Straight on 'til morning
July 22, 2004
Disclaimers: They belong to so many people who aren't me that it's not even funny.
Spoilers: Of varying strengths for "Sins of the Father," "Old Wounds," and "Return of the Joker."
Summary: Three things that might have happened to Tim Drake.
Author's Note: A direct result of whining to Livia about having too many bunnies.
Acknowledgments: To Livia, Jack, and LC for audiencing, suggestions, and encouragement.
from everything that I am
His dad is away a lot, sometimes for days at a time, sometimes for more than that. He always says it's business, and his mom used to say that, too, but sometimes, now, she says other things.
Most of the time she doesn't, because she doesn't say much about his dad at all unless he says something first, and Tim kind of knows that he isn't supposed to. She's tired all the time, because the cold she has isn't really getting better, and sometimes talking about his dad just seems to make her worse.
He hates it that she's sick, because she can't go out and do her own work (and he's never really been sure what that is, either, and sometimes he thinks he should ask, but he's always pretty sure he shouldn't), and he's kind of hungry.
This isn't the first time they've been short on cash, so he's used to it, but it's annoying to have to put things aside for later when he's not full now, and it kind of...
It makes the world sharper, like the knife you always forget to watch out for at the bottom of the dishpan. The one you forget about. It's winter, too, and when it snows he can kind of get a little lost on the way the snow falls, a little blind from where it sits on the streets -- at least until it's dirty again. He runs in the snow until he stops being cold, and until he's mostly too tired to think.
He's also pretty sure his mom should be eating more. The school nurse had done a whole thing about nutrition, and how if you didn't eat enough vegetables you could get really sick, and lose your teeth like the pirates did.
His mom was already missing a few teeth, though she'd just laughed when he asked if it was because she didn't eat enough vegetables, and ruffled his hair, and smacked him on the back, and told him to go play.
She doesn't laugh much anymore, because it makes her cough.
She says the customers don't like it when she coughs, so she has to try not laugh too much, so don't make mommy laugh, Timmy. It seems like.
It doesn't seem like it's right. But then, a lot of things don't. Not the neighborhood they live in, and not the way Dad sometimes comes home from his business and still doesn't have any money, and not... he knows he's not supposed to think about that, because even though he doesn't tell anyone what he's thinking, they can always tell.
Usually because he's gotten into a fight.
And it's not like he gets into fights with just anyone. Just the people who aren't... right. Because you don't have to pick on people and make their lives bad just because you're upset.
So he makes them upset... which makes the teachers upset, and dammit, Timmy, you know we don't have time to go to your school every time you get in trouble so he doesn't do it.
He tries not to do it.
Any of it, because the thinking leads to the doing, and he winds up wandering, because he can't get in trouble for the things he doesn't get caught for, and Gotham is huge, huge.
He's already ten and he still hasn't seen all of it, even those times when his mom has to stay out all night and his dad isn't around and he rides the trains until someone catches him.
Mostly they don't catch him. He's quick and he's small and almost none of the transit cops look under every seat. People are slower at night.
He watches the sky a lot, because most people also think that Batman and Robin are myths, but he knows better. Back home, there's a batarang -- a real batarang -- under his pillow from the time he actually saw them, and they were fighting the bad people, too, and they won and they didn't even get hurt.
And they left the batarang behind, and sometimes Tim wishes he could be sure which one of them had thrown it, but it doesn't really matter, because both of them had to have touched it sometime.
They just had to.
He's not supposed to talk about that, either, because it makes his dad mad and mom says they never did anything for them, anyway, and she gets mad, and when she's mad she coughs and frowns and goes far away, even if she doesn't leave their apartment. The sickness makes her go away a little, too. Just... go, and it scares him so, so bad.
Scares him like he's little kid -- that scared -- because sometimes when his dad is gone and his mom is working, he looks around and he realizes how easy it would be for them to go away and never come back.
And he likes his home, and the way it smells like his mom's perfumes, and his little wall of articles about Batman and Robin, and the way if he curls up just right, his bed holds him and cradles him, and he likes other things, too.
It's just that he isn't sure if he'd like it so much if he was all alone here.
He tries not to think about that, either.
Sometimes it seems like there are too many things that people either don't want him to think about, or that he doesn't want to think about. Like maybe his brain is a secret enemy that no one ever told him about, as scary and bad as... as the Joker. And even though that doesn't really make any sense, Tim can still feel it, and he wonders if other people are like that.
If their thoughts get in the way, or if maybe other people can think anything they want.
He thinks that maybe there are places that are supposed to be like that, but a lot of things are supposed to be true that aren't.
There's a girl at school named Naomi (Tim thinks it's a pretty name, and sometimes when Naomi smiles he thinks she's pretty, too, and he's never ever going to say that), and her mom had something called pneumonia (he looked it up, but he doesn't know all the words from the definition yet), and she said her dad came home early from his job at the packing plant every day until her mom was better.
And she was impressed by that -- he could tell -- but she wasn't all that impressed. Like it was just something dads were supposed to do, as opposed to Rachel's dad, who had disappeared when they were in kindergarten and who no one ever saw again.
As opposed to...
Sometimes when he comes home these days, his mom is in bed with all the covers pulled up, even the ones from his bed, so he has to curl in with her as much as he can, even though it's hard to sleep there.
