It started as a game.
Except that Bernard knew all along it wasn't really a game, unless you considered walking through minefields blindfolded a party game. But Tim dared him, he dared him to figure out his secrets.
Bernard could never resist knowing secrets.
So, he let Tim break up with him, even if they'd never precisely been going out, and he settled down to doing what he did best: ferreting out someone else's secrets.
Pad of paper in hand, he wrote down every hint Tim had ever dropped in his path like a crumb, every odd look Tim had given him, every off reaction, every time he'd disappeared or reappeared, every bump, bruise, and limp. He pored over newspapers, researched Tim's family background, and ended up with a pile of clippings that looked like he was starting a fan club.
After all of that background research, the answer practically beat him over the head the day Darla was shot. When Tyrone and the others talked about everything Tim had done, it was obvious: Tim Drake was Robin. Yes, Robin. That Robin. The one with the cape and the tights and the working with Batman.
Bernard spent a week carefully not thinking about the discovery, a week in which he burnt his clippings and his notes and every computer printout. Then he stared at his computer and wondered how you went about permanently wiping your files, although he knew he didn't have the expertise for that. He settled for reformatting the hard drive. Twice.
Then he sat down to consider what to do next.
It would have been a complicated question under any circumstances, but moreso after subsequent events. Darla died and Bernard read in the newspaper that Tim's dad was killed by some weirdo. And Tim disappeared.
Not just from school, but from Gotham. He was gone.
Bernard resumed his obsessive newspaper reading, looking for a hint of Tim's whereabouts. It only took a few weeks. Blüdhaven news wasn't a staple in Gotham, but it trickled in often enough that the mentions of a new hero were sufficient.
By that point, Bernard knew what he wanted, even if he wasn't certain how to get it.
You can overthink things sometimes, he decided, packing a bag with necessities, leaving a vague note for his parents, and hopping a train to Blüdhaven.
He received a few odd looks several hours later when he found the perfect street corner and settled in behind a sign, but he ignored them. Unpacking his bag, he settled in to eat the turkey sandwich, leaving the Perrier and cranberry bar for later. When he was done, he pulled out battered copies of three Oscar Wilde plays (for fun) and "Of Mice and Men" (for school). After all, who knew how long this might take?
A passing police officer seemed to consider harassing him, but was apparently confounded by his unconventionality-he wasn't asking for money or causing a disturbance. Bernard shrugged and ate the cranberry bar.
The sun was fully set and the streets slowly emptied to a trickle: partiers, shift-workers, vagrants. Bernard clipped a light to his book, and dug out a hummus wrap to eat with the Perrier.
The voice, when it finally came, was above him.
"What are you doing here?"
Bernard unclipped the light, put a bookmark in the book, and packed everything away before tilting his head. Robin-no, Tim-was perched above his head on a ledge. "Waiting for you, obviously."
Tim launched off the ledge and landed in front of him with the grace Bernard had always suspected he had. Tim glanced at the sign although he obviously already knew what it said: "'You dared me. Here I am.'"
Bernard lifted one shoulder and reached into the bag. "Would you like some water? I drank the Perrier, I'm afraid."
"No." Tim was even harder to read behind a mask and cloak. "Why are you here?"
"Because you don't have to lie to me. I figured it out."
"It's too late." Tim turned away.
Bernard jumped to his feet, stepping over his bag to stand behind Tim. "No, I don't believe it."
"And what kind of friend would I be then, darling?" The light-hearted tone took more effort than he expected, but Bernard smiled as he put a hand on Tim's (armored, god) shoulder and gently turned him.
"You don't want this. I shouldn't have...I told you I don't get to have this." Expressionless face but a broken voice.
"Because everyone who gets close gets killed." Tim's voice turned to steel. "I won't let you die because of me. Go home, Bernard."
"No." He shook his head. "I can't now that I know. I need..." He swallowed. "I need to help you. Somehow."
"It doesn't work. The others...nobody's managed it."
"Does this mean you've learned nothing from me?"
"How many times do I have to tell you? We're not like everyone else. We made our own rules in school, so why should this be different?"
Tim's chin came up. "You don't get it. This isn't high school. This is life or death, mainly death. You don't belong here."
"And you do?"
"There's nothing else for me. It's too late."
"Never." Bernard reached out to stroke the mask, then ran his thumb down the side of Tim's face, watching how he suppressed a shudder. "Let me help."
