Characters: Tim Drake, Bruce Wayne
Category: character study, backstory, alternate universe, *highlight for spoilers: supernatural: vampire
Summary: "Robin! Put him down, now." Tim jerked back at the gravelly voice, obedience ingrained in him since he'd started training for his role at the Batman's side. The body in his hands slumped heavily to the ground, and only then did Tim notice the glint of fresh blood on him. And on himself.
A Lonely Place
"Robin! Put him down, now."
Tim jerked back at the gravelly voice, obedience ingrained in him since he'd started training for his role at the Batman's side. The body in his hands slumped heavily to the ground, and only then did Tim notice the glint of fresh blood on him. And on himself. Making a choked noise, he backed away, hands clamped over his mouth.
The muffled snap of air through heavy fabric preceded Batman dropping down next to him -- a pool of black that formed into a demon with white, judgmental eyes. For the first time since that initial shocking glimpse at Haly's Circus, Tim felt himself shaking at Batman's presence.
"I'm not going to do this forever," he told Nightwing. "I'll do my shift and then go back to my life."
It wasn't a question of choice. Once puberty hit, he would start having trouble... concentrating. He definitely wouldn't be able to do this anymore as an adult.
"You really think you could give this up?"
"I'm not like you and Bruce." He couldn't begin to explain how true that was. "I never wanted to be a hero. All I ever wanted was to help."
He would stay until he couldn't help anymore. Until his presence became more hindrance than assistance. And then he would fade quietly back into normality, and hope that they remembered him with some degree of fondness.
"He's not dead," he blurted, hoping desperately that it was true, because that was the only thing, the essential thing that could save him. "I didn't--" Didn't what? Have the time to finish?
Batman knelt, checking for himself, and Tim let out a quiet breath when he nodded.
"Where's the woman?" Batman asked, standing.
"The--?" Right. The victim. He was supposed to be protecting her, not-- not-- He looked around, even knowing it was useless. Batman wouldn't have asked if she were still in the vicinity. "I don't know." He hadn't even noticed which direction she'd left in.
"Was he the only assailant?"
"Yes." That much he remembered. There'd been a scream. He had headed toward it while Batman handled the robbery. It'd been an attempted rape. The woman had fought back. Robin had driven the mugger to the floor with his landing, restrained him, and then-- And then?
Batman huffed, marginally satisfied. They could presume the woman to be safe.
Then the full weight of Batman's disapproval settled on Tim, suffocating. He forced himself to stand still for it, not to turn his gaze away.
"What happened here?"
"I'm sorry," Tim stammered, fighting the panic that was making it difficult to breathe. "I didn't mean to. He--"
We do not kill. Not even to save our own lives. (Killing is bad, Timmy. Do you understand?)
Be prepared. (Be careful. Sometimes, bad people want to hurt us, and it's not our fault.)
Never fight angry. (Control your emotions. Don't raise a fuss.)
Tim had lived by a strict set of rules all his life. Now he clung to these new ones like a lifeline.
Mom was dead, and now Dad was as well. Mrs. Mac had long since gone home. Dana -- even if she were here -- had never known. There was no one left. No one at all. Panic clawed through him. He was all alone. And if the others ever found out--
There is always a way out. Always.
(We love you, Timmy. Always.)
He gulped, forcing himself to calm down and fashion a reasonable report, like Batman had always taught him to do. "I arrived on the scene. He was restraining a woman, mid-twenties, blonde. He had a knife. She scratched his face and left forearm with her nails." DNA evidence, he told himself firmly. Don't think about how the man had roared in pain, putting a hand to his face, coming away bloody, smearing, more welling out, beading at the edges...
He should have asked the woman to stay. He should have comforted her. He should have at least remembered she existed.
"I subdued him. The victim ran off before I stopped her."
He didn't expect what Batman said next: "Can you heal his wound?"
Questions bubbled madly in his mind, but he didn't know how to voice them without giving anything away. If there was anything left to give away. So he did what he was trained to do. He answered the Batman.
