The finest thing
by Te
September 30, 2004

Disclaimers: If they were mine, things would rapidly
get confusing.

Spoilers: A few old Batman and Superman storylines
in a vague and AU sort of way.

Summary: All things change, and we change with

Ratings Note: PG-13.

Author's Note: Eighth in The Angels You Need series.
Takes place a few weeks after the end of "Hold on
to me," and will not make one lick of sense without
reading the others first.

Acknowledgments: Much love to Mary, Jack, LC, and
Livia for audiencing and encouragement.


He likes flying well over the Atlantic and then turning to
make his approach to Gotham from over the water. For
a lot of reasons, really.

If anyone ever asked, Clark could give several... though
probably not all of them. And probably not all at once.

In any event, it's something he hasn't gotten to do,
very often.

The detour adds several seconds to his travel time, and
Bruce had only ever called him to Gotham when he
needed Clark's presence *immediately*. And he'd
always made it clear that that presence was...
unappreciated at other times.

Unappreciated at best.

The fact that Jason has never been quite so...
*decidedly* territorial has never been something Clark
felt comfortable taking advantage of.

There are a lot of reasons for that, as well.

And when the new family of Bats *has* called him...

There's a small, difficult part of him which finds
something terribly, unworthily pleasant about Jason's
obvious discomfort at calling him for help, and even
Tim's. Both of them feel *guilty* for calling him for
that -- and only for that -- in a way which Clark is
actually rather accustomed to from others.

It's a part of being Superman, all things considered.

But to have that from *them*...

Clark pauses over the Atlantic and thinks. And
listens, of course, but nothing has really changed.
Today, at least, he *can* take this little detour. And
get his thoughts into something like order,

Well, he's going to need them to be so.

There's something terrible, a little, about being the
bulwark for Jason's family in the way he'd always
*wanted* to be for Bruce's. It's the sort of thing
which makes it feel as though Bruce isn't very far
away at all... if only because the grim satisfaction
on the man's face is as palpable as it ever was.

A ghostly hint of 'I told you so' in the air, or
perhaps just the silent sense of Bruce always
knowing he was right.


He hasn't, precisely, advertised the things he's
done for Jason's family, but he apparently hasn't
been subtle enough about doing them.

Except for the business with the Joker and... he
doesn't like to think about that. Even though he
should. Even though...

Clark shakes it off, and considers diving into the
Atlantic to clear his head. It would take time to
dry off again, and more to shower *first*, so he
doesn't show up in Gotham covered in salt and...

He doesn't do it.

The point is that he's seen the way the League,
and even the Titans, look at him, the way they've
*watched* him, and the way he's related to Jason
and his family. There's a... knowing there.

A certain sort of...

It's difficult to put into words, even within his own
head. Suffice it to say, the way Jason and his family
had made it clear, from the very beginning, that
*they* would be coordinating Gotham's relief
effort had been, well, a relief.

It isn't that he *hadn't* been prepared -- and more
than willing -- to defer to them and set an example.
He's *more* than accustomed to having to do so at
times when the leadership of others is called for.

It's just that the fact he *hadn't* had to do it at all
is... something which eases the knot that's sat low
in his belly ever since Diana had called that rather
unofficial meeting. Just him, J'onn, and herself, and
Diana's low, steady voice asking the question he'd
been dreading ever since he'd flown over Gotham
on a routine check and seen Jason in the Batsuit.

"We all know 'Batman' is, in fact, a sixteen year
old boy who *some* of us had doubts about when
he was only Robin.

"And now he has a Robin of his own. What, precisely,
are we doing about it?"

J'onn's presence is as silent and profound and ever.
J'onn had been there, with the Joker, and while no
one knew about that but the two of them, while no
one had seen the... the *terrible* result of J'onn's
attempt to exist within the Joker's mind for long
enough to get the information Clark had desperately

J'onn hadn't been able to erase it.

J'onn hadn't brought up the... *option* of calling
Zatanna out of her semi-retirement.

And he hadn't said a word when Clark had taken the
monster back to Arkham himself, and dealt with him...

And now he's just as silent. Waiting. Trusting in him.

Which is, of course, the answer.

"I'm watching them, of course." Please believe that
I'm doing it for the reasons *you* wish, Diana. Please
give me that. "There aren't many of us with more
tragedy in our lives than Jason.

"And... there aren't many of us who have used and
overcome those tragedies with more maturity and

Diana's eyes on him are steady, and hard, but not
at all cold.

"I... had the opportunity to get to know Jason,
somewhat, after he was injured."

Diana frowns, and when she says "He isn't Bruce,
Clark," her voice is less gentle than soft with grief.

Clark wants, very badly, to reach out.

But Bruce would advise him to use the opportunity.

"Which isn't, necessarily, a liability, Diana," he says.

After a moment, she nods sharply. The general once
more, and once more safe.

And Clark remembers the different sort of knot that
had formed within him, the curious fact that the act
of honoring the memory of one friend could have so
many dishonorable consequences.

Then, as now, it makes it hard not to fly to Gotham
at speed.

He knows -- he thinks he knows -- that Jason is...
familiar with the feeling.

There's so very much he needs.


Within fifty miles of Gotham, it's easy to see just
*why* he can take his time, today. All over, the bright
colors of metahumans at work, of new buildings
going up quickly and well with the help of everyone
they could spare.

Many of them are based on designs Bruce himself
had sketched some restless night or another,
downloaded from Tim's mind into Cyborg's, and
from there into the hands of every foreperson.

All of them quakeproof, and all of them... striking.

He'd overheard John discussing the new buildings
with a warmingly obvious and *passionate*
enthusiasm, demanding Huntress -- she hasn't yet
given him leave to call her Helena, though he
hopes -- reveal the mystery architect behind it all.

Bruce was always destined to leave his stamp on
Gotham. The Wayne Foundation's money and
Batman's endless, wonderful plans.

It's like walking into the Cave to fly into Gotham

No, it's like being *welcomed* into the Cave.

Not least because... because it's possible, now,
isn't it?

The only building which isn't listed on the sites in
need of metahuman help repairing is Wayne Manor.

When he'd asked Tim about it, carefully, the only
thing the boy had said aloud was that there were
other priorities. Which was entirely logical, and
perfectly reasonable, besides, but...

But Tim hadn't put a stop to Clark's own unofficial
efforts to clear away the rubble, and, when he'd
begun rebuilding from memory, he'd felt Tim as an
area of deeper shadow, listened to his steady (if
somewhat fast) heartbeat from not very far away at
all, and listened to his calm, quiet voice continuing
to direct the relief efforts in Gotham just as if he'd
been at the Clocktower.

'Robin's tower,' the others call it, when they're tired
enough not to think about it (but not tired enough
to forget and use the boy's name).

And Clark isn't surprised to find Tim's heartbeat and
the faint whirr of the boy's machinery Northwest of
the city itself.

There remain other priorities...

But Tim, at least, can work from anywhere.

Clark flies to him, landing several feet away out of
a courtesy he's always used with humans -- and a
caution he'd always used with Bats. Although Tim
requires somewhat less of the former with his
enhancements, he does seem to require somewhat
*more* of the latter.

Clark feels himself smiling and says, without
thinking, "Bruce would've liked you quite a bit, I

The look he gets in response would be startlingly
blank, but Clark is accustomed to it. As it is, it's
only familiarly blank.

He stands beside the boy and watches the tarpaulin
he'd stretched over the site flap in the breeze.
There's a storm on the wind, but it won't cause
any more damage if he can help it.

After a while, Tim says, "The others haven't been
back here. They don't know you're working on...

Clark smiles again. "I was hoping we could
surprise them."

"I'm not sure they would appreciate it."

The silence is long for most humans, but not,
especially, for Tim.

"Not the way I do."

If it were Bruce, Clark would ask why, if only in the
hopes of getting a better idea of how the man
*thought*. Clark had known him for years, and
perhaps as well as anyone not within his family,

Tim isn't Bruce, and the smooth, black, and
blameless drape of his cape has always seemed a
bit disingenuous, and more than a bit illusory. Not
for the first time, he wonders what would've
happened if things had moved differently enough
for Tim to be the sixteen year old in the cape and
cowl. If...

There are a lot of reasons why the thought is
disturbing, and Clark sincerely hopes no one ever
has cause to ask him why.

After another a moment, he simply says, "I'm glad
you don't mind. It... it feels wrong for the Manor
to be gone. For the Cave."

Tim nods slowly.

"Have you thought about... the interiors?"

"Your memory is as good as my own," Tim says
without the faintest touch of irony. "But I know
that isn't really the point." He sighs, quietly. "Once
the Cave is restabilized, Batman will probably
authorize the restocking, and I'll be able to do
that on my own. For the rest..."

When Tim frowns and bites his lip in that way, he
looks precisely as young as he is. It's fascinating
to watch, compelling for reasons Clark has never
entirely understood. It goes well beyond the fact
that Tim is rarely this approachable, and into
something which defines *Robin* for Clark.

Something larger than anything, something which
could never be allowed to pass out of the world.

He has no words for it.

"I want it back," Tim says suddenly, and with
quiet *force*. "All of it, exactly as it was. I'm
entirely aware that it's impossible. I'm entirely
aware that I should be... *better* about it. The
way the others are. It hasn't made a difference.


And sometimes caution is really too much to ask.
He rests his hand on Tim's shoulder, lightly enough
that Tim could move away from the touch with a
particularly heavy breath.

