Disclaimers: Not even close to mine.
Spoilers: Various ones, for various books, up through
Robin #124 specifically, with spoiler-based
speculation for events beyond that.
Summary: Desperate times call for desperate
measures. Though probably not that desperate.
Ratings Note/Warnings: R. Content some readers
may find disturbing.
Author's Note: Owes a lot to the fact that I finally
read the Gotham Knights story "Transference,"
as well as to multiple conversations with Maire,
and to a discussion with Livia about just what
cliché I should pick to write about for my own
Acknowledgments: Much love to Livia, Jack,
Reilael, and L.C. for audiencing, hand-holding,
and helpful suggestions.
Every problem has a solution.
Perhaps not a pleasant one, or even a complete one,
but still... a solution. You just have to be willing.
The necessary skills... well. Tim had developed the
basics during his training. As for the specifics...
Bruce had, of course, taken copious notes after the
matter with Strange.
Tim had, of course, studied them.
His father and Dana are downstairs. The arguing
has stopped -- Dana had been less than enthused
about how his father's reaction to learning about
the Robin thing had involved pointing a gun at
Bruce -- but the silence isn't a comfortable one.
It's heavy. Watchful.
Even here, in his *wrong* room -- they had made a
passable effort to clean after their search, but
nothing is right, anymore -- even upstairs, with the
He can feel them. Waiting.
Tim takes a slow, even breath, and then another.
Another. He has to be calm for this. The idea is a
laughable one, but the joke had stopped being
funny rather a long time ago. The entire point of
being trained in this sort of meditation was to make
him capable of calming himself down under *any*
And the letter... the letter is as good as he can make
it. Perhaps not apologetic enough, but it's far more
necessary that they understand what Tim's doing
(for them) than that he salve their wounded feelings.
After all, after tonight they'll have nothing to
It's entirely possible that emotion is getting in the
way of what he needs to do. It's unacceptable.
The letter to Alfred has already been sent, as well
as the one to Koriand'r. It should be enough. It
Tim pulls the calling card out of his wallet and...
pauses. His father and Dana had been quite
thorough in removing everything to do with Robin's
existence from his room, missing only a few items.
Those items are currently in a box he'd brought
home from a liquor store. They had, of course,
missed those items that were currently on his
Tim takes another breath and places the calling
card -- billed to one of Bruce's -- mostly --
untraceable accounts in the box. And checks
himself thoroughly. The slingshot strapped to his
thigh *would* be innocent, were the straps not
made of a material the military would kill for, and
were he living in a nineteen-fifties sitcom.
The pellets in his pocket are entirely *non*-innocent,
and he considers placing another note about
proper handling in the box.
If he thought about it, he could come up with a
dozen different notes to write about this. The
important information is in the original letter, and
a blanket caution not to touch anything will have
to be enough. He can't afford... procrastination.
There isn't anything else.
It shouldn't be so strange to be sitting in his own
bedroom unarmed and with no secrets beyond
whether he's wearing boxers or briefs. It will stop
being strange soon.
He places the box outside his door, carefully and
quietly, the letter set prominently on top of
He goes back to his desk and picks up the phone,
and dials the number he'd memorized reflexively
when Kon had given it to him. One ring, two
rings, three --
Tim closes his eyes. "Conner."
"I... Tim? What's up? You sound --"
"Listen carefully; there isn't really any time. I have to
tell you something."
A brief silence. "I'm listening."
He remembers when Kon didn't *have* a serious-
voice. He remembers... "I can't be... the person you
know anymore. My father found out. I --"
"Wait, *what* --"
"There's no *time*, Conner. You know what I'm
talking about, and this line isn't secure."
"I -- Christ, Tim, what are you --"
"In a little while, there won't be... that person won't
exist anymore. There are certain techniques... it
doesn't matter. Kory has the details, and she'll tell
you this weekend. I just. I had to tell you myself."
I'll miss you. I'm sorry. I meant to do this better.
"Look, I'm just going to pretend you're on crack or
something, and that it's about to wear off and
Tim hangs up and breathes. Breathes. He should've
written a letter to Kon anyway. There are promises
he made, things he still meant to do, and it doesn't
really matter that Luthor is dead, he was supposed
*Robin* was supposed to.
He isn't Robin anymore. He --
The vault in the fortress, the fortress beyond the
edge of the horizon, the horizon hidden in the
grains of a black.
Someone's tapping his shoulder. He *hates* it
when that happens, because that means -- "What?
Ow." He blinks himself awake, rubbing at the back
of his neck, which hurts because... he'd fallen
asleep at his desk. Hunh. He didn't think he was
He blinks some more and turns around. His father
is there, looking... strange. "Dad? What is it? Did
I... what time is it?"
"It's..." There's a searching look on his father's
Tim rubs at his own face, but there's nothing there.
"You had... someone came..."
"I had a visitor? Oh, man, I *told* Bernard I had
too much homework to do tonight. He never
"Yeah, I told you about him, remember? He's nice,
but a little weird."
"A little..." His father's *hands* are shaking, and
"Dad, are you okay? What happened? Is M --" No.
His mother is dead. Dana's married to his father
now. How had he forgotten? "Is Dana all right?"
His father shoves his hands in his pockets and
swallows. His mouth must be very dry -- the click
is audible. "Everything's fine, Tim. Everything's..."
Another searching look.
Tim grins ruefully. "*I'm* okay, Dad, but I'm not
sure about *you*. You're feeling okay, right?"
His father's smile is strange, but there. "I'm all
right, Tim. It's just... late."
Tim reaches for the clock on his desk and turns it
around... yeah. After two. "Wow. I have to be up in
a few hours."
"Yes. For... school. Why don't you... get some rest,
"Yeah, okay. You, too, okay?"
His father nods.
"I'll tell Bernard about dropping by unannounced
"Oh -- I. It wasn't Bernard."
Tim frowns. "But... I don't know who *else* would
visit. I haven't really made too many friends yet." He
really needs to try harder. It's not like he has
anything... the thought doesn't stay.
"Ah, well. You know Gotham, son."
"'A crazy on every street corner.' Yeah, Dad, I know."
He grins. "I guess I'll find out tomorrow."