"I... I don't think so. It takes practice." He wiped his mouth for what felt like the tenth time, feeling unbearably self-conscious. The way he was feeling, he should be glad he remembered his own name. He had only a vague idea how to close the ragged wounds in the man's neck, torn open inexpertly, still seeping--
He should feel disgusted, but he only felt... regret. Regret at not being able to finish what he'd started.
"We should have just had him in your hometown."
"No!" Mom replied sharply. "I would never trap my son in that hole of a place for life. Even having to stay there every two months is hell enough."
"Is that any way to talk about a lovely place of cultural treasures and natural beauty?"
"Beautiful to an archaeologist, maybe. If you ever actually grew up there like I did..."
"It's not all bad. I found you there, didn't I?"
"For goodness sake, Jack! Half the households there don't even have a telephone. And the libraries...! What kind of a place is that for a child?"
"Hmph. So instead, we've 'trapped' him in this dirty city with the highest crime rate in the nation. Brilliant."
"Gotham is a little rough, yes, but it has its charms, too. The skyline is the most lovely I've ever seen. Besides, it's easier to... blend in here."
Dad sighed. "I just hate seeing you like this. I wish we could live together in one place like a normal--" He broke off. "Tim? Is that you?"
Reluctantly, Tim pushed the door farther open and edged inside.
"Oh, sweetie, come over here. You'll catch a cold in your jammies."
Given permission, he ran quickly into his mother's embrace. She wrapped the comforter around him.
"What's wrong, sport? Had a nightmare?"
He shook his head and burrowed farther into the covers. "Is Mom sick because of me?" he asked. Mom and Dad had this conversation every time before they left. He knew he wasn't supposed to listen in on people's private conversations, but it seemed like he could never find out anything otherwise.
"No, of course not!"
"Why would you say that?"
Tim only shook his head again.
Dad ruffled his hair. "Don't you worry about your mother, son. She'll be fine. Go back to bed now. You have to get up bright and early for the circus tomorrow, okay?"
But he lingered outside the door anyway, and so he heard when Mom said, "Maybe he is getting old enough to tell him. We don't want him blaming himself like this."
"Maybe... But, time enough for that tomorrow, Janet. Let's give him one more happy memory first."
Under Batman's uncompromising oversight, he knelt beside the fallen would-be rapist. The scent of the man's blood overwhelmed him for a moment. He had to swallow around a dry throat and recite a meditation chant in his head for several seconds before he felt ready.
"I have to..." he started to explain, looking up anxiously at the grim figure watching him. Batman nodded.
Taking off his right gauntlet, he pressed his bare fingers to the wound on the man's neck and willed something to happen.
He wasn't sure exactly how this was supposed to go. Dad had tried to explain it to him once, but all of his information was second-hand to start with. From what Tim had managed to learn from other sources, it varied depending on the individual, too. For Tim, it seemed, it was like a sequence of locks in his mind, and he had to mentally shape a key to fit each one, exactly right the first time and in the right order, holding on to all the prior ones at the same time so that it became harder as he went along.
It took an agonizingly long time, and he had to start over again and again, but at last, one of his tries succeeded. There was a whisper of sound like crackling leaves, and then the wound began closing up as if healing unnaturally fast.
He saw Batman tense at the corner of his vision. Bruce didn't like magic. To tell the truth, Tim didn't either. It was hard to trust something that couldn't be explained. Maybe that was why Tim was always searching for answers all the time.
Finally, it was done. The man lay unconscious as before but no longer bleeding. The marks caused by the woman were still there, along with the impact bruises Tim had caused knocking him out. Tim couldn't do anything about those, but otherwise it was like Tim had never touched him.
"He should wake up after a while."
Batman examined the man, testing his heartrate and breathing, and taking out a flashlight to study the places where the neck wound used to be. From the intentness of his gaze, he was most likely using the magnification features in his mask. Finally seeming satisfied, he stood.
"This was the first time?" There was suspicion in that voice. Admonition. Anger. There was... curiosity.
