Summary: Batman is very happy with the way that Robin has picked up his training, his methods and his habits. Generally. But his protege showing up at the Batcave with two small children, Tim and Jason, clinging to him proves he’s adopted one trait Batman would have rather he hadn’t. It seems the batfamily has an incurable penchant for picking up strays, and Tim and Jason are only the beginning.
Characters/Pairing: The Batfamily
The next morning, Bruce entered the kitchen to the rather baffling sight of the smaller of Dick’s strays standing on a chair, quietly and efficiently frying eggs on the stove. Before Bruce could say anything, Alfred, looking as though he’d run across the entire mansion, charged into the room. The butler took in the situation and then with the unruffled efficiency that characterized everything he did, Alfred carefully turned off the stove and removed the spatula from the boy’s hands.
“Master Timothy, I appreciate the help. But if you were hungry all you had to do was ask.”
The boy blinked up at the butler in silent confusion.
“I’m not supposed to ask for things,” Tim said finally when he realized that Alfred actually wanted a response.
Alfred and Bruce frowned in unison. “Who told you that?” Bruce asked, doing his best to not let Batman slip into his voice. No sense in scaring the child.
“No one told me,” the boy said. “But it’s the most important rule. Everything costs something.”
“Is that so, Master Timothy?” Alfred asked, his face completely unreadable. “And how much exactly would it cost to ask for help with breakfast?”
The boy shrugged and looked intently down at the congealing mess in the frying pan instead of at Alfred. “They always leave,” he said softly. “When I ask for things,” he clarified after a moment. “I, I thought if I was good and didn’t bother anyone I could stay a little longer. I’m sorry. I won’t be difficult. I’ll go.”
Tim made to clamber down from the chair. Bruce was standing in front of the boy almost before he realized his body was moving. The child froze and stared blankly up at him. Bruce placed a tentative hand on the boy’s shoulder and the boy looked startled by the contact, but after a moment he leaned ever so slightly into Bruce’s touch.
“Who leaves, Tim?” Bruce asked as unthreateningly as he could.
“My parents,” the child answered simply.
Bruce grimaced. “Are your parents still alive, Tim?”
The boy cocked his head to the side. “Of course, why wouldn’t they be?”
Bruce’s expression darkened slightly despite his best efforts to maintain a neutral countenance. “Where are your parents? Why aren’t you with them?”
“They’re in Brazil on a dig,” the boy answered. “Children are too young to properly appreciate travel, so I’m supposed to stay home.”
“Tim, Dick said you and Jason were living in Crime Alley,” Bruce prompted. “He said you were sleeping in a box.”
“We are,” Tim replied as though this was the most normal thing in the world.
Bruce resisted the urge to growl in frustration at how difficult it was to pull answers out of the reticent child. It wouldn’t do to frighten the poor boy. “Why were you living in a box?” he asked instead.
“It’s Jason’s. He let me share it with him after he found me. He didn’t even go away afterward.”
“Jason found you,” Bruce repeated. “Where were you before that?”
Tim went quite still, his whole body tense with fear. Bruce realized then that he had asked the wrong question. He’d be lucky to get another word out of the boy now.
“Master Bruce,” Alfred cut in mildly. “I think that perhaps you should go see that young Master Jason has not gotten himself into any trouble this morning. I’ll see to it that young Master Timothy eats a hardy breakfast. Growing boys need to eat quite a bit, as I’m sure you remember. By the way, how old are you, Master Timothy?”
Bruce watched as Alfred worked his magic. Helping the boy down from the chair and over to the kitchen counter as he spoke.
“I’m Five,” Tim answered after a prolonged silence during which he watched Alfred bustle around the kitchen.
Alfred visibly paused in his routine for a moment before determinedly carrying on. Bruce could understand the older man’s surprise and barely visible concern. Tim looked far too small to be five years old. Then again, the boy also seemed far too intelligent to only be five. He thought back to the boy’s words. What were the boy’s parent’s doing in Brazil of all places? Better yet, what was a boy whose parents were on an archeological dig doing living in Crime Alley?
