Disclaimers: Not mine.
Spoilers: References the GK/TNBA episode "Growing Pains,"
JUSTICE LEAGUE ADVENTURES #33, GOTHAM
ADVENTURES #3, "Return of the Joker" (in an AU-ish way),
the JL episode "A Better World" (in a *slightly* AU-ish way),
and about a billion other things.
Summary: These are not the best of times.
Ratings Note: Sexual content, and content which some
readers may find disturbing.
Author's Note: I'm... not at all sure where this came from.
It's something like AU glue, riffing on and starting *from*
the You'll Get Used To It In Time series, careening a bit
through "This place, this prayer," and "Beneficial to the
Public," and then beyond. Will almost certainly be
nonsensical without the others.
Acknowledgments: To Jack, Jam, and Betty for audiencing
and helpful suggestions.
He's thinking the popsicle is a little much -- he's not thirteen
anymore, after all -- but the thing is --
The thing is, people just keep surprising him with how
'Easy' seems mean, and worse, a little simplistic. There's
nothing easy about the look on Kal's face, like Tim is
sucking on something which could radiate kryptonite, as
opposed to tease. Still... "You okay, there?"
And then the look on Kal's face changes, getting to be more
about drawn-in eyebrows and taut disapproval than a
slackened jaw and too-young eyes. And then...
And then Tim can remember just how *much* Kal deserves
exactly this, so he lets himself fall back against the scuzzy
where-does-that-grease-*come*-from wall, far enough that
he isn't so much leaning as not-falling --
"Robin -- Tim."
-- and he licks the popsicle, nice and slow, just as if it's
summer anywhere but the picture he's painting for his
best-worst boyfriend ever. For his --
'Boyfriend' is kind of laughable understatement, at this point.
And the look on Kal's face is about as steady and sturdy as
the crumbling Gotham-special of a warehouse Tim's using
to break the fall he's not having.
"I mean... did you *need* something, *Clark*?"
Kal jerks a little, then stills. "Will you tell me what I did
Tim can't quite repress the frown. He hates that voice. It's
too soft and warm. He tosses the popsicle -- it clangs a
little off the inside of the Dumpster -- and crosses his arms
over his chest.
"I mean... we could talk about it, if I -- if you --"
"It's pretty fucked-up when you -- *you* treat me like a kid,
The frown on Kal's face has the nerve to be confused for
much too long, but -- he gets it. You can tell by the way he
squares up his shoulders like it's time for a whipping.
Tim bets Kal's parents -- 'parents' -- are scary, no matter
what Batman says.
"I know... well, I'm aware that when you're working with
*Bruce*, you're an equal partner in every way --"
"Stop. Did you get a chance to read the file on Clayface
after *we* --" Oh yeah, he's stressing *that* word. "-- took
Another little 'hmmm' of a frown. "Well, yes, but I don't --"
"Where was he before Slabside?"
"I -- hospitalized. The adjunct facility to the new Arkham --"
"And who put him there?"
It's precisely as satisfying as it should be. "You know, I
didn't mind. He was only a small piece of the puzzle. It
wasn't -- especially -- dangerous that he kept getting away.
That you -- and the rest of your team, but especially you --
neglected to refer to the only one among you with
experience with him. That you chose to treat that person --
*me* -- like a useless child."
"And you had your own... focus."
Kal is looking a little dangerously thoughtful now -- almost
certainly because of the fact that Tim is now, technically,
a magic user -- so Tim smiles -- the way Kal likes. It's a
matter of tucking his chin a little, more shadows than light.
"Yes, I did. I never had a grimoire to play with before."
"You... Tim, you know I was off-planet when the Joker --"
"You're making smiling dangerous, Kal. You should stop
Kal sounds a little bit like someone had hit him with a crane
or something while Tim wasn't paying attention, a little
breathless and hurt. "Tim, are you --"
He gives Kal his eyes -- the mask doesn't matter -- and Kal
shuts up. "Decide who I am to you. And stick with it."
For a moment -- a long one -- Kal won't return the favor.
He's staring at the ground, or maybe through it. It's all
right, though. Kal always does his best thinking when he's
not looking at Tim. Sometimes, that's the best way to...
So he waits.
