Sitting in a random office in Mount Justice, Tim knew he was in a lot of trouble. It felt like he was a suspect in a police station waiting for an interrogation right down to the foggy glass window separating him from the rest of the team. He couldn’t see much, but he could make out some of the silhouettes and read their body language. The two easiest to distinguish were Bruce as he towered over everyone else and paced around and Dick as he leaned against a wall and watched silently. Later tonight Tim would have to find some way to make it up to his older brother for ruining his night; he hoped Dick was up for a movie night because it might be Tim’s last one for a while.
Tim sighed and made himself comfortable as the fight outside went on outside. It wasn’t really a fight, one person was doing most of the confrontation and yelling, but Tim would have to play his cards right if he didn’t want to end up grounded for the rest of his natural life.
Right now, he could hear Bruce yelling at the rest of the team demanding to know exactly how everything went down. Tim knew he had the footage from the bar, but Bruce wanted to hear it from everyone who had been there. He wanted to prod them about exactly how things went down and where they failed.
Hours ago, when he had been trying to convince Dick to bring him along, Tim had expected to come home to a lecture about playing Bruce and Dick into letting him go out with the older members of the team. He had thought it would be something about leading Bruce to thinking that they wouldn’t be going to a bar anymore but the arcade or ice cream or something more tame once he had asked to join in. This was a whole other beast.
He didn’t even know how to explain what had happened, how he had gone from sitting around a table joking with his friends to watching Wally and Donna try and fight off drunk girls a little too interested in him, but he knew that was what Bruce expected from him. Tim knew what all of Bruce’s shouting would be about. How did you let this happen? Why didn’t you call for help when you knew you would need it? How can I expect you to look after yourself if one night in a bar leads to three people in jail?
All of a sudden, the voices stopped and Tim could see the group breaking up. Most everyone went off to another room and it was only Bruce and Dick left. Dick got up from his position against the wall and went up to Bruce, probably giving him a comforting hand on his shoulder so he wouldn’t be as angry when he went to talk to Tim, but Bruce shrugged it off and made his way to the door.
For a quick second Tim debated pretending to be sleeping. Bruce would probably calm down if he saw that Tim was too tired to argue right now, but it would probably make him even angrier if, more likely when, he realized that Tim was only faking it. Instead, he let out a deep sigh, told himself to man up, and forced himself to calm down once he felt the footsteps stop.
Bruce was doing the same thing, trying to force himself to calm down before he confronted his son. The last thing he wanted was to lash out on the boy for something out of his control and only cause a rift between the two of them. If he had to be honest, the problem was mostly the fact that Bruce was still on edge from the meeting he had had with Jim earlier that day. If any of those girls had been carrying a gun this could have easily been a completely different story, one with an ending he was far too familiar with. He had already sat through the funeral of his parents, he didn’t need to be doing the same with one of his sons.
Stepping into the office, Bruce found Tim nervous and too afraid to show it, the fear only making him even more nervous. This wasn’t what he needed right now, to see his son afraid of him, but he could have died tonight if any of the girls had been carrying a weapon, he could have died this morning if he had been home and no one had been able to get to the woman in time. That’s what he needed to stress to Tim, that he could die or get seriously hurt and it was Bruce’s priority to ensure that didn’t happen. If he had to lock him in his door until he understood, so be it.
Tim tried to keep his gaze on the floor, he didn’t want to look at Bruce wrong and make him even more upset. If he was being honest with himself, he also didn’t quite know how to look at his father and not feel worse when he saw just how much he had hurt him by just being stupid.
Bruce paced around the room, trying to collect himself before he asked with no trace of emotion in his voice, “What happened?”
Against his better judgment, Tim responded just as devoid of emotion and with a slight edge in his voice. “They already told you what happened, Dad.”
Ignoring his tone, Bruce tried again with another question. “Did you do anything to provoke them?”
“Like what?” Tim was confused by what Bruce thought he could have done to provoke that kind of behavior.
He had never thought he’d be asking one of his sons this, but he needed to know what Tim had been thinking. “Were you flirting with them?”
Tim shot back in his chair. “Dad!” He didn’t know if it was just the topic or the fact that Bruce thought this was important enough to question him about, but Tim made his annoyance clear.
