Jason woke early the next day, having slept so deeply in his old bed that he now crackled with energy. He showered and dressed swiftly, then made his way quietly to the top of the stairs. The morning sun was just beginning to slant through into the foyer, and he paused for a moment to take it in. Everything was surreal, from the cool marble beneath his feet to the tiny dust motes drifting down through the narrow shafts of brightness that the windows let in. He was back where he should have been all along, but it felt unreal. It felt impossible.
It felt perfect, and he decided then and there to revel in it.
He found Alfred in the kitchen. The older man was wrestling three cartons of eggs and four packages of bacon, but he paused long enough to wish Jason good morning. "You'll find Master Tim in the den, if you desire company before breakfast," he added. "The rest are all still abed, although I expect that Master Dick will be down shortly for his next dose of pills."
Jason waffled. On the one hand, a solitary reacquaintance with the house and grounds sounded pleasant; on the other, there was a nudge of encouragement in Alfred's voice that he wasn't sure he should ignore. If there was anyone in the family other than Bruce with whom he needed to make an extra-concerted effort it was Tim, and here was an opportunity to do so in private. Despite knowing that, and despite the massive transformation in their relationship that had already occurred, he hesitated.
"...He doesn't bite, you know, Master Jason," the butler said gently, "and you are quite capable of restraining your own teeth when you want to."
Somehow that helped calm a bit of his uncertainty. "...Yeah," he nodded slowly. "I guess you're right about that."
Alfred sent him a small smile. "Then there's no reason not to make an attempt, is there?"
"...No. There's not." Really, he thought, what would he lose by trying? If things got tense he could always leave the room and try again another time. Besides, Tim was the one who had said that there was no point in them making each other miserable; given that, maybe a few minutes of basic conversation wouldn't be so bad. "I'll, uh…poke my head in for a second, I guess."
"Excellent, young sir. I'm glad to hear it. I'll fetch you both when breakfast is ready."
"Sure. Um…" He rubbed the back of his neck nervously for a second. "…Thanks, Alfred."
"Of course, Master Jason. Any time."
Thirty seconds later he stood before the door to the den. It was closed, and he couldn't decide whether or not to open it. Maybe the younger man wanted to be left alone, he mused, and his intrusion would be unwelcome. Alfred usually knew when one of his charges was in the mood for solitude, though, and Jason couldn't imagine the butler sending him on a mission that was doomed to fail from the start. Finally deciding that the only way to know was to open the door and find out for himself, he reached for the knob.
It turned without him, and the door swung back. "…Oh," Tim said, looking mildly surprised. "I didn't realize you were out here."
"I was…ah…well, looking for you, actually," Jason confessed.
Alarm immediately saturated Tim's expression. "Why? Is something wrong with Dick?"
"No! No. He's still asleep, or at least that's what Alfred said. I just…" He trailed off, unsure what it was he'd been expecting from this encounter.
"…You just?" Tim urged.
"I…don't know," Jason answered. Embarrassment was beginning to make his face hot, and he turned to make his escape. "Never mind."
He stopped. "What?"
"…I was going to get a glass of orange juice. If you want one, I could bring it back with me."
"Is it Alfred's fresh-squeezed stuff?"
"Would there be any other kind in this house?"
His mouth ached suddenly as his salivary glands kicked into overdrive. "Then…then yeah. Orange juice sounds good."
"Okay." Tim made to pass him, then paused. "You can wait inside if you want. I wasn't doing anything secret."
He stepped into the room and simply stood for a minute, staring at the couch. The memories that had assaulted him as he'd watched Dino and Marco the night before rushed back in, making him sigh. Perhaps soon there would be an opportunity for him and Dick to spend an afternoon in the way they used to, with a bowl of popcorn between them and something – it didn't matter what at this point – playing on the screen. It wouldn't even be so awful, he thought, if one or both of the younger boys wanted to join them. As little as he relished the idea of sharing his big brother with anyone, a piece of Dick's attention was far better than none at all. He would take what he could get, and would try not to resent the others for wanting the same thing he did.
What Tim had been doing in here became apparent as soon as Jason glanced at the coffee table. A dozen guidebooks were stacked on one end of the surface; two others lay open atop a scribble-filled notebook. Curious, he drew closer and sat down. His nose wrinkled slightly as he read the titles and caught on to the theme. "…The Civil War?" he inquired as Tim reappeared with a glass in each hand. "I didn't know you were a history buff."
"I don't think I'd call myself that, honestly," Tim shrugged as he set down his load and dropped into Bruce's recliner.
"So what's with the guidebooks, then?"
"Well…you know what happened last summer. With the earthquakes and all of that."
"Yeah. And I know that you and Dick were kind of in the middle of it all."
"Right. But we were only in the middle of it because we were on a trip together. Nothing with masks, just…just a fun trip. A fun trip that went to hell in a handbasket. Anyway, that was a Christmas present from Dick to me. I wanted us to try getting away together again despite how things turned out the first time, so I gave him a Civil War tour for his birthday this year. Damian seemed interested once he found out what we were planning, so we invited him along too. We were supposed to leave next week, but…" He shrugged. "With Dick's shoulder messed up again and his having light and noise sensitivity issues so recently, I think we're going to have to put it off."
Jason was confused. "When did Dick get so into the Civil War, though? I mean…what gave you the idea to do that in particular?"