"I guess... so." His father claps him on the shoulder.
"Get to bed. You don't... want to be late tomorrow."
He watches his father leave and checks that his
books are all in his backpack, and double-checks his
notes. He *had* gotten everything done, which
makes it even weirder that he'd fallen asleep at his
He doesn't really *remember* missing any sleep,
but maybe he just hadn't been getting the right
*kind* of sleep. He'd read something about that...
somewhere. Maybe he should keep some sort of
dream diary, just in case.
Maybe he should get some *sleep*, because of course
his thoughts would be weird in the middle of the
Tim smiles ruefully to himself and strips. He'll shower
in the morning.
It's a sunny day, *really* sunny, so Tim had dug a
pair of sunglasses out of his drawer and -- well, it's
weird. They were in the *wrong* drawer.
It isn't that his room is messy, just kind of... off.
Well, he'll have time tonight to fix it properly later.
He still feels a little tired, but, well, there's no way
anyone's body would be happy with passing out at
a desk, and... he's not *very* tired.
It's more like... there's a vague sense that he's not
*supposed* to be awake now, but that's just idiotic.
He pushes it aside and forces himself to keep his
eyes open on the bus. Maybe he should push the
glasses back up over his forehead. He has a habit
of taking naps on bus rides, and teenagers *do*
need a lot of sleep, according to... something or
other, but he clearly needs to get himself on a
regular schedule and keep it.
He pulls out his History book and rereads, instead.
Which goes fine right up until they get to Bernard's
stop, because Bernard takes one look at him and
"Tell me you're at least making up for slacking on
your homework last night, Drake."
He likes Bernard. "Would it help?"
Bernard puts his hands on his hips and raises an
eyebrow at him. The bus is moving again, but
Bernard's got pretty good balance for someone who
doesn't play any sports.
And it's not like anyone tells *him* to sit down and
shut up. Tim grins to himself. "I'm just trying to
"By reading about the Gold Standard? Drake, *baby*,
what *am* I going to do with you?" Bernard finally
sits down. Really, it's more of a carefully casual
sprawl, which really shouldn't be possible on bus
seats, but determination takes you a long way.
Bernard puts his arm around Tim's shoulders
companionably and yanks the book out of his lap.
"Now. Let me explain to you the proper ways of
keeping oneself awake and alert at this ungodly
Tim reaches for his book and Bernard holds it away
from him. He *could* just... just... he's not sure. It's
not important. Tim turns around a little so that his
back is against the window, and Bernard's arm
slides around until he's just got a hand on Tim's
shoulder. Tim raises an eyebrow.
Bernard doesn't actually *move* his hand, but
Tim hadn't expected him to. "There are a few
options, Mr. Drake."
"Certain members of our illustrious student body
prefer chemical means, but you're *far* too clean
for that sort of thing."
"I don't need drugs."
"Yes, yes, you're so high on life you're positively
floating above the world."
Tim snickers. It's funny. Bernard gives him kind
of an odd look, though.
"*Anyway*. Others prefer amusing themselves with
chatter about the previous evening's television
programs, but I think I could more easily picture you
breaking into the janitor's closet to indulge in some
quality huffing than voting for the next Teen Idol."
It's true, he doesn't really see the point of much
television. There are better things... there are other
things to do with his time. He focuses on looking
attentive. It's not hard.
Bernard has the sort of gaze that isn't so much
piercing as... inviting. He *wants* people to look
at him, to pay attention to him, and he shows it
in everything from the way he moves his hands
to his clothes. Sometimes Tim wonders what
And Bernard isn't saying anything so much *as*
looking at him. "What?"
"You seem different today, Drake. More..." Bernard
squeezes his shoulder and narrows his eyes at
The expression is exaggerated, but the intent
"What *is* going on with you?"
Tim grins ruefully. "First my parents and now you.
Nothing's up, I swear."
Bernard keeps looking at him.
"Scout's Honor. Though I must've been acting like
a real freak if acting normally is making everyone...
"Well, *I* told you that." Bernard gives his shoulder
one last squeeze and leans back. "Where was I?"
"Ways to amuse myself that don't involve studying."
"*Rhetorical* question, dear boy. I'm sure they
taught you all about that in Boywood."
Tim grins. "Brentwood."
"Whatever. Now, as I was saying..."
Tim crosses his arms and lets Bernard chatter at
him. It is, actually, sort of interesting. He *does*
need to do something about his social life, and
Bernard doesn't seem to have that problem.
He should be grateful that Bernard seems
determined to take Tim under his wing.
School is school, and it's never been anything *but*
easy, really. Not since he was a kid and the
teachers kept trying to get him to stop reading and
go play with the other kids. Thankfully, they'd
stopped doing that sort of thing by the time Tim
got to middle school.
He doesn't think he's maladjusted or anything -- he
isn't depressed or suicidal or on drugs or anything,
and he doesn't want to be.
He doesn't think he's *better* than anyone, either.
It's just that he'd never really gotten the point of
being 'one of the gang' or anything like that. No
one had ever really seemed interested in the
things he was interested in. Like... he doesn't
really remember, actually.
Still, he *is* in high school now, and a brand new
one at that. A *big* one, and there really ought
to be a few people who he could talk to about...
Tim pauses at his locker.
What *is* he interested in? Why is that such a
hard question? He... he likes science, and it *is*
fascinating the way the human mind works,
particularly when the psychology is aberrant or...
Tim frowns to himself.
Maybe he *should* try watching television. Or...
"Plotting world domination, Drake?"
Tim shifts automatically, knowing Bernard will --
there. Both hands on his shoulders and Bernard
leans in over the left to peer into Tim's locker.
The funny thing is that he *did* have some
oddly weapon-esque looking blueprints tucked
into his math notebook. Funny the things that
you can pick up just walking around. Even
though -- "Drake. You're woolgathering. What
*are* you doing just standing around?"
"I..." The halls are practically empty. Tim blinks.
"I suppose I... lost track of time."
"Hmph. That's it." Bernard reaches over and tugs
on Tim's hand until he lets go of the locker door,
and then slams it. "You're coming with me."
"I need to get home."
