As absolute as death
by Te
February 19, 2004

Disclaimers: Not mine, dude.

Spoilers: Vague ones for much of the new Teen Titans
run, with some old Nightwing references.

Summary: Settling in, moving on.

Ratings Note/Warnings: R. Contains content some
readers may find disturbing.

Author's Note: Third part of the Black Sky series. Sequel
to "A truth at the edge of hearing" and "The Letter."

Acknowledgments: To Bas, Jack, and Rynia for
audiencing, hand-holding, and helpful suggestions.


Kon has spent the past two weeks or so learning how
to breathe again. How to want to do it, how to do it
without choking on pain, how to do it quietly. The last,

The Cave is creepy enough, but at least the bats make
noise. The house -- the *manor*...

It's not that it's depressing. It's actually kind of pretty,
if huge and clearly designed by and for really
conservative rich people. And huge.

It's just that it's really, really quiet.

If anyone had asked him where he thought Batman
lived... well, he'd have had to think about it. A few of
the old-school heroes aren't too hard to imagine
having lives and being people -- Plastic-Man? Totally
easy to picture him kicking back with a beer and
however many women he can wrap his arms and legs
around. Ditto Green Arrow. But... yeah.

It's a totally different story for people like Batman. Not
that there's anyone like...

That's the other thing he's been trying to do. He doesn't
know how he'll feel if he ever manages to go ten
minutes without tripping over Tim, but maybe it wouldn't
be so bad if he does it just once.

Just once.

He's probably -- definitely -- in the wrong place for that.
Batman's house, man. Bruce *Wayne's* house, and
'Conner Kent' had gotten to go to Tim's official funeral,
but he thinks, maybe, one day Tim's parents are going
to get over this. Or... not get *over* it; there's just no
way that's possible.

But one day they're going to have a life again, and
maybe even another kid, and they won't think about
Tim unless someone says something that triggers it, or
it's time to dust off the pictures. And that's...

No one who's ever lived in this house, or worked out
of the Cave... no one who ever *will* live or work
here is ever going to forget Tim. Maybe someday
there'll be another member of the Batfamily, someone
who never even *met* Tim, and within a week they
won't be able to forget him, either.

That's what Tim had said about the *other* Robin who'd
died, the one he gets to know now was a kid named
Jason Todd, who a guy named Bruce Wayne had
adopted and a guy named Batman had trained. Tim had
never so much as seen the kid on the street -- though
he'd seen pictures on TV with Jason in the Robin suit --
and *still* wound up obsessed with him.

Which wasn't in what Tim had *said* so much as in
how he looked when he wasn't saying it.

And that's the *other* thing he's been doing. Trying to
deal with everything Tim had ever said to him in the
context of the letter that won't let him breathe, and
that he thinks detached a very important piece of his

Because Tim hadn't said *anything*, he never did, not
*about* anything, but they were friends, and Kon had
gotten really good at picking up everything Tim didn't
say with words.

But he never knew Tim watched him sleep.

He never. He would've --

He trains a lot. More than he ever did even when Tim
*was* there, alternately taunting him and encouraging
him and just really making it clear in that silent,
important Tim way that he'd be happier if Kon practiced
more. He'd spent a lot of time trying to figure out what
would make Tim happy, at first because it seemed easier
than slamming himself into the brick wall that was 'trying
to make Tim *relax*,' and then just...

Three weeks ago he wouldn't have been able to say why
he did it. But that's just because he didn't think anyone
would want to hear it. Because *he* hadn't wanted to
fuck it up, and he wants, so *badly* to have Tim back
just for a minute. Thirty seconds to shake him until his
stupid, freakish brains rattle in his skull, and thirty
seconds to...

He doesn't even know. What would he do if he could
only do one thing? What would he say?

There's too much, and the letter...

It's really obvious he isn't going to get any of the
mental exercises he has done until he has something
to focus on other than his own brain. But there are
other things he can do.

"Flight won't always be an option. Learn alternatives,"
Batman had said. And he was absolutely right and
he'd never even *thought* about it, beyond really,
really enjoying watching Tim work out at the Tower.

The toughest thing about the gymnastics isn't the
actual moves -- he's only doing stuff he thinks other
kids are probably doing in, like, gym class -- so much
as remembering *not* to use his TK ("Sooner or later,
someone will find a way to get around or shut down
your powers.") unless he absolutely has to.

Like the first few times he'd forgotten to powder his
hands before working out and went flying -- falling.

It's... it's soothing in a way he never would've expected.

Because, yeah, he thinks if he tried this stuff out at the
Tower he wouldn't be able to *stop* thinking about
Tim doing it, but here...

The only constant here is the bats.

*All* of them -- the whole weird family has been on
this equipment at one time or another, and even though
Batman owns them, they *aren't* entirely his. They'll
maybe, one day, be a little bit *his*.

And there are other things to think about. Like the way
he can drop his aura pretty much at will, now ("Your
knowledge of your essential mortality is what will
keep you alive -- if anything will."), and the way it
makes everything...

He understands Bart a little better now, he thinks.
Enough so that one day, when he's a little less likely
to go insane with the fact that so many people he
knows are alive when Tim isn't, when Tim's dead and
*rotting* in the same ground that Luthor is, and
that --

He'll talk to Bart. He will.