Her breathing isn't right.
And he wants to ask when dad is coming home to help take care of her. But he won't.
"Stevie?" His mom's voice is cracked like ice, like the plate dad superglued back together, the one that's still rough on his fingertips when he touches it.
"It's just me, mom."
"Timmy," she says, and it sounds like a sigh. "You're a good boy."
The air was always bright
Tim loves the weekends so much that there aren't even words -- just this sweet, pounding rush all through him. Thanks to Bruce (and Gray's Anatomy), he could probably track it through his entire circulatory system.
The paff of Bruce's grapple registers before the shift in his body, his cape -- like always. He's always been better at 'watching' the world with his hearing than anything else, and Bruce hasn't tried very hard at all to train him out of that.
Too many of the Arkham freaks and geeks can do things with what you see, and Tim's been working hard to "turn the weakness into healthy suspicion."
He fires his own grapple and follows, watches, listens.
He likes it. He likes the training and he likes the fact that Bruce does his own. That he could bench a handful of Tims at once and still thinks he could -- should -- do more. That he thinks Tim could do the same, and that he's not gonna stop until Tim can.
It's Friday night and the pretty little private school Tim Drake -- ward to Bruce Wayne -- attends is a memory, an illusion, a curtain ripped through ten thousand years ago, and he's Robin, he's Robin.
And he's flying.
They're a little northeast of where they're supposed to meet Batgirl, and everything's quiet. Not quiet like the Manor, where you have to concentrate just to hear the pound of the tide on the rocks below, but Gotham quiet.
Car horns and music and voices that aren't screaming or crying anymore than they should. Behind him -- and he could point, if he wanted to -- the signal is still lighting up a cloud, and will be until the job is done. There's no reason to let tonight's freak -- Riddler, and whoever he'd conned or paid into working for him -- know when they've gotten the call, or when they moved to answer it.
Sometimes it's like these guys think it takes an hour for them to answer Gordon's calls, and they look so surprised when he and Batman show up right away.
Sometimes it really does take an hour, and those are the nights when he comes home stinking of other people's -- the wrong people's -- blood and so many layers of new, old, and older sweat that he can't tell the difference.
When Bruce looks at him like he can't believe he's there, until Tim makes a point of proving he is.
Tonight is Friday, and midterms have kept him off the streets for a week, and he's too primed to sweat. Just a shiver all over his skin that makes him shoot too high and swing too hard, so that Bruce is a steady hard presence next to Babs by the time Tim tumbles out of the air.
She's been hunting since the word came down that Riddler escaped, and, by Tim's calculations, she'd only missed her shot by a couple of hours before the clues started dropping and the game show hosts started disappearing.
She's prowling the roof, crackling with all this energy, all this fire, and she's showing her teeth in something that's only a smile to people who think they know her. Bruce is all folded up in his cape, waiting, because --
"Sorry, Batman, I should've known the quiz kid angle was too easy, and --"
Tim plants himself on a corner of the roof, balancing on his toes, digging them into the head of the gargoyle and waiting, listening. In the beginning he didn't really get it -- this. That almost guaranteed window of time for one of them to spill down all the not quite necessary things that are going to lead up to them causing serious physical damage to people.
It didn't seem right, it didn't seem in character. But he gets it now -- it's about him. It's about what he can learn from Batgirl's mistakes, or Nightwing's when he works with them.
When he makes them.
And it's about the fact that now that he's here, they can have hunters on the ground, almost all the time. They didn't need the signal this time for more than a chance to rendezvous with Gordon.
And that's... it's wild and scary and so insanely right to so many parts of him he can't even breathe. Sometimes they don't need Gordon for more than what he does to keep the heat off their cases. It's not that Tim doesn't like him -- he's pretty cool for a cop, and everything Babs says makes him sound like that sugary little myth of the good father.
It's just that he hated cops before he knew what they were. Back when his mom was healthy and his dad was flush and his 'uncles' always came back from jail bigger and badder than when they'd gone.
It doesn't matter that everything they'd ever told him was lies, and that his whole life before this was just that -- a before picture.
("Emotion can be more powerful than truth. For some.")
And Bruce had given him that Batman look, that you-know-what-I-mean look that's all about the fact that Tim's got a new way now, a new life and new set of rules to follow that all make perfect sense.
"Next time," Bruce says to Babs, and every ounce of his focus is on the skylight on the building opposite. The old building, with old-fashioned glass that's just glass, that shatters so fast when Batman's boots hit it that the shards barely glance off Tim's own.
Fly-specked light globes flying past his cheek too fast to see, and Babs is smiling now, really smiling, because the guy she's kicking looks just like the description she'd e-mailed to the Cave about a suspect that she didn't have any proof about, but who she just knew was involved.
His back finds Bruce's own fast, perfect like it always is, and his body doesn't know the moves behind every flex of armored muscle, but it will.
Shik-clik-clik and his staff is out, extended, spinning, and the thugs are all the same, the faces all the same.
That one has his dad's cornered-rat snarl and that one's clever little lock-picking fingers break like twigs when he gives the staff just the right flick, and --
Bruce ducks, twists, kevlar-lined cape sweeping over Tim in a rush of black, and they're moving, dancing through the gunshots that make the air taste like pepper and machine, and the hostages yell and bleat like animals, even after he breaks off from Batman to knock them safe to the floor.
