"No." Roy used the most adamant voice he had to make up for the fact that he couldn’t glare at Dick over the telephone.
It apparently wasn’t good enough. Dick didn’t get the idea. "I know it’s asking a lot, Roy-"
"Hell yes, it is. You know I’m retired."
"Which is why you’re perfect. He needs a break from . . . all of this."
"Okay, let me rephrase - you know why I’m retired, right?"
The pause on the other end of the phone lasted long enough that Roy would have thought Dick had hung up - if he hadn’t been dealing with Dick for years. "He isn’t a threat to anyone, Roy, least of all Lian."
"Really? Because usually, when Robins go nuts, they hurt people - Red Hood or Renegade style." Sure, that probably was a low blow - but Dick deserved it. How the hell did a person drop out of your life for almost two years and then show up acting as though nothing had changed between them?
"I thought you understood my actions by now."
Yeah, Roy understood why loud and clear, but he wasn’t sure it was the explanation that Dick thought he should have. At least, Roy was pretty sure if their explanations were the same, Dick wouldn’t be asking him for a favor - certainly not one of this magnitude. "You know lots of sane people. Why would you pick me?"
Roy expected a lot of answers to that question. Most of them centered around the theme of who better to understand fuck-ups than an ex-junkie, but the answer Dick gave was one Roy never would have predicted. "Because I trust you."
They said their goodbyes, and Dick probably went to go convince Batman that Roy really wasn’t an agent of Satan. Meanwhile, Roy wondered if it really was possible to love someone with your entire heart and hate their guts at the same time.
Once upon a time, Tim had wanted to be the best superhero he could. All he’d wanted was to follow in Dick Grayson’s footsteps and fight the bad guys. Tim hadn’t ever purposely strayed from that path. But the sounds of Dick’s disappointment echoed alongside Bruce’s quiet disapproval throughout the cave he’d constructed below the Tower.
They weren’t the only ones that had been disappointed in him. Superman knew what he had done, and his disapproval had been mixed with heavy does of confusion - as if he couldn’t fathom why Tim had done what he’d done.
But if Superman didn’t know the answer to that, the Man of Steel was a fool. But then, he hadn’t known Kon as well as Tim had. Superman hadn’t loved Kon as much as Tim had.
Cassie had. Or, at least, she claimed to have loved Kon. Kon had certainly loved her, and there was no question that she had grieved.
Yet, she hadn’t understood Tim’s actions either. The sound of her disappointment mingled with her anger still reverberated against Tim’s temples.
But at least Cassie had said something. That was far more than the remaining Titans had done. They had simply stood there, in the mouth of his cave, staring at him with disgust mixed in with their disappointment. Especially Rose. She looked as disgusted as Tim had felt when she had tried to touch him.
Tim could handle their anger and disgust, but he couldn’t quite handle the worry that had been spread across Alfred’s face.
Alfred had taken the body away.
But though the body had been removed, Tim still saw it. Because the dead corpse of try number 1,124 had made one thing very clear.
Of all the people Tim had let down, the one that mattered most was Kon. Though number 1,124 had very nearly been successful, the twelve hours that it had taken for the infant to die had made it certain that there would never be a 1,125th trial.
Which meant he’d failed Kon.
Batman had made it clear that Tim had failed him as well. Dick had hidden his disgust better, but the fact that he was now urging Bruce to send Tim away spoke volumes.
"It will do him good," Dick argued. "He needs to get away from this for a while-"
"He can stay in Gotham."
"He’s *disturbed,* Bruce." The voice was quiet, not meaning to cause hurt, but needing to drive home a point. "Gotham and the Manor are the last places he needs to be."
"He can stay with you."
"No, he can’t."
"Why not?" Wasn’t it obvious? Tim’s actions were so horrendous that Dick couldn’t stand to be near him - the successor that wasn’t worthy of the Robin title.
"You know the situation with Jason. It has to be taken care of. . .and it’s not conducive to the type of environment Tim needs."
