Never Healed

March 31, 2017:

Stephanie confronts Tim after a rough couple of weeks. Careless words reopen old wounds.

Red Robin's Nest

Tim Drake's totally rad not-Batcave.


NPCs: None.



Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

Normally, when Tim Drake is training in the Nest, he listens to music. Something energetic, but not distracting. Today, though, it's not music.

He isn't quite sure who secretly did all of his dishes, but that mystery has been pushed down the list: Currently, the townhouse is unoccupied, the only person who lives there instead in the facility hidden behind the renovated old theatre. The list of people who can get into the Nest is short, shorter even than the Batcave, with a fingerprint scanner hidden behind the aquarium in the main room. Zatanna Zatara, though he couldn't keep her out if she really wanted to get in anyway. Some of his old Young Justice compatriots, though none of them are around Gotham to bother. Bruce, of course. And, yes, Stephanie Brown.

Matthew Sainsbury, the electronic voice of the custom-built computer says. Age: Twenty. Physical description: Athletic build, approximately six feet tall. Black hair. Blue eyes. Background: Wealthy family, attended Gotham Preparatory Academy. Cause of death: Car accident.

As he listens to the litany of names and descriptions - and there were more on the list before that one - Tim Drake works on a punching bag with his fists and feet taped up, stripped to the waist. New scars decorate him, from bullets and blades and rather strikingly what seems to have been a mouth with thousands of sharp teeth forming a nearly perfect circle on one shoulder.

Phillip Myers. Age: Nineteen. Physical description: Athletic build, approximately six feet tall. Black hair. Blue eyes. Background: Wealthy family, attended Gotham Preparatory Academy. Cause of death: Suicide by hanging.

It's… A strange list to be listening to, certainly. Whatever it is, it's working the former Boy Wonder into anger, as he starts hitting the punching bag harder. Faster. Meaner.

List concludes. The most recent death was three days ago.

Tim scowls, giving the bag a last strike before catching it, leaning on it. He knows what it means. He knows the why, having long since lost the ability to really believe in coincidences. The relevant question, then, is 'who?'

Checking up on him again, back into what was otherwise an empty apartment. She moved through it again, as she had two nights ago, looking again for… what was she looking for? She saved the voicemail, and hasn't breathed a word of it to anyone. Everything else going on in her life righ tnow, facing what those words and that tone of voice could mean wasn't something she was prepared for. No sooner does she move in than she turns off the security system. It triggers to an empty room, after all. She found it the firs time she was here; his own personal 'Bat Cave'. So this time, Spoiler moves right toward it. She had found it, but not searched it. This time, now with a bit more time, her plan is to search it… to figure out how Tim did his stupid thing. Depending on the level of Stupid… well… depends ont he stupid.

The setup in New York is much less… Elaborate. Just a little secret room attached to his swanky penthouse loft.

No, the Nest, like the townhouse it's hidden behind, is larger. More generously appointed. Multiple floors to serve as, indeed, Tim Drake's own personal Batcave, from the rooftop access on down to the sub-basement motor pool where the Redbird and his most recently modified motorcycle (sadly, it does not fly) lurk.

The training level, where Tim is now, is the one that Spoiler would emerge into as the hidden door between his townhouse and the Nest opens up, accepting her fingerprint on the concealed reader behind the aquarium. The floor above is where his crime lab is, where the main body of his personal supercomputer and his Bat-computer node sit; the floor below is his equipment storage, where he keeps and manufactures all of his own gear. From top to bottom, it's a testament to Tim's attempts at independence, ever since he stopped being Robin and became Red Robin. Just like Stephanie once said, he's hardly ever around the Cave anymore.

The blonde would probably enter in the middle of the computer's litany, in the middle of the sounds of Tim working out something - anger, maybe frustration - on the punching bag.

Either way, he leans on the bag, lets his weight rest against it as he catches his breath, his dark hair slick with sweat, clinging to his head, to the nape of his neck.

"I know you're there," Tim says, without turning around.

The litany is… unsettling. The computer was quiet the first time she was here. Why is it speaking …someone's here. Moving silently, the limp slight now, Spoiler makes her way to an angle where she can look down from her vantige point, look down and see…


"You're an ungrateful brat," Spoiler quips, leaning her forearms to the railing as she leans over to peer down at Red Robin.

