Tim hated the search and rescue missions that followed major Justice League battles and this alien attack had been worse than most. Eight square blocks of Gotham lay in rubble, hundreds of people dead and hundreds more injured. Five other cities had been hit just as badly and all available hands had been called in to help. It tore at Tim's heart to see all the lives they hadn't managed to save. Worse yet, to see the ones left behind bent over the mangled bodies of their loved ones, crying and screaming in wordless grief.
He knew some of them thought Red Robin cold and heartless, stoic behind his cowl as he pulled the survivors away from the dead and shoved them into waiting rescue vans to be hauled away to shelters. Saving lives was priority number one right now. Too many fires still burning and structures falling apart to take the time to let people grieve.
At least he had the cowl to hide behind. These missions weighed heavily on all of the no-longer-teen Titans but Tim didn't have to put a hopeful face forward after ten hours of this.
Red Robin, how's your sector doing? Nightwing asked over the radio.
"Nearly clear," Tim said. Kon trudged over to him. Dark smears of grease and dried blood stained Kon’s jeans. Tim could see through the holes in his shirt that Kon’s skin was as filthy as his clothes.
Five years ago tonight, they’d kissed for the first time on the Watchtower. Tonight they’d planned to stay in and celebrate. Tim had cleared the evening months ago, arranging for Dick and Cass to step in on his Gotham patrols and emergency calls. Even Damian had grudgingly agreed to be on call in his stead if the Titans needed a hero of the Robin variety. All had instructions not to interrupt this evening except in the direst of emergencies.
Yeah. Well. They hadn't broken any promises.
"I'm not showing any more life signs," Tim said, flipping through the virtual screens on his scanner. He wondered bitterly if any of the bodies under the rubble had been alive when they'd arrive on the scene. If any lives could have been saved if they'd moved faster, worked harder or spent just a little less time allowing someone one last moment to grieve.
"I'll do one last sweep, to be sure," Kon said. He brushed his fingertips against Tim's cheeks and met his boyfriend's eyes for one moment. Neither had energy left for words or even a kiss, but the contact gave each of them a bit of strength to keep going for a tiny bit longer.
Tim went over the scanner again. Sometimes super-senses could pick up what technology missed, but sometimes it worked the other way around. Earlier, there'd been lots of life signs. As the stronger ones had been moved out, the weaker ones became visible. Pull out the ones you could find and then dig a little deeper to see who was left. Rinse, repeat, etc. Tim tried to remember that the lack of life signs now meant a whole lot of people in hospitals and shelters and home with their families.
Red? Kon's voice came over the radio. Red, I've found another one.
It had been a closet, maybe, or an alcove. Even with Kon's tactile telekinesis, it took nearly twenty minutes to shore up the walls enough to send someone in and then Superboy went first, just in case.
She couldn't have been more than four, possibly younger. Tim wasn't great at guessing kids' ages. She hugged her knees and looked up at them with big, golden brown eyes. A torn, purple butterfly patch still showed under the mud on her jeans.
“Hey,” Kon said. He knelt down to her eye level. “You wanna come out of there?”
“Mama said to wait here,” the little girl said. "She said don’t come out ’til she gets back, no matter what."
"Don't you want dinner?" Kon pleaded.
Her lower lip quivered. "I can't take food from strangers."
Kon crawled into the alcove with her and took her tiny hand in his. "What's your name?"
"Becca," she said warily.
“Hi Becca,” Kon said. “I’m Superboy.”
"A lot like Superman," Kon said.
“Mama likes Superman," Becca said, weighing this information.
"Do you like Superman?" Kon asked.
She shrugged. "Dunno."
"How about we get you some food and look for your mama?" Kon suggested. "And then we'll go see Superman and you can decide if you like him."
"Is Mama lost?" Becca asked in a small voice.
"Yeah," Kon said softly. "We're going to need your help to find her."
"Okay," she decided, and let Kon help her out of the alcove.
"Area's clear," Tim reported to Nightwing.
Good timing, little brother, Nightwing said. Just got a fresh crew in from Tallahassee. Volunteer construction crews were being bused in to secure the unstable areas before a new collapse endangered more lives. The local crews were already worn to exhaustion from rescue work.
Becca wrapped her arms around Kon's neck as he carried her out to the relief workers’ tent city.
"Superboy," she whispered. "Can you keep a secret?"
"Yeah," he said, balancing her on his hip. "What is it?"
"I peed my panties," she whispered. "Don't tell Mama, please."
Kon smiled. "I won't, I promise." He stumbled a little, too tired to lift his feet or try to float over the rubble. Tim slid an arm around Kon's waist. They supported each other and Becca for the rest of the walk.
A nurse at the shelter gave Becca a quick exam and declared her healthy and whole, though a bit dehydrated. She got a bottle of Pedialyte, a fresh set of clothes and a couple of Ambush Bug bandaids for her scratches. She nibbled at a chocolate-covered protein bar as Kon carried her over to the Child Services tent.
Tam Fox sat at a folding table surrounded by stacks of paperwork. She gave them a warm smile. “Thought you guys were done for the night.”
