June 9, 2004
Disclaimer: If they were mine, they might just have more issues than they already do.
Spoilers: Lots of old comics. Timeline: Goes AU at A Death in the Family, kicks off with A Lonely Place of Dying.
Summary: Tim makes his choices consciously, permanently, and thoroughly.
Ratings Note/Warnings: NC-17. Contains content some readers may find disturbing.
Author's Note: "... In the philosophy of Plato, the eidos is the immutable genuine nature of a thing, one of the eternal, transcendent Forms apprehended by human reason." Title found for me by the lovely Jack.
Once upon a time, Livia and I were talking about A Death in the Family, and what sort of things might have happened if Jason hadn't died. This isn't that story. This is the companion to that story, which I still hope Livia will write one day.
Acknowledgments: To Livia, Jack, LC, and Weirdness Magnet for audiencing and encouragement.
Tim's known about them for a long time. Years, now.
He's had a lot of dreams and fantasies about how he'd let them know, over the years. Maybe one day Batman and Robin could rescue his school from terrorists, or, later, Nightwing could save his whole family from some Arkham escapee, or...
They were always pretty stupid, and he's tried his best to forget about them as being immature -- and embarrassing, besides -- but there was always one part that was the same, and one part that made him... it's hard to describe. It's always just an image: Dick Grayson's face, smiling at Tim the way he'd done years before.
All of that basic friendliness, that absent, easy affection.
A hand on his shoulder.
The sense that Tim is someone worth... worth...
That part's hard, too. And irritating, besides. An endless loop of false images and old memories chasing themselves around Tim's mind while the reality glares down at him and his pictures and his files.
While the reality looks at him like the worst of intruders.
"Mr. Grayson, I --"
"Who are you?"
Dick's voice is nothing like he'd imagined. It's lower and rougher and impossible not to feel. It makes sense. He's Batman now. Tim forces himself to look him in the eye, and forces himself not to shuffle his feet.
He's not selling anything and Wayne manor isn't on his... his paper route or anything.
"My name is Tim Drake," he says. "I... maybe I should start at the beginning."
"Kid..." The ominous note in Dick's voice shifts to impatience, and he scrubs a hand over the stubble on his jaw. According to Tim's own calculations, it's extremely unlikely that Dick has gotten more than a handful of hours of sleep in the past several days.
Because Dick is still Nightwing, too. "Please," Tim says. "It will only take a moment."
He watches Dick watch him, and hopes. You were just a kid once, too, he doesn't say. Maybe you'll sit down and rest while I talk.
"Please," he says again, and Dick's expression shifts again.
And this time there are hints of that gentle humor, that optimism which Tim has been dreaming about for the better part of a decade. He forces himself to breathe something close to normally, and manages not to choke when Dick stands up straight and gestures toward the shadowed interior of the house.
Though he isn't entirely sure how he manages to walk inside.
He does, though, and the door clicks shut with a heavy sound. He blinks to get used to the change between sunlight and lamplight, and, when his vision clears, there's an older man in front of him, dressed in a perfect tuxedo.
He must be Alfred Pennyworth, the Wayne family retainer. Tim hasn't collected much information about him, but he looks exactly the way he should -- neat, dignified, and calmly, subtly ruthless.
"A visitor, Master Dick?"
"Yeah, Alfred." Dick's voice comes from closer behind him than he would have guessed, and Tim jumps before he can stop himself.
And again when Dick's hands land on his shoulders.
"This is Tim Drake, and he's got a story to tell us."
"Indeed," Alfred says, and raises an eyebrow. Tim thinks the man's supposed to look mildly curious, but Tim has spent several years studying expressions in blurry newspaper photos and glossy ones from magazines. He's been to a half dozen society parties which included people like Bruce Wayne, and Dick, and the Gordons.
He hasn't trusted mild expressions in a long time. The images spin through his head, and Tim gives up on making them stop. After all, part of the old, old fantasies involved him doing just this: "It started at the circus," he says, and lets himself say it all.
To Alfred's face and to the feel of Dick behind him. The feel of him when he starts to move, and the movement at the corners of Tim's vision when he starts to pace. It's a strange feeling to tell the story now. It's strange that it is a story, but he shouldn't really be surprised.
He's been telling it in his head since he was nine. Maybe it isn't so strange that now, out loud, it sounds like a lie. But it isn't. And he just...
He hears himself stuttering to a stop and takes a breath, staring at his shoes. "You... you're probably wondering why I chose to be here now. Why I had to." Why he needed to. "And I. I didn't want to say... I never told anyone this," Tim says, and bites his lip.
"Why are you here now?" Alfred's words are direct, but there's something almost gentle in his tone. Something Tim wants to hold on to.
He looks at Alfred again, and tries to put everything on his face that he doesn't know how to say. "Because I know the last Robin -- Jason -- got hurt badly, and I know B -- Mr. Wayne is taking care of him... somewhere, and I..." He chances a look at Dick, and watches him hugging himself and biting his thumbnail and feels... Tim swallows. "You can't be Batman and Nightwing at the same time. No one could. You... you're human. And I'm afraid you'll... get hurt."
Even from a distance, Tim can see the way Dick tenses up all over, and it makes him feel a little sick. There's nothing in his life he's ever wanted less than to make Dick look like that. He turns away again, just in time to see... Alfred hiding a smile?
"So. You've come to our home to remind Master Dick of the limits of human physiology?"
Tim feels himself blushing hard. Put like that... it makes him sound like exactly the intruding annoyance he is. "I just. Want to help."
"How." Dick's looking at him again. He can feel it, and the only thing Tim can do is look right back.
And watch Dick come closer -- stalk closer, almost. This close, without the glare of the sunlight, Tim can see the shadows under Dick's eyes, and he can feel all of the exhausted motion that's just beneath the surface of Dick's skin.
"How do you want to help, Tim?"
Dick looks terrifying and tired and powerful and... he looks like everything Tim's been dreaming about since he was a toddler. And the sound of his name in Dick's low, dangerous voice makes his heart beat faster. "Any way I can," he says, and blushes harder at the breathless sound of his own voice.
"Master Dick..." Alfred's voice is weirdly far away. Tim can't quite focus on anything but Dick's eyes and the sharp gesture he makes in Alfred's direction without looking away from him.
"Batman needs a Robin," Tim says, and thinks about trying to swallow his own tongue, about forcing himself to fade through the floor and into... anything but this quiet sitting room full of objets d'art that he'd read about in magazines and people who he'd never thought would be this real.
And then Dick blinks and smiles, sudden and sharp and bright, and Tim thinks he won't have to try to swallow his tongue at all. "Well. You might just have a point, kid," Dick says, and puts his hands on Tim's shoulders again.
He'll look away from Dick's eyes sometime in the future, when he isn't having a heart attack. Or maybe just when Dick looks away. "I..." He has no idea what he wants to say.
"Come with me," Dick says.
Tim nods from somewhere behind his skin and swallows again. He can hear Alfred sighing.
"Shall I assume a trip to the basement is in order, Master Dick?"
"The Cave, Alfred." And Dick finally looks away, letting Tim breathe again. "We're going to the Cave."
He isn't sure what he'd expected -- mainly because he really hadn't had much time to form expectations before Dick was alternately rattling off explanations for everything in the Cave and asking Tim pointed questions about what sort of skills he had.
It wasn't -- isn't -- this.
Because years of dreaming and watching and hoping have nothing whatsoever to do with the way this feels. The way...
Dick is a thorough, frenetic teacher, somehow managing to come off as both distracted and careful.
He talks to himself about what Tim should learn when, and never stops moving, and never fails to shoot out a hand to catch him if Tim shows any sign of stumbling.
"You've never worked with weapons," he says, and flips through a selection of what look like shuriken.
"No." They don't really do that sort of thing in kids' karate classes. He's doing crunches, hanging off the chin-up bar. A part of him is quietly wondering when this sort of thing came to feel like a relief. He's developing something very like lingering terror about the gymnastics equipment.
"Mm. What will you do when someone larger, stronger, and faster aims a right hook at your head?"
"Duck and dodge." He's up to twenty-three, and Dick is checking something on the computers. Tim can hear him typing, but the angle is bad.
"Move... backwards." Just because he can take a punch doesn't mean he should. That wasn't a difficult lesson to learn at all, really.
"You're against a wall, and why didn't Bruce leave more detailed records of the training?"
Twenty-seven. "Block. Try... to get in a kick --"
"You have a weapon." And Dick's right there again, grinning down at him.
Twenty-nine. "Uh. What kind?"
Dick grins even wider. "I have no idea. Let's just assume, for now, that it's one you'll have in hand -- and which you can and absolutely should be using at that point. That's thirty. Come jogging with me."
Tim flips down, and feels Dick cataloguing the way he'd done it.
"Good," he says, and Tim knows it means that the next time they're working on the gymnastics, he'll get very specific instructions on dismounts in between Dick telling him which books he should be reading, and possibly asking him about what his favorite subject is in school.
Tim smiles to himself and checks to make sure his trainers are tied securely, and jogs up the steps behind Dick. They spend a lot of time on the grounds, and it's really obvious that Dick wishes they could do more of the training outside.
The Cave is massive, and their voices echo wildly whenever they speak too loudly, and it's abundantly clear that Dick feels...
'Stifled' is the closest thing Tim can come to the right word for it. Whatever it is.
He used to spend a lot of time wondering why Dick had stopped being Robin, and he still does. He has a lot more questions now, about a lot of things. Before, it had all seemed so clear. Gotham would be a terrible, scary place -- if it even existed at all -- without Batman and Robin. Gotham needs them, and so it had seemed obvious that they would need to be those people.
But Bruce Wayne is somewhere in Europe with Jason Todd, and Tim doesn't know much more about that than what he'd gleaned from the few news reports. The adopted son, a terrible accident, the best doctors, a leave of absence from Wayne Enterprises.
Knowing what he does, he can add a few details. There'd been something going on in Ethiopia, and Robin got hurt, and Batman...
Batman is the man running lightly and easily in front of him. Tim has to concentrate to hear Dick's breathing -- even and steady -- over his own. Batman is the man who gets regular reports from Starfire and Cyborg and the other Titans, because...
"You're the most serious kid I've ever seen."
Tim blinks, and keeps himself from stumbling over a mild dip in the lawn. Dick is jogging backwards. Smiling with his mouth and his eyes, but, as always, there's something more there.
He's checking on Tim, and Tim will do everything in his power to make sure Dick always sees what he needs to.
"I was just thinking about... the Titans."
Dick smiles ruefully, turns, and jogs in place for the few moments it takes for Tim to be at his side. "You're wondering if I'd rather be there?"
"I -- I don't want to be in the way."
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss being with them -- being Nightwing."