When Tim looks up at him, though, the muscles of
his face move behind the mask in a way which is...
very, very strange.

The reflexive switch to X-ray answers the
question -- Tim's right eye has been replaced with
something which only *looks* real. The work on
the iris is particularly realistic, with the only flaw
being that the striations and shadings are an
unnaturally exact match for the left.

"It... sounds very strange when you do that,
Superman. Clark."

Clark smiles ruefully and squeezes Tim's shoulder.
"I'm sorry. I'm afraid I'm all too accustomed to it."

"I'd always planned this. It was just a matter of
timing." The defensiveness in Tim's tone has a
faint -- and faintly, ironically metallic -- tinge.

"It's beautifully done," Clark says, honestly.

Tim's look is sharp and laser-focused -- perhaps
literally. The iris of the right narrows and expands
again like the shutter of an especially fast

Clark thinks about it, and... it probably *is* a
camera, among other things.

Tim turns away and growls, low and brief. The
frustration is palpable.

Clark clears his throat. "It's... difficult to control?"

"No moreso than the rest," Tim says, and waves
his left hand.

Clark notices, belatedly, that it's as artificial -- and
elegant -- as the eye. It's no longer *just* a matter
of the pinky laser. The skin of Tim's wrist beyond
the... cap? Stump? It isn't at all inflamed, and the
movement doesn't seem painful. There's simply no
way to tell when he'd gotten *that* done.

"I just haven't had much opportunity to use it in all
the ways I need to in order to grow accustomed."

Clark nods. "Did Victor do all of the work?"

"Yes. It's been a... pleasant surprise just how
much..." Tim smiles with a rueful sort of pleasure.
"I'll need to use the simskin sleeve when I visit my
parents, but... well. I'd thought I'd have to take up
wearing sunglasses."

"He clearly spent a great deal of time on the

"The improvements on my original schematics were
brilliant. He's... I think he's an artist."

Or, perhaps, Victor found himself motivated to make
the changes as minor as he possibly could. Clark
doesn't bother to say that aloud. "His own...
enhancements often seem so utilitarian. I wouldn't
have guessed..."

Tim nods, absently. "He hasn't been allowed to work
anywhere near the limits of his abilities."

"Until now?"

"Not even. I'd like... sometimes I wish I could come
up with more enhancements just to... I want to
encourage him," Tim says, fervent and low.

"I think that's a good thing, Tim, but... do you have
to do it at the expense of --"

"My humanity?" The smile on Tim's face bears only
the faintest resemblance to truth.

Clark frowns. "I wasn't going to say that."

"Of course," Tim says, and his tone is, at best,

"Tim --"

"I didn't, actually, have anything scheduled for you
today, Clark."

"I --" He cuts himself off at the look in Tim's eyes.
Even behind the mask, there's nothing there at all,

"I've sent the last of the telepaths home," Tim says,
after a moment. "They've saved a great number of
lives, and for now... well." He doesn't look away
from Clark's eyes. "All things considered, the faster
the metahumans are out of Gotham, the better. No

"None taken." Really, he'd never doubted Bruce's
ability to live on far beyond his own mortality. It's
just that the forms are... precisely as surprising as
they should be.

"I've been monitoring certain transmissions in my
spare time. That business with the Clench, and the
quake... the speed with which the League and the
others banded together for the relief effort has
been a help with *some* of the talk, but not all."

"You're talking about the whispers about putting
Gotham under Federal control."

Tim nods curtly.

And that's... "Do you really believe these people
are serious?"

"These people," Tim says, "are our duly elected
officials. And I really don't think we have anything
like the freedom *not* to take it seriously, Clark.
Do you?"

Clark frowns. "What do you want me to do?"

"You're a symbol as much as you're anything else.
A *potent* one."

"That wouldn't be nearly as true if I'd allowed
myself to intrude into political matters."

Tim's smile is hard, and small, and honest. "Perhaps.
But I'm not asking you to whisk our Senators off
someplace cold, painful, and convincing."

"Then what are you asking?"

"Nothing much. Journalists ask you about Gotham
every time you stand still for it. You might consider
stressing the strength and will of the Gothamites
you've seen. Their essential independence, their
bravery in the face of adversity, etcetera." Another
hand-wave. "You're a far better speaker than I'll
ever be."

"Commissioner Essen's refusal to back away from
the work, despite the curious lack of supplies...?"

"Precisely. They were going to cut us off, Clark.
They were just looking for an excuse. And they still

From space, the earth is a small, beautiful,
impossible jewel, shining with promise and hope.
With all of the *life*. And... "I'll do it."

"I appreciate it," Tim says, and turns back toward
the Manor. He follows the flight of a bird from the
tarpaulin into the old tree line, and beyond into the
ones which are still standing. His *head* follows
the movement, and Clark realizes Tim is taking

"How are they?"

"Blurry. Banal. Batgirl has been less than eager to
help me adjust the techniques I've learned for
traditional cameras." He smiles again. "But then,
she has her own responsibilities."

Caution, so *much* necessary caution. "Still, it
must be nice to never lack the ability to *have* a
photograph. However banal."

"There aren't many things which allow us the
illusion of permanence."

"'Omnia mutantur nos et mutamur in illis.'"


Clark laughs, despite himself. "That was... entirely

"I read an essay once, Clark. The writer talked
about... hm. 'The essential horror of snow-globes.' It
was, of course, a treatise about change and how we
all need to paste smiles on our faces and accept,
roll with the punches --"


Tim narrows his eyes. "There ought to be a price for
permanence. I'm more than willing to pay it."

"Tim --"

"I need to go. I have an appointment, of sorts, with
Max Mercury. Possibly about this... Impulse."

It's a question. "I'm afraid I only know him by
reputation. I could tell you more about... Superboy."

There's no question, whatsoever, that Tim heard
the hesitation in his voice, but he only tilts his head,
openly watchful.

For him, Clark knows. The watchfulness is necessity,
the openness a gift. It isn't one he's entirely willing,
at this point, to accept.

"It must be... strange. Difficult."

"To look at the boy who was cloned from you
without your permission or knowledge and
specifically designed to *replace* you?" Clark laughs,
softly. "You could say it's difficult, yes."

"Everything changes, Clark."

"Very funny," he says, and immediately wishes he'd
made it sound more convincing.

The pleasure on Tim's face at the... *fraction* of
a compliment.... It deserves more than his...
reflexive discomfort. No matter how many times
he's been assured that it's... human.

"Much of the time, I can remember how much I've
longed for family over the years. And how very
much I envy your own. And your own brand of...

Tim nods, more impatient than anything else.

"I think I'll do some more work on shoring up the
Cave today. If you don't mind."

"Not in the slightest," Tim says.

Clark listens to him quiet and slow his breathing in
preparation for leaving with that fine impression of

Once, he'd pointed out that Bruce's habit of doing
that with *him* was both unnecessary and
somewhat pointless.

"Hope springs eternal, Clark."

It does.


In the afternoon -- after a break to fly back to
Metropolis to shower and change into a uniform which
doesn't smell of dust, mildew, or bats -- he heads
back into the city proper.

He's reasonably sure there are more bats than ever
down there, despite the fact that their home is a ruin.
Perhaps because of it. It's another conversation he'll
never have with Bruce. The persistence of metaphor,

Or perhaps simply the very much superhuman efforts
Alfred had made over the years to make the Cave
into... what it was. He can -- and will -- rebuild it,
and rebuild it in a way that *will* stand up to
whatever cataclysms the earth's crust will choose to
throw at the place in the future.

But rebuilding is only the beginning, really, and...

In truth, Tim's desire for the Manor to stand again
would be more than enough to make Clark do this,
to *need* to do this, even if Jason's eventual
reaction is only bemusement. There has never been
a more consistent pleasure in his life than the act
of pleasing Robins. However, he hopes Alfred will be
happy about it, just the same.

He passes over Oliver slowly enough to hear a snatch
of the conversation he's having with a young man in
a cast and crooked spectacles -- they're discussing
the expansion of the youth center the man had
volunteered at before the quake.

Garth is pointing emphatically at the run-off from
one of the few factories which hadn't needed to be
rebuilt while several men in suits look on. Clark's
willing to bet the emphasis in that sentence is going
to be on the past tense.

He finds Diana with several other Amazons and a
number of construction workers. Correction -- she's
with the Amazons and the foreman. The man's
employees are keeping a certain discreet distance.

A suspicious person -- or perhaps merely a
thoughtful one -- would possibly find something of
note in the fact that the Themyscirans are the only
'team' which hasn't had most of its members
politely shown the path leading out of Gotham.

They are, after all, the 'team' least likely to connect
with Gotham's residents...

Especially since, somehow, the construction firms
chosen to work with them are made up of one
hundred percent male workers.

He hovers several hundred feet above until the
argument over the placement of water pipes has
been settled, but, before he can land, Diana flies
up to join him.

The way she's glaring at the foreman's back is...

"Need a break, Diana?"

"Hmph. If I didn't know better, I'd think Robin had
specifically *chosen* contractors with the worst
possible attitudes toward women." When she turns
to look at Clark, her expression is no lighter. "I'm
*not* sure I know better."

Clark smiles ruefully. "I'm not privy to their councils,
I fear."

"Not all of them."

He shrugs in a way he hopes suggests, firmly, that
it would be better not to ask questions. Bruce could
do that sort of thing with a look.