Tim supposed he shouldn’t eavesdrop. But maybe it was a good little Robin thing to do. Or was it? Tim wasn’t sure anymore.
Once upon a time, he would have known. Because once upon a time, he’d been a good Robin - the kind who knew the right thing to do and who didn’t let his friends and teammates down.
Thus, it took very little time for Tim to agree to Dick’s plan. He didn’t want to go, but one look at the hopeful pleading on Dick’s face and the reluctant agreement on Bruce’s was enough to convince him.
He couldn’t handle letting anyone down again.
Old wounds aren’t supposed to hurt. Time is supposed to heal them and lessen the pain.
Roy was pretty sure whoever came up with that was full of shit. The minute Dick’s voice poured through the phone, old wounds started to throb. When Tim Drake showed up at his doorstep, the wounds virtually opened up and bled.
It was for this reason that Roy showed Tim to the guest room and allowed the third Robin to remain there for two whole days without bothering him, despite Lian’s curiosity-filled protests.
Eventually, however, Roy’s promise to Dick to look after his little brother kick-started Roy’s sense of obligation and he enticed Tim to join himself and Lian in preparation to make dinner. It really wasn’t a huge surprise that Tim didn’t say a whole lot while they made their pizza quickies. The kid accepted the package of shredded cheese and dutifully sprinkled exactly enough on each slice of spaghetti sauce laden bred to cover the slice and not a shred more.
Freak, Roy thought. Cheese covering wasn’t a science. Boy was definitely a Robin.
Lian watched Tim patiently, waiting for her turn. When it came, she carefully took the slice Tim offered, trying not to spill the cheese. If it had been Roy, he would have spilled the cheese on purpose.
Eh, the consideration was probably Dinah’s influence. Or Donna’s, maybe.
"Do you like anything ‘sides pepperoni, Mr. Drake?" Huh. Mr. Drake - that was definitely Dinah’s influence.
"No," was the quiet response.
"Okay." Lian dutifully laid four pepperoni pieces down, mimicking Tim’s measured movements.
Ugh. "Hey, Dart, you want to hurry up? The bread is gonna get all soggy."
Lian tossed a reproachful look in his direction - definitely Donna’s influence. . . or Dick’s . . .or Wally’s. . . and didn’t speed up at all. "Daddy calls me that sometimes," she informed Tim unnecessarily, "Because darts are little arrows and daddy - well, you already know about the superhero stuff. But Daddy doesn’t do that anymore."
Roy thought he saw Tim’s hand visibly shake at the mention of "superhero" but his attention was diverted. "We’ve talked about why, Squirt."
"I know, Daddy, ‘cuz of your injury," Lian slid the finished pizza quickie onto the tray before accepting the next slice from Tim. "Anyway, Daddy likes mushrooms on his pizza. But Uncle Dick says it’s fungus -"
"Uncle Dick is a freak," Roy grumbled, which earned him a glare from Lian and Tim. "He’s a very nice freak," he amended.
"-And I don’t know why anyone would want to eat fungus," Lian finished. Roy briefly wondered how the hell she knew what fungus was, anyway. That was probably Uncle Dick’s fault, too. If it wasn’t, Roy didn’t feel badly about blaming him anyway.
Tim didn’t answer Lian’s question and the littlest Harper looked over at her father in confusion. She knew, even at her age, that few could resist her charms. Roy was really not looking forward to the teen years.
But he had no real answer for Lian, other than once a Bat Person closed themself off, there was no breaking through the wall.
The Bat Wall remained well in place throughout dinner and the Bat Retreat Method kicked in as they cleaned up. Tim started to slip off back into the guestroom.
Roy almost let him - his damn wound still hurt and he was tired - but he’d made Dick a promise. And hell, promises had to mean something to one of them, didn’t they?
"Hey, kid, we’re gonna watch a movie. Want to watch it with us?"
"It’s 7:30." The kid thought he could use Bat Avoidance Technique on him? Timmy had another thing coming - Roy had dealt with the Master of Avoidance for well over a decade. "I’m pretty sure Batman doesn’t put the kiddies to sleep that early."