Tim nods and focuses on keeping the pace.
"But I'd also be lying if I said I wasn't getting one hell of a kick out of this."
It's punctuated with a tackle, and Tim goes limp and lets Dick's momentum carry them down and over, until he can --
Absolutely not get his knees under him, because Dick, of course, saw it coming. It feels like about a nanosecond before Dick has him pinned to the grass on his back. There's a light rain falling, and Dick is smiling with a fierce, honest joy that makes Tim's heart beat faster.
Or maybe it's just the fact that they've been training for hours today.
"You were watching for it -- that's good. You never know when someone is going to jump you, no matter how careful you've been."
"You still pinned me."
"Yep. And I'll be pinning for years to come." Dick leans in, rainwater sliding down his face and dripping on Tim's. "You're doing incredibly well, Tim. I'm proud of you. And I'm happy to teach you."
Tim breathes. "I... thank you." He thinks he's probably blushing again.
Dick ruffles his hair and rolls off, lying easily in the wet grass beside him, one arm thrown over his eyes to block the worst of the rain. He's silent for a while, and Tim doesn't think he's ever been so happy to be rained on.
Now he just needs to not look cold.
"And you were right the first time, you know. I can't stop being Batman, and I can't be Batman and Nightwing."
Tim thinks about saying something along the lines of Dick maybe getting more sleep between patrols and training him, but decides to wait for a better moment.
"I think..." Dick sits up again, bracing himself on one elbow and brushing the wet hair off Tim's forehead. "Well, I think we should probably head back inside before I wind up getting you sick, but mostly? You're not even on active duty yet and you're already..." Another rueful smile. "I used to wonder, sometimes, why Bruce wanted... someone like me around." Dick shakes his head and stands, taking Tim's hand to help him up, too.
Dick's hands are strong and callused and exactly the way Tim had always imagined them to be. He squeezes Tim's hand once before letting go.
"I'd meant to get some distance work in today, but..." Another smile. Tim thinks he'll drown in them. "I could use a sprint."
And he takes off for the manor again.
His parents have been traveling for just under two weeks, now. He's got a postcard from Belize, and, if everything goes according to schedule, they'll be calling him tomorrow evening.
The house is as empty and quiet as it always is, with nothing but the faint sound of Mrs. Mac humming to herself from the laundry room. He's been making his own breakfasts and most of his own lunches for years, and Mrs. Mac is used to him... wandering.
He wonders about it, a little. He's pretty sure she assumes he's spending time at the library, or maybe out with someone like Ives. He's never gotten into trouble, so no one really asks.
"You're such an independent boy," his mother had said, once, and hugged him. He remembers that she'd smelled like perfume and the dust of someplace he'd never been. She'd just gotten home from... somewhere. He isn't sure, anymore.
His father had patted him on the head distractedly, and gone back to talking about a dig somewhere in Greece.
They probably wouldn't approve of what he's doing now. What he's training to do. It's not like he has a really clear image in his mind of exactly how they'd react, but... well. It's pretty obvious that they wouldn't be thrilled. But then, he couldn't really tell them about it if he wanted to.
He's burned most of his files, only keeping a few photographs that could be innocent. The one of him and his parents with Dick and his parents. A few others. Everything else he's memorized.
He thinks he should maybe feel... something about this, about the way he's pretty much just marking time until he can go back to the Manor for more training. He's always early anyway, and he and Alfred have worked out a system that gets him in the house and down to the Cave without waking Dick up.
He's probably learned more about stealth from Alfred than he has from Dick, really. That makes him feel something. A tiny conspiracy of quiet to be warm about, because he knows Alfred will do everything possible to make things easier for Dick, and because Alfred seems to think that part of that 'everything' is him.
He will be. He can be.
Tim doesn't know how anyone could do less.
And he still has school, but school wasn't a challenge before he'd wound up with a teacher who saw nothing wrong with quizzing Tim about various felonies while making him walk on his hands.
The biggest challenge about school is staying awake, and looking like... well, like he cares about anything being thrown at him by the teachers, or by the other kids who are, theoretically, supposed to be his friends. He can't be honest with them, either.
He spends a lot of time thinking about Bruce Wayne, and about everything Dick has and hasn't said about him. Dick says Tim reminds him of Bruce sometimes, and he says it when Tim is doing something like studying case files, or trying to focus on anything but the way Dick moves in his own workouts.
And Tim thinks he gets it, a little. What this sort of life must do to a person. All of the secrets and lies and empty houses.
Dick says Tim's good for him, that his presence makes things better. He says it when they're sparring, or talking. When Tim has given up on focusing on anything but Dick. Because he has to, sometimes. Because it feels good and because...
He thinks Dick must have been lonely. Tim hasn't been closer to any of the Titans than through the lenses of his cameras, yet, but it isn't difficult to imagine how very different being on a team must've been. How necessary for someone like Dick, who's so open and... so open.
And it's a mildly scary thought. That, perhaps, one of the best ways Tim can help is to let himself be more open in return. To let himself do what he wants, and... it's the only bad thing about any of this. He spends a lot of time and effort trying not to be desperately obvious about his feelings, and how much it all means to him.
He wants to be... professional about things, and he knows he's good at it. He's an independent boy, and that's what people like about him.
Except that maybe...
Well. It isn't as though Dick is like anyone else he knows in any way.
Maybe it would be better for Dick if he wasn't professional about everything, or if he wasn't professional all the time.
Maybe it would be okay if he... let a little more show.
Tim swallows his last mouthful of cereal and absently dumps the milk down the drain, rinsing the bowl before putting it in the dishwasher. It's not full enough to start, yet. Mrs. Mac is still singing downstairs.
A twenty-two minute bike ride away, Dick is (hopefully) still asleep, and Alfred is (probably) doing something incredibly important to keep the Manor running smoothly. And he wants to be there, right now, very badly.
He has to go to school.
It won't do anyone any good if he starts going truant. The last thing he needs is that kind of attention on his movements.
It's just that he's starting to think that he finally knows what the first thing he needs is.
Tim circles on the mats with Dick and tries to get used to the feel of the staff in his hands through gauntlets. It's only the second time he's fought with them on, and it's still a little strange. For a lot of reasons, really -- not least of which that, even though the gauntlets are the only uniform-like thing he's wearing, it all feels so much more real.
He's helplessly aware of... of a lot of things.
The car, waiting to take Dick out for another night's patrol.
The exits, and where they lead.
Gotham seems so much closer when he has the gauntlets on, and he isn't sure how he feels --
He dodges, barely avoiding the blow that whistles past his ear.
"Are you woolgathering?" Dick sounds shocked, and faintly scandalized.
Tim smiles. Dick has talked about his 'scary focus' a lot. "Sorry. Just..." He spins his staff in his hands, and it moves exactly the way it should, but...
"Are they too loose?" Dick is stretching with his own staff, doing things with his shoulders that still look impossible, even after all these weeks.
"No, just a little hard to get used to."
"Hmm." Dick spins his staff over his knuckles, tosses, and catches it in his other hand. "You actually do tend to work better when you're allowed to think things through, but..."
"A lot of this is physical. I know."
Dick nods. "So distract yourself. Pay more attention to the way I'm moving, or to the environment, or..."
"Got it. I'm ready."
"Oh are you?" The tease in Dick's voice is both gentle and a little maddening.
Tim knows exactly how to distract himself from the feel of the heavy gloves, and it just gets easier when Dick starts to move again. He's moving the staff in a steady, artful glide from hand to hand, and it's all about distracting him -- in the training way -- from the way he's moving counterclockwise. And from the way his eyes say to watch for an attack --
Tim blocks Dick's swing with his own staff, and thinks about whether it would be better or worse to start training with Dick when he's wearing the cowl. He gives Dick his side, and has to start moving faster to keep just his side exposed and --
He blocks the blow aimed toward his kidneys and has to work not to turn automatically. He's in the best position he can be in, no matter what his body wants to do. Dick keeps going for the back blows, and it's not the first time Tim's wished he had just a little bit more flexibility in his shoulders, because, sooner or later, these blocks are going to get uncomfortable.
Which is the other reason why Dick's doing it this way. He's supposed to attack. And he hasn't quite given up on the idea of one day surprising Dick with an attack, but it's not going to happen today. The best he can manage is to look like he really does intend to spend the whole spar blocking, like he'd done in the beginning.
He watches for the hint of irritation in Dick's expression and blocks -- blocks --
There. He makes the next block a weak one, so that the force of Dick's blow sends him moving, spinning. The kick he lands to the back of Dick's knee is glancing, at best, but he doesn't let himself pause, aiming his staff at Dick's fingers and missing the first time and hitting the second.
"Nice," Dick says, and catches him on his upper arm. Tim stutter-steps away from the next swing and blocks hard, putting all of his weight into it, even though it forces him to face Dick head on.
Dick's hair is hanging in his face, and his eyes are narrow and bright. He moves easily with Tim's advance right up until he stops, pushing and twisting and mashing Tim's fingers against his own staff.
It hurts, but not as much as it would've without the gauntlets. He keeps his grip steady and lets himself fence a little. It's nowhere near his strength, and he knows it will tire him out quickly, but a lot of the time it also feels like the best possible training. When they're sparring like this, the clack of the staves meeting falls into a rhythm as meaningless as his own heartbeat, and nothing exists but the way Dick is moving, and forcing him to move. It's impossible to judge speed or the passage of the time, because he has to put everything he has into meeting every blow with one of his own, into following, moving, being.
He never feels more connected to his own body than when Dick is making it work like this.
He never feels more real, even when he falls for Dick's fake and has the staff knocked out of his hand. Even then, because Dick takes one look at him and keeps coming.
Intellectually, he knows that every hit Dick's landing now is pulled, and he knows Dick would never hurt him, but it doesn't feel like it. It feels like fighting, like he's fighting for something --
"That's it --"
He stumbles and hits the floor and kicks out before he's all the way down. He catches Dick on the shin and feels the hit thrum its way up through his body --
"Good, keep going --"
And catches Dick's staff when it comes down toward his chest. Almost catches it, but Dick rips it away before Tim can get a good grip --
"Use the texturing on the gauntlets --"
And rolls to avoid another, and another, and flips awkwardly to his feet --
"Yes, Tim, come on --"
They've moved toward the edge of the mats. Close to the table, and --
"Don't stop moving --"
There. It's not the best weapon in the world, but his math book flies pretty well, considering. He gets to see Dick's eyes widening for a wonderful, thrilling moment, and then Dick knocks the book out of the air... and lets the other end of his staff get close enough that Tim can grab it this time.
He yanks and falls back into a kick at the same time. Dick can either dodge the kick or hold on to the staff --
Or let Tim hold the staff still for him while he flips over Tim's head. Because he's Dick, and he can do that. Tim shakes his head and holds on to Dick's staff as best he can, knowing he'll lose this particular game of tug of war and knowing every second he holds on increases his strength and stamina.
