He knew the only reason Bruce hadn't found him yet was because he had not looked for him. It wouldn't be hard for the man to track him even under his fake identity, he had not covered his steps that well to begin with. Just good enough to not be uncovered by the regular goon, but never good enough for the best detective in the world to find him out. Part of him had even wished for some time for him to appear. It would have meant that he cared, enough at least to look for him, to check on him... Deep inside, however, he knew it was better this way because if (when) he came it will be all about business and it would only make things worse.

Still, when he felt the presence in his back and turned to find Batman on his windowsill a cold disappointment crept over him.

The boy inside him, the one that still loved him and always will, wanted to scream at him, to push him out of his window and let him know how much it hurt to see he didn't even pretend it was a social call. But Tim just smiled, shutting the hurt boy down and letting the good soldier take care of it all. The good, obedient soldier. The one that always went back to Gotham, no matter what, whenever he was called. It didn't matter the reason, fighting deluded crooks or shining and charming socialites in a charity ball. He was always ready, always. Even then.

"You took your time" he wanted to say.

"You could knock, you know? It's making little noises with your knuckles on the door before getting in", he joked instead.

"I didn't want to blow your cover"

"Oh, of course"

Tim turned to the computer he had been working on when Bruce had interrupted. Pretending to be saving files would help him keep his temper in check.

"So, what is it? Some secret society trying to take over Gotham again? A mass escape from Arkham? Has Damian misplaced the dog?"

There were a few seconds of silence and he felt good, for he had been aiming to hurt with the cheerful, uninterested tone. In fact, he was still pretending to be more interested on his files than on the man at his back until he spoke again.

"I've seen the footage of The Culling"

He stopped his hands mid-air, feeling a burning oppression in the chest all of a sudden. Of course he had, Damian had the images, hadn't he? Why shouldn't he show them to Bruce to let him see how flawed he was?

"Really?" He tried to sound unimpressed as he turned to the man again.

"We are concerned"

"We?" He raised an eyebrow. For some reason the plural irritated him even more.

"I am concerned, Tim", corrected Bruce taking off the cowl, but that just made things worse because for making it close and personal he should have chosen the main door to begin with.

"Why should you? It was all under control"

It was a lie, of course. A lie so blatant that it would have turned Pinocchio's nose into a tree. Nothing had ever been less in control in his entire life. He had not been ready, not at all. Not ready to form a team, not ready to see more people die, not ready to loose two team-mates and, definitely, not ready to win a fight that felt like a total defeat.

But still he held the lie. Not a blush, not a flinch. He was a very good lier by now. Maybe that should concern Bruce too.

"You have made powerful enemies" was his answer allowing him to keep his pretence and save face.

The boy just laughed the knot in his entrails out.

"Me? Have you checked your rogues gallery lately?"

Bruce was not amused, neither distracted.

"I don't think it's safe for you to operate here on your own anymore"

And there it was, wasn't it? "I've allowed you to play this game for grown ups, but it's over. Pick up the mess and come downstairs for supper". And part of him wished for nothing more, collect his things and go back home. Near Bruce, near Dick, near Alfred... But again he controlled the urge for there was no way in hell he was going back to Gotham, not while... while still...

"I'm not on my own" And he finally frowned, tired of pretending his attitude didn't bother him.

"These boys and girls are dangerous"

Bruce didn't trust metas, even if he worked with some of them in the JLA. Tim suspected it was because they were powerful and scary without effort and that made him feel insecure. He was even tempted to say it out loud just to see the truth in his face, but in the end he bit his tongue. Hurting Bruce would not help in winning him back, would it?

"These boys and girls are my friends" (Sort of)

"Are they? You barely know them."

"Sometimes barely is more than enough, Bruce. I know they are good and brave. I know how scared and alone they felt until we found one another. Why shouldn't it be enough?"

"Because we are not talking about a chess club and you need to trust your allies when you are fighting for your life."

"Oh, no, don't go there! " He was raising his voice but he didn't care anymore. "You are the one with trust issues, not me. Don't presume to know who I want besides me in a fight and who I don't, because you might not like the answer!"

He saw his adoptive father purse his lips and he knew he had almost hit home. That was not what he wanted, he didn't want to bring the brat into the conversation and make it all look as if he was having a tantrum. So he bit his cheeks and looked Bruce in the eye, challenging him to follow that path if he dared.

"I could make it an order."

"Yes, you could"

And then the man sighed and took a pair of steps back, feeling for the window with his hand without turning his head.

"Are you really determined to stay in here? You know that's your home. Whenever..." He let the sentence die, but he understood the meaning all the same.

"Whenever you feel lonely. Whenever you are tired or scared..."

Tim felt like crying. He felt like running to his father and hug him and ask him to take him home, please, oh, please, to take him away from the loneliness and the shame and the life he didn't even want to live. When he had first started all of it it was going to be awesome, wonder and adventure, the best days of his life... And now he had nothing except a big apartment under a fake name and a bunch of lost teenagers under his already shattering wings.

But the smile was on his lips before he could stop it.

"Yes, I'm determined, Bruce. I know you are worried, but you shouldn't be, really. I'm fine. A bit angry about you-know-who right now, I admit it", he added with a little laugh that he hoped sounded more amused and less sad in reality that had sounded in his head, "but perfectly fine otherwise."

The adult nodded, putting his cowl back on. Was he convinced or was he just trying to avoid conflict? He didn't say anything that could prove either point before jumping out of the window. He hoped he was convinced, because if not he was going to send Dick with an excuse or another and his older brother was someone he didn't feel like dealing with at the moment.

"Shit" he took his hands to his face, realizing he was in better terms with the nearly-a-villain Red Hood right now that with the righteous part of his family. He didn't like the places it took him to.