Turning his face away, Tim was silent for a long moment. When he spoke, his voice was barely more than a whisper. "Have you got paper?"
"I'll give you directions. Meet me in half an hour."
Bernard glanced at the building as he paid the cabbie, deciding that-like most of the city-it would benefit greatly from a good powerwashing, and went inside. He followed Tim's rather odd instructions and found himself on the top floor facing what looked like a closet door.
The door opened before he could even knock and Tim turned away, leaving him to shut the door behind himself and follow Tim into a loft. The space was filled with an impressive array of equipment, windows blacked out so that nobody could see inside.
"How..." Bernard sought the bon mot, "dreary."
There was a hint of smile in Tim's voice. "It's not intended to be a spread in House Beautiful." He sat down at a computer console, tapping at a mouse and shifting around some kind of map.
"But you know, a few flowers, some lights, almost anything would be an improvement." Bernard wandered around. "The basic structure is quality. And the tall ceilings could be attractive with proper lighting."
"I don't need an interior decorator."
"Perhaps not, but it wouldn't hurt."
Tim glanced up, then went back to typing.
"So, were you planning to come back to Gotham, or continue to hide out in what may be the most depressing city in the world?"
"Hide out?" The typing slowed.
"Well, if this isn't a hideout, then I'm Superman." Hand on his hip, Bernard did a Superman impression.
Tim coughed and Bernard did his best to look offended as he walked around the bank of machinery to stand behind Tim's chair. He could see Tim's reflection on several of the blank screens as he gently stroked Tim's hair. "Tell Uncle Bernard your troubles."
Eyes closed, Tim didn't respond, but he didn't move away either, so Bernard shifted forward so both hands were on Tim's shoulders. Now that the armor was off, he could feel the tension in every muscle, and he did his best to massage them.
"Why are you here?" Tim asked again.
Bernard took a deep breath. "Because I'd rather die with you than live alone."
Next thing he knew, he was on the floor, Tim's body holding him down, hands to his throat. Tim's face held no expression he recognized. "Are you so sure? Any one of my enemies could take you down just this easily. Easier."
It wasn't as if he hadn't thought about it. Tim's dad being killed by a costumed wacko? It didn't take a genius to figure out it had some connection to Tim being Robin.
Tim's hands tightened on his throat and Bernard stayed utterly still, hands at his sides, waiting for Tim's inscrutable brain to process whatever it needed to process.
The hands only loosened a bit before Tim's mouth was on his own-hard, cold, familiar, tasting of coffee. Bernard grabbed Tim's shoulders, rubbed his back, tried to project everything into a kiss: I'm here, I'm here for you.
The kiss turned desperate, painful in its intensity. Tim's hands moved to the sides of his head, holding him in place.
I'm not going anywhere.
Tim pulled away, breathing sped up. Bernard wished for a grin, but the new and improved Tim didn't look capable. "You can't stay here," Tim said, sitting back on his heels.
"Of course not. Some of us still have to go to school."
Tim's face shifted and he stood, heading back to his computer.
Shaking his head, Bernard hoped a few of his brain cells would shift back into place, because that was easily on one of the stupidest things he could have said. Sitting up, he watched the figure hunched over a monitor that provided more illumination than the few other lights.
"Tim-" he began.
"Don't." Tim didn't turn.
"I would have come to your dad's funeral if you'd told me when it was."
"I said don't. You should go. Forget about all this."
Bernard stood unhurriedly, clearing off a chair by moving the pile of esoteric weapons it contained to another surface. Dusting the seat off, he sat. "I thought we had determined you're stuck with me. My mind is made up."
"You have no idea what you're getting into."
"I read the newspapers. I'd say I have a moderately fair impression."
"You know nothing."
Don't stop there. Tell me what happened since you gave me that grin and dared me to find the real you. Tell me what's turned you into the grim avenger of the night.
Crossing his legs, Bernard settled in to wait.
The typing slowed and finally stopped. In the green glow from the monitor, Tim's face looked grotesque. "What do you want?"
You. The rest of the story. A happy ending. "A chance."
"To do what?"
"To make it in your world. I did get this far, so surely I deserve a chance. Besides, it seems to me that Robin needs a keeper."
"I...If you tell me Batman needs a Robin, I think my brain will explode."
Slowly, he turned in the chair. "You reminded me..."
"How I became Robin to begin with. Never mind, it was a long time ago."
