Halfway through the third tier systems checks, his scalp and the back of his neck started prickling. Either someone was getting ready to kill him or Kon was staring at him again.
Setting his lukewarm coffee on the console, Tim pushed back his cowl. "I thought," he said, scrubbing away the crawling sensation with his gauntlet, "you were used to the suit."
"No one gets used to that suit," said Kon. "Alien cockroaches living on spaceships that never see daylight have nightmares about that suit." In the security array, Tim could see him, slouched down at an auxiliary work station. "A thousand years from now, the Legion is still freaking about that suit."
Slouching and scowling, and definitely staring.
Tim turned in his chair to get the full effect. "At least I have a suit. Your left knee is tearing out." He watched with interest as Kon inspected his jeans.
Tim checked an imaginary box on one of his mental lists. Kon was quieter than he remembered, but he was still Kon. "Don't pull at it," he told him. "You'll make it unravel faster."
Kon frowned at him. "Dude, not helping."
He would have answered, but the console chirped at him, and he swung back around.
"The Borg's going to be pissed when he figures out you've been screwing around with the computer he just upgraded."
"He has his own team and other computers," Tim replied absently. He read through the results in the text box and entered a new series of commands. A light flashed on the console, then something chimed and the code resumed scrolling. "And he's not here."
No one was aside from the two of them. Titans Tower was deserted.
Raven was currently trekking through India and Nepal, part of her attempt to relearn, she said, how to separate her self from her soul self. Except for her and Kon, the rest of the team was offworld. Some kind of diplomatic mission, which was probably why they'd left Kon behind.
Tim hadn't asked for the details, partly because he hadn't wanted Cassie to think he was questioning her leadership abilities, and partly because if it was anything important he'd have heard about it already, but also because he didn't need to know. He wasn't an official part of the team anymore, just an alternate for those times when someone needed an extra hand. For the next seven days, someone was Kon.
On the main screen, data sleeted by at five hundred characters per second. The security vids filled the two secondary screens, cycling through multiple views of the Tower, inside and out.
Tim listened to the sound of Kon getting up and beginning to wander around. He took a sip of cold coffee and started counting backward from one hundred in Arabic.
Onscreen, Kon crossed his arms. He immediately uncrossed them and shoved his hands in his pockets. Tim hit sixty-seven and switched to German. Kon pulled his hands out of his pockets, dropped a fist on the wrap-around console, and frowned at the central control panel.
Tim interrupted his internal countdown at forty-four in Japanese, saying out loud in English, "Don't." But Kon had already depressed a key with his TTK and the emergency lights were blinking.
Tim counted down to twenty in Latin. Then he leaned forward and keyed in the deactivation code. The lights died and he said, "I would appreciate it if you'd either find something non-obstructive to do in here or find something else to do somewhere else."
Seconds of silence piled up on top of each other without accompanying sound or movement. Tim glanced at the security array. Kon was still standing behind him, staring at the back of his head like the Riddler had given him a life or death puzzle and Tim was the answer.
"What is up with you?" he said.
Tim craned his neck to look at him in realtime. "I'm sorry?"
Kon folded his arms again and stared at the floor like there was something more interesting than tile down there.
Tim waited patiently. He was good at patience and waiting, both of which could be considered survival traits if you also considered being able to calculate whether or not the rooftop you were on had at least a fifty percent chance of a flyby by Batman and/or Robin on a given night a survival trait, which he did. Waiting for Kon's brain to catch up with his mouth was easy.
The console hummed quietly to itself. Kon ran a hand through his hair. It was growing out some; the s-shaped spit curl was coming back. Kon must have realized it because he made a pissed off sound and tugged at the hair in question before he dropped his hand. Tim watched his fingers curl into a fist; clench, release… relax.
"Waiting isn't going to change anything," Tim said. "Depending on the situation, it might make it worse." To his surprise, the corner of Kon's mouth quirked.
"Well, that's kind of it," he said.
"It?" Tim said.
"Yeah, it," Kon said. "You." His head came up, and his expression… Tim didn't think he'd ever seen that expression, and up until now, he'd been fairly certain he knew all of Kon's expressions.
It was weird, for lack of a better word. Weird and intent, and the intensity was, for present intents and purposes, focused on Tim.
"You've been freakier than normal since we, uh—"
Weird turned uncomfortable. Tim stepped in before Kon could fumble the batarang toss worse than he already had. "Since I lost my mind and you got your body back," he said helpfully.
The tips of Kon's ears flushed when he was embarrassed, Tim noted, and that was new as well. We don't need no stinking self-censor had been Kon's semi-official motto well before Tim had met him in the wreckage that was Metallo's wake.
"Yeah, that," Kon said, rubbing his hand over the back of his neck. "It's like, I never know what you're going to do now, you know? One minute you're freaking out, I think you're having a mental breakdown, and then you're grabbing me and squeezing." He shrugged, something about the gesture almost helpless, and slid an uneasy glance at Tim.
Tim didn't know what his own expression looked like. It couldn't have been anything good, though, because Kon said, "I'm not complaining, man. It's kind of…" His face went through a few contortions before settling into his old 'you and me, buddy' grin. "Cool, I guess?"
It was the diametric opposite of getting smacked into a wall by Metallo. Everything stopped, yes, and there was a moment of pure agony, but then life started up again, only working more efficiently, working better, working the way it was supposed to.
Kon was back. He was really back, and he was standing in front of Tim, and Tim's hand clenched around the need to touch and make sure. Kon's smile caught on something in his chest, jerking him up short and hard, and he had to remind himself to keep breathing normally.
"You showing actual emotion on an hourly basis is pretty cool," Kon continued. He was still grinning, still playing hell with Tim's upper respiratory functions. "It has to be healthier than shutting everything down the way you Bats usually do. And hey, can't blame you for wanting to hug me. People can't keep their hands off me, I am just that awesome."
And that. That was. Kon was.
Tim was five years ago. He was fourteen, standing in a demolished mall holding a radiation counter, and Superboy was grinning at him. Funny I didn't set that thing off. I'm pretty rad myself.
Contrary to popular opinion, Tim's sense of humor hadn't been surgically removed at birth. It was just that nobody got the joke but him. Given that most people encountered his sense of humor while dangling from a gargoyle twenty stories up via the decel line wrapped around their ankle, often while wearing nothing but a very damp pair of underwear, this was to be expected.
Kon knew this. He knew Tim. He should have known better.
"So that's it?" Tim said. "That's your big problem?" Kon blinked at him.
Tim swallowed his smile. "You're saying I didn't hug you enough before?"
It startled Kon so much he started floating. Tim saw him realize what he was doing. Watched him push himself back to earth. Heard him say, "What? No, man, I—"
"You could have said something before now, Conner," Tim said, his voice calm, maybe even placid. "I'm not Batman. I don't neglect my friends' needs."