"So be a good boy and call your parents and tell
them you'll be *late*, Drake." Bernard adjusts
Tim's backpack and gives him a shove toward
the exits. "You clearly need *something*, and for
now we're going to start with caffeine."
Willoughby's is loud, and packed with a lot of
people Tim recognizes from school. Bernard
gives him another light shove toward the phones
and wanders off to talk with several of them.
Tim shrugs and calls home. His father picks up
on the first ring.
He must be working in the study or something.
"Dad, it's me."
"Tim, are you... are you all right? Where are you?"
Tim blinks. "I'm at the coffee shop near school. I
was just calling to let you know. Is there
something... should I come home?"
"You..." There's a small sound that Tim's mind
insists is his father running a hand back through
his hair. "No, it's fine, son. I was just...
"Yeah, I know, I'm usually home by now.
Bernard's doing his best to make me a social
"Well, that's good, son. That's... maybe you
should invite him over for dinner sometime."
Tim grins. He has a sudden, vivid image of Bernard
critiquing his step-mother's wardrobe. "I'll ask him.
Anyway, I should be home before dinner."
"All right, Tim. Be careful now."
"I will. And... Dad?"
"You know... I know you don't like to... talk about
things. But. Um. You'd tell me if there *was*
anything wrong, right?"
There's a strange, choked sound, and it takes Tim
a moment to realize that his father is laughing.
"No kidnappers, no monetary disasters, no...
there's nothing wrong, Tim. Just... an old man's
His head hurts. His head hurts a *lot*. "You're
not old," he says, and why is it... there had *been*
a kidnapping, and that's why his mother is dead,
and Tim had had to live with.
He had had to live with someone, and why can't
he remember? His mother is *dead*, and it was.
Laughing, grinning man in a *hat* and -- "No."
Tim blinks. "I... sorry. I think I... might be coming
down with something." It isn't a lie. It's the only
"Maybe you *should* come home, Tim."
Tim nods -- carefully. "I'll cut things as short as I
can here without. Heh. Offending my *one*
His father sighs. "It will... it will get better, son. I
"I know, Dad. See you soon."
He hangs up and rubs his head a little more. He
really *does* have a headache. And since he
doesn't have any painkillers on him, a little
caffeine might actually be a *good* idea.
Not too much. He doesn't want to be up all night
or anything. He moves out of the little hall and
into the shop proper and... he really isn't at all
surprised to see Bernard at a table all by himself,
even though that means several *other* tables
are filled past capacity.
He grins and heads toward the counter to
"Taken care of, Drake. I don't trust you not to do
something silly like ordering herbal *tea*."
Tim shakes his head and sits down across from
Bernard. "I don't know what I'd do *without* you,
"Suffer miserably in your own inadequacies, I'm
sure." Bernard has his fingers steepled beneath his
Tim laughs. Bernard actually *would* make a pretty
decent Bond villain. "So what did you do to get
everyone to clear out? Tell them I was
"I can't share *all* my secrets."
"Of course not."
"*You*, on the other hand..." Bernard leans in.
"You've been distressingly *reticent*, Mr. Drake.
Mind you, the ingénue routine has its charms, but
it's clearly starting to *affect* you. We can't have
Tim grins and shakes his head. "You're going to
be disappointed, Bernard. There really *isn't* that
much to tell."
Bernard waves a hand at him. "I'll be the judge of
that. Now why don't we start with what's going on
with you *today*, hmm?"
"Well, I..." It's a good question. There's no reason
*not* to answer. Bernard is his friend, and friends
talk to each other, even when they don't have
anything to say.
Tim frowns to himself. He's... he doesn't really
remember *having* friends. His head is pounding
*hard*, and the coffee isn't ready yet, and...
Bernard is waiting.
"Do you ever get the feeling that you had a really
important dream and forgot about it? Or... maybe
it wasn't a dream. Maybe..." There's something
black in his head, huge and gleaming with a
weirdly forbidding shine. Tim shakes it off. "Look,
it's boring and stupid. Shouldn't you be giving me
"Dear boy, I don't think I'm ever going to run
*out* of advice you need to hear, but -- ah. Our
orders are up. Fetch."
Tim snorts. "Arf arf, Bernard."
Bernard gives him a narrow grin. "Good boy."
Tim gets up and brings their orders back to the
table. They both seem to involve a lot of... froth.
He puts them down and pushes one over to
Bernard. "You know, I usually take my coffee
"Like your... women? And what *about* this
imaginary girlfriend of yours? Where does *she*
fit in this dream you can't remember?"
"Hunh? I don't have a girlfriend, Bernard. Not
Bernard blinks at him. "Ariana? What about...
Stephanie, was it?"
It's strange how he wants to smile even though
his head is killing him. He winces and rubs his
temples instead. "You must be thinking about
someone else, Bernard. I don't know anyone
"O-kay. Leaving *that* alone for a while."
Bernard's frowning at him.
He's made a mistake, he's going to have to be
careful, or else Bernard might... might what? "My
head is killing me."
"And here I just thought you'd found a new way
to masturbate in public."
Tim laughs, but Bernard doesn't laugh with him.
"Look, I... damn." Tim takes a big swallow of
coffee. "It's the strangest thing. Like there's...
something missing." Why *did* Ariana break up
with him? "I must sound insane."
A small smile. "It wouldn't be the *first* time,
Drake." And Bernard pulls his backpack off the
back of his chair.
"Oh, do you have to go?"
Bernard gives him a curious look, a *searching*
look, and this is probably the first *and* last
time Bernard is going to remind Tim of his father.
And then Bernard reaches in his pack and pulls
out a bottle of Tylenol and tosses it to him.
"Oh, hey, thanks. I haven't had a headache like
this since... um. I'm not sure."
Bernard raises an eyebrow at him. "Did you get
smacked in the head with a basketball in gym,
Drake? You're acting like --"
"Jesus, *there* you are."
Hard, heavy hand on his shoulder, making Tim
jump. There are so many people in the coffee
shop that he didn't feel *this* one coming. He
isn't sure why that matters. And this one is...
he turns around and finds himself looking up
at a large boy in little round glasses. "Um."
"Tim, I've been looking *everywhere* for you!"