Diana is still glaring at him.

Clark sighs. "You know our sort of help has never
been precisely welcome here, Diana."

"And *you* were the one who said things were
*different* now."

He turns, deliberately. His vision is far better than
Diana's own, but he'd be vastly surprised if there
was anyone who could miss the green glow of
something which bears a striking resemblance to
the spawn of a tractor, a crane, and a giant wasp.

Not to mention all the small, brightly colored figures
flying around it.

And he raises an eyebrow.

Diana waves a dismissive hand. "Our help is being
*tolerated*, yes, but --"

"How much tolerance do you think we would've
gotten if it *were* still Bruce's city?"

She rears back, blinking rapidly. "Clark, he was
your *friend*. You don't really think he would've
let his city suffer just because of some sort of...
territorial *instinct*, do you?"

As he watches, the wasp-thing winks out of
existence, replaced with a platform with a dozen --
human -- workers on it. "He was your friend, too,

Diana doesn't say anything, and, when he turns back,
she's staring at the site. It will be a hospital soon.
One with state of the art equipment and a rock-solid


"It's more than a little horrifying, isn't it? How correct
you are."

Clark sighs. "I don't like to think about it very often."

"It seems... a very ugly thing that, perhaps, the
people of this city are better off with Bruce dead.
With these *children* as their sole protectors."

"They aren't all children --"

Diana snorts. "Spoken like a man who has never
sparred with the one they call Huntress."

"And they aren't alone."

"No. They aren't." This time, her look is piercing,
but not especially angry. "How is the work on the
Manor progressing?"

"Well enough. Robin seems to be pleased."

Her smile is small, and somewhat difficult to read.
"Robin again. *That* one bears watching."

"You're making a rather broad assumption, I
think --"

Another hand-wave. "I know, of course. Just
because the orders tend to come from him doesn't
mean he's the one making them. I find it difficult
to imagine Jason -- that *boy* who could never
quite lift his eyes above my neck -- to be the sort
of leader who could *create* underlings like that

Jason, the Joker's gun in his hand, the stink of his
life-blood all over the office of a dead woman. A
murdered woman. Jason, steady and clear and
resolved in a way he could never be himself. "He's
changed. Though, for what it's worth, I don't imagine
he had *much* of a hand in shaping Robin's
personality. Certainly, I don't think he would admit
to it."

"Would anyone?"

Clark laughs, a little helplessly. "Robin's made
something of an impression on you, I take it."

"There's something more than a little... unnatural
about that child, Clark, and I'm not speaking about
his detachable parts -- stop. I know you like him. I
*also* know you tend to give the benefit of the
doubt to people who often deserve nothing of the

"Spoken like an ambassador."

She snorts again. "Your protectiveness has been
noted, Clark, and I have no great trouble with any
of this new collection of teenaged vigilantes. This
is... not *entirely* new to me, after all."

"How *is* Cassie working out?"

"She's impetuous, shallow, and boy-addled as only
a young woman raised in this society can be. I
would still rather have her at my side than this...

"Good thing you have the option."

The glare is back, and stays there for a long
moment until Diana abruptly throws her head back
and laughs. "All *right*, Clark. Fine. Jason has,
apparently, grown into the sort of general who
knows exactly how to delegate authority --"

"And co-ordinate a few dozen metahumans into the
largest relief effort the world has ever *seen* --"

"But you *might* suggest to the boy -- the
*Batman* -- that he would do well to remember
that there are *some* people it isn't precisely
practical to shunt off to his ever-so-charming

And Diana has a point, but... "Do you really think
it's wise to make Batman -- *Jason* -- think he
has something to prove to us?"

"Do you really think it's wise *not* to?"

"Diana, I'm asking you --"

"To *trust* you. And I do, Clark. With Bruce gone,
I trust you more than anyone other than my own
mother and queen. But I have no *reason* to
trust Jason. *Especially* since the people he's
chosen to represent him are --"

"Difficult, taciturn when not actively offensive,
disturbing, and unflinchingly, *unfailingly*

He watches her stare into the distance and waits.

Below, the Themyscirans and construction workers
are working busily... and separately, a
no-man's-land of mutual distrust and irritation
between them. He has no doubt that when a
greater degree of cooperation is required it will

And he has no doubt that the workers will be as
glad to see the Amazons' backs when all is finished
as the Amazons will be to see the city's limits.

Change, and the lack of it.

"I never agreed with Bruce that Gotham was better
off without a metahuman presence," she says,

Clark thinks of Arkham, and is silent.

"It speaks well of his... successors that they do not
take as hard a line."

He nods.

"I will *not* agree to Jason's presence in the
League without a chance to know the boy he has,
by your reports, become."

Clark blinks. "I haven't --"

"By *Hera*, Clark, if you try to tell me you haven't
been leading up to this, I will toss you into the

"I was *going* to say that I haven't yet discussed
the matter with Jason."

"Hm. All the better that we're discussing it *now*,

Clark sighs. "I had, actually, already planned to tell
him you wished to speak with him. I'm not
insensible to your concerns, Diana."

She looks at him again, and brushes a lock of his
hair behind his ear. He really ought to get it cut. "I
know you aren't, Clark. I'm just... concerned is,
perhaps, the best word for it."

"I've always trusted your judgment."

Her smile is rueful, and gentle. "As I've always
trusted yours. But trust is merely a foundation --
necessary to the structure's stability, but..."

"Not, actually, the structure itself. I understand,

She nods, curtly. "So long as you do. And now I
believe it's time for me to return to work, lest
Artemis feel the need to geld any of our human

"The world owes a debt of gratitude to your
ambassadorial skills, Diana."

"Hmph. Certainly the world of men's genitals."


Finding Jason is less a matter of concentration than
of letting concentration lapse. It's been impossible
to not be *aware* of the boy's heartbeat ever
since Bruce had told him what had happened in
Ethiopia. Not that he's ever tried to truly stifle the

There are -- there have always *been* -- people
like that, for him. People like his parents, and
Bruce, and Lois...

Thinking of her brings the sound of her heartbeat,
the rapid, graceful clip of her fingers on the keys
of... yes. She's in the newsroom, now.

Perhaps wondering where he's gotten to, this
time, but almost certainly knowing *exactly*

"Oh, Smallville... I'd tell you that you need to
figure out where your priorities are, but you really
already have."

He's never been much good at keeping secrets,
not with the people he cares about. He likes to
believe that it has more to do with the fact that
he can't seem to stay *away* from the
questioners, the geniuses, the *detectives* of
the world than with his own failings, but...


Jason is in the Clocktower and, surprisingly,
entirely alone.

The fact that there aren't too many people in the
world who could, if they wished, monitor *his*
heartbeat has the same old, familiar, hypocritical
tinge of relief as it's always had.

He lands on the roof and --

"Superman! Come on in."

The access door opens for him, and Clark obeys
orders, slipping down the steps into the tower
proper. Jason grins at him from the desk --
Robin's desk -- and gestures at the somewhat
battered couch.

It had been brand new a few months ago, but a
few months ago this building hadn't served as
the hub and meeting place for any number of
visiting metahumans. Clark makes himself
comfortable and wonders if Tim would let him
rebuild the thing. Probably not, but...

He shakes it off. "Motion detectors, Jason? I'd
think that would be somewhat... inefficient.

Jason laughs, softly, and spins the chair around.
"Motion detectors, cameras, *and* several nasty
little security measures. Effective this morning,
Relief HQ has been moved downtown. There's a
memo about in your e-mail. There certainly was
one in *mine*."

Robin's Tower. "Ah. I take it Tim is ready to
reclaim his home?"

The smile fades quickly from Jason's expression,
leaving an expression which says more about the
amount of rest the boy hasn't gotten over the past
several months than it does about anything else.

"Is... something wrong?"

This laugh is entirely humorless. "God, Clark, you
have no idea. Or... hell. Maybe you do. You saw
the Boy Cyborg today. How is he?"

"Tim spoke to you...?"

Jason smiles wryly and reaches back to pat the
monitor. "Tim, among other things, made it possible
for all of us to know *exactly* where we all are at
any given time."

"Useful, I imagine."

"*Everything* he does is useful. So, sometime later
today, whenever he decides to give up on waiting
for me to get out of his damned tower and finally
comes *back*, he's going to talk to me about the
Cave. The *first* Cave. And I'll say fine, and I'll ask
him why he didn't just bring it up *before*, and
he'll apologize, and then take off his hand or pop
out his fucking *eye* or shove a wire in the back
of his neck and upload something that will turn out
to be very fucking *useful*, and --" Jason breathes
out, raggedly, and covers his eyes with his hands.

The pain in him... it's an effort not to go to him.

"And he'll wait, very fucking *patiently*, for me
to get the hell out."

"I... I hadn't realized the two of you were having

"The two of us?" Another humorless laugh, and
this one cracks in the middle. "Are you *kidding*
me? I'm the only one he *talks* to now."

Clark frowns. "He... doesn't give the impression
of someone who... er..."

"Is precisely as fucked-up as he is? Of *course*
not. He gets upset and, after he's finished taking
care of whatever I've asked him to do, he crawls
into a little hole somewhere, or maybe just
convinces Victor -- *fucking* Victor -- to cut more
parts of him off in the interest of *efficiency*."

"I --"

"And then he maybe, *maybe* hints that he's hurting
about something, and I try... I try to..." Another
shuddery breath and then Jason pushes the heels of
his hands *hard* against his eyes.

