The Amazing Adventures of Bart Allen at College
The Garricks help him carry his baggage into his new dorm room, pat him awkwardly on the shoulder and tell him to be careful ("it'll be a lot easier if you just make a rule, 'no powers on campus'") and have fun. He hugs them both and promises to be good, and then he is blessedly, remarkably alone.
He unpacks his backpack first, trying to keep to 'normal speed'. Laptop, mouse, keyboard, iPod, speakers, phone, meal cards and in a way he can hardly believe that he is at college. The drawers in the desk are covered with graffiti, signatures dating from as far back as the 80s. Positively ancient.
He puts the copy of Now We Are Six Kon gave him for his birthday on the bookshelf, on the opposite side to all the text books (not that he'll need them, he's already memorised them because he got bored while they were driving back from the bookshop) and dumps the contents of his suitcase haphazardly in the closet.
The bed needs making, but he's too on-edge to do it now. He bounces lightly on the mattress and tries to decide what kind of posters to put on the wall.
He can hear the distant murmur of voices, or possibly a television, and goes to investigate.
There are two people in the lounge at the far end of the hall, a boy and a girl. The girl gets up with a friendly smile as he walks in. "Hi! I'm Emily, your RA."
"Hi," says Bart. "I'm Bart Allen."
"Chad," says the boy, with a little half wave. He has really amazing hair, a giant mess of curls.
"So where are you from, Bart?" asks Emily.
"Keystone City," says Bart, and it's not even a lie this time.
"Hey, cool," says Chad. "Ever met the Flash?"
Bart is struck by a wave of nostalgia for Manchester like he hasn't felt in decades (or possibly years, maybe months, it can be hard to tell sometimes). He thinks about about what Preston is doing (film school) and wishes he could just zip over and say hi (but Secret Identity, so he can't). He thinks maybe he'll send an email when he gets back to his room.
"Yeah, but we don't get along," says Bart.
Chad laughs and Bart grins back, because somehow it's actually funny when they don't believe him this way.
"Well, the only superheroes you'll get around here are the Campus Heroes," says Emily, cheerfully.
"What? Who are they?" asks Bart, eagerly.
Emily scoops a pamphlet from the table by the payphone and hands it to him. "We're the student team campaigning for better campus security," she explains. "We run self defence courses and stuff."
Bart takes the pamphlet, which has an amateur cartoon of a group of teenagers in really bad superhero uniforms (and he would know) on the front. "Oh," he says.
"You should come along," she tells him.
Bart stares at her blankly.
It's a Sunday, he had to leave the Tower early to move in to his dorm. So far it doesn't really measure up.
After dinner, Emily forces them all into the common room and gives them a run down on the rules and guidelines ("dorm mates don't let dorm mates date dorm mates") and various other "housekeeping" items.
"So now we'll go around the circle and you can all tell us your name, and something really interesting about yourself," said Emily, cheerfully. "I'll start. I'm Emily, which you all know, and I'm a black belt in karate."
"I'm Meg," says the next girl, "and I'm a devoted knitter." She gives them all a look that dares them to say anything about it. Nobody does.
The boy to her left introduces himself as Rodney and explains that he is fatally allergic to citrus.
Bart stops really paying attention after the third introduction. Chad nudges him when his turn comes up, after sharing his own story about once being in a musical despite not being able to dance.
"I'm Bart," he says, and tries to think of the least interesting thing about himself, "and I have a photographic memory."
"I thought that didn't really exist," says one of the other girls.
Bart blinks at her. "Well, my memory's really good, anyway?" he says. "I could recite my 11th grade physics textbook if you like."
Snickers go around the circle. "Next?" says Emily.
"I'm Mizuki," says the girl, "and I once cut my hair off and enrolled in an all boys school in Japan. I was there for a couple of years before they found me out and sent me home."
Bemused silence fills the room.
"Seriously?" says Chad.
She grins at him. "Yep!"
She blushes a little and makes a dismissive gesture. "It seemed like a good idea at the time?"
Emily clears her throat, and the circle is introduced to Sophie (her hobby is making hats) and Bernard (something about Gotham and the earthquake) and three others while Bart thinks about the last time he went to Japan. There'd been a giant monster and an evil scientist, and they'd collaborated with a team of fighters with coloured armour. It was fun.
"All right," says Emily, and Bart realises they've finished going around the circle. "Now I'm going to give you a topic, and you have to tell me your favourite. Like, if I say fruit you say bananas or apples or whatever."
