Bruce stared up at the screen as he considered all of his options. He knew from his meeting with Leslie less than an hour ago that he had missed something important to do with Tim and his father and he needed to fix things soon or he would risk losing his son forever. The awkward and strained meeting between the two of them at Wayne Tower had made that clear enough.
Soon after Tim had become his Robin, Bruce had installed cameras in his home. He knew it was a massive violation of privacy, something he wasn’t sure he would forgive himself for, but it seemed like the right choice. At the very least he wasn’t regretting his decision now.
The cameras were only ever placed in ‘public’ areas of the house. He avoided the bathrooms knowing that would have meant he had gone too far and the cameras in the bedroom had added encryption as they were meant to be used in the most dire of circumstances.
Bruce had never felt the need to look through the footage in the past, there wasn’t any incident that called for their use, but now they were his only choice.
He pulled up the file on the BatComputer where the footage from the cameras had been uploaded and entered the encryption key. He watched as numbers ran across the screen and soon he was given access and began looking through the footage chronologically.
There were in total ten cameras in the house and he began playing them all at the same time, each stream taking up a portion of the large screen. Bruce would need to go through years and years of footage and most of it would be empty rooms so his best option was to watch all ten streams at the same time and pay attention to the action.
Bruce began from six years ago and he saw himself pulling back from the camera as he made sure it was secure in its position and secluded enough that the family wouldn’t notice.
He fast forwarded through the empty footage and stopped to see an eleven year old Tim crawl in through the window outside of his room. It struck Bruce how small the boy had really been, far smaller than most of the kids his age although not much had changed in that regard.
Tim opened the door to his room, stretched out his arms, and called for his father. He investigated all of the rooms in the house before realizing he was alone and returned back to his room looking defeated.
Bruce wanted to crawl into the screen and comfort the boy but he knew he had missed his chance many times over. The only thing he could do now was try and repair the relationship he had slowly destroyed over the years.
The footage of the next few weeks was normal. Tim woke up in the morning, went about his daily routine, left for school, came back around midnight, realized he was still alone, and resigned himself to his room.
A part of Bruce knew it was his fault. He was the one pushing the boy back to the empty house when he didn’t have anyone there to welcome him, but the only thing he had thought at the time was that the boy wasn’t Dick, that he would never be Dick. That was all that had mattered to him.
Curious, Bruce paused the security feed and found the ones of the cave around the same time.
He used the cameras in the cave to look in when he was out of town, but he wanted to remember just what Tim’s training had been like. It all just seemed like a haze to him, something ancient that he couldn’t quite remember, so he welcomed opportunity to watch the boy as he became a brilliant Robin.
Going back a little too far into the past, Bruce watched the first time Tim had set foot in the BatCave.
Dick lead Tim down the staircase and exclaimed, “It’s called the BatCave!”
“It’s incredible! Look at all those computers. Look at at the trophies. Look how big it is.” Tim ran around the room, investigating anything that caught his eye before stopping in his tracks and whispering, “I can’t believe I’m actually here.”
Dick walked over to the case that preserved his costume and stood in shock at the sight of the remains of his childhood. “Robin-? Those were the days.” Pulling off his clothes, he turned to face Tim and explain, “But Thomas Wolfe was right…You can’t go home again, and you must go on.”
He proudly stood before Tim wearing his old Nightwing costume and the boy argued, “No, not Nightwing. Dick, don’t you understand? Batman needs Robin!” Turning back to Alfred, Tim asked, “Doesn’t anyone understand?”
Watching Dick leave to run after Bruce, Alfred said, “Perhaps, young man. Perhaps Master Dick understands profoundly – perhaps that is why he brought you here.”
Tim stood beside Alfred with shook clear on his face as he realized what Dick and Alfred meant.
Bruce couldn’t help but want to thank Alfred and Dick for having the foresight he never had. He had no idea where he would be if Tim had never become his Robin, but he was sure he would be a shell of the person he was now and for that he would be eternally thankful.
Remembering just why he had pulled up the stream of the cave, Bruce speed past some of the footage until he saw Tim begin his training.
Only a week after the previous events, Bruce had been leading Tim through acrobatic routines that tested the training the boy had already had. Watching as Tim repeated the program Dick had just shown him, Bruce noticed that the boy had learned things far faster than he had ever given him credit for.
He remembered that it had been because of the distance he had put between him and Tim, enough so that the eleven year old wouldn’t falsely interpret his actions as actually caring. Bruce wanted to go back in time to force himself to understand that he was hurting a boy that meant the world to him, a boy that needed him more than anyone.
