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looking back on those neon nights

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*

 

Tim doesn’t go back to the Manor, doesn’t think he can, not yet at least, but he knows he can’t stay hiding forever in Jason’s safehouse. So one day he wakes up and tells Jason without thinking over too sugary cereal and too strong coffee that he’s moving out in the afternoon. And the words seem to surprise Tim more than they surprise Jason, because his brother only hums in agreement and nods distractedly.

 

He doesn’t have much to take back with him, only his suit and a computer and the soft blanket he’s claiming as his now. Everything is stuffed in just a backpack and a duffel bag, and there’s something sad about it. It feels a little cheap and a little bare and a little spartan.

 

Tim locks the door behind him, but slides the key in the back pocket of his jeans.

 

*

 

His apartment looks the same as he left it, like it was just this morning he had made himself a sandwich and ran out the door without closing his bedroom window because he was late and Stephanie would kill him if they were late to training.

 

It hits him then, that after his kidnapping, this is the first Tim steps inside his own apartment.

 

Surprisingly, this thought comforts him. Because none of the mess and madness that followed had touched here. A last oasis in the desert. A clean slate. Tabula Rasa.

 

He can start cleaning up tomorrow, but for now Tim is content in showering and diving under the covers. If he closes the curtains and pulls the blankets over his head, he can almost pretend it’s dark out.

 

*

 

Tim doesn’t hear from Jason for a while, but he didn’t expect to, he knows there’s something going on with his team that he goes really defensive whenever Tim hinted at it. And, well, Tim knows better than to pry, trusts his brother to trust him at his own time.

 

But he does hear from Dick not too long after he moves back. It takes a day and a half, but his phone rings one night when he’s making a game out of piling up take out containers in the sink, and Tim answers, half out of fear Dick might grow impatient enough to come knocking at his window, half out of guilt.

 

It goes surprisingly well, and it only takes Tim pacing up and down the rooms, socket feet padding silently around the place. Dick doesn’t ask about his time away from the Manor or the fight with Bruce or what he’s going to do now. Tim tells him about Cadmus and Conner and how Jason can actually cook real food when he’s bothered but should never be let on charge of dessert unless they want a Frankenstein of a hybrid of cake and pudding and maybe mousse that tastes like burnt vanilla cookies. They dance around all the elephants in the room until they can laugh again without feeling too guilty about it.

 

And when Dick asks if he’s okay, Tim says yes , and it’s the closest to the truth he’s been for a while.

 

*

 

The next call comes from Bruce and Tim lets it go straight to voicemail the first time. The second he declines after the first ring. The third he picks up, because Bruce texts him before telling him it’s important and Tim might be pissed at Batman, but there’s an unspoken rule about phones and emergency calls.

 

“You need to come down to the cave.” Bruce says, voice blank, “there’s someone here to see you.”

 

Because that’s not ominous at all. He checks the clock on the wall. 22:34 pm.  “It’s late, Bruce, I think Vick Vale can understand my absence without causing a national scandal.” Tim says tiredly, bringing a hand up to rub his face.

 

“It’s not Vick Vale,” Bruce hesitates, then his voice gets muffled, as if he’s got a hand covering the speaker, “no, don’t touch that- put it back, Clark-”

 

Tim doesn’t find it overly surprising that Superman would be at the Cave, it wouldn’t be the first time and it won’t be the last. They have some sort of friendship going on, or as much of one you can get with the Dark Knight. Still, even if they don’t sound particularly urgent, for Superman to be there- “what’s going on? Bruce, is everything-”

 

Tim begins taking stock of everyone he knows, where they had last been seen, who would be most likely in trouble or even-

 

“Everyone is fine, Tim,” Bruce replies, and his voice betrays the barest hint of annoyance, “but there are matters Superman and I need to attend to and Conner is here to see you.”

 

It’s your mess, Bruce doesn’t say but means, it’s your responsibility.

 

And even if his heart didn’t leap to his throat or his chest didn’t collapse into itself like a dying star ready to burn into a supernova, even if there wasn’t this double edged sword of a prophecy hanging over his head, even if- it’s not like Tim could say no to that.

 

*

 

Tim speeds into the cave, tires screeching to a halt and burning skid marks in the asphalt. He takes off his helmet, carding a hand through his hair, and listen, he spent his formative years following around Batman and Dick as Robin, and the last few months hanging around Jason, the flair for the dramatics had been rubbing off on him, alright. It’s as much of a legacy as the cowl at this point.

 

Bruce disapproves of his entrance, Tim can see it in the twitch of his jaw and the tense line of his shoulders. It leaves a bittersweet aftertaste in his mouth, like cheap vodka with no lime and salt, or is that tequila? He can’t never tell.

 

Tim ignores Batman looming intimidatingly in the middle of the cave, choosing to greet Superman first, returning his friendly smile with a dim one of his own. “Hey, Clark, how’s Metropolis?”

 

“Same old, same old,” Superman laughs, because he’s the embodiment of sugar, sunshine and everything nice, “Lex’s still trying to take over every other Thursday. But how have you been, Tim?”

 

And then he rests a heavy hand on Tim’s shoulders, and Tim tries not to squirm, because letting down Superman is almost worse than letting down Batman. So he goes for the safe, neutral option, shrugs with a grin,“Same old, same old.”

 

Still fully committed to his plan of not acknowledging Bruce, Tim turns to Conner, meeting his gaze steadily. The boy is smiling, a little lopsided and a little lazy, and Tim forces himself to ignore the feeling at the pit of his stomach asking, wondering, fluttering wings, whispering, half wishes his other self was still here, just so he could ask is this it? is this what you meant? is this how it starts?

 

“Hey, man,” Conner extends a hand, “never got around to thank you that day.”

 

There’s a lilt to his words, not quite like Superman’s, but nothing like Tim’s own Gothamite accent or Jason’s harsh cadence from Crime Alley. It’s not unpleasant, and Tim can almost see the vowels curling in the air as he speaks, and it makes him think of summers on the beach and moonlit waves and warm sand beneath his fingers.

 

“No need,” Tim shakes his hand, “that’s literally my job.”

 

“Still,” Conner grins impossibly wider, “ thanks .”

 

Tim nods, and braces himself before finally facing Bruce. The man looks tired, in a way only a single father of four and counting could, and the usual scowl is fixed permanently on his face. “So. What’s the emergency?”

 

“League business.” Batman says, a clipped tone that Tim knows means he’s uncomfortable, “we’re needed at the Watchtower.”

 

“Emergency meetings, you know how it goes,” Superman grimaces, taking pity on Bruce and explaining, “and it’s too late for Conner to fly back to Smallville alone now.”

 

“My powers are a little, uh, freaky,” Conner scratches the back of his head, frowning and embarrassed, “I’m still learning to control ‘em.”