Shaking his head as he tried to not comment that Tim had no right to be upset, Bruce explained his curiosity. “Tim, you flirt with a lot of people and I need to know exactly what lead to this mess happening so that it never happens again.”
His voice slow rose as he went through the sentence and it only irritated Tim more. He knew why Bruce was upset but if he wanted to question anyone it should be those girls and not him.
Tim responded with just as much anger in his voice as he said, “Yes, Dad, I am 17. If it matters to you, no I was not flirting with anyone.” Feeling the need to make the point, he added, “Even if I was, it certainly wouldn’t have justified their behavior.”
Bruce begged Tim to understand, “Nothing would justify their actions but I need to know what happened, Tim.” Sighing as he turned back to the interrogation, Bruce asked, “What were you doing?”
“I went to the bar to get a drink.” It was only after the words were out of his mouth that he realized he had just opened up to a whole new line of questioning.
“What the hell were you doing drinking?” He had expected Tim to exercise some reason tonight but he might have been wrong about that.
Tim rose up from his chair fully aware that Bruce was disappointed. He didn’t like seeing his father disappointed in him, but he also didn’t know what to do other than raise his voice and explain, “I was getting a drink for Donna!”
Bruce paused the discussion for a moment as he decided on the punishment. “You’re grounded, Tim. No going out, no missions with the team, no leaving the Manor.”
Still hoping he could negotiate with Bruce, Tim went up to him and tried to reason with him. “Please, Dad-”
Not wanting to lose any ground, Bruce cut off any opposition Tim might have had. “This isn’t debatable, Tim. The way you acted tonight was immature and I would have expected-”
Bruce spun around to look him in the eye and added, “Starting now. Gather your things; I’m taking you home.”
Tim took a step back and pleaded, “I don’t want this Dad. Please.”
Hearing the distress in the boy’s voice, Bruce began to feel guilty and sat down in a chair. Putting his head in his hand, Bruce sighed, “Tim-”
Tim knew he might not get a chance again, so he reminded Bruce, “We talked about this. I’m entitled to this part of my life.”
“You’re getting this part of your life.”
Shaking his head, Tim pressed on, “I’m entitled to a normal-”
“Oh please.” That was enough to make Bruce scoff.
Tim squinted his eyes and spat out, “Don’t ‘oh please’ me, Dad. You said-”
Pointing to the glass and the people who were more than likely listening in to everything they were saying, Bruce reminded Tim, “Everyone out there, and the League, is worried about you getting-”
He cut Bruce off and shot, “They should be worried about you dying.” To Tim they were getting worked up about nothing. There were much more pressing issues for them to lose sleep over.
“They are worried about me dying. I’m worried about me dying. But that is nothing compared to how terrified we are of you. You scare the hell out of the everyone, Tim, and you scare the hell out of me too.” Bruce didn’t know how their conversation, he refused to call it a argument because Tim had yet to present a reasonable argument, had turned into this but he was willing to explain the situation to Tim if it was too hard for him to understand. Seventeen was old enough to know the consequences of his actions. Bruce began again, “My getting killed would be bad enough, but that is not the nightmare scenario. The nightmare scenario, Tim, is YOU getting kidnapped. You go out to a bar or a party in some club, someone puts something in your drink you don’t notice and you get up to go to the restroom, somebody comes up from behind, puts his or her hand across your mouth, and whisks you out the back door. You’re so petrified, you don’t even notice the fact that there had been something in your drink and that you’re losing your balance and understanding of the situation. Then you’re whisked away in a car.” Waving his arms in the air, he went on, “It’s a big party with lots of noise, and lots of people coming and going. And It’s a half hour before someone says, ‘Hey where’s Tim?’ Another 15 minutes before the first phone call. Another hour and a half before anyone even THINKS to begin looking through airports and train stations.” A part of him wanted to stop and give Tim a break from the disturbing imagery, but Bruce needed him to fully understand just why he can’t have the same luxuries as everyone else his age. Him being uncomfortable right now was better than him being kidnapped a month from now. “Now we’re off to the races. You’re tied to a chair in a cargo shack, somewhere in the middle of Uganda. And I’m told that I have 72 hours to get 5 million dollars wired to the whoever-the-hell. So I’m on the phone pleading with someone saying there’s no limit to how much I’d give them if it meant they’d give you back to me, but the only answer I get is, ‘I’m sorry Mr. Wayne, but America simply does not negotiate with terrorists, period. There’s nothing we can do.’ So now we’ve got a new problem, because there’s no Batman, no Bruce Wayne, just a father who’s out of his mind because his little boy is in a shack somewhere with a gun to his head. DO YOU GET IT?”
