Less than kind [Source]
March 13, 2007
Disclaimers: All belongs to others.
Spoilers: A lot of vague references for events up through
Infinite Crisis, but things start going AU after "Hush."
Summary: He wants to know how to live with Robin without
Ratings Note/Warnings: Acceptable for teens, despite
content some readers may find to be disturbing.
Author's Note: Something of a prequel to the Gotham
Tomorrow series. May be read without the others.
Acknowledgments: To Betty and Katarik for audiencing,
encouragement, canon-spanking, and for forcing me to
make it a better story.
She spends a fair amount of time among the Cases, which
is fitting in ways Tim doesn't -- quite -- have the right words
for, as opposed to emotions which feel more correct with
their every occurrence.
Which make *him* feel more correct.
Carrie has given him back mirrors, and while it's dangerous
in ways he understands from multiple -- angles to assume
that she knows this about herself, that it's something which
fuels both her impressive (boggling) confidence and her
(Steph) determination --
It's only dangerous because of the temptation. Here, now,
she has spared her usual moment for Jason's Case -- her
favorite, and her model for the uniform she'd pieced together
out of bits of outgrown leotard and cheap child-sized kevlar
stolen from her school's stores before Tim made her her
own -- and has returned, once more, to Spoiler's.
There has not been another Spoiler, and the name --
The name has been forgotten. Buried, here, with him. With
Carrie now, too, of course, but --
She seems to find Spoiler more confusing than anything else,
and when she asks about Tim's first Robin, it seems she
finds it difficult to connect the two. Some of it is, almost
certainly, the painfully obvious difference in material quality
between Spoiler's uniform and the others.
Carrie has grown up in a world with marked differences to
the one in which Tim grew up. She is middle-class in a world
in which that means poor, but morally above other sorts of
She never intended for the uniform she designed to be her
*true* one. The Spoiler uniform Tim has is the last one
Steph wore before helping Tim into the Batsuit by
demanding a Robin suit for her own. It's worn, lived-in --
It no longer smells like her skin, but it's obvious that it once
Spoiler was -- real.
"I still don't -- how did she *survive* in that?"
Better, after Cass had helped Tim train her. After Bruce's
influence had -- waned. Before it disappeared -- died.
"And she was -- she was totally your girlfriend, too. Why
didn't you -- fix 'er up?"
Carrie is blunt, to say the -- very least. The fact that he's not
altogether sure what Bruce would've made of her -- *done*
with her -- doesn't do very much at all to lessen the import
of the fact that Batman is -- fond.
"See, if you weren't *you*, that'd be guilt. Maybe even --"
And the move Carrie uses to spin around behind the Case to
peer at him from the other side is significantly less clumsy
than it would've been a few months ago, but there remains
room for improvement.
The expression on her face -- wide eyes, open mouth,
waggling eyebrows -- is, of course, perfect.
"*Liberal* guilt! Woo-ooo-ooo!"
"Heaven forefend," Tim says, and allows her the room to
decide what expression is on his own face beneath the cowl,
if she so chooses.
Carrie sticks her tongue out and runs a graceful -- lithe --
path through the Cases.
This time, as usual, the question of his humanity is moot.
He is Batman.
He needs her.
He doesn't wait for dreams to give him -- everything he's
lost. That would be, at best, desperately inefficient. Instead,
when there is time -- and privacy --
The very, very private (and privately, quietly funded) school
Carrie attends -- with, of course, a scholarship for
gymnastics -- allows Carrie several long weekends a year
during which she may return home, if she wishes, to visit.
Tim makes sure she does so.
He has explained to her multiple times how useful this is in
terms of how much freedom it allows her -- both of them --
to live and train as they need to. There is no reason for her
to give her parents room for *suspicion* -- certainly, it
would've been a lot easier for *him* if Bruce had subsidized
more than his *unofficial* education.
However, there has yet to be an occasion where she has
treated these vacations as anything but an obscure -- and
potentially useless, considering Tim's documented (by her)
moments of sentiment -- form of torture.
"You don't *get* it --"
"You find their conversation stultifying, their politics
irrelevant, their taste in take-out horrifying --"
"Irrelevant, horrifying, and -- what was the other one?"
"And stultifying -- which is a damned *pompous* way to say
boring, by the way -- at *best*, B! Seriously, I -- you can't
*do* this to me," she says, and grabs his suit-jacket with
the precise amount of (new, trained) strength she would use
were he in the cape. "I will *die*."