'You're an ungrateful brat,' she says.

Well, there's definitely times where that's been true.

"Stones, glass houses," Tim retorts, straightening up slowly, easing away from the punching bag. He turns to look at Stephanie, where she's leaning; he doesn't bother doing anything like putting a shirt on or excusing his current state of undress: It's his hideout, and she just up and walked in!

"You got hurt," he adds, not a question, those dark blue eyes briefly studying Spoiler and the way she's holding herself. When she isn't moving, the limp isn't very obvious… At least, not to somebody who isn't Tim Drake. "Was it Ravager again? Did you figure out why she's after you?" He moves over to where a sports bottle sits, the smoothie inside carefully tailored for maximum nutritional value, during and after a workout. It could probably stand to taste better, but the Batman Diet doesn't really worry about deliciousness. Function, not form.

"Are you okay?"

He is, of course, blatantly avoiding talking about what he did.

"Kettle, pot," Stephanie fires right back. It's true, she's favoring the left leg as she leans, so nonchalantly that really it takes Tim to notice the way she leans. And that her shoulders are stiff. And that she's tired.

"Would you believe the name of hte truck was Avenger One?" she tries for light and witty, hoping to at least draw a snort of a chuckle.

"The leg, yes. Wasn't able to get any information from her." Because Flash happened.

"I'm fine. You? What was your Stupid?"

She is NOT going to let him not talk about it.

Tim doesn't laugh.

It's not that he doesn't laugh ever - though he definitely doesn't laugh as much as he used to, when they were younger, running around on rooftops in costume by night, or when he was her 'math tutor' by day - but the attempt to keep things light doesn't hit home. He watches her, not as Tim but as the detective, analysing her. Trying to figure out what she might be hiding, what she isn't telling him about herself.

There was a time he wouldn't have. A time when he would've accepted her assurance that she was fine exactly as she said it, when he would've at least cracked a grin at her joke. But, things happened, as they do.

"Zatanna and Constantine were in Hell. They'd been trapped there by some other magic-user with a hate-on for Constantine… So me and a few other people went in to go get them." Unconsciously, he rubs his right wrist with his left hand, over the now-hidden mark of his bargain with Wong. "I knew that… There was a chance we might not make it back, so I figured I ought to tell somebody. You were the first one who came to mind."

What she's not telling is that she was worried, and that likely didn't make her reaction time any better and ended up with her getting smacked into a quinjet… twice. The ribs on her right side are likely bruised, by the casual way she's breathing shallowly. Her speech is slower, like she's focusing on making her words distinct and clear from each other, like she's fighting not to slur ever so faintly.

Concussion. A day old.

At his words, that she was the first person that came to mind, behind the lens of her cowl, Stephanie lowers her gaze.

"Thanks for calling…."

He knows the signs, of course. He's exhibited them himself often enough - and gone out to keep doing what he does despite them, as the scars visible on his torso and arms can attest to - and seen them in others. It's part of the training that was imparted on him, too. Tim could make an excellent paramedic, if he wanted to waste all of the other skills he's accumulated. It would certainly be a change of pace from being the one inflicting broken limbs and cracked skulls.

"What are you doing here all banged up like that?" Tim asks, gently. A little more like how he used to be. "You should be resting, healing up. I… Should've let you know that I got back, things were just… Hectic. I didn't mean to worry you, Steph. I just didn't want to leave you wondering, in case I didn't come back." In which case he would, presumably, have been trapped in Hell for all eternity.

A risk he took without second-guessing it even once, more fool him.

"It's the risk we take every time we go out there, right? Just vanishing without a trace. It used to scare me to death, thinking about you forgotten in some alleyway or warehouse." A fear that came true, after a fashion.

"Same thing you do, when you go out all banged up," Stephanie replies, voice finding that soft note right next to his. The words do run together faintly as she relaxes.

"I rest when I can and I'm healing up," she adds, pushing from the railing to make her way to the stairs. The limp is the final stages of recovery on a gunshot wound to the hamstring. Which she overexerted. Ah well. She's definitely on Batdad's pain meds given that the limp is movment restriction and not pain induced.

"You really should have called. Or texted. Or left a note on the damn fridge. I've been checking ALL of your safe houses," she admits as she takes the stairs, one hand on the rail to help her balance.