Tim blinks, and tries and fails to come up with
anywhere he might know this person from. He
looks like a football player. He turns to check
with Bernard, since Bernard knows *everyone*,
but Bernard's eyebrow is doing a great job of
crawling into his hairline. So. He looks up again.
"Do I know you?"
The boy's eyes widen behind the little glasses.
"Tim...? Look, I talked to... uh. Kory. But...
Bernard clears his throat. Loudly.
The boy blinks. "Oh, you must be Bernard. Listen,
freaking *every* kid I talked to said you were
probably with Tim --"
"Oh, *did* they?"
"Yeah, and I have about nine hundred messages
for you. Uh..." The boy squeezes Tim's shoulder
and looks at him expectantly.
Tim looks back.
"Right," the boy says, and pulls a handful of
crumpled papers out of the pocket of his jeans,
dropping them next to Bernard's mug. "Those
are for you. I'm just... Tim, can we please go
talk somewhere now? Alone?"
Tim looks back at Bernard, and his eyebrow
doesn't show any signs of descending anytime
soon. "I'm... uh. Gonna go talk to... er." He
looks up again. "What *is* your name?"
"It's *me*, Tim. *Conner*." The boy's face
crumples like he's *hurt*. "I -- Christ, would
you just come with me, *please*?"
"Yeah, I... okay, sure."
He lets the boy -- Conner -- pull him up out of
the chair and then out of the shop. It's still
really *bright* out, and it's doing nothing for
his headache. Tim takes his shades out of his
pocket and... well, he's still carrying Bernard's
Tylenol. He dry-swallows two and looks over
to find Conner... looking at *him*.
"Wait, are *you* the guy who showed up at
my house last night?"
"What? Yes! Yes, dammit, I came right over
and... okay, your step-mother is freaking scary,
dude, and --"
Conner freezes. "What?"
"Why did you come to my house? Who *are* you?"
"You." Conner bites his lip. "There's no one around,
Tim. There isn't... you can stop pretending. I really,
*really* need you to stop pretending now."
"Pretending? Christ, why does everyone think I'm
putting on some kind of *act* today? My father,
Bernard, and... why the hell do you think I *would*
Conner looks like he's been punched, and then...
doesn't. He stands up straight and sets his face
like... it's weirdly like he's putting on a mask.
Tim rubs his head. "Look, whoever you are.
Conner. I've got a splitting headache, and you're
apparently stalking me, and --"
"What do you do on the weekends, Tim?"
"I go." He blinks. "I do my *homework* on the
weekends, and why the hell should I tell *you*?"
Conner folds his arms over his chest. "You know,
Kory freaking *told* me that I shouldn't... that
you people know more than *anyone* about
raping your own minds, but..."
"And who is this 'Cory?'"
Conner winces. "I can't even *begin* to do this
right now without wringing your scrawny little
*neck*. And... fuck, you'd *let* me right now,
Tim takes a step back.
"*Christ*, I wouldn't --" And then the boy
*growls* and... it's strange. He's not running or
anything, but it doesn't seem possible that anyone
could walk that fast.
He hopes the painkillers kick in soon.
He wishes he knew why there were so many
pieces -- black. So much *black*, except if it was
really dark it wouldn't *hurt* this much. Tim
hears himself groan and covers his own eyes,
dropping into a crouch.
He can feel the people moving past, little bits of
shadow. Some of them pause, most of them
don't. It's Gotham. Crazy on every street corner.
If he stays here long enough, people might start
dropping money in front of him.
Or maybe he'll just get mugged.
One of the shadows lingers. Tim can't make
himself look up. It hurts too much. And then
there's a hand on his shoulder and a faint hint
of cologne. Bernard. Tim takes a breath. "I still.
I have your Tylenol."
"Mm. Amazingly enough, I was able to deduce
that, given the fact that you seem to be trying to
make the bottle become one with those tacky
little sunglasses of yours."
Deduce. Deduction. Detection. Discovery.
"Bernard, I think I'm going crazy."
The hand on his shoulder tenses for a second, and
then it's in his hair. And prodding.
Tim laughs despite himself. "I didn't get hit in the
"And you'd definitely remember it if you *did*,
because we all know head injuries result in perfect
"I don't have *amnesia*, Bernard -- ow."
"Ow?" Bernard pokes him harder, and Tim brushes
the hand away.
"You hit a pressure point. The pain's *inside* my
head, except for what you're currently causing."
There's silence for a moment, and Tim can feel
Bernard shifting. "You know, I'd feel a lot better
if you'd look at me, Drake, but I think I'd settle
for you telling me more about *pressure* points.
Give a killer back-rub, do you?"
Tim grins. "Actually, I... think I'm going to puke."
Tim jumps up and knocks Bernard back and he
really *wants* to apologize, but mostly he wants
to get off the street and into the alley next to
Willoughby's and thank fucking *Christ*, the
Dumpster isn't locked.
The smell is terrible, and vomiting is even worse,
and there's a strange, *strange* voice in his head
saying something about this being a 'bad idea,'
and the strangest thing about it is that it sounds
When he's done, he thinks his stomach is emptier
than it was when he was *born*, but at least he
doesn't have to think about his headache.
Tim staggers until he can get his back against a
wall, and then he just focuses on breathing.
When he opens his eyes again, it's *bright*, even
in the damned alley, and there's a hand in his
face with a bunch of napkins.
Tim swallows, winces, and takes them, wiping his
face and hands. "I. My sunglasses?"
There are spots dancing in front of his eyes from
vomiting, and Bernard is just a shadow against the
light from the street, anyway. "I believe you
tossed them with your cookies, Drake. No *great*
Tim snorts, and winces again. "Gonna take me
"Who would've ever thought you could be so high
"Sorry. I. I really think I should get home."
Bernard shifts. "I could go back in and call your
Tim shakes his head. "No, they seem kind of
stressed out, anyway. I'll just take the bus."
"Then come on. I'd put an arm around you, but
considering what you've been touching -- and
what you *are* leaning against -- you're probably
crawling with filth. Limp along as best you can."
"Arf." Tim steps out into the sunlight and... yeah,
"Oh, for the love of *Christmas*, Drake." Hands
on his face, tilting his head up and... shoving on
a pair of sunglasses. Bernard's.