Hard enough that it takes a great *deal* of effort
not to go over and tug them away, but... Jason
finally does it himself.

Finally. "I'm... I'm getting a little desperate here,

"You..." Clark swallows. "You love him very much."

"Can you love someone you don't know? I mean..."
Jason clenches his hands at his sides and looks at
Clark with open, honest *pleading*, and Clark... he

He gets off the couch and crouches beside Jason,
covering one of Jason's hands with his own for just
long enough to ease it out of its fist. And then... he
can't actually let go.

But Jason allows it. "How does that even *work*,
Clark? I just... when he showed up, when he *told*
me how much I needed a Robin... God, he was so
right. He *is* so right. But he's *nothing* like Dick,
and he sure as *hell* isn't anything like *me*, and

"I... I know he cares about you," he tries.

"Funny how I used to think that kind of thing would
always make a difference. I just... *Christ*. How is
it even *possible* that I had a better relationship
with *Bruce* than I have with Tim?"

It's... almost terrifyingly funny, actually. He thinks
about Joker, and he thinks about Diana's concerns,
and he thinks about a Gotham which needs Jason's
family in a way they'll never, truly, understand,
and... it's still terrifyingly amusing.

"Oh God, you're going to hurt yourself if you don't
let that laugh out, Clark."

"I --"

Jason grins the same easy, crooked smile he used
to save for Bruce and squeezes Clark's hand. "I don't
have any computers in my brain, but I still know a
guy trying to swallow back *wildly* inappropriate
snickers when I see one.


Clark smiles ruefully. "I think the urge has passed."

"Good to know." Jason slides his hand out of Clark's
and punches him lightly on the shoulder. "So, you
know, now that I've dumped my fucking drama on
your head --"

"You *know* I don't mind."

Jason's smile fades again, and the look he gives
Clark is... narrow. Curious. That last had perhaps
come out a bit too fervently.

And he knows his smile is weak, at best. "You have
to know how grateful I am that you *do* feel you
can talk to me. That we're friends."

Jason's expression is tired, but warm. "Hey,
tradition is *important*," he says, and drums his
fingers over the bat on his chest in a rapid, casual
tattoo which makes Clark...

He's more than a little desperate himself, and it
isn't --

"So. Tell me what you have for me, Clark. *Did*
Tim say anything I should know about? And what
about our relief workers?"

It isn't the time. He sighs to himself and stands,
moving just a few steps away. "I have to admit,
what you've said about Tim puts certain aspects
of our conversation this morning into... perspective."

Jason leans back in the chair and taps the bat a lot
less casually than before. "Would 'uh oh' just be too
fucking redundant for words?"

The smile on his face feels tight and wrong, and Clark
turns toward the now-unnecessary generators until
he can make it go away. He isn't surprised to see
that the generators are entirely free of dust and safely
away from any part of the room which might get
potentially dangerous traffic.


Tim is... a cautious boy. "It's hard to say. But... I got
the impression that he feels... left behind, by the rest
of you. Perhaps a little disconnected."

Jason laughs so hard he actually *chokes*, but he
gets control of himself before Clark needs to help.

Before he can give himself the excuse.

"Disconnected? Left *behind*? By *us*? I... are you
*shitting* me?"

"I could be wrong. You know him best --"

"No, no, I just --" Jason growls, low in his throat,
and slams the back of his head against the leather
head-rest on the chair once, twice.


Jason holds up a hand. "One, I found out, last
*week*, that he'd filed to divorce himself from his
parents. I found out when the ruling came down
*granting* it."

"But... how old...?"

"He's fourteen, and, among other things, has been
running a lucrative online consulting firm for the
past *several* months. From his *head*."

"I. Oh dear --"

"And that isn't the point. Two. This is his legal
address. This isn't, actually, where he *lives*, though
for what it's worth? I think he'd *planned* to before
we turned it into HQ. I have some *suspicions*
about where he might be planning to move once
all of you are out of Gotham again, but I don't expect
him to actually *share* that information until I
absolutely need to know, or find it my *damned*

Clark winces.

"Three. I fucked up -- *bad* -- when he came home
with the first of his little enhancements. I... I blamed
myself. The surgery, and Steph's... Steph. And...
fuck, we haven't even *talked* about what you did
with the fucking *Joker* --"

Clark winces harder. "I --"

"Oh, don't fucking worry, we'll *get* there. That's
not three. *Three* is the fact that I pulled a fucking
Bruce and shoved my head up my ass about how I
wasn't good enough --"

"Jason --"

"Let. Me. Finish."

Clark breathes. Jason's command voice is nothing
like Bruce's. It's rougher, marked by the scars in
his throat, and... Clark nods. "All right."

Jason nods, curtly. "I blamed myself *and* I took
it out on him. There is *nothing* I can do to make
him forget... what I said. What I *did*. And I've
tried." Jason glances, briefly, toward the closed

It's an open secret within the community that it
leads to Robin's bedroom, and only slightly less of
an open secret that Batman spends... a lot of time,

"Four..." Jason springs out of the chair and begins to
pace, boots thudding hollowly on the hardwood floors
and cowl swinging heavily against the back of his
cape. "*Four*," he says, more strongly, "It took me
*way* too fucking long to figure this out, but I was
*always* the only one of us he ever connected to. I
thought... God only knows Steph *tried*, and he
*does* spend time with Cassandra --"

"The Spoiler?"

Jason nods absently. "Color me less than fucking
shocked that you haven't actually met *her* yet.
She's amazing, and she's -- *possibly* -- an even
bigger freak than Tim." He scrubs his hand back
through his hair. "Which brings us to five," he says,
but doesn't say anything else for a long moment.

Clark focuses on not going to him, waits, and, after
a long moment Jason looks him in the eye.

"He's a danger. To himself, if not to others."

"You... you believe he's suicidal?"

"One day, he's going to come up with a brilliant,
wonderful reason to chop off his arm, and his
other hand, and... Christ, maybe even his legs.
One day *soon* if Victor -- *fucking* Victor --
actually manages to perfect that new lighter,
stronger alloy Roy told me he was working on..."

Clark frowns. "But... you said he was only
making... *useful* adjustments." And the smile
on Jason's face reminds Clark of something Bruce
had said, once. How the boy was older than any
of them, really. Bruce had always seen so
clearly --

"Oh, they'll be *useful*, all right. So useful I
wouldn't be able to *keep* myself from taking
advantage of them if I tried."

"I don't --"

Jason, abruptly, jumps up on the couch and punches
at a ceiling tile. An incomprehensible tangle of
half-stripped wires and mismatched leads falls into
his free hand, and he tosses it to Clark. "That
*wasn't* the original hiding place. But, for now,
he's pretending I haven't taken it from him."


"I had Roy hook me up with some people at
S.T.A.R. They offered me a great *deal* of money
for the prototype -- that *thing* -- and for
information about the scientist who created it. If I
had any hope whatsoever that Tim would *stop*
this shit, I would've given it to them for *free*."

Clark frowns at the tangle. There *is* something
familiar about the leads, but... "I still don't know
what this is a prototype *of*, Jason."

Jason snorts and makes a come-on gesture with
his hand until Clark tosses it back. "I forget, you
know. You actually *haven't* spent the past year
trying to figure out what the fuck Robin's *deal*
is." He twists several of the wires around, bending
and shaping them until the leads are all pointing
inward, and...


"These little doohickeys? *Would* be the world's
best way to take an EEG, and I'm sure Tim's
working on a way to make them even better. But,
you know, that's *not* what they're for." Jason
glares at the thing in his hands and crushes it into
worse of a tangle than it was in originally.

"Jason, you don't --"

"*One* day, Clark, I'm going to come home from
patrol and find that Robin -- *my* Robin -- is
nothing but a fucking brain in a *jar*, connected
to the best computer equipment he can find.
Which will, of course, only last until he figures out how
to upload the entirety of his consciousness."

"Oh... oh Lord."

"*Exactly*," Jason says, and jumps back up on the
couch to tuck the... the *thing* away again.

"Jason, I... what are you going to do?"

"Well, Clark, I have no fucking idea. This is where
you come in. Because, you know, for all of that, for
*all* of points one through fucking *five*, I still
have no doubt in my mind that Tim *does* feel
disconnected. And left behind.

"It just doesn't stop him from making it *worse*,
because... well, fuck, if I knew *that*, maybe my
Robin wouldn't set off metal detectors when he's
bare-ass *naked*."

Clark closes the distance between them until he
has to look up to meet Jason's eyes. He's still on
the couch. "I'll do anything I can, of course,

"But you're just as clueless as I am. I know." Jason
jumps down and flops back on the couch, cape
tangling and bunching beneath his legs, but he
somehow manages to avoid it choking him.

It's... difficult to focus for a lot of reasons, not
least of which because he's suddenly helpless to
the image -- the *fact* -- that Jason had clearly
done just this sort of blithely casual sprawl while
in the Batsuit *enough* times that it's --

"... but you *know* people who *aren't* clueless."


Jason grins, and it's both lazy and sharp. "Come
on, Clark. What did *Bruce* do when he wound
up with a Robin too fucked up to *know* he was
fucked up?"