"And yes. It is the risk we take. And we're lucky that we don't have to go it alone all the time. That we can call on each other, tell each other where we'll be, not disable the trackers we place on each other's gear…."

Tim finds himself wondering if this is his fault.

Not in the sense of having not informed Stephanie the instant he got back from Hell, but in a more general sense: That it's his fault that she's like this now. Like him. The sort of person who keeps going out there even when she's beaten to tell, concussed and limping and on painkillers. He was the one who mentored Spoiler directly back when they were younger… Are these cues she picked up from him, about how it should be done, the Work? Running herself ragged, destroying herself, because that's what she saw him do?


"You don't get to say that to me," Tim says, unable to keep a hint of anger, a festering thing he's been carrying around for years now, from leaking out past his self-control. She's hurt, he should just try and be understanding, to get her off of her feet. "You, of all people, don't get to criticise me for that. I didn't get a voicemail, Steph. You were just gone. I had to bury you, and mourn you, and try to get over you."

He turns, faces away, scrubs at his face with the back of one hand. He hasn't dealt with this, not really. He's avoided it. Avoiding it was easier.

"Yeah. Because if I'd stayed in touch what would have happened? I had to get out, clear my head, figure out if all this-" Stephanie waves her hands to encompass the room. "-was what I wanted from my life. The number if times I wanted to call you? Text you? Log in to facebook or youtube or anything… I figured if you really wanted you would have pieced it together Mr. Sherlock."

Stephanie sort of avoided it too… in that she dealt with it, and when she came back she knew that seeing him again was something that was likely going to happen and that this talk was going to happen. She had a script.

In truth, she had four or five of them.

None of them she's using now.

He shouldn't.

He doesn't want to.

She's hurt, she's on painkillers. She doesn't need an argument, she needs bed rest. But Tim Drake has been raked over all sorts of coals over the past few months, pushed himself in ways that perhaps he never should have been pushed. Tried to behave like everything was okay, when it wasn't.

Really, for him things haven't been okay for a long time.

"No. No, no. No, you don't put that on me. You didn't say 'oh, I need a break, I need a sabbatical,' you made me - made everyone - think you were dead, Stephanie. If you could've told anyone that you needed to get away from everything, you could've told me! Do you think I would've made you stay?!"

How many times did he try to get her to quit? To go live some semblance of a normal life, no matter who her father was?

"You know… I used to think that this whole… Thing was temporary? I didn't sign up to be Robin so I could live the rest of my life as a vigilante. I figured I'd just do it while I was in highschool, like my own special extracurricular, and then I'd hang up the tights and go off to Ivy University, or Harvard, or… Anywhere. I even…" He laughs, a short, sharp, bitter expulsion of air, gesturing at his own head. "…I even used to think sometimes that we'd stay together, go to college, use our brains and money to make the world a better place. That we'd get…" A crack in his voice. A sharp gesture with one hand: Forget about it. Not worth it.

"And then you were gone. When I needed you. My dad, my stepmother… God, as far as I knew you were barely cold in the ground, and then they were murdered, and more than anything I needed you there! Not Bruce, not Alfred, not Dick… You!"

It's not fair. It's not like she could've known, though surely she would've seen it on the news, in the papers, on the internet. Jack Drake might not have been Wayne rich, but still wealthy enough to own a property adjacent to Wayne Manor. That one thought sat at the bottom of Tim's mind after he learned Stephanie was still alive, like the miasma of something dead and rotting: When she heard about that, why didn't she reach out?

Maybe she never really cared.

"And then Batman was gone… And now there's this." Tim gestures at the interior of the Nest. "This is my life now. For good. No Ivy, no Rhodes Scholarship. No giving up Red Robin and living the civilian life. No nights off, no going to parties, no girlfriend, no stopping. So if you want to sit there, and complain about the man I grew into, Stephanie Brown, remember: You helped make me this way."

It's the stubborn in her. The stubborn that fights to prove that she's more than what people think of her at first glance. The stubborn that had her continuing on when her father was put away, had her soldiering on everytime Tim had talked to talk her out of it. IF she had said anything, he would have supported it… and she would have dug her heels in and stayed. He wouldn't have made her stay. She would have. And she knew it.