 

“I’m the glorified babysitter, then,” Tim deadpans, because it’s nearing 11pm and he has better things to do, and maybe he thought just this once that people would just want to see him without needing anything in exchange. That’s not fair, he knows. But he’s only nineteen, as everyone loves to point out lately, he can be unreasonable every once in a while.

 

“If it makes you feel better,” Conner says, but part of the warmth in his voice is missing and his face is closed off in a way Superman’s never could, “I was offended too.”

 

Shit. Tim stops himself from biting his lip, regretting his words and wishing he could gather them around in his arms, stop them from leaving his mouth. “No offense-”

 

“I think it’s a little too late for that, buddy,” Conner raises one eyebrow, but shrugs, apparently willing to forgive Tim, “but whatever, man. I get it. I’m not happy about this either.”

 

“It’s not up for debate,” Batman cuts in, voice final and sure, “Nightwing is still in New York,” probably, he doesn’t add, but it echoes through the cave system all the same, “and Red Hood informed me that you’re still favoring your left side too much for patrol.”

 

Sometimes Tim misses the time when Jason was still trying to kill him. It sure ruined his life a lot less than now.

 

“Well, since the two of you are suddenly so close,” Tim crosses his arms, making a point of not wincing, because that’s rich coming from both Bruce and Jason. Tim’s seen them working with a lot worse than a few bruised ribs. “You can tell Hood he’s a dirty rat that is going down the next time I see him.”

 

Bruce regards him warily, “Red Robin,” then hesitates. He’s been doing that a lot around Tim lately. But Tim can’t blame him for that, if even he doesn’t know how to be himself, he can’t expects others to. “There’s no time for this. I know it isn’t ideal but it is an emergency.”

 

Tim narrows his eyes. There’s the unspoken emergency rule again. He feels the full weight of Batman’s gaze, but chooses to study Conner instead.

 

He does look better than that night at Cadmus. There’s no grime or blood running down his skin and his eyes are a clear blue, alert and a little guarded but full of life. He looks more comfortable in his own skin, confidence dripping from the curve of his eyebrows and the line of his shoulders. And maybe the Other Tim Drake would be able to tell how much of it is real and how much is a bluff, or maybe if this was the Other Tim Drake and the Other Conner, then there would be no need for bravado at all.

 

“What?” Conner frowns, eyes flickering around and crossing his arms defensively.

 

“Nothing,” Tim shakes his head, trying to disperse the ghosts haunting his mind. “Do you play video games?”

 

“Do I what now?” He blinks, confused by the sudden change in subjects. “Uh, I guess?”

 

“Cool, we can use the Cave’s system, it’s faster than the one I got upstairs.” Tim is sure he saw Dick hiding some controllers down here the last time he was benched, was it- yup. Behind the old batarangs. He tosses one to Conner, watching him fumble to catch it, before looking up to find Bruce giving him a strange look, “didn’t you have a meeting or something?”

 

Silence. Superman coughs. Conner pretends to be very interested in the controller in his hands. Then, “very well. Agent A is upstairs and he will be checking up on the two of you.”

 

And with one last withering glare directed at Superman, Batman is gone from the cave. Clark waves awkwardly, then hurries after Bruce.

 

*

 

“So,” after minutes that seemed to stretch into an infinity of awkward silence, Conner asks, eyes fixed on the screen, “is Batman your dad or something?”

 

Tim shifts uncomfortably, but carefully keeps his face blank, “or something.”

 

Conner puts his controller down, staring at him incredulous.

 

“What?” Tim doesn’t pause the game, lets Conner’s avatar be viciously struck down.

 

“Nothing,” Conner shrugs, shaking himself off his thoughts, picking the game up again and frowning when he can’t move his character, “it’s just that I don’t know why I didn’t believe him.”

 

“Hold on, Iet me heal you first,” he says, “try again now. Didn’t believe who?”

 

“Clark.” Conner grins as his avatar starts moving again, “thanks, man. Clark warned me it’s damn near impossible to get a straight answer out of you bats.”

 

“That’s rude,” Tim frowns, “dude, the point is to defeat them not stab me. But that’s not entirely true.”

 

“Okay, so, do you like chocolate ice cream?”

 

“That’s a stupid question.”

 

“That was literally a yes or no question about ice cream ,” Conner raises one eyebrow, “ and yet.

 

“I have no idea what you’re implying here.” Tim finally lets his lips curl up in a small smile, amusement bleeding at the edges.

 

“Now you’re just messing with me,” Conner scowls, but his eyes dance in the artificial light, “see if I ever visit again.”

 

“What were you doing here anyway?” Tim can’t help asking, “don’t get me wrong, it’s just that Batman likes to pretend his No Metas Allowed rule is still in place.”

 

“Tests.” Conner says, but his voice gets clipped, like that night in Cadmus and Tim kicks himself for asking, “Batman wanted to run some tests. Better safe than sorry, ya know?”

 

“Yeah, well,” Tim tears his eyes away from the screen, finding Conner already looking back at him. This feels important, feels like there’s a lot of ways to answer that, but Tim has only one shot to get this right. “I don’t know if anyone gave you the crash course already, but Batman can be kind of an asshole.”

 

Conner laughs, surprised, and the air lightens again. They eat the snacks Alfred keeps bringing them and they play video games in the Cave’s system until the sun is beginning to rise behind Wayne Manor and both Batman and Superman drag themselves in tiredly through the waterfalls.

 

*

 

It takes another two weeks for Tim to go back to Jason’s warehouse.

 

And he didn’t even mean to go there, but he’d been fighting off the Russian mob by the docks all night, and with the sun already rising, he can’t muster up the energy to cross the city to his apartment in time.

 

The warehouse is just- easier.

 

He collapses in the couch, only half out of his uniform but too tired to do something about it.

 

After that, it becomes a sort of habit.

 

It’s usually closer than going back to his place or the Manor, and there’s still food in the fridge and sometimes, if he’s very lucky, there’s leftovers from whatever Jason last cooked.

 

It’s a lot more than what he can say about the stale take out on his own fridge.

 

The random meals are usually the only proof Jason is still dropping back every once in a while.

 

Tim figures if his brother really wanted him gone, he’d have changed the locks. Or kicked him out himself, probably.

 

So, for the time, Tim stays and slowly begins turning it in one of his safe houses too.

 

*

 

“I knew I should’ve asked for that key back,” Jason says one morning when Tim stumbles into the kitchen. “Now I’ve got an infestation.”

 

It’s the first time Jason is here at the same time as Tim, and he’s busying himself by the stove, and something is smelling so good, Tim hopes through a haze of sleep and not enough coffee that it’s waffles.

 

“Jesus, kid,” Jason rolls his eyes, “there’s coffee in the pot, you look more like a zombie than me, the actual zombie.”

 

Tim zeroes on it with a single-minded concentration, only becoming aware of his surroundings again after the second cup. “Are those waffles?”

 

“Yeah, and they’re all mine,” Jason is already sitting at the table, a mug of his own cradled in his hands, “you can have the rotting apple.”