Pushing his chair around, he stood up and took a step forward for the pleasure of seeing Kon step back, wide-eyed and on the verge of freaking out.
"I'm just saying we should hang out more. Get back to being us, best friends and all that good shit. Like we used to be." He backed up another step. "Seriously, that's it."
"Is it?" Tim slid forward another step. Kon's eyes got wider, if that was even possible. And then the emergency wave went off.
Tim used the sound and Kon's distraction to get a lot closer. He was two feet away when Kon seemed to remember why he was supposed to be freaking, stopped staring at the console and went back to staring at Tim. "Boo," Tim said in a normal tone, not trying to talk over the alarm. He turned around and went to answer the comm.
He was talking to a panicked JLA liaison when Kon wandered over to lean against the console. "You are so, so dead, wonder boy."
"Hmn," Tim said. Then, to the frantic female voice on the other end of the comm, "Could you repeat that, ma'am? This connection is generating some static."
Five point five nine minutes later Tim made a few adjustments to his stolen batwing's trajectory and said, "You know where I live."
The staticky rush of Kon's flight filled the speakers. "Is that some kind of reverse threat?"
"It's a statement of fact. You know where I live. You can fly. Do the math."
"What, you want me to just show up?" Even with the background noise, he sounded horrified. "Dude, I just got revivified! I don't have a death wish."
Tim didn't bother keeping his amusement out of his voice. "You didn't seem to have a problem with just showing up last month."
"I thought you had the freaking Midgar plague. Even the Bat has to have some kind of situational meta exemption for plagues, am I right?"
"Possibly." But probably not. There was something comforting about the fact that not even death could shake Bruce's cultivated aura of intimidation; admittedly it was also creepy, but in a way that only increased the comfort level. Still. "Dick doesn't have a problem with you," he felt obligated to say. "Gotham is more or less more his beat than Bruce's right now."
Kon seemed to be thinking that over. "Right now?"
"For the time being." Or until Bruce got tired of running around keeping an eye on his new cadre of Batman derivatives, but Tim wasn't inclined to share that theory. He was more interested in keeping his eye on the bogeys on his radar. "One minute to engage."
"When you say more or less," Kon said, "how much more than less are we talking?"
While Tim was trying to think up a convenient lie, the mecha thankfully attacked.
Mecha were reliable that way.
"Anyway, when did you get a cat?"
"I didn't. Damian did. Incoming at ten o'clock."
"So that's why it's such a pain in the ass. Not that your cat wouldn't be a bigger one. Is this Monday?"
"I fucking knew it. It's always mecha on Monday."
"Two on your six, I'm coming around. Additionally, have you been playing with the pretty red rocks again? I thought Superman explained why that wasn't a good idea."
"It couldn't be something cool like, I don't know, Gamera. It's always got to be alien invaders with big-ass space guns."
"Beast Boy has MST3K on file, you can have all the Gamera you want later. Right now, pay attention to the alien invaders and their extensive weaponry."
"All of it? Seriously? Even Santa Claus Conquers the Martians?"
"Shut up and fight."
"When I said let's hang, I was thinking more video games and pizza and less freaky skulking on rooftops."
Tim glanced briefly at Kon, who was leaning against a goat-horned gargoyle, before turning his attention back to the restaurant where Tam and M'gann – currently wearing Tim Wayne's skin – were having dinner. No sign of the target yet. He adjusted his lenses. "I didn't ask you to come. Aren't you supposed to be at the Tower?"
"Did you know your eye holes just got red?" Kon said, sounding fascinated and repulsed in equal measure. "Like, vampire red. The white's weird enough, but dude, that is creepy as fuck."
"The Tower?" Tim repeated. Kon's defensive shrug looked strange with the thermal sensors activated.
"Starfire's covering for me. I told her I was giving you a hand. She's cool with that."
Tim switched off thermal imaging and turned all the way around. "Starfire?"
Kon's mouth tightened. "I said she was okay with it," he said sullenly.
Tim resisted his urge to check Kon over for other indications of mind control. "Just to clarify," he said. "You, Superboy, called Starfire up to take over monitor duty at the Tower so you could voluntarily come to Gotham and assist me in setting a trap for the person presently attempting to assassinate Timothy Drake-Wayne."
"Sounds about right," Kon said. He'd grown some caution sometime over the last few days: instead of mouthing off he was eyeing Tim like Tim was a homemade bomb connected to a dead man's switch.
"Right now," Tim continued, "Starfire is at the Tower. Where you, Superboy, could also be, if you chose to. Only you apparently don't because you're here."
And now Kon just looked worried. "Uh, yeah. Did you by any chance get hit in the head recently? Fall down the cave stairs? Attacked by fratricidal demon spawn?"
"I could ask you something similar."
They stared at each other. Around them, below them, above them, Gotham kept on keeping on. "You are such an asshole," Kon said. "I can't believe I came all the way out here for this."
"Neither can I," Tim agreed. "Not with Kory at the Tower."
Kon clenched his hands like he wanted to punch something repeatedly. Probably Tim. "Jesus, Rob. You – why the fuck do I even bother?"
"I don't know. Why do you?"
"Because I just do!" There were week-old puppies who did defiance better than Kon. Tim was about to tell him that, but Kon said "Rob!" again in a voice that sounded more freaked than angry, and then Scarab was shimmering into view less than a meter away from Tim.
Some kind of cloak. Interesting. Tim was thinking that he should have finished the thermal sweep when she slammed into him, taking both of them over the edge of the roof.
Scarab's only good point was her tendency to attack without the usual bad guy manifesto spiel. It was also one of her bad points. Trying not to get strangled in freefall by an enemy with focus wasn't the easiest thing, but neither was a no-holds-barred duel with an al Ghul. Tim jammed a shuriken into the servomotor powering her left arm and tried to keep her right hand from cutting off his air.
The ground was coming up fast. He stopped trying not to get strangled and started groping for his grapple, but two meters away from sudden death the rockets on her jetpack engaged, and they shot upward again. Tim was back to trying not to get strangled when the impact he'd been expecting finally happened.
They tumbled through the air, spinning out of control. Tim was seeing bright white with green and purple haze around the edges; Scarab's hands were still locked around his throat.
Scarab was getting rattled in more than one way. She shook Tim, Kon shook her; "Fucking let go!" Kon shouted, and then her hands were wrenched away from Tim's throat.
Tim opened his eyes and looked down a long way. He was hanging upside down over Kon's shoulder, eye to eye, so to speak, with Kon's ass. Kon's shoulder was pressing his bandolier into his chest and abdomen in very wrong ways. He started redesigning the belt setup in his head, which kept him from thinking too closely about his churning gut and raw throat.
He hung there, getting his breath back, listening to the crunch of Scarab's suit in Kon's hands. Kon was making a sound Tim chose to categorize as a growl. If Tim's throat hadn't felt most of the way crushed, he might have laughed.
"You okay?" Kon asked as they started to float downward.