Clark blinks. "You think... you want to send Tim to

"In a *crate*, if I have to. Aunt Martha's cookies
and milking the cows with Uncle Jon. Sunshine
and a complete lack of the sort of machinery which
turns the kid on more than *I* do. Fields of
fucking wheat that go on so far... fuck, I don't
know." Jason's still grinning, but it seems to be at
something within his own mind. "I don't, actually,
think it'll fix everything. Or maybe fix *anything*.

"I just know that I used to be the best possible
chance that kid had, but I didn't figure it out until I
was the worst."

"I -- please don't blame --"

"Myself. I get it. I *get* it." Jason waves a hand.
"Steph told me if I don't quit it she'll sneak in while
I'm sleeping and give me a damned mullet."

"A --"

"Steph *likes* mullets."

Clark frowns. "I presume we aren't talking about
the fish...?"

Jason laughs and crosses his legs, resting the ankle
of his left boot on his right knee. The armor creaks,
faintly, and he starts tapping his fingers on the
leather of the boot. "Did I say I was done dumping
my shit on you? I lied. I'm begging you here, Clark."

"I..." Clark swallows. "You never have to beg.

Jason cocks his head and narrows his eyes at him
again, and Clark has never understood why humans
feel so very strongly about his X-ray vision,
considering their own capacity for...


And then Jason shakes his head, mussing his thick
curls, and blows out a breath. "Can I count on you
for this?"

"I -- of course. I just... I'm sure my parents won't
mind. They've been hoping to meet your family, you

Jason smiles, brilliant and broad. "They really are
the best. Man. I just... sometimes I think the only
*good* reason for me being alive this long is that
I got to get old enough to *realize* that..."

You're only *sixteen*. You're wonderful, you're
beautiful --

"Man. I think -- I *hope* -- that Tim just needs the
kind of big, fat reality check I did."

I will give you anything. "Do you... I always
thought..." Clark clears his throat and *focuses*.
"You always gave the impression that you needed
something more than what I -- what my family
could give."

"Did I...?" Jason's eyes are faraway. "I missed
Bruce like crazy. I wanted to beat *him* with a
damned crowbar. I was never happier than when
he finally -- *finally* -- came to take me home. I
*thought* I needed that, but..." When Jason looks
at him again, he's purely, truly Batman.

Ageless and utterly impossible to deny.

"What I *needed*, more than anything else, was
what I *got* -- proof that there's a world outside
of Gotham. That there was a world outside of
*Bruce*. And when I think about what sort of
person I'd be if I *hadn't* gotten that, what sort
of *Batman* I would be..." Jason shakes his head.
"Thank you, Clark."

He isn't sure he can feel his knees. "You're

Jason smiles, wry again. "That's it? 'You're

"I --"

"I'm *kidding*, Clark. And anyway..." He taps
the communicator. "No, you *haven't* actually
gotten *all* of the tracers I planted on you, Robin,
so you might as well stop lurking and come yell
at us for planning your life."

"Is there a point?" Tim's voice is low and blank
and isn't, Clark knows, being at all affected by
the vagaries of communicator technology.

Jason sighs, and, when he concentrates, Clark
can hear Tim's heartbeat stutter, just a little.

He's on the roof.

"You tell me, man. Had any epiphanies about
how it's actually a *bad* idea to chop your ass
up for the sake of the Mission?"

"Would you believe me if I said I had?"

Clark winces. "I should go --"

"It's not as though you wouldn't be able to hear
us from around the world, Clark," Tim says.

"And it's not as if *I'm* done with you, either."
Jason scowls. "Fucking stop working on your
creepy mojo and get *in* here, Tim."

"I think not, Batman. I have some... arrangements
to make before you shove me in that crate."

Clark watches Jason's face go hard and blank and
it's only cowardice, at this point, which is keeping
him from reaching out. He doesn't want to
chance... he doesn't want to be rejected.

"You already know I've spoken to Victor. I'll *do*
it, Tim. No matter what."

"You already know it's my *body*. And none of us --
in the family or out -- can afford the secrets going
any further than they have."

"Nevertheless..." Surprisingly, Jason laughs. "Mexican
standoff. We're the worst Batman and Robin in the
history of fucking *ever*, dude."

Tim's heartbeat stutters, again, and he says, "So it
would seem. I... the arrangements have nothing to
do with surgery."

"Uh, huh. So why don't I just trust you, for the sake
of novelty?"

"I. I don't want you to be disappointed, Jason. When
the Kents can't... fix me."

Clark watches Jason close his eyes. "It's enough to
know that you'll be safe. For a little while."

Tim breathes, softly. "Does this mean there's a

Another laugh. "One I just kind of *forgot* to upload
where you could get to it, you mean?"

"The thought had occurred to me."

Jason pinches the bridge of his nose, closing his
eyes... and opening them again *immediately* when
Clark shifts.

Of course. He isn't *done* with Clark. He wonders
if there's any way to get video footage of whatever
happens when Diana *does* meet the new Jason.

"There's no timeline," he says to Tim, and never
stops staring at *him*. "I just don't actually know
how long I'm going to be able to *spare* you."

"The systems --"

"Are designed for a brain. In a *jar* --"

"Honestly, Jason, this isn't a horror movie --"

" -- as opposed to for *Robin*, which is who you
*are*. I'm going to need you. But I'm going to put
it off as long as possible."

Tim exhales, sharply. "Noted. Is there anything

"I -- Tim." Jason bites his lip. "Not at the moment,

"Then I'll be waiting for when you need me again.
Robin out."

Jason taps the communicator and bangs his head
against the back of the couch. It's still cushioned
enough for that, Clark supposes.

Above, he can hear the *chuff* of Tim shooting
his grapple, and the faint creaks and rushes of air
of a Robin in flight.

Clark swallows. "He's gone."

"I figured," Jason says, and a lot of the fire is out
of his voice. "I... man. I feel like I almost... like
maybe *this* time... and I fucked it up. *Again*."

"Jason --"

"No, Clark, it's all right." Jason rests his hand over
his eyes and breathes, steady and slow. "I've
gotten used to feeling that way."

Clark nods, more for himself than for anyone else.
"You... you knew he'd... eavesdrop."


"And... you said all of that, anyway..."

"You're confused."

Clark laughs, helplessly. "A little, yes."

Jason smiles, but he doesn't move his hand. "Look at
it this way -- now I don't have to try to say all of
that to his face. I've done a *profoundly* bad job
of that, over the months."

"Hence the threat to... expose Victor?"

"And every last one of us along with him. And the
Titans, and... yeah." Jason slides his hand down
over his face and looks up. "And probably the
League, too, given a really *focused* journalist or
two." Jason raises an eyebrow. "I think you might
know a couple of those."

"Would you... would you have really...?"

"At a certain point, I had to stop playing the What
Would Bruce Do? game. Because I'm *not*
Bruce --"

"I know that. But Jason --"

"-- and now I know exactly what would happen if
I kept trying to play it *his* way. The Mission, the
*secrets*... and a Robin I could use for a

Clark closes his eyes, for a moment. "We all
make... difficult choices."

"So we do. Tim found me going through his files
one night, Clark -- he probably has alarms set to
go off in his head when someone touches his
damned mouse -- but not before I got to the
ones on Joker."

"I never... tried to hide it. From you."

"No. You just didn't actually fucking *tell* me
about it, which, in retrospect, makes it way less of
a surprise how well you get along with Tim."

"He's... a fascinating young man."

Jason snorts without humor and shakes his head, never
taking his eyes off Clark. "I want to say I finally get it,
you know? Bruce and his fucking Kryptonite."

"I've located it. It's --"

"Shut up. Just for a minute."

It isn't, actually, his command voice. It doesn't make
a difference.

"I *want* to say that, but that's only because I was
so fucking *pissed*, and scared, and *guilty*. And I
wanted -- I *still* want -- to take it out on you."

Clark closes his eyes again. "I deserve it."

"You're my *friend*, Clark."

"That -- shouldn't make a difference."

The laugh is breathless and brief. "Was that advice?
Actual, honest-to-God, 'I *do* know better than
you, Jason' advice?"

Clark frowns. "I don't --"

"It doesn't matter. Because no, it *doesn't* make a
difference, but, like I said. Tim found me. He didn't
keep the secret for your sake, apparently, but he
sure as hell *defended* you."

"He shouldn't have --"

"And there it is *again*. Man, you're on a roll
today, aren't you?"

Clark sighs and crosses his arms over his chest.
"Perhaps a roller *coaster*..."

Jason's grin is viciously sharp and entirely honest.
It's another one Clark had only seen him give
Bruce. "He pointed out how dangerous Joker had
been. To *all* of them, and their families. He asked
me what I would've said to Steph after she went
home one day to find her mother strewn all over
the living room."

"That's --"

"Awful. And exactly what happened to Detective
Bard when he went to pick up Babs for their date
that night. Because that... that *monster* --" Jason
sucks a breath in through his teeth. "I don't think
you ever met Bard. He was still in the looney bin
when the quake hit. His body hasn't been

And Clark can come up with nothing resembling
an adequate response.

"Joker beat me nearly to death and blew me up. He
had his henchmen shoot Jim Gordon in the head
and carve Babs up so bad she bled out in front of
her fucking television set. He pushed Two-Face's
buttons *just* hard enough that he wound up
blowing Bruce and Dick sky fucking high. Two-Face
makes a much better bomb."

Barbara is the only one who'd had an open casket.
Their... their bodies. All of them. The funerals. He
has to breathe. "I... didn't know any of that."

