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The Mystery of the Superboy Shirts

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The thing is, Tim is a detective, first and foremost.

And, like most detectives, sometimes he just can’t let things go.  

It all starts with some mission.  Tim doesn’t even remember what the objective was, and it really doesn’t matter because, as usual, things started blowing up and going to hell about five minutes in.  The point is, Tim ends up with Kon’s shirt. 

(Not wearing it.  He had a cut on his head or something and Kon, being Kon, immediately strips off his sweaty shirt and throws it at Tim.  And because of the aforementioned explosions and whatnot, Tim didn’t have time to throw it back or ask Kon if he knew about things like public indecency and basic sanitation.)

So anyways, Tim ends up with Kon’s shirt. 

Once he’s back home, he cleans off all the blood and grime and soot and stuff and folds it up and intends to give it back to Kon the next day.  Because… that’s what you did when you borrowed other people’s clothes.  Confirmed by both Yahoo Answers and Google.

(The truth is, Tim intended to clean off all the blood and grime and soot and stuff, but Alfred actually ends up doing it himself when he finds the tee lying on top of the large heap of dirty clothes in the middle of Tim’s room.)

Tim stashes the shirt in his backpack and heads for Young Justice’s hideout for the weekend. 

He forgets to give the shirt back to Kon.

(In his defense, the minute he walked into the base, he was hit in the face by a water balloon and then Cassie was demanding that Bart be locked in the pantry and Bart didn’t think much of that request which resulted in Cassie and Tim being bombarded with more water balloons.  And that would have been kind of a trainwreck in itself except for the fact that the balloons weren’t actually filled with water, they were filled with mustard.)

The weird thing is though… Kon doesn’t ask for the shirt back.  And for Tim… that does not compute.

Tim knows all of the tees in his wardrobe.  If they get destroyed or lost or he grows out of them, he usually ends up buying a replacement online.  T-shirts are precious , the staple of a guy’s wardrobe, and Tim doesn’t understand how Kon just seems to forget about the one he loaned to Tim.

And the more Tim thinks about it, the more confused he gets.  Kon goes through a lot of t-shirts.  A ridiculous amount, to be honest.  Pretty much every single mission ends up with a shirtless Superboy.  And, come to think of it, so do a lot of their game nights.  So does Kon just continually replace shirts?  Does he have some kind of standing order for a couple hundred Superboy shirts a week?  How does no one find that suspicious?  Is Kon even aware that going through shirts at that rate is weird?   Why is Superman not working on this issue?

As Tim thinks about it and cleans mustard out of his uniform, somehow his mind gets to the one question that really sticks.

Which is: how many t-shirts can Tim steal before Kon even notices?

(Really, Tim thinks, he’s doing a good deed.  Once Kon realizes how many shirts he goes through, he’ll understand that it’s insane and he’ll take better care of them.  Or at least figure out a way to get the shirts he needs inconspicuously.  And then of course, Tim realizes that, as the financer for most super-hero-related things, Bruce is probably unknowingly paying for all of these Superboy t-shirts, and the whole thing becomes a lot more urgent.)

   

By the end of the weekend, Tim has seven of Kon’s tees. 

Kon doesn’t seem to do laundry (or possibly he doesn’t know what laundry is ).  And he leaves his clothes everywhere .  And not everywhere in the sense that Tim and most teens do- scattered around their room- but literally all over the hideout.  

When Tim opens the fridge and one of Kon’s shirts slips onto the floor, covered in a light sheen of frost, he realizes that his mission might be more intensive than he initially thought.

   

By the end of the first week of his experiment, Tim has sixteen Superboy t-shirts.

(Somehow he is reminded of his childhood, and he realizes that there is a very thin line between taking candids of your favorite superhero and having sixteen items of their clothing in your closet.)

   

He asks Cassie about it.

(There is a Superboy t-shirt hanging from the ceiling fan in her room.  Tim is trying not to look at it.)

“Do you… do you ever notice,” He stops, frowning.  Cassie blinks at him from where she sits on her bed, surrounded by homework.  “Do you ever notice, um, that Kon loses his shirts.  Like… a lot?”

Cassie snorts, choking into her hand.  She finally manages to meet his gaze, still smiling.  “Yeah, believe me, I notice.  It’s really great that you notice too!”

“No, no, no…” Tim somehow feels that the conversation is going in the wrong direction, although he’s not sure exactly what that direction is.  “I mean.  Um.  Okay.  If he’s constantly losing his shirts, then how does he get new ones?”

Still smiling a little, Cassie tips her head.  “I really don’t know what you mean, Tim.”

