Disclaimer Haiku –
Batman is DC's,
Tim too; somebody should call
A/N – I haven't watched B:TAS in any incarnation in a great many years. Being rather poor (I dream of minimum wage), I'm not likely to get hold of a box set to watch anytime soon, either. Therefore my knowledge of the universe is limited to what I can remember and what reading fanfiction has stirred in the dustiest of my synapses. Added to this, my taped copy of Return of the Joker was wiped when I left it too close to the radiator last Winter. Please bear that in mind while reading this. If I've majorly fluffed anything from canon then I take full responsibility and we'll call this semi-AU. Sound fair?
© Scribbler, August 2005.
"I'm going out again."
"We're not discussing this."
"We never do. Because every time I try to bring it up, you walk away. Hey, come back here! I know you can still hear me, Bruce!"
I hear you all the time. I hear you even when I don't want to. When you're not there. "This isn't up for debate, Tim. Dr. Stone says - "
"Dr. Stone would say anything to keep you making cheques in his name. I'm fine. I've been fine for a long time."
"Not long enough."
"And just what's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing. Goodnight, Tim."
"Fine. Walk away. But don't think this is over."
Sometimes Bruce thought this would never be over. Sometimes he thought he was being punished for something, destined to press his face into his pillow each night and be haunted by grainy black and white images and the Joker's sick laughter. Sometimes he heard Quinn cooing, others he heard her scream, even though he hadn't been there when she fell. Always he saw the little figure in shorts and white face-paint.
Tim's old room had been abandoned. They'd put him in the guest quarters at first, then bought him new things to replace those behind a door that was eventually locked. Barbara stayed for a while, huddled in a sleeping bag on his floor when Bruce or Alfred were cajoled into their own beds for once. When she couldn't fob off her lecturers anymore she packed up her things and stared out the back of the limo at the shrinking figures on the stoop.
She never called less than once a day. Her voice lost its strained edge in time, but her eyes didn't.
"Where have you been?"
"What does it look like? I've been down to the Cave."
"Tim - "
"Don't worry, I didn't touch anything. You got some new trophies."
"That's not important right - "
"You never told me about any of the nights those came from. You never tell me anything anymore."
"That's not true. I - "
"Whatever. If you need me, I'll be upstairs developing some new disorders to keep Dr. Stone in green."
Alfred was not the emotionless shell some would think. Bruce had known the man long enough to see the fresh wrinkles around his eyes, and the sight was as much a damming indictment of how stressful his life had become as any midnight screaming fits or call-outs from Dr. Stone's private clinic.
When Bruce told him to take a vacation, Alfred just raised an eyebrow. This was anyone else's gaping lower jaw. "Really, sir. As if I'd trust you to get along without me here. I'd likely come home to find you'd blown up the manor in an effort to make omelettes."
Bruce just smiled wanly and patted him on the shoulder in a way that meant so much more when you considered who they were.
"You still want to go back out there."
"That wasn't a question, was it?"
"I know you've been on the roof. Forget it, Tim. What you're planning … isn't going to happen."
"You've been talking to Barbara. I told her not to tell you - "
"What Barbara did or did not say is immaterial."
"You're not Robin anymore, Tim."
"I'm always going to be Robin. You can't change that now, Bruce. You're too late."
Burning the Robin suits was one of the hardest things Bruce has ever had to do. Tim had suffered a growth spurt while … recuperating indicated he was actually getting better, which was a lie, but it was the best word Bruce could think of. While Tim was recuperating. He wasn't the tiny boy who had dashed across the rooftops, laughing as he jumped too-wide gaps and hung upside down from fire escapes. He was gangly, as though he had too much body to fill and not enough to fill it with. He had outgrown the suit. They never found the real one, the one he'd been wearing when … but there were always spares.
Bruce had to use a concoction of rare chemicals. He tested it on one to begin with. The smell it gave off was strong and acrid. It made him cough and his eyes water, but he forced himself to stay there, watching, as the suit turned grey like old parchment and crumbled into ash. Then he tossed on the rest.