"You won't," he says, and lets her hands stay where they
"I will *kill* them -- they tried to ship me off to some stupid
commune in *Europe* last time --"
"You won't," he says, in the Voice, "kill anyone."
Carrie's hands stiffen around the bunched-up portions of his
jacket, and then relax. Her expression is one which speaks
of seeking -- a slip of confidence which, ultimately, has
absolutely nothing to do with the parents she finds no use
for -- the slip of confidence is more important right now,
however, and --
He will not have it. "When you return, we'll begin lethal
"You -- *really*?"
The fact that the Batman is, at all times, armed with guns
as well as any number of non-lethal options -- he has killed,
and killed again. The individuals with the highest likelihood
of committing crimes -- and putting themselves in
situations -- which warrant lethal force have since grown
He has not had to kill anyone since she became his Robin.
He doesn't understand her fascination. It's -- disconcerting.
"I mean -- uh. I still get to come back Sunday night, right? I
don't have to wait until Monday this time?"
Her mother's birthday had fallen on a Monday this year. His
mother -- he doesn't remember celebrating birthdays with
his mother. "Yes, you do, and no, you don't."
The backpack which she had previously been dragging in an
excellent impression of Sisyphus -- containing grade-
appropriate textbooks, a not-overly-expensive-in-appearance
palm-top, and two changes of clothes -- becomes --
No, Carrie would prefer the image of Atlas, finally given a
reason not to shrug.
He watches her leave, on the bike she has earned and --
more importantly -- which she *feels* she has earned, and
listens to the manor shed itself of echoes.
Life -- no.
It's simply empty for now, private. His own.
It had not been an act of spite, or even hurt, for Bruce to
alter his will so dramatically. There is enough money for Dick
to do whatever he wishes -- should he ever wish to return
With Selina, Bruce had come to develop an outlook on life
which was a very particular -- and gentle -- variety of
philosophical. Dick would always have his loves, whether or
not his second attempt at marriage to Koriand'r ended up
working any better than his first.
Whether or not Bruce believed Tim would ever have -- or
even want -- something which would remove him from the
Mission, Tim had been *there* -- and one could never be
sure when terrible things could occur. Bruce and Selina had
been given a little more than a year to be married before
dying, together, in the second set of plagues to run
through -- and over -- the eastern seaboard.
Tim had been *there* -- and Bruce had not waited until the
end before giving the order.
His suit -- the progenitor of this one -- had been prepared
for longer than he'd wanted to think about at the time --
He still doesn't want to think about it, and he doesn't have
to. It's day, and all of his alarms are quiet, and Carrie is not
here to be -- stultified -- by sentiment.
His own Robin suits don't have anything resembling a
Case -- it's possible Carrie would argue that, but not
probable -- and, of course, they still fit. For a moment after
gumming down the mask, he feels like something horribly
obscene, but he had taken the precaution of moving the
newer -- and portable-*enough* -- Cases out of his line of
It's a matter of --
If not meditation, then control. If not for a justice this suit
couldn't manage, then… well.
Tim makes the call.
As it happens, even the technology Oracle -- Barbara -- had
raided, years before, from a race only *technically* allied to
humanity isn't enough to keep the visual contact from
fuzzing out after only a few minutes.
Dick and Koriand'r have, perhaps, traveled beyond one too
many nebulae for the signal. It doesn't matter. There's such
a thing --
"God, little brother, I just can't get over how good it is to
*see* you -- or," and Dick laughs, easy and, perhaps, a little
hoarse, "how good it *was*. We should be coming back
in -- Jeez, from here, it's really more like heading back
*out* -- there in a few months. No more than a year."
-- as verisimilitude. Tim takes a breath. "There's a difference,
I think, between knowing what someone looks like… well.
It's good to hear you, too, Dick." Dick has been promising to
come back -- or come closer -- for many years, now. There's
always another war, another interstellar injustice.
"Yeah? I -- you know, I already know what you're gonna
think about what I'm about to say -- mainly because Kory
has already *said* it a few dozen times in the past week --"
"And yet clearly not *enough*."
There always will be -- something for them to do, out there.
"Yes, Dick. I'm *right* here," she says, and then, "I
apologize for interrupting your conversation, Tim.
Occasionally my husband requires… well."
In this suit, with those voices in his ear -- "Discipline?"
Kory's laughter sounds as easy, as -- *good* as he feels.
