He was too late--again. Cursing softly, he dropped to one knee in the dark, hot alley next to the bleeding drug dealer. The neat bullet hole in the center of the man's forehead told him it was futile, but he still had to check for a pulse. Slowly rising to his feet, he called it in.
"Renegade?" came the knowing voice on the other end of the comm link.
"It's not your fault,'Wing."
He didn't answer, simply shut down the link and looked up, past the crumbling brick building he was standing next to, past the gargoyles high atop it, to the moon. Across it the symbol of the bat flew, and he said a silent prayer that his father wasn't being signaled to the scene of another atrocity caused by his no longer deceased son.
Heavy hearted, yet needing to know, he tapped back on the link and asked Oracle what was up. He was relieved to hear it was just a bungled burglary by the Mad Hatter, and that Batman had released him from patrol for the rest of the night.
Ten minutes later, he slipped through the window of his apartment on the top floor of a building high enough that only someone in the penthouse of Wayne Tower could see him, and peeled off his mask before hitting the light switch.
He wasn't surprised to find Robin curled on the couch asleep, but he didn't like the sight of the fresh bruise mottling the skin of his upturned cheek. He liked even less the discarded black 'R' shuriken that sat on the coffee table, revealing who had hit the kid.
What else Renegade had done to the youngest Bat, Nightwing wasn't sure he wanted to know and as he was trying to come up with a plausible lie for Batman, Robin woke up.
Jason dropped into a crouch as the seventeen year old knuckled his eyes and winced at the pain in the bruised one, then reached out and brushed his hands over the boy's messy hair. "You okay?"
Tim's eyes slid away from his older brother and he sat up. "Yeah, just needed a place to crash."
He always came here rather than going home...after.
"You gonna tell me what Renegade did to you?"
Snorting, Jason rose and went to get some ice. "We both know better than that. Just tell the son of a bitch 'no'."
"Maybe I don't want to," came the quiet reply.
Tossing Tim an icepack, Jason shook his head in dismay. "Tim, you gotta stop this. He's playing with you to hurt Bruce."
As the kid placed the ice on his eye, his lower lip came out in a militant pout, and the other young man rolled his eyes. "You can crash here for the rest of the night--just let Babs know so she can tell Alfred." It was what he always said, because he couldn't force Tim to go home and face Bruce.
"Don't thank me, little brother. Just think about what our demented big brother really wants, okay?"
Not expecting a response, Jason headed to his bedroom for a shower. It had been a long night and he really hadn't planned to spend it thinking about what Dick and Tim were doing between trading blows.
Or why Tim craved their elder brother's attention so much.
Crouched atop a twenty-story building, one arm lazily wrapped around a stone gargoyle, Renegade watched the sun break the horizon, burning dimly through the mist that had settled over the city during the night. As was his custom, he'd wait for the first rays to hit him, then he'd retreat to his lair for hopefully dreamless sleep, before the night came again and he'd start all over. Fingers playing over the worn face of the gargoyle, he thought over his schemes, the various steps towards achieving his admittedly nebulous goal, but his mind kept drifting back to earlier in the night, to those brief moments of pleasure with his baby brother.
He wasn't certain what was better--the kid's cries of pain or his groans of lust.
"You ever going to learn to stay away, little bird?" Renegade made a tsking noise and flicked a drop of blood from the finger of his glove.
"No," Robin panted, refusing to lift a hand to the oozing cut above his mask. He started to push himself to his feet, only to be knocked down by Renegade's foot on his chest.
"We're not done."
Renegade smirked and reached down to yank the boy to his knees. "Never said we were. Fight then fuck, right kiddo?"
Letting Robin slip away, Tim growled and dug his fingers into the wrist of the hand on his shoulder. "Not this time, Dick."
The smirk left in an instant and Renegade's lips tightened. "Don't call me that." Another hard blow knocked the boy to the side, eliciting a sharp cry, cut off only by his inner will.
Tim winced as the pain around his eye deepened and he wanted to remove the mask but knew he couldn't. Rooftops were too vulnerable to spying eyes.
He also knew that wouldn't stop Dick from doing whatever he wanted to because Dick--Renegade--didn't care who saw what.
The icy hard voice resumed. "Now, if you don't want the shit beaten out of you, get back on your knees and use your mouth for something other than saying stupid shit."
"No." But, not liking the vulnerable position on his side, Tim did rise back to his knees and wasn't surprised to find Dick closer to him, his crotch almost in his face. The bulge there was a cup, but behind that...
Tim knew intimately what lay behind it, and felt his own cup grow tight.
Fingers slid into his hair, pulling his head back, and eyes behind opaque lenses met. The humor returned to the older man's face and he murmured, "Let's give the old bastard a show," before grinding Tim's face against him.
The memories making him hard again, Renegade adjusted himself and wondered if the Bat had seen anything. The chances were actually slim, but you never knew where the son-of-a-bitch had his spying eyes.
Still, if he had seen, Robin was in deep shit, because after the initial scuffle, the kid hadn't put up any fight, and while giving him a really good blowjob Robin had used his free hand to jerk himself off. And the sight of the kid's cock half-hidden by black briefs, cupped in black leather slicked with pre-cum had made him come even harder and faster than usual.
Renegade had capped the encounter with his youngest brother by pissing off the middle one--executing a dealer on his patrol route only minutes ahead of him. Nightwing was just too damn predictable, and he'd watched from the shadows as Jay's face had flushed with helpless anger.
He was still surprised that the second Robin had taken up his name in his memory. They'd never been all that close--but while the Nightwing name had meant something to him, he'd only had it for a year and it hadn't been as important as Robin.
One more thing never to forgive Batman for--giving away the name his mother had called him.
Feeling a spurt of melancholy coming on, Renegade rose to his feet and stretched until he felt the faint sun attempt to warm his seemingly perpetually cold body, then brushed aside all memories and headed for home.
It didn't matter who had what name now. He was Renegade, and Robin and Nightwing were just names.
His brothers, on the other hand, were his to play with until his revenge against their bastard of a father was complete.
However that might happen.
After awakening from hazy bad dreams, it took Tim nearly a full minute to remember where he was. Blinking into the dim light, he slowly sat up and rubbed his stiff neck. Jay needed a better couch. Wincing at the ache in his cheek and around his eye, he rose to his feet and stretched, before carefully prodding at the swollen skin. Even without looking, he knew he wasn't going to be able to hide it. His patrol reports hadn't mentioned any injuries and it was too late to doctor them.
Jay was right--this needed to stop.
Heading for the bathroom for a quick shower before school, Tim acknowledged the problem, though.
He really didn't want it to stop.
Sitting at the breakfast table drinking his third cup of coffee and ignoring the toast and melon, Bruce scanned the patrol reports from his two proteges, a frown deepening on his face. Nightwing had missed Renegade again.