Because he gets it. What it's like to be trapped in a
world where nothing is real at all because nothing
can be *felt*.

It's just that *his* never-ending movie had been a
little gorier than Bart's. A little more realistic, even if
it wasn't real at all.

Real is knowing that the Cave is always cold. Real is
knowing he can hang *this* long from the rings before
the TK comes back online without his permission. And
knowing that it will be longer, soon.

Bruce comes down the stairs, but he's Batman before
he gets to the mats. It's in the way he *looks* a
question into Kon's eyes instead of just asking it.

And then raises his eyebrow when Kon laughs.

"It's just that unspoken communication thing."

"You'll find it useful one day."

'One day' always, always means 'when I let you back
on Gotham's streets, and not before.' Most of the time,
he's fine with that, too. "I know," Kon says. "I learned
it from Tim."

Brief, approving nod.

Real is knowing that no one who walks in here will walk
out without being haunted by Tim's memory.

It's the sanest thing he's ever known.


He learns about guns from Dick. He learns... a *lot*
about guns from Dick. He gets that it's something he
needs to know if he's going to work here -- and he
will -- but it's both weirdly old-fashioned and a little
horrifying to hold the things.

"Bruce used to say that we had to learn this stuff
because we should know as much as possible about
how the criminal mind works, and that included
knowing what *they* know."

Dick starts a lot of his sentences with the words 'Bruce
used to' or 'Bruce would.' Some of it is the fact that
Kon's education is the first time they're *all* working
on one student. Some of it is the fact that he usually
can't tell if Bruce and Dick want to hug or beat each
other to death.

Barbara says that they're doing a lot better.

Kon thinks about the letter and making Tim feel normal.
Kon's getting used to the fact that he's never going to
stop thinking about that letter.


"I am. What do *you* say about guns?"

The first shot makes him wince, even with the earplugs
*and* the headphones. Which makes sense,
considering the fact that he hadn't had to strain to hear
him talk. Right. He feels Dick's eyes on him and drops
the aura, which seems to be the best way to shut
everything down but whatever makes him half-human.

"That doesn't seem especially practical."

He doesn't bother asking how they -- all of them --
know when he does it. Kon shrugs and fires off the
entirety of the clip. "The meditation exercises Bruce has
me doing to control my powers individually aren't going

"You should try Cass. She's probably the closest we get
to zen."

Kon nods. He will. Cassandra will be coming over to
beat the crap out of him tonight anyway. "Guns?"

"I was a cop. I never had to use my gun while I was
on duty, but..." Dick tosses him another clip and leans
against the partition. "It's a tool. It's a weapon, and
one that does far more harm than tends to be useful,
but it's also just a tool. *I* think you'll be better off
thinking of it that way than as just another Mystery of
the Criminal Mind."

"Which is probably why Bruce sent me to you for this."

"Maybe." Dick's smile is lazy, but that's the only thing
on him that is.

And from the few times Kon's sparred with the man...

"Alfred says you're not talking as much as you used to."

Right there. Verbal equivalent of one of those kicks that
only look like they should hurt Dick more than anyone
else until it hits. He grins.

"Not funny, kid. We *don't* need you clamming up on
us." There's a warning in Dick's voice, and Kon takes it

"I wasn't laughing at that. I just..." He loads the next
clip and waits for the automated pulley to send around
another target. Thinks about how much he does and
doesn't want to say, and remembers last night's dream.

His next shots are a little wild, but they're also a lot
faster. Trade-offs. Everything is trade-offs.

He sets the .45 down and flexes his fingers for a
moment before looking at Dick, at the way the lazy
casualness is everywhere but the set of his mouth, and
he has to smile again. "Tim must've... he must've
loved you all so *much*."

Dick's mouth is slack for just a second before he grins,
rueful and real. "I have to admit, I didn't see that

"No, it's just... all of you..." He shakes his head and
loads another clip. "Every time Bruce doesn't *quite*
tell a joke. Every time Barbara gets into another
supposedly hack-proof system and smiles like cats
look at wounded birds. Every time you soften me up
before poking at my... my fucking *feelings*.

"And *shit*, man. *Every* time Tim mentioned
patrolling with Cassandra during the week I knew I'd
see him doing something new and deadly-looking in
the Tower's gym on the weekend."

Dick blinks. "You make us sound almost comforting. I
think that's probably illegal. I *know* it's insane."

"Yeah, well." He aims for target-boy's heart. "Why
should it be any different from everything else?"

Dick laughs through the gunshots.


"You know, I *thought* I knew how to use computers
before." If asked, he could name all the letters,
numbers, and symbols on the screen. Together, they
might as well be Cyrillic.

Barbara leans back in her chair and smirks, steepling
her fingers. "*We'll* tell you what to think and when.
You just memorize that screen."

"Right." Maybe he *should* think of it as learning
another language. He hadn't been *failing* Spanish,
per se...

Barbara snorts and Kon doesn't really want to know
what look he had on his face. ("No one needs to know
more about you than you *want* them to know.")
"Don't worry, kid. It's not going to get much harder
than this. We're not trying to turn you into a hacker."

"Good to know. I think my brain is leaking out of my


He tries to focus on the screen, but he sees her
whipping a fighting stick out of, apparently, nowhere.
More than that, he *feels* it -- all the violence in the
room, even though she's just tapping her chin with the
thing. "What is it?"