“Nearly,” Tim said. “How long are you staying?”
“’Til the next shift shows up.” Tam checked her watch. “No more than an hour or so. A couple of my law school friends are driving in from Greenwich to help out.” She gave Becca a little wave. “Hi, sweetie. We’ve got a nice place for you to sleep.”
Becca put her thumb in her mouth and hid her face against Kon’s chest.
Tam reached into a cardboard box next to the table, then sighed and came up empty-handed. “We’re out of teddy bears.” She walked over to Kon and tried to lift Becca from his arms. The girl howled and grabbed Kon’s shirt with two tiny fists.
“Whoa, it’s okay,” Kon said. “Becca, this is Tam. She’s a friend. She’s going to take good care of you.”
Becca shook her head. "Don't go, please don't leave me, please don't go away," she sobbed.
“This is normal,” Tam said wearily. “She’ll calm down once you’re out of sight.”
Kon let Tam pry the girl away from him, but Becca’s sobs shifted to screams once Kon was out of her reach. “NO NO NO NO NO!”
Tam gestured for Kon to leave, and Tim started to walk away, but Kon didn’t follow. He watched Becca for a moment, then reached out for the girl. Tam handed her back. Kon cuddled Becca against his chest, where she sniffled quietly.
"What if we take her with us?" Tim suggested. "We'll all get some rest and look for her family in the morning." A number of people had camped out around the Child Services tent, hoping to see their own lost ones brought in, but none of them had recognized Becca.
“Can we do that?” Kon asked.
“If that’s what you want to do.” Tam got some paperwork from a file box and picked up a pen, then hesitated. “I’ll have to put your legal names down,” she warned, in a low voice.
Tim dropped his voice as well. “Can you file it yourself?” he asked. “Keep it separate from our other identities?” He glanced around. None of the adults and very few of the children were looking their way, but it only took one pair of curious eyes to blow their cover.
Tam nodded. “Yeah, shouldn’t be a problem. We’ve got a major backlog, so she’ll probably be back here before the paperwork even gets stamped. I’ll keep it with the high security files, though.”
“Thanks,” Tim said.
Tam filled out the paperwork quickly, but paused when she got to the date. “Oh, tonight was your big night, wasn’t it?” she said. “I’m sorry.”
Kon shrugged. “Things were worse five years ago tonight. ‘Course now I know that all it takes to get Tim to make a move is the end of the world.”
Tim’s cheeks reddened and his ears turned hot under the cowl. He snatched up a pen. “Where do I sign?”
“Here,” Tam said, taking pity on him. “And initial here, here and here.” When Tim was done, Kon shifted Becca to one hip and added his own signature.
“See you guys tomorrow,” Tam said.
The three of them climbed into Tim's latest Redbird and headed home, with Becca still clinging to Kon. The girl flopped like a ragdoll when Kon lifted her out of the car.
"Is she okay?" he asked in alarm.
Tim did a quick exam - pulse, breathing, pupils - and smiled at Kon. "She's asleep," he said. “Just exhausted, poor kid."
Kon let out a deep sigh. "Yeah," he said, not having the energy even to crack a joke.
They put her to bed in the guest room. She shifted a bit and made a soft whimpering sound when Kon pulled away. He kissed her forehead. "You're safe here," he whispered. The sound of his voice relaxed her and she drifted back to sleep. Kon brushed her hair off her face and pulled the blanket up over her shoulders.
They left the doors open between her room and theirs. Tim stripped off his equipment and outer armor. Kon didn't even take off his shoes. They collapsed on the bed together. Kon reached out an arm and pulled Tim against him. "Happy anniversary," he mumbled, eyes already closing. "Love you."
"Love you, too," Tim whispered. "Happy... " He fell asleep before he could finish the thought. Kon had already drifted off.
Adult chairs were too big for her, and using pillows for an improvised booster seat turned out to be too slippery to be practical. Kon commandeered Tim’s forensic science textbooks and stacked them on a chair so Becca could reach her bowl of Crocky Crunch. Kon ate with her while Tim quizzed her on her family.
Becca didn’t know her phone number, address or last name. Her mother’s name was “Mama” and she didn’t have a daddy.
She didn’t object to Tim taking her picture, but she shied away when he tried to get her fingerprints.
Kon gave Tim an aren’t-you-taking-things-a-bit-far look. “You think she’s got a criminal record?”
“Some parents get their kids fingerprinted at child safety events,” Tim said patiently. “If I can get her prints, I can run them through the database and see if I find a match.”
“Oh,” Kon said sheepishly. He picked up the ink pad and blank cards. “Do my prints first,” he instructed Tim.
Becca watched, frowning in confusion, as Tim pressed each of Kon’s fingers to the ink pad and then to a card, but she didn’t resist when Tim reached for her hand a second time.
She didn’t want to be separated from Superboy, so they decided Kon would take her back to Child Services while Tim checked in at the Batcave and did what he could to help with disaster cleanup.
Tim walked in that night to find Kon and Becca sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the couch, eating mac and cheese from cereal bowls and watching Booster Gold’s guest appearance on Sesame Street.