"Yes," Tim attempted to say. He carefully cleared his throat and tried again. "We need to take her in." In his peripheral vision he could see Scarab dangling limp from Kon's right hand. Police sirens were screaming toward them. Down below, lights flashed on two cruisers parked in front of Moneypenny's. A crowd was forming, coming together outside the restaurant; Gotham liked its street theatre as much as the next town and superheroes always guaranteed a good show.
Hovering directly over the police cruisers, Kon lowered Scarab down for them to take.
"You can let go now," Tim said. He followed up with a practical demonstration, kneeing Kon in the diaphragm to make sure he got the point. Kon's TTK wrapped around his legs, effectively immobilizing them.
"Soon as we're down," Kon said. "So does this count as a hug?" He sounded like he'd been saving that one up.
"I still have the kryptonite ring somewhere," Tim reminded him. Kon snorted.
"Sure you do, wonder boy," he said, and Tim felt them touch down. He struggled up, his hands propped against Kon's shoulders, but Kon's arm was around him, and for some reason he wasn't letting go.
"Kon," Tim hissed. "Let me down." From the back of the still growing crowd, Tam and M'gann waved to him. M'gann was grinning, and her smile looked extremely wrong on Tim's face. Camera flashes were starting to go off.
"Oh look," Kon said with what Tim considered to be enthusiasm inappropriate to the situation. His grip tightened around Tim's hips, an action Tim interpreted as ominous at best. If Kon felt the need to restrain Tim further than he already had, that meant things Tim wasn't going to approve of were about to happen.
"It's the ladies and gentlemen of the Gotham press," Kon said brightly. Tim could almost see the sparkles. "Emphasis on lady. Evening, ma'am. You're looking particularly fine this fine night."
"You're not so bad yourself," Tim heard Vicki Vale say. "You're certainly a refreshing change in scenery. Care to share your reason for being in Gotham?"
"That'd be Rob, here."
They were, Tim realized, holding a conversation around his backside, and there was nothing he could do about it outside an undignified struggle or a barge load of kryptonite. "Kon."
"And this visit would be pleasure or business oriented…?" purred Vale.
Tim actually heard Kon's leer. "I like to mix it up."
"You're my kind of guy, SB," said Vale. "Smile for the birdie, boys."
Later, Tim realized that trying to turn around while disentangling himself from Kon wasn't the best idea. Hindsight, etc.
Digital cameras clicked away. Vale gave Tim the most evil half grin he'd ever seen, and in Gotham, that was saying something. "Don't worry, kiddo," she told him. "We got your good side and then some."
Kon started laughing. His TTK hold slipped along with his attention span, and Tim took advantage of his distraction to slide down from his shoulder and curl his cape around him. "I'm leaving," he told Kon. "Feel free to stay." Ignoring Vale's questions and avoiding her eyes, he walked over to talk to the cops with all the dignity a cowl and ankle-length cape afforded him.
By the time Tim was finished with the cops and Scarab, Kon was hovering a few feet over him in the air, still grinning. He didn't stop grinning or come back down until Tim threatened to have Oracle contact Batman. "I'm not talking about the nice one," Tim added.
"Dude, lighten up."
Tim leaned in until his mouth was almost touching Kon's ear. Some more flashes popped, and Tim tried to forget how bad this was going to look in full newsprinted color. "Let's see how light you are when your face is all over the Gotham Gazette," he murmured.
It was a cheap shot, sure, but the look on Kon's face made up for a lot of the evening. Not all of it. Maybe forty percent, forty-five if he was feeling generous, which he wasn't. It still beat the alternative.
At least until he opened the morning paper.
Superboy's and Red Robin's mutual surprise stared back at Tim from page one.
"Look on the bright side," said Tam from behind the paper, "it pushed the rumors of our much delayed Fox-Wayne merger back to the society page."
Tim swallowed a groan and tossed the rest of his coffee into the nearest trash can, ducking a jogger with ear buds and a flock of power-walking execs in the process. "You're supposed to be helping me find an apartment, not compounding my trauma."
She lowered the page, frowning at him over the top. "I am helping you. Or I would be if you'd stop rejecting every suggestion I make." She poked him in the arm. "You know what your problem is? You're a reverse snob."
"Better than being Tim Wayne," Tim muttered. She stopped walking so fast he almost ran into her. "Tam?"
She spun around as fast as she'd stopped walking, and then she was in Tim's face, her finger hovering somewhere around his nose. "Just what is your damage, mister?" she demanded. "No, not all that – that stuff you've gone through," she said, waving the hand not in Tim's face. "I know all about that, okay? I'm good at research."
Tim felt his mouth curve. "I know. Want a job?"
"I already have one I like, thanks," she said. "Anyway, I wouldn't work for you if you offered me… oh, I don't know, Gotham on a plate, or whatever." The finger fell away, but the frown hung around. "Stop trying to derail me, damn it. I'm serious."
"I'm listening," Tim said, making his expression as attentive as he could.
She snorted. "And I've got a bridge in Brooklyn for sale." She eyed him with slow-growing disgust while he counted out five seconds in his head. There was a stifled noise of what sounded like aggravation, and she threw up her hands, hitting him in the face with the paper she still held. "Talking to you is like talking to a wall. God. How does Dick even deal with you?"
Tim took the paper, folded it and handed it back to her. "He doesn't," he told her. "When I annoy him too much he kicks my butt, then he forgets the whole thing by morning. That's Dick."
She stared at him. "I will never understand you guys."
"And that's a good thing," Tim said. It came out with more force than he'd intended, and Tam's eyebrows rose.
"Why are you so down on your family? Yes, they are your family, don't tell me they're not," she said, cutting him off. "I know you care, I've seen it. But you cut your life into these cookie-cutter boxes," she made a chopping motion, "and then I end up hiking three miles in two inch heels while you turn down every apartment I show you. I'm getting blisters on my blisters from walking because you don't want… what? Somebody to see Tim Drake driving around in a Wayne car when he's not wearing a suit and tie? Are you that screwed up?"
Yes, Tim wanted to and didn't say. Yes, I'm that screwed up, and I'm that much of a jerk, but I'm not going to say it because talking about themselves is something Waynes don't do, and Drakes aren't much better.
They stood close together in the middle of the sidewalk, people streaming by on either side of them. Tam was looking up at him, her eyes searching his face. Tim hoped she found what she needed there because he didn't know how to answer her.
When a guy with a briefcase knocked into them from the side, Tim pulled her into the lee of the closest building. He checked his watch while the guy stammered out an apology and took off.
"I'm sorry," he said once the guy was gone. "For everything, blisters included. I can—"
"If you offer to call Alfred, I'm going to smack you."
If it was Dick standing here instead of Tim, he'd smile and all would be forgiven. Unfortunately, Tim wasn't Dick. "We can get a cab?" he offered without much hope.