"You should try thinking of this the next time you
meditate. Either it'll clear your head or you'll learn
something." She shrugs and flips the stick back -- up
her sleeve. Right. And then she starts wheeling
toward the kitchen. "Either way..."


He freezes mid-punch at the sound of voices from...
upstairs. And stares at his hands. He isn't sure when
his aura and everything else came back online, but it
had to be *before* the voices, right?

Or... he shakes his head.

Batman lets go of the bag and eyes him.

"It's Superman. He's upstairs."

"No, it's *Clark*. Superman would've come to the Cave

Which makes sense. There were things Tim never did
when the mask was on, even after they all knew. And
things he wouldn't do when it was *off*. And... Clark.
Kon swallows.

"You knew this was coming."

"Yeah, I did. I just..."

Batman's smile is wintry, and exactly the smile Kon will
always be able to see when the cowl is on, now. "He
might just be dropping by for a visit."

Kon snorts and wipes his palms on his sweats. They
still *feel* clammy. "Yeah, right."

The look on Batman's face is shrewd and calculating
and stays that way for a good second after Kon focuses.
And then quickly and deliberately softens into
Bruce-lines. "This is your home now."

"I --"

"And the only expectations you have to live up to
are --"


Bruce laughs, short and sharp, and claps him on the
shoulder. "Go with that."

By the time the secret door at the top of the stairs
opens, Bruce is standing just a little in front of him.
Or... Batman? It's harder to tell than usual.

And he was right, of course. Clark is in his mild-
mannered reporter disguise, though the stupid glasses
are at least tucked in his pocket. For a moment, it's
like he can't seem to decide which of them to look at,
and then he stops a few steps from the bottom and
looks at them both.

"Why do I get the feeling that I'm about to walk into
an argument?"

Kon opens his mouth, but Bruce is there first.

"You tell me, Clark." It's the 'deceptively calm' voice
that Kon doesn't think could fool anyone, ever, unless
they were brain-dead.

It makes Clark narrow his eyes and not *quite* glare.

Kon looks away and scrubs at the back of his head. He
hears Clark sigh.

"Look, I didn't say anything before. I wasn't *going* to
say anything. I don't always approve of *how* you
choose to raise your kids, Bruce --"

"You probably shouldn't finish that sentence."

And *that's* Batman. Kon bites his tongue, because
gritting his teeth would be immediately obvious.

"I was just going to say that the results are always
worth it. I'm not here to criticize."

It's the same tone of voice Clark uses when he's
explaining why Kon needs to be grounded. Again. And
it's such a *weird* thought to have... he looks up
before he can stop or slow the motion, but Clark is
focused enough on Batman that he maybe -- maybe --
doesn't register it.

It's enough to look at him, and to *see* the I'm-
scolding-you-for-your-own-good expression on his

To know he's reading him. Really reading *Clark*.

He blinks and tries to look unobtrusive while they
keep not-glaring at each other.

Clark breaks first and sighs. "Fine, I'll just say it. I
don't think it's a good idea to train someone with
Conner's powers to fight the way *you* do, Bruce It's
dangerous." And Clark finally looks at *him*, with a
weird mix of distraction, worry, and apology.

"He's teaching me how to *control* those powers,

"And about a million quasi-legal tricks besides, I'd

"It was long past time for someone *above* the age
of majority to help him."

Clark blinks like Batman had slapped him. "All right. I
deserved that. I haven't been living up to my
responsibilities for a long time, but --"

"I'm not." It comes out small and a little choked, and Kon
tries again. "I'm not your responsibility." I never was, he
doesn't say. I think I was supposed to be your *son*, he
really extremely doesn't say.

And Clark just... looks at him. The hurt in those eyes is
going to kill him.

"I'm sorry --"

"Maybe you're right."

"I don't mean -- you did so much for me. I'm just --" He
bites his lip at the feel of Clark's hands on his shoulders.

"I meant... I mean to do this differently, Conner."

He hadn't heard that name in a long time. Twice in one

"I was going... I was hoping to talk to you, to *ask*
you how you felt, but..." The smile on Clark's face is
pretty obviously for Bruce. "Somehow I got

"Clark --"

"Give me a second, all right?"

"I... sure." It's the least he could do. He was sitting in
*detention* while Luthor... while... he bites the inside
of his lip, and he knows Clark has to be seeing
everything, and he can't blame the X-Ray vision.

Batman is a silent presence beside him, blank in a way
that makes Kon *really* glad he'd decided to be Nice
Guy!Bruce *before* Clark had made it down.

"Are you happy here?"

Kon gapes like an idiot. He can *feel* it. "Happy...?"

Clark smiles ruefully. "Maybe I should try to say that
another way. I know how close you were to Tim."

No, he doesn't. None of them knew, because *he*
didn't know. Close, sure. So damned close they'd
never... "I..."

Clark squeezes his shoulders. "Conner."

Don't *call* -- "Yeah?"

"Do you *want* to be here?"

And for a moment he thinks it's the stupidest question
he's *ever* heard. But... he's Conner to Clark, even
though Clark had *created* Conner out of a lot of lies
and fancy computer work. And Conner is a high
school junior who just lost his foster parents and best
friend, as opposed to... He takes a breath. "Yes, I do."

Clark nods at him just as if he'd said something
important and lets go. "All right, Conner. Just... don't
be a stranger?"