“Hey,” Kon said, when Tim came in. “I’ll be right back, sweetie,” he said to Becca. He dropped a kiss on the top of her head and stood up.
Her face dropped in a pout. “Don’t go.”
“I’m not leaving,” Kon assured her. “I’m just going over there,” he said, pointing to Tim. “You can watch me.” She did, the TV show now completely off her radar.
“Still here, I see,” Tim said.
“Ooh, look who was trained by the World’s Greatest Detective,” Kon teased. He kissed Tim. “The shelter’s overworked and overflowing. I did what I could to help, but they need like fifty more people.”
“I know,” Tim said. “I’ve got all the available Neon Knights helping with recovery work, but there just aren’t enough hands for the jobs. Bruce is flying in all the volunteers he can, but we don’t have the housing to hold them. He’s got a low-income housing project that’s near completion, though, and we should be able to convert it to a temporary shelter in a couple of days. No electricity yet, but it’s got running water installed and that should be enough for now.” He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “At least it’s spring. If we can keep people out of the rain, they should survive without heating.”
“You don’t mind if she stays a little longer?” Kon asked. “She got upset again when I tried to leave. I figured she’s one less kid for the system to worry about right now.”
“It’s fine,” Tim said. “I’ll give Alfred a call and see if he can round up some extra clothes and a few toys.”
Becca, convinced that Kon wasn’t leaving, went back to munching on her mac and cheese. Booster and Elmo started singing a song about pajamas.
“Has she asked about her mother?” Tim asked quietly.
Kon nodded, bit his lip and looked down at the floor.
“If she’s alive, we’ll find her,” Tim said. He slipped his arm around Kon’s waist and touched his forehead to Kon’s. “I’ve put her photo on the Missing Kids network and Oracle’s putting together a database of all the families looking for kids.”
“If she’s not alive?” Kon kept his voice low and watched Becca to make sure she was still invested in her show.
“Oracle’s organizing a database of all the dead and missing,” Tim said. “We can show Becca the photos and see if she recognizes her mom.”
“Pictures of the dead bodies?!” Kon asked, appalled.
“Oh, God, no! File photos, family photos, anything we can find,” Tim said. “If we can identify her family, we can track down any living relatives.”
“Oh, right,” Kon said. He watched Becca giggle at Elmo and drop her cheese-covered spoon on the cream-colored carpet. “Good. That’s… that’d be good.”
She didn’t want to go to sleep, even after three more episodes of Sesame Street and a bonus Spongebob Squarepants. Finally, Tim downloaded some children’s books and Kon read to her until she dozed off on his lap. He waited for a while, stroking her hair lightly and websurfing silently on the tablet while Tim worked on his laptop in the same room.
"I think she's asleep for real this time," Kon whispered. It had been nearly an hour since she'd moved.
Tim looked up from his computer. "Want to try and put her to bed?"
Kon nodded. He passed the tablet off to Tim and carried her into the spare room. She murmured a little as he tucked her in and her small forehead wrinkled in worry. Kon sat down on the bed and rubbed her back lightly until she relaxed and drifted into deep sleep.
Tim leaned in the doorway, watching this. "Don't get too attached," he smiled. "We can't keep her."
Kon looked up at him. "Why not?" he asked.
“Well, for one, she’s not a puppy,” Tim teased. Kon didn’t smile. He met Tim’s eyes with an earnest, weighted look. “Kon,” Tim said, trying to brush it off. “We can’t.”
“We’ve talked about adopting,” Kon said.
“Today is some day.”
“Some future day,” Tim corrected.
Kon walked over to Tim and wrapped his arms around his boyfriend’s waist. “Just think about it. Okay?”
“Okay,” Tim sighed. “But she probably has family.”
She didn’t have family.
Alfred showed up the next morning with a suitcase full of kids’ clothes, a booster seat, a car seat and a bunch of other things that Kon and Tim never realized kids would need. They showed Becca over two hundred photos of missing or dead women over the next few weeks, since no one had stepped forward to claim her, but no luck. It wasn’t until Kon had just finished reading Green Eggs and Ham to Becca (for the third time that night) when she suddenly called out, "Mama!"
Kon looked where she was pointing. Tim sat next to them on the couch, writing up reports from the day's patrol and updating the database with the names and photos of the people whose bodies had been discovered and/or identified that day.
“Mama, Mama, Mama!" Becca grinned and clapped. Tim's heart sank as he looked at her smile.
He switched into slideshow mode and turned the laptop to the little girl. "Which one's your mama?" Tim asked.
Becca pointed to a woman with the same dark curls and golden brown eyes as Becca herself. "Mama!"
Lorena Martin hadn't been reported missing because there had been no one left to report her. A sister in Star City had been a victim of the same attack. Becca’s father had died while on deployment in Qurac when Becca was only six months old.
Becca wriggled off Kon’s lap and ran to the coat hook by the door. "We have to go see Mama!" She grabbed her ladybug raincoat, ran back to Kon and handed it to him so he could help her into it.
Kon accepted the coat, but kept it at arms' length, fingers curled around the red plastic. "Sweetheart, we can't see your mama now."