"I don't think Bruce has any idea... he doesn't know what
truly happened to you." Kal looks at him. "Does he?"
And when he's with Kal, Tim can smile with his eyes as
easily -- as usefully -- as he can with Batman. Mask or no.
"He knows enough."
"He knows -- *enough*."
"Ooh, Clark. That's not nice."
"You haven't let me -- you have so many new scars --"
"Kal-El..." Tim cocks his head and raises his eyebrows
behind the mask enough that the spirit gum pulls on his
eyebrows a little painfully. "Was that a metaphor?"
He hasn't gotten to see Kal angry very often at all, but it's
not the sort of thing anyone with a brain would need to
see more than once to recognize.
Tim lowers his eyebrows --
-- and the anger fades into something softer, rueful.
Something *Clark*. "All right, you're -- I was wrong. I
admit it, all right?"
Tim lets his head cock in the other direction. "And you'll
never do it again?"
"Once upon a time, we talked about the things we could
have -- in uniform and out. I can't be 'Clark' on the Tower,
Tim Drake. Not even for you."
Or Kal-El. Tim frowns, but... it does make sense. There
wouldn't be a team like that at all if the world didn't need one
kind of desperately, sometimes. And that team needs
Superman. "Still. *That* wasn't why you kept trying to
keep me on the shelf. Unless you thought I wanted you to
fuck me for justice?"
The laugh is brief and a little loud for the Gotham night.
Very, very Clark. And very Kal-El, too. "I imagine you could
be very distracting to supervillains."
Tim spreads his arms, letting the (longer, heavier, *better*)
cape fall back over his shoulders. "I *am* Robin."
The motion -- which brings Kal close enough to cup Tim's
face and tilt his head up -- is too fast to catch. But Tim is
used to the power, now. To the...
Everything. "Yes, Kal?"
"I wanted to protect you. I know you see it as a sign of
disrespect, and I apologize for that. But I don't apologize
for the emotion."
Tim narrows his eyes. "Because the Joker beat me?"
Kal's thumb is firm, smooth, and distracting on Tim's
cheekbone. It's worse when he leans in, pressing his
mouth against Tim's ear. "Because I love you."
Tim doesn't, quite, roll his eyes. "You used to make better
confessions, Kal. More interesting ones, certainly."
"I was thinking of it as a 'declaration,' actually. My
"I've been studying your new scars through your uniform
off and on for weeks, waiting for you to call me, to *let*
me," Kal says, and bites his ear.
"Ah -- that's --" Better.
"You're more beautiful than ever, Tim."
Tim gives up on words and lets Kal have wet, hot sex with
his ear. After a moment, there's a hand for him to thrust
against -- strong and inhumanly warm even through his
uniform. He's surrounded again, swallowed again, and it's --
"And yes, I meant in *every* way."
"Good. That's -- good..."
"Oh, Tim --"
Sometimes Clark is sure they -- his friends, his team -- think
this is easy for him. That this --
The lobotomies have long since been completed. The
vicious -- deadly -- riots of six months ago have become
the occasional demonstration -- easily dispersed.
The interim governments are all -- nearly all, and he
doesn't care *what* Diana has to say about it, something
will, eventually, have to be done about Themyscira --
obedient enough, and he's...
Lois says he's made himself a tyrant, and even though she
would have nothing kinder to say about the rest of the
Lords (the remaining Lords, and sometimes the space
where Wally should be aches like a rotted tooth), sometimes
Clark is quite sure they feel the same.
Just as if...
He scrubs a hand over his face and stares down at the
earth, unsurprised that he has an excellent view of middle
Just as if that's the only place requiring his focus.
If he's honest with himself, even his powers (ever
increasing, and when will they stop?) aren't enough to
make this sort of thing truly efficient -- the monitors in the
Tower are far, far better for this, if somewhat chaotic for
the mind after too many hours.
If this were *easy*, Clark thinks, then the monitors would
be all he needs. It's --
One of them had to take the lead, had to be the *face* of
their new world. Humanity needed stability more than
anything else, simple answers for their endless, endless
One of them had to, and none of them were better placed
for it than himself.
