"Come on, man, they're total babes!" Kon said. "I can't believe you came to Anguilla to just sit there and read."
Tim rolled his eyes behind the extra-dark sunglasses without looking up from Crime and Punishment. "I'm good," he said flatly. "Have fun."
"Fine, whatever," Kon said. "More for me." He took off down the beach and dived into the water in one clean movement, knifing underwater all the way to where the two girls were bobbing up and down, squealing as he came up and splashed them. How Kon had managed to pick them up on a private beach, Tim had no idea, but in his opinion, yelling at security would've been a better idea than frolicking in the waves.
Lex wandered out of the villa, barefoot, in sunglasses and loose white clothes, like he was ready for the inevitable tabloid photographers. He took the chaise on the other side of the table and stretched out with Kavalier and Clay, then he tilted his head, looking out at the ocean. "Hm."
"Don't ask me how they got into the estate," Tim said bitterly.
Lex transferred over the look and the raised eyebrow, which made Tim twitch. Lex was a lot more relaxed these days, but Tim wasn't entirely buying the idea that he was reformed for good now. The training simulations Lex worked up for the Titans kept getting more elaborate, and Tim was pretty sure some of them had been designed with the idea that they'd be facing the JLA or possibly the US Army, not a gang of supervillains.
Not that he was sharing that suspicion with Bruce, because it wasn't inherently a bad idea to have a few contingency plans in place. Still, it made him a little skeptical.
And then Lex proved that he was still evil by saying, "You know, Clark was a little slow at that age too." He paused and added thoughtfully, "And to be fair, I was sleeping with anyone who looked at me, so he comes by it from both sides."
He settled back and opened his book while Tim stared at him in horror.
"I'm—I'm going to go for a run," Tim strangled out, and got the hell away.
The tended part of the beach was half a mile long, and past that was another four-mile stretch of unkempt dunes and rocks. He ran until his thighs were aching with the drag of the sand on his feet, and then dropped straight into two hundred push-ups, half on either hand, the craggy salt-stained rock digging into his knuckles. Then he staggered over to the nearest patch of sand and flopped onto his back and stared at the clouds, resolutely not thinking about anything.
"You know, I'm almost ninety percent sure that Batman doesn't have hidden cameras watching this place," Kon said, landing next to him. "You can take a day off without getting lectured."
"It's harder to skip just one day than to do it," Tim said. "It's bad enough I'm not patrolling."
"Is that why you're being so freaking uptight?" Kon said. "Seriously, man, you've got to learn how to unwind or you're going to die of a heart attack before you even hit thirty."
"Maybe I'm just not into your idea of unwinding." Tim sat up, running his hands through his hair to shake out the sand. "What happened to your new best friends, anyway?"
"They had to take off," Kon said. "They're staying at the place on the cliffs south of us—them and a bunch of their college pals. They're throwing a party tonight. I was going to ask if you wanted to go, but I guess you've got better things to do than hang out with a dozen sorority girls. Like stay around here and listen to Lex and Clark making out on the—"
"Stop, stop, stop," Tim said. "Yes, fine, I'll come." He didn't tell Kon he would've gone anyway, because god only knew what Kon was going to get into alone with a house full of girls.
Apparently, a hot tub. They hadn't brought their swimsuits, but Kon wasn't letting that stand in his way, and the girls didn't seem all that uptight about it either. There were plenty of other guys around, but none of them had anywhere near Kon's cachet, so there were about six or seven girls in the tub with him, and he was grinning exactly like an idiot asking to get hit with half a dozen paternity suits, even if he was half-alien and probably couldn't have kids without a laboratory and a minimum of two Nobel-prizewinning scientists involved.
Somebody had handed Tim a very blue drink that tasted disgusting, like watermelon and rubbing alcohol mixed together, and he was slumped in a deck chair not-drinking it and trying not to hear the squealing from the tub.
"Could you maybe try to have a little less fun?" Kon said, and Tim looked up: Kon was dripping on the deck, completely naked, and Tim's eyes were level with—he grabbed the stray towel on the deck chair next to him and tossed it to Kon, who caught it and wiped off his face, unhelpfully. "Seriously, come on in. It's awesome."
"It's too hot," Tim said, trying to find someplace safe to look.
"So we'll go swimming after," Kon said. "There's a stairway right down to the water."