"All right, all right, so it's Abuse Dick Day --"
"I know I've always enjoyed the celebrations," Tim says,
and the smile doesn't even hurt very much on his face.
Another thing he can thank Carrie for, in whichever way
"*Seriously*, little brother," Dick says, once the laughter
fades. "The skip-jump on this comm has limits, and there is
something I need to say."
"I'm listening, Dick."
"Okay, I -- okay. I just -- I need you to find some way to let
Bruce know that I love him, and that I'll always respect him,
even though I couldn't -- be the man he wanted me to be."
He has practice with this particular hurt, this particular --
masquerade. "All right."
"Just because I'm out here and you're all back there --"
All of them. Yes. "Yes?"
"I'm still *with* you, and I -- even he doesn't forgive me for
leaving, I forgive him. And I -- I love you. All of you."
This particular -- "I'll tell him, Dick. I -- I promise."
"You -- you've always been one of the best things that ever
happened to me, kiddo. I miss you like crazy sometimes."
"The feeling…" The Tim Dick knows is circumspect, still.
"Well. You know."
Dick's laugh is rueful and open and perfect -- "Yeah. And
you-know back atcha. Let me --"
The connection drops thoroughly, if not cleanly. He picks up
something which sounds like Tamaranian curses, more of
Dick's laughter -- a note, perhaps three, buried in static --
and the word "love," because Dick is Dick, and when Bruce
*was* at the end --
When what was left of Selina was waiting for her chance to
be buried beside her husband, when Bruce was a wasted
shell of himself, unrecognizable save for the *eyes* --
When Bruce had called for him (he had been waiting, right
there, because it was day, and because he *could*), his
last order had been to leave Dick *alone*, to let him have
his own life, to --
That isn't, of course, why he does it, but it's easier to believe
when he's wearing this suit than it is otherwise.
The aftershocks of the third (small) earthquake left the
grounds of Arkham Cemetery humped and mazed. The trees
grow in tortured-looking shapes, and there aren't many
He isn't entirely sure how Selina would feel about Tim's
having her body moved here -- she'd always been far more
sane than most of Gotham's population, after all -- but
every other cemetery in Gotham had a distinct case of
meta-gangs. Grave robbers, desecration --
He wasn't able to find any trace of Jason's remains after the
Julius Gardens had been hit, and after that --
After that, he -- couldn't. If Bruce were in his situation, it's
entirely possible that the Cave would have gained a crypt,
but… Talia had appreciated his efforts and understood his
choices -- and Tim is not above making allowances for
"The cowl," he says, to Bruce's marker, "was *enough*."
He can imagine Bruce's laugh quite clearly when, like now,
he isn't wearing a Batsuit Bruce never would've designed for
either of them -- not after Jean-Paul. The small lines at the
corners of his eyes, the flare of bright, cold, *twisted*
"You can't tell me you don't see the joke. I *knew* you," he
Carrie loathes the smell of roses -- and of most other flowers
prized for their scent. Marigolds, dandelions, buttercups --
exotica for a city girl.
"If you *hadn't* been able to work with her, I would've left
you in disgust, you know."
Selina might've agreed with the Kelleys about the usefulness
of a commune for her, of anything which might force her to
see a wider world than just another private school -- but
Bruce, on even a *halfway* rational day…
"I don't hate you for this. Not anymore. I -- it is what it is.
I -- I think you would've explained things to Dick by now.
Maybe -- would it have been the blood on your hands? I
didn't kill Ivy for those plagues. I think even you would've
It's growing dark, and there's too much to say --
Carrie would, undoubtedly, point out that he's talking to dirt.
The night is for her. Them.
At the three hour point, Tim leaves off his route enough to
find his way to the Kelleys' home. Twenty years ago, their
tenement was a newly renovated brownstone. A hundred
and twenty years ago, some architect had decided to make
this building -- and two others on the block -- earthquake-
proof for reasons of his own.
The block was rebuilt quickly and cheaply after No Man's
Land, the neighborhood made up of immigrants, aliens, and
the other unwanted. Gotham.
Wayne-Drake Inc. has been doing well with its real-estate
investments. In another two years, the gentrification cycle
will begin here, and everyone living in this building will be
able to buy into homes large enough to be suitable for
raising more than one child -- or two to three friendly pets.
They'll still be surrounded by Gotham.
He listens to the Kelleys prepare dinner and make a number
of snide comments about the 'news' playing in the
("I swear, son, I think they must pay these anchors by the
perfect individual hair.")