The Bruce in his head is saying something snide about
better qualifications, but even though the man *had* been
agreeable enough about broadening his own focus, the
fact of the matter is that, even now, he's more attached to
Gotham than anything else.
Even though they both know -- they *all* know -- it's
Robin who handles far more of the day-to-day business of
that half-drained moral swamp than anyone else.
There -- there is no one else there, anymore. Not really.
He keeps forgetting.
He *knows* it isn't easy for Bruce. The man had effectively
lost a son *and* a lover, and --
It's just that he hadn't had to lose a friend, as well.
("I'm asking you, Clark. As a friend, please stop this with
Clark smiles to himself ruefully, idly zeroing in on a stretch
of the Mississippi the Atlanteans have already made run
clean. Bruce would undoubtedly say that Clark's concerns
about friendship were abysmally late.
If he still spoke to Clark more often than strictly necessary.
There's nothing which he needs to do, no great tasks
demanding his attention.
And if he doesn't care to return to the harridan who is still,
sometimes, his lover -- Clark's lover -- he does, in fact,
have other options.
The changes in Tim are both obvious for the humans (the
suit, the guns), and subtle -- for him. For *them*.
His scent is mostly obscured with the machine oil he favors
for cleaning his weapons and body armor. Clark pauses,
and breathes more deeply. "It's new."
The corner of Tim's mouth twitches, but he doesn't turn
away from the target of his surveillance -- a woman and
her... it seems to be her son.
Clark wonders, idly, what they've done. "Will you tell me?"
"It's nothing interesting, Kal. A slight redesign of the armor.
Some of the rebels have proven... intriguingly adept at
Kal. He had never meant -- there's something a little
frightening about how just asking -- once -- if he might be
Kal-El for Tim *sometimes* had changed everything
between them, but it's the sort of fear which will always
make Clark feel greedy. Always make him...
Tim Drake is his home. Clark scans the city, and -- there. A
smoking crater which used to be, if he remembers correctly,
a police station. "Casualties?"
"A few of Gordon's new recruits. No great loss."
"Hmm." He examines Tim anyway, and finds a fresh
bandage beneath the new armor. "You were burned."
Clark shifts somewhat uncomfortably. This -- this has never
been especially easy to assimilate. However, if he
destroyed everyone who had ever dared to injure the boy...
He would be done with the task far too quickly *and* in the
dog-house, as it were. He settles for slipping further into
the shadow Tim is occupying, and doing a bit of internal
'recalibration.' If he focuses, the machine oil and armor fade
nicely under the scent of blood, healing skin, and sweat.
"When will you be done here, Robin? Is this something
which I could --"
"Hnn. I'll be cranky if you incinerate my prospect, Kal."
Tim looks at him, and his expression... it's the precise sort
of unreadable which tends to have something to do with
Bruce, in his experience.
"Ah. You're looking for a new companion for Batman." He
takes another look at the boy in question. He's strawberry
blond and almost disconcertingly *soft*-looking, but... he
has an easy-looking laugh. A smile, and -- it's easy
enough to find the boy's bedroom when he scans the
rest of the house. There's something of a shrine to Batman
and Robin -- no dangerous signs of either Nightwing or
Batgirl. Interesting. "Is he an amateur acrobat, by any
"No," Tim says. It's flat and entirely uninviting.
"Let's go," he says, and leaps without shooting his grapple,
making it necessary for Clark to catch him while *he* flies.
An -- attempt -- at distraction. Clark lets it stand for long
enough for them to make it to Robin's apartment -- and
auxiliary base. Long enough to strip away the armor and
rest his palm -- for a moment -- over the bandage.
Tim bares his teeth in something like a smile -- he gets
closer to being able to manage it every time Clark sees
him -- and throws his head back. "Kal-El."
"Tim Drake," he says, and lets himself...
Once -- only once -- there had been time and room to keep
the boy in the Fortress for a week. The robes had no
attraction for him, but the bands of clan, of family...
Tim had worn them, and nothing but, for the better part of
And then he had taken them off, and put on his mask. Clark
wears both Tim's bands and his own.
"I need to know if Bruce is going to be a problem, Tim
This tooth-baring is far, far more of a snarl. "Batman isn't a
part of this, *Clark*. You know that."
He takes the rebuke for what it is. "I'm sorry. But I'm
serious, as well."
