“Your lover will die,” the old woman cackles at Tim. She’s a new villain, one neither Robin or Batman have seen before. He feels Batman’s gaze rest on his back.
Her gnarled fingers lift their heavy jewels to point at Robin, “Your lover will die and you will be lost.”
She laughs once more, lifting her clouded, blind eyes to the darkened Gotham sky before swirling her heavy purple cloak and disappearing, leaving behind the precious jewels she had taken.
Tim mostly forgets the incident, but when he turns fourteen he meets Kon-El. The boy with vibrant blue eyes and that rare laugh that fills his ribcage with butterflies. Her words echo in his head that night. He ignores the feeling, and continues on.
Somewhere along the line, he goes and falls in love with the awkward young man with blue eyes and charming smile. He loves him more than he felt was reasonable; loved him more than he’d ever loved anyone. And, when he finally gathered up the courage to ask, Kon told him he felt the same.
The echo returns, though the dark Gotham streets remain empty. His dreams are haunted by her, by the memory of what she had said.
Kon goes on a mission a few months later. He comes back in a body bag.
And Tim--Tim’s shattered .
The old woman appears a couple of days later, in a dingy alleyway not far from when they first encountered each other. Dick and Damian are on the other side of the city and everyone else is out of town. Now, it’s just Red Robin against her. He feels blood rushing in his ears and his nails dig into his gloved palms as he prepares for a fight.
But she doesn’t do anything . She stands there, a splitting grin on her features. It’s almost crazed, almost cruel.
“I told you, little Robin,” Tim bristles, but its the odd softness in the corners of her eyes that give him pause. “I told you that he would die, and you did nothing to change fate.”
Tim grins, brief and manic, a perfect echo of hers, “Isn’t it the point of fate that you can’t change it?”
She stands tall, now, though the grin doesn’t leave. Her hunched form straightens, elongates. The wrinkles that marred her porcelain flesh retreat. “Rules are made to be broken. Didn’t your brothers teach you anything?”
She reaches out a hand, now decades younger. Her purple cloak dies itself vermillion. “You will have four chances to make it right.”
Tim takes her hand.
Tim gains awareness with the rain pouring down, and the old-now-young woman grinning in front of him. His body is fourteen again, and he has never felt this much hope. Tim watches as she leaves, silent.
That night, Tim dreams of beautiful blue eyes and wide shoulders. He sees the sun and hears the faint twinkling of wind chimes. He wakes up with tears on his face and a light heart.
He tries to stay away, this time. Tries to keep his distance. This Kon doesn’t act like he remembers his. His movements are too stiff, hair too short and skin just a shade or two too pale.
Kon still goes on the mission. Tim still hears the news with a heavy, broken heart filled with shattered and forgotten promises.
The woman appears sooner this time, and she doesn’t ask, just holds out her hand. She doesn’t wait long and he’s waking up on a summer hill, with Bruce by his side. When Tim starts sobbing, Bruce doesn’t ask, just pulls his newest and still-fragile son to his chest, lulling him with the steady beating of his heart.
Tim sticks too close this time, and it ends up scaring Kon. His feelings are too much for the young clone, and oh, it’s so easy to forget how young he truly is. Tim’s caring looks too much like admiration -- obsession -- from the outside. Kon tries to adopt a brotherly role, and that breaks Tim’s heart almost more than his deaths had.
He dies anyway.
The third time he wakes, it feels like fourteen is all he will ever know. He can’t say it would be awful if he could spend an eternity or two at Kon’s side. It's a small price to pay.
Tim goes on the mission with him this time, and he watches motionlessly as Kon crumples. It snaps something inside of him, and Tim attacks. He beats the villain bloody and bloodier still, until the pain in his head and hands drowns out the grief-stricken keening of his collapsing heart.
Cassie and the team have to drag him away from the body and his chest is heaving and is that water on his face is he crying, why is he crying, he can’t break down now, this isn’t the time, he can’t afford to cry, not when that devilish excuse for a person still lives and breathes and oh, Tim has never felt hatred in his bones as right as this feels, because Kon is dead, but God -- Kon is dead . The fourth Kon is dead and he’s alone. And he’s never been more alone and scared and empty and it feels as though his heart will never be whole again and the world has lost every last shred of hope and everything is so dull, now and --
He misses being in love.
He misses broad shoulders and a carefree grin. He misses curly black hair and blinding blue eyes, gold sunlight like a halo and the sound of chimes in the wind.
He misses being in love.