He watched Dick leave as he needed to get some sleep before he turning in for work and Tim gave him a small wave goodbye. In a few short months the two would grow much closer, but Bruce knew their relationship had taken time to foster and he wouldn’t wish for anything to change any part of it. Even now, any choice that Dick made was because of what he interpreted to be the best choice for Tim, even if he was wrong at times.
With only the two of them in the cave, Bruce told Tim to go over the routine Dick has shown him while he turned his attention to the computer and pulled up the police reports for that night. Behind his back, Tim dutifully followed his orders perfectly, only faltering when Bruce looked at the time on the screen an hour later and called out softly, “You should get some sleep now, Dick.”
Tim looked at his back confused, but he quickly pulled back his composure and made his way out the cave. He didn’t say anything as he walked up the stairs, not wanting to ruin the mirage he had put up or force Bruce to face a reality he wasn’t ready for.
Bruce speed through the next couple of months and he watched as Tim stopped being surprised every time Bruce said the wrong name. The eleven year old decided it was just another way he could help his hero and he focused on not making any noise, not doing or saying anything that was too…Tim.
Only now did Bruce notice the look in Tim’s eyes, the one that he hadn’t yet taught the boy how to hide, as he began to expect the harsh treatment and took it gracefully because he decided it was just another part of his job.
Unable to bare the look on the boy’s face, Bruce closed the stream began playing the footage of Tim’s home.
It wasn’t too helpful in lifting Bruce’s spirits as he had to watch the boy continue to be disappointed with just how empty his home was, but Bruce reminded himself this wasn’t about him, it was about trying to find a way to fix his relationship with his son.
Tim came home right after school and set his backpack down on the floor. He walked up to the fridge and refilled his water bottle but he turned around to see his father sitting down on the couch.
Tim walked up to his father and gleefully asked, “Hey, Dad. Where had you been?”
He tried not to seem too upset or controlling, but it had been over three months since he had seen his father and he was curious.
Not bothering to look up, Jack simply responded, “Working.” He missed the way his son’s face deflated at the curt response, but Tim sat beside his father nonetheless.
“Did you do anthi-”
“Tim, go into the cupboard and get me a drink. I’m going to leave for a meeting soon and I’m going to need something to make it less painful.”
Jack thought he was being funny, that Tim wouldn’t care about how much time they spent together, but Tim was too afraid to tell him otherwise and he did as he was told.
It was the look on his face that did it for Bruce. Tim looked like he expected the treatment and between the way he and Jack had complete disregard for his feeling, Bruce couldn’t blame him.
He thought for a moment that this was what Leslie had been talking about, the reason she had practically collapsed at their last meeting, but he wasn’t willing to risk missing something even more telling of the pain was feeling.
Apparently the meeting that Jack had been talking about had lasted for over two months because that was how long it took him to come back home. He had come back almost as soon as Tim had left for school so he missed seeing him out.
Jack made his way through the hallway drunk and leaning onto the hallway looking for support. The forty year old stumbled his way over to Tim’s room and he slammed the door open.
Bruce decided that the situation warranted it, so he decrypted the feed from Tim’s bedroom and began to watch.
When he found the room unoccupied, Jack rummaged through his drawers, looked into his closet, and lifted up all of the sheets from his bed still not finding whatever he was looking for. Scowling, Jack walked out of the room, leaving it a mess, and went to pass out on the couch in the living room.
He stayed there until Tim came home into the early hours of the night. Tim dropped his bags and rushed over to Jack imagining the worst when he didn’t move at any of the sounds he made. Turning Jack over to his side, Tim pleaded, “Dad! Dad! Are you alright?”
Jack groaned at the interruption and promptly threw Tim to the ground when he realized who had woken him up from his sleep. Tim didn’t argue, but he quietly rose from his place on the ground and followed Jack to the kitchen still worried about his state.
Glancing at the clock, Jack turned to Tim and said, “It’s well past dinner time. What did you make?”
Unsure of where to look, Tim stared at the ground and forced out, “I just got home so I didn’t have time. I’m sorry.”
Jack just stared at him before asking, “Why aren’t you making anything right now?”
Straightening up, Tim quickly pulled out things from the cabinets and began making something simple, spaghetti, and laid it out for his father. Staring down at the food unimpressed, Jack picked up the plate and went to eat it in his own room.
Watching at his father’s back as he walked away, Tim sighed and cleaned up the kitchen before picking up his bag to go to his room and get some homework done.