Before Bruce could ask any more questions, Alfred was quietly but firmly ushering him out the door. Bruce went along easily enough. He was too angry to continue speaking to the child. And Alfred was better at this sort of thing than he was anyway. If anyone could get answers from Tim, it would be the Wayne Family Butler. In the meantime, perhaps he would take Alfred’s advice and speak to Jason. He might actually be able to get a coherent story out of the older boy.
When Bruce finally tracked Jason down (which took far longer than it should have, considering how subtle the boy wasn’t), he found the boy surreptitiously lining his pockets with small, but extremely valuable trinkets in one of the more out of the way sitting rooms.
“It’s quite a gaudy little thing, isn’t it?” he said casually and enjoyed watching the clearly startled child attempt to pretend that he’d known the billionaire was there the whole time.
Bruce allowed himself a small smile and continued speaking as though the boy wasn’t trying to steal precious, if garish heirlooms. “I don’t know what my great grandmother was thinking when she bought it, but you must admit it’s unique.”
Jason scowled. “Someone should a put a fucking bell on you,” he snapped and the bauble promptly vanished from sight.
Bruce’s smile widened and became something a bit more battish. “Mm, unfortunately that would be counterproductive to certain late night activities of mine.”
The child grimaced at the reminder of just who he was daring to steal from, but held his ground. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said stubbornly.
“Of course not,” Bruce said. “And we can forget this ever happened. Just return all thirteen of those awful little trinkets.”
Jason clenched his hands into fists and shifted into something like a defensive position. “It was just the one,” he snapped. “Besides, it’s not like you need them. Wedo.”
“We?” Bruce asked.
“The kid and I,” Jason elaborated reluctantly. “I’ve got to take care of him. Since it’s only a matter of time before you kick us out, no matter what Robin says, I’ve got to be able to make some money.”
“So you decided to steal priceless Wayne family heirlooms,” Bruce said. “From under the nose of Batman, himself,” he added after a moment for effect.
The boy rolled his eyes. “It’s not like I’d say where I got them,” Jason snapped. “These were only plan B, anyway.”
“And plan A?” Bruce asked, curious despite himself.
Jason hesitated for a moment, but seemed to decide to go for broke now that he was caught anyway. “Well, I was gonna take the wheels off one of those sweet rides of yours. You’ve got so many no one’d even notice till we were long gone, but it’s not like I’ve got anywhere to hide something that big when you kick us out, so I figured I’d go for something more travel sized,” the boy explained with a defiant sense of pride that was strangely endearing in the way of a small, but extremely feral puppy.
Batman unwilling found himself impressed at the boy’s audacity. He bit back on a smile and attempted to look intimidating. “How…practical of you,” Bruce said. “Now, please return my property.”
The boy glowered, but eventually the billionaire got Jason to empty his pockets. He made a mental note to keep an eye on the child, though. He didn’t doubt for a moment that the boy’s sticky fingers would be back in action the moment his back was turned.
“How long have you been taking care of Tim?” Bruce asked as casually as he could as he frog marched the boy out of the sitting room.
Jason looked up at him suspiciously. “He’s my brother,” the boy said as if that explained everything.
It didn’t. The little street urchin was obviously lying, though he did a decent job of it. Someone who wasn’t trained to spot such things might have fallen for it. “Don’t lie to me,” Bruce said mildly. “I just want – ”
The boy tensed and tried to shrug out of Bruce’s hold on him. “Let me go you bastard,” he snarled, flailing his arms and legs. “You keep your hands off my brother, you hear me? Batman or no, you touch my brother and I’ll kill you!”
Bruce inhaled sharply at the implication in those words and tightened his hold on the boy’s shoulders.
“Jason, has anyone ever touched you inappropriately?” he asked slowly, biting back on the anger swelling in his heart. Unfortunately, righteous fury would not help him now. In fact, allowing that emotion to run rampant could easily make the situation worse.
Jason froze and then forced himself to relax. “I don’t know what that means,” he said after a moment.
“Has someone ever touched you in a way that made you uncomfortable?” Bruce elaborated.
Jason snorted. “You mean like you’re doing now?” the boy said meaningfully, with false bravado.
Bruce immediately let go of the child’s shoulders and was surprised when the boy didn’t make a run for it the second he was freed. Instead, the child was looking up at him with a considering expression on his very young face.