He listens to Michael Kelley explaining the different
rationales behind styles of slicing garlic --
("Now, Tim, I don't know how your mother did this, but you
really don't need to murder the chicken again, as opposed to
simply slicing it…")
He listens to Catherine Kelley ask Carrie about her
("Well, you know, if you *do* decide to go to Yale
Business -- and I'm not putting any pressure on you --")
Carrie is all but silent right up until she announces herself to
him with the scrape of her utensils on the plate. He --
should've already left. Batman shouldn't.
Batman doesn't require Robin every minute of every
Just the same, there's comfort in being too late to leave,
especially since Carrie doesn't compound his failure by
coming to the roof suited up. There is deniability, here --
"*Please* tell me you need me."
-- if he can make himself *take* it. No, he doesn't need her
the way she wants him to, right now. He should -- there
were times when Bruce *would* just leave him, confused
and -- *confused*. But Tim can only shake his head, and
Carrie frowns at him. Carrie --
"Hey, you're not --" The check of his armor is quick,
thorough, and professional, save for the way her palm rests
against the Bat for a long moment once she's finished. "Are
you -- poisoned? Something?"
"Only by sentiment."
"What -- what are you *talking* about?"
Tim starts to shake his head again -- stops. "Come home
tomorrow night instead of Sunday."
"You -- you're easily distracted," he says, and the rebuke is
enough to stop her -- perhaps -- from noticing his own
She stands, straight but not tall. She may not even outgrow
him. Her shoulders are squared, and the musculature of her
upper body is more perfect by the day, though she still has
far less innate *power* than Steph had the day Tim met
Tim crosses his arms over his chest and waits -- not long.
"I'm *focused*, B. Now… go patrol before I *follow* you."
("I *knew* you'd find me if I just kept going out like this --
you're *Batman*. And I'm Robin.")
The etiquette of resurrection --
It's a complicated thing. There are rules, and forms to be
followed. Robin has to declare herself, in one way or
another -- sooner being better than later.
Robin has to know where he or she belongs.
It's rather closer to evening -- afternoon -- than it is to night
when Carrie deliberately trips the alarm which causes one of
the monitors to display her progress, jogging across the
lawns of the manor (he has planted marigolds, as the society
pages would not have dandelions), occasionally tumbling
and flipping --
He's smiling at her image, and does not manage to stop
completely by the time she presents herself, chest out and
arms akimbo, just behind and to the right of his chair.
"Robin," he says, and doesn't need to see the way Carrie's
beam begins to slip to know that his greeting had sounded
more like a prayer.
It's all right -- it's enough, he thinks, that he is cowled,
armored and prepared for exactly what she wants. What she
thinks she wants.
"Come with me," he says, and Batman never looks to be
sure he's followed.
Robin always follows.
Once at the range, she jogs to change the targets at his
When handed the automatic, she strips it neatly and begins
to clean it. She has watched him do this countless times, and
does not let her surprise show at its weight -- they are
always too heavy, and never heavy enough.
She is slower at putting it back together and slower than that
at loading the clip, but *some* of that is only -- she is,
"Faster," he says, and watches something settle within her
at the sharpness in his voice even as the pulse in her throat
"Aim," he says, and her stance is -- not quite perfect. It's
illusion brought on by her own obvious fervor. His weakness.
There is no part of himself which can pretend that this is
anything like the -- quite extensive, considering -- training
which he had received when Bruce was the one -- when it
He corrects the bend of her knee and taps lightly between
her shoulder blades. "Breathe," he says, and the tension
leaves her in a slow, contained rush. She is beginning to
She is -- she wants --
"Her name was Stephanie Brown."
Carrie jumps -- and corrects herself. She had begun to
squeeze the trigger, but is able to control herself.
Tim rests a hand on her shoulder and squeezes in
acknowledgment. "Hold there."
"Yeah -- yes, Batman."
Carrie will suffer anything for this, he thinks. "Do you think
the smell of blowback will make your parents see you for
something other than the child they created?"
"They -- they didn't make *me*."
"But they handily define the negative space which, in turn,
If one looks closely while climbing the blast-scarred walls,
and if one then makes one's way over to the area behind the
range, and then -- perhaps in a fit of insomnia -- peels back
the aging armor to replace it with new…
There are smaller, newer scars. Bullet scars, almost certainly
from .38s, from the same model of weapon that was used to
murder Thomas and Martha Wayne, from the weapon Bruce
*first* used to train himself, perhaps while shaking and
sweating, perhaps while sick to his stomach --
Tim is quietly, irrationally positive that at least one of the
scars on Bruce's body (which no undertaker was ever
allowed to see) is from a ricochet. A burn which had fallen
into the map of other burns, slashes, gouges --
"I -- again?"
