Tim shivered at the sudden change in temperature as he walked into the Blue Bird Inn. He shut the door on the blustering wind outside and tucked his cold nose into the thick scarf around his neck. Tim’s small green pet dragon, Duck, trilled softly as he too snuggled deeper into the scarf.
Tim stomped the late autumn mud from his boots and reveled in the soft light and thick scent of cooking stew that swirled around the inn. The lamps that lined the walls were all lit against the early onset of dusk and the tables in the dining area were filled with hungry post-patrol Rangers.
Tim waved a polite hello to several groups of Rangers from his own platoon as he walked across the dining area to his usual table, tucked into the back corner next to the kitchen.
Steph was already sitting there, enjoying some mulled wine and reading through a couple of letters as she relaxed after her patrol. She looked up when Tim sat down at the table next to her.
"Harper working?" Tim asked as he leaned in to give her a quick side hug and a peck on the cheek.
"She's supervising a delivery right now," Steph said, giving Tim a warm smile. "She'll be out in a bit."
"Her shift ends in about twenty minutes, so she'll be here soon."
"Mmmm," Tim said. "Think she'll want to share some dinner when she gets in?"
"So long as she gets some almond cake for dessert," Steph said with a smile.
Tim reached sneakily for Steph's mug of mulled wine and she pretended to bat at his hand defensively as he pulled it over to his side of the table. He took a long sip, the heat coming up out of the mug feeling good on his cold face.
"Take your coat off and stay awhile?" Steph asked, taking her wine back from him and taking a sip of her own.
Tim shrugged out of his heavy coat and laid it on the bench beside him. He kept his scarf on though, Duck still tangled up in it.
Duck chirped a hello to Steph and she held out a hand to him. Nuzzling her fingers with his nose, Duck greeted her happily.
“You brought this troublemaker, huh?” Steph asked, rubbing at Duck’s chin, his whisker tendrils wrapping around her fingers.
“He cried when I tried to leave,” Tim said, smiling fondly down at Duck.
Duck was a green dragon with a low, darker green fin down his back. He was about about three feet in length but most of that came from a long, thin prehensile tail that he liked to wrap around people’s fingers and Tim’s ear. Jason had given Duck to Tim as a birthday gift a few years back, dropping the tiny baby dragonette in Tim’s hand with a grin.
No one had ever been able to figure out Duck’s species. Not even Damian. And Damian had tried.
After he said hello to Steph, Duck tucked his head back under Tim’s scarf, obviously still cold. Tim couldn’t blame him, the heat in the inn hadn’t yet penetrated the chill that had overcome them outside. Tim pulled the sleeves of his overlong sweater down over his hands in an effort to warm his fingers.
"That's new..." Steph said, eyeing the too large sweater that Tim was wearing.
"I-- it's..." Tim started but was cut off when Harper slipped into the booth next to Steph. She had a decanter of mulled wine and slid a couple of mugs across the table to Tim as she settled in. Tim grabbed a mug and poured himself some of the wine.
"Ohhhh, what's got him all flustered?" Harper cooed interestedly to Steph.
"I'm guessing whatever dude he had to flash to get that very nice sweater," Steph said, running her fingers over the sleeve of the soft Alpaca wool.
The sweater was a deep, dark shade of blue, thick and heavy knit. It was also about two sizes too large for Tim. The sleeves hung over this hands. The neck would have been a bit too large for him, but it fit just right with Duck tucked half into it.
Kon had lent it to him while they were traveling as Tim's own clothes had been damaged during their journey. Tim hadn't seen him since they both reported back to Lord Wayne post mission, so he hadn’t been able to return it yet. Wayne had given them both a few days of leave to rest up and recover before resuming their usual duties.
When Tim got dressed that morning, he caught sight of the sweater sitting in his clean laundry pile. He had meant to just wash it and put it aside to return it to Kon when he saw him, but…
Seeing it and remembering how warm and soft it had been against his skin… Tim just couldn’t resist wearing it again as it was very cold out that day.
Why let all that nice warm wool go to waste?
"I didn't have to flash anyone," Tim said, taking a sip of his wine.