Dick still has that fierce, predatory grin on his face, daring him. Urging him on. Sometimes he thinks Dick likes the spars as much as Tim does. Mostly he doesn't let himself think that until he's alone, in his bed or the shower.
Not when Dick's feet stop moving long enough to be a good target, and Tim can get in another one of those body-shuddering kicks that aren't nearly as hard -- as good as they feel. Not when Dick steps back and yanks the staff out of Tim's grip and tosses it with a wild, breathy laugh and tackles him.
And they're still sparring, but a part of him doesn't know that. A part of him doesn't want to know that, or doesn't care, and it's getting hard to remember that he wants to get Dick off him, that this is about training, and not about the lean, perfect muscle of Dick's body over his, about the smell of his sweat and the way that Tim only has to move his leg a little to get --
He knew he would gasp, but the moan is a shock. A loud, breathless shock, and he has been letting Dick see more of how he feels, and letting himself show it, but he hadn't really meant to go this far.
Yet, says the small and shamelessly hungry voice in his head, and Tim does his best not to wrap his legs around Dick's waist.
That really is the best he can do, because even though Dick isn't actually pinning him, Tim can't move. At all. He was half-hard when Dick took the staves off the wall, and he's so hard now it hurts. Hurts wonderfully where Dick is pressed to him and all he'd have to do is move. A little.
His hips want to move and Tim squeezes his eyes shut and bites back another moan.
"Tim," Dick says, and Tim's mind wants him to know that Dick's close enough that his breath is almost a caress on his face. That the tone of Dick's voice is soft and knowing and --
He bites his lip harder.
Dick moves, and Tim shivers helplessly. And forces himself to open his eyes. Dick is smiling ruefully, and offering his hand. Tim takes it, and tries to decide whether it's better to hold Dick's gaze like this or to look away. Before he can decide, Dick squeezes his hand.
"You... shouldn't be embarrassed."
The rueful grin gets a little wider. "It used to happen to me with Bruce all the time."
There is absolutely nothing he can say to that. Nothing that wouldn't come out as an incoherent vowel sound, anyway. He twists his hand out of Dick's grip and balls his hands into fists at his sides to keep from adjusting himself in his sweats.
He knows he wouldn't manage to just adjust himself. Not now.
And he absolutely can't look away from Dick's eyes.
Dick brushes Tim's hair off his forehead, squeezes his shoulder, and makes kind of a show out of deliberately looking away. "We've probably done all the training we need to today, Tim. Why don't you hit the showers?"
Come with me, he doesn't say. It's not hard. He's nowhere near ready to be that honest with more than just his body. "All right."
It won't be the first time he's used the Cave showers for this. It's just the first time that Dick knows about it. Or, more likely, the first time he'll be absolutely sure about it.
And know exactly what Tim's thinking about.
Tim decides to let himself moan out loud when he comes.
The sound is so incredible he has to do it again.
He's getting closer; he knows it.
He won't ask for a specific date, because he knows it doesn't work like that. But every day it seems like there's a new and perfectly fitted portion of the Robin suit for him to train in.
Not the Robin suit. His. Because it's different from the ones Dick and Jason had worn, and it makes him feel both proud and a little terrified. He'll be a new Robin -- a better protected and better armed Robin -- and if he's good enough... people will define Robin by what he does.
It makes him feel as exposed as the shorts he apparently won't be wearing.
Though he has to wonder, a little, if one of the reasons he'll be so covered up is... well. Dick knows.
He knows it's not adrenaline. He knows it's him. And Tim wonders if they'll have to talk about it, and that scares him, too, but the freedom of it is incredible. The emotional version of the way it feels when he's practicing with the jumplines, sweeping over the equipment and trophies and everything else almost too fast to be believed.
He knows the physics behind it, but it's meaningless next to the feel of it.
And it really is the same as those times when Dick is leaning over him, pointing out something or other on the computers. The way the hand on his shoulder will tense and tighten for a second when Tim stops trying to keep his breathing even, when he lets himself flush, even though he's working.
He's learned a lot about how to work through distractions.
And he doesn't regret Dick knowing.
Because he can -- and has -- shown him that he won't let his feelings get in the way and...
Well. He's been watching people his whole life. He knows how to watch people, even when they're keeping secrets, even when it's something like this, where Tim has no practical experience.
Dick doesn't have to say anything out loud. Tim knows Dick doesn't want to make him
uncomfortable, or lead him on. And he knows Dick doesn't want to stop touching him. Because...
Well, he's not sure. He knows what he wants to be Dick's reasons, and he knows what he believes about Dick, considering the time he's spent with him over the past several months. The two don't, necessarily, have much in common. Dick is the most openly, perfectly physical person Tim's ever seen.
He doesn't have his team, and he doesn't really have anyone else. Just Alfred, and him.
Tim's never had this much physical contact in his life, and it's still shocking and intoxicating. But it's entirely possible that Dick is starved for touch.
He didn't really need another reason to want to make love to the man... but it's just another kind of intoxicating to feel the shift behind him that means Dick felt that thought, too. Or some of it.
Tim refocuses on the search. Tonight, Batman will be going after a man named Michael Schmidt. He knows -- they know -- that his tony little accounting firm is just one of many fronts for the Bellini family. Tim's just following the money trail a little so Dick will have actual proof to give to the police, assuming the obligatory beating doesn't get it out of the man.
"I should introduce you to Barbara."
Batgirl, he knows. Or the woman who used to be Batgirl. That's another story he knows more about from the newspapers and the way things are unspoken. "You mentioned she'd done a lot of work with computers," he says, as lightly as he can.
Dick makes a small, non-committal noise, and Tim feels him moving away more than he hears it.
And back again.
"She's... I think she might be working with the Suicide Squad these days," and Dick's voice is somewhere between bemused and distracted.
Tim nods slowly and makes a note to look into that.
"When do you have to be home?"
He shrugs. "My parents left for the Caribbean this morning."
He feels Dick stop again, behind him. "Again? I... do they even..." Dick's hand settles lightly on his shoulder again.
Tim smiles back at him. "I'm a good, responsible kid... so I get to do what I want."
Dick's expression is troubled.
"Dick... you have to admit that the way my parents are makes things... easier."
"Kid..." Dick's hand ghosts up over his cheek and -- yes. Back to his hair, brushing it off his forehead.
Tim wonders if he's noticed that Tim's pretty much stopped using gel. Or, rather, if he knows why.
"It bothers the hell out of me that I wind up forgetting you have parents more often than not, Tim."
And there are a lot of things he could say to that, but most of them have no place in this house. He'd never met Bruce -- not the real Bruce, anyway. The one who presumably never got over the murder of his own parents, and who built a legend based around that grief. But he wouldn't be here if he hadn't watched Dick's parents die. If he hadn't watched Dick watching it.
This house, this legacy, is built around a world where parents mean more than fleeting hugs and the scent of foreign dust, and if Tim thinks about it very deeply at all, he winds up wondering why he's here.
More than he did in the early days, when it had seemed like he spent more time on his ass than his feet.
So Tim lets himself look away, and lets Dick think whatever wrong things about the gesture he will. He doesn't ever want to lie to Dick, but he thinks some truths might be more trouble than they're worth.
And the lie makes Dick rub the back of his neck, and stay right where he is until Tim has all the information Dick will need to let the police make their case against Schmidt.
He can't make himself regret that.
He's started having a few more papers delivered to the house, having only needed to say something vague about schoolwork to explain it away, but he couldn't quite get away with everything.
He has a lot of online subscriptions in Dick's name, but he still prefers to have them in hand for those times when he's trying to get a real feel for what's going on in the streets that will be his someday soon, and it's just one of many reasons why he heads for the Manor as quickly as he can after school.
When he gets there, Dick is in the kitchen, and still in his robe. There's a bandage showing beneath the collar, and he looks exhausted.
Tim raises an eyebrow and gets himself some juice from the fridge to keep from just peeling the robe back and looking for himself.
He knows Alfred did at least as good a job on whatever injuries are hidden under there as anyone from a hospital. It isn't really the point.
"Schmidt had some fairly impressive bodyguards. One of them, apparently, had some demolitions experience."
The mysterious explosion out in Bristol was suddenly less mysterious. Tim frowns to himself. "Burns?"
Dick shakes his head and downs the rest of his coffee in a swallow. "Bruises. A pretty impressive cut on my leg. The suit took most of the damage. Alfred took one look at it and escorted it out for a decent burial."
"It will never be forgotten."
Dick snorts and winces, and Tim takes a step closer.
And stops, frowning again.
Dick's turn to raise an eyebrow, and then he unties the robe and lets it fall over the back of the chair.
He's wearing pajama bottoms and bandages, and, for a moment, it's a little difficult to just catalog the latest injuries, but he does.
There's a long, shallow cut looping down the left side of Dick's back. It wasn't deep enough for stitches, but there's tape residue from the bandage that really should still be there.
"I can feel you frowning, kid. It came off while I was sleeping."
He makes a non-committal noise and gets one of Alfred's first-aid kits from the cabinet beneath the sink. He hasn't done a lot of this, but he's watched Alfred working for... any number of reasons, really.
It's just something he needs to know how to do, like how to recognize various gang tattoos, and how to knock someone unconscious without causing brain damage. He pushes on the back of Dick's shoulder until he leans forward over the table, and cleans the cut thoroughly with peroxide.
It really is long, and... "did you get thrown through a plate glass window?"
Tim shakes his head, and wonders when it'll be his turn to be bent over a table... right. "This is going to scar, at least a little."
Dick yawns and shifts. "I figured."
He tapes the new bandage down securely, and looks for anything else he can do, but there really isn't. He has to take his hands away from Dick's skin. He lets himself touch Dick's shoulder before he lets go entirely. "You should try to get more rest. I can train by myself for a few hours."
Dick yawns and laughs again. "I know you can. Sometimes I think you could run this place by yourself. Get the papers. You'll probably see more than I would, right now."
So he reads, and shares everything that sounds remotely useful, and watches Dick drink coffee and watch him. Alfred comes in after a while and lifts the empty pot, looking pointedly at Dick and equally pointedly brewing the new pot with decaf.
Tim smiles into his orange juice and keeps reading. And... stops.
Usually, sharing the society pages is one of the nicest things about this ritual, because, between the two of them, they can share all sorts of really kind of mean things about the people mentioned.
He's always been pretty sure that one of the reasons his parents travel so much is to get away from 'their' crowd. But today there's a breathless report from Milan, full of self-congratulation for tracking down 'wayward socialite' Bruce Wayne, full of oozingly false sympathy for his 'tragically maimed' adopted son.
