though, and that's good enough. Especially when he pets Tim's hair.

"It's okay," Bruce says, and Tim knows he's trying to convince himself more than he's trying to convince him, but...

That's good enough, too.

*

"They're gone," Bruce says, just like Tim hadn't seen them all walk through the portal.

He rappels down from the roof of the Cave and joins Bruce in front of the thing. "I noticed."

"You're angry."

He glares at Bruce instead and breathes and waits until he has something like control enough not to say any of the dozen things he wants to. "Yes. I'm angry."

"Superman was out of control. The others couldn't have taken him down even if they felt like it -- and I'm not altogether sure Manhunter would have."

Which is... okay, point. Still. "The Kryptonite."

Bruce's smile is small and wintry. "Hasn't been in the safe for a year and a half."

Tim blinks. "Oh."

"Yes."

He stops, and thinks about it. "You used them."

"Eventually."

And it does make sense. It's just... "Word is going to get out, sooner or later. Aquaman can't hold the fort alone. Metamorpho won't when he realizes you sold Lantern out. And the others aren't good enough."

Bruce nods just as if what he's saying is as obvious as it is and he isn't the one who put them in an impossible situation. If there's an afterlife, and he gets to spend any time with Dick there, he's so totally going to apologize for all the times he's even thought that Dick needed to relax about his Bruce issues.

And, well, for shooting him in the head.

"You know, Tim... he knew you were there. The other one."

The other Batman. "Well, that's... in character."

Bruce nods again and just keeps staring at the portal.

"Bruce --"

"We're done here."

"You made us 'done here,' Bruce."

Bruce gives another one of those cold smiles. "I suppose I could've waited until Superman decided it would be good idea to shove the planet out of orbit, but, oddly enough, I was feeling impatient."

Tim snorts helplessly. "Fine. You had a plan. You didn't tell me you had a plan, but you had a plan. So what's the next part of the plan, boss?"

"Traveling."

"I --" He's not talking about Bruce Wayne taking his young ward on a tour of their brave new world that's about to fall into ruin and chaos and. "Bruce, everything we've worked for. Everything we've done --"

"How many people have you killed, Tim?"

He blinks. "It's hard to be sure. Some of those bombs..."

Bruce looks at him. "I'm not sure it was worth it. Any of it."

He blinks again. He... takes a slow, deep breath, and another one, too. And then he just says it. "I could question the timing of that thought, Bruce."

"You could. You should."

Tim rubs at his temples, and... he doesn't even try to regulate his breathing. "So... what? What now? If you're having such a massive amount of guilt --"

"I don't think I'm having enough."

"Bruce --"

"We're standing here in a dusty hole in the ground, surrounded by ghosts, and everything we've -- yes -- worked so hard to build is about to come crashing down. Because it was built on the wrong thing. We're in a grave, Tim. Stop and think."

Tim stares at the floor and... stops and thinks. You don't ignore an order like that. Not from Bruce.

Or he doesn't, and that's the whole fucking point. He would've, and has followed Bruce everywhere, and into every thing, and watched his back while he was at it. Because he's Robin, and that's his job.

Batman's balance. So now Batman -- Bruce is having a fucking apocalyptic crisis of faith, and... and... he's supposed to believe. Fine. He just needs to come up with something to believe in.

And that's... not, actually, hard.

"There's only two things you can do when you're in a grave, Bruce."

"I'm listening," he says, and the hunger, the anticipation is right there.

Tim looks at Bruce, right into his eyes, and Bruce is Batman and he's Robin, and that means the masks and lenses don't mean shit when it's important enough. "You can lie down and die or you can... dig yourself out."

Bruce grins, fierce and wild, and cups his chin. "And?"

Tim grins right back. "Dying is for quitters."

He can breathe again. Almost normally, even. Because Tim believes in family, and he believes in his family.

Even if they are just two mass murderers in a grave they've dug for themselves.

Bruce's hand is hard and steady on his jaw, and... there are other worlds.

Maybe they'll find one with a Dick he won't ever have to shoot.

Maybe.

end.

The manip: http://img26.photobucket.com/albums/v79/jackbuggery/misc/lorderTim.jpg

The attribution:

"A Modest Proposal:
For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and For Making Them Beneficial to the Public." -- Jonathan Swift.

Full text here: http://art-bin.com/art/omodest.html

Please post a comment on this story.









Fandom:  Justice League
Title:  Beneficial to the Public
Author:  Te   [email]   [website]
Details:  Standalone  |  R  |  gen  |  58k  |  04/26/04
Characters:  Robin, Batman, Nightwing
Summary:  Tim loves his family. This doesn't actually help anything.

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