"Hm. You still *look* like the bastard child of
Skank and Ew, but the glasses help."
"God, don't make me *laugh* --"
Bernard nudges him away. "I wouldn't dream of
it. I *like* these shoes."
They get to the stop just in time for the bus, and
Bernard prods and pokes him until he's sprawled
in a seat. And then prods him some more until
he's against the window. "Maybe I should be in the
aisle. I mean --"
"You're a tough boy. You're going to *resist* the
urge to yark."
"I'll just... do that."
"Besides, you look like you'll fall *into* the aisle the
next time this thing takes a tight turn."
Tim smiles ruefully and presses his head against
the glass. "Bernard... I just --"
"Don't start with the sap, Drake. We haven't even
had a *date*, yet."
Tim smiles a little more. "Guess not."
"Go ahead and close your eyes. I know your stop."
He does. And for a while it's worse -- he can't
*stop* thinking about the motion of the bus, and
the faintly oily feel of the window against his face,
The headache passes. He's going home. Bernard,
for whatever reason, is taking care of him. He'll
shower for about a year, and do his homework,
and pass out, and try again tomorrow.
He's not going to think about stalkers (detectives),
or girlfriends (don't remember don't), or black...
shiny things that feel... (so important. It's
Bernard puts a hand on his shoulder.
He's not going to think about any of it.
It's all a series of images and flashes of nothing.
His father's face, Bernard's hand on his shoulder,
his step-mother's face, the shower, his pajamas,
The bed is warm, and smells like him.
There's someone in the room.
"It's just me, Tim."
"Shh. You... you're a little feverish."
Dana's hand is cool on his forehead, but it isn't soft.
She's got calluses, and... she's an athlete. She still
is, when she has time. Of course her hands feel
Tim smoothes his face out of the frown. "Think
I... caught something."
"I know you think you were doing the right thing,
and I know I'm not supposed to talk about it..."
He frowns again. "Dana...?"
"You have to get better, Tim. Just... just rest."
The flat shine grows and grows and swallows him
whole. The funny thing is that there are colors
inside. Red and green and yellow.
There's a wrenching sound, a really *familiar*
wrenching sound and --
There's someone in his room, his brain offers
Tim blinks awake and wonders why he's so calm,
especially since it's the stalker. Well, maybe he
can distract the guy long enough to get to a
phone. Tim sits up and rubs his eyes. His throat
hurts. He feels...
It's a weirdly familiar kind of exhaustion (what it
feels like after you've been in pain), even though
it doesn't really make any sense. "Um, hi."
"You're awake. Guess I wasn't subtle," Conner
Tim turns on the light next to his bed. "No. You
weren't. Should I even bother asking why you're
Conner crosses his arms over his chest, and the
pose is a weird mix of stern and unsure. His
t-shirt is black and has an 'S' on it like... like
Everyone has fans, he supposes. "Well?"
"I can't just go to the front door --"
"So you decided to --" Tim checks. "Rip my
window out of the wall the *hell*? Who *are*
you? *What* are you?"
"Just listen to me, will you?"
"Do I have a choice?"
"If you hadn't fucked yourself over, you'd know
the freaking *answer* to that, asshole!"
Okay. Okay. Try not to make the apparently
super-strong stalker mad at him. He can do that.
He has practice. He. "My head hurts."
"No. Fucking. *Shit*. Your name is Tim Drake. For
the past three years -- I checked -- you've also
been known as Robin."
Batman needs. "I don't know what you're talking
Conner scrubs a hand back over his hair. It's too
short for it to go *through*, and Tim wonders
when he's going to grow it --
"I need to puke."
Conner grabs a waste basket and shoves it in his
face. "You do that. We are *going* to talk."
"My parents --"
"I swear to God, if I have to I will knock them
*out*, Tim. Funnily enough, *you* taught me
how to do that without causing permanent
It's all about the placement of the hit, and the
pressure, and Conner has to be careful because.
Because. Tim retches and nothing comes out.
He keeps retching.
"Here's the deal, Tim. One day, we were on the
roof of the Tower, and I was wigging out, and
you were coping. Remember that? You used to
fucking *cope* --"
"Why is it dark --"
"It's not fucking *dark*, you freak." And Conner
grabs his shoulders and *squeezes*. "Focus.
"It's dark. It's... black. There's a. It's a pearl.
Why do I have a pearl in my head?"
"I don't -- I don't fucking *know*. Tim." Conner's
staring at him, and his eyes are a familiar blue.
"You're not wearing your glasses."
Conner blinks, and... laughs. It's a choking,
Tim wonders when he's going to hear someone
laugh the right way. "Listen, my Dad knows people.
Maybe he can... get you some help."
"Get me. Some help." Conner squeezes his
shoulders again before letting go, and sitting back.
He stares at his own boots. "You're actually kind
of a nice kid, aren't you, Tim Drake?"
"There's no reason not to be. I don't have to." Lie.
He doesn't have to lie anymore. He --
"Aw, man, *no*, don't pass out on me, you little
fuckup, don't you even *think* about..."
A boy steps out of the pearl, and he's wearing the
most ridiculous outfit Tim has ever seen. What
possible reason could there be for boots to have
"You're fucking up. You know this, right?"
Tim looks around, and there's... nothing. There's
never really been anything. "People keep telling
The boy shifts, and it seems like he's crossing his
arms. Under his... cape.
"Why are you wearing --"
One hand comes out from under, and the boy
holds it up in a 'stop' gesture.
The boy looks over his shoulder at the pearl, and
then sighs, quietly. "It's my own fault."
"Shut up," the boy says casually, and then looks at
Or... it's hard to tell. The mask's lenses are whited
"The problem is twofold."
Tim shoves his hands in his pockets and tries to
pretend he's not freaking out. "I'm listening."
"One," and the boy holds up a finger, "you weren't
finished. I'd been working on you for quite a
while, but the fact is, I fully expected to have a
*lot* more time."
"Two," and the boy holds up another finger, "I
had *still* miscalculated. You don't even have
your own *childhood*."
"I was... wondering. There seems to be a great
deal of blank space."