Bruce slammed his fist into the controls of the computer and wanted so much to bring Jack back from the grave so he could give him a piece of his mind. Tim had been twelve in the video and far too alone for anyone his age or older.
Now Bruce was beginning to see the warning signs he had missed all those years ago, the lost look, the obsessive need to please, and the lack of self esteem, but he knew there was more. More evidence of his failings as a father as he could only imagine Tim’s relationship with his father had only gotten worse from his point.
Bruce watched as the mistreatment became a lot more constant and Bruce soon had no reservations labeling it criminal abuse. A few moments stuck out the most and it took everything in Bruce to not rise from his chair and make his way over to Tim and envelope him in an embrace.
It had been a long night as Robin and a thirteen year old Tim was ready to get to bed. He still had the baby fat on his cheeks, but the menacing Robin was also there ready to tear criminals apart beside Batman and replayed their patrol over and over again in his head with a smile on his face.
Before he could crawl into his covers, Tim heard a heard a crash from downstairs. Immediately making his way in the direction of the commotion, Tim found his father standing in the kitchen with a bottle in one hand and broken glass on the floor.
Increasingly aware of the fact that neither of them were wearing any protection on their feet, Tim kept some distance between him and the shards and asked, “Are you alright?”
Jack shot him a glare before mocking, “Yeah I’m perfectly fine…no I’m not alright. I spilled my drink on the ground. Why would I be alright?”
Tim flinched back at the tone and quickly made his way to the sink so he could get a washcloth and clean up the mess. Before he could even try, Jack tripped him and he landed on top of the broken glass and screamed out as it cut through his skin. The shards sparkled in the dim kitchen light and Tim was thankful to be wearing pants and a long sleeved shirt.
Hissing as he tried to stand up, Tim stared at the blood coming out of his palms and looked up to see Jack looking disappointed. At this point, that was the only expression he was capable of.
Tim could tell Jack had been hoping that Tim would fight him, that he was willing to stand up for himself when faced by a bully, but Tim knew better than to show any of his Robin training in front of anyone.
Not offering any help, Jack dug into a cabinet and found another glass and left Tim to deal with his injuries himself.
Bruce knew Tim could have fought him off easily, could have regained his balance before he landed on the shards and sent Jack to the hospital, but there was an emotional reason that he didn’t put Jack in his place. Despite everything, Tim loved Jack.
One of the last clips Bruce saw was just a few weeks before Jack eventually died. To be honest, Bruce didn’t feel too bad about that now.
Once again drunk, Jack made his way into Tim’s room and began searching his closet. He threw Tim’s cloths on the ground, completely destroyed some of the things Tim had kept for safekeeping in shoeboxes, until it was empty. He noticed a crack in the wall and clawed at it until he took out the paneling and could reach some fabric on the inside of the wall.
At first Jack thought it was just some black fabric, but he pulled it out nonetheless and could immediately recognize the Robin costume. Even in his inebriated state, it didn’t take long for Jack to put it all together.
He sat down on Tim’s bed and stared at the costume until he heard the front door open a few hours later. Tim walked into his room completely unaware and gasped at the sight of it completely destroyed.
Jack stood before him and hide his findings behind his back as he growled out, “Is there anything you want to tell me, Tim?”
Confused, Tim said, “I’m not really sure what you’re talking about Dad.”
Taking a hold of Tim’s arm and holding him against the wall, Jack showed him the suit and asked, “Is there anything you want to tell me?”
Tim eyes grew at the sight and tried to find something to say, but nothing came out before Jack turned him around and pressed his face into the wall. He wrapped his hand around Tim’s arm and turned it until Tim had to scream out against the pain shooting through him.
Moving him off of the wall just so he could push him into it again, Jack screamed into Tim’s ear, “What the hell is this, Tim? What the fuck?”
Gasping for his breath as Jack refused to stop pressing on his lungs, Tim choked out, “I can explain, Dad. It’s not that bad.”
Turning his arm even more so, enough that they could hear something crack and the weak gasp that Tim let out, Jack pressed on, “Not that bad? You’ve been running around as Robin all this time. I’m not a fucking idiot, Tim. I can figure out that Bruce is Batman, that Dick is Nightwing.”
Adamant about keeping as much hidden as he could, Tim tried to say, “No. That’s not-”
Slamming him again, Tim could tell he was bleeding from his eyebrow and he flinched back as Jack yelled out, “Don’t you dare say that it isn’t true, you little piece of shit. Why do you want to protect them, Tim? Why would you do this?”