A 'chance' meeting at a rehabilitation center, and Tim can see it. He can almost feel it. Bruce slipping out of Jason's room for just a moment to find this... this reporter.
"What is it?"
Tim swallows. "It's. They found Bruce."
Dick's laugh is humorless. "Was he lost?"
"Apparently. He... I..."
Dick snags the newspaper out of his hands with one easy move, and Tim waits. And waits.
If Dick's read the blurb once, he's read it four times by the time he folds the paper neatly and puts it down again. The surface of his expression is unreadable. Beneath...
"You know, it took Alfred weeks to get the full extent of Jason's injuries out of him. We still don't... I'm still not sure." Dick sighs, and scrubs a hand over his face. "We know he lost an eye."
There were never very many pictures of Jason -- not where he could get to them. He has -- had -- more blurry shots of Jason as Robin. He can't quite imagine it, what it must mean to them all. But it still makes him sick inside. He wouldn't be here if Jason hadn't been hurt.
He wouldn't... he isn't sure if he ever wants to meet him or not. He swallows again, and tastes bile.
"What... what's he like?"
"Jason?" Dick smiles at him. "I wanted to beat him senseless when I first met him, but it didn't really have anything to do with him." There's a faraway look in Dick's eyes. "Two years ago -- almost three, now -- I hated him for wearing the suit I thought would always be mine. And now I'm pretending to be Batman and training someone else to wear it."
"You're not pretending." He can't make it come out lightly. Not at all. And the faraway look is gone, just like that.
"Tim. You... you haven't met Bruce. You don't know --"
"I know you're Batman. To everyone out there you saved last night, and the night before. To everyone who's in prison now because of you. To me."
Dick exhales, and Tim slips his hands beneath the table so he can clench them into fists. "I'm not --"
"You are. You... I'd do anything for you, Dick. Because of what you do and because of who you are. Bruce is taking care of... Bruce needs to be where he is right now."
The smile slips back on Dick's face, familiar and almost right. "And I need to be here?"
With me. Tim feels himself flushing and watches Dick see it. Watches Dick know.
"Tim..." Dick reaches out, but this time his hand doesn't quite make it to Tim's face before falling away again. "We haven't really talked about... this."
Tim unclenches one of his hands and brings it up between them. "Don't. I'll make it easy. It's not a crush. And I can wait as long as I have to."
"You're so young."
Tim forces himself to keep his breathing steady and raises an eyebrow again. "How old were you when you started being Robin?" And how old were you when you started wanting Bruce? Was that a crush? He doesn't say it.
He doesn't have to say it. Because Bruce is all over this house the way Jason's all over the Cave, and all over all the ways Dick is training him.
"And the fact that I'm in love with you has nothing to do with the fact that, to me, you will always be Batman."
It feels like an exit line. It probably should be -- but he think he's allowed to have this. The look of shock and dawning realization on Dick's face that may or may not have as much to do with Tim as he wants it to.
It's still beautiful, and, right now, it's his.
After a moment, Tim goes and gets himself more orange juice, and pours Dick some decaf. When he hands it to him, Dick grabs his wrist, and holds his gaze for a long moment.
Breathing is hard again, just that fast.
"You've been Robin to me for months, Tim."
He can't keep himself from gasping, a little. "But I'm not ready."
"You're ready to love me, but not put on the suit? I feel like that should seem more insane than it does." Dick smiles ruefully and rubs Tim's wrist with his thumb. "No, you're not ready for the streets -- not yet. But Robin is more than that. You know that."
It isn't a question, nor should it be.
If Robin wasn't more than that, Bruce might be here right now and... and he doesn't know what. Tim nods, a little jerkily, and wonders how long he'll have to wait. When Dick lets him go, he sits down to drink his juice, and can't really taste anything but his own need.
It doesn't matter. "I still think you should get more rest."
Dick laughs. "You're probably right. I'll head up when I'm done convincing myself that I shouldn't have Raven show up at that reporter's house and scare him to death. Just let me -- Alfred. What is it?"
Tim looks up, and Alfred's in the doorway, and he looks.... "What happened?"
"Master Timothy... it's your parents. I... they appear to have been abducted. It's on the news right now."
And it is. On every channel. Because the video is explicit enough to have just a few things censored out, and because his father is Jack Drake. He can feel Dick beside him, and Alfred just behind. He's going to have to call Mrs. Mac. Or... something.
He should be home. He already is.
"I'm going to get them back, Tim."
"I want to go with you," he says, even though he already knows what the answer will be.
"I know it isn't a good idea," he says, and changes the channel just in time to see the backhanded slap send his father's head to the side. Again. "But I still want to."
Dick's hand is firm -- hard -- on his shoulder, and Tim looks around to see him suited up. He hadn't realized Dick was changing. "I'll get them back," Dick says again, and then Alfred is taking the remote out of Tim's hands.
The hospital smells like all hospitals do -- cheap disinfectant, a million different kinds of plastic, and the faintly, disturbingly animal scent of what's most probably old blood. Dick's told him about the hospitals in poorer neighborhoods. How the only real difference is the noise, and the time you spend waiting.
This, of course, is the best hospital in the Gotham area.
The funny thing --
It's not really funny, at all.
The strange thing is that he isn't really surprised to be here, or that his father is in there, or that his mother is...
The morgue isn't exactly labeled on the helpful, brightly-colored directories, but it doesn't take much effort to discern the shape of the building, and make educated guesses about the areas of the hospital which aren't on the map. Unless he's missed his estimation, his mother's body is approximately three hundred yards north-east, and six floors down.
Wrongful death -- an autopsy will be done.
A very embarrassed official had waited with Tim and Mrs. Mac outside his father's room until Tim had pointed out that he was, in fact, the only family member likely to show up, and the next of kin besides. Sooner or later, a social worker will be arriving to make Tim's life that much more exciting. He feels the corner of his mouth twitching and isn't sure if he's going to cry or not.
He probably should. His mother is dead. When your mother dies, you... you do a lot of things.
And that's the part of this that isn't funny at all, except for how it is. His mother is dead and none of the doctors have been able to say anything remotely hopeful about his father's chances to recover, or even whether or not he's brain-live, at this point. And...
He makes a note to do more research on poisons. He really knows distressingly little.
He hasn't seen Dick, not yet.
He knows Dick, and he's probably back at the Manor right now, hating himself. Blaming himself for this. No, there's no probably about it. If he would blame himself, Dick would surely... Tim frowns to himself. He should be there. Alfred can only do so much, and there are a lot of reasons why Batman needs a Robin.
The only thing he can do here is watch Mrs. Mac cry very, very quietly and very, very steadily and wonder when someone is going to try to take him somewhere for his own good, and...
And wonder what happened. How it happened, because he has a fairly good image of everything in his head. Corrupted ritual, greed, insanity. It could've happened right here, in Gotham. That's probably why the image is only a fair one. His mind keeps wanting to replace the so-called Obeah Man with some Arkham multiple-escapee, or maybe just a gangster of one kind or another.
Because it goes right back to why this is so very, very not funny.
When he'd dozed off this afternoon, he'd dreamed of Wayne Manor, or something like it. It had looked just like it always did, right up until he walked in the front door and into warm, welcoming darkness. Like a huge, soft mouth. Like the hidden levels of sleep.
He belongs now.
He just has to get there.
"Oh, Timothy, I just don't know what we're going to do."
Eventually. "It will be all right, Mrs. Mac."
"I was reading about this, what they do with... with orphans. Oh, and your friends."
The hug is strong and faintly damp. He feels like a dry twig. "I'm not an orphan," he says, and pulls away when it seems like it won't be too offensive. It isn't her fault.
He thinks it might not be anyone's fault, really, except for his own. He's Robin now -- officially very, very soon, he thinks -- and Robin isn't supposed to have parents. It's the way this works.
Robin has... he wants, very badly, to go home.
He hopes Alfred is taking care of Dick. Except that it doesn't seem like that's happening, because even before he can make out the voices, he recognizes the clipped, regular cadence of Alfred's footsteps.
And another man's.
Tim swallows, and sits up straight, reflexively. Dick is wearing a dark suit that Tim hasn't ever seen before -- although he doesn't actually see Dick in formal clothes very often. He looks neat and serious and secure, right up until you look at his eyes. Or maybe just until Tim does.
The hurt there is as unsurprising as everything else, and he freezes in the doorway.
Alfred and the other man -- cheap suit, harried expression, distracted focus on Tim: social worker -- continue walking, and Tim stands to greet them. And it really doesn't take long.
Bruce Wayne had been a member of a number of the same clubs as his father. By extension, so had Dick. Their families had known (of) each other for quite some time. Dick is, by far, the closest thing Tim has to family right now... and no one needs to know more than that.
Tim knows exactly how to be well-spoken and convincing on command. He's known how to do that for years.
It still takes much too long, and for a while he has to struggle to hear the beeps of his father's monitor over the voices, and then he has to struggle to stop, because he has to be just the right degree of serious. He has to be good. Eventually, Alfred pulls Mrs. Mac aside, and Tim focuses on not standing as close to Dick as he wants to.
The final handshake from the social worker is firm and brief, and Tim focuses on that to avoid hearing the sympathy words too clearly.
He can hear his father's monitors very clearly again, and he really wants to go home. And sleep in...
He's never, actually, slept at the Manor. He doesn't know what the beds will feel like. Maybe he doesn't want to sleep, at all. Maybe he just wants to --
He shoots Dick a look, because his voice is too raw, too much for this, but then he sees... they're alone. Alfred has taken Mrs. Mac somewhere, and his father may not have a mind. His father. His mother is --
Dick's hand lands on his shoulder lightly, hesitantly. "I wasn't... I spent all day looking for someone... for family..."
"I don't have any."
"I know." Dick sounds like he's going to cry, and Tim hugs him hard, burying his face against his chest and getting held right back. "I know. I just... oh God, Tim, I'm so --"
"Please don't. Please."
Dick pets his hair. "I tried --"
"I know," Tim says and tries to drown in the heat of him. The smell of him. "You're my family now," he tries, and Dick makes a low, strangled sound.
"It's... you shouldn't be with me. I -- I failed, and I don't --"
Tim squeezes his eyes shut and holds on tighter. "Please, Dick, I need you. Don't let me go."
And Dick tenses in his arms, and Tim feels his stomach lurch, but then Dick shudders, once. And breathes.
And strokes Tim's back.
"I won't. I... won't let you go," he whispers into Tim's hair.
He's doesn't know when Alfred aired this bedroom out. He isn't sure he wants to know.
It's enough -- more -- that watching the way Alfred and Dick have behaved around each other for the last several hours had told him just which of them had set things in motion to get Tim to be here.