They stare at her blankly.
"We'll start with superheroes," she continues. "So, who's your favourite Teen Titan, Gwen? Mine is Superboy."
"Robin," says Gwen, promptly.
Bart somehow manages to avoid sighing out loud.
He keeps a mental tally as they go around: Robin is leading the girls in a long way, although there are a few Superboys and Wonder Girls. The boys have a definite inclination towards Starfire, but Superboy has a small following. Nobody seems to care about Kid Flash.
"Bart?" says Emily.
He takes a few milliseconds of time to think about it. Choosing between Robin and Kon is impossible; he thinks it'd probably be too arrogant to choose himself; he still doesn't feel close enough to the older titans to be able to say that they're his favourite, even if it would be a lie; which only leaves one, really. "Ca- Wonder Girl," he says. Wonder Girl's identity might not be so secret anymore, but it's probably still too familiar to call her by her first name.
"Dude, really?" says Chad.
"Yeah," says Bart. "She's cute?" he offers uncomfortably.
"Starfire, man!" says a boy a few seats down.
"Nah, Starfire's too alien," says another guy. "Wonder Girl, she's human. Accessible. I totally get it."
Emily clears her throat. "Mizuki?"
"Um," says Mizuki. "I don't really know the Teen Titans? I mean, I've heard of them but I don't actually know who they are."
Emily gasps dramatically. "You don't know the Teen Titans?" She starts to explain, with the rest of the group chiming in to disagree or provide additional information.
"There's Robin, he's Batman's sidekick? He's really cool."
"So cool," one of the other girls agrees.
Bart tries not to fidget and wonders whether Robin had to sit through this when he started college, and tries to guess which Titan Robi would have said was his own favourite.
They cover Superboy, Starfire and Wonder Girl while Bart's thoughts drift to speculating about what Robin might be doing, where he might be living (because he still refuses to tell them anything about his Real Life) and whether he would be sympathetic if Bart told him about this. He thinks Kon would probably laugh a lot.
"Let's see, Kid Flash, his powers are... running really fast? I think he can run around the world in thirty seconds or something." Emily waves a hand in the air vaguely. Bart bites his tongue so that he doesn't correct her. (He can run around the world three times in thirty seconds, thank you very much.)
"That's pretty cool," says Mizuki.
"Really? I always thought that was kinda lame, I mean, what good is running really fast? They have Superboy, he can do anything Superman can, right?"
"Kid Flash can run faster than Superman," Bart blurts out. He can certainly run faster than Kon, anyway, who's only had superspeed for three months and can't even break the sound barrier consistently.
"He can't fly, though," says the other guy.
Bart wants to protest some more, but his inner Robin (at some point his inner Max was replaced by his inner Robin - he thinks it's best not to think about that too hard) is telling him that discretion is the better part of valour and he decides to just let it go.
They move on to talking about Cyborg, and Bart's thoughts drift to the absolutely awesome new Gamestation title they'd had at the Tower last weekend and how unfair it was that the rest of the Titans refused to play him at video games any more.
Mizuki thinks for a moment when they've finished and declares that she still likes the sound of Kid Flash. Bart can't help beaming at her.
Another Robin and a Starfire complete the circle. "Next up is ice cream flavours," says Emily.
"Double chocolate commotion," Bart says promptly. "No wait, caramel vanilla supreme. No, peanut butter chocosplosion. No..."
"Just one is fine," says Emily, but she's smiling at him. "Chad?"
Paying attention in class is no easier at college than it was in high school, but at least nobody calls him on it here.
Bart's immediate dorm neighbour is a well-dressed boy named Bernard, from Gotham City. Bernard turns out to be in almost all of Bart's classes, so he often finds himself following Bernard around campus and the surrounding areas.
Bernard walks too slowly.
On the third day of classes, Bernard pulls him aside after a particularly boring lecture on bioinformatics.
"Hey, you're in my dorm, right? Bart, from Keystone."
Bart nods warily.
"You don't seem to know anyone here, but don't worry, I'm on it." Bernard slings an arm over Bart's shoulders. "Stick with me and I'll introduce you to everyone worth knowing in this city."
"Uh," says Bart. "Thanks?"
Bernard lets him go and nods in satisfaction. "Right answer, kid."
"I thought you were from Gotham," Bart comments in confusion. "How do you know people here?"
Bernard taps his own nose. "It's my superpower."
Bart blinks. "You have a superpower?"
"Absolutely! It's making friends. I am the absolute master." Bernard slaps him on the back.