Her smile was immediate, and more reprieve than amusement. "Nice save, schizo boy, but I'm liking the fresh air." Tilting her head back, she closed her eyes and swallowed a deep, obvious breath. "Been cooped up in offices for the last week and a half, which you'd know if you paid attention to your friends and family, or anything but you know what." Again with the finger point of disapproval.
Tim knew better than to protest. As Dick had once told him, sometimes there was nothing you could do but stand there and take it. And at least this was Tam. Steph would've popped him one and walked away while he tried without success to stop the bleeding.
Tam looked away and sighed. "Let's just get this over with before my feet decide to emancipate themselves, okay?"
It got a laugh out of him, surprising them both if the look on Tam's face was anything to go by. They started walking again and Tim let thirteen steps go by before saying, tentatively, "Did you want to come by the house tonight? I have a few hours free before I have to go out. We could run through some of the scenarios I outlined for you last week."
She rolled her eyes at him. "Pffft, you are oblivious. And the answer is no. As delightful as that sounds—" which was, Tim gathered from her tone, not at all "—I'm going to have to turn down what I'll be kind and call your dinner invitation. I have a date."
It was Tim's turn to stop walking and stare. "I thought we agreed—"
"With Megan," she finished, and yanked on his sleeve. "I'm meeting her at six, so move your butt and let's get this done."
Tim followed without protest. There was no other option. He was almost certain he'd felt his brain crack, somewhere along the medulla oblongata, he thought, because his brain/body connection didn't seem to be working right. "Megan," he said. "And you."
"Mm-hmn. We're going to a movie—and before you ask, yes, it'll be, you know. The right face." She wrinkled her nose. "How soon can we stop doing that, anyway?"
"As soon as you dump me." M'gann and… Tam.
"Oh good," she said. "I'll get right on that." Tim snapped out of his haze.
"I need another couple of weeks," he said. "We started this for Vale and... that first assassination attempt. I tied up the last loose end on that, but I haven't been off the support braces long enough."
She was pulling a bottle of water out of her bag, but she looked up long enough to frown at him. "Duh. And yeah, somehow I didn't think it was going to be that easy to get rid of you. At least Dick's letting us have the penthouse for the night." A deep dimple hollowed her right cheek. "No offense, but I like seeing Meg when I look at her."
"None taken." But. "How did that, um, happen?"
A pair of skaters looped through the crowd, temporarily separating them. Tam waited until they were gone to say, "Earth to Tim, we've spent a lot of evenings together this year." Uncapping the water, she took a drink. "We got to know each other. Anyway," another swallow of water, "we can go see the place on the corner of Forty-seventh and Perez, but after that I have to get home. The rest of these—" she slapped the paper against Tim's chest— "will have to wait."
"I… that's… fine. It's fine," Tim repeated, and gave up trying to make his brain stop flickering like a burned out connection. He tucked his hands into his pockets and glanced sideways at her profile. She looked… determined. He wasn't sure if that counted as good or bad. For him, at least. "I take it you've seen her without the cammo?"
"Mm. She has the most gorgeous skin, you know?" Tam said in a far-away voice. Tim decided he wasn't actually having this conversation in realtime. Obviously he was still hanging over Kon's shoulder, hallucinating courtesy of the blood rushing to his head.
And in that case, he guessed it was safe to say, "I've always thought so. Star Trek may have something to do with that."
Tam laughed and smacked his arm. "I wasn't talking about color, idiot, although yes, she's beautiful everywhere. All of her," she added, and Tim got the impression that if he didn't get the point she'd smack him again. Apparently it was his day for getting smacked. "Also, sheesh, could you be any more of a geek?"
"According to many, no," he said. "And now I'm a curious geek."
She laughed again, her cheeks going a little darker than normal. "Come on," she said, her heels clicking faster on the pavement. "We need to get going if we're going to see that last place."
Tim let her pull him along through the stream of pedestrian traffic. He waited until they were past an especially crowded block before he said, "You were saying something about color?"
She grinned at him. "No, I was saying something about gorgeous skin. Did you know they don't have pores like we do? Their skin breathes differently from ours. Meg says it has something to do with the, um, shifting. She explained, but she did it in her language and it's kind of hard to translate it into any of ours. It's like…" Her smile sank into an embarrassed shape. "I know it sounds totally corny, but holding her hand is like touching satin without flaws."
He'd known about the pores, but hadn't given much thought to the implications. He was making up for that now. He thought about Tam and M'gann and skin, human and Martian, together. He thought about color and texture and form. At that point he started thinking beyond abstracts, so he briefly switched to thinking about tonight's mission and Kon, before deciding that Dick was right. He needed to stop thinking so much.
"So, Conner," Tam said as they stopped to wait for a light to change.
Tim got out of the way of an older lady and her Pomeranian and reminded himself that telepathy was not the Martian equivalent of an STD. "Mmn."
"Forceful kind of guy."
And there went the last ceramic filling his dad had paid for. "Sometimes." The light changed; Tam hooked her hand through his arm and tugged him out into the crosswalk.
"I guess you guys have a lot of history together." She said something else after that, raising her voice slightly to be heard over the traffic, but Tim didn't hear it. He was trapped in a time loop You guys have a lot of history together and there was no mental Booster Gold to pull him free.
His body was on autopilot; he knew he was moving but he couldn't remember where he was going. He was walking, his eyes were open, and Kon was the only thing he could see. Three years of Superboy, Kon-El, Conner Kent: a panorama of attitude and antagonism, stupidity and heroics and friendship.
Superboy, falling for Robin crying wolf; Robin laughing at Superboy while he tucked the kryptonite ring into his belt.
Superboy and Impulse flying, running circles around Robin until he threatened to break out the kryptonite and the sticky-string; Superboy laughing with Robin and at him and always catching him; sometimes even listening when Robin told him to shut up and settle down.
Kon, scared shitless of his genes, wanting, needing Tim to tell him it was going to be okay.
Luthor's clone coming at them like Batman had always said he would. Kon, overriding mental programming that wasn't his fault; shattering his ties to his so-called maker then crawling inside himself like Tim used to, showing Tim why Kon had gotten so angry every time Tim had done the same thing to him.
Conner, dying in the ruins of one Luthor's tower. Saving the world.
"Yes," Tim heard himself say. He thought he sounded normal, but when he looked at Tam she looked back, stricken. Tim started reevaluating his previous data on Martian telepathy and human STDs.
He could do a study. He already had a test couple, and they'd probably cooperate given that Tam looked like she was about to start crying and/or offer to do whatever Tim needed her to do forever.
"Oh god, Tim," she said as her face started to crumple, "I'm so sorry. I forgot. I don't—god, I don't know how I forgot. I'm sorry."
"It's…" not okay. Not your fault. "It's all right." He didn't attempt a smile. He wasn't that good at it at the best of times. "If we finish the apartment search on an unmarked Ducati, can we forget this conversation happened?"