He has an image of Alfred doing everything short of carrying Dick to get him to the hospital, and... he isn't sure whether it makes him feel loved or scared.
He isn't sure of much, right now.
Now that he's here, and has a bedroom, and no one will try to make him leave...
It's a little surprising. He'd spent much of his time at the hospital trying to figure out what to do, trying to focus enough to do the thinking, and he really hadn't gotten any farther than 'get back here.'
The pajamas he's wearing are brand new, and fit as well as the bits and pieces of Robin suit waiting for him in the Cave.
The bed itself is massive, of course, and just looks -- and feels -- even bigger now that he's in it. There's a half-empty mug of cocoa on the bedside table, and when he moves his hand over it, he can tell that it's still warm. He doesn't want anymore, but it had been part of the bargain.
He could skip dinner if he drank all the cocoa. He has another image in his mind involving Alfred creeping in at four a.m. to shove food down his throat if he doesn't. Tim feels his face twist into something like a smile, and picks up the cocoa, downing it and trying to ignore the knot in his stomach and mostly failing.
He sets the mug down again and curls around himself, pulling his knees up to his chest and wrapping his arms around them.
He wishes he was in the Cave.
He thinks, maybe, a part of him imagined sleeping on the gurney down there, but that couldn't really happen. Not with Alfred, and not with Dick. He wonders who this room used to belong to.
It isn't Dick's old room, because that's still perfectly preserved down the hall. Dick had told him once that he didn't sleep there not because he was afraid of changing it, but because he was afraid of it changing him.
Tim likes to go in there sometimes, when he gets in early enough that Dick is definitely still sleeping. He used to have the same poster over his bed, until one of the times his mother had been home long enough to notice it, and the dates on it. She'd convinced his father that it was really too morbid. He was angry with her for a long time about that, and now she's dead.
He triangulates it in his head and... yes. Between twelve and thirteen miles south-southwest, perhaps four stories down.
He wonders if they'll arrange for an open casket. No, not they. It will almost certainly be Alfred. Tim hugs himself a little tighter, and when he sees the light shift enough that the door is obviously open -- the hinges are too well-oiled to make a sound -- he can't really make himself let go.
He knows it's Dick because he doesn't say a word, and everything he's not saying crowds outward, radiating from his skin like the heat Tim can feel when he sits down.
"I'm not going to ask you if you're all right," Dick says, and brushes his hair back from his forehead.
The poison caused seizures and paralysis, at least according the handful of doctors' reports Tim had been able to get his hands on. Was it possible to... fix an expression set before rigor?
He doesn't know enough about corpses, either.
He doesn't know if his mother hurt, or was scared when she died. He --
"I'm just going to ask you what you need."
He can see it very clearly. What her face must be -- might be like right now. Twisted into a -- into a --
Dick's hand slides into his hair, and tightens. "Tim."
He looks up, and Dick's eyes are red-rimmed and bleak. He hadn't spent a lot of time wondering what those first few nights must've been like for Dick here, in this house. He hadn't really had the capacity to ask himself a question like that.
But he does now, and he is. Wondering.
He catches Dick's wrist in his hand, absently checking his pulse (fast, steady), and tugs until Dick's hand brushes across his face, down to his chest. When it's over his heart, he presses it flat, and holds it there.
His mother --
"Tim, please. Let --"
"Make me stop thinking. For a little while."
Dick makes a sound like he's been hit. "I... I don't..."
Tim curls his hands around Dick's own. "Please."
And for a long time, there's nothing. Just the heat of Dick's hand making his heart beat faster the way it always does, and the tension all through him that he knows will be painful if he doesn't unfold a little bit, and the knowledge that he can't.
And then Dick's other hand is on his face, turning and tilting it until they're facing each other.
"Please," Tim says again, because he has to, and watches Dick swallow, and feels Dick's hand spasm, just a little, against his chest.
And then Dick laughs, and strokes Tim's cheek with his thumb. "I don't know why I'm pretending I wouldn't give you anything," he says, leaning in close. "That I wouldn't love it," he whispers against Tim's mouth, and kisses him softly.
"Like I love you."
And this kiss isn't soft at all. It drives him right down on his back, and how had he ever thought it would be hard to unfold himself? His thighs fit perfectly around Dick's waist, and his body feels like it was made to hold Dick's weight.
Dick cups Tim's face with both hands, tilting it up and making the kiss deeper. Wetter. Dick tastes like coffee, and Tim wonders if he tastes like chocolate. If Dick likes it, and that's why he's licking Tim's mouth like this, so slowly and thoroughly. Tim's heart beats faster, and it takes long moments to remember how to breathe through his nose, and he almost wishes he couldn't.
Because sooner or later, Dick is going to stop kissing him, and he'd rather be dazed for that, or maybe unconscious.
He moans into Dick's mouth and tries to make the kiss faster, or at least last longer, and Dick shifts and grinds down against him with a sort of distracted purpose and sucks on Tim's tongue before pulling out of the kiss and breathing against his face.
"One day, I want you to tell me exactly what you want."
"But right now I'm just going to make love to you, and if there's anything you don't want me to do... if you want me to stop --"
He moans and arches up for another kiss, and Dick hums into his mouth and cups the back of his head, rolling onto his side and pulling until Tim follows. His head is resting against Dick's arm, and Dick's other hand is stroking his thigh, up and down, teasing at the waistband of the pajama pants and slipping back down again.
He pulls away again, but doesn't say anything else, just sucks on Tim's lower lip, and bites it, and sucks again. Tim tries to get more kisses, and Dick gives them to him, shoving his tongue deep into Tim's mouth and tightening his hand Tim's hair. And pushing his thigh between Tim's own and --
It's too much. It's a dozen different fantasies at once, and it makes Tim seize up inside. Because maybe this is what Dick was thinking when Tim went to 'shower,' or maybe this was just what Dick was thinking Tim was thinking, what he wanted, what he needed.
And he did -- he does. He hears himself whimpering into Dick's mouth and he's forgotten everything Dick's taught him about grace. He knows exactly how good it would feel if he could just work out a rhythm against Dick's thigh, but his hips are jerking roughly, unevenly, and even though Dick has a hand on Tim's hip, he's not really holding on.
"Dick," and he can't figure out what else to say, but it doesn't really matter, because the hand in his hair tugs, forcing his head back so far it almost hurts, and then Dick's mouth is on his throat. Hot and wet, slick with spit and moving across what feels like every sensitive place he has.
He wishes -- he wants --
"Oh God please --" Dick sucking on his throat, hard along the collar-line, and Tim can't decide if it's the feeling or the fact that Dick is very clearly not marking him anywhere most people would see that's making him crazy. It's both; it has to be -- because Dick is someone Tim thinks must know everything about the body, and because Dick is Batman... which means he knows even more.
Has to know it, maybe even more than he has to make Tim moan and beg.
His hips jerk and shake, forcing his dick to drag over Dick's thigh in uneven thrusts, and then Dick's rolling them over again and kneeling up. The tie is gone before Tim can even make his hands work enough to reach for Dick, and Tim tugs Dick's shirt out of his waistband and works on the lower buttons while Dick shoulders off his jacket and works on the top ones.
Dick's done nearly before Tim has even begun, and he drops the shirt over the side of the bed without looking away, maybe without blinking. Dick pulls his t-shirt over his head and Tim wants that skin on his own so badly he can taste it. He can --
Sit up and lean in and wrap his arms around Dick's waist again, sucking hard on the small, pink-brown nipple and --
"Tim, yes --"
He likes it, he likes the way it feels, and his hands are in Tim's hair again, holding him there. Holding him close.
Tim moans against Dick's chest because there are so many things he wants to say, because he'd have to stop licking Dick's nipples to do it, and he just can't. He doesn't have to.
Dick knows. Everything Tim wants, everything Tim needs, everything Tim is, and it isn't the first time Tim's felt naked and overwhelmed, and he hopes it won't be the last.
He slips one hand from around Dick's back and pushes it between them. The sparse hair on Dick's stomach scratches and tickles his fingertips and he wants to feel it on the rest of him. Right now. It seems bizarre and faintly wrong that he hasn't, that he's dressed now, even though he's only wearing pajamas. He tugs awkwardly on his top and Dick makes a small sound and tugs on his hair until Tim pulls back and...
Dick is staring down at where Tim's pulling on his own shirt and kneading Tim's scalp and every breath he takes is visible, beautiful. Tim can't stop looking at him, because he's used to the way Dick looks when he moves, but not when he's moving like this, when every shift and flex of muscle is because of something Dick's doing to him.
Or something he's about to do.
"I shouldn't want you naked," he says, and his voice is low and faintly hurt.
"I want you to. I --" Tim swallows and forces himself to look away so he can concentrate on his buttons. He's looking down, and so when Dick reaches to help, all he can see is Dick's hands, and how much bigger they are than his own, and how much steadier they are than his own.
Even though they aren't steady at all. Not really. There's a faint tremor -- it just doesn't stop Dick from being able to open Tim's shirt. Tim starts to shrug it off and freezes with it midway off his arms, because Dick is petting him. His hands are warm and rough and all over Tim's chest, and it feels so good Tim's shaking.
"Are you scared?" Dick's hands pause on him, palms flat to his nipples.
Dick sighs and strokes up to Tim's face, tilting it up again and making Tim look at him. "Please don't lie to me. I won't... you don't have to pretend."
"I'm not afraid of you, Dick." He's afraid of getting lost, of forgetting everything he... wants to forget. Tim smiles and cups Dick's wrists. "I didn't... I didn't think you'd feel so good."
And for a moment Dick looks like Batman, serious and dark, and his hands tighten on Tim's face. "Tim," he says, and pulls him into another kiss, lifting and moving him until Tim's spread over his lap, and shoving Tim's shirt down and off.
Tim wraps his arms around Dick's neck and moans into his mouth, louder when Dick's hands settle on his hips and pull him even closer. They're both still half-dressed, but Tim can feel how hard Dick is and he can't stop moving into it. And then Dick starts moving him, grinding Tim against him in hard little circles and Tim can't focus on kissing anymore.
He can't do anything but groan into Dick's mouth and cling to his neck and shake.
Dick pulls out of the kiss and licks Tim's mouth.
"The sounds you're making..."
"I can't stop, I -- oh God --"
Dick bucks against him, and again, and again for every grind. "I like them." The smile on his face is sharp and hungry. "You're making me so hard, Tim --"
And he thinks he might be screaming, but it doesn't matter because he's also coming. Right in his brand new pajamas, and Dick's hands are tight on his hips and --
Still thrusting against him, still holding him, and Tim's still hard. He clutches Dick tighter and buries his face against his neck and moans. His pajamas are sticky and wet against him and he can feel the soft, low sounds Dick is making. Feel them in his mouth, and he doesn't ever want this to stop.