"Untie me, kid --"
"Don't just leave us here --"
And they're all the same, but that doesn't matter because it's just right, too. The grin on his face when he says, "kinda busy now, gimme a sec," and the way he knows that the only reason Bruce still has his back to him is because he knows Tim will do the right things.
Every last one of them.
His own cape is short, but there's enough kevlar in it to keep the blow-dried game show types relatively safe -- or at least quiet -- and.
As much as he loves the cape -- and it was all he could do not to sleep in it when Bruce first gave it to him -- he loves being without it, too.
Red and black and free and naked, and Babs hears his footsteps and crouches down --
(and he dreamed last night, dreamed his lover was waiting for him, beckoning him with low, rumbling voice like the earth, like the world, and all he had to do was strip down, strip down to the skin and the fat and the perfectly-labeled muscle and the bone)
- letting Tim vault over her back into the dimness, the gloom. Because all of these places have some big, dark place where the bad guys -- try to -- disappear.
Oh, sometimes he thinks he might love Riddler, because Nygma's scrawny and weak and he never takes the opportunity to work out when he gets put away, so once Tim knocks the tricky little cane out of his hand, it's just cake.
Every kick Bruce has taught him like a flash in his brain, lighting up the only part of the world that matters, every pathetic little whimper like the wrongest, bestest sex, and then it's just him, and the uppercut no one ever had to teach him, and every last pound Alfred's cooking and Bruce's training has put on him.
And Nygma goes down with a gasping, meaty thud, and if he stands on the guy's neck for a little too long before getting out the cuffs, well, he had to kick him over onto his side, didn't he?
It's safer that way.
And it's all fading a little, sinking back into his veins and everything else, that low, throbbing hum that can't decide between celebrating another victory or being angry that there's no one left to punch.
It might still be early -- no, his time-sense is probably completely screwed by the adrenaline. That's the way it always works, and when he checks his watch he gets nothing like joy.
Just because Batman stays out to patrol until the world is pink and orange with dawn doesn't mean he can.
And just because he knows it's 'yet' doesn't stop him from itching. From... sometimes he spends a long time looking at the unconscious bad guys and wondering if his bat-tazer could work like a defibrillator. Because it's possible, right?
But it's too late, anyway, because Bruce says, "Robin," and it's time to drag Nygma out of the gloom and back to the rest of his crew. Dead weight. Bleh.
He gets out just in time to see Babs calmly finishing the job of releasing the hostages, and equally calmly smacking one of them hard.
Bruce says, "hm," which tells Tim all he needs to know about whatever the guy had said, and gives him an excuse to kind of... snicker off some of the vibrating tension under his skin.
"I'll sue!" The guy says, and Babs rolls her eyes and then looks at Bruce and becomes just Babs again, just that fast.
"Batman... I... kind of have to."
"We'll finish here," he says, and then she's gone. Tim likes watching her run. When she's not running from or to anything in particular, it's like she's just dancing very quickly in a very specific direction. He moves closer to the ex-hostages, just so he can try to catch the smell of her shampoo over all the cordite.
It's less about strength of sensation than contrast and... yeah. He's hard as a rock under his armor and he needs... really badly.
Batman's voice is suddenly high and nasal and wrong, and when Tim looks over his shoulder he's talking into one of the unconscious guys' cell phones. Calling it in, which means they're leaving --
Now. Thank God.
They shoot their grapples and move up and out through the busted skylight, and Bruce says,
"Autopilot. Four south, two west."
And by the time they get down to Twelfth the Batmobile is waiting for them, purring and growling like it can hear everything in Tim's blood. Like it understands.
Tim rolls his head on his neck and hops in, and Bruce buckles himself in and looks at Tim. There's a pause, and then his nostrils flare just a little, and Tim's mouth is dry, Tim's mouth is going to be dry right up until --
Bruce pulls out with a screech of tires and they're moving, heading for the back roads well before they have to, and then opening up with the kind of speed that slams Tim back against the seat like hands. He can't help but struggle against it, a little. Bruce has both hands on the wheel.
It feels like a tease.
"Where's Babs going?"
"She didn't say."
Tim rolls his eyes. "I know that, but I also know you know."
The corner of Bruce's mouth twitches. "And you don't?"
And... okay, fine. It's not like it takes all that much thought. Nightwing wasn't with them tonight, even though they all know that Dick was spelling Babs on the Nygma hunt. So either they didn't manage to talk about anything and Dick was back to being angry, or they did and...
Dick was off somewhere preparing for, like, a date.
"Hunh," he says, and sniffs his gauntlet. Blood. "You think they'll work it out?"
"Mm," Bruce says.
And that's all he's going to get, even though he's pretty sure Bruce understands them better than he does. He's known them for so long. He has to know why they're both so...
There has to be a reason why they don't just patrol together, and keep patrolling together until they're both so revved up that Babs has to throw Dick over a gargoyle and Dick has to...
He thinks about buckling the extra restraints. The ones that'll press right up against his jock until he's hurting. He opens his tunic instead, rubbing his nipples through his t-shirt and watching Bruce's mouth tighten and tighten.