"Neither did I. For a while. But, you know, I told
myself that wasn't the point. I put the gun down
and called you in to be my conscience, because I
needed one, right there and then. I thought I did,
anyway. Because *Bruce* wouldn't ever have
crossed that line."

"I. I failed."

"*Funny* how that sounds like you're trying to
convince yourself of something, doesn't it, Clark?"

"I *failed*, Jason!"

Jason doesn't so much as blink at his shout. Just...
watches, and stands, and closes the distance between
them. "I was going through the motions. You, Clark?
You were living in the world we're stuck with now
that the good men and women are dead and rotting
in the ground."

Clark shakes his head, hard. "Jason, what I did --"

"Was wrong, and fucking *terrifying*. And
necessary." Jason rests his hand on his shoulder.
"And I will do *everything* in my power to make
sure you never have to do anything like it again."

He can feel his face twisting, and he can't do
anything to stop it. "That -- that isn't --"

"My responsibility?" Jason's smile has a gentleness
to it which...

He's only ever seen it directed at him. *For* him.

"You were the first one who ever called me
'Batman,' Clark. The first one who *mattered*. I
don't think I have to finish that thought. Do I?"

Jason's hand is dry and strong, and Clark doesn't
realize he's grasping it until he's already squeezing.
"I... no. Jason..."

"So go ahead and forgive yourself, man," he says,
and squeezes back. "I hear it's easier when you
have company."

For a moment, Clark thinks he can stand it. This
need, and this *feeling*, crowding and swelling
within him like something as endless and terrible
as a mask. But he can't, and he takes Jason within
his arms, unable to do more than loosen his grip
slightly when Jason grunts and laughs against his

And when Jason hugs him back...

All he can do is shake.

"I'm here for you, Clark."

"Jason --" I *love* you --

"Always. Just like you are for me."

Always. Yes.


All things considered, he can't say he's surprised to
hear his communicator chirp before he's even made
a decent start of re-acclimating himself to

It was easier before the... before Superboy was
there, leaving his too-familiar/not-familiar-enough
scent around the house and singing songs Clark
had never heard of in the shower.

It's a *good* thing that the boy is adjusting to life
with Clark's parents. It's *not* viscerally horrifying.
He's *fine* --

He puts in the communicator. "Superman here."

"It's Robin. I'm... ready."

One *hour* after Clark had told his parents. Lord. But
no, he's *not* surprised.

"Clark? Is there a problem?"

He bites back the urge to point out that Tim
doesn't, actually, have to sound quite so hopeful
about that. "None at all, Tim. I'll be there soon."

"Hm. Robin out."

He finds his mother eyeing the guest room critically.

It *isn't* maddening that Superboy is sleeping in
*his* old room. He's --

"Clark, honey, you look like a wasp flew right into
your ear and started buzzing around your *brain*.
What's wrong?"

He smiles ruefully. "It's nothing, Ma. It just seems
as though Robin is a really... *efficient* packer."

"You're going to get him *already*? And you think
that's *nothing*?"

"I --" He winces. "Ma, you have no idea how much
I appreciate --"

"Oh, *hush*, I was talking about the *room*." She
plants her hands on her hips and blows out a
breath. "It hasn't been aired out since the end of
the *summer*, and Lord only *knows* what your
father did with the extra blankets, and --"

Relief and amusement. He's *home*. For now,
anyway. "You know, Ma, Robin's been living in
*Gotham* all through the business with the quake,
and --"

"As if *that's* any excuse! Well, I'll manage. I'll
get Kon to help. Have you even gotten the
chance to *tell* him he's getting some company
his own age?"

He's nine months *old*. How come you have an
easier time calling him Kon than *I* do? "I --"

"Oh, for Heaven's *sake*, Clark. Shoo. Maybe
that wasp will stop buzzing when you're at your
cruising altitude."

"I -- yes, Ma."

He'd brought Superboy -- *Kon-El* -- home
because it was the right thing to do. He couldn't

An infant in the body of a teenager. The fact that
it was an inexact copy of his *own* is both
irrelevant and *entirely* relevant. He'd watched,
helpless, while Bruce's family was annihilated, and
watched *fascinated* as Jason rebuilt it with the
same skill and determination as he'd rebuilt his own

He'd learned a lot about family over the years from
Bruce, and from Dick and Alfred, as well...

And it was clearly time for him to put that learning
to work.

And while he'd made a *start* of it by bringing
Superboy to his home, by giving him the name
which was his by birthright -- despite the disturbing
circumstances *of* that birth...

He hasn't done nearly enough *since* then.

Well. At the very least, imposing a boy like Robin
("There's something more than a little... unnatural
about that child.") on his parents' flawless hospitality
will make it *necessary* for him to visit more often
than he has been.

He forces himself to fly a little faster, homing in on
the blend of a steady heartbeat and the whirr of

He finds Tim on the roof of a nondescript apartment
building. Perhaps one of the places Jason had his
suspicions about. Certainly, none of the metahumans
still in Gotham are within any sort of range, and the
sound of their heartbeats places every member of
Jason's family very far away indeed. Tim has a
backpack, a small duffel, and a tool kit. And he's in
civilian clothes.

Clark hadn't even *considered*...

He'd never even *seen* the boy in civilian clothes.

Tim raises an eyebrow --the left one, and Clark is
willing to bet he almost never raises the right
anymore. It would draw attention to that beautiful
and entirely artificial eye. And... civilian clothes.

"Er... you don't have your uniform."

"I assumed I wasn't being sent to Smallville to root
out cattle rustlers."

"We don't have..." Clark sighs. "Do you think Jason
is punishing you?"

"It really doesn't matter, Clark. Though I should
assume your parents and Superboy will know I'm
Robin as soon as I walk in the door?"

He raises his own eyebrow. "Yes, though we could
always give you a false name. Should *I* assume
that you've decided I'm no longer worth your

The boy's heart stutters -- and steadies. He spreads
his hands. "My life is in your hands, Clark. How
much courtesy do you require?"

"I should've said *friendship* --"

"Is this really the time for... this?"

Clark sets his hands on Tim's shoulders, feeling the
shift of muscle and bone when the boy lowers his
hands again, and wondering how often *Jason*
had wondered when it would be replaced with
metal. He shakes it off as best he can and says,
"Approximately fourteen hours ago, we spoke.
*Truly* spoke. I thought... I thought you were
starting to trust me. I'm still the same man -- or
not-a-man, as the case may be -- as I was then. I
still want to be your friend."

Tim narrows his eyes, and his mouth tightens
into something which looks enough like pain that
Clark scans him reflexively --

And Tim twists away and takes a step back.
"What --"

"I haven't added anything new since this *morning*,

Dammit. "That wasn't what I was looking for."

Slowly, the pinched look fades from Tim's expression.
"It was easier to speak to you before I overheard
your... discussion with Jason. I'm almost sure no one
appreciates the airing of their dirty laundry in mixed

"Look not through keyholes..."

Tim's expression is sharply cynical. "If I called you
a hypocritical sonofabitch while I was under my
bed and you were somewhere in *Australia*, you'd
hear it, Clark."

Clark smiles ruefully. "But that doesn't mean I'd

And Tim doesn't actually *stop* looking at him
with narrowed eyes, but there's a different sort of
edge to it.

A *considering* one, really, and...

And that's probably as good as it's going to get.

"Have you said your goodbyes?"

"I sent an e-mail. Shall we?"

"I... let's."


He's about three minutes out of Smallville -- if Tim
were in his uniform, it would be safer to fly faster,
but he *isn't* -- when Diana's voice resolves around
the background hum of the planet beneath him.


Tim is a silent, still weight in his arms. He's grown
accustomed to compensating within his calculations
for relative differences in strength, but Tim honestly
doesn't feel much heavier than his luggage.

"I'm going to assume you're otherwise occupied by
the fact that your voice isn't in *my* ear. In any
event, there's no emergency. I simply want to
continue our earlier discussion. Diana out."

The fact that the prospect is a relief... well.

He squeezes Tim gently.


"We're almost there."

"So the aerial maps I uploaded earlier suggest."

"I... of course. Have you decided which name you'll
be using?"

"My own. After all, I'm supposed to learn something
about normal human relationships. Right?"

Clark snorts. "I believe Jason would settle for a
normal human reaction from you with regards to
major surgery."



And they're barely over the fields before Superboy --
*Kon-El* -- is bursting out the front door, smiling
and flying toward them.

"Interesting," Tim says.

Clark can't decide whether he wants to warn Kon or

Or whether he wants to watch them hurt each
other's minds.

Or whether he simply wants to retreat.

There's no real time for any of the above, though,
because --

"Hey! God, I can't believe you're *Robin*!"

Tim starts to step backwards, and pauses. Probably
because Clark is still standing behind him.

"Kon, this is --"

"Dude, I know, it's *Robin*! Man, I've *read*
about you. And I don't actually *read*!"

"I --"

He can hear the soft whirr of Tim's artificial eye
tracking and scanning their surroundings. Clark
probably isn't the only one considering retreat.

"*Jeez*, man. What did you do to get sent to
Smallville? Wait, never mind, what's that sound?"

'Interesting' is probably the right word. Clark
hadn't realized Kon's hearing had --

"Like... machines? Somewhere?"

Tim's tension is as palpable as Kon's obliviousness.
"Er, Kon --"

Tim holds up a hand to stop him. He offers his left
to Kon, who... beams. There's really no other word
for it. And then Kon takes his hand.