When they were brittle but still red Tim came bursting in. Alfred appeared in the tunnel mouth after him.
"I'm sorry, sir. I couldn't stop him."
"What have you done?" Tim yelled, pushing past and trying to yank the fabric out of the oil drum. It disintegrated in his hands.
Bruce didn't reply. He couldn't around the lump in his throat, and wouldn't because he thought the answer was obvious. He suspected Tim would never forgive him for this, but since he already had an internal monologue that blamed him for everything, he could take it. It was for the best.
Tim turned on him with tears in his eyes. They brought back memories of streaked cheeks and uncontrollable laughter, the scent of roast pork thick in his nostrils. "I hate you!" He fled with the heel of one hand scrubbing his face. Bruce didn't follow.
Yes, it was for the best.
"I trust you know why I have chosen to make contact."
"Despite my express wishes you don't? I have an inkling."
"How is the boy?"
"Tim is … recuperating."
"No, I don't think you do. I won't be coming back to the League for a while, J'Onn."
"I understand. Your personal concerns are very pressing. I shall inform the others of your … I believe the word is sabbatical?"
"Yes. It is."
"All right. Incidentally, it might interest you to know that Diana wanted to make this call."
"I'm sure the League will cope admirably without me. Goodbye, J'Onn."
It was only a matter of time before Superman made an appearance. He didn't fly in, of course. There was no blaze of colour zipping in a window or down the chimney. Alfred led him into the drawing room just after midday on a Tuesday, about a week after J'Onn's message.
"Mr. Kent to see you, sir."
Clark's smile was open. It was often easy to imagine yourself drowning in those unguarded emotions. He held out his hand for Bruce to shake, then drew it away when he didn't rise from his chair.
"I'll make some tea, Master Bruce."
"Thank you, Alfred."
"Nice to see you too, Bruce." Clark didn't so much sit as descend into a chair. He carried so much presence that it stuffed a room while he was still in the doorway. He could dampen it when he was at work, but with those he trusted, those who knew his secrets and hadn't tried to exploit them, he didn't bother. His huge hands, hands that had written award-winning articles and pounded space monsters into mulch, clasped around a knee clad in an underwhelming off-the-rack grey suit.
Bruce stared at him. He could turn off the public façade, too. "I get the feeling this is to do with little green men. Or one little green man."
"Something like that. I'd actually been meaning to drop by and see how everything was going for a while now. I just … never got the time." Clark liked to preserve innocence if he could. Even his own.
He liked Tim. They'd been a lot alike, but now it seemed Tim had grown up without Earth's greatest hero.
Superman. There was a reason people called him the Boy Scout, and it was nothing to do with merit badges or campouts.
Bruce narrowed his eyes. The grey suit did nothing to conceal the inherent brightness of Clark. The chiaroscuro between Superman and Batman had never been in doubt, but Superman and Robin had always been more like different shades of the same spectrum. It had been the same when Dick wore the suit. When Tim and Superman first met in costume it had been as much a legacy as passing an actual torch.
He thought of Tim's grey skin, his gaunt cheeks and the way he dragged the tips of his shoes over the manor's expensive carpets. He thought of the nervous twitches that occasionally still appeared, and the way he never, ever laughed anymore.
"So how is he?" Clark asked with the hopeful voice of one who would like to be told that everything fixed itself while he wasn't looking.
"He's not the same."
"Get out of my city, Diana."
"Because, of course, you own it. I saw your name on the boundary sign."
"I'm on a stake out. Which is being hindered by your primary coloured presence."
"I only wanted a moment. Since you won't return any calls to the Watchtower, I had to take more drastic measures."
"I made my position clear to J'Onn. He's exemplary with his messages."
"So it's okay for Superman to visit but not for me?"
"Superman doesn't want the same things you do."
"I just wanted to make sure you were all right. What happened to Robin - "
"There is no Robin."