"You... God, Tim..." And Dick strokes up his back with one hand and down again, pausing at the waistband to his pajamas. He's breathing is fast and uneven, and when Tim presses his lips to Dick's pulse-point, he can feel how fast that is, too.
He braces his knees on the bed and reaches back, squeezing Dick's hand and fumbling to push the pajamas down, and Dick groans and shoves them down himself.
"Tim... oh God..." Dick cups his ass and squeezes and --
"I -- God. Wait. Just wait..." And he pushes him away, laying him down on the bed again, but it's okay. He's only pulling off Tim's pajamas the rest of the way and --
Taking off his belt, and opening his pants and slipping off the bed for just long enough to kick everything off before crawling back on. Naked and perfect and Tim moans and moans again at the hot, slick feel of the head of Dick's dick dragging over his thigh.
"Don't," he says, and Tim has no idea what he's talking about until he feels Dick's hands on his own, where he has them digging into the sheets.
"Touch me," he says, smiling, and pulls Tim's hands back up to his own neck.
Always. He always wants -- and Dick is kissing him again before he can say it, bracing himself over him on one hand and sliding the other between them, drawing light, random patterns in the come on Tim's abdomen.
"So sexy," he whispers, and Tim groans and slips his hands into Dick's thick, shaggy hair, tugging a little.
His lips feel swollen and a little sore and he --
Doesn't care at all and has to bite them, because Dick brings his sticky fingers up to his mouth and starts sucking them clean. Dick's sucking Tim's come off his fingers, and he knows exactly what that tastes like.
"Mmm," and Dick slides his fingers out slowly and licks his lips. "I'm going to suck you."
Tim's hands spasm in Dick's hair, and he isn't sure what sounds he's making, and Dick kisses him softly and keeps kissing him. His chin, his throat, all the way down his chest, and then he's licking Tim's abdomen and -- and his dick --
"You taste so good, Tim..."
And he can't keep his hips still, not even when Dick cups them again. And not when Dick swallows him, all the way down, thumbs pressed hard to the hollows of Tim's hips and lips pressed to his mound.
It's -- he can't --
"Dick, please --"
Humming around him, making him harder, making him need even more than he already does. He thought there'd be a limit, that he'd reach a point where he couldn't want Dick more than he already did, but he knows that was stupid, now.
Now Dick is sucking him and watching him, eyes clear and blue and full of so much heat he can't think. "Please," he says again, and he doesn't know what he's asking for.
It makes Dick's eyes narrow, makes him suck harder, and Tim arches into it helplessly, planting his feet and spreading as wide as he can, as wide as Dick's taught him, and Dick moans around him and --
"Please -- please --"
He's pulling Dick's hair. He knows he must be, because it feels so good and he can't stop. So thick and soft in his hands, and Dick's mouth so wet and hot and good around him, and Tim knows he'll do anything to have this. To keep having this.
And Dick moves his hands back to cup his ass again, to stroke and squeeze him, and Tim throws his head back and tries and fails to scream. He comes gasping, and Dick swallows and swallows and holds him.
Even when he pulls off and moves, he doesn't stop touching Tim, just slides his hands back up Tim's body, up his sides and his arms until he can tug Tim's hands out of his hair and press them back against the bed, twining them with his own and leaning in for another kiss.
Dick's tongue is slick with Tim's come and Tim can't stop sucking it. He wants to taste Dick, too, but he can't make himself move, or even try to. Especially not when Dick lowers himself on top of him and starts to rock.
"Is this -- God, Tim..."
He wraps his legs around Dick's waist again and holds on tight, digging in a little with his heels.
"You like this. You want me to --"
"Don't stop. I -- I want you to come..."
Dick's laugh is cracked and throaty. "Not a problem. Not -- oh, your skin's so smooth --"
Tim gasps and squeezes Dick's hands, and Dick stares down at him, lips parted and hair hanging over his eyes. He usually keeps it shoved back, and the cowl presses it to his scalp, and Tim's thought about suggesting he cut it, but he doesn't think he'll ever actually say that out loud.
"Oh, Tim -- Tim..."
"I love you." There are other things to say. A million of them, and they're all the same, because even though his memory is good enough that he knows he'll never forget the way Dick looks right now, with his eyes so wide and full, he also knows he'll never stop wanting to see it.
And wanting Dick to tighten his hands around his own so much it hurts, wanting to hear Dick's soft, rhythmic groans every time he thrusts, wanting to feel it. Dick so hot and hard for him, holding him down and -- and using him --
"Please don't stop, Dick, please don't ever --"
"I won't, oh God, Tim, I --" And Dick thrusts hard against him and comes, splashing hot on Tim's chest and stomach and shaking, just a little.
And he stays like that for long moments, breathing hard and only gradually loosening his grip on Tim's hands.
He doesn't let go, though.
Tim watches Dick's face and tries and fails to make himself unwind his legs from around Dick's waist. The best he can do is not tighten them when Dick looks at him again.
"I should let you sleep."
"Stay. You can -- I won't --" Tim bites his lip and looks away, and doesn't clutch at Dick's hand when he pulls it away from his own.
But Dick just strokes his face. "As long as you want me to. You..." He sighs and shifts, leaning in and kissing Tim's jaw, and cheek, and forehead. Pushing his hair back and smiling at him.
When Tim breathes in, all he can smell -- all he can taste -- is Dick and sex.
It's even better when Dick reaches over him and turns off the bedside lamp.
Tim pushes his face against Dick's throat and closes his eyes.
His training is nearly all physical these days. It has been for a while -- Dick seems to think that he's been ready intellectually for quite some time -- but the focus is narrowing more and more.
He seems to have a hit a limit with the gymnastics, and most of the time he's just on the equipment to practice the moves and routines he already knows by heart. To stay sharp.
The strength and stamina training has also moved into maintenance levels. For the most part, his life as Robin-to-be is focused on doing the background work Dick needs to be Batman -- he's just better on the computers -- and... sparring.
It feels like cheating. It feels --
Dick knocks him on his ass nine times out of every ten, and he has just as many new and healing bruises now as he did when he started, but it's so good that Tim isn't sure how he'll keep from grinning his head off when he's actually fighting criminals.
Beating them, Dick assures him.
"Are you sure you don't want to get more training from someone else?"
When he isn't very, very clearly doubting his own abilities as a teacher. Tim smiles ruefully to himself and spins the staff through an arc that allows him to keep his back and shoulders as limber as possible.
"I just think --" The shuriken fly at Tim's face.
He knocks five away with the staff and dodges the sixth. "Yes?"
Dick frowns to himself and makes a 'come on' gesture, blocking and moving quickly, liquidly around Tim's attacks. "You're good. You're very good. But --"
Tim catches Dick on the foot and keeps moving while Dick backflips out of the way and -- dammit -- towards more throwing weapons. "Bruce -- Batman -- trained you."
"I don't know everything he did -- if you aim closer to the base of the knife, you can control its back-flight."
"Got it." He fakes a blow at Dick's left knee, another to his right shoulder, and forces himself to fake the looks-like-it-would-be-perfect headshot, going for Dick's ribs and -- getting blocked. "He doesn't -- didn't -- know everything you do."
"Faster, move. The staff isn't your --" Dick ducks easily under the batarang and grins.
"It isn't my only weapon."
"It sure as hell isn't, kid. Lose it." And Dick's voice is all business and his eyes are anything but.
Tim tosses the staff and gets his right hand back fast enough to block Dick's first hit. The second lands hard, and Tim twists away from the third. He gets his left down for more batarangs and gets them knocked away before he even gets them fully out of the belt, but he gets off a toss with the right, scattering slingshot pellets on the ground and dancing back fast.
Dick launches himself over the pellets, but Tim has enough time that the tackle doesn't hit square. He's spun instead of dropped, and he gets in a good chop to Dick's back.
If he had better reach, it would be a kidney blow. He doesn't, yet, and the follow-through of Dick's pounce leads right into a somersault. He follows, and Dick's kick jars the hell out of his arm even through the gauntlet.
"Staff lost or broken?"
"Broken," Dick says, and Tim blocks another kick with his numbing right arm and knows he won't manage a third.
"It's a really good staff."
Another grin. "Best material Waynetech can provide without having clue one about what they're making it for -- how bad is the arm?"
"Find out," he says, and makes a point of throwing a punch with the bad arm. One he knows won't hit. "How's that going?"
"I think I will," Dick says, and Tim doesn't need to be psychic, or even that good, to know that the lion's share of Dick's next blows will be to his weakened right side.
So he attacks. Gets in as close as he can to minimize the reach disadvantage and pays for it with two shin-kicks and too many body-shots to count.
"Good instincts," Dick says, and Tim barely manages to dodge a head-butt that would take him out of the game. "And Lucius has taken to making polite inquiries about whether he can have Bruce shot. I can't say I blame him."
Tim manages to knee Dick in the thigh and tries to keep his breathing steady. "You haven't told Lucius that you have power of attorney."
"I'm planning to avoid that as long as possible," Dick says, and slips easily away from a punch. "I don't want it."
You didn't want to be Batman, either, he doesn't say, and manages to get another batarang out of his belt. And barely manages to move before Dick can knock it away again. "WE can do a lot of good," he tries.
"So can we," Dick says, dodging Tim's slash and pinning his arm.
Tim tries for another punch and Dick catches his wrist and squeezes. And looks at him.
They've been training for hours, sparring for most of it, and Tim's dick is heavy and hard behind the armored jock. Nearly as impossible to ignore as the heat in Dick's eyes.
"Later. I --" The kiss is wild and fast and wet and perfect, and Tim moans into it, pushing as close as he can with his arms trapped and held.
The kiss is also much too brief.
"Later," Dick says and lets go, stroking Tim's chest and pushing gently.
And then just stroking the 'R.' His expression shifts to one of open calculation, even though the heat never leaves it entirely. Tim raises an eyebrow.
Tim can't keep his breathing steady anymore, and he doesn't try. "Are you --"
"I'm just as sure as you are," and Dick's smile is rueful. "The training won't stop -- it never stops, not really, but..."
Tim catches Dick's hand before he can pull it away. And holds Dick's gaze until its steady again. Dick squeezes his hand and leans in to kiss his forehead lightly. And then wraps his arms around him.
Tim's almost sure the hug is more for Dick's benefit than his own, but one, he really doesn't mind, and two...
"I spoke to some doctors out west."
"Your father," Dick says, and hugs him tighter.
"I don't want to get your hopes up, Tim, but... they've worked with a lot of patients who've been in comas, and. I. I know I should've asked first, but --"
Dick squeezes him again and pulls back just enough to look Tim in the eye.
He hasn't really thought about it. Not as much as he could. He visits after school, and tells his father's body secrets he never would've been able to tell the man, and then he goes home.