On the other hand...
There was a time gap in Robin's report. A gap he'd tried to cover with travel time, but Bruce knew Gotham better than the back of his hand and a good twenty minutes was missing. Twenty minutes that could have put him in Renegade's path before he'd gone on to kill the dealer.
This wasn't the first time it had happened, and, as Bruce thought back, each time had ended with Tim spending the night at Jason's apartment. Four times in the last month alone.
Perhaps the boys were commiserating together, but Bruce doubted it. They had plenty of conversations and arguments here at the Manor about Renegade.
No, something else was going on with his youngest and in his gut he knew it had something to do with his eldest. His agile mind began to lay out possibilities, all the while his heart ached for all his sons and he unconsciously prayed that he wasn't losing Tim to the darkness that had claimed Dick.
Sitting in an outdoor caf‚ drinking an iced cappuccino, Jason skimmed the tabloid headlines, snorting lightly at the one about him and the triplet flight attendants.
As far as he knew Suzette didn't have any sisters, although she'd had the stamina for three.
Wondering how pissed Babs would be if he asked her to check flight attendant work rotations so he could get laid, he didn't realize he was no longer alone until the table rattled. Lowering the newspaper and folding it shut, he frowned.
Dick grinned back at him, bright blue eyes twinkling with dark mischief. "Hey, bro."
"Here to turn yourself in?"
The older man laughed and waved over a waitress. "You're funny, Jay." He glanced up at the woman. "Coffee, black, none of that girly crap he's drinking." After she nodded and left, he turned back to his brother. "So, how was Timmy this morning."
Jason decided to play it cool, keeping both hands around his coffee cup and away from any of his communicators or the handcuffs in his back pocket. "I didn't see him."
The eyes narrowed but continued to twinkle. "He stayed with you, though. He always does...after."
"After you kick the crap out of him and rape him, you mean?" He was insanely proud he managed to keep his voice level for that comment.
The twinkle fled and Dick's lips twisted into a snarl. "I have never..."
Cutting him off with a wave of his hand, Jason snapped, "He's barely seventeen and you hurt him."
"Fighting runs in the family," Dick replied smoothly. "Since he's usually catching me doing something he considers illegal, he feels the need to attack me. If he didn't, we'd get straight to the really incredible sex."
Jason felt his cheeks flushing and anger flooded him that he couldn't control himself better than that, doubling when Dick snickered.
"You jealous I didn't go for you?"
"Were you this sick before you died, perv?" he snapped back.
"It's not like any of us were raised as brothers, Jay. Hell, I barely knew the kid before I died. He was just the neighbor's snoopy brat." Dick leaned back in his chair and his smile returned, showing gleaming white teeth. "Never would have thought he'd grow up so nicely put together. His ass isn't as sweet as mine, but it's pretty damn good, and the way he clenches it..." He laughed at the anger on Jason's face, and accepted the coffee from the waitress, telling her to put it on his brother's tab.
"What do you want, Dick," Jason ground out, stressing the name.
"I want daddy dearest to hurt as much as being beaten with a crowbar and blown up hurt. As much as realizing the cocksucker who killed me has never paid for doing it."
"You know that's never going to bring you satisfaction. No matter how many times Bruce says he's sorry, how much you're obviously hurting him, it's never going to be enough. Revenge just doesn't work."
"Platitudes 101, oh how I've missed the Bat's lessons," Dick mocked.
Jason lowered his voice and leaned forward, his eyes locking on his older brother's. "He doesn't kill, Dick. He won't for any of us, and that's right. He mourned you. He never forgave himself for your death. He nearly went mad with grief. Why isn't that enough for you?"
Dick's face tightened again. "I was more than a fucking good soldier, Jay."
"Yeah, you were and the whole world knew it. Now...now you're just another killer." He shook his head in dismay. "If you'd come back to us, you'd have been welcomed with open arms, parties would have been thrown, your name shouted from the freakin' rooftops, but, instead, you chose to make Bruce pay for something not even his fault. He'll never take you back now."
"Like I want that."
Snorting, Jason took a sip of his coffee. "That's all you want in the end, Dickie, but you're doing everything you can to make sure it doesn't happen. Dunno why, but the reason's probably as fucked up as you are."
"You always were an annoying prick."
"And you always fall back on insults when you know I'm right," the middle brother laughed darkly. "Stay away from Tim."
"Fuck you, Jay."
"Not in this lifetime, bro." He pulled a slim communicator from one jacket pocket and placed it on the table. "I'll give you thirty seconds head start."
Dick finished his coffee and rose lazily to his feet. "I only need twenty."
Tim slipped silently into the Manor and immediately headed up to his room. His eye was half-swollen shut and surrounded by dark purple, mottled skin, and above it was a scabbed-over cut bisecting his eyebrow. There was no way to hide it, so avoiding the other members of the household was his plan.
Bruce's voice sharply calling his name from the foot of the stairs made him wince and slump.
Why couldn't he work like a normal person? Or really be party boy Bruce Wayne?
Slowly, as if going to the gallows, Tim turned and headed back down the stairs, head bowed and hair shading his eyes from his adopted father. He stopped on the last step and slowly lifted his head. The moment Bruce noticed the bruise his jaw clenched, and Tim felt his stomach sink and silently waited.
Expecting immediate obedience, Bruce turned, and Tim--well trained--followed. While Bruce took a seat behind the desk, Tim remained standing, stuffing his hands in his jeans' pockets, trying to look nonchalant.
"Where did you get the bruise?"
"I asked where, not when."
Tim mentally winced at the clipped tone but went with the truth-- you just couldn't hide things from Batman forever. "Renegade."
"And you didn't include a fight with him in your report why?"
Tim knew he was silent too long when Bruce--Batman without the cape and cowl--rose and loomed and dug his fingers around the beveled edge of the desk top. "There was a twenty minute gap in your report and it's not the first time there's been a like discrepancy. Am I correct in assuming that each gap represented an encounter with Renegade?" At Tim's reluctant nod, he continued, his voice growing harder with each word. "And each time you've encountered Renegade you've spent the night at Nightwing's. Because of this?" He pointed to the bruise. "Or for some other reason. What is he doing to you?"
"...I can't tell you." The thought of telling him was horrifying and Tim fought to control his rising heart rate and increased breathing.
"Then you're grounded. Double reps and after your homework is done you clean the cave to Alfred's specifications. Each night until you tell me the truth."
It was a dismissal, and Tim spun around, quickly leaving and heading for his room, his mind whirling with worry because he knew it wasn't over.
Batman always got the answers.
Jason felt the air behind him stir before he heard the almost minute rustle of the cape. Rising from a crouch atop a roof overlooking an alley where a black-market baby deal was due to take place, he pocketed his binoculars and turned to face his mentor.
"Robin and Renegade. Tell me what's going on between them."