 

“Sure thing,” Tim says, already piling up waffles in his plate, “where’s the syrup?”

 

“What syrup?”

 

“What kind of abomination-”

 

*

 

Tim lands in a rooftop near the Clocktower, and waits.

 

He waits for the shadow that’s been tailing him for the past six blocks to land in one of the dark corners and then step into the light.

 

Goddamn drama queen.

 

“Red Robin.” Batman says, grave and dry and cutting like a night in the desert.

 

“Batman,” Tim counters, carefully blank.

 

Silence.

 

Tim feels the weight of Batman’s stare and it’s beginning to crush him, to root him to the cement and he half expects the ground to crack under the pressure.

 

Or maybe it’s Tim that’s cracking. It wouldn’t be the first time.

 

But before he can jump down the ledge and take his chances with gravity, Bruce speaks again, this time more Bruce than Batman. “The media is calling the Cadmus incident a lab accident.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“Luthor is being forced to destroy the entire facility and whatever was left.” Bruce continues, “risk of contamination.”

 

“I have no doubt at least half of that is being smuggled somewhere else,” Tim snorts.

 

“There was a lot of Kryptonite down there.” Batman says, pointedly.

 

“There was a lot of Kryptonite down there.” Tim agrees. If they’re doing this, he is not going to make this easy for Bruce. That’s what they always do. They let him off the hook, because he’s Bruce and has the emotional intelligence of a toddler. And look how that’s working out for everyone.

 

“We think some of it might pass through Gotham,” Batman sighs, “directed for the harbor.”

 

“And why are you telling me this?” Tim frowns, dreading where this is going, “ask Nightwing. He’s the one on a break with the Titans.”

 

And you know . The one not royally pissed at you.

 

“Nightwing is busy.” Bruce twitches. He doesn’t know where Dick is, then. “And this was your case in the first place.”

 

“No, no, no.” Tim blinks, “finding Conner was my case. And I did. He’s off with Superman somewhere now. As far as I’m concerned, I’m done. Case closed.”

 

“Case closed,” Bruce echoes, with what might have been amusement. “Regardless.”

 

If he takes this case, he’s going to end up forgiving him. And Tim isn’t stupid. He knows that’s exactly why Bruce is offering. It’s a white flag wrapped in police tape and newspapers and case files. It’s the only way they know how to apologize.

 

Tim sighs. He kind of misses Alfred’s food.

 

“Fine.” He scowls, “I’ll look into it.”

 

He has his grapple gun ready when Bruce speaks again, “you were right.”

 

And Tim chokes on air, because what the fuck , “I- are you dying?”

 

“You were right to look for Conner,” Bruce says, face impossibly blank, then a little strained, “just please tell Jason to lose the rocket launcher.”

 

Tim laughs all the way to his apartment.

 

*

 

The next time Tim meets Conner, he’s at the Batcave again.

 

Tim is using the computer, deep into City Hall servers, trying to find any trace of the Mayor’s involvement with LexCorps. He’s getting major Black Mask vibes for some time now, the shipments all pass through his territory and there are just so many shell companies, and Jason is going to flip his shit in the way he always does when Black Mask is involved.

 

God knows why. Tim is too afraid to ask at this point.

 

But he’s deep into their servers, he’s in the zone, all his focus in directed to bypassing the firewall and combing through files and-

 

A hand falls on his shoulder.

 

And Tim.

 

He doesn’t jump, okay? He doesn’t.

 

“Hey, man,” Conner asks, smirking, “what’s up?”

 

Tim scowls, wrapping his cape around himself and hopefully regaining a little dignity. “The usual. What are you doing here?”

 

“Relax,” he waves a manilla envelope in Tim’s face, “came back for the results.”

 

Now that Tim is paying attention, he can faintly hear Superman’s voice echoing from somewhere along with Bruce’s growls.

 

“Officially not a threat, then?” Tim raises one eyebrow, “or do I have to kick your ass?”

 

“You could try,” Conner smirks again, and Tim hopes his face gets stuck like that. Asshole. “But nah, I’m all good. And not likely to start degrading anytime soon.”

 

Oh. “So, you met Bizarro?”

 

“I heard of him, yes,” his eyes dart around, and okay, touchy subject. “But whatever. Do you think they’re going to stop talking anytime soon?”

 

Tim pushes off the desk, letting the chair roll back, and cranes his neck to look past the rocks. Superman is showing Bruce something on a file, heads bent over the papers.

 

“Yeah, no, sorry,” he shrugs, looking warily at his work station. It looks so very far from where his chair stopped, and he doesn’t think he has the energy for walking all the way over there. He’s going to have to live out his days here, in the middle of the cave, sitting on the admittedly very comfortable chair. “Clark brought a file. Batman will be dissecting it for god only knows how long.”

 

Conner sighs resigned, but then his eyes fall on the controllers they left behind the other night and his whole face lights up, a smile so bright, Tim has to blink a few times, shield his eyes.

 

“No, no, I have work to do-”

 

“Come on, man,” Conner walks over, begins pushing the chair back to the computer, “I’ve been told that’s all the lot of you do.”

 

“Wow, it’s almost like Gotham is constantly swarmed with criminals and the occasional homicidal clown.” Tim deadpans, but he’s already closing his tabs and saving his notes, sending everything to his Robin’s Nest.

 

“All work, no play,” Conner throws him a controller, “makes Robin a dull boy.”

 

Red Robin,” he corrects him, “Robin is the Demon Spawn.”

 

Conner is about to say something or maybe outright laugh, but Batman’s voice booms through the cave first, “ stop calling your brother a demon or any variations thereof.”

 

Then , Conner starts laughing.

 

“I can still kick your ass,” he threatens.

 

“Right, sure,” Conner is still giggling, pointing at himself, “super strength.”

 

“Kryptonite in the vault,” Tim counters, waiting for the game to load so he can shoot Conner in the face.

 

“Batman has Kryptonite down here?”

 

“Seriously, did no one give you the crash course?”

 

“What- how? I mean- wait, stop shooting me, fuck-”

 

This time is Superman’s voice that echoes, “ language!”

 

Tim laughs until he falls from his chair.

 

*

 

When Tim sees Cass again, she’s the one who finds him.

 

He’s in his apartment, feeling tired to his bones, the night chill seeping through layers of armor, leather, cloth, skin. A shiver runs up his spine, but he can’t be bothered to close his window, burrows deeper under his covers, chasing the warmth of sleep.

 

Wait , he never opened that window-

 

“Did you find it?” Cass is sitting against the wall, hugging her knees. There’s a beam of moonlight illuminating her hair, and Tim isn’t sure how he didn’t see her there before. He must have dozed off. “Did you find it?” She asks again, head tilting.

 

“What?” He croaks, voice hoarse from sleep, mind fighting to break through the haze.

 

“Did you find it?” She repeats slowly, “what you were... looking for?”

 

Did he?

 

Tim sits up, giving up on sleep altogether.