“Like… is there a factory out there somewhere making hundreds of Superboy t-shirts just for Kon?”  Tim feels frustrated that Cassie isn’t getting that this is an important issue and there are questions that need answered.  

Cassie narrows her eyes a little, “Have you been drinking Red Bull again?”

And Tim decides it’s best to end that conversation.  Cassie clearly has no useful intel, and the last thing he needs is another Red Bull intervention.

 

Week two.

There are thirty-seven Superboy tees in Tim’s closet.

He may have to appropriate one of the guest rooms at this rate.

 

They’re flying back from a joint mission with Clark and Bruce.  Tim’s legs dangle thousands of feet above the ocean and he can feel Kon’s chin, just centimeters above his hair.

“D’you ever miss your old costume?” It’s windy and loud, but Kon has super-hearing. 

Kon laughs, his nose bumping into Tim’s head as he cracks up.  “The jumpsuit and leather jacket?  Um, hell yeah?” Kon finally says, shouting to be heard over the rush of the wind.  “But Cassie said if I kept wearing it she was gonna throw me off the team.”

Tim snorts (and finds himself grateful that he stopped gelling his hair up into spikes- Cassie hated that too).  “That one didn’t tear as much as your new duds do.”

“Yeah, well when you only ever wear one outfit it’s really easy to shop.”

(And, dammit, Tim really wishes he could see Kon’s face.  Is he teasing or being genuine?  Is he confirming the Superboy-shirt-factory theory?   Does he know that Tim is stealing all of his clothes? )

They don’t really talk for the rest of the flight.

 

Fifty-nine shirts spread out over two bedrooms means that someone is twice as likely to find out about this, and Tim is not ready to try and explain this whole mess to Bruce.

 

Tim ropes Bart in at the start of the fourth week.  Bart doesn’t really understand what Tim’s going on about, but he agrees to help on the condition that Tim tells Batman it’s Kon’s fault that the Robin suit still smells vaguely of mustard.

(Little does Bart know that Tim already told Bruce it was Dick’s fault.  Two weeks ago.)

Tim watches from an armchair, holding a book in front of his face in case Kon looks over from the couch where he’s watching Shark Week.

Bart zooms into the room, skidding to a halt in front of Kon.  “Hey.  Buddy.  Hey.”

Bart isn’t the best at covert .

Kon gives the tiniest of waves, his brow furrowed in confusion.

“It was totally dumb of me but I just remembered, um, that the guy who made costumes for Barry and Wally and me could probably, um, make you a shirt that wouldn’t break so much?  I mean, you’re a lot stronger than us so it might break, but it would be a little bit stronger than just, you know, cotton ones?  I mean, unless you had a secret factory or something somewhere that makes you more shirts whenever you want.  Um, yeah?”

Bart’s talking so fast that Tim can barely recognize the words that he scripted.  That shouldn’t be a problem for Kon though.

But Kon just looks at Bart with that same confused face.  Patience has never been Bart’s strength, and he nervously waits, vibrating slightly, before abruptly shouting, “Okay cool chat, bye!”

The carpet smokes slightly and Tim can hear Bart assaulting the kitchen for some old-fashioned stress-eating.  Kon looks first at the carpet, then at Tim (who immediately looks at his book), and then in the direction that Bart ran.

“Maybe I’ll go upstairs,” Kon mumbles.  He stands, stretching.

(There’s two black tees crumpled up on the couch.  Kon doesn’t look at them.)

“Your book is upside-down,” Kon says to Tim as he leaves the room.

 

There are seventy-three Superboy t-shirts in Wayne Manor.

Tim cannot stop thinking about the damn shirts.  He hasn’t had a real conversation with Kon in weeks.  Every time they start talking, all Tim can think about it the stupid shirt mystery and then Kon gets a funny look on his face and makes an excuse to leave.  Bruce even asked the other day if anything was wrong, because Tim had been so distracted lately.

(When Bruce notices that something might be wrong, it usually means that something is very, very wrong.)

But dammit, Tim has to know about these shirts.  Tim’s investigated dozens of off-the-books clothing factories and none of them have turned out to be Superboy-shirt makers.

(Bruce has complimented him on the number of places he’s busted for illegal working conditions, but he reminds Tim that they try to stick to criminal problems a little closer to home.)

(Tim is maybe losing his mind a little bit.)

 

It hits him like a bolt of lightning.

Clearly, the shirt issue is Lex Luthor’s fault.  Obviously, Luthor programmed Conner to go through a ridiculous number of shirts as some kind of scheme to humiliate the Justice League. 