"No, he's not dead. But there is no Robin. Not anymore."
"Is that all?"
"Batman needs a Robin. Or someone 'primary coloured', as you so poetically put it."
"Batman doesn't need you, Robin, or anyone else. Batman needs Batman."
"Br - "
"And only Batman. Wonder Woman."
Cathy DuKane reappeared on radar. She'd lain low after the Batwoman scandal, but Bruce supposed it was impossible to make someone vanish forever – especially in Gotham. The city kept hold of you in a way that other cities didn't.
"Salutations, tiger." Cathy smirked across the bonnet of the Bentley as he left Wayne Enterprise's advertising office three weeks after he last heard from Wonder Woman. Diana. "Blast from the past, or what?"
The easy smile no longer came, but he made an effort because they were in public and because it was simpler to reflect an expression than create one from scratch. "I think I'll settle on 'or what'. Haven't seen you in a while."
"Aw, Brucie. You wound me." She pouted and stood up.
Bruce looked around. "What, no bodyguards breathing down my neck?" They would have been a welcome excuse to just leave. Tim had gone quiet about going back on patrol, but Bruce knew better than to think he'd forgotten about it or changed his mind. It was difficult to distract Tim anymore. He concentrated so hard on anything he did that all the blood drained from his face, leaving him disturbingly pale.
"Oh, they're around somewhere." Cathy twirled her hand at the wrist. "Probably. The news guys are so dense. It's absolutely no fun at all giving them the slip. Can I come for a ride?"
"That was forthright."
"Daddy always said you have to ask before you can get."
"How is your father?"
She nibbled her lower lip. "We're better. Better than we were. We … talk now." Then her tone changed back to flippant. She leaned on the hood with one hand. "So how about this ride? Surely you aren't going to leave a pretty girl just standing on the sidewalk on her lonesome, are you Brucie?"
There was something enjoyable about watching Cathy. It was the sparkle, Bruce thought. Something about her suggested sequins.
"Wouldn't dream of it. But I'm not really in the mood for explosions today."
She drew her index finger diagonally across her chest, and then again in the opposite side. "I'll do my best. Cross my heart."
"And a hello to you, too, Bruce."
"Answer the question."
"I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Yes you do."
"Jeez, you're starting to sound like my dad."
"You know what's been going on. You know who Spoiler is."
"If you're so sure of everything, why do you need my input?"
"I don't. I just wanted to know how much you were willing to tell me."
Barbara drifted away. She still called, but it was like updating a journal of an ongoing experiment. Then the calls stopped, but Tim didn't seem to care that she didn't visit anymore. The trust he'd put in her had been broken. Bruce felt a little responsible for that, but only a little.
He cut his patrol early one night and waited up for Tim to get home. Reports of a new face on the Gotham rooftops had coincided with Barbara pulling away, but when Batgirl was spotted by the stock exchange while Spoiler was on the lower east side it sent alarm bells ringing.
The fridge door opened. Tim was slugging milk straight from the carton.
He spit a little and whirled, a white line trailing down his chin and onto the shirt of his pyjamas. "Jeez, Bruce!"
Bruce stood in the doorway with arms crossed. "How long did you think you could keep this up?"
For a moment Tim looked like he was going to deny it. Bruce could see it in his face. Then he wiped the milk away with the back of his hand and his expression slammed shut. Instead of trying to justify himself, or even starting another argument as to his right to vigilantism, he said flatly, "You can't stop me."
Is this what I've created? a part of Bruce thought. Was this the result of him putting children in brightly coloured costumes? "I can tell you to stop."
"Joker is dead."
It was like a kick in the teeth. "I know."
"So get over it already. You burned the Robin suits. You told everyone Robin's gone. But that doesn't stop me being Robin."
There was a long silence, during which they volleyed several eloquent stares. Bruce broke it. "I expect your new costume to be in the Cave by morning."
Tim scowled. "No."