He pastes a smile on his face with effort. "I won't.
Um... you guys probably have League business to
discuss. I'm just going to... go work out on the bars a
little more." And pretend I can't hear every word
you're saying.

Clark smiles at him in friendly dismissal, and Kon
doesn't -- does *not* -- fly over there, and he doesn't
use his TK to leap for the bars, even though holding it
back just means that he has to stand on the mats and
scowl like an idiot until he can shut it down.

He powders his hands, breathes, and jumps.

His first turn is shaky, the next almost sends him to
the floor. And he doesn't get a third before he has to
stop pretending.

"... not using his telekinesis?"

"How many times have the rest of you lost your powers?
Or had them stolen? He needs to know how to do as
much as he can without them."

"Isn't that... dangerous?"

Kon snorts quietly and takes it a little easier on himself,
swinging until he can get up into a handstand. He'll
never be an acrobat, but once he *is* up... there's
nothing wrong with his balance *or* his strength.

And it feels good to just hold it. Better when the effort
registers. He knows himself better now, and knows
that the first prickles of what he *thought* was fatigue
is really just his aura pushing against the barrier of his
control and bleeding through in what probably aren't
random places.

He swings back down at the last second and hooks
his legs over the lower bar, letting himself drop and
hang. It's the world-famous Dying Tree Sloth position,
of which he is the acknowledged master.

The prickles fade out. He bets Barbara could probably
chart them out and come up with something absolutely
brilliant about his powers that he just never would've
known before. Maybe he'll --

"... wonder when you're coming *back.*" Clark.

"I have responsibilities."

"And you're taking them admirably seriously, but
Bruce... the last time we talked about him, you still
weren't using his *name*."

Neither were you, he thinks, and knows he's not being
fair. Clark had given him *both* names. It wasn't his
fault that the second one felt more like a slap than
anything else.

He does a set of crunches, holding in the up-position
at the end. And then he does another, and another,
and another until the prickles are back and he has to
either stop or fly himself down.

He lets himself hang, the blood-rush causing an
entirely different tingle.

And when he opens his eyes, he's staring at Batman's
neck. He bends his head back a little further, just so
he can see Batman's face.

And it *is* Batman's, because he's smiling, but it's the
kind of smile people bleed to death on. "Having fun?"


"Hm. You haven't been flying since you've been here."

"I didn't... I mean, I know you never really liked me
flying over Gotham."

"No, I didn't. And it's still a little... disconcerting. But I
think it would do you some good. And you'll be doing a
lot of it one day."

He grins and lets his aura back on for long enough to
get down from the bars and right-side up. The aura...
the *power*... he can barely feel the blood resettling
itself with gravity. He's barely swaying on his feet.

"We're going to have to work on that."

"What is... I mean, right now I'm grinning like an idiot,
because... I can fly?"

"*Just* fly. Nothing extracurricular."

"Okay, that's fine. That's... to be honest, I think there's
a part of me that's not sure how to *do* the rest
anymore. Not without..." He scrubs a hand through his
hair, surprised as ever by the presence of sweat.

And Bruce is back, a little. "That, at least, will get
easier. I promise."

He grins again. "Yeah, I hope so. The last thing you
need is a sidekick who doesn't *want* to beat the
crap out of people."

Bruce raises an eyebrow at him. "You don't seriously
expect me to believe there isn't *anyone* you don't
want to hammer through the floor."


"Hm. Hit the showers, take a nap, go flying. Cassandra
will be back at dawn to help you with your next lesson."

He represses a groan and focuses. "Do you think that
will help? Tiring myself out."

"In my experience, it's counterproductive. However,
everyone is different, and for all we know you might
need the mating grunts of some obscure Kryptonian sea
mammal to get you into a meditative state."

"Oh, *that* would be helpful. Thanks, Bruce."

The look he gets is absolutely serious. "You only need
to do it once, Kon. After that, your mind will know
exactly what steps it needs to take for you to do it

"That sounds... um."

"Believe it. *Remember* it. And remember this, too --
if you can't trust your instincts, trust mine, because I
will do everything in my power to keep from letting
you down."

Kon nods, and doesn't look at the cases.

He knows they can both feel them.


He has the best of intentions when he walks outside
and leaps into the sky. He circles the perimeter of
Gotham once to get a feel for it, and then does it at
speed to get a feel for that.

Again to see how fast he *can* go, faster and faster
until he can feel his aura trying to slip, and that...
he'll have to try that for real, he thinks. At least once.
Not until he can figure out a way to do it without
flaying himself alive, though. Maybe... maybe if he
had a full body suit.

Something to think about.

He crosses Gotham in an X, and then works on a grid.
He'd already known a few of the landmarks, but it
feels different now. Bigger.

In the old days, he'd always been looking at least
casually for Tim. A flash of yellow across a lower part
of the sky, a hint of rhythm that would turn out to be
Tim in the middle of a disturbingly evenly-defined
circle of brutality.

Batgirl makes it prettier, but there'd always been
something about watching Tim fight. Something about
the sight of that really kind of *little* guy kicking,
punching, gassing, beating, and occasionally
electrocuting anyone and everyone who got in his
way without a single wasted movement.

They don't have anyone like that anymore, he doesn't

Or... it's not like either Batgirl or Batman ever get really
showy or anything, it was just that they knew way
more moves than Kon's brain could ever remotely

Tim had stuck to what worked.