Carrie is shaking, slightly, but her wild shot will injure no
one. "No," Tim says, and "stance."
She curses -- abortive and quiet -- and gets ready once
Tim waits, and wonders -- wonders *why* -- "We began
seeing each other romantically -- nearly entirely at her own
insistence -- when I was slightly younger than you are now."
"When you were Robin."
The second shot clips the very edges of the target's paper,
and Carrie blows out a relieved breath.
Another shot wild.
"I -- I have to be better prepared. I know. I -- I'll get this."
"Yes, you will," he says, and allows himself some measure
Bruce was capable of looming from the other side of the
Cave. So is he, with Carrie. But when he's this close -- she
has no less sense of personal space than any other
adolescent of her class.
She tenses, and then her stance is perfect, once more.
"Superman killed her," he says --
She fires once, again -- "*Shit* --"
-- and Tim catches the gun.
"I -- I -- but she -- oh God, I dropped it, I dropped -- where
is it --"
He stops her with a hand on her shoulder, another
squeeze -- too firm to be entirely comforting.
Or entirely comforting to anyone not Robin. Carrie.
Bruce, perhaps, would've let her continue in a similar vein --
no. They trained with guns to know them, to understand
them and their potential. The gun was never, ever supposed
to be a part of them.
Her hands are balled into tight, shaking fists, and
embarrassment is rapidly replacing shock and fear.
"Was that -- were you just trying to spook me?"
"I have yet to have an occasion to use my guns which did
not require split-second decision-making in situations which
would have to be described as 'stressful.' Just the same…
She twists -- easily -- out of his grip and turns on him. "But
how could -- he's your *ally* --"
"And she, at the time, was not."
"I -- I don't."
She doesn't understand, but she is a brilliant young woman,
just the same. The disintegrating public schools had not
robbed her of her ability to think -- and that is simply an
excuse not to tell her.
"Look, I -- maybe you can break my head while I -- work on
my strength-training? I just. You have to *tell* me."
She's Robin. Tim nods and watches her go. Once she begins
on the weights --
It's still difficult. There's too much, and he can, in the end,
only offer her sketches.
Steph tearing the domino -- and a significant portion of
his eyebrows -- off his face in an attempt to use *pain* to
make him admit that he couldn't be *both* Batman and
Robin, however rarely Batman and Robin had been seen
*together* in recent years.
Steph, kneeling with him in a spreading pool of Oracle's --
Barbara's -- blood. None of them had guessed that Strange
had simply been holding on to fail-safes stolen from Bruce
years before until he could find a *use* for them.
Steph, holding him after he'd shot Strange in the head. After
Hush. Agreeing --
And disagreeing when it stopped being only about the
protection of identities which had to *stay* protected, and
started being about prevention, even though if they'd been
working that way before, Dent would've never been able to
The resistance, and never being entirely sure of himself
without Steph -- never knowing why -- how -- he could still
be the Bat, when Steph was so *sure* they had been
wrong, that *Cass* had been wrong --
("*He* fought knowing he would lose. But there can be
honor in winning, too.")
In the end, Carrie is sitting, tailor-style, at his feet on the
mats. Her body language has the casual looseness of fatigue
and the knowledge that he is not Batman as often as she
"You -- loved her too much to take her out?"
"And too much to bring her back," Tim says, and lets himself
remember -- find -- the feeling of Steph's eyes on him, the
way she could make the cowl disappear even when it felt
like it was choking him only moments before.
"I -- I don't think. If I die. I don't think I want the Pit."
"Not many sane people do," Tim says, and the smile is one
which had once been only for himself, and then for
Cassandra before Duela Dent had decided -- it will never be
clear if it was a conscious choice -- to leave the question of
her alliances --
Dent had painted her face with Cassandra's blood, and the
smile on Tim's face now is for Carrie, too, now. (It had
never, truly, been for Steph.)
"If it's in my power," he says, evenly, "I won't use the Pit
when you die."
"Good," she says, because Robin should always have more
faith than Batman. "But -- what about you? You have to --
the whole *world* needs you."
The eyebrow he raises behind the cowl is irrelevant to Carrie,
or perhaps just tolerable.