 

Existential crisis usually go hand in hand with his insonia.

 

“Yeah, sure,” he says, because it’s easier to take the question in a literal sense, “his name is Conner. You should come see him next time.”

 

She stays silent for minute, then, “good, you need friends.”

 

“I have friends.” Tim frowns, “there’s you. Dick. Steph- actually, she’s not very happy with me right now.”

 

Family,” Cass shakes her head, “they are family. You need other friends. Not bats.”

 

She did have a point. Tim does need people who don’t carry the banner of the bat and the crippling paranoia that comes with it.

 

“Steph will forgive,” Cass continues, “but you need to say sorry first.”

 

“I will,” and he means it, “just. Later. I’m giving her space.”

 

“You told me,” she says, “space is cold. Too much space. It is cold.”

 

He tries not to think of how he never seems to get warm these days. Or how winter seems to haunt his bones, reaching from past decembers and dragging him under a frozen lake of stray thoughts. He tries not to think at all.

 

“Outer. I meant outer space,” Tim tells her instead, “it’s because things are too far apart. The nearest star from us is light-years away.”

 

“Proxima Centauri,” she nods, and for a second Tim is surprised she knows it, but then remembers Basil and how he used to know all sorts of small things. “Harper says, we are all made of stars. So when we die, we turn stardust again.”

 

“We are,” he agrees, a little relieved Harper had been there for Cass when everything fell apart in the family. In the aftermath of their fights, there are always too many casualties around. “It’s. She isn’t wrong.”

 

“Of course not. She is Harper.”

 

Tim smiles.

 

The digital clock on his bedside table blinks in neon red. 4:56am. He is fully awake now, but it’s more than he usually sleeps anyway.

 

“I’m making hot chocolate,” he announces, pushing himself off bed, “you want some?”

 

Cass grins, “cinnamon?”

 

“And marshmallows.” Tim nods gravely, but his smile hasn’t melted yet.

 

She follows him quietly to the kitchen, hopping in the counter. It reminds him a little of Dick, but at least it’s not the cupboards. “Not good to sleep in armor.”

 

“Too tired,” he shrugs off her disapproving glare, “it’s not that bad.”

 

That was a lie. There’s a bruise blooming on his side from kevlar digging on skin.

 

They sit in silence, drinking their chocolate and before she leaves through his bedroom window again, Cass tells him, “I hope you find it. What you are searching. I hope you find it.”

 

Tim doesn’t have an answer to that.

 

*

 

The third time it’s Tim that finds Conner. Or is it fourth? Does that night at Cadmus count? Or is it a lifetime of meetings? Does it matter?

 

What matters is that they meet and it’s Tim that finds him.

 

He’s in Metropolis because this is where it started. Sort of. This is where the second act started, at least.

 

Anyway. He’s in Metropolis and he has a lead that may or may not link back to Black Mask so they are all very pointedly not talking about it with Jason.

It’s all a matter of time until he finds out and throws a hissy fit. Tim knows, he can relate. But the longer they can avoid it, the better, right? This is like, a super healthy way of coping. Trust him.

 

Anyway. He’s in Metropolis and he has a lead, but it’s taking too long and he thinks they won’t be moving anything tonight.

 

Tim really should ask Jason, he’s the one who infiltrated Black Mask’s operation.

 

But whatever. It’s not like Tim has better shit to do tonight. Gotham has enough vigilantes to survive the night without him.

 

Still, he texts Cass just to be sure.

 

This is taking forever, and Tim is beginning to go stir crazy, even on the roof of a building, even with the open night sky above his head. Maybe specially with the open sky above his head.

 

One of the biggest differences between Metropolis and Gotham is that he can actually see the stars here.

 

It’s a little off putting.

 

He grew up with a sky saturated with pollutants and smoke and dirt. He grew up with rains corroding statues and monuments and cars like acid.

 

Gotham is gritty and dark and starless. It swallows kids whole and then spits out people like Bruce, like Stephanie, like Jason, like Tim. Dick and the others, they don’t really get it. The city might have chewed them up but it’s not the same.

 

Now, Metropolis is just too bright. Even at night, everything is too much. What kind of city has a sky so full of stars? It’s like every constellation has moved their orbit to hover above it.

 

It’s ridiculous, it’s what it is.

 

Anyway, he’s in Metropolis and he had a lead but it didn’t pan out like he hoped it would, and if he leaves in the next fifteen minutes, he can get back in time to sweep his city before sunrise.

 

But.

 

He’s here already.

 

And it would be rude. Not to visit, that is.

 

Right?

 

He’s here already.

 

It’s the least he can do. Check in. Heroes do it all the time in Gotham. They always check in with Batman. It’s only fair for him to do the same here.

 

It’s not weird.

 

Tim speeds through the streets on his Redbird, ignoring the blur of people on the sidewalks. He forgot there is no unspoken curfew for normal citizens here.

 

Anyway, he’s in Metropolis and his lead was a bust, so now he’s perched on the firescape of Clark’s building, ready to knock on the kitchen window.

 

Not weird at all, clearly Bruce is an upstanding example of social cues.

 

Tim knocks. Inside, Conner startles, dropping his glass of water. Tim waves cheerfully.

 

“What the fuck,” is the first thing out of his mouth when Conner pushes the window open, “ what the fuck.

 

“Hey, what’s up?” Tim smirks. He feels a little vindicated.

 

“You- how do you even know where I live?” He throws his hands up, but rolls his eyes at Tim’s shrug, “of course you know where I live. Just. Come in already, you weirdo.”

 

Tim jumps inside, maybe a little more like Dick than himself, but he’s allowed to show off a bit.

 

“Should I worry about the headlines tomorrow?” Conner asks, collecting the glass shards, “they’re not gonna mention any red-spandex wearing vigilante running around, are they?”

 

“I don’t know,” Tim crouches to help, “you tell me.”

 

“Hope not. Batman would probably kill Clark if they did,” he says, “or you. Or maybe both. And me.”

 

“Well, he has this really strict rule about killing,” Tim throws the glass on the trash, “but he’d give one of his lectures and glare a lot, which is honestly so much worse.”

 

Conner shudders. “Too damn scary.” He shakes his head, “so. You’re here.”

 

“Yep.” Tim grins. “Got a lead here, thought I come by to say hi.”

 

“Rob, it’s three in the fucking morning.”

 

“You’re not sleeping.”

 

“I could’ve been.”

 

“So you want me to go?”

 

“No, I,” Conner scratches the back of his head, and the whole situation feels surreal in the way all things happening in a kitchen at 3am do, “don’t go. Clark and Lois are out of town. Somewhere up north. I’m, uh, glad you’re here?”

 

Tim looks around. It’s a pretty big apartment, and even with most lights on, it looks eerily empty.

 

It makes him think of the first nights when he moved into his apartment, when every noise sounded too loud, every shadow too dark.