"But that was in another country and besides, the wench is dead," Bernard quoted. "Why don't you tell me anyway?"
There was a moment where it looked like Tim wouldn't do it, but he shot an absolutely unreadable look at Bernard before looking away. Eyes distant, Tim told a story of a dead boy, Batman out of control, and young Tim Drake's obsession. Bernard held his breath, not wanting to interrupt the flow of more words, more truths, than he'd ever heard from Tim.
When the story was done, Tim left his computer and climbed out onto the roof, obviously expecting Bernard to follow. Tentatively, he stepped out, finding Tim sitting at the edge, legs dangling.
It was certainly a long way down, Bernard thought, peering over the side before sitting next to Tim. They spent a long time looking at the city, which Bernard privately thought was even grimmer than Gotham, a fairly impressive accomplishment.
It was impossible to tell what Tim was thinking, but Bernard pondered Tim. Knowing his high school coffee-drinking buddy was a costumed vigilante was one thing, but...he'd fought for the job. When the original Robin refused to come back, he'd set himself up as a sanity check for Batman. Taken the fate of the world on his shoulders voluntarily.
And from the looks of things, the world had broken him this time. Bernard glanced to the side. Now that he wasn't bothering to play the role of Tim Drake, ordinary high school student, he looked different-he looked dangerous.
It was an attractive look, even more than it had been back when he only saw glimpses of it.
"When Nightwing comes back to town, I'll return to Gotham."
Bernard nodded, sensing that was all the concession he was going to get. "I'll be here as often as I can, you know. And if you pull another disappearing act, my dear boy, I'll track you down again."
Tim's sideways glance was almost like old times. "What makes you think you'd find me?"
"I found you this time, didn't I?"
"Maybe I wanted you to."
Tim stared at the streets below. "I need to go back out there for a few hours."
"I'll be here when you get back."
Hesitating, Tim looked at him, then leaned over to kiss him again; this time the kiss was unusually gentle and Bernard stroked Tim's cheek. Tim broke the kiss, almost smiled at him, and went inside to change.
Bernard took a deep breath and wondered what happened next.
There was no click from the window or footsteps, so Bernard didn't wake until a shadow passed across his sleeping face. He sat up, alarmed, but stifled his instinctive shout when he saw who stood over him.
Although Tim hadn't said anything about this in the past three weeks, after getting bits and pieces of the story of what had happened to Tim recently, Bernard had half been expecting a visit. He leaned against his headboard and smiled brightly, as if ominous black-clad vigilantes broke into his bedroom all the time.
"Can I help you, Batman?"
Batman loomed over him and Bernard smiled harder, certain just how annoying that would be. Tim hadn't said all that much specifically about Batman, but Bernard was very good at reading between the lines.
"Not that I don't appreciate late night visitors to break up the monotony," Bernard went on, "but it is a school night. Did you want something in particular? My resume, perhaps."
"I know all about you already."
Despite himself, Bernard felt a shiver run down his back. Oh yes, Batman was very good at intimidation. He took a steadying breath. "I'm sure you do. And I know very little about you. That hardly seems fair. Perhaps you'd like to share?"
"Cut the humor. I'm not amused."
No cowering like a common criminal. No pulling the blankets over his head like a child. Bernard was proud of how steady his voice was-at least to his ears. "Then I repeat my question: Can I help you?"
"You have nerve, I'll give you that."
"But you're a civilian. You're going to get yourself killed if you get involved in our business."
Bernard sniffed quietly. "And I'm expected to believe you're here because you're worried about me?"
"I don't care what you believe. You're completely untrained, you can only hinder Robin in his mission at a time when he needs to regain his focus."
"Tim needs a friend. Robin needs a keeper."
The dark shape silhouetted by moonlight seemed to grow darker. "Stay out of things which don't concern you."
"Tim is my concern."
"I will be speaking to Robin."
"I'm sure. Do tell him I said hello."
Batman didn't deign to answer, just stepped back out the window and disappeared.
"I hate when they do that." Bernard shivered and wondered if he'd gone too far, if Batman could convince Tim this was a bad idea.
What Batman said and how Tim responded, Bernard never knew, probably because he was afraid to ask. When he showed up in Blüdhaven next, Tim shot him one of those glances that could mean anything from 'I'm going to kiss you until you forget your name' to 'I've got a plan to take out the entire den of drug dealers with one blow.'