"You want to go swimming on a rocky beach in the middle of the night?" Tim said. "Half these guys will follow us, and we'll spend the rest of the night keeping them from drowning."
Kon rolled his eyes. "Still more fun than sitting on your ass here! What is up with you, anyway? I mean, you've always been kind of a prude, but lately you're crossing the line into psycho. Do you want to end up like you-know-who?" He turned and went back to the hot tub, and Tim got up and went into the house to look for something he could actually swallow, pretending that hadn't stung.
He found a Coke in the fridge, and a stairway going up to a little turret-room with a balcony overlooking the ocean, the crashing waves louder than the music and the voices on the other side of the building. He wondered if maybe there was something wrong with him. He was hung up on his best friend, who wasn't just oblivious and totally uninterested but also a complete player. The gay thing, fine—he could handle that. It was the pathetic thing that was unbearable.
He heard a creak, below, and turned around: a minute later a girl came climbing up the stairs. She didn't notice him until she'd come out onto the balcony. "Oh, hey," she said. "I didn't know anyone was up here."
"No, it's fine," he said. "I just—it's a little—"
"Loud?" she said.
"Yeah," he said. "I'm Tim."
"Stephanie," she said. "Call me Steph."
Steph had skipped two years of high school and was dual-majoring in geology and physics; she'd joined the sorority because her parents wanted her to socialize more. "My mom was in, and my grandmother," she said. "It kind of wasn't an option, and I don't really mind now I'm in. They're cool, it's not like some after-school special where people try to get me to drink or whatever, and actually a bunch of the girls are in the women in science program. It totally beats high school."
She was honey-blonde and slim and pretty, and she managed to make an ordinary life sound cool: she wanted to do her graduate work on some hypothetical aspects of terraforming, and she talked about it the way Tim could talk about forensic analysis of a crime scene or computer hacking. "You should talk to Kon," he said. "I'm pretty sure Lex actually wants to try terraforming Mars."
She rolled her eyes. "Hello, I would like to win a LexCorp internship with my grades and not my breasts, thanks."
"Hey, I didn't mean—!" Tim said. "Kon's not—Kon wouldn't—" She stared at him until he stopped. "What?"
"Not to offend you or anything," she said, "but living in a sorority, I have seen a lot of horndogs, and your pal is like, impaired. I'd be scared to get into range."
Tim decided that she was the single most wonderful girl he'd ever met.
Steph came down the next morning along with the three other girls who'd come to hang out with Kon. Tim took her over to the far end of the beach, and she told him heaps of stuff about the volcanic rock formations while he held her hand and helped her climb over them. She was also the only one of the girls who didn't turn into a total staring idiot at lunch when Clark came out onto the deck shirtless. Although, that made up for having the other three over, because Tim got to watch Lex come out and narrow his eyes at their flailing, which was the least he deserved.
But then Lex sat down at the table and said pleasantly, "Kon, you brought guests. Introduce them," and it was like watching the curtain go up and the lights go on; in fifteen minutes Lex had gotten them started on a conversation about manga that kept running even after he'd gracefully backed out of it, and they had all forgotten to goggle at a relieved Clark. And then Steph said something about terraforming and Lex got sincerely interested in her.
She staggered away from the meal afterwards, wide-eyed. "Is he always that—intense?" she said, faintly.
"Only if you actually impress him," Tim said, giving her a glass of cold water. He'd been on the other end of Lex's full attention a few times himself. The only person who didn't wilt under it at least a little was Clark; he just seemed to soak it up and want more. Tim figured that was why they were both so weird about each other.
"What's her last name?" Lex asked him at breakfast the next morning.
"Brown?" Tim said, warily.
"Mm," Lex said, punching a message in on his Blackberry. "We'll want to keep an eye on her. Geology major?"
"Geology and physics, and I'm pretty sure she won't be interested in your pulling strings for her," Tim said, coldly.
Lex snorted. "I'm not going to pull strings for her," he said. "I need good people for the terraforming project if it's ever going to get off the ground. Particularly since some people can't be bothered to help."
"Sorry," Clark said, unrepentantly, leafing through the Daily Planet. "You want to own Mars, you're going to have to do it yourself. If I'm helping, it's going to have to be a U.N. project."
"The U.N. can't get its members to pay traffic tickets, much less colonize a planet," Lex grumbled.
Clark just grinned at him sunnily.