Also, possibly, Luthor is having thousands of tiny nanites sewn into the Superboy shirts so that they can infiltrate the minds of the heroes that Kon comes into contact with.  

Unfortunately, despite hours and hours of hacking into Luthor’s databases, Tim can find no trace of any kind of shirt-scheme.  That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, but his search is cut off when Luthor puts a bounty out on his head and Bruce catches wind of it.

“Bruce, it’s just a bounty!” Tim whines as Bruce sets Bat-parental-locks on his laptop.  “It’s only half a grand!  No one’s gonna take it!”

Giving him a remarkably skeptical side-eye, Bruce hands Tim back his laptop.  Tim stares at it morosely.

(Yeah, it’s fun trying to out-hack Bruce.  But this is really serious stuff, and he doesn’t have the time to be fooling around.)

 

[[23:49]] chilidogz4lyfe: how the hell did you even track me down jfc

[[23:50]] skatebird: i don’t want to tell you how to live your life but maybe telling people on barnes and noble forums that you’re the Red Hood and you’re gonna kick their ass isn’t as subtle as you think

[[23:51]] chilidogz4lyfe: fuck you im leaving

[[23:51]] skatebird: NO WAIT SORRY DON’T

[[23:51]] skatebird: please it’s really important

[[23:52]] chilidogz4lyfe: …………………………………….

[[23:52]] skatebird: i will owe you like the biggest favor ever

[[23:52]] chilidoz4lyfe: um you already owe me the biggest favor ever i gave you your job

[[23:53]] skatebird: ….you died?  and then you found out i got your job and tried to kill me?

[[23:53]] chilidogz4lyfe: why you gotta bring up old shit

[[23:53]] skatebird: oh my god can you help me or not

[[23:54]] chilidogz4lyfe: whatever replacement what is it

[[23:54]] skatebird: okay you’re like kind of a criminal right?

[[23:55]] chilidogz4lyfe: i s2g….

[[23:55]] skatebird: do you know of any like super-secret shirt factories?  

[[23:56]] skatebird: or possibly any big plans from l luthor involving shirt factories?

[[23:57]] skatebird: jason?

[[23:58]] chilidogz4lyfe: i’m leaving now you should probably not drink red bull anymore

 

Halfway into week five, Tim crosses into triple digits.  He is now the confused and irritated owner of over one hundred authentic Superboy shirts.  He has given up on keeping count.  

He has no answers.  All of his trails are dead ends.  He hasn’t slept properly in weeks and he has several concerned (and unanswered) messages from Bart and Cassie on his phone.

Tim decides to take drastic measures.

 

“Nice shirt, Tim,” Cassie says.  “You want one of my tanks?  You could start a collection.”

“I wasn’t looking in the closet when I grabbed a shirt last night,” Tim grumbles.  Kon’s shirt is huge on him and he actually thinks it’s pretty comfy.  But there’s no way he’s voicing that opinion to Cassie.  Not when she already looks like she’s about to burst out laughing.

“No, it’s cool!” Cassie says.  “Can I get a picture though?  Donna owes me ten bucks.”

Tim is thankfully saved from answering when Kon comes into the room.  Cassie takes advantage of the distraction and snaps a picture of him with her phone before flying out of the room, giggling.

“Hey, Kon,” Tim says.  Kon mumbles something that may or may not be a greeting as he opens the fridge.  Something must click in his head because he turns around and gives Tim a once-over, his eyes lingering on the shirt.

(Tim feels like he’s downed twelve Red Bulls.  Kon is going to say something that will give him at least a clue and Tim will finally be able to stop thinking about these shirts and he can start donating all of the stolen ones to Goodwill or something.)

“Nice shirt,” Kon says.  He turns back to the fridge, shifting aside some leftovers to try and get at the milk.

Tim is sure that he must have misheard.  Or possibly misunderstood.  He stands, gaping at Kon as the half-Kryptonian grabs the half-full gallon of milk and ambles back out of the room.

 

After two hours of intense thought and thirty minutes of mercilessly whaling on a punching bag, Tim has come to the only possible conclusion.

Clearly Kon is an evil mastermind who has orchestrated this whole thing to drive Tim insane.  Maybe Kon actually was mad that Tim missed the Wendy the Werewolf season premiere because he was fighting Clayface.  Or maybe he remembers that time that Tim and Bart tracked down leather jackets identical to his and impersonated him for a week.

Kon is somehow behind this, and Tim will not stop until he knows how deep the conspiracy runs.  Are Bart and Cassie in on this?  Does Superman know?  And even if this is all an elaborate prank, how the hell is Kon going through so many damn shirts?!

Tim is going to find out.  Even if it kills him.