But he went back to repacking his tool belt without saying anything, so Bernard shrugged and settled down at the computer. They'd spent an entire weekend getting him familiar with the systems and seeing what he could do; Bernard found himself more talented with it than he'd expected, although not in the same ballpark as Tim.
Tim was training him to help out with research and information-gathering while Robin was on the streets. They'd already tricked out his computer at home with more software and hardware than his parents would ever believe existed outside a major computer lab. Bernard was training himself in the fine art of sleeping in fits and spurts, although that wasn't going quite as well.
Bernard was gradually getting Tim to talk about his past experiences, but it made pulling teeth look like an easy hobby. And Tim was still unwilling to discuss the past month's events in detail, but Bernard was getting him closer.
Perhaps most importantly, Tim was showing signs of normality, encouraged by Bernard's unwillingness to tolerate too much brooding and/or sulking.
To both Tim's and his own amusement, in this process Bernard had learned where his true talents lay: playing people. It turned out that once he'd gotten a person on the phone or over e-mail, he could convince them to do just about anything. He could convince them that he was just about anything.
"I knew all those summers in the theatre would come in handy," Bernard remarked as Tim gave him the details of the latest operation.
"Hmm?" Tim looked up from his notes with a frown.
"This isn't exactly Shakespeare, but I'm glad I learned how to act."
Tim quirked an eyebrow at him. "And there I thought it just came naturally to you."
"Maybe it does." Bernard shrugged and tried to decide if he could distract Tim for a while by kissing him senseless.
"I've determined that they're storing the stuff in the warehouse..." Tim went on.
Maybe not. Sighing, Bernard turned his attention back to the screen and put his plan off until later.
Tim set out into the night, leaving Bernard with his assignment. Within minutes, he was immersed in shipping records and still secretly marveling at the amazing tech that Tim had to play with.
Bernard wasn't paying any attention to his surroundings, which was what made it all the more shocking to hear a voice not too far behind him that he didn't recognize.
He froze, fingers poised over the keyboard. Something about the voice said 'no sudden movements' so he licked his lips and said, "I'm Bernard. And you are?" as he turned around an inch at a time.
The leather-suited figure that stood just inside the roof entrance was small, but Bernard had no doubt that she could kick his ass in less time than it would take him to blink. She tilted her head and examined him, while he held his breath, then she nodded once.
When she stepped forward into the room, there was something different about her posture and she no longer seemed as threatening.
She nodded again. "Tim?"
"Off righting wrongs, avenging the innocent, you know."
She waited, a dark statue poised to leap into action.
Bernard shrugged. "Okay, he's casing a warehouse to see if that's where shipments of amphetamines are being kept."
"Uh...oh! No, I don't think he needs any help." Bernard grinned to himself, pleased he was getting the hang of this. "He's not raiding tonight, just checking. Maybe he'll plant some bugs."
"I don't know." Shrugging, Bernard tried to look apologetic. "I mean, there are a bunch of things that need doing, but I'm not sure what he'd want you to do." Damn, one more thing to learn about, he thought with a sigh.
"I'll call." She bowed slightly in his direction, tapping her ear, which was presumably where her comm was located.
"Okay. Sorry, I'll try to know something next time."
A little twitch that was something like a shrug. "Next time. It was very nice to meet you," she said clearly, the words sounding like something she'd been carefully coached to say. Bernard's head swam at the idea of Batgirl getting etiquette lessons from Batman.
Still seated, he bowed elaborately. "And it was lovely to meet you as well. I do hope we can meet sometime under better circumstances."
That almost got him a smile. "Take care of Tim."
"Ah...I will. I'll try."
Bernard stared after her for quite a while before getting back to work.
Weeks went by and it seemed as if life had always been like this-school, computer work, seeing Tim whenever he could. Sometimes Batgirl was there and sometimes she wasn't, but she always seemed to know when to make a discreet fade into the night.
Best of all was being able to spend time in Blüdhaven, and Bernard was enjoying unaccustomed luxury since his parents had gone out of town for a three-day weekend.
Tim was out, so Bernard was perfecting his gunsel impersonation on the line with Big Al Dunwoody's right-hand moron. "Yeah, I toldja," Bernard said, his voice nasal and whiny, "I got this call from Nate and he said he'd heard you had the goods. Hey, I'm just lookin' for a couple of guns."
Leaning back in his chair, Bernard took a sip of tea and stretched out his legs. "Uh-huh. So, you haven't got 'em? So where'd they go?"