They blur through the hologram too fast for Tim's eyes to register the difference -- again -- and the canopy pops and the bats screech and there's a tray with coffee and milk and cookies. The coffee's hot and the milk's cold and there's no way that Alfred doesn't pay just as much attention to the police band as they do.
Tim grins and unbuckles his belt, moving up and out and thinking 'chocolate,' and then Bruce's fingers are digging in between his collar and the back of his neck and yanking. "Hey --"
Bruce sits him down hard on the Batmobile's hood, warm and sleek beneath his ass. Tim flips the tunic the rest of the way off and says,
And Bruce says "yes," and opens Tim's belt and lifts his shirt and pauses, for just a second, before planting his palm over Tim's sternum and shoving.
Down on his back, and the stalactites reach down and try to scratch him, try to get him, but they can't, because Bruce has him, yanking down his shorts and tights and squeezing him through the jock before yanking that down, too. "Yeah --"
And he watches Bruce watch him as he scrambles up further on the hood until he's resting against the windshield, until he can get plant his boots and spread his legs, and Bruce moves so fast. One hand -- gauntleted and cool and hard -- wrapped around Tim's dick and the other on his face, petting his mouth before shoving in with two fingers.
Tim moans around them, tenses and tries not to thrust into Bruce's fist, into Batman's fist, because his eyes are narrowed and angular and the white-out lenses just burn right through him.
Into him, and Tim bites Bruce's fingers and --
Whimpers. Hard. A lot. The gauntlet tastes like plastic and guns and smoke, and the other one has him, thumb rubbing over and over the head of his dick, and Tim knows he's got about thirty seconds before it stops being an incredible tease and starts being the thing that's going to get him off.
He moans when Bruce pulls out and scratches at the finish on the hood with his own gauntlets, and he can't really get a good hold so he has to keep using his feet, the tread on his boots. Keep working, and it just makes it better.
And even better when Bruce says "Tim," like it's another word for sex, or food, or air, like the way Tim can't stop saying "Bruce."
Here or out there or even upstairs, when they're just in the study, because Bruce is, and he can't get enough.
It's an empty place that just keeps getting --
God, in him, two fingers. Slick with his own spit and so hard, harder than anything should be, unless it's Bruce. Unless it's --
And Tim hears himself yell and rocks himself back on Batman's fingers, again and again, and coming feels like an afterthought, because he can't stop. Clawing at the hood and needing more, so much more, and Batman only pulls out for a terrible, meaningless heartbeat before he's in him, cape falling over them both and breath hot and humid against the chill of the Cave.
Over him, in him, holding him steady and holding him still, and Tim reaches up and wraps his arms around the cowl.
And everything in him hums and screams for the more that he's getting.
That's all his, from Nygma's blood on his gauntlets to the scream of bats. From Bruce's soft gasps to Batman's relentless, perfect rhythm, driving him back against the windshield and making him choke on one scream after another.
He's never letting go.
Something in my own place
He hates that voice so, so much. Because it's the voice of Batman being sad, and every time he's heard it it's been because something crappy has happened. Dead people, lost people, no-hope people.
Bruce uses it all the time now.
And he can mostly ignore it, because the bad stuff is over. Because he's back home at the manor where he belongs, and his blood tests have tested clean of toxins the last three times in a row, and because the Joker is --
Because it's okay now, and Bruce always takes longer to figure that stuff out than other people do. And as soon as he can find wherever Bruce stored his uniform, Tim can start helping Bruce figure that out.
The Cave is huge and cool and filled with so many things -- Tim gets distracted. The colors. The green of the dinosaur and the copper of the penny and Dick's old suit and the dozen monitors going at once, and his eyes just skate past them, like he can't quite take it all in yet.
It's been much too long.
He's going to fix that, too.
He feels Bruce moving behind him as he passes by the Case again and... stops.
The suit's too... and that's not.
Bruce's hands are on his shoulders. Both of them, when he hadn't even gotten the two-shoulder job for his Dad, or for Annie, and --
"Tim. I was planning to talk to you about this tomorrow morning."
"I." Tim blinks, and blinks too fast and too much. "I. I didn't quit."
"No," he says, and tugs on one of Tim's shoulders until Tim turns to face him. He's crouched down in front of him, and the cowl is pushed back from his face and --
"I didn't quit and I'm not --" Tim bites his lip. He was yelling, and sometimes it's hard not to, but it's not like yelling ever helps with Bruce. So. "Do you think I'm out of shape? I've been practicing -- I mean. I couldn't do much at the hospital, they kept watching me, but --"
"It's not that." Bruce's eyes are blue and -- and soft.
And the thing is, he has to be careful now. Sometimes, when he tries to frown, when he thinks he's going to frown, it doesn't come out that way at all. Sometimes his face does things it's not supposed to, even though the toxins are gone, even though there's nothing like... that anywhere but his dreams.
But he can manage it.
It just doesn't matter with Bruce, because Tim knows Bruce can see him fighting anyway. "I'm better now," he says, and he knows it sounds like pleading.