Alfred drives him home, because Alfred always seems to know when Tim has decided to visit.
Probably because those are the days he doesn't just head straight back to the Manor. And Dick is searching his face, and Tim thinks he knows what Dick's looking for. Dick wants him to be happy.
"Thank you," he says, and smiles.
He is happy.
He loves flying.
It's the first thing he noticed, and the thing he keeps coming back to. For all the work he'd done with the jumplines in the Cave, it's absolutely nothing compared to how it feels when he's outside.
When it's real.
The grapple sounds different when it hits brick. It sounds different when it hits different kinds of brick. And the air carries the echoes differently depending on fast the wind is blowing, and whether or not the streets are packed with buildings, and whether there are other sounds.
Or a lot of sounds.
He has to work to keep from grinning constantly, and he isn't even remotely close to complete success. Not when his momentum carries him fast and low over a crowd of teenagers, not when it carries him right into a mugger's face.
Dick follows close when he's not guiding, a shadow among shadows, and he'd actually forgotten how much he loved watching Dick work. He'd only had a few blurry photos and grainy tapes, and then he'd had the training, but this...
Tim's suit catches the eye, the attention, and then Dick sweeps in from above and it doesn't matter. Not their knives, or their guns, or their raw numbers.
Dick always leaves him one or two, but it's abundantly clear that he is leaving them for him.
He doesn't know how Dick ever thought he could be anyone but Batman.
He doesn't think he'll ever be able to stop being Robin.
He grins again, helplessly, and scatters a double-handful of vials in the sewers. A quick glance over his shoulder shows him Dick with one of the dealers -- the one they'd left conscious -- up against the wall. Lifted up on his toes with Dick's gauntlet around his neck.
He can't hear everything Dick's saying -- the Batman voice is in a much lower register than Dick's own, and the sound doesn't carry unless Dick wants it to -- but he doesn't really need to.
Information. They deal in it as much as they do in fear, and superstition, and heavily-stylized weaponry.
He bites back yet another smile and focuses on watching Dick's back, and opposed to focusing on the wind on his face, and the way the domino blocks it all out, the way it feels to be out here, in the night. Part of the night, and --
He catches motion out of the corner of his eye and strikes without thinking. The staff makes a small, clear thok sound on the dealer's skull, and he goes right back to sleep.
Tim hears Dick pause in whatever he's saying to the other, but it's only for a moment.
He really has to get it together.
It seems like it would be easier if there were more people around to hit, but --
Dick's hand on his shoulder, pointing up. There's a hint of a smile on his face, and Tim grins right back.
And keeps grinning, because he's flying. Again, and when he looks over his shoulder, Dick's dealer is zip-stripped and has 'Arrest Me' written on his forehead in permanent marker, and when he looks forward again, Dick is swinging high and hard.
Too hard, and he worries for just long enough to see Dick let go of the jumpline and turn a double somersault. The cape swings and flares wide for a second, blotting out the city lights.
His landing is even better than Tim's perfectly normal one, of course, and by the time Tim tucks his grapple-gun away, Dick is moving back towards him and grinning.
"I can feel how excited you are!"
Tim blushes and looks at the roof. "I --"
Dick claps his hands on his shoulders and shakes him a little. "Don't you dare be embarrassed. It's wonderful, Robin."
Robin. Every time Dick calls him that his heart beats faster. He looks up again, and the white-out lenses on Dick's cowl gleam in the streetlights, making his expression wilder. Exhilarated.
"God, I'd forgotten..." Dick squeezes. "I used to feel just like you do, you know."
Tim thinks of that double-somersault and smiles. "Used to?"
"Well, I..." Dick laughs, short and honest, and squeezes Tim's shoulders again. "All right. The way I feel right now." Dick leans in closer, and his smile is narrow and sharp and happy. "And you know why. Don't you, Robin?"
"Batman," he says, and his voice is low and needy to his own ears.
Dick shivers. "I never thought having someone call me that would... right." He lets go and takes a deliberate step back. The wind has a strange humming sound. "Come on, Boy Wonder. We have to -- wait right here a second."
Tim blinks, and he's about to ask, but there's a blue and red blur headed straight for them, and Dick sets one hand back on his shoulder, lightly and almost casually. There's a smile on his face, and the blur resolves into...
"Superman! What can we do for you?"
Superman's landing is soft and strangely quiet, considering the speed at which he was moving. Tim thinks about the files Bruce had left behind. "The sort of power that's only comprehensible in its details and symptoms." He blinks again, glad for his mask, and thinks about shifting to be a little behind Dick.
But Dick's hand is still on his shoulder, and Superman is looking right at him. X-ray vision, he thinks, and, Superman has a very wide, white smile. Tim's not entirely sure what he's supposed to do.
"Well, you can introduce me to your Robin, for a start."
His Robin. Tim probably shouldn't already like him.
Dick smiles over his shoulder at Tim and gestures. "Of course. Superman, meet Robin. Robin, keep breathing."
Tim blushes hard and offers his hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Superman."
Superman smiles even wider. His hand is hard and warm, even through Tim's gauntlet, but the handshake itself is very gentle. ("Surprising, admirable control.") "You, too, Robin. I haven't seen you around before."
"I... it's my first night."
"Then I picked a great time to visit." He raises an eyebrow at Dick. "Or did I?"
Dick smiles easily. "It's always good to see you."
Superman looks like he's thinking about hugging Dick. "B -- er. The first Batman --"
Dick laughs. "He knows. Believe me when I say he knows." Dick ruffles his hair. "He knew our secret identities before we knew he existed."
The look Superman gives him is still friendly, but shrewd. Perhaps it's the one he uses when he's being Clark Kent, investigative journalist. "Another detective? Bruce must be proud."
Dick's hand slides to the back of Tim's neck and tightens. "Actually..."
"I haven't met him," Tim says.
Clark frowns, but he doesn't look surprised. "I have to say I was afraid of that."
Dick sighs. "We haven't seen him since... well."
Clark nods, slowly. "I have, but I don't think there's much I could tell you that you don't already know."
"How is he? Both of them."
Tim doesn't think Dick knows he's rubbing the back of his neck with his gauntleted thumb. It's cool and ticklish and it's not the only reason he's having a hard time standing still.
Superman's smile is rueful and aimed at both of them, but is clearly for Dick. "Bruce was always protective of his Robins. Of... well, you remember. I had to enlist the help your Commissioner Gordon in order to meet you, and as for Jason..." Clark sighs. "He was sleeping when I arrived, and Bruce didn't exactly let me stay long."
"Did he... how is he?"
"As far as I can tell, he seems to be recovering well. I managed to find one of his physical therapists. One who didn't mind not being precisely ethical -- I'm sure Bruce has had her fired by now -- and she said he'll have full use of both of his arms and his left leg eventually. The right, they're still not entirely sure about."
Tim watches Dick stare at the roof from the corner of his eye, and thinks about the footage he used to have of Jason flying. He was broad, and heavily muscled, even though he wasn't that much older than Tim.
"His eye --"
"We know," Tim says, so Dick doesn't have to. Dick squeezes the back of his neck.
Superman nods again, and looks at Dick so closely that Tim wonders if he's using the X-ray vision on him. The way he'd probably used it on the door to Jason's room. "As for Bruce..."
"It's hard to say?" Dick says, and gives Superman a small, humorless smile.
Superman gives it right back. "I've known him for a long time. I've never..." Superman frowns at his boots for a moment. "His number one priority right now is taking care of Jason. And I think it would be the same if it were you, Dick, but... it's also different."
"Bruce is very close to Jason," Dick says.
Not for the first time, Tim wonders how close. Batman needs a Robin. And Superman is nodding.
"I asked him when he was planning to come back. I -- the JLA could use him, and I know you and Alfred must --"
"He's not coming back," Dick says. His thumb is very still on the back of Tim's neck.
"I... he didn't say --"
"Whatever happened in Ethiopia..." Dick shakes his head and finally lets go of Tim. Tim watches Dick pace, and watches Superman watching. "I think I gave up on getting the whole story about that months ago. No one's seen or heard anything about the Joker and..."
Tim watches Dick hug himself and wishes Superman would leave. And then he moves close to Dick anyway, folding his hands beneath his cape to keep from reaching out.
"I... I think it would be a bad idea to give up hope, Dick."
It's interesting. He's far enough away from Superman that he can feel the chill in the air again. He hadn't realized he'd stopped feeling it. It's an excellent reason to move that last half-step closer to Dick, especially when his hand settles on Tim's shoulder again.
"I haven't given up hope at all, Superman," Dick says, and strokes Tim's shoulder once, again.
Tim looks at Superman, and for a moment he's absolutely sure he's looking right through the mask, and he does his best to school his expression to blankness.
"No. No, I suppose you haven't." And Superman smiles again. "And you know you're supposed to call me 'Clark.'" He gives Tim another one of those shrewdly friendly looks. "Both of you."
Tim feels Dick smiling at him, and watches Superman lift off. Clark.
"Hey," Dick says. "You okay?"
Are you? But he won't ask that just yet. Later. He smiles instead. "Did Bruce really make him go through Commissioner Gordon before he could meet you?"
Dick grins back. "I'm pretty sure Bruce was assuming he wouldn't."
"Hm. It's always a mistake to underestimate people."
Dick snorts. "Well, we wouldn't want to make mistakes. C'mon kid, let's go ruin someone's night."
Dick shoots his line and Tim lets himself watch him fly. Just for a moment.
And then he flies, too.
The doctors say his father must have woken up somewhere between four and five a.m. At that point, he and Dick had been in the warehouse district. Still on patrol.
Which could've been problematic, but, in cases like these, the unspoken protocol is to wait for several hours. False awakenings are fairly common.
This one wasn't.
His father had woken up, and lain there in the semi-darkness, confused and trying to reach the call button. This isn't speculation -- the confusion was entirely to do with waking up in a strange bed with his last clear memory being of falling down. In Haiti. By all accounts, his mind is clear.
His body... there are still a great deal of questions. The physical therapists had been called in as soon as his father was stable, and they had worked diligently to keep the atrophy of his muscles from being too severe.
No one is entirely sure how much of the paralysis will fade over time.
He's sleeping now. Again.
A part of Tim's attention is focused securely on the EEG, but his father's brain activity appears to be perfectly normal.
Dick would be sitting right next to him if Tim hadn't asked for time alone. As it is, Tim can feel him just outside the door. Feel him moving, waiting, hoping.
"He wants you to get better, Dad."
His father is still on respirator, and will be for at least a little while longer. His breathing is loud, even, and faintly disturbing.
"For me," he whispers. "Because he wants me to be happy."
His father is very thin. It's noticeable even with the sheets and blankets covering him to the neck. His hair has much more grey than it did the last time Tim saw him before he left for the Caribbean with his mother.