"If you don't, if I can't take the Gotham out of you, then I'll have no choice but to take you out of Gotham."
He gaped. "You wouldn't!"
Bruce wanted to keep Tim close, wanted to keep a better track of his health and behaviour. But sometimes caring about someone meant hurting yourself. "I will."
"Fine! Keep your stupid city. Far be it for me to try and stop this sort of thing happening to other kids." Tim threw up his hands, slammed the milk back in the fridge and stalked from the room.
I don't care about other kids, a tiny part of Bruce wanted to say. I care about you. But all he did was tighten his jaw. Thinking it seemed like a betrayal of why he'd become Batman in the first place. Honesty and ideology made uncomfortable bedfellows.
In the morning a substandard purple outfit with no Kevlar in it was hung off the back of the computer chair. Alfred removed it, and Bruce didn't ask where it went.
"Master Bruce, go to bed."
"Master Tim is asleep. You needn't wait around here, cluttering up the place in some vain attempt to stop him doing something he's not even endeavouring to do."
"Has he - "
"He's been between his sheets since bedtime."
"Thank you, Alfred."
"Please, sir, don't thank me."
Cathy was a sensual lover. She moulded herself to the contours of Bruce's body, huddling close and slinging her arm over his chest when the afterglow had faded. She also liked making love outside, especially on the cliff top, which involved more preparation than usual. Carpet burn off a tree root wasn't pleasant.
"Brucie," she murmured into his ear, nibbling the lobe like it was her lower lip. She, too, had developed some nervous habits since he saw her last.
"Good evening, Batman."
"Drop the bag, Ivy."
"Or what? You'll set the Batkids on me, too? Tell me, will Batgirl drop me from a hundred feet, or will it be the little bird boy?"
"Drop. The bag. Ivy."
"I have twelve different types of toxin in this holdall. Push me too far and I'll smash them one by one. By morning, Gotham will be nothing but a mass grave."
"How is this part of the ecologist villain's criterion?"
"I never said my babies would die. Just anything that breathes in oxygen and breathes out carbon dioxide. I don't have any reason not to pull out the big guns anymore."
"I don't make deals."
"Good, because I don't want one. There's nothing you could give me, anyway."
"Oh, don't give me that look. You may still be clean, you sanctimonious pig, but your minions have blood on their hands. They're no better than the rest of us now."
"They're nothing like you."
"Tell that to Harley and that miserable Joker."
They ran across Barbara in a small coffee shop that was a complete antithesis to Starbucks. She was sitting at a small round table at the back. Opposite her was a dark-haired girl with skin like a china doll and a heart-shaped pendant around her neck. Bruce walked in with Cathy and spotted them while he was cataloguing possible entrances and exits. There was something about the way Barbara's hand sat over the other girl's that made him think of Alfred's raised eyebrow.
Barbara looked up when Cathy giggled loudly at how little choice there was. She blushed when she spotted Bruce, snapping her hand into her lap. The girl with her looked over at him and frowned. Resentment smouldered in her eyes. Bruce had endured a lifetime of seeing that look in the eyes of party girls not chosen to drape themselves over him while another of their brethren did just that.
Batgirl continued to patrol, but she avoided his route. He respected her decision and kept his distance, but it didn't escape his notice that she continued to wear the bat.
"You don't have to stay outside, you know."
"Tim. I didn't hear you come in."
"Of course you did. You always do. And I find it vaguely insulting that you'd think I don't know that. I've been ill, Bruce, not struck with amnesia. And I meant it. You don't have to keep fucking outside in the cold."
"Oh please, don't act the offended one with me. We've both heard much worse trash talk that that. I was just letting you know that if you're staying outside because of me, you don't have to. I'm not some delicate little flower, and I'm not going to shrivel up and die if I know you're sleeping with someone down the hall. What you do with your dick doesn't bother me in the slightest."
"It wasn't because of that."
"The Batman thing? Bruce, this is the girl who was Batwoman. One of them, at least. She's going to figure it out eventually. They always do."