 

“Sure,” Tim says easily, “I’m glad you’re glad?” Smooth. That could have definitely gone better. “I mean. Hi?”

 

They stare at each other, the table between them, and Conner still has a mop in one of his hands. They manage a moment of stillness before collapsing in laughter.

 

“Oh my god,” Conner wheezes, leaning on a chair for support, “how could I ever think you were cool?”

 

“Hey,” Tim tries to sound offended, he does, but a giggle escapes before the word is out of his lips, “I am cool!”

 

“Oh man,” Conner drawls, “your bike is cool, sure.”

 

“Well, the Redbird is pretty damn cool.” And Tim is about to launch into an explanation on his bike, because he babbles when he’s nervous, and it’s only a matter of time, really, until Conner finds out he’s kind of a nerd, but the sound of TV drifts from the living room and holy shit, Tim knows that song is that- “ Wendy, the Werewolf Stalker?”

 

Conner blushes furiously, stammers, “listen, it’s. It’s lame, I know, but. She’s really hot?”

 

She’s-

 

“I used to be obsessed with it,” Tim laughs, “holy shit. I didn’t know it was still a thing?”

 

“They, uh, do reruns late a night. Sometimes.” Conner seems to slowly relax, “I mean. Clark is away a lot and I don’t sleep. Much, that is. So.”

 

“Me neither,” Tim nods, “which season is on?”

 

“Third, I think? I don’t know, man, there are a lot of vampires.”

 

“Probably third, then.” Tim grins, then grows thoughtful, “if we’re doing a marathon, we’re going to need popcorn.”

 

Conner blinks, bewildered for a second, before giving out one of his bright smiles that make Tim grateful for the domino mask over his eyes, and points back at the living room, “way ahead of you, Rob.”

 

Tim isn’t sure how he feels about the nickname. It reminds him of his time as Robin, but it’s so different from anything his brothers ever came up with that all he thinks is Conner. Maybe. Maybe in time, it will remind him only of Conner too.

 

They settle on the couch, a bowl of popcorn half full between them, and Wendy the Werewolf Stalker playing on the TV. It feels so utterly normal, it frightens Tim a little. Because right in that moment, Tim could forget he’s still on his suit and that Conner has been alive for roughly a semester, and that they’re on Superman’s house. Because it feels like two teenagers tethering on the verge of growing up and clinging to childhood memories. It feels like habit. It feels like his kevlar digging on his skin until it bruises green, then blue, then black.

 

“So,” Tim says during the break, smirk tugging at his lips, “you thought I was cool, hm?”

 

A rain of popcorn falls on his head.

 

*

 

When he wakes up, there are voices in the kitchen. Not loud, but sound carries in the apartment, and the whispered conversation floats down the hall.

 

Tim makes a point of keeping his heart rate steady and his breathing even.

 

He hadn’t meant to fall asleep. He had planned to say hello and leave, at first. But then it had changed into watching just until the end of that season, and- well. He had fallen asleep at some point, it seems. There are aches on his neck and shoulders and spine, but his cape is folded on the small coffee table and a blanket is covering him. Sunlight pours through the drapes, and even though the living room is still dark, Tim can tell is well into the morning.

 

“Sorry, sorry,” Conner’s voice drifts from the kitchen, quiet and urgent, “ but it’s not like I was throwing a party!”

 

“I know,” that’s Clark, “ but you can’t have guests without letting us know first, Conner. Especially if we’re not here.”

 

Oh. Shit. That’s his cue.

 

The moment he sits up and the cover pools on his lap, everything falls silent. Tim takes a moment to collect himself, fixes his hair the best he can, plucks popcorn and kernels off before venturing into the kitchen.

 

Both Clark and Conner watch him stop in the doorway, and Tim does his best not to squirm. “Uh. Good morning?”

 

Conner snickers, but Clark sighs, even if his lips twitch in a smile, “it’s past noon, kid.”

 

Holy crap. Tim thinks he might be gaping, but it’s so late, and he should’ve been in Gotham ages ago, he were supposed to have checked in with Cass in the morning. She’s going to kill him for make her worry. And if she told Bruce-

 

“Don’t worry, Batman called earlier and I let him know you had crashed here,” Clark says, probably sensing his impending doom, “he also asked me to tell you that it’s probably wise to avoid Orphan for a while.”

 

Tim groans. He’s so dead.

 

“I’m so sorry, Clark,” he tries to explain, he owes it to Conner to at least try to get him out of trouble, “it’s not his fault, really. I was in the neighbourhood, and dropped by unannounced. It was very rude of me, and I apologize. I didn’t mean to stay long but-”

 

He trails off. He hadn’t realized he had switched to his Timothy Drake voice, but the amused look on Clark’s face and the confused one in Conner’s tells him he must’ve at some point.

 

“Yeah, one thing led to another, and you know, I couldn’t just wake him up,” Conner nods furiously, latching onto the chance of getting off the hook, “it was way too late to drive back anyway.”

 

“I’m not mad about it, you did the right thing,” Clark shakes his head, “but you still should have at least texted to let us know.”

 

“Sorry,” Conner grimaces, and Tim echoes the apology. “I’ll do it the next time.”

 

Clark sighs again, looking back and forth between them, before collapsing in one of the chairs, head resting on his hands. “Of course, of course, ” he groans, “I don’t know what I expected.”

 

“Hm,” Conner looks at Tim, eyes questioning, but Tim shrugs. He has no idea what’s going on either. And he hasn’t had coffee to begin dealing with anything yet. Conner takes a step back, closer to the doorway, “Are you- Clark? Are you okay?”

 

Clark looks up, groans again. “I can’t believe Lois was right. There’s two of them now. At least he doesn’t have a sword. Do you have a sword?”

The question is directed at Tim, and he blinks, feeling whiplash from this conversation, and god , he needs coffee. “Uh, no? Why? Do you want a sword?”

 

No! No swords.” Clark says, stern.

 

“I feel like this has to do with Damian, did he try to stab someone again?” Tim frowns, “it still happens sometimes, he’s a work in progress.”

 

“Your brother gets a sword?” Conner’s eyebrows shoot up, “your twelve-years-old brother?”

 

“Be thankful it’s only a sword,” he grimaces, “we’re still trying to get Red Hood to let go of the rocket launcher.”

 

“Your family is insane.”

 

“It’s a work in progress.” Tim eyes Superman, still having a slight break down on the kitchen table, “I think I should go.”

 

“Wait, hold on,” Conner stops him, hand curling around his wrist, and Tim pretends his skin isn’t burning up from the inside out, “you should get my number, so we can talk without all the traveling.”

 

There’s an hesitation on his words, and Tim wonders if Conner has any friends in Metropolis or Smallville. He wonders why it feels like there’s a buzzing underneath his skin on wrist, and why his stomach is turning into lead. He wonders if he should tell him about what his Alternate Self said. He wonders in silence, in secret, and fishes a cellphone from one of the pockets on his belt and hands it to Conner.