Tim shot him a warning look. They couldn't put this off or give her false hope. Tim closed his laptop and set it aside. "Becca, come sit with me." She let him lift her into his lap, though her lower lip was starting to wobble, a sign of tears to come. "Your mama's gone," he said.
"She'll come back," Becca said, with confidence. "She always comes back."
Kon brushed Becca's curls away from her face. "Not this time," he said. "She's gone to heaven. Do you know what heaven is?"
Becca narrowed her eyes. "She's not in heaven. Heaven is make-believe. She told me so.”
Great, they'd found a four-year-old atheist. "She died, Becca," Tim said. "Do you know what that means?"
In a very tiny voice, Becca said, "That we have to flush her down the toilet?"
Tim managed to keep his face completely neutral. "No, honey, that's only for goldfish. When people die..." he chewed his lip, trying to find the words. "When people die, they leave their bodies behind and they go somewhere else. We don't know where that is. Some people think they go to a place called Heaven. Some people think that they come back again as babies and start over again."
Becca mulled this over, then looked up at Tim. "But where do they really go?"
The hole inside his chest had grown smaller since his parents' deaths, but it hadn't gone away, and right now, Tim could feel her question echoing in that big, empty space. "I don't know," he said bleakly. "I wish I did."
Becca rested her head against Tim's t-shirt. "I want to talk to my mama," she said.
"You can," Tim said. "She can't answer, but you can talk to her. I talk to my mom and dad sometimes."
Becca wrinkled her nose. "That's stupid," she said. "People can't hear you if they're not here. Unless it's on the phone," she added, practically.
"What about a letter?" Kon asked.
"I don't know how to write." Becca's lower lip wobbled and a tear spilled out of her eye.
"You can tell me what you want to say and I'll write it," Kon said.
"Tell her to come back!" Becca burst into tears. Tim wrapped his arms around her and she buried her face into his shirt.
Kon stroked her curls. "I'll tell her, sweetie, but she can't come back. I know she wants to, very much, but she can't."
"You don't know!" Becca sobbed, muffled by Tim's chest.
"He knows," Tim said softly, looking at Kon. "He knows this, I promise."
Kon kissed Tim, soft and fast and desperate, then wrapped his arms around both of them and they all held each other until Becca cried herself dry. When her sobs had quieted to shaky, damp breaths, Kon got up and filled a sippy cup with juice. She drank a little and then let him carry her to bed.
When she'd finally fallen asleep, Kon came back out to the living room and found Tim stoically tapping away at his laptop. Kon took the computer away and put his arms around his boyfriend. "I love you," he said softly. Tim didn't say anything and his eyes stayed dry, but he curled up against Kon's chest. Kon wrapped his arms around Tim and they fell asleep on the couch, clinging tightly to each other.
She’d been clinging to Kon since they’d found her, but she finally relented and agreed to stay with a babysitter, though she insisted that they call Kon every hour or so. Dick was the first to take on that duty and she adored him, particularly when he walked on his hands. She shrieked and giggled when Dick swung her over his head and begged him to do it again.
“You should bring her over to the mansion,” he told Tim when he and Kon got home. “She’d love the trampoline.”
“Is it safe?” Kon frowned.
“Oh, yeah,” Dick said. “As long as someone’s with her. I could even set up a harness and teach her a few tricks. Kids have amazing flexibility, you know. The key to keeping that is to train early and consistently.”
“I think it’s a little early to be fitting her for a pair of green panties,” Kon said.
“Okay, first of all, the panties haven’t been part of the costume for years,” Dick said. “And second - “ He caught sight of the look on Tim’s face. “You know, I haven’t taken the kidlet out for ice cream yet. Maybe it’s a good time.”
Kon looked over at Tim and said quietly. “I think that’s a good idea.”
Tim stood stock still, arms by his side and face in a deliberately neutral expression. He didn’t move or speak as Dick swept up Becca, and tossed her, giggling, over his shoulder.
“Ice cream, ice cream, ice cream!” she chanted.
The door closed behind Dick and Becc and their voices faded down the hallway. The silence in the apartment loomed.
“Tim-“ Kon began.
“We can’t keep her, Kon,” Tim said softly.
“You said you’d think about it-“
“I’ve thought about it,” Tim said. “Have you? Think about what we do.”
“I know what we do,” Kon shot back. “I know there’s a risk! She’s already lost one set of parents and she’s terrified of getting abandoned again. You think I don’t know why she’s clinging to me so tightly?”
“And you’d put her through that again?” Tim asked coldly.
“We aren’t going to die!”
“Yeah, okay, we might,” Kon admitted. “We’re at risk, every day, but everyone’s at risk, every day. Her parents weren’t superheroes, but they’re not here now.”
“We put ourselves on the front lines-“
“And we’re ready for it,” Kon said. “We’ve trained for it. I’ve got powers, you’ve got armor and we’ve got more people watching our back than most people have Facebook friends! Yeah, we can die. But have you run the stats, Detective? Our deaths might be more dramatic, but you put our death rate against the general population and we still come out pretty good.”