Consternation filled him and he frowned, trying to think of something, anything but the truth.
Batman cut off anything he could think of saying with a swipe of his hand. "Don't bother. You're just going to lie."
"It's...not my story to tell."
The two men stared at each other before Batman took a step back and blended into the darkness of a chimney. The sound of a grapple shot, followed by more displacement of air told Jason he was gone, and he let out the breath he hadn't realized he was holding.
Giving the alley another glance and finding it still empty, he took out his phone and called Tim.
"Little Bro, you gotta tell him."
"He's in serious Bat mode over this. He'll find out."
"I...how can I tell him, Jay? How can I disappoint him like that?"
The pain and confusion in Tim's young voice brought out his own sympathetic side, and, with a sigh, he dropped back into a crouch. "Secrets have nearly destroyed this family too many times, Timmy. This is a big one. You have to find a way to tell him. He'll either yell or go icy but once it's out, you both can deal." And, he thought, Bruce can put a stop to this.
"I know," Tim finally sighed in resignation.
"I can be there if you like." Last place he wanted to be, but that's what big brothers were for.
"No. I'll...I'll tell him when he gets home tonight. He won't kick me out will he?"
It was a bad joke, but Jason tried to smile and said lightly, "Nah, but you can always bunk on my couch."
"I'm getting a permanent hump from sleeping on your couch."
That was better. Laughing softly, Jason said goodbye and hung up just in time as a car entered the alley below him.
Dawn was coming, the eastern sky going from dark pink to light, and Renegade waited for it, his body tired, his mind weary, the bullet wound in his left arm throbbing. A lucky shot from a now dead idiot and he was going to need stitches. Doing that himself was always a bitch and a half.
It was times like these that he really missed Alfred.
Renegade snorted softly. He missed the old man for a lot of reasons, but he couldn't forgive him, either. Alfred was the only person Batman ever really listened to. If he'd pushed hard enough, maybe Dick Grayson would have been able to rest in peace, avenged.
A whisper of a sound drew him from his dark thoughts and he glanced away from the rising sun to the shadows of the compressors behind him.
"You can hide from everyone else, Bats, but not me," he taunted softly.
Batman stepped out of the deep shadows, but Renegade was amused to see he didn't quite make it into the light, either.
"This has to end."
Bouncing lightly on his feet, Renegade grinned at the glower. That never worked on him. Well, not since he was twelve or so. "Wanna be more specific, old man?"
"You killing. Haunting my city."
The grin faded. "Haunting. That's an apt choice of words."
Batman just glowered more. "It stops, Di..."
Fury flashed across the young face and he took three strides across the roof, hands fisted as he interrupted in a hiss, "Don't ever call me that. You lost all rights to call me anything when you let me die and didn't see fit to bring down my killer. You proved how little I meant to you that day, so don't you ever call me anything but Renegade."
"Dick," Batman replied, his voice dripping with ice and his own form of fury.
With a howl, Renegade launched himself at the older and bigger vigilante.
The fight didn't last long. Renegade was quicker, more agile, but Batman was pure power and force. Pinned on his stomach beneath his former guardian, Renegade grunted and struggled and cursed as his right shoulder was nearly dislocated. Finally, panting harshly, he stilled.
Batman's answer surprised him."Now you tell me what you're doing with Robin."
That was the last thing he expected. "...Huh?" A blow to the back of his head sent it ringing and he closed his eyes against the sparks and pain, but he couldn't help the snide retort. "Kid telling tales?"
"He's not saying anything. You will."
Renegade snorted. "If you're little soldier isn't goose-stepping in time anymore, it's nothing to do with me."
"I saw the bruise. It's not the first."
"Which bruise? The one on his face? Or the ones on his knees. He gets those a lot, since he spends so much time on them." His voice rose in a shout of pain as Batman twisted his arm harder behind his back.
"Are you trying to get a rise out of me, Dick?" Again Batman stressed his real name in the hiss that burned the back of his neck.
And he couldn't stop himself. "Does Timmy? He's really good at it, daddy. Did he learn how to suck cock on his knees in the batcave or in your bed?"
The shoulder popped and Renegade bit back a scream, his whole body arching beneath the punishment and weight of the man on top of him.
"Do you really think I'll believe that you're having sex with Robin?"
"Oh, I really do, Bruce. I really do." Renegade felt his former mentor shift, then heard the clink of metal and felt the cuffs around his wrists before Batman rose over him. Turning his head, he glared up at him. "I'll be out of these things in under a minute."
"With a dislocated shoulder? I don't think so." Batman spoke into the communicator on his wrist. "Oracle, call GCPD and tell them I have Renegade in custody on the roof of a warehouse at the northeast corner of Sloan and Elm."
He was already off the roof and swinging for another when Oracle got over her shock and responded.
Batman brooded on the way to the car and home, playing over Dick's comments in his head. He had to be lying, trying to anger Bruce, make him distrust his partner, make him...hurt. Everything Dick did had one of those goals as its aim.
But, if he was lying, why was Tim covering something up? A sexual relationship explained the missing time and his reluctance to discuss it, something that simple fights or even attempts to get Dick to come home wouldn't.
Tim was nearly an adult in years and had been acting as one his whole life. He and Dick had barely known each other before Dick's death. Legally they were brothers, but he had no moral qualms about a relationship between them. Not on those grounds, at least. He had no issues with homosexuality or bisexuality either, and it didn't actually surprise him to think about Tim along those lines.
But, if they were having sex, then why had Dick hit Tim so hard as to leave him with an eye half-swollen shut and a cut eyebrow that probably should have been stitched?
As Bruce roared into the cave and heard Oracle's announcement over his comm that Renegade had escaped before the arrival of the police, the only logical conclusion intruded into his mind.
Crossing the bridge from the car to the main section of the cave, Bruce spotted Tim curled asleep on a cot and felt something remarkably gentle flow through him. He was tired and sore from the battle with Dick, and his heart simply ached, but the sight of his youngest son--yes, son--asleep with his head on his folded hands, obviously waiting for him but unable to stay awake, touched something inside him, and he peeled back the cowl before crouching down next to the cot.
Pulling off his gauntlets, he gently brushed two fingers just above the scabbed eyebrow. Tim stirred, grunted and blinked open his eyes, wincing in pain.
"You were waiting for me?" He kept any censure out of his quiet voice, wanting the boy to open up.
Tim struggled up, rubbing a hand over his mussed hair, half- yawning and blinking, then he stilled and flushed before looking away. "Yeah. I...uh...we need to talk."
"Down here or upstairs?" Bruce rose as did Tim.
"Here. Now. It's work-related."
As Tim started to walk past him towards the conference table Bruce stopped him with a gentle hand on his shoulder. "It's about Dick. It's family, Tim." The boy's shoulders drooped and then he shrugged off the hand, pulling into himself.