 

He gets another one of his grins, and Tim makes a game out of it, how many times he can get Conner to blind him with his smiles, and then his phone is being slipped back into the belt.

 

Tim leaves the apartment like he came, silently and through the kitchen window, down the firescape.

 

*

 

When he gets to his apartment, every bag of coffee has been replaced by decaf.

 

Tim doesn’t know when Cass developed a sense of humor that includes pranks as an acceptable way of revenge but he’s blaming Harper.

 

He loses the suit in record time and runs to the nearest coffeeshop.

 

*

 

You’re an asshole.”

 

Tim winces, Steph has every right to be angry at him, but it doesn’t make this any easier.

 

“Would it make it better if I said I’m sorry?”

 

“Not really, no,” she says, and her voice burns like ice, “but it won’t make it worse.”

 

That’s. That means he should apologize, right?

 

“I’m so sorry, Steph,” he says, cautiously, “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you I turned the scholarship down. I’m sorry I lied to you. I’m so, so , sorry I shut you out.”

 

“You should be,” her voice drips like ice from the speakers, “you knew how I felt about the whole thing. I told you I only came back because you asked, ‘cause you let me think it was just for a little while. Lies of omission are still lies, you know.”

 

He bites his lip until he tastes copper on his tongue, “I know. I’m so sorry, Steph, I,” he falters, what else could he possibly say? “I know there’s no excuse, but I wasn’t thinking straight, I had just come back and you had left and you were working against us and there was this entire war going on with the Victim Syndicate and Anarky was making everything worse and everything was different and I,” Tim sighs, lets his head fall back, hit the wall. He doesn’t know why he’s doing this phone call sitting on his bathroom floor, but the cold from the tiles is grounding and it helps, “I just wanted things to go back to the way they were before. I thought I could just. I don’t know. Pick things up where I left them.”

 

There’s silence on the other end of the line. And then, “ why are you telling me this, Tim? You’re not going to change my mind.”

 

“I know, I’m not trying to, I swear,” he rushes out, “and I don’t want to. If you can, if you can put down the cape and be done with it all, then you should. It’s too late for me, I think. But you should, Steph. Before something else drags you back.” Something always does, he doesn’t say, “but you were right. You deserve the truth.”

 

“So you decided to call me at two in the morning on a school night?”

 

Tim flinches. He hadn’t really thought this through. “At least I didn’t just show up at your window?”

 

“Wow, you acted like a human being,” her sarcasm is like frostbite in his skin, “do you want a medal for that?”

 

“That’s not. Sorry.” He kicks himself, “the truth is, I was terrified the things that other Batman, me, said were true. And I got caught up trying so hard to stop it from happening that I-”

 

“Fucked up everything else?”

 

“Yeah,” Tim squeezes his eyes shut, “I made everything worse.”

 

Stephanie doesn’t say anything again for a while, and Tim isn’t sure if that’s a good sign or not. He hopes she can forgive him one day, but he knows there’s no chance for them anymore. There’s too much baggage and history and not enough trust, but maybe. Maybe her not hating him can be enough.

 

She sighs. “I still think the First Victim had a point. He and Lonnie went about it the wrong way, but. But I’m not gonna lie and say I don’t think we’re making it worse.” Her voice is softer, like snowflakes slowly floating down the sky, “and it’s killing us, Tim. It is. It’s destroying us bit by bit. Look at us. We’ve all got tragedies in our past. We’re all sob stories wearing masks. Clayface is dead. Cass is only now learning how to be human. I almost died and that was a regular Thursday night. You died. And then you came back, but it was killing you. I couldn’t watch you keep destroying yourself.”

 

“Stephanie-”

 

“I’m so tired of being angry with you,” she continues, “ I’m just tired, I think. Cass says you’re looking better. Are you better, Tim?”

 

“Yes, I think I am. I feel more like myself, at least,” Tim smiles, “I, uh, gave up on the Belfry. It’s a nice dream, but it wasn’t working, and I. I think I made peace with that.”

 

“Good,” she says, “I was worried. I. I really did love you, Tim. I loved you so much, sometimes I thought I couldn’t breathe.”

 

Tim bites the inside of his cheek until he draws blood, but it tastes like ashes, “You were everything, Steph. For so long I thought- I didn’t know I could feel like that. But god, I loved you. You were everything.

 

He sits in silence, and he can almost see her, golden hair tied up in the messiest ponytail he’s ever seen, blue eyes fierce in her sadness. Steph always looks a little sad, if you pay enough attention.

 

“We were good,” she decides.

 

“The best,” he agrees.

 

“Take care of yourself, Tim,” Steph asks him, “and remember you’re not alone, you tend to forget that.”

 

“You too, Steph,” Tim says, “be careful. I know you’re going to do great, whatever you decide.”

 

“Goodbye, Tim.”

 

She hangs up, and the disconnecting beep of his phone sounds like closing a book.

 

*

 

Life moves on, after that.

 

He works at Wayne Tech during the day, and goes out as Red Robin at night. It’s routine, it’s habit, it’s. It feels strangely normal.

 

And Conner.

 

He’s habit, too.

 

They talk constantly, because texting is a lot easier than crossing the distance between Gotham and Metropolis, or as far as Smallville, sometimes.

 

And it’s surprisingly easy to fall into a pattern of talking at night, before he goes out on patrol, and then when he comes back, just to make sure he’s in one piece, because Conner says he worries sometimes, if Tim doesn’t check in, and during boring meetings and on afternoons he’s at home not knowing what to do with himself.

 

It’s a little disconcerting, because Tim isn’t used to it being this easy.

 

He asks Jason about it one day. It turns out surprisingly helpful.

 

*

 

“Is it weird?”

 

“Is it what weird?” Jason frowns, “but coming from you, probably yes. Gimme the salt.”

 

“I’m serious,” Tim glares, but passes him the saltshaker, “is it weird that Conner and I talk all the time?”

 

Jason pauses to look at him, “are you asking me if it’s weird that you made a friend?”

 

“No,” Tim kicks him, just because he can, and Jason resumes stirring the pot, “I mean, it’s just. I don’t know.”

 

“Are you going to start talking about your feelings?” Jason asks, sounding a little panicked, “because if you are, I strongly advise you to go looking for your other, mostly functional brother. Dickieface lives for that shit.”

 

“Dick won’t understand,” Tim whines, “he connects with anyone he talks to for more than five minutes.”

 

“Still better than me,” Jason counters, “and fuck you for cornering me when I’m cooking.”

 

“It’s just that it’s too easy, you know?” Tim says, “it’s been what, less than a year, but it feels like I’ve known him forever.”

 

“I will stab you with a kitchen knife if you don’t stop talking.”

 

“Did you ever meet someone like this, Jason?” Tim asks, because he needs something to compare, to know if this is real or if it’s just him trying too hard again to work on what he’s been told, “like there was a person shaped hole in your life, and you hadn’t even realized until you met them and they filled it?”