Bart walks back to his dorm, feeling bemused.
The dorm is empty of people, so he retreats to his room. He drops his bag on the floor of the room and sits on the bed, kicking his shoes off so he can put his feet on the covers.
Dormitories are weird. He wishes he could have had a house of his own like Cissie and Greta, but there's no way he could have afforded it, even if the JLA is going to start paying them.
He stares at the ceiling for a moment, wondering what Cissie and Greta's house would be like, when he realises he could just go there and find out.
Bart almost takes his desk apart sorting through the piles of papers that should include a letter from Greta. When he finds it, he memorises the address and starts running.
Cissie and Greta have a doorbell, which he pokes a few times until the door opens.
"Bart!" shrieks Greta, and wraps him up in a hug.
Bart returns the hug and follows Greta through the house. "Cissie, look, Bart is here."
Cissie also hugs him, although a little more sedately.
"So this is your house? Do I get a tour? How many rooms does it have? Do you have a pool?"
"A pool?" says Cissie.
Greta tugs Bart on the arm and shows him around the house. It's a duplex with three bedrooms and two bathrooms and a decent-sized living area .
"Two bathrooms? You're lucky. I'm in a dorm and we have half as many bathrooms as residents. Hey, how come you guys didn't get a dorm? You coulda shared a room and then you wouldn't have to do your own cooking."
"Because certain friends of ours are very bad at keeping secrets and very fond of dropping in unannounced," says Cissie archly.
Bart is examining their collection of games. "Really? Who?"
There's silence for a moment, then Cissie starts laughing.
Greta looks between them, blinking. "What did I miss? Hey, what's the joke?"
After their class on Mid-20th Century American Literature finishes, Bernard talks him into coming along to a cafe halfway across town to because it's the only place in the city that has the kind of almond syrup he likes and Bart tunes out about halfway through but agrees to come along. Bernard has expressed a desire to try every coffee source in the entire city at least once.
"Hey, there's Tim," says Bernard, as they step into the cafe.
Bart snaps to attention, and he's never more astonished in his life to see that it actually is Tim - his Tim, Robin-Tim.
"Hey, Tim," says Bernard. "Hi, mind if we sit here?"
Robin greets Bernard in surprise and gives him a friendly smile. His expression is carefully neutral when he looks at Bart.
"Tim, this is my dorm mate Bart."
"We've met," says Bart happily.
Robin looks surprised, but Bart knows he's just playing along. "Yeah, don't you remember? We were on a ski trip together once. We got lost in the snow."
Robin winces slightly, then nods. "Oh, yes, that. Good to see you again."
Bart grins happily.
"Lost in the snow?" says Bernard incredulously.
"There was a snowstorm," Robin explains. "We were very lucky to find shelter to wait it out."
Bernard still looks a little taken-aback. "And you haven't seen each other until now? Crazy."
"Cool coincidence, huh." Bart can't seem to stop grinning.
Bernard mutters something about checking out the menu and wanders over to the front counter, leaving Bart sitting in the booth opposite Robin.
"Nice save," says Robin.
"It wasn't a save, I was planning that all along," says Bart. "It's stupid to pretend not to know you when we have met before."
Robin is spared replying by Bernard's return. "I'm getting coffee, dude, you want anything?"
"Coffee sounds good," says Bart.
"No way am I letting you have caffeine, man. I'll get you a hot chocolate." Bernard waves, and walks back to the counter.
Bart glances at Robin, who looks like he's trying to hide a smile. "It's not like it affects me anyway," he mutters.
"Under the circumstances I wouldn't let you have caffeine either," Robin says blandly.
"So what are you doing here? Are you studying here? At Clayton Linburgh? How do you know Bernard? He was in Gotham, you must have gone to school together right?"
Robin's mouth quirks up in the beginning of a smile. "Yes, I'm at college here, no, I'm not going to Clayton Linburgh College, yes I went to school with Bernard. Before the earthquake." He takes a sip of his drink.
Bart nods in understanding. "Where are you studying?" He pauses for a fraction of a second. "Can I ask that?" he adds in a low voice.
Robin is starting to look a little impatient. "Like you said, it's silly to pretend we don't know each other," he replies in an even quieter voice. "I'm at Newcastle City Tech," he says, louder. "Information Technology and software engineering."
"Cool," says Bart. "I've only just started so I don't know what my major will be yet but I'm doing all the introductory courses so I guess I'll have a better idea later."
Bernard returns carrying two drinks and drops into the seat next to Bart.