When the requisite Batman insult didn’t get so much as a rise out of the tiniest bird, Roy knew he was in trouble. Still, Tim didn’t seem to have the energy to fight. Reluctantly, Tim took his place on the couch as far away from Roy as he could while still being on the same piece of furniture. Lian looked at them both as if neither of them had any sense before popping down between them.
"This was a birthday present from Aunt Dinah," she told Tim animatedly, pushing the play button on the remote control. "It’s my favorite."
"It’s Charlotte’s Web," Roy clarified.
Tim didn’t respond, nor did he talk at all during the movie. Roy was surprised to see Tim didn’t so much as sniffle at Charlotte’s death. At that point, Roy pretty much figured that part of Bat training involved getting strapped to a chair and subjected to marathons of Charlotte’s Web, Old Yeller, and Bambi, with electric shocks if Robin’s eyes so much as watered.
Okay, Roy didn’t completely believe that.
But while he didn’t know exactly what had happened to prompt Tim’s visit, he did know about Superboy’s death and Mia had filled him in on the friendship the two male Titans had shared.
Roy was pretty sure that "they’re gay for each other" was Mia’s way of indicating friendship. In any event, given what Tim had apparently lost, Roy was surprised that the younger man didn’t so much as wince during the ending.
Regardless, the sniffles from Roy and the tears from Lian more than made up for Tim’s lack of emotion.
"Daddy, that was so sad," Lian bemoaned. "Poor Charlotte. Poor, poor Wilbur."
"I don’t know. I’ve always felt the sorriest for Templeton."
"Daddy! Ew! Templeton’s a rat- Uncle Dick says they carry diseases and are dirty."
Yeah, Dick would say that, wouldn’t he? "Well, they do - but so do pigs . Never mind all the work he does for them, never mind how many times he saves Wilbur’s ass - the ungrateful pig and the know-it-all spider didn’t care about that, did they?"
"Well. . . I guess they are kind of mean to him," Lian acknowledged.
"Exactly! Anyway, Templeton didn’t ask to be born a rat, did he? Poor bastard couldn’t help how he was born."
A decade’s worth of Dick watching had enabled Roy to be able to spot the almost negligible change of expressions on Tim’s face. Roy noted with some degree of pride that he was likely the only non-Bat that could.
Which, Roy realized, was probably the reason Dick had sent the kid here in the first place.
"Hey, Dart, give me and Tim a minute alone, okay?"
Lian looked like she wanted to protest, but after looking at both Tim and her Dad, she gave in with an irritated sigh. "Fine," she replied huffily, looking just like her mother for a fraction of a minute before stalking off to her room.
Roy really wasn’t looking forward to the teenage years. He waited for the sound of Lian’s bedroom door closing before he asked, "Who’s Templeton?"
A silent shake of the head was Tim’s only response.
"You sure? Because you look kind of upset and I’ve never seen any Robin show any type of emotion." That was probably a low blow, Roy decided, but experience had taught him that there was no better way to peck away at the Bat Armor than to insult their battiness. They were all so fucked up like that.
"Kon-El was." Roy wished the kid would quit sounding so damn detached about it. It was so very . . . Dick like of him.
"Superboy?" That was an . . .odd metaphor. It also made him wonder which character his Robin would have described him as. Somehow, Roy had a feeling he’d end up as the rat, too, if for vastly different reasons than whatever was in Tim’s head.
"Yes. He-I. . . Everyone thought of him as just a clone. He wasn’t. He-he was just a kid, like the rest of us."
"You must miss him very much," Roy surmised. The binds that tie Titans together were strong, and no one grieved more than a Robin who had lost someone they loved. Wasn’t that why Dick moved to New York - where he could be all alone?
"I do." The kid frowned in that very special kind of way that said he was trying not to cry. Roy’d had some familiarity with it over the years.
"That’s normal, you know? I mean, I get that the Bat way of doing things doesn’t allow you to grieve, but-"
"No. We’re supposed to fix things," Tim acknowledged. "That’s what I was trying to do."