 

Jason sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose, and his eyes get a little far away before he shakes his head, “yes, Replacement.” He says, “I did. That’s just how it is, sometimes, if you’re lucky. There. You’re not a freak. Now get the fuck out of my kitchen.”

 

Tim hears the back off under the words, and hops down the counter, but because he’s a Bat after all, and doesn’t understand the concept of quit while you’re ahead, “what happened?”

 

“Didn’t work out. Not that it’s any of your goddamn business,” Jason glares, but he must be thinking of this friend of his, because his eyes get softer and when he speaks again, his voice is quieter, “but word of advice? You find someone like that? Don’t fuck it up.”

 

*

 

He’s at the safehouse when Conner calls for the first time.

 

He picks up after the first ring. “Hey, is everything okay?”

 

“No, I mean, yeah, no one’s hurt, but I need your help?”

 

Conner sounds rushed and upset, and Tim feels his heart clench, “sure, anything, but what happened?”

 

“I. It’s not that it’s complicated. But. Can I come over?”

 

How could Tim say no? He rattles off the warehouse’s address, because it’s quicker, and Tim is already here anyway.

 

A knock on the door comes not ten minutes after.

 

And when Tim opens the door, Conner rushes in, looking upset and twitchy and a little angry.

 

“Sorry to barge in like this,” he lets Tim guide him to the couch, “it’s just that. Clark can be an asshole too.”

 

“Why don’t you tell me what happened, from the start?” Tim says gently.

 

But before Conner can start talking, a door is thrown open and shit , he forgot Jason was sleeping upstairs.

 

“What the fuck, Replacement?” Jason asks, pinching the bridge of his nose, an habit he seems to be picking up lately, “what the fuck.”

 

“You bring friends too, sometimes.” Tim defends himself, “Artemis was here the other day.”

 

“Honestly.” His brother huffs, “you give one teenager a key one time and suddenly it’s Breakfast Club in your living room.”

 

“Uh, sorry?” Conner, at least, looks too bewildered to be upset anymore.

 

“Don’t apologize, you’re fine. He’s not really mad, he just likes to be obnoxious. Come on,” Tim tugs at his hand, dragging him up the stairs, “let’s go to my room.”

 

Jason glares at them while they climb the steps, but as they pass him in the hallway, he grumbles about making hot chocolate.

 

Everybody knows Jason has a soft spot for kids, he’s the only one that still thinks that’s a secret.

 

Still, because Jason is an asshole, he calls from the stairs, “ and that door better stay open, young man!”

 

Tim closes the door with more force than necessary.

 

“Sorry for that,” he grimaces, gesturing for them to sit at the bed, “my brother is an idiot.”

 

“Better than your other one,” Conner chuckles, “he came by to pick up Jon once. Threatened to skewer me with a katana.”

 

“What? He got that back?” Tim shakes his head. They should know better than that. “So, you were saying?”

 

“Right,” Conner scowls, “you know how my powers keep freaking out? Like, it’s a lot better now, but Clark keeps saying it’s not good enough yet, and it’s not that he’s wrong , because what if I accidentally hurt someone? What if I hurt you?”

 

“You won’t,” Tim tells him, “I trust you.”

 

“I. Thanks, really. But still, I hate walking on eggshells all the time, you know?” He bites his lips, “I hate being afraid all the time. So. I thought maybe, maybe , if I knew more about, well, me, it could help. And no one knows more about me than Cadmus.”

 

“Conner you can’t possibly be thinking of going back-”

 

“No, no, never,” he cuts in, before Tim could work himself up, “but I was thinking, maybe there’s something in their files or their servers, you can hack those, right? But every time I bring it up with Clark, he. He just flips his shit. I get it, it must be hard to find out some secret organization is cloning you in secret. Even harder to have to look at the proof everyday. And I know I can’t never thank Clark and Lois enough for taking me in, helping me. They didn’t have to do that. I don’t know if I would be able to that.” Conner speaks, and he sounds somewhere between sad and bitter, and Tim hates it, “but if there’s any chance it can help me, then I have to try.”

 

“Conner,” Tim says, softly, “there’s. History. Between Clark and Cadmus, or rather, Superman and Luthor. More than just you and Bizarro. There’s a lot of bad blood there, but it’s not my place to tell you, specially because there’s a lot I don’t know. You need to ask Clark about it. Ask him. And then, if you still want to look at those files, then I’ll help you.”

 

Conner falls silent, mulling over everything, and Tim takes the opportunity to search for his computer.

 

“Is it- is it that bad, what happened between them?”

 

“I don’t know the whole story,” he apologizes, plugging a pen drive on the laptop, “but from what I heard, it’s pretty bad.”

 

“Does everyone know?” Conner seems to be getting angry, “am I the last?”

 

“Conner, that’s not how it works. Ask Clark. And then, if you still want it,” Tim hands him the pen drive, “here’s everything I have on Cadmus.”

 

“I know, it’s just. Everyone always seems to know more than me.” He deflates, takes the pen drive and slips it on the pocket of his jeans, “thank you. Really, for everything.”

 

Tell him. He deserves to know. Tell him now, a voice in his head whispers urgently, and Tim wants to listen, he does, but Conner is still upset and there’s a lot going on already for him, he doesn’t need Tim to add his own brand of time-traveling demons to that. So he says nothing, just gathers him a hug, lets him cling and press his face to the curve of his neck.

 

Conner must be tired, because he falls asleep still curled around Tim, back against the wooden headboard. It takes a little maneuvering but Tim gets him laying on the bed and covers him with his cape, only then realizing he never changed out of his uniform, because the blankets are all either downstairs or on Jason’s room.

 

And by the time Jason knocks on the door and quietly gives him a tray with two mugs, Tim thanks him wordlessly, sets it on the bedside table and settles for working on his desk.

 

*

 

The next time he sees Conner, he’s just got back from patrol, and he thinks at least two of his ribs are bruised.

 

More importantly, the next time he sees Conner, he’s pissed.

 

Tim has barely had the time to unclasp his cape, when someone knocks on the door so hard, it almost falls off its hinges.

 

He checks the cameras first, because he’s not an idiot, and Conner is there, pacing up and down and looking furious.

 

There’s a moment of clarity where it dawns on Tim that Conner knows.

 

Well, better to just rip off the band aid, right?

 

He opens the door, and Conner pushes past him, storming to the middle of the room. His ribs scream when he stumbles, but Tim manages to swallow around the pain and forces himself to face him.

 

“Were you ever going to tell me?” Conner asks, and his voice is like electricity crackling in the air, “or do you have to ask your other self permission first?”

 

“I know you’re mad,” Tim raises his hands in a placating gesture, “but I was going to tell you, I swear.

You swear?” Conner laughs, but it sounds hollow and humorless, “it’s funny you think that’s worth of something now.”