"Yeah." Tim wiped his mouth. Again. His hand came away clean. He put his gauntlet back on to cover his discomfort. The weight of it felt honest.
Batman sighed. "You should have told me, son."
"There's something that your mother and I never had the chance to tell you. God, she should be here. She should be the one..." Dad covered his face with one hand. Tim watched uncomfortably until his father was able to control himself. "I don't know how to tell you this, son."
"It's okay, Dad. Just say it." Tim watched a ladybug climb laboriously up the left wheel of Dad's wheelchair, confused and constantly sidetracked by the deep treads that towered over it.
"You-- Tim, remember that I love you. I swear I will be a better father than I have been. There were circumstances..."
"Dad, really. It's okay. I've probably figured out most of it already, anyway." The ladybug, perhaps giving up, or perhaps suddenly realizing that it already had enough altitude, took off. Tim followed its path across Mercy General's Vermilion Rose Garden -- a tiny fleck of red weaving between large velvet splashes of the same.
"Figured... it out?" Dad's voice wavered, and Tim controlled the urge to sigh out loud.
He looked straight into his father's fretful gaze. "I'm not human, am I? And neither was Mom."
"What?" he said, sure he must have heard incorrectly.
"We could have found a way to control this. Your mother. How did she manage?"
"She... My Dad. He was always with her." He hoped that was obvious enough. He wasn't sure of the exact mechanics involved, and to tell the truth, he didn't care to attempt an explanation of something that seemed so very... intimate.
"I see. So there are no substitutes?"
"Not once I'm a full adult. I'm not, yet. I can still eat some solid meat." It'd been getting harder, though. Already, he no longer enjoyed steak, though chicken seemed to be all right. He could handle ground hamburger and well-cooked stews, too, if he were hungry enough.
"Have you made provisions for when that won't be the case anymore?"
"I... no. I thought I would just..." He looked down at the man at their feet. "I wouldn't have killed anyone. I swear."
"Eat up, son. You want to grow up strong and healthy." His mother never ate the meatloaf, or most of the meat dishes she cooked. She only ever had vegetables and light proteins in the form of broth or eggs and cheese, with the occasional bit of cured ham.
His parents told him his tastes would change, too, after he was done growing, but he couldn't imagine ever not loving the smell of his mother's meatloaf. He took a big bite now, and savored the proud and indulgent expressions on his parents' faces as much as the taste of spices and ground beef.
"You have to go tomorrow?" he asked, after carefully chewing and swallowing and wiping his mouth neatly on a napkin. He tried to sound adult about it. He'd used to throw tantrums the night before his parents left on a 'business trip', but now that he was older, he could see for himself how pale and tired his mother looked. Every time he found himself wanting to ask them to stay just a few more days, he bit back the words.
"Yes. I'm sorry, Tim."
"You'll be old enough to travel with us soon," Dad said, with patently false cheer.
Tim stirred his vegetables morosely. "You always say that. Will I ever be old enough?"
"You can't rush things, Timmy. Just be patient."
His dad sighed. "The boy's right. How do we know if he'll ever be ready? More importantly, how do we know he even needs to stay here? What if we're keeping him here for no reason at all?"
"We can't be sure until he's at least fourteen."
"Maybe we could experiment a little, drive him to the suburbs and--"
"We are not gambling on Tim's life."
"That's not what I was saying," Dad grumbled.
"It sounded exactly like what you were saying!"
"You know what? He's my son, too! Don't you think I worry about him, too? But look at the poor kid, stuck in a cage."
"We're keeping him safe!"
Tim ate steadily with his head down, pretending fervently that he was still oblivious to what they were arguing about, pretending to be the innocent little boy that they clearly still thought he was.
"What made you lose control now? You've seen blood before." All the time. All around him. He'd waited in dread for the day when it would start to affect him, and it had finally come. "What was different about this time?"
Tim shook his head. Nothing and everything. It'd been building up, and it-- he had finally just snapped, that was all. He was maturing into full adulthood. He burned and itched all the time, but it was thrilling, too. It was all just as Dad had explained to him would happen.
