He had a habit, she’d noticed, ever since they’d been together, of holding her face. His fingers had always been cold, but dry, and his palm fit neatly along her jawline. He was always soft with her, and she wouldn’t dare have it otherwise. When she isn’t talking, and he isn’t smiling and humming indulgently at her wittering on, he seemed to be nothing more than quite content to just hold and stare at her. Like the sun is infused in her hair. Like her and her alone is immune to the anti-life equation, because she is life’s meaning. Like she is so precious that she might be gone the next morning.
Because that did happen once, when she was left to die without him. Does Tim hate me? She had asked Batman. No. Bruce had replied. He adores you. Always has.
Only now with them lying on the bonnet of Tim’s red car, his stare so openly reverent, Stephanie found herself trusting Bruce’s statement to the dying girl with a broken body (and heart).
He’d been taken from her too, violently and so suddenly that she had found herself talking to a clay program of his, so starved for his face and hungry for his advice… Then again Stephanie had heard from other sources that he’d considered throwing what he’d thought was her corpse into a Lazarus Pit, so maybe they were both reliant on the other to act as a guide.
Those Batmen she’d seen, first the one from a future where she was either dead or under what seemed like permanent house arrest (it wasn’t clear), and then one made of corrupt dreams and corrupt computer programs… They were ones she’d silently promised herself that she would reel in within Tim whenever they reared their ugly, twisted heads. She’d remind him, remind them why they wanted to help people. The two of them didn’t know any other way, not anymore.
How stubborn they were that they scraped their way back to each other.
Stephanie soon grew shy being gazed at by Tim and leaned forward. One hand tightened in his sweater, whilst the other cupped the back of his head. He quickly got the idea and leaned forward, their lips touching briefly for a moment before she readjusted her position, straddling one his legs to get a firm pressure between her own.
Tim’s smile turned cheeky then, and he began to push up into a sitting position. Stephanie gave a slight grunt, and forced him back down, hand slipping down his top to grip at his hip. She kissed him deeply.
A bird took off near the car, disturbing some fallen leaves on the ground. It was still warm enough at sunset to not have to wear a coat, and both of them had opted for oversized sweaters, Steph in her customary purple, Tim in his usual green. They had been travelling for a few weeks now, enough for the new school year to have started, and yet here they both were, several states down, in DC, nowhere near Ivy University in New England. The thought made Stephanie giggle.
“Now you have to admit it!” She exclaimed, thumping her head down to rest on Tim’s chest, listening to his heart beat. Solid. Warm.
Tim meanwhile was looking awfully smug, one arm cradling her shoulders, pressing their already entangled bodies closer, the other arm thrown up behind his head. His eyes were shut, and he was smirking.
“I don’t have to admit anything.”
“I was raised by Batman, Stephanie,” – and right on que her eyes rolled up to her skull. Batman Batman Batman – “I am a stubborn master.”
“Admit we ran from home!”
That got him to open his eyes and stare at her once more. He was indulging her again, she knew, and she let him do so.
“A Batgirl and a Robin told everybody we were going off to college and then we drove the other way.”
“Because we’re in the middle of an investigation into the –”
She interrupted him, whispering the phrase “Nobody knows where we are!” conspiratorially, as if they weren’t sitting outside one of the most heavily monitored buildings in the county. But sure, they were definitely back in New England, studying at one of the country’s most prestigious universities.
Not that they didn’t leave with the purest intentions, this investigation into timelines and universes... However neither had the foggiest clue where to start. Tim had recalled Dick and Bruce talking of Wally, the idea that something or someone been messing with time or memories. To avoid Bruce catching wind of what they were up to, they had asked Black Canary, and Dinah had suggested magic, which had led them to Zatanna.
Tim knew Bruce knew they weren’t at college. He just didn’t want Bruce to know why. This trip was partially for him and Steph to be alone. Properly. Without Bruce and his weird secrets and mind games. Without the pressure of fighting crime each night with all its mental and physical traumas.
Without Cassandra bursting through their window with takeout after a night of training, catching Steph in her nightshirt and Tim with his pyjama bottoms halfway up his legs.
It had been going well, as well as could be expected of two seventeen-year olds going on a targetless road trip. Tim had enough money to his name to keep them going for more than enough time, and Stephanie didn’t want for much regardless.
Still, this trip had a purpose, and they both hoped that speaking with Zatanna would orient them in the right direction.
“I’m just saying,” Stephanie continued, now grinning back at Tim’s softening smile “The only thing missing is the circus for us to join.”
It was almost funny how their conversations always came back to their future together. They were still so young but they always spoke of what their lives would be, could be, five, ten, fifteen years down the line.
Not that the circus was a serious suggestion, but it made her point all the same. They had split off from the family back home, deliberately gaining some distance. They’d not spoken to Bruce since he’d waved them off, hearing that they’d get the official wedding invite ‘any day now’ (any day now had been going on for weeks at this point, both were afraid to enquire for an update). They’d not heard from Dick in even more time (something was going on with the Titans, on and off the field, but Tim hadn’t chased it). Damian and Jason were enigmas as usual to them (coming and going as they pleased). They’d get the odd photo and message sent from Cass and Duke and Barbara, the three of them seemed to be forming a little huddle, but for the most part, it was radio silence. Maybe Bruce had encouraged it for once. Leave them alone. Let them be teenagers. They can figure it out if they want to do the superhero gig on their own.
Or maybe that was too forgiving of an assumption of Bruce.