 

“I didn’t know how to tell you,” Tim feels the storm building up on his chest, thunder is rattling around his ribcage and rain water is filling his lungs, “you had a lot going on and I. What did you want me to say? Hey, I know this isn’t a good time, but a few months ago my out of control alternate self showed up and he tried to kill half of us before spewing a lot of shit about some sort of apocalypse scenario and he had a lot to say about me and you, even though I had never met you at that point. You would think I was insane!”

 

“No, I fucking wouldn’t ,” Conner snaps, lightning on his eyes, “because you’re my friend, asshole! And I have faith in you, in the way I thought you had in me.”

 

“This isn’t about faith, I just couldn’t risk it-”

 

“Oh, for the love of god, you can never risk anything,” he scoffs, “I can’t believe Clark was right. You know, when we start hanging out, he told me to be careful, because you Bats never really trust anyone, and how can you be friends with someone you don’t trust?”

 

“I trust you, of course I trust you,” Tim swallows around the dark clouds bubbling up his throat, “how can you doubt that?”

 

“You do realize I don’t even know your name, right?” Conner shakes his head, “and it didn’t really bother me before, because I thought I knew you, and that was enough, but I guess I was wrong, because you were just around to make sure whatever terrible thing is supposed to happen doesn’t happen, right? Or is it some misplaced guilty he left for you to compensate? Like that fucking matters.”

 

God , he hadn’t even realized. Had he always been on uniform when he met with Conner? “I didn’t. That’s not. I would never do that.

 

“I thought. I don’t know what I thought.” Conner sounds bitter, and sad, and lost, and Tim wants to reach out, but his body feels like lead, rooting him to the floor on the eye of a hurricane, “I don’t know what I’m doing here. You don’t have to fucking bother anymore, asshole.”

 

And Tim wants to stop him, wants to call him back, but he can’t bring himself to move, all he can is watch as Conner leaves the warehouse, door slamming behind it.

 

And then, he’s alone again.

 

*

 

He doesn’t sleep that night, too restless, too tired, too hurt, just too much.

So instead, Tim thinks, lets the past year replay on the back of his eyelids, and wonders when that night is going to stop fucking over his life. That’s not fair. He made those choices by himself, he let his tendency to obsess over things win.

 

It’s not fair.

 

He should’ve known better, not fallen back on the same mistakes.

 

It’s not fair.

 

Tim clenches his hands into fists until blood stains the couch, and he ignores the dejavu it brings. He feels anger and frustration bubbling up like the wind picking up before a storm.

 

He thinks of Cass, sitting on the floor, back against the wall and moonlight reflecting off her hair, telling him too much space, it is cold and did you find what you were looking for?

 

And he thinks of Jason, standing on the kitchen, eyes sad and distant, saying you find someone like that? Don’t fuck it up.

 

In the silence of the empty warehouse, the sound of Steph’s goodbye, Tim , it echoes.

 

He makes up his mind. Tim gave up on a lot of things to be who he is, to have this life, but he’s not giving up on this. Not without a fight, not without trying.

 

*

 

As he speeds down the road, Tim hopes and he prays.

 

*

 

Climbing up the firescape is as easy as the last time, and even if he saw Clark’s car parked outside, he’s not being blasted off the building yet, so he figures there’s still a chance for him.

 

The kitchen is dark and quiet, and so is the living room, so Tim guesses the bedroom is his best bet.

 

The curtains are closed and the lock is firm in place, but the lights are on.

 

He knocks once.

 

And then again. And again. And again.

 

“I can do this all night, you know,” Tim says, knowing Conner will hear even through layers of glass, “please. Can we talk?”

 

There’s nothing at first, but then a shadow moves inside and the curtains are being thrown open. Conner looks more tired than upset, and he doesn’t say anything as he unlocks the window and lets Tim in.

 

The bedroom is pretty bare, with a bed, a desk and the closet. A few clothes are scattered on the chairs and the floor, but there’s no posters on the walls or photos on frames, and Tim can relate a little. His room at the Manor hadn’t been much different the first few years.

 

“So,” Conner crosses his arms, “you wanted to talk. Then talk.”

 

A deep breath, “I did go looking for you only because my Other Self tipped me off, that’s true. I wouldn’t know I even had to look for you otherwise. But that’s all. Everything I did after, that was me. It took me a while to figure it out, for me to feel like myself again, to know my decisions are my own.” Tim doesn’t dare look up, focuses on the cracked tile by the door, “but you were the one thing I was always sure, Conner. I don’t know why, but it feels like I’ve known you all my life, you’re my best friend, and I’m asking you not to let me ruin this because I’m an idiot.”

 

“Why didn’t you tell me, Rob?” Conner asks, quiet, soft, all fight gone too, “it wouldn’t have made a difference if you had. But when I asked Clark why he was so worried about Jon and Robin and he told me everything, all I could think is that I was the last one to know again . That you didn’t trust me. And maybe this was just your way of making up for whatever that Batman told you.”

 

“I’m not going to lie, that future he described is horrifying. Is every nightmare I ever had.” Tim confesses, “and for a long time all I wanted was to stop it from happening. It was all I could think about. But that cost me a lot of people I cared about. And I’m tired of losing people. I’m done with letting this mission take everything away. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about what happened that night I came back. I’m sorry I lied. But I do trust you, Conner, and I hope I can earn yours back.”

 

When he says nothing, Tim still doesn’t look up, feeling his heart sinking and sinking and sinking and-

 

And Conner is hugging him, and saying, “you’re such an idiot,” but it sounds fond and full of affection, and not at all like poison burning his tongue, so Tim clings back, takes this second chance for the saving grace it is, and vows not to let it go.

 

“Wait,” he pulls back, smiling a little, “there’s something else.”

 

Conner looks confused for a second, but understanding dawns on his eyes as Tim begins taking off the domino mask, and his hands curl around Tim’s, stilling them, “you don’t have to do this.”

 

“I know. I want to.” I trust you , he hopes it says. Tim lets his mask fall to the floor before looking up, smiling, “hi, I’m Tim Drake. Fancy meeting you here.”

 

“Dork,” Conner laughs, but his eyes scan Tim’s face and their eyes meet for the first time without layers of matte glass and screens. It’s a little dizzying, “dude, your eyes are really blue.

 

And Tim laughs, feeling the weight of the world lifted from his shoulders, like all the ghosts that had been haunting were gone for good this time.

 

“Wanna watch Wendy?” Conner asks, “since you’re already here and all.”

 

“Sure,” Tim says, “but if you get in trouble again, you’re on your own.”

 

“Jeez, thanks, Tim, ” he makes a face, “oh my god, it’s so weird. You have a normal name. Like. It’s just so weird.”

 

Tim rolls his eyes, but he’s still hasn’t stop smiling, and as the night goes on and Conner tries to convince him he can totally make popcorn with his laser vision, who needs a microwave, it’s basically the same thing anyway, what do you mean it’s a fire hazard , well, Tim figures they’re going to be just fine.




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