Her expression cleared like the sun coming up over a cave in the desert. "Are you kidding me? Yes!"
"Then this is our turn. I have a… kind of a place. It's close." The staccato of Tam's heels missed a beat. Tim caught her arm, steadying her. She made a face at her feet.
"I hate these things. Maybe I do need a new job. No, don't," she said before he could open his mouth. "Don't even go there."
He was pretty sure this smile came out okay. "Yes, ma'am." She smiled back but it seemed distracted. As though she was working something out in her head. "Okay?" Tim asked.
"Mm? Oh. Sure. I'm just—" It came out fast; maybe she wanted to get all the words out before she changed her mind: "Can I ask you something else? Nothing personal, I swear," she added, slanting a look at him.
"You can ask." Tim turned down a side street and ducked into the first alley between two apartment buildings, pulling her after him. He keyed a sequence into his phone and part of one wall slid up. "Through here," he said, not waiting to see if she was following. He remembered she was good at keeping up.
Her heels echoed oddly in the tunnel, the first of their kind in their surroundings. There was, Tim thought as the opening slid shut, a first time for everything.
Tam was looking around as though she expected something to jump out at her. "Spiders?" she suggested. Tim's mouth twitched.
"No more than the usual." He pressed another set of keys and the riding lights went on. He walked, Tam clicking along behind him, until the tunnel opened up onto the third of his four Gotham bases. There were other official bunkers for Red Robin's use, but he liked having places Bruce didn't know about—probably didn't know about.
"You," Tam said, "get all the cool toys." She was standing beside a dark blue bike, her hand resting on the controls. Tim tossed her a helmet.
She had one of the most beautiful smiles he'd ever seen; on par with Dick's best effort. "Every chance I get. As soon as I move out, one of these pretty girls will be mine, oh yes."
"I'd let you drive," Tim lied as he pulled on his helmet, "but Dick would probably kill me. It's his bike."
"Why does that not surprise me?" She was turning the helmet over in her hands, a half smile on her face.
She opened her mouth, then closed it. He was about to ask if she was ready to go when she said, "Why was he here last night? Superboy."
The flush always started at the base of his throat. Knowing made it easier to fight it down; so easy to will his heart rate back to normal before he looked up. "The rest of the Titans are offworld right now, and he's bored. I'm his best friend. You could say I'm babysitting." He shrugged. "That and I'm on call. I'm not on the team anymore, but I help out when they're low on members dirtside."
She blinked. "Isn't that kind of problematic? I mean, you're still working from here, right?"
"It won't be tonight."
She stepped back as he walked toward her; watched him straddle the bike while she pulled on her helmet. She got in one last question before he started the engine. "What's happening tonight?"
Tim was glad he had the helmet on. He didn't need a mirror to tell him he was completely failing at smiling. "I'm sending him out with Robin."
Tim turned in his seat in time to see Kon hold out his hand. A foot away from Kon, Damian and Heba were staring at his hand with what looked like intense suspicion.
Of course, this was Damian. Intense suspicion was his default setting, and Heba always looked suspicious when she was sitting on Damian's shoulder.
It was the pose. She dug her back claws into the back of his shirt – or tunic in this case – and hung her front legs out over his chest. She looked like a vulture waiting for a patch of choice roadkill to breathe its last. Add Damian's scowl to the mix and the suspicion level ratcheted up several intensity notches.
"Don't touch my cat," he said.
Kon pulled his hand in, folding his arms over his chest. "She was okay with it last time I was here," Tim heard him mutter.
Damian wasn't fully suited up yet and his mask was still in his locker, so Tim had a perfect view of his narrowed eyes. The whole point of a domino, aside from disguise, was the added intimidation factor. Damian, Tim thought, was the only one of them who didn't need any additional assistance.
"If my father was here, you would not be."
"You go right on thinking that if it works for you," Kon told him. "You know," he said, lowering his voice and leaning in as though he was imparting some great truth, "wearing the R doesn't make you Robin."
Heba's growl started in the back of her throat. The air in Tim's lungs was hot with Damian's anger.
"Superboy," Tim said, and Kon's head swung around. His eyes were full of something Tim couldn't define. It wasn't anger – not in the way Damian was angry. It was more like a week-old untended knife wound, raw and ugly and still seeping.
"My father—" Damian started to say.
"Robin," Tim interrupted, his eyes still on Kon's. "Finish suiting up."
"I don't take orders from you, Drake."
"You do if you want to be a Titan. Finish suiting up."
He listened to Damian's stomping retreat and wondered what it was like being able to pick out individual heartbeats. If Kon was listening to his right now, Tim knew the sound would be normal. Steady.
A physical lie, and no better or worse than a verbal one. He was so good at lying to his friends, why stop now? Bruce would probably call it a necessary life skill.
Kon was frowning at him; he knew Tim well enough to know that incontrovertible evidence never was. "Why is that kid not dead?"
"His father," Tim said dryly and Kon laughed, short and unamused.
"Not one of your better ideas, Rob," he said. He rose off the ground and floated over to Tim. "Ditch the spawn and I'll take you over to the Tower. Fly Kon Air, all expenses paid round trip, luxury seating, hey look, Ma, no strings."
"The Teen Titans need Robin," Tim said.
"Yeah, I know," Kon said. "That's what I'm trying to tell you." He landed beside Tim and leaned against the computer console. "So when are you coming back?"
"Kon," Tim said. He needed Bruce's enunciation. To his ears, he was close, but always falling short. "Listen to me."
Kon's mouth snapped shut. The raw knife wound look was back, but Tim wasn't letting himself think about that.
"The Teen Titans need Robin," he said again. "Damian is Robin now." He was almost sorry for the snap in his voice, but Kon's mouth was staying closed, so almost was as far as sorry went. He rubbed at his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. Closed his eyes so he wouldn't have to look at Kon when he dropped his hand. "For me." He hated this. He hated himself. "Do this for me. Okay?" And he reopened his eyes.
It was a week for new things, and also for old things made new again. Kon's grin was wide and goofy, and so young it made Tim feel decades older. "Sure, Rob," he said, smacking Tim lightly on the shoulder. "You should've just said."
I know, which is why I didn't, Tim didn't say. "Just try not to kill each other. Or anyone else."
Damian made a rude noise. He was back, fully suited up, Heba perched on his shoulder, purring. "Any errors made won't be mine," he said.
"Right," Kon said, drawing out the vowel. "Who else in here has an S on their chest, raise your hand. Anyone else? No?" He looked down at Damian. "I'm not the one who has to worry about going splat if I fall."
Damian's lip curled. Heba jumped off his shoulder onto the back of Tim's chair. "There's no pride in using what your genes hand you, alien."
"Both of you knock it off," said Tim. They turned, blinking at him like they'd forgotten he was there. "Just… go," he said. "Keep in contact."