"It's great to meet you. Man, this town *blows* --
uh. No offense, Clark."

"None --"

"Holy *fuck*! The machinery is *you*?"

"-- taken."

"Some of me," Tim says, and Clark has no idea how
to read his tone.

"You're a *cyborg*? Robin's a *cyborg*? Man, that

The whirr of machinery is, briefly, a lot louder.

"Uh... ow. It's also kind of painful."

Tim yanks his hand away and *does* step back this
time, heedless enough that Clark is forced to move
out of his way. "Sorry, I --"

"Hey, no problem. It happens." Kon shrugs, and
grins again. "So can I call you Rob?"

"I --"

"I mean, I dunno, the whole *name* thing. I figure
you've got a secret identity and everything -- the
newspapers always say stuff like "and a rare
glimpse of blah blah blah" when they get a picture
of the heroes who have secret identities."

Tim looks, frankly, shell-shocked.

"But then, even *before* Clark yanked me back
here, it was starting to get weird to just be
'Superboy' all the time, you know? Even 'Kid' was

Clark clears his throat.

Kon sighs and rolls his eyes. "Okay, okay, you
*didn't* yank me back here. You asked me very
politely and just completely failed to stop being
*Superman* at me."

"Did you... have to leave, Clark?" Underneath the
very real shockiness in Tim's voice is a thin thread
of amusement. Of...

"Great. Yet *another* job-for-Superman-not-
Superboy. The last person I saved was a *kitten*.
In a *tree*."

Clark... supposes he can understand. "I'm afraid so.
Wonder Woman mentioned... needing to see me."

The corner of Tim's mouth twitches. "I wonder if
she received my e-mail about how she'll be taking
her instructions from Huntress now."

"Huntress? And you're giving orders to *Wonder*
Woman? Clark, what the *hell*? He's shorter than
*I* am! No offense, dude."

Another twitch. "None taken."

"So, yeah, whatever." Kon grabs Tim's arm and
starts to pull.

Tim looks at Kon's hand.

"C'mon, Aunt Martha is totally fixing another dinner
just for *you*, which I'm thinking is gonna mean
another *dessert*. And *you* totally need to tell
me about Gotham, and your plans for getting us
the hell out of *here* -- just kidding, Clark. Really."

Tim continues staring at Kon's hand.

"Come *on*. You have no *idea* what that woman
can do with a pile of apples and an oven."

"Make pie?"

Clark watches Kon pull Tim toward the house. His
sneakers leave drag-marks in the dirt, but...

He seems more bemused than anything else.

"I'll be back to visit when I can, Tim. Did you have
anything you wanted me to tell Batman or the

The bemusement shifts to blankness, just that fast.

"You can tell Bruce I fucking died of fresh air,

And really... "All right. Make sure you give Tim the
grand tour, Kon!"

"Yeah, yeah, okay. Your name is Tim? Can I call
you Timmy?"

The look Tim gives him is frankly murderous.

He probably shouldn't be smiling quite this broadly.


Back in Gotham, he hears Jason's heartbeat, and
Stephanie's as she moves away from Jason at a
steady pace. Jason is alone again, and...

And Diana is waiting for him.

He zeroes in on *her* heartbeat and finds her
waiting for him on the scaffolding for what will
be, soon, a beautiful and very, very sturdy
apartment building. Another of Bruce's designs.

Diana watches him study the skeleton of the
building and smiles. "What would the world be,
do you think, if someone had tried *harder* to
steer Bruce away from his mission?"

"I can't imagine it."

Diana rests her head against one of the girders.
"Perhaps because neither of us would be alive,

"Perhaps." The shelter across the street hums
and shines with the life and light of all the families
who'll be moving in to this building as soon as it's
finished. There are toys scattered in the
playground Kyle had built for them, and the smell
of a dozen different dinners.

"We've done good here," Diana says. "So much
of it. So much of it untempered by the usual
dramas and tragedies."

"You're in a better mood than you were this

"I accidentally dropped the foreman off one of the
seventeenth story girders. I caught him, of course,
but the shock seems to have had a beneficial effect
on his personality."

"Bruce always did favor that technique."

Diana smiles. "So he did."

"I haven't, actually, gotten a chance to speak with
Jason about everything we discussed earlier."

"No?" She raises an eyebrow at the city in general
in a way that suggests she knows, one way or
another, just how *much* time he'd spent with
Jason today.

The benefits of a close-knit -- for the most part --
community. Clark grins ruefully. "We got stuck on
the Robin situation."

"'Situation?' Don't tell me you've come closer to
my point of view about the boy."

Clark sighs. "There's nothing unnatural about him,
Diana. He's just another brilliant and troubled
young man... and another young man with
access to some rather unorthodox coping
mechanisms. Jason asked me to bring him home."

She pauses, and Clark knows she heard everything
he didn't -- quite -- say. "Did you? Bring him

"When I left Smallville, Superboy was dragging him
bodily into the house."

"Are his parents... I've heard you mention them,

Clark sighs. "I haven't spoken to them since I flew
them away from that so-called vodoun priest. I've
been assured that I haven't missed much."

She frowns. "By the boy?"

"By Jason."

Diana crosses her arms over her chest and flies a
few inches up and out.

Clark waits. Jason is... moving.

"A part of me is demanding I feel guilt for never
even considering that the boy might have some...
difficulty in his civilian life which would explain --
if not excuse -- his personality."

"And the rest of you?"

"Continues to wonder about Jason's judgment in
bringing a boy like that into... this."

"Diana --"

"What happens when you're not around to catch
him when he falls, Clark?"

"I hope I'll be dead." He smiles. "Again."

"The gods pay attention to prayers like that one,
Clark. You shouldn't joke."

Clark sighs. "Diana, there is nothing I can tell you
to ease your concerns."

The wind gusts enough to blow her hair over her
face, and she tosses it back absently. "Probably

"I can only remind you that the boy you met --
*once* -- is not the man in the cape and cowl."
Jason is moving *closer*.

"Perhaps I'll get to see that for myself someday."

Jason is... "Perhaps sooner than that."


Clark nods toward the east, and Diana turns and
watches Jason -- Batman -- swing toward them.

"When you said you hadn't gotten the chance to
speak with him about everything, Clark, I
assumed you'd meant my concerns."

"I did."


Jason lands on the girder above them and crouches.
"Private party?"

"Not at all... Batman."

With the cowl, the smile on Jason's face is a mixture
of sinister and knowing. When he pulls it back over
his hair... it still is.

"Why don't you just call me Jason, Wonder Woman?
We've never gotten to spend too much time in
each other's company, but..." He waves a gauntleted
hand and then offers it to her.

"All right. Jason." She flies up enough to look him
in the eye -- not far -- and clasps his forearm.

After a moment, he does the same.

"What can I do for you this evening?"

He cocks his head. "I was hoping you could tell me.
Wonder Woman."

She strokes the lasso on her hip with her thumb.
"I'm afraid I don't understand what you mean,

"Wonder Woman, there aren't too many whispers I
miss, these days. I know you're... discontent with
the current state of affairs. I also know you
haven't been free with the details of that discontent.
I'm here. Talk."

She rears back, narrowing her eyes, and Clark
wonders if it's time for him to clear his throat again.

"You're royalty, and you're Wonder Woman. Without
your help, Gotham would've been in far worse
shape than it is. But a) you're not *on* Themyscira,
Princess, and b) yours wasn't the only strong back
I happily used in the past few months. Respect is a
two-way street, don't you think?"

Diana evens her expression with something which
appears to be less an act of will than just a
particularly judicious exhale. "Some would question
how much you've ever known about the nature of
that particular street."

"Some would, hopefully, consider doing that to my
face. Especially after having been invited to my

She cocks her own head. "And would you have us
all pay homage?"

Jason's smile is wolfish. "I'm satisfied with my
own ceremonial garb, Wonder Woman. I don't
think a tiara would *do* much for my complexion."

"As opposed to a blackened eye?"

Oh dear. "Diana --"

"Could you get it to match my cowl?"

"*Jason* --"

"Clark," Jason says. "Would you mind giving the
Princess and me a little privacy?"

Diana turns and looks at him. "If you would."

"I..." Clark sighs. "Try to avoid killing each other."

The season doesn't really matter, in terms of the
Atlantic. There are always storms if you look hard
enough, and, if you look harder, there's always at
least one ship full of people who'd appreciate a
lift out of the path of said storms.

He flies slowly enough on his way back that his
hair is still damp when he finally returns to the
future apartment building. Jason is alone and...
"Well, *that* was bracing."

Unhurt. Clark doesn't bother even attempting to
mask his sigh of relief.

"She didn't, actually, beat the hell out of me,

"So I see. You... talked?"

Jason nods and shifts to straddle the beam, leaning
back against the girder and, after a moment, resting
one foot on the beam while letting the other dangle.
"She's perceptive enough to have taken one look
at me when I was Robin and seen just how seriously
I *didn't* take the work. And she had no reason to
believe anything substantive had changed."

"Other than my *word*."

In his ear, Diana says, "You didn't tell me he was a
*warrior*, Clark," and Clark jumps.

Jason eyes him curiously.

Clark gestures toward the communicator he'd
forgotten to switch off while concentrating on not
listening and Jason nods, closing his eyes.

"I thought it was obvious, Diana. Bruce never
referred to him as anything but a *soldier*."

"I wonder if he knew he was raising a general. Diana

Clark sighs and switches off the communicator.