“What about our families and friends?” Tim’s shout echoed off the walls. He added, quieter, “How do those stats come out?”
Kon hesitated, then said, “Tim, your dad-“
Tim’s tight composure slipped and his brow wrinkled for a moment before he locked down again. “I was only a few miles away, sitting in the Batmobile with Batman,” he said. “I was on the phone with him when he was attacked. And I couldn't get there in time. He died because of me and I couldn't-" His voice broke and he looked away from Kon, eyes red-rimmed and bright. Kon stepped forward, but Tim backed away, clenched his jaw and looked directly at Kon. "And you want to bring a child into our lives? How fucking stupid are you?"
Stung, Kon drew back. They stared at each other for a long moment. Kon finally broke the silence. "You don't ever want to have kids, do you?" he asked quietly.
Tim looked away.
Kon let out a long breath. "I think," he said, after another long moment, "that I am going to get some ice cream."
Tim didn't answer.
Kon nodded. He grabbed his keys, took his jacket off the hook by the door and left Tim in the apartment alone.
Tim stepped back until he was pressed against the wall and sank slowly to the ground. He pulled his knees up to his chest and buried his face in his hands.
Dick found him like that a few minutes later when he burst through the apartment door, alone. "Tim? Tim, are you okay?" He sank down to his knees next to his brother. "Tim?"
Tim lifted his head. "I'm okay," he said in a rough voice. "Becca?"
"Kon took her," Dick said. "He said to tell you he was going to Smallville for a couple of days." He touched his hand gently to Tim's back. "Tim, what happened?"
"I-" Tim began, and a tear spilled out of his eye, then another, and another. He rubbed his sleeve across his face and the dam broke. His breath came out in sobs. "Dick, I don't know what I'll do if I lose him."
Dick wrapped his arms around Tim and held him as he sobbed. "You'll have us," Dick murmured quietly. He stroked Tim's hair. "You'll have family and friends who love you very much."
"Not the same," Tim whispered into Dick's chest.
"No," Dick agreed. "But something." He dug into his jacket pocket and offered Tim a packet of tissues. Tim wiped his eyes and nose. "Tell me what happened."
Tim did, stopping a couple of times to wipe his eyes and blow his nose. When he'd finished, Dick stood up, got a full box of tissues and a couple of Zesti Colas from the kitchen.
When Tim had regained a bit of composure, Dick spoke. "Tim, you did the right thing."
"Calling him stupid?"
“That could've gone better," Dick admitted. "But if you don't want kids, Kon has to know that."
"But he wants kids," Tim said.
"I guess he does," Dick said.
"So how - how does that work?" Tim asked.
Dick put his arm around Tim again. “It means you guys are going to have to make a tough choice."
Tim's hand curled around his Zesti hard enough to dent the can.
"Tim," Dick said softly. "You can't fake being a parent to keep Kon by your side. It won't work. It's never worked, and it's not fair to the kid. If Kon decides to adopt Becca, you need to commit to her, too, or else walk away."
Tim choked down a sob. "I can't," he whispered.
"I can't!" Tim cried out. "I can't put her at risk like that. I can't see her get hurt, or killed, or worse. Dick, you know what it's like. How can you even think it's a good idea?"
Dick was silent for a moment, then said, "Tim, do you think you're the first parent to feel like that about a child?"
"Dick - I'm not - I can't."
"Risk is part of life, Timmy," Dick said softly. "I can't make your choices for you, but think about something. Do you think if Bruce had known - and not been able to change - what was going to happen to Jason, would he have made a different choice?"
Tim snorted. "Dick, Bruce excels at pushing people away."
"He excels at trying," Dick corrected. He brushed a lock of Tim's hair away from his eyes. "And he's not the only one. Think about it, okay?"
Tim nodded. He stared at the floor for a while, then pulled himself to his feet. "I need to go out for a bit," he said.
Dick nodded and stood up as well. He stretched and yawned. "Mind if I stay here tonight? It's been a long day."
Tim narrowed his eyes, gave Dick a you're-not-fooling-me look and then sighed. "Fine. I'll see you when I get back."
"Count on it," Dick said.
The Batcave was empty when Tim got there. He suited up and headed out on patrol. Disasters brought out both the best and the worst of people, but after dark, around the edges of ground zero, you pretty much just had the worst. The Batfamily, friends and allies were all on call and stretched pretty thin between recovery work and public Wayne appearances. The family's charities were out in full force and Bruce Wayne's resources were needed just as much, if not more, than Batman's at this stage.
None of the family would be far from a comm link right now, but Bruce and Barbara had laid down the law. Bats and Birds all had scheduled downtime to keep from overtaxing themselves. Batman and Oracle seemed to think that they themselves were exempt from the rules on downtime.
Times like these made for temporary truces with tenuous allies and sometime enemies. Some of the truces were official, negotiated. Some of them were unspoken.
A man stood on the roof of what was left of Gotham First National bank, in front of one of the worklights set up for rescue crews and left up to discourage looters and worse. The light made it easier for the looters to pick out the good stuff. The man in the smooth, featureless helmet stood guard with an assault rifle where everyone could see him. He didn't bother with the looters, the scavengers or the people searching for something to eat and a dry place to sleep. He was there for the predators.