"So, what happened? ‘Cuz I’m guessing all didn’t’ go according to plan."
"It’s nothing," Tim claimed, though the blue eyes were focused on the kid’s own knees and his teeth were tearing furiously at his own bottom lip.
"Course not, because you’re a Robin," Roy grumbled, though apparently not quietly enough, because the kid’s head popped up and he looked at Roy as though the older man had slapped him.
Oops. Must have struck a nerve. Roy took a silent moment to mentally curse Dick for putting this responsibility in his lap. When had Roy ever been any good at getting the Bat Folk to break out of their shell?
Never. And the day after that. "Look. I don’t have any idea what’s going on with you. Dick didn’t give me a while lot to go on, other than you needed a place to crash. Now, if you were Dick, we’d go downstairs and beat the shit out of each other because well, apparently, that’s the preferred Bat counseling method." Roy scratched his beard in irritation.. Maybe he should go back to the goatee. "But my trusty little injury still kind of hurts, so if we could skip that step, I’d appreciate it."
Tim didn’t respond for several minutes and Roy fought his own annoyance at Dick, the kid, his beard, and life in general. Finally, the kid shifted in a way that denoted acquiescence. "I’m not Dick."
"Well, no. The lack of panties kind of gave that away."
"I wanted to be. . .once."
"You wanted to be Dick or you wanted to be Robin?"
"You seem to be doing a pretty good job at the Robin part." Roy didn’t add that there was still plenty of time to "become" Dick. After all, somewhere between their Titan years and now, Dick had set the goal of becoming Bruce Wayne 2.0, and he was doing a fantastic job at that.
But Roy shelved his own bitterness in favor of noticing that the teeth bit down again on Tim’s bottom lip. "I wanted to . . . I didn’t mean to. . . " the kid started.
"Want to try again? Full sentences this time?"
"I didn’t mean to let anyone down."
Oh, Roy had been there, and all of Roy’s annoyance at having another Bat Person taking up room on his couch left. "Well, I know a little something about disappointing Short Pants and a little about disappoint mentors. So, you want to spill? Or are we going to have to spar anyway, despite my gimpy arm?"
Tim didn’t have any plans to actually talk to Roy Harper about what had happened. After all, therapy wasn’t an approved part of the Bat Diet.
But something about Roy reminded Tim of Kon. It might have been the relaxed attitude, it might have been the flippant jokes, it might have been the fact that Tim just sill missed Kon so much that his mind was making things up.
And Dick trusted this man.
For whatever reason, the story spilled form Tim. He told of his many unsuccessful efforts to re-clone Kon and of the one "successful" effort. He told Roy of the fluke in his calculations and of the baby that resulted.
"It died. It - he was Kon and he died."
"Are you going to try again?"
"Why not?" Roy’s tone was gentle and non-judgmental. And. . . if he were any nicer Tim really would break down and cry.
"Even if Raven can get the soul back, I can’t. . . I can’t kill Kon again."
"You didn’t kill anyone," Roy said firmly.
"It was my experiment. I screwed up - and I can’t do it again. I-I’m not strong enough."
"Oh, Little Bird. Little, Lost Bird," Roy murmured. "You seem plenty strong enough to me." A hand slipped onto Tim’s shoulders and Tim thought about moving. But he didn’t really want to go back to that guest room - it was only a reminder of how alone Tim actually was. It was funny how the aloneness that Tim had once cherished only served as a reminder of all that he’d lost.
Kon was the first person to make being alone seem like a bad thing.
Tim stopped looking at his knees long enough to look at the other man. "Why aren’t you as horrified at what I did as everyone else is?"
Roy shrugged. "Sometimes people do stupid shit. I know a little about that. But you had good intentions and I don’t think it’s a mistake you’ll make again."
"You aren’t afraid I’ll do something worse?"