"Yeah. You just go ahead and completely fail to
think about that, why don't you?" The boy smirks
Tim swallows. "I don't think I can."
The smirk softens, but doesn't entirely fade. "No,
you can't. You're *trying*, but the fact is, Tim
Drake was a detective long before he was
*anything* else. And you're going to give us an
aneurysm if you keep trying to pretend differently."
"Er." It seems like the thing to say.
"Meanwhile, Conner is calling 911, Dana is crying,
and... your father is probably considering hanging
"Look, do you have suggestions, or are you just
going to stand there being the world's creepiest
The boy just stares at him for a long moment, and
then he... laughs. A lot. "I don't," he says. "I really,
The boy grins at him, and shifts into... it looks like
a fighting stance. And then he raises a hand, and
makes a come-on gesture. "Let's go, Tim."
And that's. "I'm. I'm going to lose."
"Oh, yeah, you really are. Don't try to tell me
But he has to fight anyway.
Tim wakes up with his eyes closed, and takes a
deep breath. Disinfectants, old blood. The sound
of machinery, and a dozen voices. More. He's in a
hospital. This isn't a surprise. He takes another
Presences, nearby. Focused on him.
"I know you're awake."
Bruce. Tim opens his eyes. "What are you doing
Bruce is being Bruce Wayne. The clothes, the
pose -- one ankle casually crossed over the other
knee. The eyes, of course, are no one's but
Batman's. "My lawyers convinced your father's that
the restraining order was less than a wise idea."
Bruce doesn't bother to answer that.
"Your parents are in the cafeteria with Alfred. Clark
is convincing the GCPD to let Conner out of jail.
"They arrested him?" Tim blinks. Thinks. "He
allowed himself to be arrested."
"Yes. There's a boy named Bernard patiently
waiting to be allowed to visit you."
"*Fuck* you, Bruce." Tim pinches the bridge of his
nose and listens to Bruce breathe. And lets himself
laugh, a little. "You aren't going to ask 'why?'"
He sees Bruce shift out of the corner of his eye.
"Why did you think it would work?"
Tim laughs a little more. "One, I knew exactly how
you did it. Two, I've had as much training in this
sort of thing as you have -- and better teachers.
Three, I would've gone insane if I *didn't*. No
options." He looks at Bruce. "And if you try to tell
me otherwise, I'll tell a doctor that my scars are
from the years of nightly abuse at your hands."
Bruce narrows his eyes. "One, it was never
supposed to be anything but a temporary solution.
Two, your training never covered psychic
*suicide*. Three... I know."
Tim blinks first, and stares at his hands. "What
exactly am I in here for?"
"'Shock.' They didn't know what else to call it."
"It's an impossible situation, Bruce. It was a few
days ago, and it is now."
Bruce takes another audible breath. "He's home.
At the manor. He's... finished in Bludhaven, for the
moment. Leslie gave him something to help him
"You mean sedated him." Tim snorts. "He's going to
"I believe Alfred plans to distract him by telling him
what *you* did."
"I hate *all* of you. You realize this, right?"
Bruce is smirking at him. "I used to wonder what it
was like to have a family."
Tim rips off his hospital bracelet, balls it up, and
throws it at Bruce's head.
Bruce catches it, of course.
Tim stares at the ceiling. "I don't know what I'm
going to do, Bruce."
"We've never had a situation quite like this one."
"No." Tim grits his teeth. "I... I really did think I
was making the right decision." Tim scrubs a hand
back through his hair. "And the only reason I
thought that was because, on some level, I knew
exactly what -- it -- meant to me. My entire
childhood, leading me to one place, and that
"It's still your home, Tim. You've never... you. Are
"To the mission. Steph will be fine. She's always
just needed more focus. No one trains with you
without getting *that*."
"You're important to. All of us."
Tim raises an eyebrow and smirks. "Don't hurt
"To me. And I'll try to avoid it." Bruce sounds like he
wants to be laughing.
Tim takes a slow breath, but doesn't manage to
keep it from becoming ragged. He could say
something about how Bruce should've -- how he
*could've* -- said that a month ago, but a, he
really couldn't have, and b, it's not like Tim hadn't
Bruce always says things with action, anyway. The
fact that he's using words *now* is just one more
piece of evidence about how fucked the situation
Tim closes his eyes. "I'm not Tim Drake. And I'm
He feels Bruce move, and there's a hand on his
face. "You are. You seem... different, but you
"You both are."
Tim opens his eyes. "Two of us."
Bruce's smile is nearly feral. Batman's. "It would
be... something to see." And then he pats Tim's
cheek and stands up straight, glancing back over
Tim listens, and the babble of voices outside the
door includes those of his parents and Alfred. "The
"Will *not* be permanent." And Bruce straightens his
tie, unnecessarily, and plasters Bruce Wayne over his
face with practiced ease.
Tim needs more... practice.
"Now you take care, Timothy --"
"He still *knows*."
Batman's eyes. "He doesn't *want* to." Bruce's. "I
want to hear about you being back on your feet
And this would be why *he's* Batman. His father
comes in first, followed by Dana and Alfred.
His parents bracket the bed, and Tim steals one
last look at Alfred.
Alfred tips his cap at him before leaving with
His parents look at each other, and laugh precisely
like people who've had too much coffee and not
enough sleep. Tim sighs internally.
And drags on Tim Drake. It doesn't feel as
difficult as he'd expected.
That still isn't saying much.
The biggest surprise is that it isn't, actually, late.
He'd 'slept' through the night and most of the
morning, his parents had called him in unconscious to
school, Bernard had found out about it through his
network of spies and minions, and... come to see him.
His parents don't seem to mind the fact that Bernard
is *obviously* skipping school to be here, at all.
Skipping school to visit a sick friend probably looks
fan-fucking-tastic to them right now. A nice, normal
thing for a nice, normal kid to do.
Granted, they haven't torn him a new one for his
little experiment in auto-hypnosis, and show no signs
of doing so. A mean, small, *bitter* part of him
suggests that it has more to do with guilt over not
taking him to a doctor immediately than with anything
It's ridiculous on top of being petty -- he would be
in an even worse position, on a *number* of levels, if
he was stuck in some mental institution right now.