It was the sharing of his dreams, a future that she would have jumped at all those years ago, if it had been mentioned, if it had been brought up, if it hadn't been him trying to talk her down and her getting too stubborn to listen beyond what he was saying to.. what he was meaning.

Unbidden come the hot tears, the knife to the heart.

Mistakes get made. People will get hurt. By why him? Why Tim?

At her side, her fists clench.

"I didn't know."

A lie? No. The truth. Stephanie stopped looking at the news, at the media, had tried to leave all of it behind, tried to move on from this but… something was missing. And when she went back, just to visit and Cluemaster was loose again… it was she was fifteen again. It was falling back into old habits, into something comfortable and yet… not right. It was….

"Which doesn't excuse it… Doesn't… make it better…"

I needed you there! And then you were gone.

…..I abandoned my friend….

With a shakey breath, Stephanie is torn between leaving again and …the unknown of staying.

She was his first love, after all. In all the best and worst, most exhilirating and inspiring and stupid of ways. They were just kids - indeed, the argument could well be made that they still are - but Tim Drake has always been one to plan ahead. Maybe too far ahead, at times.

So of course, he'd thought about it, planned for the possibility. Highschool sweethearts make it sometimes. They could've put Robin and Spoiler away, and just been Tim and Steph. Stayed together, married, had kids. Grown old. How happy would his dad have been to see that? Cluemaster might've made for an awkward father of the bride situation but they could've found a stand-in, maybe Bruce, and…

All gone, now. Dust and ashes. A child's dream.

The reality is this, instead: A secret base full of computers, and weapons and all the tools of the trade he needs to fight a war on his own. Isolated, for all that he'd talked to Cassie about getting the band back together. A hard life and an early grave.

Only his won't be faked.

"I loved you," Tim says, keeping his back to the blonde. "Probably still do, if you want to get down to it." It's complicated, these days. But that doesn't matter, either: How he feels doesn't matter. "But when I needed you most, when all I needed in the whole world was for you to hold me while I cried, you were… Somewhere else, building a new life. So you do not get to take the moral high ground about this. You do not get to lecture me about leaving notes, or telling each other where we'll be."

Rocked back. Stephanie's weight shifts back to her heels, like a physical blow. He can hear it. Hear how the air leaves her lungs and hear the shakey way she tries to fill them up again… and fails.

Building a new life, he says. What life? It was hollow, and dull, and meaningless. To know… that she so thoroughly abandoned… that the warm smiles of the high school kid…

Stephanie steps back, sobs a little audible, before she turns away to try to find the stairs in her blurred vision.

He's absolutely right.

And worse…. what it means for… what she's been trying to do.

She left him. And if… she's capable of leaving… her best friend… her first love, first crush, first boyfriend, first almost everything…. whom else could she leave?

Run. As brave as she seems… sometimes, Stephanie can be a coward. It was getting to personal… so she ran.

And the moment she realizes that, she stops again, one foot on the first step, hand on teh railing, back to Tim, head bowed. Wait, Steph. Let him have it all out. He needs this, and you have to hear it. This is your cross to bear.

Tim does indeed hear. He's too well trained to miss those audible cues even in his current emotionally distraught state; the way her weight shifts despite her injuries, how she awkwardly starts towards the steps up to the exit. She could go. She could just leave.

And maybe next time she'd find the locks had been changed. That her fingerprint didn't work on the scanner that would have otherwise let her into the Nest.


Part of him knows he should stop her. He knows that what he's saying is hurting her as much as it is him, that letting her leave in her current state could be dangerous. She could get into all sorts of trouble, and she wouldn't be able to defend herself properly.

Yet part of him wants to tell her to get out.

Bitter, angry, spiteful.

"Was it that bad?" he wonders. If she looked back at him, she'd find him still facing the wall of the training room, a rack of practice weapons. His shoulders slumped, his dark blue eyes looking at the floor, his black hair a sweat-damp curtain. "Being with me, I mean. Was it so bad that you had to pretend to die to get away from me?"

Hand on the railings, Stephanie stops. One foot on the bottom step. There's no way she's be able to see to drive home let alone defend herself. And yet, she'd likely try anyway… if she hadn't stopped, mind reeling with that 'doing it again!!' clammer.

Was it that bad?

Being with him?

"No." Because that's closest to the truth.