Lex glared back. "I'm not interested in being Secretary-General. The entire organization is a mess and the campaign alone would be a pain in the ass. If you want world peace so badly, you run for it."
"I'm sure you can terraform Mars without my help, Lex," Clark said earnestly.
Lex snarled faintly and went back to his Blackberry.
Kon was frowning the whole time, and when they went out to the beach after breakfast, he said, "How did you find all that out about her? Her last name, her major, where she lives—"
Tim rolled his eyes. "I talked to her instead of jumping at the first opportunity to grope her ass."
"Dude, we're on an island in the Caribbean for two weeks!" Kon said. "This is not the time to be getting serious."
"Maybe I like being serious," Tim said, coolly, and went to go for a swim.
"Rise and shine, bird-boy," Kon said, yanking open the curtains. Tim groaned wordlessly and buried his head in the pillows. "Come on, man, let's fly over to that big beach on the other side of the island and check it out."
Tim rolled over onto his back and said, "Can't," groggily, and sat up groping for the glass of water at his bedside. "Steph's coming over."
Kon rolled his eyes. "So she'll get here, somebody'll tell her we took off for the day, and she'll go home. Big deal."
"I'm not going to just ditch her," Tim said. "We made plans."
"Right, it's not like anybody ever does anything spontaneous on vacation," Kon said. "What the hell. A week from now you're never going to see her again."
"That doesn't mean I should treat her like a jerk," Tim said. "Anyway, I might. She's got one more year at Duke, then she's hoping to do her graduate work at Yale. New Haven's not that far from Gotham."
"Oh, forgive me for not recognizing your true love," Kon said. "Have you even kissed her?"
"None of your business!" Tim said. He had, yesterday, and it had been fun. Nothing either of them was serious about, they'd had that conversation afterwards, thankfully, but he'd liked it and he liked her, so he wasn't weird; he just needed to get to know somebody first, and that was a hell of a lot cooler than collecting notches on a bedpost.
Kon stared at him for a second, looking startled, and then his jaw tightened. "Fine, go have fun with your girlfriend. Drop me a line sometime if you ever feel like hanging out again." He stalked out of the room.
In a training session, a million years ago, Bruce had said, "You will lose your temper from time to time. That's inevitable. The important thing is to recognize when it's happened, and subsequently to force yourself to slow down enough to assess your reactions objectively until you regain control."
"Dick doesn't slow down," he'd said.
"Dick was trained literally from infancy to divorce his physical performance from his mental state," Bruce had said. "You've seen him carry on conversations all the way through a workout, even at the limits, when you or I have to focus entirely on forcing the body to obey. It's not simply because he's a better athlete. His brain compartmentalizes his emotions away from his physical reactions."
"Well, you don't slow down either."
"I've learned how to compress the amount of time it takes to recover my temper to a few moments," Bruce had said. "Not inconsequential, but less expensive than a mistake made out of blind rage. It'll take you a few years to get there. For now, take as much time as you have to."
This time, Tim took twenty minutes, and then he went and found Kon finishing breakfast outside. Clark and Lex hadn't gotten up yet. "Let's talk," Tim said flatly.
Kon tossed down his fork. "Oh, do you have time to chat before Steph gets here?"
"What is with you!" Tim said. "Since we got here all you've done is chase after girls, but I'm not allowed to like one and have a good time with her?"
"Do whatever you want," Kon said. "I don't give a fuck." He shoved his chair back and took straight off into the air. Tim's hand went for the utility belt that wasn't there, but it was too late, anyway; Kon was already out of rope range, moving fast.
Clark came out a few minutes later, yawning. "Where's Kon?" he said.
"How should I know?" Tim snapped, and walked away.
"Hey, there's a dance at Johnno's tonight," Steph said, when she arrived. "You want to go?"
"Sure," Tim said, still smarting, and looked forward to telling Kon he was going out. But Kon didn't get back before it was time to leave.
Clark was looking a little anxious. "And he didn't say anything about where he was going? Did—did the two of you have—"
"Clark," Lex said, followed by something in Kryptonian, which Tim made a mental note to learn right away, and Clark stopped and said, "Um, have a good time," instead.
The club was already packed when they got there, smokers in the parking lot and thumping bass loud enough to make the dance floor vibrate. Tim saw Kon immediately: he was on top of a table, dancing with two girls, if you wanted to call it dancing; it was more like sex with their clothes on. Tim pulled Steph onto the floor and yelled, "Just let me lead," and she laughed and yelled back, "What, are you like some champion dancer?"