With his arms crossed, Tim forced himself not to let his face break the same way his voice did when he checked out, “Yes. I get it.”
Bruce grabbed the back of the chair he had been sitting in and partially spun it into the wall. Sighing until he could feel the air become less strained, Bruce looked back at Tim and sincerely said, “I’m sorry I yelled, Timothy. Forgive me.” Walking up to him, Bruce embraced him and explained, “I want you to have your freedom and your youth. I want you to have common everyday experiences with boy and girls your own age. But don’t ever forget – my number one responsibility will always be to make sure that you are as safe as you can possibly be. That is something I can’t compromise on.”
Tim had never expected to see so many emotions from Bruce at once and he easily melted into the safety of Bruce’s arms. He would need to remind himself to embrace his father more often, but he could see why Dick was always so touchy with them. Looking up at him, he acknowledged, “You’re right, I’m sorry.”
One he felt that the hug had gone on long enough, Bruce pulled out of the embrace and lead Tim out of the room saying, “It’s alright. There’s no need to apologize.”
They both knew this was probably the best either of them could have hoped for, all things considered.
Looking down to the boy, Bruce knew in a few minutes things would begin feeling awkward and Tim wanted to ask if he was still grounded. To spare him the misery, Bruce decided, “You’re still grounded, but you can go come out here if Dick is with you. No going out on missions for the rest of the week and no going out in Gotham for the rest of the month.”
Feeling that the terms were fair, Tim smiled up at Bruce before going off to find the others. He still needed to apologize to them for ruining what must have been a rare day out.
Bruce went back to work and looked over the security measures, there was never anything as too safe, and if the Manor needed to update its detection mechs there was no reason not to do the same for Mount Justice.
As he ran some tests, Bruce debated whether or not to call Tim back and explain to him what had happened in the morning. It would help him understand why he had blown up on him, but a seventeen year old didn’t need that kind of stress, especially one with as much daily stress as Tim. Instead, he settled on telling Dick to get his opinion on the matter. fIf he didn’t, Bruce knew he would be the one sitting through a lecture from Dick about keeping him in the dark in matters that concerned his little brother.
Bruce gave the team an hour before he went in to collect Dick. It was long enough for them to talk amongst themselves and rotate apologizes, it seemed to be something they enjoyed getting off their chest. Standing in the doorway, he could see them watching a movie in one of the lounge rooms and Dick was in the center sitting beside his brother.
By now Tim was more or less tuckered out from the exciting of the day and he’s focusing more on not falling asleep than he is keeping up with the movie. Bruce stood watching just long enough for Dick to notice him. Dick came up with some excuse to leave the room, but even a groggy Tim could see that it was Bruce who was calling for him. He got ready to stand up and defend Dick from whatever Bruce meant to say to him, but Dick put a hand on his shoulder and assured him, “Don’t worry little brother. It’s probably nothing.”
Tim didn’t look like he believed him, but he trusted Dick and settled back into the couch to wait until he came back.
Dick expected no less from his brother, but he knew it was time he and Bruce had a private conversation. He didn’t think there was much left for them to argue about, Bruce had pretty much aired out everything he had to say before he went to see Tim, but even if there was, Dick didn’t think Tim needed to deal with it right now.
Following Bruce far enough away from everyone else to ensure no one would easily overhear, Dick found himself in the office Bruce and talked with Tim and hoped he wasn’t about to sit through a lecture.
Closing the door behind them, Bruce got straight to the point and asked, “Do you remember what I told you about the break in this morning?”
To be honest, Dick hadn’t thought much of it when Bruce mentioned it at breakfast and the most he could recall was, “It was some girl who was crazy or something. She tried to get in but the cops got to her before she could steal anything.”