The amusing thing is that it would probably have
been the best *possible* position for young,
Robin-less Tim Drake. Kon would've been more
hesitant about breaking in to harass a crazy person,
and there would've been practically nothing to
remind him of all the things he'd worked so hard
to forget with his pretty, deadly little black pearl.
It has to be a good sign that he's amused.
"Are you brooding or sick?" Bernard.
His parents are out in the hall, probably desperately
hoping that Bernard is infecting Tim with his
Sick. Brooding, he doesn't have to lie. Sick -- he
*absolutely* has to lie. Brooding, because Bernard
doesn't -- he has a perfectly normal headache. "A
little of both, I think."
"Uh, huh." Bernard gets out of the room's one
comfortable chair and leans over the bed, crossing
his arms and resting them on the metal bars.
Do they think he's going to escape? Not that it
wouldn't be wonderful. Right up until it would
He forces himself to look up, and Bernard is giving
him a terrifyingly serious look. "Yeah?"
"There are easier ways to get people to stay away
from your secrets, you know. More effective ones,
Tim swallows. "I don't --"
"First and foremost, stop being so damned
*obvious* about everything. Fade into the
"I'm pretty damned faded, Bernard."
Bernard raises an eyebrow at him. "You could've
blown me off at any time, you know. Called me a
faggot, punched me in the face, started talking
about the jejune faux-industrial band of the
"Or you could've gone the other way entirely.
Invited me to go play your little RPG, stopped
bathing, insisted on wearing clothes even less
stylish than your usual -- it *is* possible."
"Instead..." Bernard leans in a little closer. "Instead,
you've persisted in being... some fucked-up little
variety of a person, always just close enough, just
*interesting* enough to keep my attention. Will
this be the day Mr. Drake asks me if staying 'away
from the girls I like' means staying away from the
ones with penises? Will this be the day he decides
to open up and admit to..." Bernard's face twists
into something ugly, just for a moment.
"You're not actually going to *tell* me anything,
and I haven't the faintest clue what the secret
might be. I have a lot of *ideas* -- I'm good at
that sort of thing, as you may have noticed, but
frankly, you confuse the ever-loving *shit* out of
me, Drake, and I don't *like* that sort of thing."
"I'm sorry --"
Bernard's fingers are on his mouth. Two of them.
"Except for the fact that I clearly like it *enough*,
don't I?" The focus fades out of Bernard's eyes slowly,
replaced with something a lot more *diffuse*.
And then he bites his lip and pulls away, tucking
his hand under his other arm again.
"So why don't you answer an *easy* question for
"Why *are* you trying so hard? You're smart
enough to hide just as much as you clearly feel
you need to. You're certainly *freakish* enough.
So why aren't you doing a better job at hiding
Because I'm attracted to you. Because I clearly
don't have as much of a handle on my identity
issues as I thought I did a week ago. Because... "I
Bernard blinks. "You like me. You... want to be
"I don't have many. And." Tim licks his teeth.
"Neither do you."
A raised eyebrow, but Bernard stills, all over.
"You don't. You know everyone, and you know
everything *about* everyone, but you always go
*home* alone." Just like me.
"Someone's been paying attention."
Tim smirks. "I'm good at that."
Bernard shifts, frowning. "And if I want more than
"Then it gets complicated." Just like everything
"Mm-hm." Bernard leans in a little again. "How
complicated? Did you remember your imaginary
"She may have dumped me. I'm not entirely sure.
She..." Tim feels the smirk try to fade from his
face. "Has other priorities right now."
"And that interesting hunk of beef who dragged
you out of Willoughby's?"
Tim winces. He pretty much owes Kon a kidney at
this point. Or possibly just the opportunity to beat
him unconscious. "Even more complicated."
"Uh, huh. You're a busy little boy, aren't you,
"You're not wrong." Taking off the suit was never
going to be *easy*, but once upon a time he'd
honestly believed it would make other things...
less fraught. And Bernard deserves better.
At least Dick tended to keep his romantic fuckups
in the community, with people who could know
at least a *fraction* of the truth. Tim stares at his
Has his hand on Tim's face. Same positioning as
Bruce, entirely different feel. If Bernard has more
than writing calluses, Tim will eat his pillow.
And his mouth is even softer.
And Tim doesn't have time to think about doing
more than opening *his* mouth before Bernard's
pulling away again.
"So make a decision, Drake."
"Or throw a really *interesting* party." Bernard
stands up, and his smile is deeply smug. "I might
even consider attending."
Bernard doesn't leave so much as make an exit.
Tim listens to him charming the hell out of his
parents, and then the door finishes swinging shut
and the voices go back to being an indistinct,
It's long past time for him to get out of here.
Of course, there's still a giant *hole* in his wall,
but there are workmen coming out to fix it
tomorrow, and the plastic sheeting keeps out the
In the loudest way possible.
Still, he'd managed to get sleep during No Man's
Land, so he shouldn't really complain about *this*.
Granted, he didn't have to do his *math* homework
during No Man's Land, but he also knows how to
focus his concentration.
There are always distractions, and there will
always *be* distractions.
Like the guy hovering outside his... plastic.
Tim rips up one side of the tape and lets Kon in.
"You could've used the door this time."
"Dude, your parents had me *arrested* the last
time I was here."
"They understand now. You were worried."
"Hell fucking *yes*, I was worried!" Kon shoves
him -- lightly. "Christ, man, what the fuck were
Tim tapes the plastic back up. "I wasn't."
"I wasn't thinking. Not *clearly*, anyway." Tim
thinks about resting his head against the wall, and
then thinks better of it. Kon would almost certainly
*catch* him when the wall finished crumbling and
sent him hurtling towards the ground, but that
isn't really the point.
He turns around instead, and Kon is... staring at
him. Angry and confused.
"I won't do that again." Not without a great deal
more preparation, in any case.
Kon glares at him like he hears everything Tim
"Why am I not punching you in the *head* right
now, Tim? Christ, I don't even want to *call* you that
Tim winces. "I know. I --"
"You *don't* know. You..." Kon crosses his arms over
his chest and glares at him some more. "Okay, try to
imagine this. One day, your best friend in the entire
world calls you up and says he's decided to stop
existing. There's nothing you can do about it -- no
matter how much you want to, no matter how much
Tim stares at the floor.