His mother is approximately seventeen miles to the west, with an angel over her head.
"I don't know what I want."
It's a terrible thought, or at least it should be. He's devoted much of the past year to becoming Robin, and Robin is all about helping people. Saving people. Saving other people's mothers and fathers.
He should be happy about this.
And he is. It's just...
He's also devoted a great deal of time to coming to terms with the 'fact' that his father was just an empty shell, lost to him in some theoretical afterlife, and hopefully with his mother. And so the fact that he was actually trapped in this body the entire time is horrible, and the fact that he's not, anymore, is wonderful.
He's just terrified, too.
Sooner or later, his father is going to get out of here. Maybe he'll be walking, probably he won't. But he will get out, and then he'll go home, and they'll call Mrs. Mac back from Ireland, or maybe there'll be someone else.
And he'll expect Tim to go with him.
And Tim will...
Well. He'll have to go.
He'll be fourteen soon, but fourteen isn't eighteen, or even sixteen. And he's reasonably sure even asking to stay with Dick at Wayne Manor -- even looking like he wants to ask -- will raise the sort of questions that can't be spoken out loud.
Even if they don't have anything to do with the fact that Tim Drake's perfect, pristine bedroom at the manor hasn't been slept in for weeks.
Not since the fact that it's closer to the Cave than Dick's own had briefly become vitally important. Tim smiles to himself, and stops when the beeping of the EEG gets erratic. He watches the graph being drawn and... breathes again.
The patterns are suggestive of REM sleep. His father is dreaming.
Perhaps of Tim's mother.
He's not sure if his father knows she's dead, yet. He's going to have to tell him. He's...
He and his father have never been close. Alfred has been far more of a parent than either of them ever were. And yet. Tim's not... unmoved when he looks at him. He's not just a stranger.
He's the man who ruffled his hair, and brought him gifts from strange places. Artifacts that should have, by rights, been in museums. He's the man who always smelled faintly of cologne, and he's the man who'd insisted on taking him to the circus, even though his mother had thought he'd been too young.
"You gave me this," he whispers to the jerky, rhythmic rise and fall of his father's chest.
Even though he'd never meant to. Even though he'd almost certainly want to take it away, if he knew. And for a moment Tim feels queasy, hot prickles of not-quite-sweat all over his skin.
There are studies showing that people who wake up from comas often remember a lot of what was said and done around them when they were in the coma.
How much had he said?
Tim balls his hands into fists, and tries not to think. Tries to meditate, the way Dick had taught him. He needs a clear head for this. He needs to have a clear head by the time his father wakes up again. He...
The footsteps outside the door get louder, and louder, and louder before pausing. Clack, clack, clack stop. He knows those footsteps, he knows that rhythm, but it still feels ominous. He's being irrational.
He swallows around the pound of his heart and waits for Alfred to join him.
And then waits for him to speak.
His father is still dreaming.
"I'm afraid you've missed your chance at the execrable pap this institution chooses to refer to as 'lunch,' young sir."
Tim feels the corner of his mouth twitch. "I'll find a way to survive."
"Indeed. You could, of course, come home for a little while...? An hour or two, perhaps."
"I should stay."
Alfred makes a non-committal noise.
Tim watches his father breathe.
"It would not be especially outr for one to feel... conflicted, in a situation like this one."
Tim nods, and crosses his arms over his chest. And listens to Alfred sigh.
"I have not mentioned this -- for any number of reasons, really -- but you remind me quite a bit of Master Bruce."
"When he was young?"
"A year ago," Alfred says, and there's a dry, quiet smile in his voice.
Tim blinks, and files it away with everything else he doesn't quite understand about the man who wore the Batsuit first. Alfred shifts beside him. Out of the corner of his eye, Tim can see him brushing what would probably turn out to be a microscopic bit of lint from his lapel.
"I mention it now because I've found myself considering the nature of self-sacrifice. There is, I believe, a certain seductiveness to martyrdom. The sort of thing that would appeal to the heart of a kind, noble young man." Alfred looks down at him, and the dry little smile is lurking at the corner of his mouth. "Or that of an older one, for that matter."
"I'm not sure what you mean."
Alfred raises an eyebrow. "Hm. Just this, Master Timothy: there are any number of ways in which one can sacrifice oneself for the good of another. I think you've learned quite a bit about those ways which prove... mutually beneficial for both people involved."
"I..." Tim feels himself blushing. "It's not a sacrifice. Not... it's not."
Alfred makes another non-committal sound and, mercifully, turns his attention back to Tim's father. "Be that as it may, the fact remains that you -- neither of you -- had to choose to allow your relationship to... progress as it has. You simply chose the path which, I presume, is most agreeable to you both. The path which I daresay has allowed both of you to get the most out of the relationship."
Tim wonders if there's a subtle way in which he could start doing their laundry, and tries not to swallow his tongue.
"The fact remains that you do not, necessarily, have to choose a path with your father which would be entirely... unsatisfactory."
"I... he's not going to let me stay with you, Alfred."
"Perhaps not." Alfred looks at him again, and his eyes are dark and clear and very, very sharp. "However, you have proven to be quite a resourceful young man over the course of our acquaintance. I do not doubt that you, should you put your mind to it, could find another path entirely.
"And you will not be alone."
Tim swallows. "I think... I think Dick might think I'd be better off with my father."
Alfred's smile is just as sharp as his eyes. "I have a great deal of experience at guiding young men away from... questionable ideas. Why, I seem to recall a time when one young man in particular found himself mired in the absurd idea that another young man wouldn't, in his time of need, prefer his company."
"I knew you had a hand in that."
"Hm. I've always found you to be a wonderfully perceptive young man, Master Timothy." Alfred sets his hat on his hand, and tilts the brim just so. "Now then. There is but little the two of us can do about any of this at the moment, and so I find I must recommend that you do your level best not to brood about it overmuch."
Tim smiles, helplessly. "I'll try."
Alfred heads for the door, and pauses with his hand on the knob. "Know that I have no intention of losing your presence in our lives, Master Timothy. There has been entirely too much of that sort of thing already."
"I... thank you, Alfred."
Alfred smiles back at him over his shoulder, and nods. "We live to serve."
The tunnel still smells of the construction materials used to build it, and the drafts from the Cave make his heart seize up with the smell of home whenever he unlocks the hidden door in the basement.
The tunnel connects Wayne Manor to his father's house perfectly. Technically, theoretically, it's all one exceptionally large and oddly designed building. Tim tells himself this a lot.
Mostly at times like these, when they're all in the living room. He, his father, and his father's nurse. Cheryl.
She's the latest live-in, and will probably be the last. His father's health is improving by the day, and the physical therapist -- the Winters woman -- sends glowing reports.
Cheryl's still needed, though. His father can usually only manage one meal a day completely on his own, and by the evening his hands tend to be unsteady enough that he needs help to do things like drink his tea.
He doesn't want Tim's help. Tim has...
It's one of the things he feels more than a little guilty about. Being with Dick has taught him a lot about the benefits of occasionally showing your feelings in ways others can't help but pick up on, and he'd made a conscious decision to show his discomfort at helping his father with this sort of thing.
Combined with his father's own pride...
He relies on Cheryl -- and Ted before her, and Enid before him -- to help him with the little things, while Tim pretends not to notice, and occasionally shows discomfort.
It's not really a lie. His father had been a vigorous, healthy man. The man he'd looked up to for a long, long time. It is uncomfortable to see him like this, even though he's getting healthier by the day.
It's just petty, and nothing he'd normally do if the choice were entirely his own, and perhaps more than a little beneath him.
It's also convenient.
More often than not, it's his father who sends him to spend time with the 'friends' Tim is, presumably too embarrassed to bring home.
More often than not, he can feel his father's discomfort when they do spend time together like this, all of them ostensibly watching the news, none of them watching each other. He's afraid of doing something clumsy, or embarrassing.
It's interesting and terrible.
He's not entirely sure whether it would work this way if their relationship had been better before the Obeah Man, or even if it had been his mother who'd survived instead. Because his father had also once been the sort of man who was far more concerned with getting what he wanted when he wanted it than with anyone else's feelings -- including those of his son.
He isn't, anymore. He has made it abundantly clear that he wants nothing more than for things to improve between them, that the thing he regrets most is his... neglect of Tim throughout Tim's childhood.
He wants Tim to be happy.
And Tim is using that.
He doesn't get to spend the night at the Manor anymore -- not unless his father is doing one of his periodic overnights at the rehabilitation center -- but he spends a great deal more time there than here.
There, or on the streets of Gotham with Dick at his side.
His life has changed very, very little.
And while his father's health is improving, to the point where it's possible that the weakness and paralysis will be entirely gone one day...
Tim's not worried. Not about that.
He's studied a great deal of psychology for his work as Robin, and, while his father is no Arkhamite, he's also far more human than they are. The careful awkwardness, the distance he's cultivated, the assumptions he's allowed his father to make about the sort of person he is... all of it is lingering. Will linger. What Tim began the first time he allowed himself to frown when his father reached for his hand, the first time he let a conversation his father started end in uncomfortable silence...
Even when his father is healthy again, he almost certainly won't have any degree of confidence about what he can and can't do about their relationship.
His father won't be in his way.
He swallows, quietly, and tries to pay attention to the talking heads. It's the half-hour allotted for 'in-depth' reporting, which means there won't be any breathless reports or blurry footage of himself or Dick that he'll have to be careful not to react to.
Sometimes, he wonders what things could be like in this house, this unofficial wing of Wayne Manor, if he hadn't...
If he'd taken his father's heartfelt promise to be a father to him, and allowed himself to hope for it, to try for it. Chances are, the tunnel would've been built, anyway. Alfred is very determined, even if Dick still believes Tim has a chance to make it work with his father.
Chances are, he'd still be Robin. He'd just have a little less time, and a lot less freedom. He wouldn't be able to have that time with Dick when neither of them are being anything but themselves. Those moments that already feel stolen.
He'd have to give that up, to at least some extent, and... he can't. He can't.
Dick isn't his father, and neither is Alfred. They're both so much more than that, infinitely more, and have been nearly from the beginning.
In the end, he'd be choosing to give up a sure thing in his relationships with them, in their honest, open care for him for...
For a man who was never his father in more than name.
Jack Drake wants Tim in his life. He might even need Tim, a little.
But Gotham needs him more.
And Tim needs the other side of that quiet, drafty tunnel.
In the end, it isn't a difficult choice at all.
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Author: Te [email] [website]
Details: Standalone | NC-17 | *slash* | 101k | 06/10/04
Characters: Tim, Dick, Alfred, others
Summary: Tim makes his choices consciously, permanently, and thoroughly.
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