And Tim...

He catches himself circling Wayne Tower in
ever-increasing spirals, and for a moment he just can't
deal with the fact of it. No matter how far he goes, no
matter how carefully he looks, Tim isn't out here, and
he never will be again.

No teasing flash of yellow, even out of the corners of
his vision.

He stops, holding himself still above one of those boxy
apartment buildings that have just always seemed like
the most half-assed way possible to design a place for
people to live. And then he just... holds himself.

For a moment.

Not thinking about Tim, not *hurting* about Tim for
longer stretches of time just seems to mean that
when he does, it's worse. He forces himself to long
look at Gotham, spread out beneath and all around
him like God had dumped the world's biggest box of
tangled Christmas lights all over the world.

He'd come here looking to be closer to Tim. And he
is. If he looks northeast and squints, he can probably
see the cemetery where his body is buried. And... is
that what this city is for him? A particularly ugly and
dangerous setting for the graveyard of his dead best

For a moment, he thinks about it. *Really* thinks
about the feeling of *energy*, of all the power he
hasn't been using. He could be in San Francisco in
minutes. He could be *anywhere* in minutes.

Anywhere but here.

But then he wouldn't ever get to come back. Not
really. Not even *Dick* had ever gotten to come all
the way back, and everyone wanted him. And he'd
never get to hear Tim in the way Bruce laughs, or
see him in Barbara's eyes, or anything else.

And Alfred would probably be kind of miffed.

He laughs at himself, to himself, and heads
determinedly south and west. He's not going to stand
over the hole where Tim's body is tonight. He's going
to... fly right over *Bart*, who's standing on a
gargoyle waving his arms. He blinks and flies back.


"Jeez! I've been waiting *forever*."

"Um... but... how?" He hadn't really told anyone...
anything. He swallows around a knot of guilt, while
Bart glares at him, fists on his hips.

"Nobody knew where you *were*!"

"Look, I know, I just -- um. How *did* you know
how to find me?"

"I heard Superman talking to Wally about how you
were staying with Batman -- you are? I thought you
hated Batman! I thought Batman hated you."

"Wait, wait, you came to Gotham and just kind of
ran up the side of a building and waited for me to
fly over?"

"Well, yeah. I figured you would eventually. I've
been looking *everywhere*. There's a lot of empty
places in Canada, you know."

"I... Bart."

Bart looks like he's about to say something else for a
moment, but then he just... stops. Looks down at his
feet for what's probably a subjective hour.

He's taller, but he doesn't look like he's gained more
than five pounds. *Maybe* five pounds. He looks like
a stiff wind would send him flying.

"I missed you," he says to the roof.

"I'm sorry."

Bart taps his fist against one bony thigh, visibly for a
moment before it's just too fast.

"I... did you want to... talk about something?"

"Well, *yeah*. You've been gone *forever*."

For Bart, it's probably not an exaggeration. "Bart...
when Tim died..."

"It all went *crazy*. And I get that, I do. All the
reading I've done suggests that the grief process is
intensely emotional, and expresses itself in different
ways for different people, but there was no one to
*talk* to."

"Yeah. We'd always been able to talk to Robin."

"I was always able to talk to *you*."

It's Kon's turn to stare at the roof. "I don't think I
would've been very good company, Bart."

And suddenly Bart's *right* there, inches away and
staring up into his face, eyes wide and much too


"I *missed* you."

"I know --"

"No, you don't. You don't know what it's *like*. Starfire
made us do this traditional Tamaranian grief ceremony
and the only reason people cried was because of all
the incense, and Cassie's lasso makes her so *angry*
and Superman kept showing up every weekend and
not *saying* anything and we all knew he was waiting
for you and you didn't *come* and I don't think
Changeling really likes any of us and you didn't
*come* and I m-missed y-you and --"

He pulls Bart into his arms, and it feels like he's
holding on to bone and skin and hair that's been left
in the oven too long. He shivers and Bart clutches him
*hard*, face buried in Kon's shirt, and every sob makes
Bart's whole body jerk. "Jesus, Bart..."

"I k-k-know you want to stay here now, and I think I
know why, but you have to let me see you sometimes
or I could e-mail. Batman has e-mail, right?"

"Bart --"

He clings even harder. "Please."

"No, I will. I *will*, okay? And... and I'm doing a lot of
training now, but maybe you can visit sometime. I
won't just..." He swallows and strokes Bart's back. "I
won't just disappear on you again, okay? I *am*
sorry. I just... I wasn't thinking."

Bart is silent for a while, just breathing against him,
until Kon gives him a squeeze.

And then he backs away, scrubbing his face with his
hands. He's still... Bart. Which means Kon's never
sure if he's looking at a freakishly tall toddler or a
teenager who just kind of forgot to eat for a month.
He feels himself smiling and flicks at one of Bart's
lightning bolts, but Bart doesn't smile back.

Just... looks at him. "Are you still my friend?"

"What? Of course I am --"

"No, you..." Bart frowns. "Grief changes people
sometimes, changes what they want and need, and...
and that's what friends are about. People getting what
they need from each other."

"That's... kind of depressing, Bart."

"No, no. It's not... it's not like money. It's like *food*,
and sometimes you really need to drink a lot of milk
and sometimes you need to eat bread, and I don't
think I'm milk or bread for you anymore. Am I?"