"You owe me a reply on NameBook," Bernard says to Robin. "Pretty mad coincidence seeing you here."
The hot chocolate is overly-sweet and piled high with whipped cream. Bart digs into it with relish.
"Sorry," says Robin. "I'm kind of busy."
"Yeah, you don't update much."
"Oh hey, I should add you on NameBook," says Bernard, turning his attention back to Bart.
Bart blinks. "I'm not..."
"I'll get you set up on it," says Bernard. "Leave it to me."
Bart gives Robin a look, and notices him with a hand over his month, apparently hiding laughter. He wonders if Bernard is like this all the time.
Bart takes the train back to college, Bernard having convinced Robin he should join him for an evening of catching up.
Bernard seems to be good at convincing people.
The dorms are on the other side of campus and the shuttle buses run infrequently at night (every fifteen minutes, which is a ridiculously long time to wait) so he shoulders his backpack and starts the long trek across campus.
"No powers on campus" is a stupid rule. He's thinking about breaking it (in the first week - but seven days is a pretty good run, isn't it? and surely it doesn't count if there's nobody around?) when he hears the crunch of footsteps on the gravel behind him.
It's moments like these that Bart second-guesses his reaction time. He shouldn't react too quickly or they'll get suspicious, but if he reacts too slowly they think he's stupid and--
Bart is shoved from behind and picked up by his shirt front.
"Your wallet," snaps his attacker.
"Uh," says Bart. He racks his brains for what he's supposed to do in this situation. Is he just supposed to let himself be mugged? Try to struggle free and run away? What would Robin do?
Robin probably would let himself get mugged, thinks Bart resentfully.
"I don't have anything--"
The man shakes him again. "Your wallet, kid," he insists.
Bart struggles a little - not too much, not too quickly, which is hard. He wonders if he looks scared. He should be scared in this situation, right? This secret-identity thing is a total pain.
"I--," Bart tries again.
He hears shouts from behind and a rush of footsteps behind him. His attacker swears and tosses Bart aside before heading off at a run.
Two of the newcomers help Bart off the ground while the third makes a few abortive steps in Bart's attacker's direction.
"Are you okay?"
Bart dusts himself off. "I'm fine, thanks." He blinks. His three rescuers are all dressed in white hoodies and caps with "Campus Heroes" printed on them. One of them is familiar. "Emily?"
"We're the Campus Heroes," explains Emily, as she escorts him back to the dorm. "We patrol the campus grounds at night. Campus security is underfunded and don't have the resources to keep the campus safe so we volunteers took matters into our own hands."
"Oh," says Bart. "That's good of you," he adds weakly.
"We also run self-defence training," says Emily. "I really think you should come along."
Bart rubs his hand on the back of his head. "I don't think I need--"
Emily stops dead. "Don't risk your own safety just because you're embarrassed! What's more important than your life? Bart, you have to come. What if next time we aren't around to help you?"
"I would have been okay," says Bart.
Emily seems dubious. "I'm serious, Bart. Tuesdays and Fridays in the common lunch hour, on the Oak Lawn. You should come."
"I'll think about it."
When Bart arrives at the Tower on Friday night, Cassie is already there, lying on the sofa with a book spread open on her chest.
"Hi Bart," she says cheerfully, raising her hand to wave at him. "How was the first week of college?"
"I almost got mugged," says Bart. "Other than that, good."
She raises her eyebrows.
"I got rescued by a group who call themselves the Campus Heroes."
"Are they meta-humans? I've never heard of them." Cassie looks puzzled.
Bart shakes his head. "Just ordinary college students. They want me to go to self-defence classes."
"You should go," says Robin.
Bart and Cassie both jump, but it's no use complaining. Making no noise when he walks into the room is some kind of essential part of Robin-ness.
"I dunno, what's the point?" says Bart. "I'm not going to learn anything new from it."
"You could learn to slow down," mutters Cassie.
"It's networking with your fellow students," explains Robin. "Getting to know them, keeping an ear out for trouble spots. By spending time with large groups you can be prepared for any situations that might arise."
"Hmm," says Bart.
"Or you could make friends," says Cassie pointedly.
"Or that," says Robin mildly.
"Hey guys," says Kon, sauntering into the room dumping his duffel bag on the ground with a thump. "What's up?"
Cassie's eyes brighten and she sits up. Kon breaks into a wide grin and launches himself over the back of the sofa to sit next to her.