Damian was smirking again. "Are you sure you two don't want to snuggle first?" he said. "Apparently, you have no problem with public displays of affection. By the way, Drake, nice photo. You should have let me kill Vale when I offered."
In the following silence, he stroked a hand down Heba's fur before strutting over to his bike.
"He's dead," Kon said flatly, and flew after him.
Tim listened to them leave the cave. It was impossible not to.
Even after the sound of Damian's bike faded, they were still there, coming in loud and clear over the comm.
Tim stared at his screen and thought about comming Oracle to ask why she hadn't killed them all yet. He thought about comming Steph and requesting an intervention. He thought about comming Dick and asking for an assignment, any assignment so long as it got him out of Gotham. He thought about comming Bruce, which was when he decided he needed to stop thinking about anything but his onscreen data.
It was going to be a long night.
"Fyi, you snore."
"What nonsense are you babbling now, alien?"
"I guess that's better than clone, but dude, reality check. I've got made in the USA stamped on my ass, and I'm only half Kryptonian."
"Very well, hybrid. I do not snore."
"I was talking to Rob, squirt."
"Call me that again and I will retrieve a piece of green kryptonite from my father's extensive collection and feed it to you. And how would you know?"
"How would I know what?"
"If he snores."
"Because I've slept with him, duh," said Kon. "Uh, I mean next to him. When he was sick."
In the cave, sitting in front of the primary computer console, Tim put his head in his hands. From somewhere in Gotham, the sounds of Damian and Kon hurting people came in distantly over the open comm line.
"My father thinks you're potentially evil and a bad influence," Damian said. "But it's only Drake, so I don't see the problem."
"Did I ask?" Kon said. "Also, why hasn't Rob dropped you down a dimensional hole yet?"
"He did. They sent me back." Damian's voice was unbearably smug, but the worst part? Kon laughed.
On top of the console, Heba stopped cleaning her hind leg long enough for a scornful cough.
"Tell me about it," Tim replied, and rubbed his eyes. If he pushed hard enough on them, maybe his brain would stop hurting.
"So, you work with Batusi numero dos, right?"
"Mostly. Fatgirl makes for adequate backup, I suppose."
"Tell me you don't call her that to her face. Also, totally fallacious, by the way. She's stacked."
"Tt. I don't see the point of oversized mammaries. They merely get in the way."
"Kid, someday you're gonna retract that statement, trust me on this one. Hope I'm around to watch."
Something soft nudged Tim's hand. He shifted his fingers so he could see Heba's questioning look. "No," Tim told her, "it never stops. Trust me on this one."
Two more days until the team was back. Just two days, and this would be… not over, but more manageable. He hoped they made it through those two days without destroying anything large and valuable. Like the manor.
The Teen Titans staggered past Tim and Kon like they weren't there. They kept going until they ran into the rec room furniture and fell onto it like a bunch of zombies getting magically unanimated.
Lorena was the only one still on her feet. She kept walking, past the chairs and couches and the game controllers Tim and Kon had left on the floor, and out the far door. She made a very loud splash when she hit the pool.
"Gangwaymakeaholecomingthrough-" Tim's cape flared briefly in the Wake of Bart before settling back down.
"He's fine," Cassie said without lifting her arm from her eyes or her head from the back of the easy chair she'd landed on. "He just hasn't had any junk food for a week."
"Screw junk food," Jaime moaned. "I want Mom's tamales and my aunt's lasagna. And chocolate empañadas. And fruit, oh my god. Grapes, mangos, cantaloupe." He turned over on his couch and stared glassily at the ceiling. His suit was starting to melt away, and his smile would have freaked Brother Blood out.
"Pomegranates," Cassie said dreamily. "Athena has a garden full of them. They're always ripe."
A green finger pointed at the ceiling. "Melons," Gar's muffled voice added. He'd tripped over a beanbag cushion and landed facedown on another, but he was close enough to Amy's chair to get a vicious kick in the ribs.
Over his whine, she said, "Don't even go there, champ. They mean real fruit." Like Jaime's, her armor was sloughing away, the dull sheen of it almost unhealthy looking. She stretched, groaning, "God damn, that feels good. I thought I was never getting that off again," then lapsed back into the collective stupor.
Tim circled the half moon of furniture, drifting past clumps of human wreckage to settle on the arm of Cassie's chair. "Tough mission?" he said quietly.
She barked a short, rusty laugh and opened her mouth to answer, but Bart vibrated to a stop next to them, jittering as only Bart could after a gallon of rocky road ice cream and half a bag of peanut M&Ms.
"Timnofoodtheydidn'thavefoodtherewasn'tany." He grabbed Tim by his bandolier and shook and vibrated both of them, "Theydidn'thavefooddidn'tdidn'tDIDN'T" until Kon came over and detached him.
He threw himself into Kon's arms. "It was terrible, Conner, terrible. Hold me."
Evidently realizing that Bart was going to have to shake himself down, Kon let him crawl up him and hang off his shoulders. "Is he serious?"
Cassie sighed and pushed herself upright. "Technically, no. Figuratively, yes. Sort of."
Bart whimpered and went limp, slithering down Kon to lie flat on his back on the floor. "I'm okay," he said. "I really am. But a speedster cannot live on sunlight and multi-flavored nutrient paste alone."
Tim caught Kon's eye, attempting to convey "You do not get to mock until I get the full report" with a look.
Kon grinned back, obviously promising nothing. "Nutrient paste?" he said.
"The people on Eijun are plants," Cassie explained. "More accurately, they evolved from plants."
"No mammals at all," Bart said from the floor. "Just plant people, insects and crustaceans."
Kon's expression shifted, becoming something Tim had seen too many times not to recognize and fear. "Are we talking plant people as in Poison Ivy? Because that would be kind of—"
"No," Cassie cut him off, tilting her head to glare at him. "Plant people as in people who are plants."
Note to self, Tim thought, next time ask for an explanation before they leave. "And the mission?" he said aloud.
"Peace treaty negotiations," said Amy. She bared her teeth at Cassie. "They asked for an Amazon to mediate, but Diana and Troia were both busy, so they got baby wonder, here."
"Shut up, metal head."
Raising his voice, Kon said, "A peace treaty for plants?"
"Garden warfare," Jaime said suddenly. Everyone, Cassie and Amy included, shut up and looked at him. He yawned and sat up, stretching, scrubbing a hand through his hair. "Think about it," he said. "It's total hereditary enmity."
Tim's mind felt as blank as the expressions on everyone else's faces looked.
Jaime yawned again and seemed to notice the wall of blank. "Look," he explained, "You've got three factions, okay? The Thoan, the L'len, and the C'v'kkk. The Thoan evolved from trees a lot like oaks. The C'v'kk started out as – I think the earth equivalent would be kind of like hydrangea bushes. And the L'len's way back ancestors were ivy or kudzu or something like that."
"So what?" Amy said. "They're all plants."