It feels like the roof isn't under his feet anymore, and
he has to look down to make sure he isn't flying. He
has to remind himself that none of that should've
made sense. "I don't... I mean. You were always more
of a bag of jalapeno jelly beans for me, man." He tries
a smile, and this time Bart smiles back.

It isn't much of a smile. "Jelly beans. Yeah... yeah, I
guess that makes sense. I'm gonna go back home
before Jay comes looking for me. Um."

And he's gone, just like that with no way to follow him
except for the way the cloth awnings at street level
flap in his wake.

Kon blinks up at the sky. It's time to go home.


"You think too much."

He grins up at her from where he's sitting cross-legged
on one of the mats. It's dawn, and he thinks he can
hear the bats going to sleep. "Um... okay? You know
that's kind of... really funny, right Cass?"

The sweep of her arm looks like something that could
behead a human, and probably most metahumans,
too. "No."


"You..." Her face screws up for a moment, making her
look like the world's deadliest eight year old.

She's hard to look at like that, because it makes Kon
think about all the times he'd spent way too *much*
time thinking about her breasts, and just how much
muscle was probably behind them. He winces and

"You need to talk."


She scowls at him for a moment, and... yeah, she has
a point.

"Look, you know... I'm *not* really dealing well with
the grief thing, I know I'm not, but I don't... I mean,
I barely even know you."

"Everyone talked about the letters. Bruce talked about
his letter."

"He did?"

She nods. "You did not talk about your letter."

He winces again. "I... it was personal."

If *she* had heat vision, Kon thinks he'd probably be
a greasy pile of ash right now, aura or not.

"Okay. I get it, okay? I just... I can barely even think
about it without... and I. I don't know how to put it
in words."

Cassandra blinks at him, clearly shocked, before she
smiles. "I will help."

"I... what?"

She reaches down and grabs his hand, and Kon lets
himself be hauled to his feet. She narrows her eyes
for a moment before nodding to herself. "My letter."
And she brings their clasped hands up between them
and squeezes hard.

"I don't --"

"My *letter*."

Kon squeezes back, and Cassandra nods vigorously
before tilting her chin up and bringing their hands to
her throat. Kon feels his knuckles pressing what feels
like much too hard against the taut skin as she pulls
their hands across in a perfectly horizontal slash.

And then she brings their hands to her forehead and
does the same thing, and it's...

"Your letter."

"Wait." She pushes her hands away from her again
and holds them still between them. And squeezes,
once, deliberately.

And Tim... oh God. He takes a shuddering breath.
"You... I."

"My letter."

"It's not about words or... your voice. That's what he
said, isn't it?"

"No words. Your letter?"

And it's a question, but it's also a command. "My..."
Kon squeezes his eyes shut, and Cassandra's fist is
a weight against his own. "I. He said." He pulls their
hands back toward his chest, and keeps pulling until
he can feel her sharp little knuckles digging into him
there. And then he drops his aura.

Cassandra doesn't make a sound, but her hand tenses
in his own.

"My letter," he says, and pulls harder and harder
until she tenses again and he knows he's hurting her
more than he can hurt himself. It's not enough.

He pushes their hands back between them and lets
go, and Cassandra gasps. He opens his eyes to find
hers wide and full.

"My letter."

"Oh... no."


"No." She grabs his hand again and hauls it up until
it's in front of his face before she squeezes. "*No*."

"I can't. I can't hear him, Cassandra. I can't... and
he..." His knees buckle, but she catches him, lowering
them to the mats and holding on.

"*No*," she says, and stares into his eyes and
squeezes his hand until the silence is just silence
again, and the ache in his chest settles into something
like a scar, old and familiar and just another part of
everything else.

Just another part of *him*, something to be known
and acknowledged and set aside for the work ahead.

Bruce finds them there later, and joins them on their

And the aura had never covered him, never held him
and contained him the way the Oath does, and always


The cape is too short. The colors are kind of wrong for
the rest of his new uniform, too. He doesn't know
whether to be irritated or relieved that he hadn't really
considered it. On the one hand, no one wants to look
silly on their first night as a vigilante in a new city.

On the other hand, it's more than a little reassuring
that he's not so involved in his freaking *fashion*
sense that he'd get it right the first time. There's time
to work on it, he thinks.

Everything but the cape.

"Perhaps we might let the collar out a bit, Master

"What?" He blinks back to himself to see himself in
the mirror. And Alfred, reaching for the collar of the
cape. He jerks away. "No! I mean... um."

Alfred meets his eyes in their reflections and slowly,
deliberately raises an eyebrow.


"Having been in Master Bruce's employ for the entirety
of his life, I have come to understand the importance
of such gestures of remembrance. And yet I can't
*quite* see the point of taking the matter far enough
to cut off the blood supply to one's brain."

Kon blushes and looks away. "I... you have a point."

Alfred rests one hand on his shoulder, smoothing a
fold of the cape. "I believe Master Timothy would
prefer your continued respiration to the strict integrity
of his cape, Master Kon."

"I can breathe."

He can *feel* Alfred glare. In that way where if Kon
looked at his face he probably wouldn't be glaring at
all, except for exactly ten miles behind his eyes.

"I mean... for tonight. We can let it out tomorrow...