The robbery was a pretty standard one; three thugs, three ski masks, one getaway car the cops had already managed to lose. Batman scudded over the rooftops, landed a batarang through two of the tyres, and watched it screech and wrap around a streetlamp. The thugs scrambled free and started shooting blindly. Two low-level windows had shattered by the time he settled on top of them like fog.
Two broke and ran. No honour among thieves. The last had another .38 in his jacket. When he was disarmed he tried throwing a couple of rapid punches. Batman went under the first and to the inside so that the next swung at nothing. The thug stared at it stupidly for about a second too long, which presented the perfect opportunity for a chop to the back of the neck. He folded like a cheap suit. Batman left him on the pavement for the approaching sirens to find.
The second thug was easy enough to take down. He found the third in a crumpled heap on a fire escape, arms and legs bound together behind his back. There was a dent in the metal where a grapple had caught and held.
He ascended, wanting to call, "Tim?" or "Robin?" but he settled for "Come out. I know you're up here."
Batgirl was behind a ventilation shaft. She stood up at his approach, and he stopped.
"A little out of your jurisdiction, aren't you?"
"I was following someone." She swallowed. "Think I was Spoiler?"
"Spoiler's been out of commission for weeks."
"I know. Just as he was making a name for himself."
"He won't be coming back."
She said nothing, but turned and scanned the neighbouring roof. He took a step towards her back.
"Batgirl - "
"I'm not working alongside you anymore. None of us can." Then she fired off another grapple and was gone.
"But I don't understand. I thought we were good together."
"Past tense. Not a good sign."
"Cathy, you're a wonderful person."
"But? I hear a grandee sized 'but' in there."
"But … I have some personal issues I need to work through before I can commit to any kind of … liaison. My ward -"
"The one who was mysteriously pulled from school last year? I read it in all the papers. The society pages have been my elixir. I never claimed to not be shallow."
"Yes. Him. He was … There was an incident wherein he was … ill-treated."
"Ill-treated? You make him sound like some stray dog picked up by the ASPCA."
"I've – we've been nursing him back to health. There have been some … psychological ramifications in addition to the physical ones."
"Psychologi- Oh my god. I'm not an expert at reading between the lines, Bruce, so you're going to have to walk me through it. Are you telling me he was abused?"
"Bruce, Mr. Tall Dark and Mysterious Playboy. I may read the society pages, but I'm not going to report to them. I have my own skeletons that I really don't need unearthing. C'mon, I know you part with personal info about as easily as a lion parts with teeth, but work with me here."
"Amongst other things, yes, he was abused. He was … stolen off the street by … a man."
"Oh, you poor dear. Why didn't you say something? Of course, of course, take as much time as you need."
"Thank you. You're not hurt?"
"Of course I'm a little hurt. You're a great lay, Bruce. There aren't many men who'd let me do that thing with the lemon. But I understand. Really, I do. People shouldn't get fucked up while they're kids. It sticks with them. Trust me on this."
"Hey, don't thank me, tiger. Just concentrate on getting that little boy back to normal. And look me up when you can … commit to any kind of a liaison. Mwah. Toila."
Bruce sat with his head in his hands.
"Master Bruce." Alfred lightly tapped him on the shoulder. "I've made you a sandwich."
"Hm?" He looked up. There were faint red lines where his fingers had been. "Oh. Thank you, Alfred." He drew the plate closer and pushed idly at the papers on his desk.
"Everything all right, sir?" Alfred had produced a duster from somewhere and was wiping down the bureau on the other side of the room. Bruce could see himself reflected in the dark wood, an indistinct pink and black blob.
"One of the smaller concerns of Wayne Industries has been haemorrhaging money without declaring it. There was a break-in at STAR Labs where we've been bankrolling some research. Explodo tried to blow up the world. The usual."
The sandwich was roast beef, mayonnaise and lettuce on rye bread. There were also cookies, grouped together on a small dish next to a glass of coca cola. Bruce looked puzzled.