“…No,” Jason said, catching Bruce off guard. “But I’ve heard about Bad Touch from the others. And…well, my mom’s last boyfriend, he, um, looked at me funny sometimes when he was really trashed.”
Bruce nodded and pushed aside his anger, though once he had Jason’s last name, Batman had plans for the mother’s ex-boyfriend. There was a special corner of hell reserved for people who hurt children. And Batman liked to help them on their way there. “I’m not interested in that sort of thing,” he assured the boy. “Neither is Alfred. Though of course you have no reason to believe me.”
Jason rolled his eyes. “You’re not supposed to admit that,” the boy corrected scathingly. “You’re a terrible predator.” Jason paused and considered his statement. “Well, or maybe you’re a really good one.”
“I don’t want to hurt you or your brother,” Bruce said. Repetition might help the boy trust the people trying to help him. Probably not much, but it was worth a try.
“Yeah. Sure you don’t,” Jason said.
“Time will tell,” Bruce said mildly. “In the meantime, how long have you been taking care of Tim? You may consider him your brother now, but despite superficial similarities you are not related by blood.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Jason said.
“No. It does matter,” Bruce insisted. “Tim has a family.”
Jason had not expected that. “Family? What family? He was wandering around Crime Alley looking like he’d walked through a meat grinder. People don’t live through that sort of shit.”
“Language,” Bruce chided automatically. “And that’s what I wanted to find out about. What did he look like when you met him?”
“He looked stupid,” Jason said.
“Tim is hardly stupid,” Bruce said.
“He’s got a giant brain,” Jason agreed. “But he was walking around the worst part of town dressed like some kind of princeling.”
Bruce blinked. “Princeling?”
“Yeah,” Jason agreed. “The clothes he was wearing cost enough to pay bribes and keep our stomachs full for almost three weeks.”
“You sold his clothing?” Bruce asked as he tried to piece the two boys’ stories together.
“Duh. He stuck out like a sore thumb like that. Besides, he didn’t seem to care all that much. Not that the kid complains about anything. He’s weird like that. But I found him some stuff in the Salvation Army bin that fit okay-ish and fed him and he stopped looking so scary after a while.”
“What do you mean, scary?”
Jason frowned and tilted his head to the side thoughtfully. “Well, he was even paler than he usually is. And sweaty. Really sweaty, but his lips were blue like he was really cold. And, um, he seemed really confused. He got better, though.”
Bruce closed his eyes. Shock. Those were symptoms of shock. Tim had very likely been in shock. What the hell had happened to the boy before Jason found him?
“That’s good,” Bruce said. “That was very brave of you,” he added awkwardly after a few seconds.
Jason snorted. “No it wasn’t. It was a stupid thing to do. Cause I couldn’t take him home with me, which wasn’t really bad, cause I’d already mostly decided to stay clear of there. But he’s deadweight and helpless on the streets. And I gotta watch him all the time because he does stupid things if I’m not around, or even when I’m around and I gotta protect him from creepers like you.”
“And yet you took him in anyway,” Bruce prompted curiously.
“Well, yeah,” Jason said. “It was stupid, but it was still right.”
Bruce’s heart melted just a little at those words. “Yes. You did the right thing, Jason.”
“I know that,” the boy snapped. “I don’t need you to tell me what to do.” But despite what he said, Jason couldn’t seem to stop himself from smiling at the praise.
“Stealing aside, clearly you don’t,” Bruce agreed peaceably.
“A guy’s gotta do what a guy’s gotta do to take care of his family,” Jason said unrepentantly.
Despite himself, Bruce found himself smiling the genuine smile that only Dick could ever coax out of him. “Yes,” Bruce said, “he does.”
Bruce remembered then that they were still standing in the middle of the hallway. He considered the situation briefly before leading Jason to his personal study. Bruce sat down at the desk and gestured for Jason to sit across from him. The boy did as he was asked, but not before giving the room a once over that Batman approved of even though the boy was probably eyeing the small valuables scattered about rather than cataloguing possible exits and potential threats.
“How long ago did you meet Tim?” Bruce asked.
“A couple of weeks ago,” Jason said.
“Can you be more exact than that?” Bruce pressed.
“A little over three weeks,” Jason admitted.
Bruce nodded. “And did he know the identities of Batman and Robin before then?”
