Lies and Secrets

September 18, 2018:

Barbara calls on Tim, and lies and secrets come out.

Red Robin's Nest

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Batman, Jason Todd

Plot:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

As hideouts go, it's always kind of cold in the Nest.

Effectively all new construction rather than something repurposed, it's easier to maintain climate control than in, say, a drafty old cave network: Humidity is kept minimal to create minimal interference with any equipment or any samples in the lab, and generally speaking it's quite a relief after going out into a muggy Gotham City day. Or night. Maybe there's symbolism there, of the Nest's designer and owner having learned lessons about what did and did not work from his mentor's successes and failures. Or maybe it's revealing of a more clinical nature, someone who likes to have everything just so with no space for giant pennies or robot dinosaurs or guano everywhere.

It's difficult to say.

The list of people who can easily access the Nest is, of course, pretty short. Longer than the Batcave, maybe, because Tim always had more trust to go around than Bruce… Naturally, though, members of their curious family were generally not excluded (except for the Robins immediately preceding and succeeding his on tenure), and were able to get by the biometric locks on the rooftop and subterranean access, as well as the hidden door from Tim Drake's townhouse that provided a civilian facade for the whole thing.

As someone who grew up in one mansion before later moving into a second, larger mansion, he was perhaps understandably used to having a certain amount of space, and besides people would probably keep a closer eye on a young billionaire who didn't have a fancy place.

Tim himself is, perhaps unsurprisingly, sitting in front of the bank of computers, his dark blue eyes scanning across the different screens, both relatively simple OLED monitors and holographic projections. Rather than costume, the former Boy Wonder is wearing a pair of black track pants and a grey t-shirt; the shirt reads 'Bad Grammar Makes Me Sic', because he is a deeply cool person.

He looks like he's been there a while.

*

Driven by her own self-inflicted guilt, upon returning to Gotham after her recent disappearance to New York City, Barbara decided it was time to check in on the brothers. Dick has been harder to meet up with, but she knows where to find Tim. With her motorcycle parked, and helmet tucked under her arm, she makes her way to the covert entrance of the Nest. She steps so casually, no one would dare think anything besides: she belongs here. It's a practiced stride.

This casualness continues as the redhead accesses the nest with her own biometrics, and she announces herself immediately on entry: "It's Babs!" Her voice carries with that tired lilt that has colored it in recent months — ever since she started venturing between Gotham and NYC on her special trips.

She passes to where she'd find Tim, and she unslings her backpack as she comes into sight of him. Her lips twitch. "God, you all do that… sit dutifully in front of your wall of computer monitors, looking somewhat surly and immovable. Is that something Bruce teaches you guys?"

Says the woman who has just as many computer monitors.

*

It's Babs!

"I know," is the distracted response, delivered around half a candy bar. Of course, the Nest's computer would be designed to tattle on anyone who enters by one of the conventional entrances; he hasn't figured out a good way to do the same with people who might, for example, teleport in, but that list is currently just Zatanna. Or Bart deciding to phase through the wall, or…

Well, you get the idea.

Once inside, the dim lighting of the Nest responds to Barbara's presence, the cool LEDs brightening; the light seems to follow anyone moving through the lair, which was originally just an efficiency choice when Tim figured nobody else would ever be inside of it, but turned out to be kind of useful anyways.

"In my defense, I was like this before I ever started training with Bruce," is the young man's response to Barbara's possibly hypocritical question. "And if Dick is staring at a computer like this, he's either playing Minesweeper or he got around the parental locks." Slowly, he turns to look at the redhead, reaching up with one hand to brush his dark hair back out of his face. There's a weighing there, cataloguing the tiredness in Barbara's voice, the way she's holding herself, the way she looks. The detective, as always.

"No more run-ins with Jason Todd?"

*

Barbara drops her helmet on the nearest, clear surface and then drops her hip into the desk that houses the array of monitors. She offers her Bat brother a wry smile, head cocked to one side and the fall of red forelock cutting across blue eyes. She crosses her arms idly as Tim takes stock of her, but when he mentions Jason Todd, her expression turns toward confusion that turns toward something deeper — something more concerned.

"Tim… Why would I be having run-ins with Jason? Jason's dead."

Or at least, that's last Barbara knew. Jason came in after she was already Batgirling her way through Gotham, after Dick had gone Nightwing. She had watched from a careful place as Jason lost it, went into that dark place that she is trying so hard to keep Frank Castle from.

