Fic Rec: The Drowners
So, first up in this Feast of Te, is her story arc, The Drowners. (The series begins with When At Last Our Starving Eyes). The series starts when Tim first sees the ghost of Jason Todd. Jason, happy that, finally, someone can see him hangs around. They become…close.
If you haven’t read it–go read it. If you have read it, go re-read it. Then come back, and we’ll talk.
For the life of me, I can’t remember if I caught this as it was posted, or found it on her site, but I can tell you, it’s the first story that really sold me on Tim/Jason.
This story is interesting in many ways, but I’m going to discuss it in the framework of my current fannish world: a blast from the past. This story was written before the return of Jason Todd to the comics, so Te’s interpretation of him comes from What Came Before. After having read so much post-Red Hood madness, it’s a relief to read Jason again.
There are a few things this story does that I’m going to focus on.
1) Timmy is not as straight as he previously thought (and through this, vaguely poly)
2) Timmy is a ruthless little cuss
“Uh, *huh*,” Jason says, as Dick flips and twists
across the screen, over and over again. “I think I’ve
got some theories about that sexuality question of
Tim yanks the pillow out of Jason’s hand and smacks
*him* with it. “I was a *kid*.”
“On a *mission*.”
“Yeah, well…” He watches Dick do the quadruple
somersault, one more time, and then turns back to
match Jason’s smirk with his own. “Worked, didn’t
One of my favorite fiction tropes is the outsider look into Tim’s life. Tim gets so caught up in details and the BIG PICTURE that he tends to loose himself in the middle. The fact that his self-esteem is in the metaphoric gutter–well–He needs someone to point things out to him. In this story, it’s the issue of his sexuality. In later stories (particularly Summer, With Garment Cast Aside, When He Saw His Own Eyes, and To Be Worthy) it’s that he can have the people he’s lusted after.
In The Drowners, Jason literally shows Tim his life on a television screen that exists in Tim’s own subconscious…next to the freakin’ Black Pearl of Mental Suicide–a mental construct Tim has been cultivated as an emergency plan, because the secret must be kept at all costs and I think that Tim, of all the Bats, understands how obvious they really can be.
Anyway, the progression on the screen is interesting–first we see Steph’s…heh…torso, when Jason seemingly introduces Tim to sexuality, period. Then, in the passage above, to the idea that his sexuality leans more towards the masculine.
What’s interesting at this point in time is that Tim is usually portrayed as bisexual–granted he has a heavily homosexual tendency, but there is genuine desire on his part for Steph. In later stories, while Steph has re-entered his life as a romantic interest, their love is asexual. Even in this story, when Tim is left pining for Steph after their first encounter, he only comes when he realizes that Jason is there with him–when he is getting fucked by Jason. Nowhere else in this series does Tim have any sort of amorous encounter with a female. In fact, each subsequent seduction (Bruce, Bernard, Kon) is male.
Furthermore, while Tim’s sex with Bruce is really Jason’s sex with Bruce in Tim’s body, the matter is complicated by Tim’s desire for Bruce. Which, is further complicated by Tim’s crippling lack of early-life bodily-contact and his deep seated belief that he is unloveable–
Jason wakes Tim up to desire, not only by opening his eyes to the possibilities,
Bernard stares at him —
“At your *mouth*, Tim.”
“Really…?” Bernard says. “Why don’t you tell me
*all* about it?”
“You do realize this kid wants you so bad he can
*taste* it, don’t you?”
Tim smiles a little wider, and watches Bernard
blush, a little.
“Maybe later,” Tim says, and closes his locker,
heading for the exits.
but by wanting so much, they merge into one person. The entire third story is about how Tim and Jason, though repeatedly merging into one being, ultimately have to make the situation permanent, or stop completely. And they decide to merge, because:
“There’s no going back.” It’s actually a question.
“There hasn’t been since the first time it…
happened.” The memory of Steph’s sweat on his
tongue isn’t one he has room to enjoy right
now. “Every time they tried, it was harder, more
painful. And less effective.”
Bruce settles back into his seat, and the shadows
give him an effective cowl again.
Robin knows that move must have been reflexive
for Bruce since before they were all *born*.
“Tell me why,” Bruce says.
Tim would explain it detail. Jason would want to
know what the *point* was. And he… “Tim wasn’t
attached to himself. Jason was. And if you want
the whys for *that*… you’re going to have to
give me some time. Though I have my theories.”
Robin resettles his stance again before just giving
up and leaning against the side of his own chair.
“Tim… never wanted to lie to his parents.”
“I have fewer compunctions.”
“He never wanted to lie to his *friends*, either.”
“I don’t intend to.”
And this leads us nicely into part number two; “Timmy is a ruthless little cuss”
The number one word I see used to describe Tim in fandom is “sharp”, and Te’s Tim is the sharpest I’ve seen. In any incarnation. Even when he’s, like, a scared little untrained 14-year-old, he’s got this edge to him. (Everything Spring; Summer, with Garment Cast Aside).