Jason said nothing.
Bruce sighed. “I’m not mad at him, Jason. I won’t hurt him, either. I just need to know.”
The boy hesitated, but finally shook his head.
That was interesting. “And when did he find out? Were you there?”
“Yeah I was there,” Jason said. “It was the scariest thing ever.”
Jason nodded. “Worse than anything my Mom’s boyfriends ever did. Fucking kid. He was there one moment and the next he wasn’t anywhere. I thought for sure someone had nabbed him and raped him and slit his throat like Max said some of the crazies do to little kids. And I ran around like an idiot looking for him, and finally found him down by this shitty ass building, where that fucking plant lady and you two were having some big show down.”
Poison Ivy. Bruce remembered that fight, twenty nights previous. It had been brutal.
“The little twerp was hiding in the shadows so good I almost didn’t see him at all. I dragged him right out of there and smacked him one for scaring the crap out of me like that, but he didn’t even notice. He kept blabbering about ‘that move, he did that move,’ or something and then he said ‘Dick Grayson is Robin’. He calmed down pretty quick after that and then he panicked all over again about me hearing all that and while he was begging me not tell anyone he figured out who you were, and, um, that’s how that went down. Little shithead. Still can’t believe he ran off like that,” Jason finished with an angry grumble.
“Did either of you tell anyone about Tim’s discovery?” Bruce asked. He couldn’t let himself be sidetracked from the main point of this interview.
“The kid wouldn’t stand for it,” Jason said with a shrug. “Besides, who would believe Bruce Wayne was Batman? Get real.”
Bruce breathed a sigh of relief. The situation was contained. That was ridiculously good news.
“What happened last night?” Bruce asked. He wanted to hear more than Robin’s side of the story. Dick wouldn’t lie on purpose, but Bruce wouldn’t put it past his ward to twist the situation in his strays’ favor. Dick had a good heart like that, even though he was soundly benched for the next month while Bruce upped his training and drove home the lesson of why good little Robins should not go above and beyond mission parameters without Batman’s express permission. So much for a light end-of-the-night patrol.
“It wasn’t on purpose,” Jason said defensively. “I’m not stupid, even if the kid doesn’t have a bit sense in his useless ginormous brain. We were taking a shortcut around a gang fight, when he spotted Robin flying over our heads. I don’t even know how he spotted that, but being the kid, he started chasing after him. Moron. We didn’t get too far, though, before we lost him and kinda stumbled on some kinda handoff thing. At least that’s what it looked like, anyway. Guys with guns and stuff, you know?
“We woulda been dead and rotting in Gotham Bay for sure if Robin hadn’t swooped down. It was awesome. But there were way too many of them and he was having some trouble,” Jason explained while he illustrated the battle with some rather creative handgestures. “We totally shoulda made a run for it, but Robin’s important. Or that’s what the kid says, anyway. So I couldn’t just let him get shot up over a good-for-nothing like me.”
“You’re not a good-for-nothing,” Bruce said before he even registered what he was saying.
Jason looked amused. “You don’t have to lie. I know what I am. The only good thing I got going for me is the kid.” Bruce wanted to argue the point, but Jason was continuing his story and he had to let the moment pass. “Anyway, I pushed the kid out of sight and then I threw myself in there. I kicked some shins and made enough noise to give Robin the upper hand back. The kid even threw some rocks, I think, even though he shoulda kept his fucking head down like I told him to.”
“Robin coulda probably taken them, but one of the guys got my back pretty bad and Robin just kind of grabbed the two of us up and made a run for it since he couldn’t fly with us both. They chased us for a while, and almost caught up once. I told Robin to take the kid and go, but he wouldn’t listen and…well, we lost them eventually.
“Robin insisted on taking us home, even though I coulda gotten us there just fine. He completely flipped out when he saw where we’re staying. I don’t really know why – ”
“I suspect it may have the location,” Bruce interrupted dryly. “Or perhaps it was the fact that you were living in a box.”
“Hey!” Jason protested. “It’s a nice box. I worked my ass off to get that thing and make it all homey for the kid. It even keeps out the wind pretty good and everything.”
Bruce said nothing and the boy stuck out his tongue.