Red Robin landed on the roof next to the Red Hood. Jason lifted his rifle, but didn't point it directly at Tim. "I've got this covered," he said.
"I know," Tim said. "I wanted to talk to you."
That damn helmet. Tim couldn't see any of Jason's face and his body language was too controlled to give anything away.
"Which you're doing right now, so mission accomplished," Jason said.
"No, I-" He wasn't friends with Jason; he'd never been friends with Jason and while they were technically brothers, it wasn't a bond the other man usually acknowledged. There wasn't any way to ease into this conversation. "If you'd known what would happen, would you still have wanted Bruce to adopt you?"
Jason let out a bark of laughter. "Fuck off."
"I'm serious," Tim said.
"I don't give a shit," Jason said.
"I need to know-"
"Know what?" And now the assault rifle was pointed at Tim, directly at his heart.
Tim slowly lifted his empty hands. His armor might protect him from direct gunfire at this range - and then again, it might not. He didn't know what kind of ammo Jason was using these days. “Was it worth it?”
Jason sighed. He pulled the rifle back and rested it on his shoulder. “You have no idea what it’s like to be alone in the world, do you, brat?”
Tim bristled. “You don’t know anything about my life.”
“I know you’ve always had family,” Jason said. “Get out of my sight.” He swung the gun down and fired in front of Tim’s feet. Tim jumped back, off the building, did a flip and threw out a jumpline. He cursed himself for the stupid idea. Jason was never going to give him any answers.
Tim patrolled for a few hours and then headed back to the apartment. He found Dick sprawled and dozing on one side of the L-shaped sofa, the Spongebob DVD menu looping cheerfully on the TV. His brother opened his eyes when Tim came in. “Hey, Timmy,” he said. He shifted to an upright sitting position. “How’s Gotham?”
“Not too bad, considering,” Tim said.
“You’re out of Crocky Crunch,” Dick said.
Tim raised his eyebrows. “There was half a box left!”
“Sorry,” Dick shrugged, without any real remorse. “I got hungry.”
“I’ve got plenty of food,” Tim grumbled. He trudged into the kitchen. Dick followed, padding behind him on bare feet. Tim’s stomach growled, but he didn’t feel like cooking, so he just grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl. “See? Fruits and vegetables. Try them sometime.”
“Crocky Crunch is nutritional,” Dick said. He picked up an apple and bit into it.
“It doesn’t count as a green, no matter how much food dye they pump into it,” Tim said.
“Whole grains,” Dick said. “Vitamins and minerals.”
“Asbestos is a mineral,” Tim said. He examined his apple, then put it back in the fruit bowl. His stomach growled again.
“Wanna order a pizza?” Dick asked. “They can put veggies on it.”
“Yeah,” Tim said. “Why not.” He didn’t want to go to bed yet. Crawling into that big bed alone…
He and Dick ate greasy pizza, watched a Jackie Chan movie and avoided talking about anything of substance. It reminded Tim of the old days when he’d visit Dick in Blüdhaven. He felt a twinge of loss, remembering how young he’d been before his life had fallen apart and how long it had taken him to put the pieces back together.
He fell asleep on the couch, woke up briefly when Dick draped a blanket over him, then drifted off again.
He woke up again in the morning, the first streams of daylight peeking past the curtains and, of course, even with the whole room to choose from, they landed on Tim’s face. He threw his arm over his eyes, and then sniffed.
Waffles. Fresh ones. Not frozen or from a mix.
Dick never made fresh waffles. He didn’t have the patience to separate the egg whites for the recipe which had become the Batfamily’s golden standard for waffles. “Steph?” Tim asked.
“You’re awake!” Steph stuck her head over the couch to look at him. Tim cleverly deduced that she had just finished patrol. For one, she was way too cheerful to have just woken up. For another, she still wore her Batgirl undersuit, though she’d taken off the cape, cowl and outer armor. “Want some breakfast?”
“Are you and Dick trying to kill me with carb overload?” Tim grumbled, but he was already moving toward the kitchen. Steph made better waffles than anyone in Gotham, except her mother, but she didn’t often have time to make them from scratch. Which made him suspicious as to why she’d decided to make them now. “Or just trying to slow me down so you can keep an eye on me?”
“We are definitely not trying to kill you,” Steph said cheerfully. She’d already sliced a bowl full of strawberries and whipped up fresh cream for the topping. She opened up the waffle maker, deftly forked the waffle onto a plate and she placed it in front of Tim.
“I don’t need people checking on me,” Tim said.
“I know,” Steph said. She poured batter on the waffle maker, closed it and set the timer. “But Dick felt guilty about having to leave you alone this morning, so I said I’d stop by.”
“Did he tell you what happened?” Tim asked.
“Just that you and Kon were taking a break for a few days,” Steph said. “Wanna talk about it?”
Tim stared down at his plate and took a deliberate bite of waffles and strawberries.
Steph picked up the coffee pot from the table, rinsed it out in the sink, and started brewing a fresh pot.