"Decaffeinated, sir. It seemed the best option. Tea of the same variety is an abomination." Alfred folded the duster and draped it over one arm.
"Ah." There was a long pause. "Has … Tim had his lunch, yet?"
"I delivered it to his room, sir. Whether or not he has eaten it is another matter. I believe he has begun a far-reaching vendetta against food that hasn't been delivered under Clingfilm after a long night of crime-fighting."
Bruce stopped chewing. "Do you think I'm wrong to keep him from it, Alfred?"
"I believe I trained you as a boy not to speak with your mouth full, Master Bruce. As for Master Tim … I think it would be prudent for me to say that his wounds will not heal unless he is ready to let them heal."
"So I should persevere?"
"That is entirely up to you, sir."
"But what do you think?"
Alfred's gaze was a troubling thing when it was less observing, more looking. "My thoughts? Are that there is a young boy upstairs who had the chance to be a 'hero' that many young boys can only imagine. He also learned – far better than even yourself, I'd wager – that playing hero and being a hero are two vastly different endeavours, with vastly different consequences."
Bruce was quiet for a long time. "Thank you, Alfred." When he bit into the sandwich again it tasted a little stale.
"Dr. Stone, we shall no longer be requiring your services."
"Excuse me? Mr. Wayne, when you commissioned me to care for Timothy, I was very clear in my specifications that I would not be leaving until he is completely healed."
"He's never going to be completely healed, Dr. Stone."
"I think that's a matter of opinion, Mr. Wayne."
"You carry a great many of my secrets now, Dr. Stone. And Tim's. I would advise you to keep them."
"Mr. Wayne, I have had dealings treating men and women of your … calibre before, and I have never betrayed doctor-patient confidentiality. I am a consummate professional."
"I'm very glad to hear it. There would be consequences if you weren't."
Tim was miserable. He wasn't eating properly, and would spend long hours at the drawing room window, just staring out over the grounds with unmoving eyeballs. Bruce fretted over him without saying a word.
"He's lost weight," Alfred told him while stirring a bowl of cookie dough. Tim used to whine to lick the spoon and steal chocolate chips from the packet when he thought nobody was looking.
Bruce tried to talk to Tim, but he couldn't explain things properly and Tim didn't want to listen anyway. He picked books out of the library but didn't read them. Schoolwork was a distant memory. Comics delivered to the house sat unopened in a pile on his dresser. What use, they seemed to say, is reading about costumed heroes when you've been one?
Barbara turned up on the doorstep one day. She was polite and civil for ten whole minutes, and then broke down in tears. Bruce tried to comfort her, but he'd never been very good at that sort of thing. Not even with himself.
"She left me," he heard between sobs that were so much more innocent than he was used to.
'She' turned out to be Alice, an American Literature undergraduate at Gotham University. That was about all the information Barbara would give up, and nobody pressed her for more. Alfred made up a bed and then took her tearstained pillow away to wash in the morning.
Barbara stayed over for a few days. She'd dropped out of college, but had her own place now. A small apartment not far from the coffee shop where Bruce had seen her. She got by on the money from a waitressing job where she got on the boss's nerves because she always refused the graveyard shift. Alfred, who hated lying but could fool a lie detector test by now, phoned in for her with a story about protracted illness while staying at a kindly uncle's.
It felt good having her around the place, even though she moped a bit and sifted the fine chain of a heart-shaped pendant through her fingers. Tim ignored her completely. Bruce found he liked having a partner to sit with on the cold shoulder.
She didn't go with him on patrol. They suited up together, she using one of the costumes still stored in the Cave, but when they were Batman and Batgirl they were professional and distant. She touched his hand once, lightly, but they were wearing gauntlets and it meant nothing.
Sometimes they sat up after patrol, just talking. Alfred made them cocoa, which Barbara stuffed with so many marshmallows she ate instead of drank it.