“Anyway,” Jason drawled, “Robin flipped his shit and got Tim all worked up and then the kid let slip that he knew and the next thing I knew Dickface was dragging us back to that cave you keep in the fucking basement. That’s all – happy now?”
“Yes, thank you Jason,” Bruce said as he processed the story, committing to memory everything that was and wasn’t said. The story matched up fairly well with Robin’s, though Dick hadn’t mentioned Jason trying to use himself as bait. That was –
That wasn’t his problem, Bruce reminded himself firmly. He still had many questions about what exactly had happened to both Tim and Jason, but he had gotten far more out of the boy than he had hoped after his failed discussion with Tim. Now he needed to back off.
“Have you eaten yet?” Bruce asked.
“Not hungry,” Jason said. His stomach took that moment to growl loudly in disagreement.
Bruce smiled and got to his feet. “Of course you’re not,” he agreed. “However, I am quite famished and I’d dearly like the company on the way to kitchen, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble.”
Jason blinked and then snorted after he had processed the request. “No, it won’t be any trouble,” he said sarcastically.
“Excellent. I suspect there will be pancakes,” Bruce added as he led the boy out of the study.
At the thought of fluffy golden pancakes, Jason betrayed himself with an excited grin more befitting someone his age and hurried to catch up with Bruce.
There were indeed pancakes.
There was also an exuberant Dick, happily making up for Tim’s silence with cheerful chatter about nothing in particular. The smaller boy didn’t seem to mind. He was clearly content to look up at Dick with adoring eyes. The child was definitely a fan. He would have to be, Bruce knew, to still remember a flip Dick had done when Tim was three, two year after the fact.
Bruce glanced over his shoulder in surprise as he heard Jason snort in derision from somewhere behind him. Then he watched as the little thief stalked past him and into the room, claimed the open chair next to Tim’s and pointedly slung an arm around the boy’s shoulders, hauling the child away from Dick.
“Jason,” Tim said softly, a small smile creeping onto his face. “You didn’t leave.”
Jason rolled his eyes. “Duh, I said I wouldn’t, didn’t I, kid?”
Tim bit his lip and nodded tentatively. “I know. But…you came back.”
The pickpockets sighed and pulled Tim into a quick hug. “Yeah, I did. We’re brothers, right?”
“Yes,” Tim agreed.
“Well brothers stick together. So I’m not going anywhere, got it?”
The smaller boy just looked at him and Bruce felt a sinking sensation in his stomach as he realized that while Jason meant every word, Tim didn’t actually believe the older boy’s promise.
“He’s right, you know,” Dick said casually, earning a glare from Jason and another awed glance from the smallest of the boys.
“Of course I am,” Jason snapped. “Don’t need you or your stupid creepy Dadbat to know that.”
Dick gave the other boy a weird look but shook off the confusion with his characteristic ease. “Sure thing, Jaybird,” the acrobat said slyly. “But I bet you don’t want any yummy pan~cakes.”
The street urchin spluttered. “Don’t call me that!” he insisted before the rest of Dick’s teasing caught up with him. “Hey! I do so want some.”
“Then eat up, Jaybird,” Dick teased as he pushed a plate laden with pancakes toward the younger boy. “You too, Babybird,” Dick added, pausing to ruffle Tim’s hair. “You’re too tiny. We have to fatten you up!”
“Oy! Don’t you pressure my brother, Dickface,” Jason snapped. But even as he spoke he was dragging another pancake onto Tim’s plate. Only once Tim’s plate was full did he take a rather sizable amount for himself.
Tim ducked his head shyly at all the attention the older boys were heaping on him, but despite his obvious embarrassment, Bruce could see the disbelieving happiness in the smallest boy’s eyes. It was the expression of someone who was convinced he was dreaming and was terrified of waking up.
The boy was so fragile…
The mystery of Tim’s circumstance tugged again at Bruce’s mind and the detective in him automatically sought out Alfred.
The butler was making another batch of perfect golden pancakes at the stove, but the man was in pure British mode: polite and industrious with a carefully blank expression held firmly in place. Alfred was working very hard to disguise whatever he was thinking or feeling, but Bruce had known the man since childhood. The complete absence of expression was always the only indicator that something was bothering the man who had raised him.