“We’d make awful parents, wouldn’t we?” Tim asked, a few minutes later.
“You mean you and me? Sorry, Boy Wonder, that ship has sailed.”
“I mean all of us,” Tim said. “High risk job, dangerous city. That’s why you gave up your daughter, isn’t it? So she could have a safe and happy life?”
“Well, yes,” Steph conceded. She filled two cups with coffee and brought them to the table. “But I was only fifteen, and alone. You were fourteen, and I didn’t even know your real name! I couldn’t have asked you to raise someone else’s kid with me.”
“Right. I’d make a terrible dad, wouldn’t I?” Tim asked.
“At fourteen? Oh yeah. Today? I think you’d be a pretty good dad.” She picked up the sugar bowl and dumped three spoonfuls in her coffee mug, then scooped up some of the whipped cream and mixed it all together.
“But how can I do that to a kid?” Tim asked. “With all the risks?”
Stephanie wrapped her hands around her mug and laced her fingers together. “All kids think their parents are heroes at some point,” she said. “Not many get to keep that fantasy.”
“I’m just a detective,” Tim said.
“You’re a good man,” Stephanie said. “Not perfect, of course, but way less of an ass than you were as a teenager.”
“I was pretty horrible to you back then, so not much of an endorsement,” Tim said.
“You had your good days,” Steph said. “You and my mom were the only ones that stood by me during the pregnancy.” She took a sip of her coffee. “I used to be so angry at my mom for being an addict and forcing me to take care of her when I was just a kid.”
“I remember,” Tim said.
“But she always loved me. I think I hated my dad more for what he did to her than for what he did to me,” she said. “As screwed up as my mom was, I wouldn’t want anyone else.” Steph reached over and squeezed Tim’s hand. “My point is, there are no perfect parents.”
“Ma Kent,” Tim pointed out.
“One in a billion,” Steph conceded. “But I still wouldn’t trade her for my mom. Not to go all Lifetime movie on you, but love is kind of a key thing here.”
Tim frowned, considering this. He took a sip of his coffee and gagged. “That’s a little bitter,” he choked out.
Steph pushed the sugar and cream toward him. “I think your coffee machine’s broken,” she said. “I had to use a triple scoop to get it the right thickness.”
At least she made good waffles.
After Steph left, Tim settled down to work on his laptop. A few hours later, he heard the door open. “Dick?”
“It’s me,” Kon said. Tim’s stomach lurched. He stood up and ran a hand through his hair, smoothing out some of the bedhead.
Kon stood just inside the entranceway, holding his keys and still wearing his jacket. He gave Tim an uncertain look. They stared at each other across the room.
“Came back to get your stuff?” Tim asked hoarsely.
Kon shook his head. “I came back to talk to you.”
“Okay,” Tim said. Thoughts, what-ifs and options battered against each other in his brain. He’d hoped to have more time to think things over before he had to face Kon again.
God, he was thinking of Kon like he was an opponent. Was this how it was going to be now?
Kon took a deep breath. He strode over to the couch, sat down and patted the seat next to him. Tim sat, numbly, on the edge of the seat, tension clenching around his spine. Kon picked up Tim’s hand and interlaced their fingers. “I couldn’t sleep,” Kon said. “I couldn’t even finish Ma’s pie. Tim, I love you so much.”
Tim bit his lip, terrified of the “but…” that was sure to follow.
“I want to be a dad,” Kon said. “I want a big family. I - I didn’t have that. I never had a childhood and I never will, but I want to see what it’s like from the other side. I lived in hotels and bounced around for so long. I want to build a home.”
Tim closed his eyes, not trusting himself to look at Kon’s face. Kon touched Tim’s chin, gently lifting up his face.
“But I want a life with you more,” Kon said. Tim’s eyes flew open and he searched Kon’s face for any hint of a trick or doubt. “Tim, you are my family. Home is wherever you are. If that means I’ll never be a dad, then that’s how it is. I want you by my side for the rest of my life, for better or for worse.”
Tim couldn’t breathe. “Are you proposing?”
“I don’t know,” Kon said. He looked at Tim with a mixed expression that was equal parts terror and love. “Are you accepting?”
Tim forced himself to suck in air and let it out. “Yes,” he said. “Kon, yes. If you’re sure-“
“Duh,” Kon said. “Why else would I be asking?”
“You didn’t actually ask,” Tim pointed out.
“Fine,” Kon said. He slipped off the couch and got down on one knee in front of Tim.
“You don’t have to-“
“Shush, lemme do this,” Kon took Tim’s hands in his.
“Seriously, I already said yes.”
“Nope, I’m not going to let you say I did it wrong.”
“Kon-“ Tim laughed.
“Timothy Jackson Alvin Draper Drake Wayne, will you and all your assorted identities do me the honor of becoming my husband?” Kon asked, looking up at Tim with a smile.
“Yes, of course I will,” Tim said. “Come here.” He reached for Kon’s waist, intending to pull the other man back onto the couch, but Kon tugged him forward and Tim fell on top of his fiancé. They grinned at each other and then Tim kissed Kon fiercely.