The other day Stephanie had been filming Tim being a dweeb, and she had muttered about making their (hypothetical) children watch this so they could be assured that their (hypothetical) father was never once cool ever. Tim had just laughed and argued that she was just as bad as he, she was only better at covering it up. He didn’t flush at the mention of children, and he didn’t call out at her statement at all. It was a quiet assumption between them, the idea of children (plural. Both had been so lonely growing up they couldn’t bear the thought of repeating their parents’ mistakes). An unspoken promise never confirmed aloud.
Seventeen years old and they were already thinking of when they’d be thirty five. Maybe one near (actual?) death experience each made them grip to that future tightly. They would have it all. They would help people until there was no longer a need for them to do so anymore, upon which they could bow out, ready to drop the double-faced world they occupied.
It had been temporary for Tim, initially. He didn’t so much as want to be Robin as he was at the only one who could be Robin.
It had been temporary for Stephanie, initially. She couldn’t let her father go on hurting people, and she was at first the only one who knew what weird, over the top schemes he’d managed to cobble together.
It was supposed to be temporary, for both of them.
I can make it all work. I can make a system that can sustain itself… After all that, I can take care of myself. Take care of us. I promise.
And yet that promise he’d made aloud, mere hours before everything had blown up in their faces – literally – had been a rude awakening that their line of work didn’t allow easy early retirements, not truly.
That was okay though, not today didn’t mean not ever, or at least, that’s what they had both told themselves at night sleeping in assorted cheap hotels. The receptionists had always given them funny looks, no doubt Tim and Stephanie probably did look like young eloping teenagers. Tim had surprised Stephanie in his reaction to their expressions, putting his foot down when affirming yes we want a double bed no not twin singles. When checking out in the morning Tim defiantly left the bed an unmade mess, as if they were a pair of rabbits who couldn’t get enough of each other, as if trying to earn that slightly disapproving look from across the counter.
She thought maybe he was tired of people giving their opinion on the two of them being together.
And ultimately, that is what they were wasn’t it? Teenage sweethearts running away from home.
And to the circus, if that’s what it came down to.
Stephanie’s buzzing phone and Zatanna’s arrival had brought an end to the feeling of joviality. Stephanie’s thoughts were being torn in two directions. She couldn’t stand the thought of her father running around doing as he pleased, and she had a sudden sharp stab of fear for her mother, but she had just reaffirmed that she was staying with Tim come hell or high water. Tim made the decision for her. He knew she wouldn’t be focused going forward unless she chased down her father, so gave the both of them a three day deadline.
“You’ll be focused and I’ll have a start.” He stated. He was dressed in his uniform, looking somehow both dashing and fragile at once. What he thought he knew had been shaken again, except for the blonde girl standing in front of him. The one who was looking at him with a slightly befuddled but still endeared smile.
“I love you Tim Drake.” She said, ignoring for a moment where they were and what he was dressed as.
There was a beat of silence. Enough to make Stephanie uncomfortable. He had usually always been the first to declare it to her. Now that she had uttered it first, he seemed at a loss on how to respond. She decided to prompt him, trying not to sound too desperate when she asked:
“Did you hear –?”
“I’m madly in love with you, Steph.” He blurted out. His smile widened until he looked overjoyed. “I was just about to tell you that. I was going to tell you I was so happy you were in my repressed memories, too, because I didn’t want – ”
A life without you was how he was going to finish his declaration before she threw herself at him, smacking a kiss on his lips, and Tim saw his world go pink for a moment.
He had been relieved that she’d been in those memories. She had to have been. She was the only one, for so long, who knew him as both Robin and Tim. The Teen Titans had asked and asked but he’d always been so reluctant to cave in, whilst part of his fear of leaving the title of Robin would mean losing Bruce and Dick and Barbara, for what possible reason could Tim Drake have to associate with them? It was different now, he was Bruce’s adopted son, so their connection could not be severed regardless of him wearing a mask or not, and he had opened up to his friends, slowly but surely.
She was still the person he wanted to be with him every step of the way. She’s never cared what title he’d held, she’d cared more about the way he held her. This was his chance though. She had always been stuck on the fringes of their generation, not having many close friends outside of Gotham. If his friends and family could become hers… he just wanted her with him every step of the way. It was selfish of him he knew, but she deserved a better family than the one she’d been born into, and he had the opportunity to give it to her.
She was gripping the front of his uniform tightly, and he was holding her shoulders. Leaning forward, he put their foreheads together with a gentle thunk. Still smiling, he reminded her of the three day deadline.
“Two days.” She pushed.
“Promise?” He looked at her, and she smiled guiltily. How many broken promises had they made to each other? How many had they kept? How many had remained unspoken, for fear of them never coming true?
“I can’t.” Stephanie exhaled unsteadily, her eyes tearing up.
He didn’t sound disappointed when he responded, “I know.” He understood. Better than anyone he understood the danger of promises and oaths.
For a brief moment she longed for them to forget responsibilities and be utterly selfish. Run away to the circus like she’s joked. Confirm every suspicious look those receptionists had given them for the past four weeks. Leave behind broken families who didn’t know what good communication meant between the lot of them and start a newer better family in its place. It was a whim that would remain in her head, but she answered the question she would sit and wait for over the next twenty years if need be out loud, as both a promise to Tim and to herself.
“…But I do.”
Tim didn’t say anything more in response, but looked up at her, his forehead still pressed to hers, and breathed a laugh. He knew what she’d meant when she’d said I do, of course he figured it out, but he also knew to let it remain out of context. One more unspoken promise.
They’d be fine. More than fine. He would find his friends and he would take care of them. They’d scraped their way back to each other for a reason. He couldn’t let her, or Conner or Cassie or Bart or any of the others, slide by any longer.
A final unspoken promise.