"'Soldier.'" Jason laughs, softly. "Every time Bruce
said that I used to wonder if it meant I'd get a
*real* pair of boots, someday."

"I... hm."


"I'm trying -- and failing -- to picture Tim in your
old uniform."

This laugh is much, much louder. "Oh, Jesus. His
bony little *thighs*..."

"I'm sure my mother plans on putting at least
fifteen pounds on him."

"We can hope." Jason sighs, but doesn't open his
eyes. "I checked my e-mail an hour ago.
Last-minute instructions and suggestions --
including a visit to Wonder Woman -- and nothing
even like... anything. It's the same kind of message
he's been leaving me since the beginning."

"I... suspected."

Jason nods. "I know it's too soon, but..."

"I have faith, Jason. In all of you."

Jason tilts his head forward and opens his eyes,
mouth curled into another wry smile. "Even
though I was just gonna say 'I already want him
back here?'"

Clark reaches forward, enough to cover the hand
Jason's resting on his knee with his own. "Even

Another sigh. "So... what else did I miss because
of this afternoon's episode of All My Batchildren?"

"I'm sorry...?"

"Old joke, not important. I know there was more you
wanted to talk to me about."

"Ah... well." Clark smiles ruefully. "I had planned to
bring up the Diana... issue, but, well..."

"Mm-hm. Sudden incursion of drama. Always
*damned* fucking inconvenient."

I'd very much like to kiss you. "There was...
something else."

"Oh? Well, I've got at least ten minutes before
Garth decides to turn the industrialists he's meeting
tonight into goldfish or something. Shoot."

"I'm... not sure his powers work that way --"

Jason gestures impatiently with the hand Clark isn't

He resists the urge to grab for it. "It's... well,
you've done a lot of good work here. Before the
quake, and after."

Jason snorts. "Do you know when's the last time
I've been able to get in a decent patrol without
tripping over metas?"

"Being Batman is about more than patrols, Jason."

"Three pieces of advice in one night, Clark.
Careful -- I'll start trying to make you my mentor
or something."

It's entirely possible that there's something wrong
with the fact that the prospect is more than
tempting. But then... *Bruce* had been Jason's
only other mentor.

He doesn't think it's his fault.

And, anyway... he doesn't want that kind of
relationship with Jason.

"Hey, that was a joke, by the way." Jason shakes
his knee in emphasis, almost hard enough to
make Clark move his hand. Almost.

"I know, I'm sorry. I just..."

"What is it, Clark?" That gentle smile.

Meant to lend him strength. Meant to... oh, he
needs Jason. And with Diana *finally* seeing
something like what he does... Clark takes a deep
breath and clears his throat.

"And again, I feel the urge to say 'uh oh' --"

"Jason, the good you've done here... the *work*
you've done. You haven't been patrolling. You
*have* been coordinating your team expertly,
turning them all into lieutenants --"

"*That* wasn't hard --"

"-- and the rest of us into your soldiers."

"And there's *that* word again. I do have the good
boots now, though..."

"Jason, please. Listen to me." He squeezes Jason's
hand for emphasis, and is desperately glad for the
excuse. "The quake turned Gotham into a war
zone, and, thanks to you, we've *won* that war."

Jason is silent for a long moment. Watchful, and
obviously so even with his face hidden in shadow.
"What are you saying, Clark?"

"I'm saying..." It's an effort not to tighten his grip
on Jason's hand any more than it already is. "I'm
saying that you might consider, at some point,
making your connection with the League more...
official. At some point."

Silence, again, except for the mild stutter of
Jason's heart.

"I mean, I don't want to pressure you, and I know
you have a lot of responsibilities --"

The gasp is so sudden and shocking that Clark has
started scanning Jason for injuries before he realizes
that Jason is laughing. Really...

Laughing a *lot*, actually.

Close to hysterically.

"Really, Jason, the idea isn't *ridiculous* --" He cuts
himself off, because he knows, he *knows* he sounds
precisely like a jilted lover. "Please --" Again.
Somewhere, beyond anything he can reach, Bruce is
lecturing him about the importance of control. He
breathes. "I only want you to consider it."

"No, no --"

It *hurts*.

"You don't understand, Clark. I. Heh. I was going
to suggest it to *you*."

And, abruptly, it doesn't hurt at all. "Oh." He can feel
himself smiling... almost exactly like a clone who'd
been introduced to Robin for the first time. "Well,
that's wonderful. We can --"

"For Tim."

It takes a moment to parse it, and another to parse
it *again*. He isn't sure *what* expression is on
his face right now, but it's enough to make Jason


"I..." Clark frowns. "Tim. The boy who you've told
me tends to remove parts of his own body when
under stress. You think *he* would be good for
the League?"

Jason slides his hand out from under Clark's. "One,
he's as brilliant a detective as Bruce ever was.
Two, he's *made* himself qualified, physically, to
go up against heavy hitters. Three, he notices
everything. Four, he forgets *nothing* -- even
*before* he fucked his own brain sideways. And
five... even *you* think he's fucking terrifying."

"And that's all true, but --"

"But he's fourteen years old and stone-cold *crazy*
to boot." Jason leans forward and taps Clark on the
shoulder with his fist. "Hence, Smallville."

And that's.. "Sending him away -- giving him to
*me* wasn't ever *only* about helping him."

Jason's grin is narrow and faintly cruel. "It's *also*
about training him to deal with people who *aren't*
me, up close and personal. Metahumans and Just
Plain Folks. He's going to *need* that one day."

"That's..." Utterly *ruthless*. Clark can feel himself
gaping like an idiot, but he can't, actually do
anything about it.

Jason sighs and leans back again. "I *know* it's
presumptuous, and I *know* it's too soon, but..."

"Jason --"

"Gotham needs a Batman. Batman needs a Robin.
Robin needs a fucking therapist. The *League*?
Needs a *Bruce*. And Tim is the closest thing
we've got."

It's true. It *is* true. But Clark still... "No one who
saw you now could ever again question what
Bruce saw in you all those years ago, Jason. You
shouldn't --"

"Sell myself short? Clark... I don't have time for
false modesty and I wouldn't *survive*
overconfidence in my own abilities. Not twice,

Clark winces.

"The point is this -- I'm good *exactly* where I am,
right now. I know it, and you do, too. And I *also*
know that one day my little freakboy Robin is going
to be *leading* the League.

"And you know *that*, too." Jason sighs. "Assuming
we can get him something *like* well-adjusted. I'm
not picky. I'll settle for not *actively* fucking suicidal."

Clark focuses on Jason's breathing (steady, faintly
rough in his throat. He's been talking a lot, today.)
and just... watches. For a little while. Jason isn't
looking at him, and his eyes are far away again.

After a few moments, he brings his hand to his mouth
and begins chewing on the thumb of the gauntlet.
There are rows and rows of uneven bite-marks, and
it's something Clark has never seen.

Perhaps something Jason saves for moments when
he's alone, or... or with people he trusts. Clark can't
decide whether he wants to take another hug or


"Well," he says, when he can stop staring at the white
flash of Jason's teeth. "I suppose we'll just have to
make this vacation of Tim's... efficient."

Jason throws his head back and laughs, reaching out
to steady himself with a hand on Clark's shoulder.
"Oh, fuck, Clark, don't *do* that."

"Sorry," he says, and smiles helplessly.

When Jason laughs, he's... he's something to make a
heart stutter, and a breath catch, and --

"-- didn't tell him, right?"

And a mind melt into sticky uselessness. Clark sighs
at himself. "Sorry, what?"

Jason squeezes his shoulder. "I said -- you know
why I didn't tell him, right? The *other* reason I
was sending his ass to Smallville."

"Well... the conversation you had with him beforehand
did seem a little... fraught."

Jason snorts. "Again, spoken like a man who hasn't
lived with that kid. Yet. No, Clark, I didn't tell him for
one simple reason -- right now, if he gets even the
*faintest* inkling that there's something else I need
from him, something better he can *be*..."

Clark blows out a breath. "Please tell me you've
taken the opportunity to destroy that... that *thing*
you showed me."

Jason smiles sadly. "It won't make a difference until
the day he deletes the plans for it from his own
ever-so-fucking *internal* hard drive, Clark."

"I..." Clark nods. "I had, actually, planned to be in
Smallville as much as possible over the next several
weeks. Is there... anything?"

"Right now, he doesn't want to hear a damned thing
I say, I bet. But... yeah. Tell him I already miss him.
Tell him..." Jason sighs, quietly. "Tell him Batman
still needs a Robin."

And what about a Superman? "I will, Jason."

"Thank you," Jason says, and pulls the cowl back on.
"Time to... heh. Review the troops." He doesn't raise
his arms or groan, and the movement of his body
beneath the suit is subtle, but the cracks and pops
of Jason's joints are obvious, just the same.

Perhaps, one day, he can offer to give Jason a

"Come back soon, hey? 'cause somehow I *doubt*
Tim's gonna be sending regular correspondence."

"Of course."

"I... Christ. Do your parents even *have* a modem?"

"I believe there's one in the local library. Well.
*Plans* might've been mentioned... at some point. In
the local paper. It's... well, it's actually more of a

"He's gonna come back to Gotham and kill me in my
*sleep*." Jason sighs again. "Good night, Clark."

I love you. "Good night, Jason."

He watches Jason swing through the growing,
changing city.

And then he flies home.