Alfred manages to inject several millennia of suffering
into his sigh. "As you say, Master Kon. Tomorrow."


He flies s-curves above the sharp angles Batman cuts
with his jumplines, watching his perimeter. It hadn't
taken long to figure out that actual loops were more
problematic than helpful, and it hadn't taken long after
that to establish a rhythm.

Batman swings one half of an 'X' that will never be
completed and Kon swings a wide curve to his right.
The opposite side of another 'X' sends him left, and
there are nights when this pattern goes on for
criss-crossed miles without pause for so much as a
mugging that needs to be stopped. The word is
out -- Batman's new partner is no joke.

And Bruce doesn't need to tell him that the criminal
element will find a way to adapt -- he knows they do,
that they *always* do. He's been doing this in one
way or another since he got out of that damned tube.
For now, though...

It's something like dancing, *old* dancing, where
everything was touch and tease and move, and the
view from above the dance floor was of a kind of
artwork in motion. It makes his heart pound when
his body instantly shifts in reaction to Batman's own,
when it takes only the briefest glance at the way
Batman's cape folds or flares over the muscles of his
back to know that it's time to double-back or dive.

In the first days of it the pound was a kind of
sickness, a warning of his body's betrayal of that old,
scarred-over ache.

He'd never had a rhythm like this with anyone but

He'd flown over to the Haven one night, and Dick had
taken one look at him and shoved him onto the couch,
slapping a beer on his palm and waiting just long
enough for Kon to meet his eyes.

"You don't question it when it's good. And it will
*always* be good with someone like Batman."

There's no one like Batman.

"B, K."

"Loud and clear, O. The man is in sight and in motion."

Oracle snorts in his ear. "Of course he is. You're going
to want to head toward the Schwartz Bypass. I have a
report of a firefight."

"Got it. Out."

Batman lands on the roof, arms out in front of him, and
Kon doesn't even have to pause. He swoops in and
wraps an arm around Batman's waist. One gauntleted
hand settles like plastic-sheathed iron around his
forearm as they lift off and head west.

"You're on observation status only until I say different."

"Got it."

And he does. He has the aura, but Batman has more
layers of kevlar than an onion has skin.

It's no different from all the times Tim -- *Robin* --
had put himself on point.

It turns out to be a carjacking gone wrong. Two guys
with AKs hitting the *wrong* SUV. Kon drops Batman
into the thick of it and gets the bystanders down to
an ambulance reasonably beyond the range of stray
bullets. Something does its level best to put a part in
his brush cut.

'Reasonably' means something entirely different in
Gotham than it does everywhere else.

The EMTs don't even pause, and Kon spends the next
thirty seconds catching bullets for them.

Another thirty and Batman mutters through the
communicator. "We're clear."

Before he can lift off, one of the techs clasps his arm:

"Good work, Robin."

He doesn't shake until they're back at the Cave, and
Batman doesn't let go until he stops.


Kon's coming off surveillance duty, headed for a
rendezvous with Batgirl to join *her* stakeout -- and
probably be quietly taught about six dozen important
crime-fighting lessons -- when it hits.

It. He doesn't know what *it* is.

The world shakes in front of him like an earthquake
that has nothing to do with the ground, and there's
nothing like the sound of cracking pavement or
crumbling buildings or even any more screams than
are usual for a Gotham night.

And it's more than the quake. He feels like a staff in
a gloved hand, aura shivering from one long,
full-bodied stroke and making him waver in his flight.
He tucks and rolls, saving his heartfelt "what the
*fuck*" until he's down on the roof of a warehouse.

His aura was back online even before he landed, and
checks on his vision, hearing, heat vision and TK don't
show any immediately obvious anomalies.

"K to O, the hell?'


"K checking in for a level 4 wtf, come back."


He takes the communicator out and replaces it with
the extra in his belt, but gets the same result. He's
trained for this, too, but EMPs don't *just* knock out
radio signals. Especially since he picks up on at least
seven different *normal* radio stations on his flight
to RS-rendezvous point four-A.

Whatever. Oracle will find out what scrambled them,
Batman will beat it to a bloody pulp, Miller Time. And
he's about ten blocks southeast of four-A when a
body goes flying in *precisely* the way he's come to
know and appreciate when Batman's feeling unkind.
He grins to himself and heads up high to get a better
angle of the carnage, swinging back in just in time to
see the last banger or dealer or whatever hit the wall
at the end of.

Just in time to see.

He can't look away from the staff. Because he
*knows* that staff, and his vision is good enough
now to *really* know that staff, including the tiny
smudge left behind from one of the times they'd
been working on how to control his heat vision.

When they.


He can't breathe.

Tim takes a zip-strip out of his belt, and it's the same
quick, efficient three-step move Batman had taught
him, except that he'd really just *reminded* Kon,
because he'd seen Tim do it a thousand times before.

Just like now.

"R to O, I'm clear. It was just a few bangers who
got ambitious."

By the time he stops tapping at his own ear and
remembers to open up his hearing, all he gets is:

"--ing in?"

"Yeah, in a bit. There's something I need to check

"O out."

Tim taps his communicator and grins up at him.
"You can talk now, man, no one will -- what the
*hell* are you wearing?"

He forces himself to inhale before he lands, ten feet

"Kon? Are you... hey, what's wrong? Other than the
fact that your outfit is kind of wigging me."