Bart rolls his eyes and heads over to the monitors. He feels, more than sees, Robin follow him and stand at his elbow.
"I suppose you don't have these problems," mutters Bart.
"I'm in the martial arts club," says Robin blandly. "I have to pretend to be an amateur."
Bart makes a face.
"It teaches you control. Patience."
Sometimes Bart can't tell if Robin is making a joke or not. "They said they patrol the campus grounds at night looking for trouble. Isn't that dangerous?"
Robin raises an eyebrow and starts poking at the monitors. "You don't need superpowers to be a hero," he says pointedly. "Sometimes you just need to be in the right place at the right time."
"Yeah, but... I mean, you were trained by Batman."
Robin's lips twitch. "Point. Well, now you have an even better reason to go to the classes."
One of the monitors beeps, and a few seconds later a news broadcast starts blaring through the big screen.
Emily nags him about the self-defence classes again when he sees her on Sunday night, and he decides it can't hurt to go just the once.
It's a small group, maybe fifteen or so students. There's only one other newcomer, a girl named G, and they are quickly sorted to the side while everybody else starts doing warmup exercises. G keeps compulsively pushing her hair behind her ears and tapping her foot nervously. Next to her Bart feels almost still.
A tall girl plants herself in front of them. "Hi. I'm Corrine, and I take the beginner's course here. There'll be three classes covering the essentials of self-defence. After that you can join the main group."
G scuffs her left foot, but Corrine continues without a pause.
"Now, I know you're probably raring to go learn some punches, but I'm going to start you off with some basic techniques to reduce your chance of becoming a target. However, I want you to remember that no matter what happens, it is not your fault if you get attacked and you should never feel afraid to talk to somebody about it." Corrine clears her throat before continuing. "First off, be aware of your surroundings. If you're waiting alone, don't read a book or fiddle with your phone. Keep looking around. If somebody approaches you, make it clear that you've noticed them."
Bart shifts his weight and tries to keep his feet and hands still. The message is good, but he is starting to suspect Corrine is very fond of the sound of her own voice.
"If you have to travel at night, try to avoid doing it alone. Make certain somebody knows where you are and what time you're expected to reach your destination. If you must walk alone, don't walk with headphones on. Keep looking around and watch for suspicious activity." She smiles at them. "I'm going to give you both some cards for campus security, you should try to keep one in your purse at all times. If you're on campus, you can call for security to give you an escort - just make certain you're somewhere safe while you're waiting for them to arrive!"
True to her word, she hands Bart and G a small pile of cards each.
"And now we reach the point of these sessions - making sure that if you do get attacked, you're not completely helpless! We're going to teach you how to help yourself with the knowledge and abilities you already have." She gives them another self-confident smile. "Remember, this isn't about teaching you how to fight. This is teaching you how to disable a person so that you can run away.
"In close quarters, elbows are a good choice. You can strike both backwards and forwards." Corrine demonstrates with a couple of elbow swings. "If you need more strength, you can assist the strike like this." She grasps her fist with her hand and thrusts with her entire torso. "Aim for the solar plexus or the head."
Bart's mind starts wandering as Corrine continues in this vein. Every time she tells him what he could do, he can't help mentally adding "or, I could just vibrate and run away". He tries to pay attention on the off-chance that he ever finds himself fighting another speedster, but the wall of words is almost impenetrable.
Corrine covers kicking ("Don't aim too high! If your attacker grabs your leg you're in trouble!"), other uses of the foot ("Aim for the instep, it's extremely painful") and hands ("Gouge the eyes, pull the hair, anything you can reach") while he wonders if Robin had to go through this.
"Of course, none of this is any use at all if you don't have the strength and confidence to pull it off. And that's why you're here." She claps her hands together and G jumps. "You've probably heard before that martial arts is useless on the streets."
Bart has seen Robin do things with martial arts that make him doubt Robin's claims to not non-meta-human status and has trouble keeping back a derisive snort.
"To a certain degree it's true that an attacker is never going to throw a textbook karate punch, however that doesn't make it useless! You'll have strength, you'll have balance and you'll have the confidence to use it."
Bart perks up. Maybe he'll be able to move soon. Martial arts sounds promising.
"However, as you undoubtedly already know, before starting any physical activity it's important to stretch."
Bart bites back a groan.
"...and then we punched the air and jogged on the spot and did star jumps and that was it." Bart rolls his eyes hard.
"It's all important information," Carol points out.