"Yes you are," Bruce says, and that doesn't matter, either, because Tim can hear the, "but Gotham isn't. Gotham's worse, and I... I can't let you go out there anymore. It's... I was wrong to --"
The smile snakes across Tim's face before he can stop it, the stupid, wrong, too-wide smile that the muscles of his face are just trained for now, and Bruce winces and Tim swallows it back with a grunt of effort. "I'm not going to make a mistake like that again. I went over and over it, Bruce. I know it was just... I know it was like you said, where sometimes I give the victims too much credit, and I'm not careful, but I know better now --"
"Tim. I can't risk you getting... hurt again. I can't let that happen --"
"You didn't let this happen, Bruce! You didn't --"
Bruce's hands tighten on his shoulders, and it's the same as an order. Tim hisses a breath between his teeth and stands quiet, stands quiet and still and waits and pretends he can't feel the laughter trying to bubble up the back of his throat. Maybe it's just vomit. That happens sometimes, even now.
And when Bruce strokes his cheek Tim doesn't flinch, because at least Bruce is still wearing his gauntlet, and because he'd missed it. He -- "I missed you, Bruce. I missed this."
Bruce nods, slowly, but his soft, soft eyes don't change, and holding his face in this position, keeping it normal feels like trying to lift weights with his skin, or something else impossible.
But he can do it. He can.
"I don't think... you should live here anymore, Tim."
No, he can't.
It's not as bad as it could be.
Once upon a time, he'd marked every calendar Alfred gave him for the weekends when he could go visit Dick, marked them because he could, because seeing the big blue squares around the dates was just so...
He didn't have words for it, not good ones. Saying it was like having Christmas several times a year assumes one hell of a lot about the kind of Christmases he'd had before he'd gone to live with Bruce.
And now he lives with Dick.
The thing is, he'd never wanted that, even when... even before, because he wanted to live wherever Batman did, and then he had, and even if sometimes he'd wanted to stay with Dick for a little longer, he'd never wanted to live there.
Dick's loft is nice. Full of light. 'Airy' is what the magazines would call it, and it is. There's gymnastics equipment right there, and he can use it anytime he wants to, and there's no Alfred to periodically box up his GameStation and hide it. It's right there, in front of the TV, where it belongs.
There's no Alfred.
Nightwing keeps his stuff behind a hidden wall. There's just not enough of it to require a whole cave. No real trophies or anything.
Dick never opens the wall in front of him.
Dick hasn't opened the wall in a long time. Too long.
Sometimes he thinks about...
But he doesn't. Because he wouldn't ever steal from Dick, and borrowing doesn't... he still has the batarang. The same one he's had from the beginning. Scratched up and chipped and recovered from Dumpsters a dozen times and washed thoroughly much more.
He'd gotten over not washing it even before.
Sometimes, when Tim can't sleep, he stands in front of where the wall would open, and he looks. He doesn't touch anything, he doesn't move, but Dick always wakes up anyway, and those are the nights when they wind up on the couch, and Dick says,
"I meant it, you know, you can talk about it," and Tim says,
"I know," and they wind up watching whatever old movie is showing on cable until dawn.
Sometimes he just stares at the wall anyway, whether he'd slept the night before or not.
He doesn't have any idea how Dick is...
He doesn't even have a job. He writes up book reviews for fun, sometimes, and he works out, and he reads and watches television -- except for the news, only Tim watches the news -- and he goes to museums and sometimes he goes to the same stupid playboy events Bruce goes to, except not the exact same ones, because Tim watches the news, and it's always "Richard Grayson attended such and such" or "Bruce Wayne dazzled whatever," never both.
He doesn't have a job, he's a professional rich guy, and now he's not even working.
And sometimes he wants to sneak into Dick's bedroom in the middle of the night and hit him with a lamp, because how could he... how could he even --
So most of the time, Tim doesn't say much at all to Dick, unless Dick says something first, and how, exactly, is this supposed to be the better choice?
Sometimes the laughs feel right on his face, and in his voice, and the doctors -- still the damned doctors -- say that it's right, that it's a sign that he's getting better (he is better), but Tim isn't so sure.
Tim's kind of...
So he does his own stupid, meaningless shit, and Dick's tutoring means that he's almost all the way caught up with school again -- yay. And he's playing Moon Raider 2300 when the door opens.
Dick's back from the store, carrying about six bags.
From experience, Tim knows that at least five of them are filled with anything and everything any of the others remember about what he likes, and that there's probably even --
"There's a few more in the hall, kid. Get 'em for me?"
Tim nods and does it, and they put the groceries away, everything but what Dick absently snags out of his hands.
He's not a detective (anymore), but it looks like Dick's planning on having pasta tonight. Good enough. Dick doesn't make his own sauce the way Alfred does, but he always manages to doctor the stuff in the bottles up so much that it tastes like he does.
Tim checks to make sure that everything non-pasta-related is put away, and starts to head back toward the television.
"Shit," Dick says, and he sounds...
Tim pauses and turns. "What is it?"
Dick grins at him ruefully, the look that always seemed so subtle when he was wearing his mask, but now is huge, huge all the time. "Sorry. I didn't even ask you what you wanted for dinner."
And that's just... Tim's learned that if he bites the inside of his lip hard enough, he can keep his face from shifting without his permission almost all the time. So he does it, and when he's got it under control, he says, "you don't have to. All the time." It's your house.
Dick shrugs. "Yeah, but --"
"Dick," he says, and he tries to put everything in it. It's his "I don't want to talk about it" voice, and Dick should know it by now.
"I just want you to be comfortable here, Tim," he says, and not even biting his lip is enough.