And now, she's looking at Tim as if he's talking about ghosts… ghosts of Bruce's biggest failures, and speaking a name that she's not even thought about lately, burying Jason as much as in her memory as he is in the ground.

Right?

*

Like a lot of things, it's complicated.

'It's Complicated' might be the Wayne family motto, which of course makes it Tim's too since he was adopted in the aftermath of the murder of his father and stepmother.

"You haven't talked to Bruce, have you?" the young man wonders, his head tilting slightly to one side as he watches the redhead. The compartmentalisation of information is one of those inevitable things that comes up when you do the sorts of things they do. Secrets upon secrets upon secrets. Maybe there's a reason the Dark Knight tells things to Tim that he doesn't tell to Barbara… And maybe Tim slipped up by saying what he did.

"You were attacked, right? That's what Bruce told me, anyway. Could be someone wants him to think it's Jason, but you know… There's dead and there's dead."

And if Bruce didn't want her to know what he knew about her mystery assailant, well, he should've told Tim that, probably.

*

That confusion settles into her expression for a heartbeat longer, and then her eyes widen as Tim gives her the piece of the puzzle she had been missing. "Jason Todd… he's the Hood?" There's dead, and there's dead.

Barbara clenches her fists together as frustration suddenly betrays her features. "Damnit, Bruce!" She hisses this under her breath, glancing away as she pushes off the desk. "No, he didn't tell me. He talked me, told me to stay away from the Red Hood… he said nothing about it being Jason, or that it's someone wanting us to think he's Jason."

Why wouldn't Bruce have told me?

She runs her hands through her red hair, gripping slightly at her roots before she turns back toward Tim. "Did he tell you? Did he tell you that it was Jason?"

*

With his keen powers of observation and deduction, Tim is able to discern that Barbara is not happy.

"He's probably right about you staying away from him," Tim offers, though that's not really a defense of Bruce's choice to not tell Barbara the truth. After the past several years, he doesn't really bother with those defenses anymore. Especially not after everything that happened with a certain magician's return to the city the year previous.

"I doubt he'd really go after you beyond that 'warning'. If it is Jason, or someone who wants Bruce to think it is Jason, or some whackadoo who thinks he is Jason, then he's much more likely to go after Dick, or me. Or Damian," he adds, as an afterthought. Which is why Bruce warned me." Which isn't an explicit answer to Barbara's question, but it does seem pretty implied that Bruce told him exactly what the truth was, or what he believed the truth to be.

Rather than elaborate, the former Boy Wonder chews on the other half of his candy bar.

*

Barbara keeps her back to Tim, and her eyes close. She hears Tim, and she even acknowledges in vague nods of understanding. She feels like the little island that is her world keeps getting smaller and smaller, and the water is creeping in around her. Between what happened in New York City with Mercer and Castle, and now this… her shoulders sag heavily.

"Yeah, alright. He likes knives… with our names on it. Mine had 'Batgirl' on the blade… and he said he had one for each of my brothers, so… you're probably right. You guys are at a higher risk."

She shoves her hands into the pockets of her motocross jacket before she turns back toward him. The casual way Tim chews through his candy bar actually makes her bark out a small laugh, and it just barely cracks through her stress.

She crosses back toward where she dropped her backpack. "Brought you something back from New York," she says in some lame attempt to change the subject.

*

It's pretty obvious that Barbara is still upset, though Tim is at something of a loss as to what to do about it… 'Bruce doesn't tell you everything' is one of those hard lessons that even his closest associates have to learn. What seems like repeatedly. If there's anyone out there that the Batman doesn't have any secrets from, well, it's probably just Alfred.

It's also distinctly possible that Tim has picked up some bad habits from his mentor/adopted father, as well. You know, just maybe. Tiny ones. Very mild.

"He sounds like a real charmer," the young man says with more than a touch of gallows humour, but of course he's filing away this information, too. An attacker with a fondness for knives either wants the work to be quiet, or wants it to be intimate, the latter seeming more likely given the general profile, and…

Brought you something back from New York.

"Huh?" Tim says as he snaps out of the distraction of his own mental processes, dark blue eyes fixing directly on Barbara and her backpack. "What's got you spending so much time up there anyway?" he wonders. "I mean, I know my excuse, big T-shaped tower, misfit group of super kids… You're not cheating on your library with a New York library, are you?