In Canon, Tim is the Detective Robin. The cerebral counterpart to Bruce. (Whereas Dick was Joy to Bruce’s Grief, and Jason was wild to Bruce’s restraint). He’s as good a detective as Bruce is, and is only getting better. he WILL be a better detective than The Bat one day–and Bruce knows it. He’s also tiny–slight of stature and lean, and only recently drawn anywhere near adult height–where he’s still on the short side of average. (It’s been speculated in fandom that his size is a direct result of his early life where he fended for himself while his parents jet-set around the world, but equally that he inherited his mother’s looks.) Because of this, he’s always going to be fighting people larger than he is–even most of the women he’s fought are bigger. He needs to be ruthless if he’s going to survive. We’re seeing the fruits of that in Canon now–where Tim’s stark analysis of life is leading him into darker morally grey areas. (That is, if you believe in comic book character continuity–something that’s dubious at best). But, at the time this was written especially, the best example of Tim’s ruthlessness in canon is his interaction with Lady Shiva–the assassin who teaches him how to fight, how to cripple, and how to kill. The woman who gets him to kill–even if he’s able to “take it back” by resuscitation. He still killed her–and that colors everything about the way he thinks about fighting.
Particularly, with how brutal he will let him be on the streets. Jason, in canon and fanon, has a rep for being a bruiser–he uses his fists and likes to beat the crap out of Gotham scum. Tim, because of his size, uses his staff to similar effect. It only seems not as personal because of the inherent distance the staff creates. There is a general “Jason-izing” of Tim happening all over; The Animated Series Tim, for example, is a mash-up of the two. In the comics, Tim has been known to agree with Jason’s
reasoning if not all his methods. Lets not forget, after all, that Tim only revealed himself (insert slashy pun here) after Jason’s death when there was a lack present, and strove to shape himself into the perfect Robin–communing with The Case… (note the attachment Tim has to the concept of Robin as something greater…it’s this that lets Tim submerge himself in the greater mystical thing that is Robin…)
And, of course, Te has written several stories where Tim changes essential aspects of his personalty through sheer force of will– adopts (more) aspects of Jason’s character to be “better”with this story being the penultimate–where they actually merge into one being–Robin.
What haven’t I talked about. Oh yes, the second story. You Who Know My Heart. The missing scene.
I admit, I didn’t read this until recently, mostly because If it doesn’t have Timmy in it, I’m not as inclined to give it a go. Taste preference. Also, because the reality of the situation is that, while Bruce is sleeping with Jason, who consents, he’s also sleeping with Tim, who doesn’t. And that squicks me. (I know, I know. I’ll break the incest taboo (the batfamily are incestuous as hell, though they’re not related and, well, Wincest,) and flirt with dramatic age differences and underage (Timmy is so precocious…) but this–gets to me.) Maybe it’s because Tim brushes it off so easily, and it’s “okay” because, in the story, Tim is okay with it. And, in the context of the story, it is okay. Tim forgives them because he, on some level, understands and, on another level, is too willing to give up pieces of himself to fix the whole Jason’s death left in Bruce. His quick acceptance in in character. So in character that I didn’t realize that I was avoiding that story because of the squick and not because of a lack of Tim until I was discussing the draft of this post with Fright Dyke and she looked at me kinda horrified and said “wait–Batman raped Robin, and that’s okay??” And I had no clear answer. And that is some Cormac McCarthy shit, right there–the willingness to go there, and the ability to bring the reader along for the ride. Think, Nabokov and Lolita, forcing the reader to confront harsh realities. And really, isn’t that the point of literature? To examine things that most people would prefer remain un-examined?
And, when reading it, the most fascinating bits appeared–Characterization of Tim that can only happen with somebody else giving name to Tim’s reactions because Tim has conditioned himself to not react–or at least to hide his reactions. (More than one character has called Tim creepy when he blanks himself).
And this passage, says pretty much everything I love and hate about this story:
Tim’s hands are smaller, though, and Jason
had already *known* that they weren’t really
used to doing the kinds of things he’d used
*his* hands for. He just hadn’t really thought
of all the ways that was true. He can feel a
laugh bubbling up the back of his throat and
he swallows it back. “Bruce, I think. I think…”
He takes a breath and forces himself to look
up into Bruce’s eyes.
*Searching* eyes, hungry, hopeful eyes.
And Jason can feel parts of his mind that
probably aren’t his at *all* making guesses.
Making *judgments*. It’s probably wrong
that it makes this much sense. “I’m here.
I’m *me* –“
“I know.” And Bruce doesn’t move his hands
so much as really feel like he’s *about* to
move his hands.
“But this isn’t my body –“
“I know that, too.” And Bruce smiles at him
in a way that makes his heart twist and his
body… flinch. And Bruce isn’t smiling
“Uh. I think.” He really needs to spit this
out. “I think Tim’s not really used to… this.
Bruce’s eyes widen, and it’s almost funny.
“I think…” And if he wasn’t dead sure Bruce
hadn’t been fucking Tim before, he would
Bruce backs off a step, letting go of Jason’s
hands, and he’s got his thinking face on.
“Er…” Jason pushes a hand through his hair,
and has to *stop*, because, really, how
much gel does one kid need?
And Bruce is looking at him with another faintly
amused smile, and Jason knows he’d seen all
His own move. Tim’s body. His reactions,
And, because nothing is ever simple:
Tim, he doesn’t say, he doesn’t even want to
*think*, and he feels like he’s going to be sick
and he feels like he’s going to need to come
And he knows he will.
“Oh God, Jay…”
Jason holds on tight and moves with it, *takes*
And doesn’t think about the black.
The Bats are inherently fucked up. This series plays with the broken edges in very interesting ways, and you’re left with patchwork–blood-stained-glass pictures of what is necessary to be Robin. And Te–makes it work.
And really–that’s the most important thing.