"Yeah, yeah, a lot of people don't believe that. A lot of
people are stupid on *top* of being useless."
"True. I didn't ask Superman to kill her. He won't forgive me
anytime soon for not doing it myself -- but that won't impact
on his feelings for you."
"You -- *Tim* --"
"And, yes, if I'm killed, you're to notify Talia immediately.
She'll help you do what needs to be done. You are not to
watch. Finish your training. Rest. After -- after, we will, of
course patrol." Cassandra had left the choice in his hands.
He is aware that Talia is unsure about his choice not to
bring her back, just as Talia is aware that he knows,
perfectly well, that Talia has kept Cassandra's remains
Just in case.
And Carrie is -- watching him. "Go," he says. "Now."
It's not adequate, but it's what he can manage. Perhaps --
Perhaps leaping -- springing -- for him is what Carrie can
manage, even though she doesn't do anything but cling to
him, fingers crushing the cape against her palms and heels
digging against the backs of his thighs. "Carrie."
She lets him go, and -- she lets him go.
The manor is, of course, mostly closed-off, furniture sheeted
and portraits covered, save for the one of the Waynes.
Carrie had asked if they were his parents --
He has pictures of his parents, of course. Many, carefully
saved and backed-up in two other locations. Carrie has
access to all of them, but, in the end, she has little interest
in that sort of data. Her question had been casual.
It's easier to move through the manor -- the home of the
reclusive Tim Drake, the mysterious --
If he asked, Carrie would attend with him the increasingly
desperate-seeming galas and balls he mostly eschews.
(Gotham is a stain on its wealthy, without a favored son to
guide them into useful things they might do with their
money. They have nowhere else to go.)
She would loathe them no more than any other Robin, and
if she had any earthly reason to be associated with Tim
Drake… She would make them brighter things -- better with
her presence. Bruce had -- found ways to let Tim know that
he'd provided a similar gift, but Bruce had been…
Entirely himself, always.
And Tim has always known who Robin was supposed to be.
*What* she is supposed to be, and perhaps even where.
Now, she is in their home. Recently -- perhaps not long
before she'd left to visit her parents -- she had been here,
moving through the manor because it's hers as much as it's
his -- more. Robin --
She eats, studies, and even sleeps here sometimes, just as
he does, and yet he is always -- he can't ever find anything
but *traces* of her.
He wants to know how to live with Robin without the cowl.
Bruce had never -- he hadn't been very good at it, either.
Both of the manor's libraries seem to fascinate her, but she
likes the East one best.
The banisters are free of dust -- she uses them as slides,
and, sometimes, to 'surf' -- and some of the sheets are
slightly askew. Given her usual attitude toward clutter -- or
even muss -- these are signs, left for him.
Robin has been here; Robin has been happy here.
Robin should always be happy here.
She almost certainly doesn't leave the signs consciously.
"A lot of people don't really think about the fact that
Superman isn't the same Superman as always," she says,
once she has made sure of Tim's wakefulness with a hand
over his mouth to feel the rhythm of his breathing.
She's much less likely to be deceived than she once was, but
it's difficult to be sure of the percentages. Tim has stopped
trying to trick her this way.
"I mean, yeah, a lot of people don't think about a lot of
things, but it always seemed… kinda big. To me," she says,
and sits on Bruce's bed. With him, in the dark -- always.
"You're not common, Carrie."
The breath she takes is -- shaky. Troubling. "I -- yeah."
"I mean -- was he the one who took out -- the old
"With my help and that of Wonder Woman."
"You -- sometimes he looks at you like you're friends. I've
seen the holos."
And, likely, has studied them extensively in the hours before
coming here, to him.
"You're not friends," she says, in that way she sometimes
has of disowning the responsibility of a question.
"Not the way we used to be."
Another breath, shakier than the last.
"Carrie, tell me what's wrong."
"Look, you give me all this stuff, and you tell me to focus on
this, or this, and you never tell me *not* to focus on
something, but -- there's a lot I don't know about you. I
can't. I keep trying to see -- imagine -- the guy who was
Batman before you were. I keep trying to imagine you
being *Robin*. And I can't."
"Your parents would undoubtedly mention something along
the lines of how much the world has changed. Even a
"I love -- I love it when you say things about my parents
which aren't all -- carefully-respectful-of-who-they-are-as-
people. I know I shouldn't. I know this isn't what this is
"I had parents, too, Carrie."
"Were they *useless*?"