"I --" Tim closes his eyes, and twists out of Clark's grip.
Clark lets him, especially since the only thing Tim does is
skin out of the last pieces of his uniform and walk toward
the bedroom. He doesn't look back over his scarred, perfect
shoulder to make sure Clark's following. He doesn't have to.
And when Clark doesn't say anything else before taking
Tim into his mouth, he's given a reward, of sorts:
"Batman is -- entirely functional, Kal-El. He's never needed
to be in -- in -- oh --"
Clark sucks harder for the scream he will never, never tire
of, and then deliberately slackens his touch and pace.
"Hunh -- hunh -- I should be calling you *Superman* for
"Please don't," he says, and then takes Tim in again before
he can protest.
He laughs, instead -- a rusty bark of a sound which Clark
knows fills Bruce with both relief and loathing. It had been
in the stutter of the man's heart and breath.
Clark licks Tim, slowly and teasingly. Interrogative fellatio
is a skill Clark had learned from the boy.
"I -- I can't -- oh, fuck, Kal, I'm not -- I don't make it
*better* for him, anymore, I..."
It's something like torture to force himself to continue until
Tim comes in his mouth, but he knows that, even in the
best of times, Tim will only tolerate physical comfort after
These are --
These are not the best of times, and Tim only presses his
face against Clark's throat for a bare handful of heartbeats
before pulling away and turning onto his back.
"He -- Tim, he *knew* Dick was a problem --"
This laugh is closer to a croak, and closer to a sob than
that. "You think it's because of *Dick*?"
"God, I -- Kal. You still need things spelled out so fucking
*often*, don't you?"
"Educate me, Tim Drake."
Tim stares at him for long moments, and then he slowly,
deliberately, tears off his mask.
Clark swallows against the small, terrible sound of several
hairs being ripped out of Tim's eyebrows by the roots.
"Batman and I are still playing chicken, Kal. Three fucking
*years* of it, and --"
"And now he knows he's going to lose, in the end."
It stops Tim for a moment, and the look on his face seems
like something which *should* be masked. It's naked, and
younger than Clark has seen since before...
Sometimes, Clark stares through the bones of Arkham for
hours at a time, just to watch the creature rot.
It's a compromise with himself.
Stroking Tim's face with the backs of his knuckles -- isn't.
The welding is loud and somewhat brutal, but also demands
a very fine focus. He lacks the tools and materials he'd
used back in -- back in his former home, and so it's even
It would still be easier to stop his own heart than it would
be to *not* be viciously, gratefully aware of the boy's
presence approximately four yards behind him and... yes,
a little to the west.
There's a part of him which is struck dumb with shock. He
Somehow, walking through the multiverse had seemed --
had become -- entirely more plausible than being able to
do so with his partner at his side. With Robin.
One day, when he's more settled in his mind with the
reality of their situation, with everything Bruce has *done*,
the boy will almost certainly try -- at the very least -- to
kill him. It's not that Bruce understands -- he doesn't think
he ever did -- but he can... predict.
Their world had stolen very much from Tim, and Bruce has
spent the last six years destroying the rest. He'd gotten the
boy this far by playing on shock and the boy's own
indomitable will to survive. The latter is something of a --
multiversal, now -- constant. The former won't last.
For now, though...
"Do you know where we are?"
"An Earth, an America -- United States variant -- and a
Gotham. Beyond that..." Bruce shuts the soldering iron off
and looks back over his shoulder.
He had given this place the bare minimum of preparation
before bringing the boy here, but it is as well-powered --
and lit -- as they can ask. Tim has -- perhaps predictably --
settled into one of the few shadowed areas left. He is
visible in the gleam of his masked eyes and the flat, perfect
shine of his boots. He is silent, and he is still.
I miss you, Bruce doesn't say. "Beyond that, I'm entirely
Tim's breath is a hiss between his teeth. Will this be the
day? So soon...?
Bruce waits, and watches.
"I'm going on -- I'm going to explore."
Bruce nods, and deliberately gives the boy his back. The
first thing which needs to be done is, of course, completing
the new portal.
Just in case.
Bruce smiles, internally, and gets back to welding. It's the
sort of work one can lose oneself in and he's --
He isn't allowed.