"Before I met Green Arrow, I lived with a man named Brave Bow," Roy recounted, "One of the stories he used to tell a lot concerned a grandfather warning his grandson that the boy has two wolves inside of him struggling with each other. The first is a good wolf-full of peace, love, kindness and everything nice.. The other wolf is a bad wolf -full of fear, greed, hatred and everything not-so nice. So the kid’s pretty tore up about that, and asks the grandfather which one will win. ‘Whichever one you feed,’ his grandfather answers."
"So. . . you don’t think I’ll feed the bad wolf?"
"You’re not feeding the bad wolf - you’re too overwhelmed with guilt. So, there’s really no way your inner big, bad wolf of bad decisions can win and make you an overall bad person. Though you’re welcome to stay here for as long as you need to until you feel more confident of that fact yourself."
"Until I can face Batman and Nightwing again."
"If you’re sure that’s what you want."
Roy made it sound as thought there was honestly another alternative. "Once upon at time, being the best Robin I could be was all I wanted."
"Things were better then and all you want to do is go back to those days," Roy surmised.
"Yes." Back to the days of Young Justice, when Tim hadn’t messed up, Kon was still alive, Bart was still Bart, Stephanie was still alive, and Dick was still close.
"You know, Brave Bow had another saying that was much shorter and sweeter - ‘No river can return to its source, yet all rivers must have a beginning.’"
"Nice. You have any Wise Old Native American proverbs to let me know what to do if I can’t go back to being Robin?" The very idea hurt, because being Robin was important, but. . . even if Batman wanted him back - and that was still very much questionable, since Dick and Jason had been fired for far less valid reasons - Tim wasn’t sure that he’d ever be able to forget the look of utter disappointment on Bruce’s face.
He couldn’t very well be Robin without Batman, could he?
"Nope, sorry. I come with a maximum of two wise proverbs per day. Any more would ruin my bad reputation."
"Wouldn’t want that."
"Nah. It’d seriously cut down on my chick magnet status." Roy stood and yawned. "Seriously, once a Titan, always a Titan. Feel free to stick around as long you want. You can help Lian with her science project - God knows I can’t - and if you’re lucky, I’ll dig up some high quality Dick Grayson dirt that only the original Fab Five Titans know."
"Duran Duran reference."
"What’s Duran Duran?"
"Since I have to put my kid to bed, I"m simply going to pretend that I didn’t hear that. There’s no excuse for being that culturally retarded."
Tim watched Roy go, and listened as Lian gave the typical childhood protests against bedtime. Everything was still very screwed up and he missed Kon more than ever.
But Tim had done his fair share of jumping off buildings. Unlike Dick, who loved sailing through the air, Tim embraced the landing part of a fall as the very best part of the experience. After all, no matter how hard the impact of the landing, it meant the fall was over.
The conversation with Roy had helped to remind Tim that he had landed. It would take a while, but Tim knew that eventually, he would stand back up. Given some time, he might even return to sailing across rooftops.
"How’s Tim doing?"
"Better," Roy answered truthfully. He was rather proud of that fact, though he wasn’t sure he should be. This Robin was a lot saner than the other two, so all the credit probably belonged with the kid.
"Really?" Dick sounded so happy - a sound that Roy hadn’t heard from him in a long, long time.
"Yeah. Ol’ Harper Charm, you know."
"Did he tell you why. . . what happened?"
"Good. He’s not really talkative-"
"-A Bat prerequisite, isn’t it?"
"-And I was afraid you’d have trouble."
"Well, like I said, Harper Charm."
"It’s more than that," Dick said, suddenly sounding sincere and serious in the way that Roy had hated when he’d been fifteen but had missed when he’d been twenty-five. "It’s because you don’t give up on someone when they’re down. You keep badgering them until they straighten up."
"You trying to imply that I’m stubborn?"
"Yes, I am and that’s a good thing. I . . . I always appreciated you not wanting to give up on me, even when I made it easier for you to just walk away."
"Walking away isn’t what friends do."
"I know. I learned that from you."
They said their goodbyes, and Dick probably went to go work on that happy little reconciliation plan Dick had in mind for Barbara. Meanwhile, Roy decided it really was possible to love someone with your entire heart and hate their guts at the same time.