"Yeah," said Jaime, "but like I said, garden warfare. Trees soak up all the sun, especially in a forest, and the bushes get short changed. And nobody likes vines because they, like, grow all over everything and choke the hell out of anything that gets in their way."
"How do you know all that?" Kon asked after a few moments of silence. Jaime shrugged.
"My abuela's a gardener. I learned from her." Another jaw-cracking yawn and he said, "I don't get why you guys think plant people wouldn't have wars and stuff, anyway. Humans are all human, but that never stopped us from killing each other."
Lorena came back in, then, dripping water everywhere, and lay down next to Bart. He reached out and took her hand and she meshed their fingers together.
Kon leaned over the back of Cassie's chair and said out of the corner of his mouth, "When did that start?"
"She spent most of the time we were there in their oceans talking to lobsters," Cassie said in a low voice. "They brought her food that went down better than the nutrient paste, and she and Bart started hanging out. I guess they clicked?"
"You know," said Jaime, "it wasn't all bad. The planet wasn't booby trapped and it's not like they tried to sacrifice us to their gods or anything."
"You're just saying that because the vine people's ambassador's daughter was crushing hard on you," Gar mumbled. Amy kicked him again and he shut up, but the damage was done.
Kon said, "Seriously? Way to go, dude."
Tim didn't laugh. If nothing else, he was good at that.
The dark splotches on Jaime's cheeks kept getting darker. "That was just a misunderstanding," he protested. "I guess insects still have something to do with their reproductive processes—"
At which point Kon died laughing, or at least tried to.
Jaime's armor was flickering in and out around his edges. "No, it's okay," he said, "No, we don't need the particle cannon. Or any of that other stuff, okay? Yes. Okay." The blue aura flickered one last time and died. His eyes refocused. "You guys suck," he said, and stood up. "I'm going to see if Bart left anything in the fridge."
"Here, let me help you with that," Bart said and followed him out, pulling a sleepy looking Lorena behind him.
"I, on the other hand, am going to crash. Anybody wakes me up, it better be fucking Armageddon, or that person is dead," Amy informed them. For a moment, Tim thought she might wave, but she said "Fuck it" instead and wandered out.
Tim slid off the chair arm, and surveyed the room.
Kon was still leaning against the chair, snickering weakly. Gar's snores rose from the floor, made worse by the fact that he was facedown on a bean bag.
Tim didn't hear Cassie get up, but he felt the heat of her beside him before she touched his arm. "So," she said. "How was your week?"
It was hard not to smile back at Cassie when she looked genuinely happy to see you. Tim didn't bother with futile resistance. "Better than yours, but probably not by much."
"Lies," Kon said, "all lies. Don't listen to him, Cass, he's an evil, cowl-wearing ex-Robin with an agenda."
She laughed and leaned against Tim. "Speaking of Robins," she said.
"Yes," said Tim. She looked up at him, her head cocked to one side.
"Yes?" she echoed. Tim nodded. "You know I'm going to put him through hell first," she warned him. "If he's as bad as I think he's going to be, I may give Diana a turn."
"I'm counting on it," Tim said, and she laughed again.
Kon's voice came from above them, "Tell me you're not talking about the spawn." He landed in front of Cassie, pulling her in for a sideways hug while he glared at Tim. "Not in my fucking Tower. Not on my watch."
Cassie hugged him back then pushed him away. "Get used to the idea, flyboy. Robin is always going to be part of this team. One way or another," she finished, narrowing her eyes at Tim.
Tim shook his head. "I'm not going to say never," he said. "I've said that before and had it explode in my face. Literally," he added after thinking it over. "But I can't do this right now, Cass. I—"
She went back over to him, smoothing his mouth closed with the tips of her fingers. "I know. I've been there, remember?" She leaned in and kissed his cheek, saying as she pulled back, "Do what you need to. We'll be here when you're done."
Tim wrapped his arm around her shoulders. She curled hers around his waist and rested her head on his shoulder. "You sure you don't want to stay with us for a while?" she offered. "I know you're looking for your own place, but if you want to get out of the manor now…" She rolled her head to one side so she was looking up into his face. "Your room is still your room. You'd be welcome."
He allowed himself to consider it, even though he already knew what his answer would be.
Over Cassie's head, Kon caught his eye and raised an eyebrow. Tim shook his head slightly. "Thanks," he said, still looking at Kon. "But I think I'm going to be okay." He tightened his arm around Cassie's shoulders, then let go. "I should probably go."
She reached up, cupping his cheek. "Don't stay gone." Her smile tugged the corners of her mouth back up. "I'll come after you if you try it. Kon's not the only flyer in these parts." She brushed her thumb over his lower lip and left the room, striding confidently. "Conner, I'll expect your report in the morning," came back through the doorway. "Nine-thirty. I will pull your ass out of bed if you're not in the briefing room."
"Yes ma'am," Kon called after her. He turned back to Tim, not quite grinning, his thumbs hooked in his belt loops. "Still got it," he said.
"She does," Tim agreed.
The sound of Bart and Jaime fighting over the last piece of blueberry pie drifted through one doorway and out the other. Gar's snoring stalled then started up again.
"So," Kon said. "Hitting the road."
"The airways, anyway," Tim answered. The batwing needed to get back to Gotham before Bruce did.
Kon rocked back on his heels and settled, arms crossed. "We should do this again," he said.
It startled a laugh out of Tim. "Are you referring to the mecha, Vicki Vale or Damian?"
"None of the above, dumbass. We should just hang more often, without people trying to kill us." Frowning, Kon ran a hand through his hair.
"It's growing out," Tim said. "Does Bart still cut it for you?"
"Yeah. We've been kind of busy."
"I'll do it," Tim said, then wondered why he had. Kon gave him a strange look.
"When? It's not like you're going to be around."
He hesitated. "I have an apartment," he said. "Tam found it for me and I signed the lease yesterday. If you want you can… come by."
"That is so weird," Kon said.
"Gotham. I was just thinking about this," he said seriously. "I totally spent more time there last week than I did the entire time before… you know. It's fucked up."
It was. Tim wasn't going to argue the point. "This is my place," he told Kon. "You're welcome there. No conditions."
"Yeah, well," Kon said, "I'll believe it when I see it." He started walking toward the doorway. Tim followed slowly. "You gonna give me your address?"
"I'll email you." The doorway was wide enough for three people to walk through comfortably. Their shoulders brushed as they went through. Tim stopped in front of the elevator and pushed his cowl back before he looked at Kon. "Where I am, you're welcome, Conner. Try to remember that."
The moment felt unfinished. There was something he should have said, should be saying or doing, but he couldn't remember what it was supposed to be.
Kon wasn't saying anything. He waited while Tim stepped into the lift, and just before the doors closed he raised a hand.
The lift started to move. Tim pulled his cowl back down. All the way to the roof then back to Gotham, he kept trying to remember what he'd forgotten.