"I guess." They both sat down and Tim fiddled with his hands for a moment before finally digging them into his jeans' pockets and staring at the table top. He knew he had no more than a minute to start talking before Batman lost his patience, but he used every second composing his thoughts. "It started about two months ago. I ran into him and he didn't want to fight. He wanted to talk. I think he hoped I'd switch sides or something. He knew I'd originally figured out your secret because I figured out his, that I'd admired him as both Dick Grayson and Robin. Anyway, I told him I'd never join him. I think...he took it as a challenge."
Tim took a deep breath before continuing, still not looking at Bruce. "We parted without a fight, and then a couple nights later he found me on patrol and he...took me down and..." His throat closed up. He couldn't say this.
The silence grew oppressive.
"Tim, look at me, please," Bruce said, still softly, and surprised at the complete lack of Bat, Tim looked up. What he saw on Bruce's face--concern, even fear--for him--nearly broke him. "What did he do to you, son?"
"He...he..." Helplessly, he shook his head.
"Did he rape you?"
Tim's eyes widened and his mouth dropped open, before he quickly denied, "No. No, Bruce. God no."
Relief flooded Bruce and he let his rigid posture slightly relax. "But you are having sex with him."
Feeling himself blush, the younger man looked away and nodded. "Yeah, but it's consensual, I swear. I mean, I know I'm underage, and he's technically my brother and it's completely twisted, but..." Running out of steam, he ran his hands over his face and into his hair, tugging on it in frustration. "I don't know how it happened, Bruce," he finally whispered.
"He's trying to hurt me."
"I know. I'm not stupid, whatever Jay thinks."
Bruce frowned. "Jason obviously knows."
"He's been trying to get me to stop. It's not his fault." Tim finally looked back at his mentor and saw the consternation on his face. "You're freaked."
Sighing, the younger man nodded. "Since the first time he's found me at least once a week and we...well, I fight, not, you know, fight him off or anything, but fight to try to stop him from hurting someone or doing something illegal, and he always wins and...I don't know, maybe I let him, and that's where the bruises come from. I pissed him off last night, two nights ago, and he hit me harder than he usually does, but we still..." Running out of steam, he let his head drop into his hands. "I'm not stupid. I know he doesn't care about me. It's all to hurt you."
"Do you want it to stop, Tim?"
Tim took a long time to answer before the truth finally came to him. "No, but I want it to matter to him."
After a few more minutes of discussion, Bruce sent Tim to bed and made his way up to his own, his mind too tired to process most of what he'd learned and his heart too heavy to deal with it. This situation with Renegade--with Dick--needed to be resolved quickly for the whole family's sake.
It was Saturday and Tim slept in until nearly noon, waking with the feeling that a great burden had been lifted off his shoulders. He felt badly that Bruce now had to share it, but there was relief and a tiny bit of joy that Bruce had taken the news so well. He'd been expecting yelling and had gotten...understanding.
Yawning and scratching his chest through his threadbare t-shirt Tim wandered into the kitchen and smiled to find Jason sitting at the island eating a sandwich. While Alfred insisted that breakfast and dinner always be served in the dining room, over the years he'd had to accept that young men were both on the run a lot and had huge appetites that needed sating at all hours of the day and night. So informal snacks and even lunch could be eaten in the kitchen.
"Hey. 'Morning Alfred."
"Good Morning, Master Tim. I've made Master Jason a meatloaf sandwich. Would you like one as well?"
"Yes, please." Alfred's meatloaf was manna from heaven, and even better cold between two pieces of crusty bread dripping with catsup. Tim joined his brother at the counter, yawning again. "What are you doing here?"
"Thought I'd come make sure the roof was still on." Jason gave his brother a cryptic look which Tim returned with a shrug and half- smile.
Arching an eyebrow at their guarded conversation--unnecessary because Alfred knew everything that went on in both house and cave, and when he saw Master Dick they were going to have a long talk about propriety and the proper treatment of younger brothers-- Alfred placed a plate in front of Tim along with a glass of milk. "If you need anything, just ring. I'll be gathering laundry."
Alfred left and Tim took a big bite of his sandwich.
"You talked to Bruce."
"Uh huh," Tim chewed.
"Did he yell?" Tim shook his head and Jason's eyes widened. "Wow."
"He already knew, or guessed, or something."
"I checked his logs. He ran into Dick after he left me, then he left him for the cops, but Dick got away."
Which they both knew meant that Bruce let him get away. If he'd truly wanted Dick arrested, he'd have waited for the police to arrive.
Both young men mulled that over while they ate, then Tim said softly, "Bruce thought I'd been raped."
"Haven't you?" Jason didn't like discussing this, but it had to be done.
"No! I've told you over and over again, Jay, that I wanted it. I want him. I...think I always have." Tim's voice went from loud and passionate to soft and a bit lost, and he set down his sandwich and placed his head in his hands. "When I figured out who he was, I was just content to worship him from afar, y'know? He was this great guy, the guy everyone wanted to be or be friends with. I followed him from Robin to Nightwing, watched him become such a great leader of the Titans, saw how he came to accept and even care for you despite the problems with Bruce at the time, and then..."
The elephant in every room. The Joker and what he had done to Dick. Something not to be talked about, even with Dick alive again.
"Jay, since Dick's been back, there's been something really bugging me. I never knew him well, only met him a handful of times, but he was so full of life, so happy. Not just that, he was what a leader should be--mature, intelligent, disciplined and strict but not mean. Not...wild. He was never wild."
Understanding came to Jason and he nodded slowly, then swallowed the last bite of his sandwich. "I was the wild one, the one who would throw caution to the winds and disobey Batman. I was the one who would have been expected to be killed. Dick was the master strategist. I was a brawler."
"You changed, too."
"I had to. Bruce needed me to grow up. Dick's death was a stark revelation of what being impulsive in this business could bring. He was so determined to protect Bruce, he walked right into the trap. I have given this some thought, Tim. What might I have been like if Dick hadn't been killed. I think...probably a lot wilder. Maybe a lot dead."
"I look at him and sometimes I see you and I look at you and almost always see what he was. That's just weird."
Jason shot him a sad smile. "You'd think we really were brothers."
"I guess coming back from the dead will warp someone, and I really do like how you've turned out."
"You, too, squirt."
They both grinned at each other.
The laughter coming from the kitchen sent both a feeling of joy and a pang of sorrow through Bruce as he hesitated outside the door. Remembering another young voice raised in laughter, he knew his decision to see this quickly resolved was the right one.
How to bring that about was another matter.
Deciding not to interrupt the boys, Bruce headed for his study and found Alfred in the entry hall, putting on his raincoat.