Bruce had to suppress the impulse to drag Alfred out of the room and demand answers immediately. He knew Alfred would not appreciate being pulled from his work and that such sudden behavior would probably upset the children. It would be best to avoid them making a scene as long as possible, he decided.
So he walked over to the table and sat down across from the boys and waited patiently for the newest batch of pancakes to come out of the pan. He hadn’t had any breakfast yet either, after all.
“Morning Bruce!” Dick greeted happily before turning attentively back to his strays.
“Good Morning Dick,” Bruce replied, even though he knew the boy had already stopped paying attention to him. “Enjoying breakfast, Tim?” he asked.
Tim blinked up at him from between the bickering older boys. Once again he looked completely unsure of how to respond, but he managed a shy smile and said softly, “It’s very good, sir. Thank you. I, uh, sorry…”
“You have nothing to be sorry for,” Bruce said matter-of-factly, though he wasn’t quite sure what the child was attempting to apologize for.
The boy looked like he was about to say something, but anything Tim might have said was cut off by Jason’s sudden exclamation of “Quit calling me that, you, youBigbird! Where do you get off calling me a bird name, huh? It’s stupid. Anyway, I’d totally be something cooler, like a wolf or a lion or something. You know, something that eats birds like you instead of the other way around.”
Dick rolled his eyes. “Boring. Besides, wouldn’t you rather be underestimated, emphasis on the ‘under’? That’s how little guys like us can take out big guys like Clayface.” Dick cast a surreptitious glance at Bruce, which the billionaire gamely pretended not to notice, before continuing. “And hey, we’ve got a theme going here, Jaybird. You can’t ignore something like that.”
Jason looked deeply unimpressed. “It’s a stupid theme,” he said, stabbing his pancake with his knife like he wished it was Dick’s face.
Dick melodramatically clutched at his heart. “Low blow, Jaybird,” he accused with a pout, before jumping gleefully right back into the argument. “But come on! It’s not like you get to pick your own nickname. Someone’s got to give it to you or it isn’t a real nickname. That’s how nicknames work.”
“That’s stupid. And you’re stupid too, Dickface,” Jason snapped.
“I like birds,” Tim said quietly, diffusing the…conversation before it could escalate further.
“Of course you do, TimTim. You’re our adorable Babybird,” Dick cooed, pulling Tim half out of his chair and half onto Dick’s as he hugged the boy tightly. Tim squeaked and blushed.
“Dick, what are you doing?” the boy asked, but didn’t fight the hold.
“Hugging you!” the aerialist responded merrily.
Jason, for lack of a better word, pouted at this development. “You’ve corrupted him,” he accused and set about trying to free Tim from the acrobat’s clutches.
Dick grinned maniacally and held on tighter. “What, to the side of light and justice?”
“Ugh,” Jason groaned and glared at the older boy. “No, to the side of stupid – ”
“Birds are really neat, Jason,” Tim interrupted almost desperately. Then he began speaking rapidly, almost tripping over his words in his haste, all the while begging Jason to stop fighting with Dick with his eyes. “Robins are my favorite, but I also like Blue Jays. Um, you’d like those; at least I think you would. Maybe. They’re small, so they’re still easy prey, but they’re brave enough to sometimes chase away hawks and other big predators.
“And, and they’re super territorial and protective of their nests and families, but they warn all the other birds when there’s a predator coming. It makes me think of you a little, when you drove off those bullies who were a lot bigger than you and kept them away from me and those other kids, which makes Blue Jays even more awesome, doesn’t it? Oh, and they can survive just about anywhere, even if all the trees get cut down ‘cause they’re very adaptable. They’re really, really clever, too, and when people put them in cages they try to figure out how to undo the locks like a person might. And um, I guess you really didn’t want to know any of that…Sorry.” He trailed off weakly once he realized Dick and Jason were no longer arguing and were actually paying attention to him.
“Oh, no, never knew I was so clever, really,” Dick said with a smirk, shooting another poorly disguised glance at Bruce.
Jason gave the older boy a weird look. “Whatever you say Dickface.” Then to Tim he said, “Anything you want to say I want to hear, hear me? You don’t talk at all anyway, so you shouldn’t feel bad when you do. And those birds actually sound kinda badass.” Jason looked thoughtful for a moment. “But I gotta ask how’d you know all that, Babybird? Damn it, now you’ve got me doing it, Bigbird,” Jason groused.