That was exactly what Bruce and Alfred had decided to tell the boys, it was inconspicuous for them not to think too much of it, but Dick needed to learn the truth. Bruce bluntly admitted, “That was a lie.” Dick scoffed unsurprised, but he didn’t say anything as he waited for Bruce to explain. “The woman, Laura Craine, wasn’t trying to steal something. She had been checked into Arkham for a few years and released a few days ago. Apparently, Craine was under the impression that Tim had something to do with her hospitalization and decided to take matters into her own hands.”
Dick squinted his eyes and Bruce and asked, “What exactly was she expecting to do? I’m assuming it wasn’t to have a conversation with him.”
Mentally preparing himself for Dick’s reaction, Bruce stood firm when he said, “She had a gun, Dick. The-”
“She wanted to kill Tim.” Dick stared at Bruce for a moment before realizing, “That’s why you went overboard – because you thought this was somehow related and Tim was in danger of something.”
After all the years he had spent with them, Bruce was more than willing to admit that the boys were his weakness. “Yes, but I looked into it but couldn’t find anything to connect the two. I didn’t have much time between it happening this morning, waiting to get a report from Jim around noon, having to oversee the training and debriefing, and dealing with the incident at the bar, but from what I did see there wasn’t much. Alfred contacted me a few minutes ago that the BatComputer was finished downloading Craine’s file so I’m going to head back and look for any explanation. It’s probably too early to see her in the prison, but I’ll try again tonight.”
Considering the information, Dick asked, “How many years ago was she in Arkham? Did Tim have something to do with arresting her and she connected him to Robin?”
“I considered that, but she was in Arkham for a very long time. I think she was institutionalized when he was only five. You weren’t involved in her case, neither of us were, so it can’t be a case of mistaken identity.”
Dick pulled out a chair and took some time trying to remember if there was anything to connect the girls from the bar with this woman. “I don’t think the two are connected. The girls from tonight didn’t know they were talking to Tim; they just liked him. When Wally called him by his name they seemed a little confused.”
“Is it possible that they mistook him for someone else, someone who might have had to do with the woman going to Arkham?”
Trying to think back to what Tim had told him, Dick remembered, “Tim gave them a false name to throw them off. They might have gotten a little more touchy if they knew who he was.”
Bruce took out a chair and sat beside Dick. He had been standing up for a while but looking at the determination in Dick, he knew it would be awhile before a break was in order.
Dick seemed to have the same idea because he shot up from his seat and stretched out the tiredness that had been accumulating in his muscles ever since he had sat down for a movie. A few minutes ago he had been set on going to sleep as soon as possible, but now he had a new mission. Not wasting any time, Dick made his way to the door and said, “I’ll say goodnight to Tim and be back in Gotham in a little over two hours. I’m assuming you’ll be in the cave when I get there.”
Bruce nodded absentmindedly before recalling, “I grounded Tim. He’s not allowed to stay out here if you’re not here.”
Thinking for a minute, Dick decided, “I’ll tell him I have a date with someone in Gotham in a couple of hours so I can’t stay.”
Raising an eyebrow, Bruce asked, “You would schedule a date for four in the morning?”
Giving him a light laugh, Dick assured him, “Tim’s too tired to think about it too much.” Before he stepped out, Dick turned back to Bruce one last time. “I’m assuming you still haven’t told him the truth and want to until we have everything settled.”
Happy not to have Dick disagree with him on this, Bruce explained his reasoning, “It would be best not to give him any added stress.”
Dick seemed to accept it and waved a goodbye before going to collect his brother. He hadn’t moved from his position on the couch, but he looked ready to fall asleep anytime. Most of the team was either passed out on their seats or were willing to try and trek their way to their room, but Dick felt a second wave of energy as he entered the room.
As soon as he heard footsteps, Tim’s attention turned away from the movie and he tried to see if there was something wrong. He scanned his older brother to see if there was any evidence of an argument between him and Bruce, tensed shoulders, fake smile, or hair sticking up from the front as Dick ran his hand through it, but he saw nothing. Finding himself too tired to fully read him, Tim simply asked low enough not to disturb any of the team sleeping, “What was that about?”
“B was getting me up to speed on your punishment, that you can’t stay here unless I’m here with you.” Getting a bottle of water to hopefully keep his brother awake until they could gather his things, Dick called out from the kitchen, “I’m sorry, Tim, but I have a date in a few hours so I can’t stay.”