("I know -- I haven't given you much reason to believe in
me, son. All I can do is tell you that I understand, now, how
lacking I've been as a father to you. All I can do is promise
that I'll do everything in my power to change that.")
"B…? I just. I'd like to know now. If you want to tell me. I
think -- I think there are things I don't know that I should."
Robins are always wise. "I don't want to answer you."
"Oh. I -- I'll go."
Her arm is precisely where it should be, given her level of
fatigue, the darkness of the room, and her habits. It isn't
that she's ever gotten out of -- or into -- Bruce's bed
It's that he knows her, as Batman should always know
Robin, and knows that she will never hold herself safe from
him by choice. A strength in her vulnerability --
A cliché shameless enough to achieve the status of adage.
Her forearm is not tense under Tim's hand, despite the feel
of gooseflesh rising to either side of it.
"B? I could --"
"No." She will not -- she will not finish that sentence. Not
here in Bruce's bed. Not -- not here. "Carrie, it would be far
more accurate to say that my parents were 'ineffectual' than
to say that they were 'useless.' I did everything in my power
to limit their effectiveness, and I was just as successful as
you show every sign of becoming."
The breath she takes, this time, is sharp. He's hurt her. Tim
rebukes her, gently, for her hostility toward her parents.
Batman never does anything of the kind.
Batman, in this, has always been Robin's ally, and always
And so it's only natural to tighten his grip until she tenses
with pain, until she relaxes again, sits down again. "We are
not in the business of giving people third and fourth
chances, Carrie. At a certain point, people -- even parents --
must take responsibility for both their actions and their
"But you just said --"
"I was a teenager, Carrie. Like you. They would not have
had to work very hard to *learn* my life, to take it over,
to -- save me."
A shift and twist -- Carrie's free palm is on his chest,
Perhaps she is looking for the laugh she could hear behind
"I don't want to be saved from you."
No. She was looking for the Bat, of course. "And I would
never let it happen." And this --
Her affection is explosive, bursting, sudden if not random,
quick and fierce as always. Like this --
Like this, if Tim can keep his hands from seeking, from
learning and knowing, they feel no different. They are lean
and athletic, neither of them with a form typical to any
particular sport -- not anymore. Carrie does not menstruate
as regularly as he would prefer, but she has, in his care
and under his instruction developed both body fat and the
sort of musculature anathemic to the routines Olympic
gymnastics judges tend to favor.
With time, she will most closely resemble an acrobat -- but
not to casual eyes.
She is --
She is warm, and her hair smells like… sweet grass. Some
sort of grain Clark would have been able to name, show
("I looked aside for Strange -- the others. Your methods
have been what Gotham needed most. But I will not -- I
*cannot* let you take it any further.")
And if Clark had thought about it clearly enough to realize
that Tim never expected him to -- no. Clark had been there
to help him -- all of them -- through Bruce's death. Clark
had trusted his judgment on all the lies to Dick --
Clark had trusted him, if not so much as Carrie does.
Perhaps, he thinks, and wraps his arms around her lean,
still-unscarred back, it's a question of what each of them
had needed from him.
Who they needed him to be.
When she begins to snore, breathy and low, Tim allows
himself to doze.
"Did she fight like me?"
They are on a rooftop, and Carrie is using her rest period to
stretch and tumble her way through shadows.
"Or was she more like you?"
"Neither," Tim says, and reaches out and behind him.
Carrie catches his hand, and uses it to pull herself -- showily,
almost certainly -- back onto her feet. Carrie enjoys the feel
of rooftop gravel through her tunic.
"She was larger, heavier, and more heavily muscled than I
am now when she reached her full growth."
"Whoa. I mean -- I've seen her suit, but --"
"They are always smaller in the Cases."
"She had to struggle to maintain her flexibility. She fought
from power, as opposed to any particular innate grace. I,
and Batgirl, only gave her precision. The rest… imagine if
Superman could neither fly nor use telekinesis. That would
"All right," she says, and doesn't ask any other questions for
the rest of the night.
Just before the close of their patrol, he watches her use her
own precision to crack three of the ribs of an off-duty
patrolman who would never have been allowed to stay on
the force if Gordon's power were now more than symbolic.
She uses her power to beat him unconscious, and beyond --
and only stops when Tim gestures.
She takes the printout of the crimes they're sure the man
has committed and pins them to the man's chest with one
of her shuriken. And then she stops, and studies her work,
rocking lightly on her heels and frowning just enough to
make the line between her eyebrows visible.