A week after arriving, she called her boss and told him to stuff his job. Two weeks after that she went to see her landlord and fetched her bags. Bruce was glad to have another ally about the house.
She still didn't patrol with him.
Eventually, when planning a large stakeout, he asked her to.
"I can't," she said quietly.
"I just … can't. Work with you."
"You used to."
"That was before…" Her eyes wandered to the door, to the stairs beyond and everything above them. "I just can't anymore."
"You already live with Tim. It's not a betrayal to work with me when he can't."
"That's not it."
Bruce finally understood. It was a proverbial smack. And he called himself a detective? "You tried to save her."
Barbara's eyes filled with tears. "It wasn't enough though, was it? I killed her, Bruce. I was the only other one there. If I'd just held on a little longer, grabbed her wrist instead of that stupid pom-pom-"
"You're not a killer." And he said it so firmly that there wasn't any room for argument. The sentence was already too crammed with meaning for argument to fit in.
Barbara stared at him. She looked very small and fragile, like the teenager she wasn't anymore, and not at all like someone who could kick hard enough to shatter a man's kneecap. For a fleeting moment Bruce remembered Andrea. How might things have been different if he'd lived up to his detective reputation with her? Then Barbara fell against him, crying, like he could protect her from herself.
Hesitantly, he put his arms around her. It felt odd, like trying on a pair of leather shoes that pinched, but which had the potential to soften and fit in time. "It was an accident. You didn't kill her."
The smell of roast pork in his nostrils again. The Joker's maniacal laugh, and a higher-pitched version, not harmonising but underscoring the sound. Bruce wondered if he'd ever get that toy gun out of his thoughts when he closed his eyes.
Batgirl patrolled with him once. They stood back to back, punching and kicking, working like they'd never been apart.
"That went well," she said when they got back to lick their wounds.
"'Well' is perhaps not the word I would have used."
"We stopped them, didn't we?"
After that she stayed in his shadow, watching his back. It felt good to have someone else on his side out there who wasn't wearing primary colours and knew how to walk silently through shadows.
One night she sank onto the bench, pulled off her mask, and watched him unclasp his cape. "Batman needs a partner," she announced.
"He does. It's obvious." She looked down. "But I'm not changing my name. And I'm not wearing man-panties."
It was only a matter of time before they slept together. Bruce was rough, releasing months of pent up frustration that he never could with Cathy DuKane, while Barbara mouthed three different names, only two of them his. It made a difference that they already knew each other's secrets.
They made love both in and out of costume, in the manor, on the rooftops, in the Batmobile and the Cave. He pressed her against the bonnet of the Bentley, and she pounced on him when he was hot and sweaty from patrol, moaning and writhing until he wondered how he hadn't realised how beautiful she was before. He'd always thought of her like a ward: Jim's daughter, the little girl who wouldn't take no for an answer. She scrabbled shorts nails across his shoulder blades, hooked the heels of her feet into the small of his back and proved to him that she wasn't that little girl anymore. He ran his hands through her hair, all her hair, and pulled her tiny shape close. Girl or woman, she made him feel strong. She made him feel protective in a different way than he had for a long, long time.
She made Catwoman jealous as hell.
He wouldn't have described himself as happy – if only because of Tim's continued problems, and because Bruce possessed a copy of the Really Accurate English Dictionary, and knew that in it, 'happy' is defined as a dialect term meaning 'asking for trouble', and that admitting happiness, even in private, is effectively the same as wiggling a catnip mouse right under fate's nose. However, he was willing to concede that he was a great deal less unhappy than he'd been in a very long time.
The Justice League called to check up on him. He told them he was still on sabbatical. They didn't call again.
"Dr. Stone, I told you not to call this number anymore - "
"I know, and ordinarily I wouldn't, but … this isn't a professional call. Not as such."
"It concerns my nephew and your ward, and what they could do for each other."