Tim stared at him until with a blank face before understanding. Taking the bottle and stepping out from the couch, he assured Dick, “That’s no problem. I just need to get some of my school stuff from my room, but it’ll only be a few seconds.”
When he got a confirmation from Dick, he sped off to get his overnight bag.
Knowing he had a few free minutes, Dick tried to find something for Tim to eat through the drive over. There was some iced coffee in the fridge, but he didn’t want Tim to have a hard time falling asleep and instead he settled for a sandwich and a bottle of juice. Dick would keep the coffee for himself, but he’d hide it from Tim in case he got any ideas.
He got everything packed just in time for Tim to come back with his overnight bag handing off his shoulder. Looking at the counter, Tim asked, “Did you make something to eat?”
“Yeah it’s about a two hour long drive so I didn’t want you to fall asleep on an empty stomach.”
The logic made sense, but Tim had to ask, “Why aren’t we using the zeta tubes? That would only be a few seconds.”
Digging the keys out of his pockets, Dick lead him to the garage and explained, “I had to go to Bludhaven just after eating breakfast in the Manor and I drove back here for the debriefing. I’d drop you off at Gotham and come back to drive back by myself, but I didn’t think you’d be up to calling a taxi from the zeta to the Manor.” Smirking down at Tim, Dick added, “My car’s more comfortable and I know you love sitting up front.”
Tim gave him a smile to show his appreciation, but followed it up with a groan as he said, “It would be so much easier if Dad would let the League install a zeta in the cave, but he’s too paranoid.”
Thinking back to their conversation from a few minutes ago, Dick felt a need to defend Bruce’s protective behavior. “He only wants to do what’s best for us, Tim. He might go overboard every now and then, but it’s always something in the front of his mind.”
Tim have him a curious look over the roof of his car before opening the door and settling in. He didn’t say anything about it as they pulled out of the garage, but once they were stopped at a red light he softly asked, “Is there something you aren’t telling me, Dick? You and Dad?”
Looking over to him, the first thing Dick noticed was that Tim didn’t look or sound upset. It was probably his lack of sleep talking, but Dick thought that he looked at peace as he played with the wrapper on his water bottle as he waited for an answer. Once Dick realized he hadn’t said anything to answer the question, it was a little too late and Tim had already come to his own conclusion.
Tim gave his brother a small smile before answering for him. “That’s okay. I trust you two, Dick. I would like to know eventually.”
Reaching over to ruffle Tim’s hair just to annoy him, Dick promised, “We’ll tell you as soon as we can, but we don’t want to freak you out.”
Tim was ready to drop the subject, but he needed to make sure Dick and Bruce weren’t being deprecating. “I could probably handle it, you know?”
“Of course you could, and we would never questioned that, but we want a little more information so we know exactly what we’re dealing with before we draw you in.”
Accepting his explanation, Tim reclined his seat until it was more comfortable for him to sleep.
Seeing him try to find a proper position, Dick told him, “I could pull over so you could sleep in the back. It might feel better.”
Waving his hand dismissively, Tim settled down and asked, “What kind of brother would I be if I made you drive for two hours alone?” Pulling out his phone to set an alarm, he didn’t trust Dick to wake him up, Tim explained, “I just need to rest my eyes for a few minutes. You’ll have my undivided attention after that.”
Smiling as Tim forced off his shoes and loosened the seat belt until he could curl up, Dick asked, “Are you sure, Tim? I wouldn’t mind letting you sleep.”
Tim stifled a yawn before giving Dick a quiet, “It’s no big deal.” Before he settled off to sleep, Tim felt the need to add, “Your sandwich better be worth it, Dick.”
Dick would have laughed if he thought Tim wasn’t serious, but he quickly turned his attention to seeing if he could maybe disable Tim’s alarm and give him time to sleep for a few more minutes. He would have done it, if he wasn’t sure Tim would have been annoyed with him for ruining his sleep.
When the alarm did finally ring, it took a few minutes for Tim to remember why he was in a moving car. The first thing he did was unwrap the sandwich and groan a greeting to Dick. They sat in silence, Dick satisfied with seeing Tim zone in and out every now and then until he took some of the water into his hands and pat his face until he was awake. As soon as he was sufficiently aware of his surroundings, Tim turned to Dick and asked with a cheeky smile, “Can you tell me now?”