"You mean you didn't have to flash anyone 'yet'," Harper clarified.
Steph snorted out a laugh and Tim gave Harper an indignant look.
"I’ll have you know I’m very charismatic. I don’t need to flash anyone to get a sweater, Harp," Tim pointed out.
Both Harper and Steph broke out into raucous laughter that disturbed Duck. He peeked out above Tim’s scarf for a moment and let out a little annoyed puff of smoke in their direction.
Harper blew Duck a kiss and tapped her mug to Tim's in a toast.
"You come for the hot springs? I can kick everyone else out so you can have a nice peaceful soak," Harper offered.
"Mostly right now, I'd just like some food. I'm starving and freezing," Tim said, eyeing the bowls of food steaming on the tables next to them.
"Ohhhh, you're in luck. We're making curry tonight."
Tim felt his face go warm at that.
"Oh that sounds exactly like what we need," Steph said with a happy groan. "Can you grab us some when Cass gets here?"
“And maybe something nice for Duck too?”
Harper agreed, and they chatted until Cass arrived. She walked over to give Harper and Steph a kiss on the cheek and then slid into the booth next to Tim.
"Hey, Cass," Tim said as she leaned over to give him a kiss as well. "Long day."
Cass gestured that it had been a long day, but not too bad. Harper grabbed her a mug of wine and promised that their curry would be right out.
"You haven’t been around the past few days," Steph said to Tim while they waited for their food.
“Yeah, I’ve just been beat. That last mission took a lot out of me and I needed some rest…”
"You never told us about what happened. Why were you gone for so much longer than we expected? I guessed it didn’t go great, but... Was it that bad?"
"No, I just--" Tim started and then cut himself off and shook his head. "I guess I just needed time to process. Some things..."
"So it was bad?” Steph pressed, watching Tim with a concerned expression on her face.
Cass leaned over, rested her head on Tim's shoulder and rubbed her cheek against his sweater in a gesture that was, ultimately, comforting for both of them. Duck cooed at her and nuzzled her hair from his spot in Tim’s sweater.
"It could have been worse," Tim said grimly and took a sip of his wine.
Harper brought out bowls of curry for each of them, and a small plate of sweet potatoes for Duck. They ate as Tim told them all what happened them. How the mage had surprised them, how he had hit Tim with a spell. How Kon had come to his rescue and they had bolted off into the woods. He told them about the days they spent trying to avoid capture, on horseback and in pain, feeling a little disgusted with himself for having needed to be saved.
Steph wrapped a comforting arm around Tim's shoulder as he got to that part. Cass pressed another kiss to his cheek and even Harper gave him a sympathetic look.
Then Tim told them about how the field dressing hadn’t stopped the bleeding and how Kon had healed him using his magic.
"You let him heal you?" Steph cut in, surprise clear in her voice. "With magic?"
"It was either that or cauterize the wound and I just couldn't... I was in so much pain already and I couldn't imagine being in any more..."
All three of his sisters were quiet then, clearly waiting for Tim to keep talking.
"It didn't hurt,” Tim said flatly. “Like I thought it would."
"Yeah," Harper said quietly. "It doesn’t usually, little brother.”
"It can even feel nice sometimes," Steph put in.
Cass nodded around her sip of wine and Duck let out a soft, comforting trill in his ear.
"It didn’t..." Tim said softly. "It didn’t hurt… I… It felt... nice. Almost. It was warm and gentle and... And it felt nice."
"Tim..." Harper started in with a soothing tone of voice. "That’s how it usually is. Whenever Cass has used her magic on one of us, it’s never hurt. Her or us.”
“I--” Tim started and then broke off. “I’ve never really understood… I don’t know.”
"I get you being cautious around magic users," Steph put in. "You haven't had many good experiences--"
Cass puffed out a little scoff and then took a deep swallow of wine.
"Or any really… With Cass being an exception," Steph continued. "But I think it'll be good for you to spend more time with Kon. He might help you see things from another perspective."
Tim hummed thoughtfully in response and Cass leaned in to give him a gentle kiss on the cheek.