Tim grinned. Dick had taught him how to dance.
People started clearing room for them after about ten minutes or so, Steph laughing as he twirled and dipped her, and he wasn't paying any attention to Kon, who'd collected up another couple of girls and moved to the bar. And then Steph threw her arms around his neck and kissed him, and suddenly people were screaming and ducking down on the dance floor: a massive gaping hole in the roof was showing night sky, flames licking at the edges and a fire beginning to spread.
Tim ducked and got Steph over his shoulder, pushed his way to the stage, and grabbed the mike and shouted, "Everyone walk calmly out the doors! The roof is stable right now," which was possibly a lie, but the most important thing was to avoid a stampede. "Just get out the back, I'll meet you in the parking lot," he told Steph, who nodded, a little dazed, and then he darted behind the bar to look for anything he could use to put out the fire—a tarp, a fire extinguisher—or use as a weapon; he was running through his head who could have pulled this. It looked kind of like the damage from a superheated laser—
"Tim," Kon said, desperately, "Tim, where the hell are you?"
"I'm right here!" Tim said, standing up; Kon was groping around the bar, one hand pressed tight over his eyes. "What happened? Are you okay?" He grabbed Kon by the shoulder and tried to tug him over the bar. "Get down behind here, you're totally exposed."
"I didn't mean to!" Kon said. "It just—the beams just came out—"
"What?" Tim said.
"It's totally not my fault," Kon said, in the car on the way home. He still hadn't taken his hand off from over his eyes. Tim was driving. It had taken a while to get everyone outside and stop the fire, and by then Steph had gone home with some of her pals who'd been at the dance.
"You just suddenly developed heat vision in the middle of a dance floor," Tim said, skeptically.
"No, I blew the roof off a nightclub on purpose!" Kon said. "Duh." He slumped back into his seat and didn't talk the rest of the way.
"The same kind of thing happened to me," Clark said, when they got home. "It's okay, Kon, you'll learn how to control it. Let's go out to the beach, and you can practice while you're looking out to sea."
Lex looked at Tim after they went out. "What?" Tim said belligerently.
"I need the name of the club," Lex said mildly, which made him feel like an idiot. "I'll send over a crew."
Tim climbed up to the roof and sat on the edge and watched Kon practicing with Clark, the shimmering blasts of heat vision scorching trails of steam along the surface of the water that shone pale and luminescent in the moonlight until they dispersed. After a while, they sat down on the sand together, talking softly. Eventually Clark clapped Kon on the shoulder and Kon gave him a grin that Tim could tell was fake because it dropped right off his face once Clark had left him on the beach.
Tim waited until Clark had gone back inside, and then he scrambled down the gutters back to the ground and went over to Kon.
"Sorry I ruined your night," Kon said, not looking at him. "Everybody got out of there okay?"
"Yeah," Tim said, sitting down. "Lex is taking care of the cleanup." He hesitated. "You want to check out that other beach tomorrow?" he offered.
"I can't go anywhere until I get this under control," Kon said. "I can't even go inside, I'd set the house on fire or something. I'm going to crash out here." He looked down. "It's probably just like this beach, anyway."
They sat silently for a while. Kon used his TK to make the sand build itself up into a castle, but it was too dry this far up the beach and crumbled away as soon as he let go.
"Well, once you can control it, it'll be useful," Tim said after a minute. "One of your major vulnerabilities was the lack of a distance attack, since you have to be in proximity to anything to use your TK on it, so this really complements—what?"
Kon couldn't exactly glare without looking at him, but he seemed to be trying.
"I think it's stronger than mine was when it started," Clark said at breakfast. "You're a couple of years older, so maybe that has something to do with it."
"Interesting," Lex said thoughtfully. "Was there anything in particular that triggered it for you? Kon, stop trying to eat with your eyes closed. Just sit opposite Clark."
"Oh, uh, well," Clark said, and looked embarrassed.
Lex raised an eyebrow. "Really? So every time you use it—"
"No!" Clark said, but he was blushing.
Tim didn't quite believe it, but then he went back into the house a little later to get a couple of sodas for him and Kon, and overheard Lex down the hall saying, in a smoky voice he really didn't want to know Lex had, "So is it an effort to control it right now?" and Clark's wobbly, "N-no—no—" that sounded exactly like yes.