"Yes, but I already know all that! Every self-defense book on the planet has all that stuff in it." He brightens. "But we're going to be practicing escaping from grabs on Friday, that could be more interesting."
Carol hums noncommittally. "So why are you going to this course again? I think I missed that part of the story."
"Secret identity," says Bart gloomily. "Emily was really insistent."
Carol pats him on the shoulder. "Speaking of which, Terry is due here in five minutes and if you don't have an explanation for how you're in my dorm room despite supposedly being at school on the other side of the country..."
Bart groans. "Five minutes?"
"Well, if somebody had called first I could have informed you of this beforehand." Carol does not look impressed.
"I hate phones," mutters Bart. "It's quicker for me to run here than it is waiting for the call to connect."
Carol sighs loudly, but her eyes look amused. "Nonetheless."
"You're going to have to introduce me someday. What if he's another Jeff Weeber?" Bart makes a disgusted face.
"Oh, come on! I was fifteen! My taste has improved since then."
"Yeah? So he's not a jock?"
"Hockey," mutters Carol. She folds her arms defensively.
Carol is saved from Bart's response by a knock on the door.
"OK, shoo," she says, making the appropriate motions with her hands. "I'll call you tomorrow night, okay?"
Bart sneaks in a hug before vibrating through the wall of her room and out into open air.
For lack of any better options, he runs to Smallville and presents himself at the Kents' door. "Oh," says Mrs Kent, when she opens the door. "I'm afraid Connor isn't here."
"Oh. Do you know where he is?"
"He's taken an apartment in the city," says Mrs Kent. "Won't you come in and have some pie while I look up the address?"
Bart is starving, which is usually a sign he's been speeding too much. "Yes, please." He follows Mrs Kent into the kitchen and lets her feed him pie.
Two slices of pie later, Bart is speeding to Metropolis, Kon's address clutched tightly in one hand.
He finds the apartment by trial and error and remembers to knock. He waits by the door for what feels like hours, until he's lost track of time and he has no idea if he's allowed to knock again or not or whether it means Kon isn't home and it'll probably be quicker to just do a recon on the apartment to make sure.
Kon and Cassie are making out on the sofa and Bart stumbles to a halt in the middle of what passes for a lounge in the tiny apartment.
The pair break apart and into identical blushes. "Haven't you heard of knocking?" snaps Cassie.
"I did," Bart points out. "I thought Superman and Wonder Woman said..." It's not like this is the first time he's interrupted them (a tendency to speed around the Tower leads to embarrassing interruptions far more frequently than any of them would like) but it's been bothering him since the first time.
"We're eighteen." Pause. "Well, for all intents and purposes."
"At any rate, it's none of their business," Cassie finishes for Kon.
"Cool," says Bart agreeably. He looks around the room. The walls are bare and the room sparsely furnished. "Hey, nice place."
"Bart, what are you doing here?"
Bart flops down on the single armchair in the room. "College is boring. My classes finished at four and there was nobody in the dorms and I've already memorised all my class readings and there's no one in the Tower and Carol is busy with her boyfriend and--."
"Nice to know I'm so high up on your list," mutters Kon.
Bart stops. "You know that's not what I mean."
Cassie looks thoughtful. "What time does dinner start at your dorm? You should try to be back for that. It's a great time to get to know your suite-mates."
Bart shrugs. "Six, maybe?" He mentally leafs through his orientation booklet. "Five thirty."
"And it's just after five now. You should try to get there early so you get the best food." Cassie winks at him. "Trust me, I went to boarding school."
Bart perks up. "I get you."
"Also, how are you going to pick up hot college chicks if you're never around to meet them?" Kon chimes in.
Cassie elbows Kon in the side and he protests with a yelp.
Bart grins at them. "Thanks, guys."
Cassie gives him a little wave and settles back against Kon's side. "You're welcome. But next time, knock."
"Knock, phone first... Why doesn't anybody want me to be impulsive anymore?"
"That was a joke, wasn't it?" Kon is saying as Bart speeds out of the room. "Please tell me that was a joke."
When Bart walks into his dorm suite a few minutes later (having walked from the street to his dorm), Bernard raises a hand from his seat on one of the sofas in the television alcove. Chad and Sophie are sitting on the other sofa, Sophie busily sewing something, needle flicking in and out along a stretch of blue fabric. Chad is watching some kind of sport on the television.
"Yo. Where've you been? I looked for you after class."
"I went to the library," Bart lies.
"Well, you missed the best macchiato I've had this side of the river," says Bernard. He types into his laptop for a moment, then looks up again.