 

It almost does kill him, a couple of days later.  

Tim is sitting in his room playing on the Nintendo DS that he found wedged behind his dresser when Bruce appears in his doorway.

“I swear I was cleaning, I just, um, found this and, um-” Tim slides the DS under his bed and picks up a pair of pants from the floor.

Bruce doesn’t reply and Tim looks over. 

The expression on Bruce’s face is somewhere between shock and horror, his eyes far in the distance and his mouth slightly open.  Tim feels a cold pit of fear start to form in his stomach and he stands.  “Bruce?  Are you okay?  Did someone… did someone die ?”

Instead of answering, Bruce holds up his right hand.  Clenched in it is… a Superboy t-shirt.

(It really isn’t surprising.  Three of the guest-room closets are now filled with the shirts, and Tim suspects that if he bothered to count them anymore, they would number well above three hundred.)

“Oh, God, Bruce, I can explain,” Tim says quickly.

“So many…” Bruce whispers.  Tim can tell from the pain in his voice that Bruce understands the seriousness of Tim’s investigation.  Bruce is probably already asking the same questions that Tim asked himself all those weeks ago.  It’s remarkable how alike they are.

“Does…” Bruce looks up at him with haunted eyes.  “Does Clark know?”

It’s a question Tim has been asking himself.  And unfortunately, he has realized that Kon probably couldn’t pull off a scheme this large without help.   (Which kind of sucks because Tim really thought Clark liked him.  Or at least tolerated him.  Maybe Bruce did something to piss him off and that’s why Clark is helping Kon torture Tim.)

“I think so,” Tim says softly.  “This isn’t how I wanted you to find out, I’m really sorry.”

Bruce’s eyes go back to the shirt in his hand, which is shaking slightly.  “Are… are you being safe?”

Bat-paranoia at its finest.  “Yeah, I mean, Kon is my best friend, Bruce.  He’d never actually hurt me.  He just drives me crazy sometimes, y’know?”

Blanching, Bruce actually looks like he might be sick.  He reaches out and puts and hand on Tim’s shoulder, patting him a few times before he turns and shuffles out of the room.  

(Honestly, Tim thinks, it could have been a lot worse.  Bruce seemed to understand immediately and he really didn’t even seem that surprised.  Probably he’s finally understanding what Tim has been telling him for years, which is that Kon is more than a dumb surfer jock.  Actually, it now appears that Kon has the makings of a budding criminal genius.)

 

[[9:48]] cerealkiller: timmy?  r u there?

[[9:48]] skatebird: ….yeah?

[[9:49]] cerealkiller: babs and i wanted to talk to u

[[9:49]] cerealkiller: bruce called me this afternoon…

[[9:50]] skatebird: oh yeah he found one of kon’s shirts in a closet.

[[9:50]] cerealkiller: babs wants to kno if ur ok

[[9:50]] cerealkiller: she says that we love u and u should probably ignore anything bruce said

[[9:51]] cerealkiller: which is really some quality advice actually

[[9:51]] skatebird: um ok

[[9:51]] skatebird: thanks for the support i guess?

[[9:52]] cerealkiller: and i wanna hear all the deets

[[9:52]] cerealkiller: the 411

[[9:52]] cerealkiller: the hot gossip

[[9:53]] skatebird: you’re like a middle-aged mom did you know that?

[[9:53]] cerealkiller: but like a cool middle-aged mom right

[[9:54]] skatebird: anyways i’m going to hang w the team for the weekend so maybe have news when i get back

[[9:54]] cerealkiller: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

[[9:54]] cerealkiller: babs says she can send in drones or w/e if u need them

[[9:55]] skatebird: ….ok

[[9:55]] skatebird: thanks

 

When Tim gets to the hideout, it’s quiet.  Really quiet.  Which is usually a super-bad sign, because Cassie’s always blaring music and Bart pretty much exists for the sole purpose of crashing into things and making ridiculous amounts of noise.

“...Hello?” Tim calls.  He’s glad he decided to wear his costume now, because fighting bad guys in civvies is the literal worst.  Which is another reason why Kon’s stupid shirts don’t make any sense.

“Hey, dude,” Kon pokes his head out of the kitchen doorway, hands up.  “Don’t shoot, yeah?”   

“Oh, hey,” Tim realizes that he somehow pulled out at batarang without realizing it, and shoves it back into his belt.  “Where is everyone?”

“Um,” Kon comes out of the kitchen, rubbing the back of his neck.  He stops a few inches from Tim, looking at the ground.  “I asked Bart and Cassie if they could give us a little bit… I wanted to talk to you, yeah?”