Not even biting the outside.
And then Dick is moving, and he's got one hand on Tim's shoulder and the other in his hair, and he's saying "hey," in that soft, soft voice that he hates, hates so damned much, the voice all of them use with him, like he's going to break.
"You don't have to do this. You don't have to buy my favorite foods and tuck me in at night and... and fucking not be Nightwing. I'm not a cripple and I'm not your cripple." And he's yelling, and yelling is one of the triggers, the ones that call the laughter out of where he's stashed it.
Anywhere he's stashed it, because sometimes it doesn't matter, sometimes it comes out no matter what.
So he bites his lip until he tastes blood and watches Dick watching him, and waits for him to let go.
"You know, for someone really invested in convincing everyone else that he's better, you're not doing the best job."
"Fuck you," and he slaps Dick's hands away from him. He tries to.
He couldn't do it before and he hasn't had so much as a spar for a year, and sometimes Tim thinks about the shocks, and how they'd go on and on, until he was screaming, until the only reason he knew he was screaming was that his mouth was open, until he couldn't feel anything but how close the end was.
How close the end would be, if he just gave up.
Sometimes he wishes he'd given up.
He stares at the floor and holds still, waiting for Dick to loosen his hold on his wrists. When Dick lets go, Tim lets his hands fall to his sides.
And looks up. Looks Dick in the eye and says, "sorry."
Dick snorts. "No you're not. You never used to lie to me."
He never used to have a reason to do it. Tim crosses his arms over his chest and looks at the floor again.
"What you used to do is laugh --"
"And talk. And do this really great impression of a kid who was alive."
"So I fucked up. We knew that. That's why... that's why he fired me."
Dick sighs, long and breathy, and when Tim looks up again, he's running his fingers back through his hair. It's getting longer in the front. His hair was never really practical for what they did -- what they used to do. Now it's just wrong.
"Look, Dick, can we not have this conversation?"
"I think we have to." And the look Dick gives him says 'sorry,' and actually means it.
"Stop." Dick holds up a hand. "Just... stop a minute, okay? You've been giving Bruce a run for his money in the uncommunicative bastard sweepstakes, and I've been dealing with that, because..." He shakes his head. "Look, first off, nobody thinks you're a 'cripple.'"
That's just so funny he thinks he wants to kill something. Else.
"Nobody thinks you fucked up." Dick holds his hand up again. "Seriously, I asked. You know I went to the Manor back when you first moved in, because you keep better tabs on me than... anyone. Ever."
Tim nods. Waits for it.
"You know Bruce and I... you know we've had a lot of problems, and this... you. Him benching you was one of them. Is one of them, because his decision to take Robin away from you didn't have anything to do with you, at all."
Tim blinks. That isn't... "But I messed up. When I was talking to him. I couldn't... I couldn't keep control."
Dick nods slowly, and smiles again. "No one can blame you for that. I used to look at you, and how happy you were, and wonder whether Bruce was drugging your food. How you ever managed to put up with... how you managed, because you were so..." Dick ruffles his hair, and Tim takes it.
"You still are, you know. I believe that. I think you spend so much time scared of dredging up some ghost of the Joker --"
"No, let me. And... okay, no, don't let me. Christ, I have no idea what I'm doing."
Tim hugs himself a little harder. "You didn't have to take me in."
"I know that, okay? I wanted to."
"It's okay to change your mind --"
"I haven't changed my freaking mind!" Dick's glaring at him, and he looks... it would be absolutely, wonderfully, perfectly familiar if Dick just had his mask on. And then he laughs, and scrubs his hand back through his hair again. "I haven't changed my mind, okay? Just... let me try this again?"
"Bruce benched you because he's scared. Shit-scared of something happening to you that you won't recover from. He's looking at you and seeing a corpse, and he's blaming himself -- because that's what he does for everything but what he should be blaming himself for. And it has nothing to do with you."
"But... if he's afraid of me dying, then he's afraid of me messing up."
"Listen to me." Dick's hands are on his face, thumbs tracing his cheekbones hard until Tim meets his eyes again. "Even if you're one hundred percent perfect every day and every night from now on, you're still human. There's a bullet with your name on it, or maybe a knife, or maybe the freaking car Croc throws at you. Or at Bruce. Or at me. Or at... at Barbara."
Tim frowns. "But that's... that could happen -- it could've happened any time."
Dick strokes his cheekbones again and smiles a twisted little thing that Tim knows from the back. "Funny how he's just figuring that out, hunh?"
"Then why aren't you letting me? Since you know... so much."
"Because you're not better. Because I haven't seen you let a smile sit on your face for more than half a second for over a year. Because you're not ready --"
"-- and because there's nothing you want more than going back out there and being Robin."
Tim blinks again. "What... are you insane? Of course there isn't anything I want more! There isn't... there's nothing --"
"Listen to me. Please."
"There's a whole world out there. There's... God. You wouldn't watch anything but CNN if I didn't steal the remote out of your hands every few days. You haven't read anything but your textbooks and whatever criminology and abnormal psych books you can get from the library since you've been here. You eat whatever I put in front of you, you go to school, you come home and work out until you pass out, and then you have nightmares until you wake up, at which point you stare at my fucking suit like it has all the answers in the universe.