"Instead, when you go to see him, his parents read
you the fucking riot act. So you try to hunt him
down *away* from them, and, guess what? He
really is *gone*. Not just gone -- he's *forgotten*
you, and everything you've shared for *years*.
"And he's *afraid* of you."
Tim bites the inside of his cheek. "Sorry isn't going
to cut it, is it?"
"No, it's *not* going to cut it, asshole. *Christ*!"
Tim stares at the floor a little more. Right up until
Kon grabs his shoulders and shakes him. *Not*
"Do you have any fucking idea how *scared* I
"And then you lose *consciousness*, and I thought
you were going to *die* and -- no?"
Tim looks at him. "No. I don't know. But I'm figuring
Kon just looks really, *really* frustrated. "*What*
are you figuring out?"
"That there are no easy solutions. To anything.
Everything has consequences, everything is
complicated, and... I never wanted to hurt you,
"Hurt me back...?"
"Hurt you..." Kon laughs, and Tim's still waiting to
hear someone do that like they really are happy
"You know, I think the worst part of this shit is
that now I know for *sure* that killing you -- no
matter how much I *really* want to -- won't
actually make things better."
Tim smiles a little helplessly. "That's reassuring."
"Reassuring. Fuck, you *asshole*."
Kon either doesn't care about the structural
damage he's caused to the house, or actually
wants to make another hole in the wall. This one
would be Tim-shaped, because Kon's *pressing*
him against the wall, and there's nothing soft
about his mouth at all.
It's like kissing a warm -- hot -- living statue, it's
like being kissed by something precisely as inhuman
as Kon is.
Only inhuman things don't moan like that. And
they don't taste that good.
Kon pulls back gasping and squeezes his shoulders
"Jesus. Jesus fucking *Christ*, Tim. Why haven't
we been doing that forever?"
"I have a girlfriend." And possibly a boyfriend.
"I *know* that. And she looks fucking hot in that
suit, by the way."
"I still haven't seen her in it."
Kon chokes on a laugh. "Yeah, well, you're missing
Bruce seems to think so, too. He's really not going
to say that. "Kon."
"Yeah. Christ. Tim..." And Kon isn't glaring at all,
anymore. It's that soft, vulnerable look he's had
since he was the Kid, and it makes Tim feel like it
always has. Like he needs to do absolutely
everything to make sure Kon's *okay*.
Tim takes a breath. "There's something else."
Another laugh. "What? You're planning to run off
to freaking Oa to become a Green Lantern? You're
getting married to Catwoman tomorrow? Come
on, lay it on me, jerkoff."
"I seem to have... uh. Well, remember Bernard?"
"The guy you were with at the coffee shop?"
"Yeah. I... might be dating him. Too."
"What the *fuck*, dude? You stop being Robin
and start being a *ho*?"
"Well. I've got a lot of free time." He probably
shouldn't laugh. Especially since he might not
be able to stop.
"Yeah, in between fucking attempts to *kill
yourself*, and next time let *me* do that and
Kon glares at him. And lets go of his shoulders. And
glares at him some more.
Tim shifts, rolling his shoulders. "So..."
"I just thought you should know."
Kon braces his hands on the wall to either side of
The wall groans. So does Kon.
And then Kon steps close again, and rests his
forehead against Tim's own.
Tim can taste his breath.
"Just..." Kon cups his shoulder again, and then slides
his hand over to his neck, stroking with his thumb.
Tim swallows. He wonders if this is where he's
supposed to point out that Bernard seems willing
He wonders when he's going to stop feeling like he's
lost his mind. Although, that tends to be a bad sign.
The people with the most confidence in their own
sanity. Kon's thumb feels really good.
He swallows again.
"It would be so *easy* to strangle you right now,
"You'd probably have better luck just crushing my
"I'll keep that in mind," Kon says, and looks up at him
again. "I have to get back to Smallville."
"No, *not* okay. What are *you* going to do?"
Tim doesn't lean in and bite Kon's lip. At all. "My
"Seriously. My math homework, and then I have to
call Nightwing and let *him* yell at me -- we got cut
off by my parents -- and then I plan on sleeping."
Kon frowns. "Yeah, but... after that. Everything
"I'm not feeling confident in my ability to make plans
Kon narrows his eyes. "And crushing your windpipe
would *definitely* kill you, right?"
Tim smiles ruefully. "I don't know, Kon. I really
don't. I don't... I don't even know what I want." It's
surprisingly easy to say.
"I could probably help you with some of that." The
thumb-stroke over his throat is distinctly...
"If you didn't have to get back to Smallville."
Kon snorts. "I don't think you're *allowed* to try to
get rid of me right now, man."
"Probably not." Tim reaches up between them and
pulls Kon's hand off his throat. And swallows
Kon squeezes his hand. "You're *definitely* not
allowed to disappear again, or hypnotize yourself
into thinking you're some normal kid who doesn't
*know* me, or anything else."
"Noted. You know..."
Kon twines his fingers with Tim's own. "What?"
"I... I used to wonder what it was like to have
Kon blinks at him for a long moment before smirking.
"You *would*, asshole."
And then he lets go of Tim's hand, rips the plastic
away from the wall again, and leaves.
Tim tapes it down. It'll be time for dinner soon, and
he can work on being Tim Drake some more while
his parents pretend they don't see him pretending,
or whatever they've decided to do.
And then homework, and then Dick yelling at him,
and then he can try to sleep while he tries to figure
out a) how to get back into the suit where he
belongs, b) whether he *is* still dating Steph, c)
whether Bernard was serious about the party, and d)
how many of the Titans would show up if he was.
Or maybe he could just have a nice stroke and die.
Tim waits for it.
The wind makes the plastic crinkle and shift the
shadows in a way that makes Tim feel like he's in the
It's comforting. He sighs and opens up his textbook,
and... gives up entirely, sneaks up to the attic, drops
his pants, and straps on the slingshot.
And then goes back to his room.
He can settle for knowing *one* thing about himself.
He has to admit that it's an improvement.