Dick grinned triumphantly and Tim blushed. “I watched a documentary about it,” Tim explained after a moment’s hesitation.
“A what?” Jason asked.
“You watch those? But they’re so boring.” Dick groaned.
Tim’s face fell. “I’m sorry…” he began, but Dick was quick enough to catch the mood shift and put a stop to the rambling apology for liking documentaries that Bruce suspected was coming.
“Hey, hey, don’t be sorry Babybird,” Dick said soothingly, pulling Tim back into a proper hug. “No sorry-ness allowed here. No sir, not at all. You hear me?”
“I guess…” Tim said doubtfully, his voice quieter than ever.
“Hey, what’s a doco- docermen- uh, that thing you said,” Jason asked, surveying the scene before him with a confused expression on his face.
Dick smiled gratefully at the other boy, probably thankful for the distraction. “Well, go on,” Dick said encouragingly. “Tell him, Babybird.”
“Um, okay,” Tim said nervously. “It’s, ah, like a movie but they’re only supposed to have true things in them and they teach you really cool things like how animals hunt for food and how soldiers fought in the first century Roman Empire!”
“Uh…” Jason said, not sure how else to respond to that.
“Yeah,” Dick agreed.
And the two shared a smile for a moment before Jason realized he was smiling at the enemy, stuck out his tongue, and turned back to Tim.
“Heh. You’re such a dork, kid,” he said fondly.
“Sorry,” Tim apologized immediately.
“What? Hey, it’s not a bad thing,” Jason assured the younger boy. “Besides, you heard Dickface. No sorry allowed. Take it back.”
“But I already said it,” Tim said.
“So? Take it back,” Jason insisted.
“That’s physically impossible, Jason.” Tim pouted.
“Don’t care. Take it back or I’ll be forced to take extreme action,” Jason threatened.
“But Jason…” Tim attempted to reason with the thief child, but Jason had no interest in logic.
“That’s it!” Jason declared.
With that, Jason clambered over onto Tim’s mostly vacant seat and began tickling him. Dick caught on quickly and tightened his lose hug to hold Tim in place as both boys mercilessly sought out and attacked Tim’s weak spots until the boy was laughing like crazy and gasping for breath.
Bruce caught himself smiling at the effective use of teamwork the boys were showcasing and firmly cast the thought aside.
Meanwhile, Tim was quickly becoming overwhelmed by Dick and Jason’s tactical strike tickle attack. “Kay, o-kay,” he gasped out between helpless peals of laughter. “Not, ah, not sorry. Not, ha, sorry. Stop it, guys! Please.”
“Have mercy, boys,” Bruce found himself cutting in dryly. And the boys stopped their assault with identical pouts on their faces. “He’s clearly no longer sorry.”
“He’s faking,” Dick said. “I can tell. He’ll be saying sorry all over the place again before you know it. But don’t worry; we’ll tickle it out of him yet for sure.”
“No roughhousing at the table, young Masters,” Alfred said with mild disapproval, carrying over the last plate of pancakes and setting it before Bruce.
“Right, right. My bad.” Dick deflated slightly. “We’ll take this elsewhere, Alfred.”
The acrobat’s subdued attitude lasted all of five seconds before the boy was grinning down at his little strays. Dick scooped a still giggling Tim up in his arms and practically skipped toward the door. Jason cursed, scrambled down from his chair and ran to catch up with the taller boy, calling angrily, “Stop carrying him, Dickface. He can walk.”
“But he’s just so cute and travel sized!” Dick exclaimed, pausing long enough to let Jason catch up. “You just wish you were big enough to do it yourself.”
Jason scowled. “Yeah, well, he’s small enough I could carry him myself if I wanted to. Give him here and I’ll prove it.”
“No, no. It’s my turn to hold him,” Dick insisted.
“I’m not that little,” Tim protested; his face scrunched adorably in frustration.
Jason and Dick shared an amused glance and then in unison chorused, “Yes you are!”
The smallest boy pouted and the boys continued squabbling as they disappeared out of sight. Bruce listened to their childish taunts and laughter until they were finally out of hearing distance too.
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