"Yes." Because that's the rest of it.

"It was complicated. It started complicated. It never got UNcomplicated. I …couldn't do it anymore. Everything was falling apart and I wasn't sleeping and… I'm sorry I didn't tell you. You never told me everything either, and… finding that out was just… I didn't know how to …tell you… how to hit pause.

"I didn't know if you'd gotten out of the blast. I just ran for it. I didn't stop running. And… I told myself you had, because you're smarter and faster and better than me… at like… everything. And that… you'd find me… or… figure out I …I don't know, Tim. I didn't know… I just.. I wanted to get away from me… from… all the… from… I ddn't know how to…"

The words are watery, losing cohesion, running together like the streaks of tears down her cheeks now that hte cowl's thrown back. Both with backs to each other, both with heads down. He's still. She's shaking.

'You never told me everything either.'

That's the simple truth, and one that Tim's mind won't let himself avoid, or hide from, no matter how he feels right now. It was a curse of the way he thought, that he couldn't avoid facing uncomfortable truths. He'd lied to her - out of necessity - just like he had everyone else. Robin had run the rooftops alongside Spoiler, and Tim Drake had gone to classes with Stephanie Brown, and for a long time he hadn't let her know they were one and the same young man.

But how could he? It wasn't just his secret to tell. Whatever her reputation as a 'dumb blonde' and a cheerleader, Stephanie wasn't stupid - quite the contrary, she was more clever than she gave herself credit for, in his opinion - and once she'd been let in on the secret she might've followed that thread.

He can hear it in her voice, how he's hurting her, and truthfully part of him is glad. Part of him thinks she deserves it, after the way she'd hurt him.

And yet, before he thinks about it, before he has the chance to second-guess himself, he moves. Moves up behind her, aiming to curl bare arms around the blonde, to try and give her some kind of physical comfort… Because whatever else he's become, that's who he is. Someone who guarantees other people's safety, other people's happiness, even at the expense of his own. No matter how much it hurts, how much he wants to scream and rage.

And he does want to, he does. He wants to make her hurt as badly as she hurt him.


"It made me happy, finding out you were still alive. Happy for the first time in a while," he tells her, quietly.

But he doesn't know if he'll ever forgive her.

Most of Stephanie thinks she deserves it too.

Bitch move, Brown. Bitch move.

Her shoulders tremble violently when Tim curls about her, her whole frame shaking. It's an Iron Maiden of a hug. Comforting and painful all at once.

His quiet words hurt just as much, even though she's so glad that something she did could make him happy. Really, that's all she ever wanted for him. And she's pretty sure she won't forgive herself either. She hiccups a sob, leaning back tensely.

Tim had lost a lot, by then; his father, his stepmother. For a while, Batman, and during that period there'd been chaos in Gotham, chaos Tim had stepped up to help stem the tide of, which only made him harder, colder. Less the young man Stephanie had fallen in love with. When Batman returned with a new Robin in tow… It was like being forced out. Like losing the one thing that had kept him anchored.

And so, Red Robin, a costume and identity he took from his self-styled archnemesis, a man who was even now trying to hunt him down, from the information Stephanie had heard when she came in. And so, working by himself, making his own hideout instead of depending on the Batcave.

Isolation, distance.

"It was like getting you back, you know? Even though… Things could never go back to the way they were."

Especially not now.

His grip on her tightens as she leans back against him, tense though she is. Part of him still wants to cling to her, after all this time. Pretend like nothing has changed. But he knows better.

She wants to cling too. It's easy to fall into old habits with him. But those old habits come with all the old frustrations, the twisty confusions of Best Friend Robin being School Girl Love Tim.. who lied about all of that, even though now she gets it.

Oh boy! Does she ever get it. Current boyfriend's asked about ex-boyfriend. And Stephanie can't even start to talk about it. Not when it's all tangled up in Secret IDs and things that aren't hers to talk about it… And she gets it, now. Too many years too late.

Well, better late than never?

She turns around, to wrap her arms about his ribs and curl into the old comfort of his embrace, cry on his shoulder.

Is this what growing up is all about? Because it hurts.

"I'm so sorry."

Too late, too late.

Tim Drake knows all about too late.