"A crowning touch, perhaps?"
"Mm-hm," she says, bright and absent, and then unzips the
man's pants and tucks one of the blood-soaked baggies of
hypercaine they found in his possession there. And then
turns his head to the side so he won't drown in his own
In this near-forgotten neighborhood, in this building, the
rats are only waiting for the excitement to die down. They
will go for his face first, but, if the police department
doesn't respond quickly enough to the call they'll
Most of the rats will probably overdose before they cause
any further damage.
"I -- really hate dirty cops," she says, and asks with every
restless flex and twitch of fatigued muscle for credit for the
fact that she had not done worse to the man.
The gauntlet is monstrous against her cheek.
Until she smiles.
At their range, she is ready once more.
"Would you tell me -- would you tell me, this time, about
why it's her Spoiler suit you saved?"
"Yes," he says, and doesn't touch her again. "Stance."
"On it, bossman."
She clips the edges of the target.
She misses the paper entirely, waiting for something
entirely -- different. And then she holds her stance without
being told, loose and waiting, loose and ready.
She is so beautiful. She --
"Cassandra -- Batgirl -- was Dent's first kill that we know of.
Dent had been an ally, as you know. The theory -- her
particular madness allowed her to move as though she were
*still* an ally… it is the only explanation I've come up
for why she was able to defeat Cassandra."
"I -- okay."
Carrie has seen film of Cassandra training. It's not -- it can't
ever be enough. "I tracked her down, and I shot her -- once.
Stephanie stopped me from finishing the task with one of
her shuriken. Hold your stance," he says, and Carrie freezes
in the process of pulling her hands back toward her body.
Toward the place where the shuriken would -- will -- gleam
on her chest.
The hazy, translucent reflections from the bulletproof plastic
to either side of them show Carrie opening her mouth --
and closing it once more.
("God fucking *dammit*, Tim! Can't you see it's not
working? Can't you see it *can't* work?")
"She informed me that she disagreed with my methods. I
explained that I had my own doubts. We -- made love.
She fires -- twice -- and curses. Both of her shots would've
been good enough to at least wound most of the opponents
they will come to face.
"This will never be reflexive to you, Robin. Just the same,
you will learn to channel your intellect through your emotion
with this tool, as you have learned to do with your hands,
and your other weapons."
"Yes. I --" She frowns, now, and her stance is perfect.
Perfection. "I left her sleeping, and I hunted Dent down
once more. There were hostages. By the time I had her in
my sights, Stephanie had found *me*. Traced and tracked
me -- fire."
Another miss, and the growl is only visible in the moment's
tension before she corrects herself. She does not need his
hand on her shoulder, even for a moment.
This time, she -- nearly -- rides the recoil.
"Better," he says -- he does not need to touch her. "We
fought. I wounded her. I swallowed one tooth and a portion
of another. I held the gun to her throat, to the seam of her
cape -- fire."
This time, she rides the recoil so well she -- nearly -- fires
again. But she has control. She doesn't need --
"I left her there to begin my search for Dent once more. By
the time it became apparent to me that my other work was
more -- immediately important, she had left her uniform
and she had left our home."
"No -- I."
Carrie's mouth is a firm, whitened line. "It's entirely probable
she helped Dent escape justice, but I have never found
proof. Fire twice."
Perfection, for all that there have been no lethal shots, for
all that it's likely that there'll *be* no lethal shots for quite
some time -- Robin.
Robin is always perfect. "Do you understand, Robin?"
"Yes," she says, and waits for him.
It's a lie, because Tim himself has no understanding -- no
true comprehension --
Then again, Robin should, perhaps, always know the Bat
better than he knows himself.
"Did she -- is this --"
"I just -- I only -- did you not like it when I stayed here
Robin shouldn't -- should -- "Did you only mean to stay here
Her wrists are small, hard and tense in his hands. Were he
to move his fingers slightly, he would be able to be sure her
pulse is racing, as opposed to the suspicion he has now. As
opposed to his own --
"Robin," he says, and knows, abruptly and too late, that if
he'd called her Carrie now, in this darkness, in this bed
she'd make his own, that she would -- quiet. Stop.
He isn't sure, not really, of anything save for the sound of
Of the feel, once he releases her wrists, of her body over
Of her mouth, dry and gentle over the bat which should
always be there for her.
Tim lies with his arms flat at his sides until he can't
anymore. When he holds her, she sleeps.
And so does he.