Trying to shake his head as he tried to keep the blood from getting into his eye, Tim tried to explain, “B-Gotham needs a Robin.”
Turning him around once again so Jack could look Tim in the eye, he glared at the fifteen year old and thought out loud, “You wanted to say Bruce, that Bruce needs a Robin.” Letting his hand get tangled in Tim’s hair, Jack pulled at it until he hissed and asked with a low voice, “Are you fucking him? Is that what this is about? You and your daddy issues?”
Tim had not been expecting that lewd of a question and before he could tell Jack off for how stupid he was, he kneed Tim in the stomach and kicked him until he was in the fetal position on the ground.
Growing bored after a few minutes, Jack threw the costume beside his body stared at him from the doorway before finishing, “I don’t see how you could be any good, you can’t even take a few light hits. Bruce really must be keeping you around to look at you. If he hasn’t fucked you yet, it’s only a matter of time you know.”
Once he was alone, Tim reached out for his suit and curled around it as he resigned himself to the floor. He rubbed his thumb over the Robin emblem on the chest and wept into the tunic just loud enough to be picked up the camera.
Everything turned red and Bruce didn’t even bother closing the feed before he stormed out the cave, grabbed the keys to the his car, and ignored the speed limit as he made his way to Tim’s apartment.
Taking in a deep sigh, Bruce knocked on the front door and watched closely as Tim’s eyes grew a little darker as soon as they laid on him. Bruce tried to give him a smile, something to calm both of them down as he tried to reconcile the fact that the very sight of him would cause his son to react so deeply, but it only served to make the teenager even more confused.
Trying not to care too much about why Bruce was here, Tim asked politely, “Is there anything I can help you with, Bruce?”
Bruce tried to assure him, “I don’t need anything, Tim. I just wanted to stop by.”
Creasing his eyebrows, Tim studied Bruce to see if there were any signs of mind control, poisoning, or manipulation. When he couldn’t find any of the regular tells, Tim stood aside and welcomed Bruce into his home.
The first thing Bruce realized was that there was nothing personal about the apartment. He didn’t have any posters, any clothes lying around, wrappers, bottles, pictures, anything to make it look like a home.
Tim lead him to the living room and offered him a seat on the couch while he left to find his laptop. Not wanting to question why Tim would need his laptop, Bruce sat quietly and promised himself to pay attention to whatever the boy would have to say. Sitting down across from Bruce, Tim logged in and pulled up some information from his patrols.
Realizing that Tim thought this was a performance evaluation, Bruce called out softly, “Tim.”
Ignoring him, Tim started, “Ever since you’d left, there had been a gradual increase in crime, but those numbers turned back to normal pretty soon after you came and-”
“Tim, I didn’t-”
“And they’ve really only been going lower since then.”
“Tim, this isn’t-”
Tim shook his head disappointed in himself as he realized, “But you probably already knew that because you should have access for this information so you want to know about what’s been going on with me.”
Tim tried to open up another report, but before he could reach the keys Bruce took hold of his hands. Looking up at him confused and tired, Tim asked, “What’s the matter, Bruce?”
Bruce made him stand up and lead him to what he expected to be one of the bedrooms. Just like the rest of the apartment, it looked like something out of a catalog. There was very little to show that someone actually lived in it, but nonetheless Bruce moved Tim closer to his bedroom and said, “I can tell you need some sleep.”
Raising an eyebrow, Tim asked confused, “What? Is that why you came here? I know how to take care of myself.”
Not wanting to get into any arguments, Bruce explained, “I know you can, but you haven’t so far and if I need to watch your every move to make sure you’re getting the sleep you need I will do it.”
Crossing his arms and glaring up at his former mentor, Tim asserted, “I’m not your responsibility, Bruce.”
“Yes you are. You’re my son.” Bruce put his hands on Tim’s shoulder and unknowingly cornered him against the wall. Immediately Bruce could tell Tim was imagining that Bruce was Jack and that killed something inside of him. Bruce was still firm, but he made sure to soften his hold as he tried to communicate with his son.
Shaking his head, Tim looked to the ground and breathed out, “Stop. You can’t-”
“Yes I can. You are my son and-”
Deciding that if he was ever going to speak up for himself it was going to have to be now, Tim countered, “You can’t just make me your son when you feel like it, Bruce. You can’t just act like I’m a part of your family for a while and then change your mind. It’s…It’s not something you can just toss around.”
Pressing his forehead to Tim’s, Bruce said, “I’m sorry, Tim. I know I messed up, I didn’t see things I should have and I left you with someone who didn’t know how to take care of you.”