They finished their wine and Duck hopped down onto the table to nibble at his sweet potatoes. Harper got them another round of wine and some almond cakes to share. They were talking animatedly about Damian's pet bat demon and how he had recently knocked over a china cabinet in the Wayne Castle chasing Duck when the bell at the door rang and Harper sat up straighter in the booth.
"Ohhhh, look who it is!" she said, gesturing to the doorway with her mug.
Kon walked in, shaking water out of his hair, his eyes darting around the room to find a table. When he looked over at the corner where Tim and his sisters were talking, Harper gave him a wave. He smiled and made his way around a few tables to come over to them.
"Hey Tim, nice sweater," Kon said, grinning at him.
Tim felt his face go red, and he took a deep breath, trying to come up with a reason why he was wearing Kon's sweater again.
"Oh yeah... I--" Tim stammered, and Steph grinned at him over the rim of her mug as Harper got up from the table and made her way back to the kitchen.
"It looks good on you," Kon said, still smiling. "You should keep it."
"Oh, I couldn't. You said it was from your aunt--"
“Don’t worry about it, she's given me dozens," Kon said with a wave of his hand. "She'd be happy to know it's going to good use for someone else."
"I-- thanks..." Tim said, his eyes moving down to look at the table.
Harper came back then, silently handing Kon a mug of mulled wine.
"Oh," Kon said, taking it from her gratefully. "Thanks so much. This is--"
"Oh the house," Harper said, looking Kon up and down. Her face was serious, almost grim, but Tim could see humor dancing in her eyes. "Anyone who heals my brother eats for free."
"Thank you," Kon said. "Tim's a great guy. He's saved my skin a time or two."
"Has he," Harper said, and it came out more as a statement than a question.
"Ummm-- yeah, I--" Kon started again about Harper turned away from him and look at Steph and Cass.
"Let's let these boys talk. Want a soak?"
"I'd have a soak," Steph said as Cass nodded and finished her wine.
They all stood and walked back toward the door leading down to the cellar and the hot springs.
Tim and Kon eyed them as they left.
"Your sisters are terrifying," Kon said conversationally.
"You have no idea," Tim agreed, grimly. "Want to sit?"
"Am I allowed? I thought this was a Wayne Family only booth."
"We know how to share," Tim said, patting the bench next to him.
Kon slid into the booth and took a sip of his wine.
"This is... very good," he said before pulling off his coat and setting it on the bench next to them.
"Harper is a whiz at logistics. She knows a good chef when she sees one," Tim agreed.
Duck lifted his head from his small bowl of sweet potatoes and trilled happily, as if to agree with Tim. Kon smiled at him and reached out a finger to run down the scales of Duck’s back. Duck hummed happily and curled his tail lightly around Kon’s wrist.
“He’s adorable. I’ve seen him here before. Is he your pet? I didn’t realize you could tame dragons...”
“This is Duck. He’s extremely tame, no matter what you may have heard about other dragons. He likes swimming, sweet potatoes and being warm.”
“A dragon that likes to swim? Is that unusual?”
“I think so, but I’m not sure. We’ve never been able to figure out his species, so it’s hard to say.”
“You don’t know his species? Where did you get him?”
“He was a gift from my brother Jason.”
“This is the brother that is rumored to be a smuggler?”
“He’s also rumored to hate both being gossiped about and being called a smuggler so…”
“Yeah ok, point taken,” Kon said with a laugh, taking another sip of wine. “Had you been wanting a pet dragon?”
“Honestly no. What I think happened is that Duck stowed away on Jason’s ship somehow and he thought it would be funny to inflict him on me.”
“How’d he get the name?”
“Duck? Jason named him. I assumed it had something to do with how much he likes to swim.”
“He really likes to swim that much?”
“I think it’s half that he likes to chase minnows and half that he likes the water.”
Kon huffed out a laugh as Duck let out another happy chirp. He finished up his sweet potatoes and went back to his spot around Tim’s neck, curled up in Tim’s scarf and sweater, his tail still wrapped around Kon’s wrist, kind of tying the two of them together.