Tim passed out from anxiety and hunger while taking a walk in the grounds. It was fast and without warning - no tottering or dizziness, no gradual stagger or buckling of the knees. Between one second and the next he plunged into unconsciousness and went from vertical to horizontal in the dirt. From the sudden, merciless way his strength gave out, it looked as if he were dead.
Barbara was reading a book by the window in the library and saw him. Her scream brought everyone running.
Bruce stroked his chin and frowned and tapped his foot under the morning room table. Tim had been put to bed after eating a high-protein, high-glucose food pack. "He's not happy."
"I couldn't comment, sir," said Alfred. "More tea, Miss Barbara?"
"Thank you, Alfred." Barbara stirred sugar into her delicate porcelain cup with trembling fingers and watched Bruce's expression shift. "That look says you have something in mind to remedy that." She sounded hopeful.
"I'm not sure…"
"Come on, Bruce. Spill."
"I don't want him on the streets anymore. We can't look after him, and he doesn't want to be looked after. That much is obvious. Gotham isn't kind to those who've been burned." He clenched his fist in his lap.
Barbara narrowed her eyes. "So what do you suggest?"
"He shouldn't be in a costume. He's still not well."
"Because you were such a picture of mental health when you took up the pointy ears."
"I - " He didn't have an answer to that. "He doesn't trust us anymore. We've taken away what was important to him."
"Aren't we important to him?"
"I begin to doubt it. Certainly, if this carries on … no."
There was a long pause, full of meaning that Bruce couldn't begin to understand, much less put into words. "So what do you suggest?"
"I don't suggest anything. It's another suggestion I'm considering."
"You're doing handstands on the end of your bed."
"Going to ban me from this, too?"
"You haven't eaten."
"Fuck off, Bruce. Go play with your fuckbuddy."
"You should be more careful," Barbara said as she carefully wrapped gauze around Bruce's lower arm. He flexed his fingers, making the muscles twitch. "Hold still. Jeez, you were lucky I was there to save your butt."
"I was fine on my own."
"Uh-huh. Right. That's why you were getting busy with the bleeding and the passing out right before I came in with the yelling and the saving."
"If I may say so, sir," Alfred commented as he held up the tattered remains of the batsuit, sighed, and crumpled them into a ball, "Miss Barbara does have a point. Your injuries have the potential to be much worse. From what you've both told me, her presence was indeed auspicious. As they say, two heads are better than one."
"Or four fists are better than two," Barbara added. "More batarangs better than less, as well. I told you that you needed a partner."
Bruce waited until she'd finished wrapping the bandages, and then caught her up in a passionate kiss. It was so unexpected that she didn't even have time to argue until it was over. "If I say thank you, will you stop talking about it?"
She grinned. Her eyes were still tired, but they were also sparkling. "You betcha."
Another kiss, this one deeper. Bruce's hand ran up the back of her neck and into her hair.
Alfred coughed. "I'll just dispose of these then, sir."
No reply. Barbara moaned a little into Bruce's mouth, slinging one leg around his waist.
"Very good, sir."
"What're you doing?"
"Looking up something."
"Couldn't it wait until morning?"
"Not even if I said please?"
"Not even if I did … this?"
"Barbara - "
"Come to bed, Bruce. I'll do that thing you like."
"Barbara, I can't - "
" … All right."
Tim was dozing in an armchair when the package dropped into his lap. He came awake with a start. "Wha-?"
"You'll have to rebuild your body mass," Bruce said sternly. "And learn that you can't just stamp your foot to get your own way all the time."
Tim glared suspiciously at the package. "What's this?"
"Not a bomb."
Cautiously he opened it. Inside was a familiar but different costume that made his eyes light up and several ungained years fall away from his face. "But you said - "
"You won't be with me. Or in Gotham. And you won't be working alone. I still don't approve."
"Then what - "
"What do you know about Jump City?"
"Where the heck is Jump City?"
A roadmap landed on top of the package. A file marked 'TT' landed on that. "I suggest you start reading."
You know the drill, there's nothing to it; you've read the fic, so now review it!