Finally letting something inside of him break, Tim asked, “Why didn’t you do anything? You…you just…you didn’t care, Bruce. You didn’t care.”
Pulling him into his arms, Bruce promised, “I didn’t know, Tim. I swear I didn’t know. I don’t know how I missed it, how I didn’t notice what he was doing to you, but I’m sorry.”
Bruce could feel Tim’s mouth agape on his chest and he held the boy while he wept into his chest. Tim hadn’t imagined that the world’s greatest detective would’ve missed what Jack had done and he had to take a moment to comprehend what Bruce had said.
A few moments later, Tim murmured into his chest, “You didn’t know?”
Ashamed, Bruce admitted, “I didn’t. I’m not going to give you an excuse but I didn’t know. If I had, I promise if I had thought he even directed a curse at you, I would have taken you out of his reach as soon as I could. When I saw what he did-”
Putting a little distance between them so he could look up at Bruce, Tim asked, “Saw? How did you see? How did you find out?”
“I…After you became Robin I put some cameras in your home.” Seeing Tim’s eyes flare up at the invasion of privacy, Bruce explained, “Today was the first time I used them, but Tim, I don’t care what you say I won’t apologize. I put them there so I could make sure you were okay and the only thing I will apologize for is not using them as much as I should have. If I could go back in the past I would watch the feed every night and the first time you had to go to sleep alone I would have taken you in.”
Tim looked up at him in wonder with too many emotions for Bruce to read, but he broke out of Bruce’s hold and for a quick moment Bruce thought he had messed things up to the point where their relationship was irreparable, but he watched Tim sit on the edge of his bed and hide his face in his knees.
With a weak broken voice, Tim asked, “Bruce?”
Kneeling before him, Bruce answered with a calm voice, “Yes, Tim?”
“Do you think…maybe…Do you love me?”
Bruce shot up and embraced Tim while he promised, “More than anything, Tim, more than I knew it was possible to love someone, Tim. I love you and you’re my son. That is never going to change.”
Clawing his nails into Bruce’s chest, Tim held onto him while Bruce maneuvered the both of them onto his bed. They stayed like that for well into an hour, Tim crying into Bruce as long as he could make the tears, but soon Bruce slowly began detaching himself. He pulled Tim’s arm off of his side and slowly rose up from the bed.
Tim shot up afraid, afraid that he would have to spend another night alone, but he felt Bruce lift him up and carry him into the kitchen. Confusion took over, but Tim didn’t try to fight it and he relented when Bruce sat him down on the chair.
Rummaging through his pantry and fridge, Bruce apologized, “The bad thing about living with Alfred is that you never have to learn how to cook, so the best I can do for you is cereal and orange juice.”
It was the first time in who knows how long Tim let out a laugh and it made Bruce feel something deep inside his chest. Smiling down at him, Bruce set down the cereal milk and bowls before pulling out his own seat and digging in.
Scratching his eyes once they began to feel raw from all that crying, Tim smiled into his bowl and said, “I really don’t know what would have happened if you never let me be Robin.”
Taking his hand into his own, Bruce kissed his knuckles and promised, “You will always be my Robin, Tim.”
They finished their meal in silence, both thinking that Dick hate to know he wasn’t here to eat cereal with them, before Bruce took the plates into the sink and carried Tim back to his room and laid him across the bed.
Finding some of Tim’s pjs and placing them in his hand, Bruce said, “You’re going to want to get a good night’s rest, Tim. Tomorrow is going to be a big day.”
Tim tilted his head to the side and asked, “Why? Did I forget something?”
Finding something that would fit his much larger form, Bruce opened the door to the bathroom and began changing before he called out, “You’re moving back home tomorrow, Tim.”
Frozen with his arms above his head and his sleeping shirt halfway on, Tim stared at the wall he knew Bruce was behind. His mind was stuck trying to comprehend the information and he wasn’t able to do more than one thing at the same time. Walking in on seeing him in the awkward position, Bruce helped him pull on the shirt and turned off the light before crawling in beside him.
Tim put his head on his chest and laid there thankful that he didn’t have anymore tears to let out. He closed closed his eyes, breathing in the smell of Bruce’s cologne, and calmed himself until he was able to formulate words.
Taking a hold of one of his hands, Tim played with Bruce’s large fingers before looking up to him and asking, “Bruce?”
Turning his gaze away to hide his blush, Tim confessed, “I love you.”
Kissing him on the top of his head, Bruce promised, “I love you too, Tim.”