"How are you feeling, by the way?" Kon asked softly.
"Better than the last time I saw you," Tim said. "I think I slept like twelve hours when we got back."
"Yeah, I think I did too," Kon said with a laugh. "I also ate enough for like four people."
"Yeah, Cass brought me stew and I think I ate the whole pot in like ten minutes," Tim said. "Plus a whole loaf of bread."
"Yeah, fleeing from demented evil mages really takes it out of you, man."
"I'm starting to see that."
Tim pushed a plate of little almond cakes over to Kon and he took one gratefully, popping it into his mouth.
"Mmmm," Kon said around a mouthful of cake. "These are so good."
"I'm pretty sure Harper would be willing trade almond cakes for a couple of these sweaters. She seemed jealous when she saw it.”
"That could be arranged," Kon said. "My aunt loves to knit."
"Your aunt seems nice," Tim said, nibbling at a bit of almond cake.
"She's great," Kon said, leaning back on the bench and smiling to himself. "My uncle too. They're good people."
"Did you grow up with them? I've never really heard you talk about your family..." Tim ventured, eyeing Kon cautiously to monitor his facial expressions. He didn't want to upset Kon by stepping on any boundaries.
Kon just took a deep breath and looked a little sad for a long moment.
"I was... kind of a foundling. My cousin Kal found me and took me home to his parents. They raised me and he's been like a big brother to me."
"Kal? I don't think I've ever met him..." Tim mused. "Does he live in the Territory?"
"No..." Kon hesitated as he answered. "He lives in Luthor's Territory. He and his wife and son."
"Do you see them often?" Tim asked, taking a sip of his wine.
"Yeah, I visit them pretty regularly. His son Jon and I are pretty close. He's a sweet kid."
"Yeah? How old is he?"
"He's about 17."
"My brother Damian is about that age."
Kon tilted his head to one side and eyed Tim with amusement.
"Do you think they'd get along? Maybe we should introduce them."
Tim huffed out a laugh.
"I don't know that Damian actually gets along with anyone."
"I mean, he gets along with my oldest brother Dick, that's about it," Tim said with a shrug.
"Man, Jon's totally different. He's friends with everyone."
"Is he... are they all... Is the rest of your family..."
"Are they magic users?" Kon asked casually. "Kal and Jon are. The rest aren't."
Tim nodded thoughtfully.
Kon took another sip of wine and watched Tim intently.
"I'm sorry I-- I shouldn't have made assumptions. About you."
"I'm guessing it's not personal. Towards me, anyway."
Tim took a deep breath and shook his head.
"It still wasn't... It still wasn't fair. And I'm sorry."
"Don't worry about. Water under the bridge, right? We're friends now."
"Yeah?" Tim asked, feeling his stomach drop out at that word. For some reason the idea of being friends with Kon was thrilling in ways that made him feel warm and jumpy inside. All Tim could think about when Kon said it was the warm, tingly feeling of Kon’s magic flowing into him.
"Yeah," Kon said, grinning at Tim.
Tim had to look away but he smiled to himself.
"My friend Bart... He says people who are afraid of magic are like people who are scared of dogs, you know? Like you see one, and it hurts you or it scares you. And that sticks in your head until you meet a nice dog. Then it gets easier."
"Your friend Bart sounds like a smart guy."
Kon spluttered out a laugh and shook his head.
"He somehow manages to be both the most insightful and the most dense person I have ever met," Kon said.
"Yeah," Tim said with a smile. "I know some guys like that."
"I think you'd like Bart," Kon said. "Cassie too. She's a friend of ours. She's a Ranger in another platoon."
"What does Bart do?" Tim asked.
"He's in shipping," Kon said. "Cassie was an academic but she got tired of sitting in a library all day."
"I can understand that. I studied art for a while until I realized I could do more down here."
Kon sat up straighter at that and turned to look at Tim.
"You do art?"
"Just charcoal drawings, mostly. Sometimes some pastels," Tim said with a shrug.
"Do you still draw?"
"Yeah, pretty often. When I'm not working…”
"That's awesome. Can I see some of your drawings?"