But Stephanie turns in his arms, and he doesn't even try to stop her, letting her cling to him instead, her arms wrapped around him in return. His anger is met with a dull, all-consuming ache, a reminder of another thing he'll never have. Those foolish, childish dreams of only a few years ago, burned to ashes in the explosion that he believed had killed Stephanie Brown.

'I'm so sorry,' she says, and he knows that she means it. But what can he say in return? A comforting lie, that he forgives her? The painful truth, that he doesn't know if he ever could, ever will?

"I know," Tim tells her instead of either, resisting the urge to bury his face against her blonde hair, now that her cowl is pulled back. There's only so much self-destruction he can permit himself.

How long before she starts to pull away, bring her hands away from him so she can press at the tears on her cheeks. There's so much more to say…. but how does it even get said. She heard him. Tim had acknowledged her apology only, recognized it for being there but that was all. There was no acceptance. That was too much to hope for. Stephanie wasn't even ready to forgive herself.

Eventually, the blonde does pull away from him.

It was inevitable, though there was something nice in the idea of just staying there like that, even though it hurt. Tim hides it well - he always has, out of necessity, out of habit - before he squeezes his eyes shut, scrubbing at them with the thumb and forefinger of one hand, drawing that palm down his face as he reopens his eyes to look at Stephanie.

She's a mess, and at least part of that is because of him, because he vented his anger on her when she was injured and on painkillers. He doesn't feel bad about it, not really - he doesn't apologise any more than he accepts her apology - but he knows he can't just let her run off like this. Even if there's the impulse, still, to tell her to get lost.

But he won't give in to that impulse, to his worst and most petty instincts. He's better than that. He has to be better than that.

"You need rest," Tim says, gently but firmly. "You can stay here if you want, I've got spare bedrooms. Or I can take you home, if you'd feel more comfortable."

"I've got some data to run through still, and Dad…." she says, voice still unsteady. "I.. No. I can't. I mean… it wouldn't be. I can drive. It'll be okay…"

Frustration bubbles up. Of course, Stephanie is going to be stubborn.

But then, that stubbornness serves her well sometimes too. It keeps her moving forward, despite all the things that have happened to her. Despite all the very compelling reasons to just give up and lie down.

Tim knows that. It's one of the things they have in common.

"No," he says, firmly. "Take it from me, someone with years of experience in doing too much: You're doing too much. You're in no condition to be running around in costume, you're in no condition to be driving. God damn it, Stephanie Brown, let me take care of you a little bit."

He tries to keep a tighter rein on his temper now, he tries. He can't force her to stay - well, no, especially in her current condition he probably could, if he put his mind do it - so that leaves him with one viable option if he wants to keep her something resembling safe.

"Just let me get changed and I'll take you wherever you need to go, okay? You should go home and get some rest, but it seems like you're not going to listen to me there."

Stubborn vs Stubborn. Who's stubborn will win out?

Stephanie frowns at the reminder that he is, while technically younger, far more experienced at all of this than she is. It frays her nerves even further. He can see it, the same way she can see the frustration wanting to boil up in him. Her jaw sets and her eyes start to flicker in arugment. And then he says he wants to take care of her.

It's like a slap in the face. Because really, that's all he's ever been trying to do.

Clear tears fill but don't fall, extinguishing the fire in her eyes and revealing the exhaustion.

"……" Is Stephanie speechless a good thing?

Really, trying to take care of other people was the whole reason Tim got into this life in the first place. He had no foundational trauma, nothing to avenge: He just knew that after the death of Jason Todd, Batman was turning darker and more extreme. He knew that Batman needed a Robin to help take care of him, to keep him grounded, keep him from going too far.

If the Dark Knight is, when you strip everything else away, just someone who doesn't want anyone else to die… Then Tim, when you remove all those other trappings, is just someone who wants to take care of everyone else.

No matter what it costs him, personally.

His brow furrows faintly at Stephanie's uncharacteristically quiet compliance, but soon enough he slips away to 'get changed,' just like he said: He's not exactly going to go driving around in just a pair of workout pants. It doesn't take long, before he returns in costume, a bare handful of minutes at most. He doesn't rush as much as he did that time in New York, when Stephanie got that terrifying text message, but he doesn't dally, either.

"Let's go," he says when he returns, the cowl of the Red Robin costume settled on his shoulders like a hood. "I'll take you wherever you need to be, Steph."

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