"Sorry," says Bart.
Bart sits on the sofa next to Bernard and jiggles his knee impatiently until Sophie snaps at him to stop fidgeting.
Bernard is fiddling with his cellphone when they get out of class. "Hey, Tim's on campus right now."
Bart hesitates for a micro-second. "Great."
"We're going to grab lunch together. You should come."
"Oh," says Bart. "No, don't you guys have a lot of catching up to do?"
Bernard makes a dismissive gesture. "What, and give up my chance to introduce you to high society? His family's filthy-rich, you know. Come along, it'll be fun."
Bart trails along behind him and hopes he isn't breaking some kind of unspoken rule of Secret Identities.
They meet outside the cafeteria and Robin doesn't even blink when he sees Bart. Robin is a cagey little bird, though, Bart can't tell what he's thinking even on a good day.
Bart collects a plate of nachos and a burger and a onion rings and a bag of chips. He's finished in the line first somehow (maybe speed is contagious?) and snags a table, zipping in just as the previous occupants are leaving. His bottle of cola teeters precariously as he slides the tray onto the table.
He's halfway through the burger when Robin arrives, carefully placing his tray next to Bart's. Bernard is stuck in the line of doom at the Japanese stall and giving them occasional plaintive looks.
Bart picks through his onion rings uncomfortably. "Um. R- Tim. You don't mind that I came along, do you?"
Robin glances around and fixes Bart with a glare. "It's Tim. Don't forget."
He supposes it was a bit much to hope that Tim might have missed that slip. He nods hurriedly. "I know, I know. It's habit."
"In answer to your question, it's fine," Robin - Tim - continues in a low voice. "If you think about it we can work this into a good system. We can cover for each other."
"Oh," says Bart, a little disappointed. "I suppose."
Tim looks somewhat chagrined. "And... It's good to have someone that understands. I mean, out of costume. Being Tim Drake is a bit..." He breaks off quickly as Bernard escapes from the line and fights his way to their table.
"Hey guys," says Bernard. His bottle of diet soda does topple over and is on a collision course with the tiled floor of the cafeteria when Bart catches it.
"Woah." Bernard sounds impressed. "Nice catch."
Bart stands the bottle on the table again and wipes his hands on his jeans. "Thanks."
"You must have quick reflexes." Tim looks a little like he'd rather be beating his head against the wall.
Bernard didn't see a thing. Robin needs to be less paranoid. Bart returns to his food and deliberately doesn't move an inch when Tim knocks his own cellphone off the table three minutes later.
Tim picks up the phone and pokes at it anxiously.
"Is it okay?" asks Bernard.
Tim turns it over a few times. "A few scratches. Seems to be working, though." He fixes his gaze on Bart. "Hey, you should give me your number."
Bart blinks. He has a cellphone somewhere in the depths of his room. He thinks the battery may be flat. "I forgot my phone."
"And you say you have a perfect memory." Bernard smirks.
"I have a photographic memory," Bart corrects him. "It's not the same thing."
"Well, do you remember your number?" prompts Tim.
Bart thinks quickly and then recites the number from the memory of the little card he was given along with the phone.
Tim keys the number into his phone and then slips it into his pocket. "I've texted you my number."
"Thanks." Bart shifts uncomfortably.
Bernard is watching them with an unusually thoughtful expression.
"Hey, you guys don't mind if we join you, do you?"
Bart looks up to see Sophie dragging a protesting Mizuki to their table.
Tim has a demure, welcoming smile pasted on. "No, go right ahead."
Sophie draws herself up, looking a tiny bit offended. "We're not just strangers, we share a dorm with these two." She indicates Bart and Bernard with a nod.
Bernard introduces the girls to Tim hurriedly. "I went to high school with Tim."
Bart loses the thread of the conversation and thinks about having somebody who understands. Somebody he won't have to make excuses to when he has to run out in the middle of a movie; someone who isn't going to make a big deal of it if he hasn't slept all night; someone who won't ask what he did on the weekend or give him invitations to parties he has to turn down.
When Bart gets back to his dorm and locates his phone, he finds a text message from an unknown number.
He saves it to his address book carefully and labels it Tim Drake.
The second self-defence session is an utter disaster.
The grabbing part of the lesson is passable - Corrine has him grab G around the waist, while G demonstrates how she could break out (by using her elbows or her feet). Corrine won't settle for half-hearted touches and insists on full-blown nudges. "Do it with confidence!" she insists.