Tim felt his face flush, feeling a little self conscious. He gestured to a drawing framed and nailed to the wall above the table where they were sitting.
"I mean... that's one..." Tim said and Kon turned to examine it, wide eyed.
It was a picture of the garden in Wayne Manor. The autumn wildflowers were in full bloom and the leaves on the trees were just changing colors. A group of people were all sitting around a pool of crystal clear blue water.
"I gave that one to Harper for her birthday a few years ago," Tim said. "That's Harper..."
Tim gestured to a blue haired girl sitting around the pool, she had her arm around another girl with long blonde hair. They were wearing matching white dresses, both with flowers tucked into their hair.
"That's Steph," Tim said, gesturing up at the picture again. "And then me and Cass."
Tim was shirtless and sitting shoulder to shoulder with a girl with chin-length hair in the picture. Tim and Cass were wearing matching linen pants and Cass had on a short sleeveless crop top.
"Wow," Kon said, squinting up at the picture. "They look exactly like your sisters..."
Tim huffed out a laugh.
"Thanks, I worked hard on it. I did that one too," Tim said gesturing to another picture of his brothers all sitting around a table drinking tea. "I think that was a gift for another birthday along the way."
"That's amazing," Kon said. "They all look so vivid and alive. Like you caught them in real time."
"Yeah... that's what I like most. Capturing a single moment, freezing it so we can all remember it together..."
Kon turned and looked at Tim with a smile that seemed almost sad.
"I can get that. I wish I could do that too, sometimes."
Tim nodded thoughtfully, looking up at his pictures. But Tim found himself fighting down a yawn, he covered his mouth with one hand.
Kon took another sip of wine as he watched Tim.
"You look exhausted," Kon said softly. "I'm surprised you managed to drag yourself out here..."
"Harper has some good food and I--"
"I wanted to see my sisters. There's a band playing later, I thought I would listen for a while and then I might stay here tonight."
"I hate to break it to you bud, but the sign says no vacancy..."
"I'll crash with Cass. She has a room in the Inn Keeper’s Suite. A small one. I can stay in her room tonight."
"Your sisters seem sweet," Kon said. "I mean, they're all totally terrifying, but they also seem sweet."
"That is very accurate."
Kon choked on a sip of wine as he laughed at that.
The band had just arrived. A few tables were moved to arrange an open space at the front of the dining area. They set up their instruments and started playing some low folk music. It was all instrumental and a man with a lovely voice was singing in a low tone in a language Kon didn't understand.
"He's good," Kon said, gesturing to the man singing. "The music is good."
Tim nodded in agreement.
"Harper has excellent taste in music too. She's painfully competent."
The music wove around the room and Tim found the songs soothing and relaxing. Kon went on talking about his cousin and his aunt and uncle. He told a story about his friends Cassie and Bart and how they were planning a beach trip in a few weeks. Tim listened and felt himself slipping into a deeply relaxed state.
Tim felt himself dozing, he leaned into the heat of Kon sitting next to him. He couldn't keep his eyes open.
The next thing Tim knew, Cass was nudging him gently. Tim came awake, realizing he had fallen asleep, resting his head on Kon's shoulder, their thighs pressed together. Tim blinked awake and looked up at Kon.
Kon smiled down at him and nodded to Cass.
"I think your sister thinks it's past your bedtime."
Tim turned to look at Cass and she nodded her head firmly. She gestured to the staircase with her chin.
"Better listen to your sister. She might beat me up if you don't."
"Yeah... for sure. It was good to see you," Tim said, sleepily. He stood and looked down at Kon. "It was good to talk to you."
Kon smiled up at him and nodded.
"It was nice. We should do it again sometime. When you're less likely to fall asleep at the table."
"Good thought," Tim said. "Remind me about it when I'm more awake."
"Count on it," Kon said. "Get some rest. We'll be back in the field soon enough."
Tim let Cass lead him upstairs to her room. She tucked him into the bed and dimmed the lights.
"Sleep," she said simply.
And Tim did, dozing off as he remembered the warm press of Kon's thigh against his own and light easy smile that danced in his eyes.