After a few minutes, though, Tim pulled back enough to speak, “About Becca…”
Sadness flickered across Kon’s eyes. “I love her and I want to watch her grow up. But I’ll find a family to raise her and I’ll be the cool uncle.” He shrugged, trying to play it off. “It’s better that way, right? I get to spoil her and be her buddy and never have to be the bad guy.”
“That’s the thing,” Tim said, finally reaching a decision. “I think we should adopt her.”
Kon jerked away. “Tim, don’t. You don’t have to.”
“I know I don’t have to,” Tim said, the words pouring out of him. “But I’ve been thinking, too. And - and I’m terrified. I don’t know if I can be a dad. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to protect her enough. I know how much parents can screw up their kids and I know I’m going to make mistakes and I’m going to bitterly regret them all.”
“Well, as long as you’re sure,” Kon said dryly.
“But I can try,” Tim said. “I can learn how to be a parent. I want to learn.”
Kon touched Tim’s cheek and searched his eyes. “You’re really serious?”
Kon kissed him. “We’ve saved the world together. I bet we can raise a kid.”
“I think it’ll be harder,” Tim admitted. “But there’s tons of books-“
Tim glared at him.
“Books!” Kon’s snicker dropped into a chuckle and then he was bent over laughing. “What about a Bat-parenting simulation? Can you run all the variables?”
Tim frowned. “Well, I can learn some stuff from books,” he said crossly.
“Oh, man, I love you, Tim,” Kon wheezed.
Tim tried to keep a dark look on his face, but Kon’s laughter was infectious. His mouth twitched. “At least I won’t be taking parenting tips from Wendy the Werewolf Stalker.”
“Hey, that show’s a classic!” Kon grinned.
Tim grinned back. “It’s got lots of meaningful subtext.”
Kon grabbed Tim around the waist. “I love you, you big nerd.”
“I love you, too,” Tim said. He glanced around the apartment. “Is Becca staying in Smallville?”
“Yeah,” Kon said “Ma promised she could tell the cows a bedtime story.”
“Ma’s letting her near the cows?!”
“Not alone, and not too close,” Kon assured him. “She’ll be perfectly safe.” He pushed Tim’s hair away from his face. “You really need to get over this fear of cows.”
Tim frowned. “I just think it’s reasonable to be cautious around an animal that weighs half a ton and can deliver a nasty kick.”
“They’re completely gentle if you don’t approach them from the wrong side,” Kon said. He pushed up Tim’s shirt and planted a soft kiss on his left side. “Anyway, that was four years ago.” He kissed Tim just above the belly button, then slid lower, using his tactile telekinesis to unbutton Tim’s jeans with a brush of a fingertip. “Let’s forget about the cows for now,” he suggested, lowering his mouth.
Tim nodded, wordless, and slid his fingers through Kon’s short hair.
Kon gave Tim a month to think it over. “You have to be sure,” Kon said. “Once we tell her, we can’t take it back.”
“I don’t want to take it back,” Tim assured him, but agreed to wait. It didn’t hurt to make a few legal inquiries first and make sure the adoption wasn’t going to run into snags.
After the month was over, and the paperwork drawn up, Tim and Kon knew it was time to talk to Becca.
She was sitting at the kitchen table, coloring an elephant green. Kon sat down in the chair on her right and Tim sat down on her left.
“Hey, sweetheart,” Kon said. “We have something to ask you.”
She paused in her coloring and cocked her head at him.
“How would you like it if I was your daddy?” Kon asked.
“Can I stay with you forever?” she asked.
“Yes,” Kon smiled. “Though when you grow up, you might want to get your own place.”
“Nu-uh,” she said, shaking her head so hard her curls bounced off her cheeks. “I’ll stay with you always.”
“If you want,” Kon grinned. He kissed the top of your head.
“And I’ll be your other daddy,” Tim said.
She considered this, then said, “No.”
Tim stiffened and Kon looked over at him in alarm. “Are you sure, sweetie? Don’t you like Tim?”
“I can’t have two daddies,” she said firmly. She gave Tim a thoughtful look, and said, “You can be my Papa.”
Tim let out a relieved breath and Kon chuckled. “Okay. We’ll be your Papa and Daddy.”
“I love you!” She hugged each of them. “Can we have pizza for dinner?”
“No,” Tim said, at the same time Kon said, “Yes.”
Becca looked up at Tim with big, hopeful eyes. “Please, Papa?”
Kon gave him a nearly identical puppy-dog look. “Please, Tim?”
Tim let out a long sigh and grinned at Kon. “Okay, fine, just because today is special. But not all the time.”
Becca gave Tim a calculating look. “Not even if it’s got veggies on it?” she asked.
Tim gave her a mock frown. “I think I need to talk to your Uncle Dick about your meals with him.”
“It’s healthy if it’s green,” Becca informed him.
Tim sighed. Kon leaned behind Becca and kissed him lightly. “I’m going to be the cool dad,” he told Tim.
“Fine,” Tim said. “I’m going to be the cool papa.”
They smiled at each other, eyes shining, as Becca went back to work on her coloring.