A sound from the microphones planted all around the roof made him glance at the cameras. A flash of color heralded Tim's arrival but...Bernard's throat went dry at the splatters of red where they didn't belong. "Look, I gotta go. If you ain't got 'em, you ain't got 'em." He hung up.
A heavy tread hit the ladder before Bernard reached the bottom and there were a few instants of fumbling before he was able to help a shaky Tim to the ground.
"Tim," he said as Tim sank into the chair next to the sink.
"It's not as bad as it-"
"Fuck that." Bernard barely even noticed his own unaccustomed obscenity as he grabbed the well-stocked first aid kit.
"Shut up and get that costume off."
Tim's mouth snapped shut and he obeyed, letting Bernard help him strip as much as necessary. Bernard immediately applied a sterile dressing to a still-bleeding wound on his thigh, only taking a moment to apply an antibiotic powder first. At least the flow of blood was sluggish, meaning it wasn't an artery. But once they'd taken stock, he'd have to put stitches on that one.
Tim held out a smaller bandage as Bernard finished rinsing clean a gash on his bicep. Wetting another cloth, Bernard wiped down smaller injuries, looking for anything else that needed more than ointment.
"It's just those two," Tim said.
Bernard ignored him, gently cleaning blood and dirt off his neck, revealing bruises and scrapes that made it look like he'd been dragged behind a car.
"I'm okay. I'll just go clean up-"
Tim sat, eyes wide as Bernard removed the mask and began cleaning his face.
Wiping his mind, Bernard focused on the immediate: Find a clean section of cloth, wet, apply to out-of-place bodily fluids and dirt. Don't push too hard. Gentle strokes. Touch his hair sometimes.
Blood gone, Bernard switched to fingertips, running them along bruised cheekbones, scraped jawline, the bump on his chin. Tim sat quietly, watching him, but showing no sign that any of this might hurt.
Neither spoke again until Bernard's hands slowed.
"I'm okay," Tim said. "How are you?"
"Well, I don't look like something the cat dragged in, so presumably better than you."
Bernard thought he'd managed his usual insouciance, but the way Tim's eyes narrowed belied that. "Bernard, I said I'm fine. The injuries are minor, they look worse than they are."
"Minor." He bit the word off. "Are you ready for stitches?"
Tim frowned but carefully pulled up the dressing. "Yes."
Each movement ripped at him as if he'd been the one injured, but Bernard focused again, managing a creditable row of stitches that looked vaguely like the ones in the book. Another dressing, this one taped in place, and it was done.
"Thank you. I appreciate the help." The words were offerings, given in hopes of appeasement.
Bernard tidied up, noting on a piece of paper which first aid items would need replacing.
"All my notes on the bank robberies are in the file. Dinner is ready to go in the microwave. Eat the vegetables, you need them." As he spoke, he threw a few odds and ends in his backpack.
Eyes wide and body vibrating like a tuning fork, Tim leaned forward. "Bernard-"
The door was twenty feet away but he was caught in Zeno's Paradox, always getting halfway there but never reaching the door. Tim caught him a few steps away, grabbing his arm. "Wait."
"I need to go," Bernard said, not turning.
"Are you...are you coming back?"
Each breath echoed in his ears, harsh, painful. "I don't know."
Tim's grip tightened, bruising. Bernard waited, staring at cream paint on the door, the patch in the corner that had bubbled up, the unidentified orange stain along the bottom.
Tim let go and Bernard went out the door without looking back.
To keep his parents from noticing anything when they returned, he took to spending more time at the library, in the park, anywhere he could find lots of people to watch. Playing his old games kept his mind busy.
Not busy enough, but he did what he could.
A week went by. He deleted e-mails unread, took long walks. He was meandering through the neighborhood when a shadow moved in a very familiar fashion in an alley just ahead. Bernard stopped, put a hand on his hip and glared. "Ollie ollie oxen free," he called. "There's no need to lurk, Tim."
The figure stepped out of the alley. "I'm not Tim."
Bernard tilted his head and allowed himself a moment of pure appreciation of the figure half in shadow. From the silky dark hair framing classic good looks to the sculpted muscles outlined in black and blue, this was a figure that deserved appreciation. "Nightwing, I presume."
"And you're Bernard. Now that we've established that, can we talk?"