But he needs to, anyway.
And, by the time Tim returns, he's approaching something
like the light at the end of the tunnel. The programming will
take another several days, of course, and vetting the
machine more time after that, but...
It's staggeringly tempting to just get started, to just keep
*moving*, to reach some other world, some other place
with work his hands and mind can do without the necessity
of being sure in his heart.
He isn't sure of any-- no, that's never been true.
"What did you find?" he asks, when Tim is merely silent.
"A Justice team. A -- other teams."
"There were... signs. A few people called out 'Robin' when
they saw me."
More interesting. "You let yourself be seen?"
"I wasn't aware I was supposed to -- there's *crime* here,
Bruce closes his eyes, just for a moment. One thing to be
sure of. One.
"And I'm... I'm going to need more... zip-strips."
Bruce turns away from the half-built portal and -- he can't.
When he's close enough that the boy has to look up -- still
so small, even... is he truly nineteen?
When he's close enough, he touches Tim's face, and
watches the boy try and fail to hide everything he's feeling
behind the mask.
And then the boy growls, soft and low. When he presses his
cheek against Bruce's palm, it's precisely like being hit.
"I knew... I knew it's what you wanted. What you --" Tim
bites his lip.
"What... will you tell me what *you* want, Tim?"
His expression... It's shameful to be relieved the boy is still
masked, and feeling the shame isn't enough. It never can
"Batman, you -- you know I always would've chosen -- You
didn't have to -- I -- I'm *Robin*," he says, and it's a
demand and a plea.
"But I didn't know. I haven't known for a long --"
"You *should've*! You should've *known*, but you didn't,
and you didn't even bring your *uniform*, and I -- I --"
"I was afraid to ask." He'd never thought the boy would
leave him again, go to the *alien* again after the Joker,
Tim shoves away from him and turns. Bruce can tell by the
shift of his shoulders that he's folding his arms beneath the
cape. Or... perhaps something more.
Still, Tim lets him catch his wrists and pull them out, pull
them *up* until the boy's balled fists are pressed against
his cheeks. After a moment, Tim uncurls them, and Bruce
knows himself in the rough and faintly sweat-damp touch.
The shape of his own face, and how long it's been since he
has shaved, and how many visible scars he still doesn't
Beneath the boy's mask, beneath his right eye, is a small
groove left by flying shrapnel which pulls his face out of
true, into the only truly simple smile he's had since the
"I was afraid to ask," he says again.
"You were *never* supposed to be afraid," and Tim --
tries -- to pull his hands away again.
"I'm only a man," Bruce says, and squeezes Tim's wrists.
"And I know I was never supposed to be that, either."
Tim's face... the boy's face...
"I'm so sorry, Tim."
He lets go, and it only takes a moment for the gun which
had been holstered beneath the boy's shoulder to wind up
pressed to his jaw. Tim is shaking everywhere but his
And when Tim walks away, when he leaves, there's not
enough work to lose himself in.
Bruce does it, and waits.
When the boy returns again, he smells like smoke and
blood, and his uniform is near wholly black with soot.
He strips without a word and walks to him, standing naked
There's a... bruise on his throat, where the skin is otherwise
pale and clean and blameless.
He is still, and silent, and his eyes are defiant... ah.
There are Lords of a sort in this world, and the mark is not --
merely -- a bruise. Of course.
And if Bruce closes his eyes again, the boy won't bother
with a gun.
Bruce laughs, softly. He has already *left* his grave.
"We're going to need new uniforms, Robin," he says, low
and steady. Sure.
"Yes. We will."
Little birdie, little birdie,
What makes you fly so high?
It's because I am a true little bird
and I do not fare to die.
Little birdie, little birdie,
What makes your wings so blue?
It's because I been a-grievin',
a-grievin' after you.
Little birdie, little birdie,
What makes your head so red?
After all that I been through,
its a wonder I ain't dead.
Little birdie, little birdie,
come sing to me your song.
I've a short while to be here,
and a long time to be gone.
Little birdie, little birdie,
What makes you fly so high?
Its because I am a true little bird
and I do not fare to die.
-- American bluegrass standard, I believe. Thanks, Jack!