"Ah, Master Bruce. I have a few errands to run." He picked up a bag of clothes to take to the dry cleaner's. "I realize you must portray a playboy to the full extent in order to maintain the necessary facades, but do try to be careful where you splash your red wine. Silk ties do not grow on trees."
Properly chastised, Bruce nodded, "Yes, Alfred," before continuing into his study to plan his attack.
Taking a steadying breath Alfred knocked on the door marked number six in the run-down apartment building in the heart of the East End. Crime Alley was only a block away and he wondered what had possessed the occupant to live here. His nose wrinkled at the odor from the hallway and he started to knock again when he heard locks and chains disengaging.
The door opened and he found himself facing his greatest dream come true.
Sadly, reality had a way of quashing dreams.
"Master Richard, we need to talk."
Dick stared in consternation at the man who'd raised him more than Bruce had, the man who'd been like a grandfather to him, and felt a crack begin in the hard shell over his emotions. He fell back on his standard line, blustering, "No. You could have pushed Bruce to avenge me and you didn't. Go home, Alfred."
"I can't do that." They stared each other down for a minute until Alfred frowned. "You were raised better than to leave a guest standing on the doorstep."
"You're not a guest."
"It's even worse with family."
Dick snarled but stepped back to let Alfred enter. The older man glanced around the messy, shabby apartment and tried not to show his despair at how far the boy had fallen. Shrugging out of his coat, he entered the kitchenette and placed two canvas shopping bags on the lone clear spot on the counter.
"As I doubt you've been eating correctly, I took the liberty of purchasing some of your favorites." As he spoke, he began to unload the bag, finding places in the refrigerator and a cabinet for the food, and trying not to shudder at the lone, greasy pizza box, and half a six pack of beer that, together with a bottle of catsup and a jar of pickles, represented the entire contents of the refrigerator.
"You didn't need to do that."
All Dick got in response to that was a pointed look. Frowning, he leaned against the counter and crossed his arms over his chest. "What do you want Alfred?"
"As I said, to talk to you." After putting on the kettle he'd purchased, he turned to look at the young man and felt his heart constrict with joy and sorrow. "You really are alive."
Dick shifted uncomfortably. "Yeah, look, I'm not stopping what I'm doing and I'm not forgiving Bruce, so..."
"If you insist on hurting your father..."
"He's not my father," came out in a blaze through gritted teeth.
Alfred weathered the storm and measured tea leaves into the teapot he'd brought from home. "The adoption went through a week before your...death."
"If you insist on hurting him, that's not something I can stop. It's between the two of you. My suggestion is that instead of these childish games and attempts to prove that you're nothing like the man we raised, you go talk to him." His voice grew ice cold. "We raised you better than to become one more killer."
Feeling the harsh bite of censure, Dick actually dropped his eyes to the floor as heat flooded his cheeks. "That man died."
Shocked, the younger man stared at the older.
"Do you think your generation came up with every curse word, young man?" The kettle whistle blew and he poured hot water over the tea leaves. "A miracle gave you back to us and I'm tired of you wasting that miracle. But, as I said, that's something you need to discuss with Master Bruce. If you must beat each other up in order to resolve your differences, try not to bleed on the carpets."
Dick simply shook his head in bemusement. "I've talked with him. I can't forgive him. End of story."
"So, is your goal to make him arrest you...or kill you?" There was no answer, and Alfred smiled as Dick fidgeted and looked down at his feet again. "What I'm actually here to discuss with you is Master Tim and your deplorable behavior towards the boy."
The heat returned to his cheeks, as he defensively mumbled, "He's not a boy."
"He is seventeen years old and has worshiped you past your death so much so that all he wanted was to become you. That his worship has a, forgive the bluntness, sexual component, doesn't actually surprise me. That you have played on the child's desire, and hurt him," Alfred's voice took on that icy quality again, "in the process, is unforgivable."
"Go clear two seats in that mess you call a living room and I shall bring the tea."
A few minutes later he was taking the tea tray--also brought from the manor--and placing it on the recently cleared coffee table. Alfred tsked at the rings on the cheap wood, and placed two coasters next to the tray before pouring the tea and joining Dick on the ratty sofa.
Alfred took a sip from his cup then turned to look Dick in the eye. "What you have with Master Tim will end now."
"No," Dick growled over his teacup.
Alfred cocked an eyebrow and pushed again. "There are other ways to hurt Master Bruce. Simply continuing to kill is enough."
Dick had the grace to look embarrassed again. "Dammit, how come you always make me feel like I'm still twelve years old? I'm not a kid anymore. And regardless of what you think, neither is Tim. He went into this with open eyes, and I'm not giving him up just because you don't like it."
"You sound like you actually care about him."
"Don't psychoanalyze me. He's convenient."
"As are the ladies standing on your street corner...and the gentlemen."
Dick choked on his tea. "It's not like that."
"Either he's simply convenient or he means something to you." Cooly sipping his tea, Alfred watched Dick carefully and restrained himself from smiling at the cracks he was seeing in his composure. The boy was finally thinking.
Having made his point, Alfred set down his empty cup and rose to his feet, smiling slightly as Dick joined him. There were still some good manners bred into the young man. "I suggest a good meal-- not the pizza--and thinking very hard over this matter, Master Dick." Picking up his coat, he headed for the door, knowing he was being trailed. "I'll pick up the teapot and tray on my next visit. That will give you time to purchase your own." At the door he turned and leveled one last, hard look at the man he thought of as his eldest grandson. "Oh, and if there are anymore of your bruises on Master Tim, you'll receive the like from me, is that understood?"
"Yes." Another reluctant growl and Alfred nodded and took his leave.
Dick stared at the closed door for a full minute, then flung himself onto the couch to brood.
He stuffed a ginger cookie in his mouth.
"Meddling old man."
And poured more tea.
Tim waited until dinner was nearly done before broaching the subject on his mind. "Um, since we talked about it and I confessed and everything, can I go back on patrol tonight?"
Bruce looked up from his last bite of halibut and met his youngest son's eager eyes. "Yes, with the caveat that if you run into Renegade, you contact me immediately and don't engage him."
Eyes widening, Tim nodded hesitantly. "Um...okay." He took a sip of water to cover the feelings of embarrassment. God, what if Bruce came up on them in the middle of...Gah...
Sitting across from his brother Jason rolled his eyes. "If I run into him can I beat the crap out of him?"
Bruce glowered him into silence.
No one ran into Renegade that night or for the next seven. Gotham continued to be Gotham--dark and hot as May gave way to June-- and the crazies and the villains kept the Bat Clan busy.
Eight nights after the truth came out, Robin landed lightly on a rooftop across from the Museum of Science and Technology and walked to the edge to peer down at the street. Frowning, he lifted his wrist communicator to his mouth. "O? R. There's nobody here."
He could almost hear the tapping of keys and the roll of the chair between monitors. "All intel says a hit on the MST is in progress from the south front." A few seconds passed. "But, the cameras from the ATM across the street show nothing. This is weird."