Bernard crossed his arms, realized he'd just taken the same pose Tim did when he was feeling defensive, and stuck his hands in his pockets instead. "I wasn't aware we had anything to talk about. Unless Tim sent you, in which case I'll be heading home."
"Tim didn't send me. You should know he wouldn't do that."
"Ask for help? No, you're right, he'd never do that."
Nightwing coughed a few times. "That wasn't quite what I meant, but now that you mention it, you're right."
"Well, I know Batman didn't send you, because he'd gladly have hustled me out of town to begin with."
Frowning, Nightwing shook his head. "I gave up trying to understand his motivations years ago. No, I'm not Batman's errand boy."
"Then why are you here?"
Nightwing shifted in place. "Can we get off the street first?"
"There's a park two blocks on-"
"I know it. Meet you there." Stepping backward, Nightwing disappeared.
"I hate when they do that." With a sigh, Bernard walked to the badly-lit patch of green and sat on a bench facing a pathetic shrubbery. He steadfastly refused to jump when Nightwing materialized on the bench.
Bernard crossed his legs in front of him and studied his loafers in the darkness. "So?"
"Tim's been a basket-case since you left last week."
It felt like a stab in the stomach but Bernard didn't move. "Darling, how could you tell?"
"He kicked Batgirl out of town. Told her to tell us to leave him alone. I'm hearing," Nightwing hesitated, "well, he'd been more Robin than Batman recently, but..."
Who lowered the oxygen content in the air? Bernard concentrated on his breathing.
"What happened?" Nightwing asked. "He needs you now."
"Why do you care?" Not as casual as he'd intended.
"What?" The way Nightwing moved, Bernard suspected he'd nearly gotten himself punched.
Breathe. Calm. Casual. "All of you left him alone to deal with his father's death, with losing Stephanie." The not-mythical girlfriend had been a blow at first, but he hadn't been able to stay angry when he saw how Tim grieved.
"No!" Nightwing jumped up, pacing back and forth. "We tried but he wouldn't let us help. We called and wrote and showed up but he pushed us all away."
Bernard frowned at the shadowy figure.
Nightwing paused, head turned to look at him. "I had, have, my own troubles, but I swear I'd have done anything to help him if he'd let me."
Bernard crossed his arms, no longer caring if he was imitating Tim.
Nightwing swore under his breath, swiveling on a heel to face him. "Don't you get it? You're the only one he's let close since...since everything. The only one he trusts."
Even in the dark, the look on Nightwing's face was intense. Bernard looked away, watching a pigeon hop across the grass, stopping to peck at something then hopping a few more feet.
"Tim's hurting. Don't you care?"
Bernard bit his tongue. Nails digging into his palms, he fought to keep control. Look at the bird. Think about birds...no, don't.
"You do care or you wouldn't be sitting here listening to me." Nightwing's voice went from angry to something like understanding. "Look, I don't know what happened, but I could probably take a good guess."
"Whatever Tim did, please give my little bro another chance. He's young, you're both young, don't give up so easily."
"Who said it was easy?"
Nightwing sighed. "Look, I've got enough regrets in my life to fill the Grand Canyon. And some of the biggest ones have to do with people I failed, the ones I wasn't there for when they needed me. Right now, Tim won't let me help. Just you."
Bernard was sure he would explode. "I don't know if I can," he said. The coppery taste in his mouth wouldn't go away, no matter how often he swallowed.
Nightwing moved in front of him, waiting to get his attention. "Believe me, you do not want to deal with the regrets if Tim does something stupid and you didn't try."
Bernard closed his eyes and waited. There was a tiny sound and when he opened his eyes again, he was alone. He sat on the bench for another half-hour before going home.
His mother looked up from her book and gave him a strange look when he came in, but he couldn't be bothered to distract her, so he went to his room.
In the dark, he stared out the window at nearby rooftops. In his imagination, a war was fought atop them, figures he'd seen mixed with ones he could only imagine. Robin-Tim-was there, kicking ass and taking names. And there was a knife. Or maybe it was a gun.
Tim was falling-
He jumped, nearly smacking his forehead on the glass. "Yes, Mother?"
"Is something wrong, dear?" She hesitated, nearly wringing her hands. "You've been so quiet."
He started to shake his head, but out of the blue heard Tim's voice: 'Never lie needlessly. The more truths you tell, the easier it is to slip in a lie.'
"Something's wrong, but I'll get past it."