It was a week before he realized he hadn't forgotten anything. You can't forget to remember doing something you've never done.
Tim closed the door after the last mover and turned to survey his apartment.
There wasn't much to see at the moment aside from a lot of boxes, but the major furniture was mostly in place and his bed was set up in one of the rooms. The power was on and his laptop was sitting, open and activated, on the kitchen table.
From his vantage point in front of the door, Tim could see all the way down the hall to the room at the end where his bed was. There was one other bedroom and a bathroom, a kitchen, a living/dining area, and that was the extent of things in terms of square footage. By turning slightly in place, Tim could see into every room. Several parts of him liked that, and he didn't think all of them were motivated by strategic planning.
It didn't look like the kind of apartment Timothy Jackson Drake-Wayne would want to live in, but neither did it look like the kind of place Tim 'Red Robin' Drake would live. It looked like it belonged to Tim. Just Tim.
He hoped so. Finding this place had wasted a lot of time that could have been better spent chasing down the new cartel making a name for itself over in the new Blüdhaven. In fact, now was a good time to make up for some of that wasted time. The boxes weren't going anywhere and Dick had promised to help him unload this weekend. If he needed anything in the meantime, he could always dig.
He was about to sit down in front of the computer when the screen flickered and a chat window popped up.
Tim pulled the single chair out from under the table, slid into it and typed a sentence. His finger hovered over enter. He was remembering the look on Kon's face at the Tower when he'd turned down Cassie's offer to come back. He erased the sentence and started over.
redshirt003: Moving day.
dontcallmesuperman: dude, you were supposed to *tell* me
dontcallmesuperman: moving is something you do with friends
dontcallmesuperman: it's like, tradition
dontcallmesuperman: wtf is wrong with you?
His hands hesitated over the keyboard.
redshirt003: Maybe I have different traditions.
dontcallmesuperman: whatever, man
dontcallmesuperman: still sucks
dontcallmesuperman: Bart is going to be so pissed, you don't even know
dontcallmesuperman: so do you need help or have you already freakily arranged your underwear by color and your ten million books by size and shape?
There was a laugh caught in his throat, and Kon wasn't there to pull it out of him.
redshirt003: There may or may not be a few packed boxes still in the vicinity.
dontcallmesuperman: Bart's at Jay's but
dontcallmesuperman: I am so there
dontcallmesuperman: oh yeah, if something breaks the sound barrier
dontcallmesuperman: it's just me
dontcallmesuperman: see you in a few
Tim sat staring at the words until Kon knocked on his window. He went over to let him in and Kon flew through the open window, landing beside Tim's lone easy chair. His hair was short again. Bart must have gotten around to cutting it.
"No sonic booms," Tim observed.
Kon grinned at him. "Gotta obey the superspeed limits in Bat town if you want to keep your ass intact."
He was wearing sunglasses, Tim noted. They looked like… "Are those the same ones you used to wear?"
"Yep." Kon pulled them off and folded them up, tossing them on top of a stack of boxes. "Found 'em when I was going through my stuff at the Tower." His grin went lopsided. "That closet is a mess. What did you guys do? Shove everything in and hang a do-not-disturb sign?"
Tim tried to swallow. His mouth was too dry. He was having trouble feeling his throat, and he put his hand up to make sure it was still there. "I'm sorry. That was Cassie and me. We… I'm—"
"Tim, chill. It was a sucky joke, so just… chill out." Kon looked like he wanted to fly over to Tim or maybe fly through the ceiling. Tim wasn't sure. His discriminatory processes seemed to have malfunctioned.
"Why are you here?" he said, letting himself speak without thinking first. He focused on Kon's face. His eyes.
What he expected… Tim didn't know what he'd expected. Some kind of flippant answer. A blank stare. Anything but what he got, which was Kon's ears going red at the tips the way they had a week ago and Kon's chin dipping toward his chest.
"Stay over there and let me say this, okay?" Kon said to the floor.
Tim… stayed. It was the limit of his present capabilities. "All right."
"I get what you've been saying." Kon was still talking to the floor. "We can't go back. I get it. But I don't have to like it. That's why I was so pissed about…" His mouth twisted into several new and interesting shapes before he got the word out, "Robin."
Tim glanced at the window – the sun was the right height for near eighteen-hundred. There was enough time. He looked back at Kon. "You're not now?"
Kon shook his head, avoiding Tim's eyes. "At the Tower. Before the mecha, remember?" Tim nodded. Kon still wouldn't look directly at him. "I know you were giving me shit, but you were kind of… right."
"Right," Tim parroted. "I don't—"
"You slept on me," Kon spoke over him. "When you were sick. You slept on me for hours. You didn't even wake up when I left."
"Kon." This was uncharted territory. Tim felt like he should be drawing a map. "What is this?" he said.
"This is us, now," Kon said, and flew straight at him.
Being hugged by Kon was a lot like being hugged by a heated rock. Tim shifted, trying to make a more Tim-shaped space for himself, and Kon seemed okay with that. He eased his grip, giving Tim room to maneuver, and Tim rested his arms loosely around Kon's waist and rested his forehead against the solid reality of Kon.
"You know I fucking love you, right?" That was what Kon said. To Tim it sounded like, "Don't make me repeat myself, asshole." He huffed a laugh into Kon's shoulder.
Kon's arms tightened around him, and he felt Kon relax, all of him. All that impossible, invulnerably vulnerable muscle and bone and personality relaxing against Tim, letting him take the weight of every part and hold the sum. Trusting him to hold it. Kon rested his chin on Tim's shoulder and mumbled something.
"Mmn?" Tim said. The point of Kon's chin stopped digging into his shoulder blade.
"Plan this out. You know you want a hug schedule. You can make a flow chart or a spreadsheet or something."
Kon was still babbling about mission planning and flow charts when Tim lifted his head and pulled back far enough to look into his eyes. "Conner," Tim said. Kon stopped talking and blinked at him.
Tim kissed him.
"Or that," Kon said when Tim stopped kissing him. He looked and sounded like he'd just taken a punch from Kalibak, or maybe Lobo. "You could do that again. Often."
Tim decided any new world order that included stunned Kons who immediately did as they were told was fine with him. "Shut up, Conner," he said, and kissed him again.
Tim's internal clock told him it was somewhere between zero hour and one when Kon rolled over and plastered himself all over Tim's back, wrapping his arm around Tim's waist. The radiant escalation factor was something like the difference between sleeping next to a tame sun and getting caught in a star going nova.
"Ngrnrgtft," Kon said into the back of Tim's neck, and licked it. Then he bit it.
Tim bit the inside of his cheek. He controlled his shiver and waited for Kon's arm to go slack and his breathing to even. It took approximately one point four eight minutes, and then Tim listened for a long time to Kon's slow, steady breathing. Exact temporal calculations were unnecessary.
After an unspecified amount of time, he spoke quietly. "You too."
He closed his eyes.