“Okay,” Tim’s eyes are slightly narrowed.  Kon must be about to confess to his stupid shirt scheme and apologize for making Tim go a little insane.  Except Kon has this sad look on his face, kind of like the one Krypto gets when he has to stay in the doghouse.

“You’ve been acting weird the last like… month,” Kon says.  And it’s clear that he has more to say, but Tim…

(In all fairness, Tim has pretty much just not been sleeping.  Juggling Gotham stuff and Young Justice stuff and Tim Drake stuff and Kon’s stupid shirt problem has really been kicking his butt.  Tim has hundreds of Superboy shirts in his house and he can’t even talk to his best friend anymore because his best friend is the idiot who manages to go through several hundred t-shirts in a week and Tim has to know why .)

“Yes Kon!” Tim says in a voice that is possibly a shout.  “I have been acting weird!  And it’s your fault!  You and your stupid shirtlessness and I have to know is there a factory?  How do you afford it?  What are the health care benefits?  How many Superboy shirts can they produce in a month?  And how is it even physically possible for someone to go through so many damn shirts!?   I need answers, Kon .  Because Bruce seems to be okay with me having several hundred Superboy shirts around the house but I would really like a better explanation than ‘I don’t know why Bruce, worry about your own problems’!”

Kon is gaping at him and Tim suddenly realizes that Bruce had been right all along- joining Young Justice had driven him insane and/or lowered his IQ.

“Oh my God, I’m so so-”

And then Kon surges forward and his hands are on Tim’s cheeks and his lips are on Tim’s lips and it’s wonderful it’s sweet it’s the first time he’s been awake all week and he feels like he could melt into Kon-

“You’re crazy,” Kon says, pulling away.  “Absolutely insane.  Did you know that?”

“Um,” says Tim.  And he can’t think of a witty retort so he just grabs Kon’s shirt and pulls him back down for another kiss.

(And it doesn’t strike him as odd or unexpected or weird.  It’s just the way things are.  Tim and Kon are teammates, friends, a package deal.  Kissing is just the next step, and Tim is very much okay with that.)

“I thought you were mad at me,” Kon says, his forehead touching Tim’s, his hands reaching for Tim’s.  “Every time I tried to talk to you, you’d get this weird look on your face and it freaked me out a lot.”

“I told you,” Tim mumbles. “Shirts.”

“Dude,” Kon sighs. “ Dude .”

 “Yeah.”

“Ma makes ‘em for me.”

“Oh my God.”

“She buys black tees in bulk and then presses on the shields.”

Oh my God .”

“Are you mad now?”

“Kiss me again and I just might change my mind.”

 

[ [5:27]] cerealkiller: wait but if u guys just got together this weekend then what the hell was with the shirts

[[5:27]] skatebird: ???  it was a totally different thing

[[5:28]] cerealkiller: timmy what the fuck

[[5:28]] cerealkiller: babs wants u to kno that she still loves u

[[5:28]] cerealkiller: i think ur a weird shirt-thief and u should be locked up probably

[[5:29]] skatebird: i gave most of the shirts back i’m a reformed shirt thief

[[5:29]] cerealkiller: u been talkin to crazy quilt

[[5:30]] skatebird: i’m calling kon now i’m gonna ask him to fight you

[[5:30]] cerealkiller: that’s ok bruce gave us all kryptonite rings after he found the shirts

[[5:31]] skatebird: WHAT THE HELL

[[5:31]] cerealkiller: yeah he told us that we gotta ‘keep an eye on things’

[[5:31]] cerealkiller: he asked babs if she could get the birds to relocate to kansas to spy on conner 24/7 lol

[[5:32]] skatebird: i hate you guys

[[5:32]] cerealkiller: lol this is probably the greatest thing that has ever happened to me

[[5:33]] skatebird: i hope babs hit you for that one

[[5:33]] cerealkiller: she did smh :(

 

“Just so you know,” Tim says. “My family has, um, orders to fight you on sight.”

Kon snorts, almost upending the bowl of popcorn and spilling it to the floor.  He’s sprawled out on the couch, his head resting on Tim’s leg.  The opening sequence for Wendy the Werewolf plays on the TV, Cassie is in her room, and Bart is locked in the pantry.  So hopefully they’ll get a couple minutes of peace.

“I mean, that was kind of the same back when we were just friends, yeah?” Kon says, still smiling.

Tim considers this for a moment.  “Yeah, probably.”

“Nothing’s changed then,” Conner beams up at him.

And Tim can’t help but smile back.  “Nothing’s changed,” he echoes, cording his fingers through Kon’s hair.