"Is there something different about him?"
Tim hesitated. He glanced at the man on the ground, who was still unconscious. He wanted to say, nothing. But that would be too blatant a lie.
"He's-- He has the right type."
Batman made no movement or change of expression, but Tim knew he was absorbing that just as he did any additional information. "Nightwing and I?" he finally asked.
Tim nodded. "Yes," he answered in a shamed whisper. "But that's not why I sought you out," he hastened to add. "I really did-- do want to help the Mission. I want to help save lives. Being Robin is important to me. You know it is!" Don't take it away from me. You and Dick and Alfred, the Manor, the Titans, every single thing. It's all because of Robin. It's all I have left.
Batman didn't acknowledge this outpouring of sentiment. Instead, he asked, "You can tell someone's blood type without chemical tests?"
"I have to be close. And they have to be alive." Nearly useless at a crime scene. A feeling of inadequacy surged through him. He'd thought he'd gotten over those since he'd fully come into his own as a hero. He clamped his jaw on another useless apology.
"Patrol's over. We're heading back." Batman flipped open the console on his wrist and pressed a button. "Batmobile. To my coordinates."
Tim followed suit, calling his bike to him.
While they waited, Batman knelt again, and Tim caught the brief rasping sound of the zip strip springing open. Batman stowed the batarang he had used to cut the ties. There would be no police report, then. He had forced Batman to dispose of evidence and to release a criminal. He didn't think he could feel any worse as their vehicles came into sight.
Tim was good at blending into the shadows, at hiding his true self behind a facade. Excuses and lies came easily to him. He excelled at observing without being observed, getting answers without giving them away. He took easily to the detective side of being Robin. Bruce probably credited exhaustive training at his hands paired with a natural aptitude. Tim knew it was more than that.
Almost from birth, he had lived amidst webs of secrets that he had made it his mission to unravel one by one. Sometimes this required some active subterfuge. Other times, simply remaining quiet and unobtrusive gave him the key fact to piece together the next part of the puzzle that was his existence in the Drake home.
He lied without thought now, training on top of habit on top of natural inclination. Lied to others and to himself, and all the while, he was sifting out the secrets all around him. One day, he knew, the game would have to end. One day, he would find out all he needed to know about himself -- the biggest secret of all -- and then it would all be over for the boy who hid in shadows. No one would ever trust him again.
He knew it would happen one day, but he kept hoping that day would come later.
A hand fell on his shoulder. Squeezed. He gaped up at his mentor, not sure if he was more shocked by the gesture or the use of his real name while in uniform.
"We'll figure this out."
It wasn't the most encouraging statement ever, but coming from Batman, it meant a whole hell of a lot.
He felt a great weight lift off his shoulders as he got on his bike and followed the man who stalked through shadows home.
Tim wiped his hands on his pants and stared fixedly at the back of the seat in front of him. Bruce had taught him tricks to lower his heart rate, but they all escaped him right now.
"Nervous, son?" an elderly woman asked, smiling.
"I've never been on an airplane before," he explained carefully.
In fact, he had never left Gotham and its closest environs, not by air or ship or car. His parents had made sure of that, before he had known to protect himself.
Tim had to quash a sense of melancholy nostalgia. He'd found wards among his mother's personal items that had passed to him, disguised as well-remembered pieces of jewelry and other innocuous items that Mom had never been without. The wards would have to serve their purpose for him now. Tim couldn't risk obtaining others.
They should be enough to sustain him for the month he would be away. If not... Being out of his hometown wasn't supposed to kill him. He should be able to get home and recover. He'd have to think of a good excuse if that were to happen, though. He couldn't let Bruce think that he just couldn't cut it. This was it. His last test before he donned the Robin mantle for real.
This was his chance to be a hero instead of-- whatever he really was.
He would not fail.
A/N: In the "Bloodborne" storyline, Nightwing and Batman swap blood, so they should have the same blood type.
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