"Is there anything I can do to help?" She stepped further into the room, trying to get a look at his face.
When had he adopted Tim's habit of hiding in shadows? "Thanks, but I'll be okay."
"Is it a girl?"
"Uh, no." Definitely not a lie. "It's not about a girl. I just have a lot to think about and...a decision to make."
She didn't look entirely convinced but let it go. "I'll leave you to that, then. Just remember, you're still in high school. It may seem like it, but no decision you're making now is life or death." Smiling, she left, closing the door behind her.
Bernard repressed a slightly hysterical laugh. Life or death? She had absolutely no idea and even if he told her, she wouldn't believe it.
Head in his hands, he blew out a slow breath. So this was how Tim had felt, why he'd dared Bernard.
Life or death.
Tim warned him. 'There are secrets that can get people killed.'
Life or death.
Tim trusted him. 'A life of secrets, angst, and danger.'
You can't unlearn a secret, Bernard thought. You either move forward with it or you stay right where you are and wonder.
The loft was a mess, Bernard found when he disarmed the security systems and unlocked the door. Standing in the doorway, his eyes immediately found the remains of at least four fast food meals, as well as signs that Tim had been sleeping either on the couch or at the computer.
He heaved a sigh and went to the computer, finding-as he'd expected-that the files were obsessively neat and up-to-date. Shaking his head, he sat down to wait, one foot tapping as he stared around the room.
The tell-tale click came only fifteen minutes later, much sooner than he'd expected; he jumped, worried that Batman might have decided to drop by for a visit.
Fortunately, it was Tim's expressionless face that met his gaze. "What are you doing here?" Tim asked.
"Haven't we been through that already?"
Tim didn't move, pinning him in place with a grim expression he had to have learned from Batman.
"I..." It was a good question, to be honest. What was he doing there? "I'm sorry."
"You said that already. The day you left."
Meeting Tim's gaze was like being flayed by a million tiny knives. "I know. But it bears repeating."
"I know why you left. Why come back?" There remained no pity, no mercy, in Tim's voice.
Bernard wondered if he'd waited too long. "I said I'd be willing to die rather than be alone. I said I'd risk living your life of secrets, lies, and danger. Oddly, it never occurred to me that you were in more danger than I."
That got an almost imperceptible response, a twitch in one gauntleted hand. "The danger won't change," Tim said.
"I know. It took me some time to come to terms with that." Bernard stood, walking slowly toward the figure who hadn't moved away from the wall. "I'm sorry," he said again.
Tim watched as Bernard stopped in front of him, placing a hand on Tim's chest.
"I'm sorry I was frightened. I'm still new to all of this, you know." Under his hand, all Bernard could feel was armor.
"This life doesn't allow much time to play catch-up." Tim made no move to remove his hand but his expression hadn't softened either.
"I'm here and I'm not leaving again."
Tim took a step back, letting Bernard's hand fall. "Why should I believe you this time?"
"Because now I realize I can't leave. I've made my choice and that's to be with you."
Bernard held his breath, hoping he'd said enough, that he hadn't said too much, that he'd said it right.
Loosening the cape, Tim stepped forward. Bernard saw Tim's jaw clench and then he was too busy holding an armful of Tim to see anything else. Tim held the back of his head and kissed him fiercely, more of an invasion than anything else.
Bernard let Tim swing around and push him against the wall. Armor jabbed in uncomfortable places, but Bernard just held on and let Tim assure himself of his presence.
A wet tongue licked behind his ear and Bernard choked back a gasp at the ticklish sensation, trying to feel Tim underneath his Robin uniform. Tim seemed determined to taste every part of him not covered by clothing and Bernard couldn't find it in him to argue.
Later they curled up on the couch, Bernard running his fingers through Tim's hair, watching the strands as they trickled down and thinking about what he'd said. He hadn't lied-anyone who tried to lie to Tim, no matter how good their acting ability, was very foolish-but he hadn't told the entire truth either.
He couldn't leave. Ever. He couldn't leave, because if something happened to Tim, he'd always wonder if he could have prevented it, helped him survive it, somehow protected him.
Curiosity, caring, and ego had brought him to Blüdhaven, but love would keep him wherever Tim was as long as he would let Bernard stay. It wouldn't be a bad life, of course. And it would certainly never be boring.
They say "curiosity killed the cat," but that's not always true-sometimes curiosity traps the cat in a gilded cage along with the bird.