When the woman appears that night in the dark of the living room, the only light from the muted TV, static flickering silently. He doesn’t take her hand, and something in her gaze must understand because she only nods lightly before disappearing. He takes the moment to sob into the couch cushions.
Bruce asks about the woman on the feed the next day and Tim doesn’t panic. He shuts down, doesn’t speak. Maybe he’d be proud of keeping this one secret from the great Bat if it didn’t feel so much like giving up, but-- They put him in a cell when he won’t answer their questions. Who was that woman? How did she get in here? What did she want? He doesn’t make a sound, his tears dried on pale cheeks and the bruises of exhaustion under his eyes.
The woman comes back that night and Tim speaks before she can, “Please, let me love him. Just one more time.”
She smiles, sad and quiet. “This will be your last try.”
The doors burst open and the others come pouring in led by Batman himself just as Tim whispers I know, her hand already in his. He fades.
He remembers with Kon at his back, that specific curl in his hair and the bright smile.
Tim is seventeen and it’s the day everything went wrong. His heart still aches, and the wounds are still raw, but he looks at the warmth shining from inside Kon and remembers why he fell all that time ago. He hopes it’s been enough.
Tim hugs his Superboy, hugs him and doesn’t let go. Kon worries, almost frantic with Tim’s clinging. Tim doesn’t cry, but he feels pressure building behind his eyes.
He whispers so softly none but the most trained of ears can hear, “ I’m sorry .” Kon pauses, his arms settle at Tim’s waist. He tries to look at Tim, but the young Bat keeps his face pinned into the crook of Kon’s neck and shoulder.
Tim finally pulls away some minutes later when Cassie strolls in followed by the rest of the group. He puts a strange distance between them, and he sees that Kon is still wanting to ask. He shakes his head a little, and Kon swallows his question.
Tim watches as Kon boards the ship with the small team. He watches as his lover turns back to him worriedly, Tim smiles and makes a small shoo-ing motion. The door closes behind him, and Tim walks quietly back to his room.
When Cassie flags him down in the hall they chat. Tim gives a run-down of what needs to be done as they wait for the team’s return and buries the feeling of loss and of grief deeper and deeper within himself. When he gets back to his room, he snaps.
It hasn’t nearly been enough.
He throws what little furniture he has across the room. His mirror shatters, the bed sheets end up in separate corners of the room. The polaroid box he keeps under his bed ends up thrown at the far wall, leaving the pictures to scatter across the floor. (Batman and Robin, the sunrise over the Pacific, the Gotham Skyline. A shaky photo of a young man with black hair and blue eyes, floating above tree tops and smiling.)
He ends up with Kon’s shirts in his hands, ready to tear them to pieces. But he doesn’t. He can’t. He sees droplets hit the flexible fabric. Tears , he thinks before he strips his own shirt off, pulling Kon’s over his head and falling onto the bare mattress. He realizes his chest is heaving and he can’t breathe through his nose and the thick, gooey feeling in his throat.
Cassie comes in and stops startled at the mess that’s been made of the room. Her face is covered in tears, too and Tim wants to laugh. So he does.
He sits up with his hair mussed as though he stood in the center of a hurricane. “I know,” he sniped. “He’s fucking dead and I’m--.”
There’s a brief moment where he wonders if it’s not by some miracle someone else this time, and that thought is like a bucket of ice water to the face. Why does he want it to be another of his friends? How is that fair of him? But it’s Cassie’s pitying look that reveals that Kon is dead, Tim is alone and he’s-- he’s so tired and still so very angry.
“Get out.” Cassie pauses, hand reaching out to Tim.
“ Get out! ” Tim screams, throwing the nearest sharp shape at her. It ends up embedded in the wall and she flees.
Even a decade taken in snapshots by his side is too little.
The sun has long since set when the woman appears again. This time she’s a girl, no older than eight dressed in the color of evergreen. If it wasn’t for that look in her eye-- some part scathing humor mixed with some part understanding --he wouldn’t even know she was the same person. But she is.
“Are you sure this is the ending you wanted?”
Tim smiles, heavy and wicked, “Rules are meant to be broken, aren’t they?”
The girl smiles, “The strongest rule of all is the rule of Death.”
“It’s been broken before.”
Her eyes glow faintly, still blind, but never unseeing. “It will be broken again.” She takes his hand in hers.
Lines pass over the girl’s skin and pulse .
Kon comes back surrounded by a bright golden light with wind chimes in the air. His blue eyes are more beautiful than Tim ever thought possible. His first words are stunted and cracked but still so clear as he wraps Tim tight in his arms, “ There is nothing to forgive. ”
This time will be enough.