"And that has to stop."
Tim breathes, and keeps breathing. Because he doesn't want to say... there are a lot of things he doesn't want to say, and all of them have to do with the fact that just because Dick apparently hated his life as Robin and will be bitter until the day he dies is no reason to think that it's abnormal for Tim to want it back.
He doesn't want to say any of that, because Dick didn't have to take him in, and he sure as hell doesn't have to keep him, and he doesn't have anywhere else to go.
Bruce doesn't even want to see him. Bruce...
Suddenly, he can see it, like he did in the nightmares he used to have. When they got back to the Cave in the boat, and the hatch opened, and Alfred was there staring at him, but Bruce didn't make a sound, because Bruce was dead before he was even Bruce, and there was nothing...
He used to be so scared.
So, so scared.
"Tim? Are you... you're kind of zoning out on me."
"No, I'm not."
He looks at Dick, just as aware and focused as he can be, and it makes Dick pause. "I want to be Robin."
"That's not --" Good enough, he doesn't say. He takes another breath, instead. "Why is it so important to you that I want... other things?"
Dick gives him another rueful smile and turns to the cabinets, pulling out the pasta pot and a saucepan and starting to get things ready for dinner.
"Yeah, I know. I'm just figuring out how to say it."
And Tim's just... he's tired. Of this. "Just say it."
Dick slams the sauce bottle down hard. Hard enough that the cap pops, and then he looks back over his shoulder at Tim. He isn't smiling anymore. "I used to look at you and see myself when I was your age. You knew that, right?"
Tim shakes his head.
"Well, I did. I remembered how much fun Bruce and I used to have, and how happy I used to be, and I was just waiting for it to all get fucked up for you, too."
"Yeah. Heh. I kind of caught that. No matter what bullshit he pulled, or how much bullshit I pulled, or how many times he'd disappear for a week with the League, or whatever. You never complained. You never even looked like you wanted to complain."
Dick puts the water on to boil. "Caught that, too. And I figured it out. At least I think I did. Wanna hear that theory?"
"Do I have a choice?"
Dick's smile is narrow and knowing. "Now there's the bitter ex-Robin I've been waiting to see."
"I'm getting there." He chops the garlic and other vegetables for the sauce with deft quickness, and there are times when Tim offers to help cook solely to feel a knife in his hands.
And there are times when he doesn't offer to help solely because he can't... he doesn't want to.
"When I was a kid, before I was Robin, I had a mom and a dad who loved me. I had a hard, busy life, but I loved that, too. I got to fly. I was never hungry, and I had everything I wanted, pretty much, except for my own alligator. Funny how my parents thought that would make a bad pet."
Tim grits his teeth, and bites his lip reflexively. He doesn't actually feel like laughing. "What's your point?"
"Do you really have to ask?"
Tim thinks about throwing the chopping board out the window. He thinks about how heavy the lamps are. He thinks about gunshots and he isn't sick. "You're just pointing out that Robin is the best thing that happened to me. I knew that already. I don't --"
"Tim. Look at me. Look at my life, okay?"
"What life? You --"
Dick flicks the knife out of his hand, letting it bury itself in the kitchen wall before grabbing Tim's shoulders. "That's my point. Robin was... I loved it, and I love Barbara, and I love you, and I will always love Bruce, no matter how much I want to beat him with a two-by-four, and it was still one of the shittiest things that could have happened to me. Because of who I am.
"And I figured that out, you know? I..." Dick's eyes are wide, and focused on Tim's, and just a little desperate. "It was what I wanted when I was a kid, but there's a reason sane people don't let kids make major life decisions. And I quit, and I traveled around the world, and I went to school, and I sat down and asked myself what I really wanted out of my life, and then... and then I came right back here and made myself a new suit."
"Because it was what you wanted."
"Because it was the only thing I knew how to want."
Tim narrows his eyes, and looks down at himself, and feels his stomach lurch, a little, because he didn't realize he was still hugging himself, and because he can't actually stop. "I don't. I."
"I look at you, and I realize maybe I wasn't so wrong in thinking that we'd wind up having a lot in common." Dick's smile is twitchy and rueful. "I just picked the wrong things."
"I... I want to be Robin," Tim says, again, and there are so many ways to hate yourself.
"I know. I know. And I want to be Nightwing, because then I don't have to think about anything but whoever's doing something terrible to somebody else, and no one can look me in the eye unless I let them, and, when I get home, I'm always tired enough to sleep through the night. God, Tim, just..." Dick tugs until Tim lets go of himself, and then he crouches down and wraps his arms around Tim and holds on.
His hair smells like shampoo and he's warm, and he's Dick, and it isn't fair that it feels the same as it always does. Like another part of the acceptance and home he doesn't have
Except he supposedly does.
Tim hugs Dick back because... because he has to, and breathes him in.
"You think I'm not being Nightwing right now because I'm trying to protect you. You think that I think you'll wig out or run away if you see me with the suit on. I know you do, because I would, too."
"But it's not about you. God, I..." He squeezes Tim tighter. "I'm trying to figure all this stuff out, too, okay? I'm... fuck." Dick's laugh is just as harsh and ugly as anything Tim can manage these days. "I'm using you just as much as Bruce ever did. More."