"Night off?" Robin asked, smiling slightly.
"Yeah, right, Boy Wonder," Barbara scoffed. "Take a few minutes break there while I look into this mystery. O, out."
The communicator clicked off and Robin lowered his hands to the balustrade running around the roof. "Weird is right."
"Maybe I just wanted you where I could find you."
The familiar voice made him turn, bo staff extending as he easily fell into a fighting stance.
From six feet away Renegade raised his hands and smirked at him. "Easy there, kid. I didn't come here to fight."
Robin didn't relax. "You've been laying low."
"Plotting more crime sprees?"
Robin raised his wrist to his mouth again. "I'm not supposed to engage you."
"Darn, and I so wanted to marry you." Renegade rolled his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest. "Don't call it in."
"I...have to. He knows everything already and I promised I would."
Surprise leaked into Renegade's voice. "You told him?"
"He figured it out," Robin replied miserably. "Look, it's bad enough that he knows. I can't disobey him on this."
Taking a step forward the older man held out one hand and softly said,"Tim, stop."
Slowly Robin lowered his wrist and then his eyes, shaking his head. "What do you want?"
"Just to talk, I swear."
"I can give you maybe five minutes. Oracle told me to take a break while she worked on something."
"Okay, I can work with that." Nodding to himself, Renegade pointed to the staff. "Wanna put that away?"
"I guess I deserve that." Renegade took a deep breath and squared his shoulders, then let them sag again as he grunted, "To hell with it," and bridged the distance between them to grab Tim and kiss him hard and hungrily.
Tim dropped the staff, diving into the kiss for a minute, before remembering where he was and with whom, and pushing the other man back. "What the hell?"
It was Dick who gave him a cocky grin. "Alfred dropped by. Told me to get my shit together. Well, not in those words, of course, though he did actually say 'bullshit'. I nearly died."
The grin dropped away and Dick peeled off his mask, fiddling with it for a moment. "I'm not sure I'm ready to forgive Bruce, or even talk to him, but..." He looked at Tim. "Will you take off your mask? I've never seen your eyes."
He shouldn't. He wasn't allowed, but...Slowly Tim removed his mask and stuffed it into its pouch. When Dick's hands found his shoulders and slid beneath the cape around to his back to reel him closer, Tim let him. Their eyes met, both a startling blue, and Tim felt his heart thud painfully in his chest.
"It's not all about hurting Bruce, kid," Dick said softly, his fingers stroking lightly over taut muscles. "Not anymore." And then his mouth was on Tim's again, this time the kiss more gentle, tender, until Tim became the aggressor, pushing Dick back until he hit the roof-access door with a grunt. Their mouths twisted together, their hands ran over spandex and armor clad torsos, and passion sprang hard between them.
Until Oracle spoke cool and fast in Robin's ear. "Batman's ten sec..."
"Here," Batman said, interrupting Oracle's warning and the two men kissing.
Extreme embarrassment wiped out all desire and Tim jerked away from Dick, stumbling backwards and wiping at his swollen lips.
"Shit," Dick groaned, then glared at the looming Bat who stood to the side of the other two, the three of them forming a loose triangle. "Coitus interruptus."
"Shut up,"Tim hissed, then flinched away from the look Batman turned on him, even from beneath the cowl.
"Put your mask back on," Batman ordered tightly.
"Go away," Renegade interjected, his voice just as cold. "I'm not hurting the kid."
"You never will again." Without looking at him, Batman addressed his youngest, "We talked about this, Robin. I trusted you."
"Quit laying the shitty guilt trip on him. You're pissed at me, not him, so take it out on me."
Batman responded to the angry yelling by lowering his voice to that cold, mean and determined register that sent shudders through every Gotham criminal. "What you have with Robin is over, Renegade, and you're going to prison."
"You'd never risk it. My identity gets out and yours follows," Renegade bluffed.
"You've murdered people in my city. You have to pay for those crimes. If my secrets are the price I pay, so be it."
"I don't bluff."
Both men stared at each other until Renegade began to pale and his mouth dropped open, only to tighten quickly, his jaw squaring as determination took the place of shock. "I won't let you take me in. You'll have to kill me."
"You're already dead."
The devastated look was brief, but Tim saw it on Dick's face and it tore at him enough to shake him from his paralysis and move him between the older two. "Stop it." Still maskless he looked up at Bruce, then over at Dick, and shook his head. "Stop it."
"Robin," Batman ground out, "Go home."
"Tim," Dick said softly, his voice suddenly tired, "Stay."
Alerted to the crisis by Oracle, Nightwing dropped lightly to the roof and crossed to the trio, taking his place at Batman's side, his eyes taking in everything. He could tell the tension was about to snap. "Everyone calm down."
Everyone ignored him.
Tim looked from father to lover and back again, then turned to face Batman. "Please let me talk to him alone."
"You weren't talking."
Flushing, Tim tried again, "Please."
This time Tim obeyed and Batman nodded, "Five minutes," before shooting a grapple line to the museum.
"You sure about this, Robin?" Nightwing's voice was low and concerned but the look he shot Renegade was a cold warning.
"Okay." Trusting his little brother, Nightwing followed the Bat.
Tim's shoulders slumped and his legs gave out, sending him into a crouch, arms wrapping around his knees. "Shit, shit, shit!"
Dick dropped to one knee in front of him and placed a hand on his shoulder. "See where talking to him gets me?"
"That wasn't talking and that was the Bat. You need to talk to Bruce. Come home and talk to him," Tim stressed, looking up into the tired eyes of Dick Grayson.
"I won't go to jail. I can't," the older man ground out.
"You've killed, Dick. You can't just get away with that." Sorrow filled Tim's voice and he reached up and wrapped his gloved fingers around the ones resting on his shoulder. "I don't know what we can do, but it has to start with talking."
"What you're really saying is that I have to stop killing. Maybe I'm not willing to do that," Renegade blustered harshly, pulling his hand free and rising to his feet.
Tim pushed himself back up, his legs a bit more steady, and shook his head, "If you're not, then we have to be over."
"Don't give me that ultimatum."
Trembling slightly at the snarl in his lover's voice, the younger man shot him a determined look. "How much more pain do you really want to cause him?"
Renegade opened his mouth to give his pat answer, then closed it, his eyes going shuttered. "What do you want from me, Tim?"
"You just said that this, whatever we have, isn't to hurt Bruce. So, that's one less thing, which means something is changing in you. Push it enough and stop killing, even if it's only long enough to really talk to him."
"I'm not ready to forgive him."
"I didn't say forgive him," Tim yelled softly, reaching out and grabbing Dick's arm. "Talk to him. Tell him what happened to you. We have theories upon theories, but what brought you back? What turned you hard? Why are you killing? Not just to piss off Bruce, but really why?"