"You -- who *are* you?"

"Aw man, you didn't get mindwiped, did you?" Tim
closes the distance between them, only as cautious
as he would be when he thought he might get
attacked by someone he didn't want to hurt.

Kon had forgotten... it's the way Tim *moves* in the
cape, like he isn't actually touching it enough from
the inside to make it shift.

And there's a gauntlet on his face, thumb pressing
down on his cheek in a moment's warning before
he -- laughs. "This won't work with you in that
mask. Why *are* you wearing a mask? Wait, tell
me later. What year is it?"

"2004 and you -- please. Who are you?"

"Kon." He says it like he has dozens, hundreds of
time before. Serious with an undertone of worry
that Kon hadn't started to hear or understand until
it was --


"It's just me. It's --"


The smile is the barest flash of teeth. A beam on
anyone else. "Yeah, you're starting to remember.
Now what happened to you?"

"Tim, you. Are you really alive?"

He freezes, stills all over with his hand on Kon's face
before he strokes, once. "They got you bad, didn't

He rips himself away, stumbling over the unconscious
body at his feet and tapping at his communicator. "K
to O, come in. Come *in*."

"You're talking to *Oracle*?"

"B, N, H, anyone, come in."

"You're talking to *Huntress*?"

"Come *in*."

Silence, nothing but silence, and he backs up until he
hits the wall and can't make himself dodge when Tim
closes the distance again. "Will you let me see your
communicator, Kon? I promise, I won't damage it."

He squeezes his eyes shut for a moment and slips it
out of his ear. Tim can fix it. Tim always -- He opens
his eyes and Tim's still in front of him, and staring at
the earbud.

"It's one of ours, but we're not due to use this
frequency for another two weeks. It's... Kon, why
do you have...?" Tim's face is as plaintive as Kon's
feels. More when he brushes the hand over the collar
of Kon's -- of *his* cape.

He digs his fingers into the brick of the wall behind
him to keep from taking Tim's hand.

"I... I just." Tim takes his own communicator out of
his ear and replaces it with one from his belt. The
Titans one. "This is Robin."

"Cyborg here, kid. What can I do for you?"

"I need you to raise... Superboy. There's something
I need to check."

"Connecting now."

Kon listens to his phone ring through Tim's
communicator. His *old* phone, the one next to
his bed in Smallville. The one that Luthor melted to
slag along with --

"That you, Rob?"

Tim flinches. "Yeah, it's me. Don't worry, I just needed
to test the line."

"Aw, couldn't you be calling me about a supervillain?
I have a *Chem* test tomorrow, man."

"Sorry, man. Not tonight." Tim doesn't take his eyes
off him, and Kon knows he's watching for every

He doesn't think he's capable of having a reaction
right now.

"Yeah, yeah," the... other says. "Catch you later."

"Robin out."

Kon doesn't have any words. He watches Tim shut
down *that* communicator and take it out again.

The look on Tim's face is blankly speculative, with
the same edge beneath it as every blank look Kon's
ever seen on his face.



The edge wavers. "I'm tempted to say 'alternate
universe, much?' and just try to figure things out
from there. But if you *are* who you say you are,
then you'll know --"

"That you need proof."

Tim just nods.

They know too many mind-readers. And Kon was
never resistant. He hadn't been trained by Batman,
after all. "You wrote me a letter. For when... for if
you died."

"Oh --"

"You gave it to Alfred."


Tim takes a step back, but Kon catches him by his
cape -- *his* cape -- and holds on. "He gave it to
me and I read every word. You never finished it."

"Okay, I believe you --"

"That's not *good* enough."

"Kon --"

"You should've *told* me. You died and left me with
that fucking *letter* and I had nothing left -- "

"Oh God, I'm so --"

"Don't say it. Don't."

Tim arches away from him, and Kon uses the TK to
get a better grip, to pull him *in*. "Kon."

"You're not allowed to be afraid anymore."

Tim gasps and Kon kisses him. He tastes like that
godawful grape soda that Kon had managed to forget
about. He tastes like Kon's dreams and he whimpers
and shakes within the TK until Kon drops it.

And then he shakes in Kon's arms, hands caught
between them until Kon breaks the kiss to breathe.

And Tim grabs Kon's face and pulls him in for a deeper,
wetter kiss, moaning into Kon's mouth and shoving
him back against the wall, one hand slipping up to cup
the back of Kon's head and the other sliding down his
chest, over and over the uniform until Kon spreads his
legs and --

That wasn't his moan. Or Tim's.

Tim rips himself out of the kiss and into a low, vicious
side-kick that knocks the banger back into

"Jesus," Kon says, and reaches for Tim again.



"*Wait*. I think I just gave some poor bastard *brain
damage* because I wanted to go back to making out
with you, so we need to *wait*."

They glare at each other, and it's just...

Kon laughs, helplessly, laughs and can't *stop*
laughing until he's sliding down the wall into a
crouch. Until he isn't really laughing anymore at all.

Tim pulls communicators out of his belt until he,
apparently, finds the right one.

"R to O, come in."

"I hear you."

"We've got a situation. It's... uh. I don't have a
codeword for this one."

"What do you need?"

"The car. One with room for... a passenger."


"R out," Tim says, and crouches beside him, cupping
his shoulder.

And sliding his hand down over Kon's heart.