That probably shouldn't make Tim feel better. He knows what Leslie would say. He can see it on her face, but Leslie isn't always right. No matter what Bruce thinks.
What any of them do.
So he hugs Dick tighter, and feels Dick exhale, like Tim's done something he needed him to do. "You want me to... want something more than I want Robin."
Dick sighs, and strokes his back. "I don't know if that's even possible. For either of us. But I know we should probably try to find out."
"And if I still want it?" Need it.
Dick cups the back of his head and pulls back until Tim can see him smiling, and how his eyes are perfectly serious. "Then I'll make you a Robin suit. Or you could just be Nightwing."
Tim thinks about smiling back. Thinks really, really hard about it, and (bang!) doesn't.
But he doesn't let go, either.
The tuxedo is new. Tim's grown a whole inch, and the Dick who'll spend a day walking around in ratty cut-off sweatpants is, somehow, the same Dick who'll drag Tim to a tailor and throw rolled-up tape measures at him when he whines.
Still, he doesn't mind going with Dick to these functions, not really. It's been long enough that only half the random, useless people ooze sympathy at him about his 'terrible ordeal,' (because there's no one left to contradict the story about Joker kidnapping Bruce Wayne's ward for money, as opposed to Joker kidnapping Robin for... that.), and anyway it's for Dick.
Between the insurance money and how Lucius has been investing it all these years, the Grayson Foundation is actually pretty respectable. It's no Wayne Foundation, but Dick also isn't Bruce.
Dick actually does this stuff, every day. And Tim goes with Dick to the community centers, and sometimes he stays even when Dick doesn't.
He knows the kids -- better than Dick ever could, and when he does get home, sometimes Dick is still surrounded by paperwork, barking orders into the phone or wheedling contributions or zoning permits out of people.
He hasn't said it to Dick, and he isn't sure how he'd even start to do it, but it's good to see him doing something, see him moving, and see him finding something he likes.
Because as much as Tim used to love seeing Nightwing show up when he was on patrol, he's had a long time to think about it, and to admit to himself that it was also always kind of stressful. Even on those times when Bruce wasn't there.
This is... better.
And it's kind of fun to be the poster child for just how good Dick can be for kids, even if he does spend most of the night trying not to choke on the smirk behind his face. The smirk looks a lot like Dick's, but at least it's real, and honest, and not... that.
And sometimes Leslie comes with Alfred, and seeing Alfred is always, always good, and Leslie... well, if sometimes he can't get past the idea that he was her patient, it's never her fault. Tim's not her patient on nights like these. He's just one of the kids she knows, and her smiles are neither professional nor fake.
Her smiles can be... weirdly triumphant, but he gets that. She thinks she saved him, and that he, in turn, saved Dick. She thinks she'll save Bruce, someday, and then no one will ever be violent except for the crazy people who'll eventually kill everyone else, or just make them wish they were dead.
Tim toasts her with ginger ale, and mingles, and thinks about leaping from the balcony and catching a swing on the curtains, and it doesn't hurt much, at all, because he knows it's the sort of thing he would've loved doing before.
It doesn't all have to do with what he doesn't have, and sometimes, when he wakes up in the middle of the night...
The night is just the night, and the hidden door is just another white wall, and he likes artichoke hearts, and every lemon-flavored candy ever made, and juggling things that should never be juggled (like, say, Dick's collection of obsessively organized CDs), and Humphrey Bogart movies, and the constant search to find video games loud and offensive enough to blow out even Dick's speakers.
It's a challenge.
He likes a lot of things that have nothing to do with beating the crap out of people, even people who sincerely deserve it.
Sometimes he makes lists, and it doesn't matter how many passwords he puts them behind, Dick always finds them, and looks at him, and asks the silent question, which Tim answers the way he always does: It's not enough.
But he thinks, maybe, that it isn't the point.
Dick's sparring with him again -- that's the point.
At any given time, if he asks the other silent question, Dick will give him the suit that Tim's not supposed to know has been ready for months -- that's the... other point. One of them.
The Joker's in his head, and in his dreams. The city calls to him with eight million voices. He's never going to get over it. Not any of it, and he's never going to be the kid Dick remembers again, and he's maybe never going to find anything that feels as good as digging his heel into the neck of some thug and making him say 'please.'
"Anything interesting?" Dick's grinning at him with his eyes over a glass of champagne, and his ponytail is long and sleek. Some debutante or another has flipped it over his shoulder, so that it hangs down the right lapel of his suit.
Tim yanks on it. "What do you think?"
"I think it's probably cruel and unusual punishment that I don't let you drink at these things."
Tim nods solemnly, and smiles when Dick laughs.
The point is... the kid he used to be had something that was enough, but that kid doesn't exist anymore, and so maybe nothing really could be enough anymore. There's nothing he's scared of more than putting on the suit and going out and still having this empty place, this stupid need, this voice in his head that sounds like Bruce's but doesn't touch him. Doesn't ever. So he hasn't asked.
The point is that even if he's never really happy again...
He kind of has to keep trying.
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Fandom: Other (Gotham Knights)
Title: Straight on 'til morning
Author: Te [email] [website]
Details: Standalone | NC-17 | *slash* | 49k | 07/22/04
Characters: Tim, Bruce, Dick, Barbara
Summary: Three things that might have happened to (the animated) Tim Drake.
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