*

"Yeah, real charmer," Barbara says dryly in return, but she tries to loosen her thoughts from Jason Todd and the gap of space between her and Bruce. He has his reasons, she reminds herself, but right now… she's hating anything that strengths that isolating feeling that has been building up. Some of it is self-induced isolation, not that Barbara would recognize that.

Not cheating on your library with a New York library, are you? Tim asks, and a small smile tugs at the corners of her lips as she opens her backpack. "No… I… got caught up on this VigiWatch case… you know the stuff that's been happening in Hell's Kitchen with the Kingpin, and the gangs. It's stupid." Which is some horrible way to deflect, and she's sure that Tim will see through it.

Which is why she takes the bobblehead out of her bag. "There's this guy at Time's Square that sells at this stuff… and, well. Look, it's you." She hands out the bobblehead to Tim, and… it's a Red Robin bobblehead. It isn't the greatest rendering and the costume has plenty of inaccuracies, but there's no doubting that it is meant to be Red Robin.

*

The trailing off is enough of a tell that there's something more going on than Barbara is immediately willing to admit. Of course, one could say, hey - they all have their secrets, even within the 'family'. It isn't just Bruce who doesn't tell everyone everything. The list of secrets Tim keeps is honestly kind of appalling, but fortunately he's very good at keeping them.

He is, however, very bad at not nosing around into other people's secrets.

He's distracted, though, by the bobblehead. First, his expression is one of surprise, then mild confusion. Then, he looks like he's trying to decide if he should be offended or not, as he takes the offered tchotchke, giving it a critical eye.

"And here I thought those Batburger kids meal toys were bad," he complains, though there's not much heat behind it. The worst part of the whole Batburger fiasco was that the food was surprisingly good, for a fast food burger place. Though it was, admittedly, no Five Guys.

"VigiWatch though, huh. That Punisher guy?" he wonders; it is a question, at least, rather than a leading statement. "Like it's not bad enough the Kingpin blew up half of Hell's Kitchen, now there's a lunatic shooting up gangbangers."

*

"I could have gotten you a Batman one instead." Her words are dry, but amused all the same. She gives the bobblehead a little tap of her finger, and Red Robin's oversized head weebles and bobbles and wobbles. It actually makes her smile a bit.

But then Tim hones right on it on it, and Barbara's smile thins and then melts away. She shrugs her shoulders. "Yeah… Zane was going to cover him, but I think that it was safer if I did it." She looks down at her feet as she goes back to leaning against the desk. Her brows furrow a bit at Tim's remarks, and then she shrugs again — but it seems so noncommittal and avoiding.

"He's doing it to avenge his family," is all she says. But then she's reaching for her backpack again. "I got to go do some patrol work. I've been out of Gotham for a few days… who knows if you guys have been actually been keeping things from going sideways without me."

The teasing is gentle, and almost self-deprecating. She's on her feet though, slinging back up the bag and reaching for her helmet.

*

"We've all got people to avenge, Barbara," Tim says, his tone now solemn - but gentle, as though the sentiment itself might shatter if he pressed it too hard. "The only thing putting people in the ground does is make more people crave vengeance."

It's an old argument, probably, even among the followers of the Bat. Haven't they all been tempted, at times, to take the easy solution, the permanent one? But the Rule has a life of its own, now… And if Tim's experiences collaborating with more magically-inclined people has taught him anything, it's that breaking a Rule like that might have all sorts of consequences. No matter what that lurking anger might want, in a moment of weakness.

"I'll go with you," he offers, putting the bobblehead down on the computer desk along with a bare handful of other personal items - a small carved bird, its red colour coming from the blood used to make it, probably the most unusual among them. "Buddy system, right?" Tim adds to the offer, although it's a system he ignores whenever it's convenient to him, because of course he does. "I mean, unless you're worried my bike is cooler than yours…"

*

Some people just need to be put down. That's what Jessica Jones had said. It doesn't jive well with what they've all be taught by Bruce. Babs has always tried to make sense of it — particularly when Joker is one of the villains you're always keeping an eye out for.

Then, Tim does just what Barbara needs, and for a moment, her emotions well just beneath the surface. She smiles a watery smile at him, and she nods. "Yeah, buddy system." She checks her shoulder into his gently once he's on his feet. It's an unspoken thanks.

"And I know you're bike is cooler than mine… it's to overcompensate for the fact I'm better at riding mine."

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