He scurried out of the house and back to Kon, who was lying mopily on the beach with a towel over his face. Tim gave him the can of soda and sat down with a notebook and a pen to work it out.
The problem was, the heat vision manifestation was the only piece of objective evidence. Everything else depended on subjective interpretation, and Tim knew just how little that was worth, even from a trained observer. In favor, Kon was acting like a jerk over Steph. Then there was the hot tub incident; Tim hadn't thought about it at the time, but probably asking your pal to jump naked into the hot tub with you and a bunch of gorgeous women qualified as at least a little bit gay, but the problem was, just how gay? Also, Kon wasn't homophobic or shy, so if he had been interested, he probably would have made a move. On the other hand, Kon was also not exactly Mr. Introspection, so he could just be confused—
Tim glared at the list. It was a mess. What he really needed was to put it all in a spreadsheet and assign every item a value, weighted for the degree of certainty, and then he could analyze what the overall result was if he changed some of the values—
"What are you working on?" Kon said, and the page tugged itself right out of Tim's hands and floated over to him.
"No!" Tim said, and lunged for it; in the battle between him and Kon's TK, the paper lost, ripping apart into pieces.
"Hey!" Kon said, indignantly, looking at the scraps he'd ended up with. "Hey, is this about me?—what do you mean, not too swift!" He grabbed for another piece. Tim futilely tried to wrestle him for it, and wound up falling over onto Kon's chest while Kon held the scrap up over his head to read. "Excuse me? How is inviting somebody to hot tub gay? That is like, being the best friend ever! It is the epitome of cool!"
"The other kind of gay, you idiot!" Tim said, exasperated, and kissed him.
Kon just lay there open-mouthed and blinking up at him after Tim finished. "Oh my God," he said eventually, "Lex and Clark are contagious?"
"Oh, for—don't be stupid," Tim said, struggling up and off him.
"I guess I was kind of doomed, genetically," Kon said, still staring up at the sky. "I just really thought I was straight." Then he sat up abruptly. "Hey! Hey, wait, does this mean we can have sex? Like, right now?"
Tim stared at him, speechless, and then turned and stalked away and went back into the house, ignoring Kon's, "What? Where are you going? Tim!"
Kon kept throwing rocks at his window all afternoon. "Tim, come on," he whined. "You know I can't come in the house!"
Tim put on his headphones and turned up the volume on his ipod and determinedly opened his book.
Kon finally threw a rock through the window, with a note wrapped around it saying, "HELLO DUMBASS YOU ARE SITTING IN YOUR ROOM READING ABOUT SOME STUPID RUSSIANS WHEN YOU COULD BE HAVING ACTUAL SEX WITH AN INCREDIBLY HOT GUY (IE ME!)!!!!"
Tim climbed up onto the desk, knocked out the rest of the loose glass still clinging to the sides of the window, and hissed out at him, "I would not have sex with IE YOU in a million years!"
"Look," Kon said earnestly, "this heat vision thing, it's totally out of control, man—"
"Oh, you did not just try that line," Tim said.
"Well, it was worth a shot," Kon said, "since you're being a complete nut."
"Yeah, but I'm not stupid," Tim said, or started to say, because he was close enough to the window that Kon managed to pull him up to it the rest of the way, and Kon was—Kon was really a good kisser, Tim had to admit, and holy shit, he could use his TK to—
"Crap, look, get back—" Kon said hurriedly, letting go abruptly.
"What?" Tim said, but he was wobbling so much he fell backwards off the desk anyway, landing on the bed just before Kon blasted away a chunk of the wall.
Kon sheepishly poked his head in. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine—" Tim said, which was all he had time for before Kon pounced again. "I thought you—mmph—you weren't coming inside the house—" he gasped out.
"Well," Kon said, sliding his hands up under Tim's t-shirt purposefully, "the wall in here is already toast, so—"
Kon sighed deeply, a long satisfied sigh, and lay back, putting his arms behind his head. "Oh, yeah."
"Oh, shut up," Tim muttered, trying to muster up the energy to move; he was sprawled limp over the bed, his arm dangling over the side. With an effort, he managed to get it back up onto the mattress and flopped himself over onto his back.
Kon was still radiating an offensive level of smugness. Tim said, viciously, "I hope Clark and Lex didn't hear us."
Kon's face became a mask of horror. "I hate you so much," he said.
Tim smiled, at peace.