Tim gave a short laugh. "You know Dick. He'll do anything so long as he's with someone he cares about. I could have set up a tour of the Gotham water treatment plant and he'd have been happy, so long as we were doing it together. But the war…there were a couple of factors behind my choosing it. For one thing, we can go to these places without begin reminded of what happened last year. So many other destinations are torn up, you know? I didn't want to spend every day of the trip thinking about how close we came to…well. It's supposed to be a fun trip, not a dark stroll down memory lane.
"Plus, it's interesting. The tactics, the interpersonal stuff, all of it. A lot of the officers had been friends for years before the war started, and there were entire families split down the middle by differing ideologies. Sometimes they ended up on opposite sides, and…" He colored slightly. "Well, you can imagine what that must have been like for them."
Staring down an old friend or brother on the battlefield with a gun in your hand…Jason didn't have to imagine in order to know how that felt. His eyes met Tim's briefly, then skipped back to the books on the table. "Yeah…"
"Yeah…anyway, that's…that's what led up to it. Now I guess we'll just have to do it next summer instead. Damian starts school right after we were originally supposed to get back, so there's not going to be time once Dick's healed."
"Doesn't sound like there will be, no."
Silence fell, but it was less uncomfortable than usual. The orange juice in their glasses dropped lower as they sipped without speaking. "…Hey, Jason?" Tim ventured finally.
"Um…I know I said this before, but thank you." He paused. "A lot's changed over the last two weeks, and most of the good changes only happened because of your involvement. I don't know if you realized that or not, so I wanted to mention it."
"All I really did was talk to Dick when he was half-crazy."
"And you found that guy who told us about Nona-"
"Nate Westing," Jason said quietly. It was important that the dead man's name not be forgotten. He had been an innocent victim, and in Jason's book that entitled him to being remembered.
"-and you agreed to play double agent, and you…" Tim hesitated. "…And you didn't kill the Joker."
"I don't see how that last one is a change," he argued. "It's not like I've killed him in the past and held off this time."
"It's not that that's the change. It's that you not killing the Joker made it possible for you to be here now, and…and I think that's a good change."
Jason studied the younger man carefully, trying to measure the honesty of his statement. "…You do?"
Their eyes locked, and there was no guile in Tim's gaze. "Yeah. I do. It makes Dick and Bruce and Alfred happy, and…and you're not a bad guy, Jason, okay? I used to think you were – with good reason, to be fair – but…I was wrong."
For a moment Jason couldn't manage a reply. "I, uh…I might have been wrong about some things, too," he said eventually. "At least now…maybe now we have a chance to learn the truth."
"The truth is good," Tim nodded. "I'm a fan of it." A beat passed as they both drained the last of their drinks. "…Breakfast is probably about ready. We should head for the dining room." Despite making that proposal, he didn't move. Jason, sensing that he wasn't quite done speaking, waited to rise. "Do you know much about the Civil War?" came slowly.
"Just what they teach you in school. I'm not really a documentary program watching, non-fiction reading kind of guy. Wars are okay, though," he allowed. "Interesting, I mean."
"Sure." Now Tim stood up, but the contemplative air he'd developed in the last twenty seconds remained about him. "…You should check it out sometime. The Civil War. You could borrow a couple of these, if you wanted," he offered, gesturing to the guidebooks. "You might like it. And if you do…well…maybe that info will come in handy someday, you know? I mean…a lot can change in a year. So…if you're interested, it's a thought. That's all." Suddenly looking as if he'd said too much, Tim shuffled his feet. "Anyway…see you at breakfast," he said hurriedly, and departed.
Jason stared after him. He hadn't quite been invited to go along on the trip that the others had been planning without him for months, but the implication had been there. While he was certain that Dick would have asked him to come in any case, that wasn't the point. From Dick an invitation would have been expected; from Tim it was a shock. Two weeks ago the younger man probably wouldn't have offered to take him to the hospital, let alone on a vacation. It was a hell of a change of pace, and it left Jason feeling a bit dazed.
Nevertheless, he picked up two of the books at random, tucked them under his arm, and headed for the hallway. He would run the guides upstairs to his room – his room – before breakfast, and flip through them later. There was no rush, not with a year still to go, but a trace of giddiness was beginning to rise in his stomach anyway. All he'd wanted was the old status quo back, to feel the same love from Bruce and Dick and Alfred that had once been the background emotion to his daily life; now it seemed that he might be eligible for even more. Sure, Damian was a smartass and Tim was a bit overbearing, but so what? They were Robins, just like he and Dick were, and that was a cursedly rare breed. It behooved them to stick together whenever possible.
A smile arched his lips, and as he stepped into the light that now filled the entryway he felt that he had finally come home.
Author's Note: I hope you all enjoyed this romp with the Batfamily; I know I did. My plan is to write a third story in this series that covers the boys' Civil War trip (and yes, there will be a mystery involved, of course), but I do not know for sure when that will be as I have some Spark in the Dark stories to get out first.
On the note of the next big story, I'm afraid you'll be waiting a bit for it. Due to my very full schedule between now and May I have decided not to start any long tales until summer. I don't feel that it's fair to you lovely readers to not be able to post on a set schedule, so I will be limiting myself to shorter tales until I can provide that for you. I hope that you'll all keep an eye out for those smaller pieces, and that you'll join me once more when summer comes and we can start another grand adventure together.
As always, happy reading!