Dick looked down into Tim's sparkling eyes and slowly shook his head in wonder. "Why does this matter so much to you?"
"Because he matters. Because you do. Because this is family, Dick, and we're tearing each other apart, and it has to stop. Because..." His hand slid up to Dick's shoulder then the back of his neck, and he pulled, and Dick went into the kiss with open eyes. "Please," Tim whispered against those firm lips, as they breathed the same breath.
Slowly Dick pulled away and began to nod. "Okay. But, not tonight." Turning, he sprinted to the far side of the building and dove off.
As he struggled to bring his breathing and heart rate under control, Tim watched him go until his father's voice interrupted his thoughts.
"You let him go."
"I'm not arresting him. I can't." Both knew it had nothing to do with Robin physically being unable to bring down Renegade.
"Nightwing and I will finish your patrol. Go home." Bruce's concern shown through the Bat's voice, and Robin turned to give him a nod of gratitude, then followed Renegade over the back of the building.
"This has gotta end," Nightwing said softly. "It's tearing him to pieces."
"I just...don't want it to end badly," Bruce admitted. At Jason's surprised look, he let his lips twist slightly. "It's such a surprise that I don't want him hurt?"
"The mission always comes first."
"That's what I've always said." He shrugged his shoulders and grunted. "He's part of the mission, though. They...both are, and maybe...they're more than the mission."
"Did you wander into any funny plants tonight?"
Batman actually smiled at that--a very brief, tight smile--then he clapped Nightwing on the shoulder and took out his grapple hook. "You take south of Dunbar and the zoo. I'll wrap up the west side and drop by the Iceberg Lounge. Meet you at base in ninety."
"Sure." Nightwing watched him leave, then shook himself and tapped his earpiece. "Did you get all that?"
"Maybe he's human after all?" Barbara said, a smile in her voice.
"Who'd have thunk it."
Renegade slipped through the window into his apartment and nearly fell over in shock when a light came on. A gun was in his hand and pointed before he processed who sat in his frayed Barcalounger.
"Put that away, young man."
Flushing, Dick holstered the gun, then peeled off his mask and dropped tiredly onto his sofa. He noticed his new tea service was being used and grunted.
Alfred rose to pour, then handed Dick a cup and saucer. "This is acceptable."
Picking up a white chocolate chip cookie, the younger man munched hungrily. "Nobody beats your cookies, Alf."
Resuming his seat, back straight and feet firmly on the floor, Alfred took a sip of Earl Grey tea. "It is also acceptable that you listened to me and didn't cause any more pain to Master Tim."
"I'm not sure about that," Dick sighed and finished his cookie, before looking guiltily at his surrogate grandfather. "Bruce is pissed at him."
"He is not, actually."
"How do you know?"
"Oracle keeps me well informed."
"Nosy cow," Dick grunted again, staring into his cup, then leaning forward to place it on the table and his elbows on his knees. "I...don't know what to do."
At the longing in the young man's voice, Alfred set his own cup down, then rose to join Dick on the sofa and lightly pat his shoulder. "Yes, you do, my boy. You really do. Something went wrong inside you. The miracle of your return turned into something dark, but there's too much light in you for the darkness to win."
Dick turned stricken eyes on him. "He...he says I have to go to jail."
"Maybe you will, but we'll be there for you. Regardless of what you do, family shouldn't abandon you and this one won't. I won't let it." His hand tightened on the muscular shoulder and he held the other man's eyes with his own sincere yet serious ones. "But, first, you have to stop, and you have to feel remorse."
"I...don't know if I can. There's all this anger and frustration inside me and it just boils over, Alfred, and I want to just scream and tear everything to pieces, and it's easier to hit the streets and take it all out on someone who deserves it."
"There are other ways to channel aggression."
"I was taught to hit people."
"You weren't taught to kill."
Dick had the grace to look embarrassed and pulled away from Alfred to lean against the back of the sofa and stare at the water- stained ceiling. "I'm just so tired, Alfie."
The voice of a scared little boy nearly broke the older man, who wrapped his arms around the younger and pulled him into a tight embrace. "Oh, my dear, dear boy. We'll fix this the best we can, I promise." Fingers twisting through tangled black hair, he tugged that stricken face to his shoulder and closed his eyes as Dick began to cry.
After cleaning up and logging his reports, then reading Jason's and making a few notes to discuss at breakfast, Bruce ascended the stairs from the cave and walked through the silent house. Jason had arrived home shortly before he had and had gone up while he'd showered. The security system showed Tim was in his room, and Bruce knew to let him be for the night. Bruce hadn't noticed Alfred's location, expecting him to be waiting for him in the kitchen or his bedroom.
He wasn't in either place.
Frowning, Bruce picked up the communicator next to his bed and called Oracle.
"What? I'm in bed," Barbara growled sleepily.
"Don't go Bat on me," she replied defensively. "I told him what happened tonight and he went over to Renegade's." They all knew just where the fallen Robin lived, though they never talked about it.
"He's not going to hurt Alfred."
"We don't know what Renegade will do," Batman ground out.
"It's not the first time he's gone there, Bruce." She stressed his real name to try to calm him down. "You know he can take care of himself."
"There are too many damn secrets in this family."
As he hung up on her, Barbara snorted at the irony of that statement.
Dick awoke to a feeling of warmth and security and an odd rejuvenation. Blinking open his eyes, he noticed the quilt tucked around him where he lay on the couch, and stretching he realized his boots and jacket had been removed.
Alfred had tucked him in.
Blushing, the big, tough vigilante sat up and reached for another cookie, stuffing it in his mouth before noticing the note that sat next to the plate. He flipped it open and silently read it.
Sunday tea at the manor.
Not a demand, not a command performance, but a request.
A plea from his grandfather.
The rejuvenation he felt was joined by a new resolve, and he nodded to himself before reaching for another cookie.
"How many times have you been to see him?"
Alfred finished pouring the coffee, then set down the silver coffee pot. "Twice."
"He's dangerous," Bruce growled, slapping down the front section of the Daily Planet next to his plate of whole-wheat pancakes topped with fresh strawberries.
"Not to me. I believe, in fact, he's more of a danger to himself than to any of us."
"You saw Tim's face last week."
Alfred's voice tightened, and he glanced at the other end of the table where the boys had their faces buried in the sports' section-- Jason--and the technology section--Tim--while shoveling food in their mouths and trying very hard not to listen. "That is a thing of the past. Master Dick understands the cost of fresh bruises on the young sir."
"Oh geez," Tim muttered, nearly choking on a piece of sausage in his desire to eat as fast as humanly possible.
"You can't trust him,"Bruce growled again, frustrated that everyone in his family seemed to be trying to understand and accept Renegade.
"I trust the boy we raised," Alfred said with finality before leaving the dining room and Bruce shaking his head.
"He needs to be arrested and pay for his crimes."
Frowning at Bruce's muttering, Jason set aside the newspaper and looked up at his father. "Y'know, that would sound more convincing if you didn't actually know where he lived and didn't know how to dial a phone."
Bruce glared at his middle son. "You're defending him now?"
"No, I'm just pointing out the obvious. If you really wanted him arrested, he'd be arrested. Now, I don't know why you haven't done that, but it's probably some big confusing mess of reasons along the lines of son, Robin, secret identities, guilt, repentance and relief. The Bat wants him to pay for his crimes, and, y'know, I do understand that. He's killed I don't know how many people..."
"Twenty three, as far as I know," Bruce interjected, his voice going slightly numb.
"Okay, and as far as I know,"Jason stressed, "they've all been bad guys. I'm not saying they deserved a bullet in the head, but I'm not stressing out over their being dead, either."
"Sometimes the bad guys die. Cops sometimes kill bad guys."
"You can't compare Renegade to the police."
"I'm not. I'm just saying that death is sometimes the result of crime. There are actually heroes who've killed, too, y'know."
"I know," Bruce replied through tight lips. "It's not our way."
"I know that, too, Bruce, but if Dick is arrested, our identities are exposed along with his."
"Yes. Contingency plans are in place. New identities."
"I'm not ready to give up being Jason Todd!"
"We can't operate out of the shadows, Jason."
"Why not? Roy does. Dinah does. There are others who gave up on keeping the secrets and still function fine as heroes."
"I can't," Bruce finally ground out.
"Fine," Jason yelled in response.
"Does he have to be arrested?" Tim asked softly. "Can he make amends some other way? Can he simply live with what he did and try to be a hero again?"
Softening, Bruce slowly shook his head. "Tim..."
"How many of the deaths are linked by the police to Renegade? Just a few, and no one knows who Renegade is. If he stops, if Renegade drops off the map, if Dick comes home..." Tears glistened in Tim's eyes when he finally looked up from his plate and faced his father. "Can you forgive him, Bruce? Not Batman, but you?"
"I don't know," Bruce honestly answered.
"He needs help. Whatever brought him back, twisted him. I have to believe that. He's so angry and frustrated and he blames you for everything, and that just isn't right. Last night...last night I saw a glimpse of Robin in him, the Robin I first saw flying over the rooftops with a smile lighting the night. You remember that Robin, right?"
"I mourned his death, Tim. I still do. He's gone. What came back isn't him."
"But it is." Tim's voice raised and his hand clenched around the newspaper he still held. "I see it. Alfred sees it. It's there. He's there. Why can't you see him?"
When Bruce only gave him a deeply troubled look but didn't answer, Jason said softly, "Because the world is black and white to him."
"No, Jason, you've got it all wrong," Tim argued. "To Bruce the world is always gray, and he doesn't want it to be. It's a world where Renegade fits too easily and he doesn't like that."
Without another word, Bruce rose from the table and left the room.
"Good going, Timmy."
Despite the tension in the manor, the unresolved issues, and the unwanted psychoanalysis, tea was always served on Sunday at four in the afternoon. The three members of the family all entered the sitting room a bit hesitantly and sat in uncomfortable silence until Alfred wheeled in the tea trolley loaded with cakes, cookies, sandwiches, hors devours and, of course, tea. He left with simply a shake of his head, and as Bruce rose to pour the tea, the doorbell rang.
"Please let this be a band of roving minstrels," Jason mumbled, then hunched under the look that earned from his father.
"Or Jehovah's Witnesses," Tim added, reaching for a blueberry muffin and ducking his own head.
Alfred opened the door and smiled. "You got my note."
"You placed it next to the cookies. It was impossible to miss." Standing on the doorstep of his old home in broad daylight, Dick tugged nervously at his jacket sleeve and wished he was anywhere else.
"Please come in, Master Dick. The family is in the sitting room. It has been a rather tension-filled day," he added as a warning, taking Dick's jacket before leading the way down the hall.
"Oh good. I'll just add to that, shall I?"
Opening the door to the sitting room, Alfred stepped aside to let Dick pass, and said a silent prayer before closing the four in.
Mouth full of muffin, Tim stared at Dick and swallowed heavily. Jason nearly spilled his tea on his lap, and Bruce went still and tight, his eyes darkening.
Dick stuffed his hands in his pants' pockets and rocked on his feet. "Alfred invited me."
Finally, into the long silence that followed, the sound of china scraping on china was heard and the two seated brothers breathed sighs of relief as their father handed his eldest a cup of tea.
Hours later--hours in which the family went from an uncomfortable four to two in deep and often angry and painful discussion and two sparring in order to try not to think about any of it--Tim found Dick on the back patio, leaning on the stone railing, watching the sun set over the gardens. Tim leaned backwards on the railing so he could see Dick's face, and waited.
"You have a lot of patience," the older man finally said with a slight smile.
"I have too many questions to figure out which one to ask first."
Dick ran a hand through his hair and sighed heavily. "We talked. We yelled. We didn't forgive." At the sight of Tim's face falling, Dick shook his head ruefully--the kid had really gotten under his skin. "Yet."
Hope returned to that young face, but his voice remained neutral. "Oh?"
"Dunno if it'll ever happen, but he's not going to turn me in to the cops and I'm going to stop killing. Renegade's dead," he breathed softly. "I just gotta figure out who I am."
"Am I? I barely remember Dick Grayson."
"I do, and, there's glimpses of him in there. I think I always saw him. That's why..." Tim broke off, flushing and ducking his head.
Dick slowly grinned and moved to stand in front of the younger man, pressing lightly against him and pushing him back against the unyielding stone. "Yeah? I thought it was my irresistible good looks. Or my ass. I have a great ass."
Tim couldn't help but laugh. "You can be a great ass, that's for sure."
"Y'know, Timmy, you've never actually seen me naked so you can't really judge."
Blushing, Tim nodded in agreement. "We probably should rectify that some day."
Replacing the leer with a smile, Dick nodded back. "Soon. Got more to work out with the old man...and myself. He's...looking into therapy for me. I probably need it," he added ruefully.
"It wouldn't hurt,"Tim said gently. "I'm not going anywhere. I'll be here when you're ready."
"Why? Seriously, Tim, why? I've treated you like crap."
The hands Tim had rested lightly on the older man's chest, slid up to his shoulders to cup his face. "I guess I kept hoping that some day there would be a moment like this."
Dick wrapped his arms around the kid and slid one knee between his thighs. "Yeah? I heard you were the 'glass half empty' one of the family."
"Half empty only means it's half full."
"You're one hell of a confusing guy."
"You, too, Dick." With a rare grin, Tim dragged him into a passionate and, for the first time, hopeful kiss.
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