Fortunately any bruises Bart may gain during the process heal quickly enough that he barely notices them.
When they swap places, things get a little tricky. Trying to find a human speed that doesn't look suspicious with enough oomph to make Corrine happy but not risk causing G bruises gives Bart a splitting headache.
Once he has the techniques refined to a level that satisfies Corrine, she claps her hands together and announces that she's moving them on. "Remember what I said about building your confidence and muscle-tone? We're going to do that through practicing various martial arts routines."
Corrine runs them through some punches and blocking techniques, grabbing Emily away from her own students a couple of times in order to help her demonstrate.
"The idea is, if somebody throws a punch at you, you need to be able to absorb the force or deflect it so that it doesn't cause you injury." Corrine bounces lightly on the balls of her feet. "So your first move is to duck." She grins as if she's made a joke.
"First, it's important that you're able to keep your balance, so you should try to lower your centre of gravity. Bend your knees slightly and keep your weight on the balls of your feet." She looks at Bart and G pointedly until they both crouch. "That's good. It's very important that you don't lose your balance when ducking - it would be disastrous to fall over and make yourself even more vulnerable."
Bart silently wishes her to get to the point.
"Now, when someone throws a straight punch at you you should lean towards the inside of the attacker's arm." Corrine demonstrates on her own, then fetches one of the other volunteers to assist her.
It all goes well until she has G and Bart practice against each other.
If Bart thought it was hard to pull off a convincing escape from a stationary target, it's nothing compared to trying to match his speed to another person's.
He gets distracted waiting for her punches to come closer and either has to move at inhuman speed to deflect her, or take the punch. When he tries to pay closer attention, he reacts too quickly and stops her before she comes anywhere near him - much to both G and Corrine's surprise.
If his metabolism didn't take care of it for him, Bart strongly suspects he would have two black eyes and various other bruises by the end of the first sparring session.
"OK, swap positions!"
"And then she clocked me in the face."
Cassie is clearly trying not to laugh, without much success.
"It's not funny," Bart protests. "Corrine had this really horrible expression. She thinks I'm completely useless."
"It really kind of is," says Cassie. Kon nods in agreement.
"Thanks for the support, guys."
Robin walks into the room and stands in the shadow of the lamp for a moment, the light doing interesting things with his cheekbones. With his mask on, it's easy to draw the distinction between Tim Drake and Robin.
"Stop posing and sit down," says Cassie.
"I need you to teach me martial arts," says Bart.
Robin drops onto the ground in a cross-legged position. "What kind?"
"Anything," says Bart glumly. "I just need to practice moving at human speed."
"Good luck with that. We've been trying to teach you for years." Cassie's fond smile kind of takes the sting out of it.
Bart rolls his eyes skyward. "It was never important before."
Robin stands again in one fluid motion. "OK. You want to try it now?"
Bart shrugs. "Sure."
He follows Robin to the practice rooms, explaining what Corrine had been trying to teach them and exactly where he was going wrong with it.
Robin takes off his mask and cape and lays down some mats in the practice room. "Can you show me how you were standing?" he asks, standing in the middle of the mat, flat-footed.
Bart demonstrates, and walks Tim through the routine Corrine was teaching them.
Tim has a little worry line on his forehead. "This would never work in real life."
"She said that. It's to teach us confidence and build up muscle strength," Bart recites.
Tim nods. "So you were having problems blocking?"
"I also punch too fast," mutters Bart. "Or sometimes too slow. My timing is bad."
Tim has that little half-amused smile again. "OK. So punch me."
Bart throws a punch, and Tim winces. "What?"
"Your posture..." He moves into Bart's personal space and readjusts his right arm. "You need to angle this out more. And your legs should be more like this."
Bart tries again. Tim looks a little less pained and starts adjusting Bart's limbs again. "You realise that they're probably not even going to notice."
"I'd know," says Tim. "Again."
They practice until Bart is throwing punches that meet Tim's overly-exacting standards. In the process Bart thinks he's even managed to throwing them at human speed.
Tim takes a position in Bart's line of attack and runs through the blocking routine with him. It's much more rhythmic now than it was with G, almost relaxing. Tim doesn't hesitate, and he moves with confidence and elegance.
They swap positions, and Tim spends another long period of time readjusting Bart's limbs with various pained expressions.
Matching his speed to Tim's starts to come naturally after the twentieth iteration. He finds the rhythm of it, stepping forward and aside, ducking and twisting when Tim insists that he can't use the same technique every time.
The scuff of someone's foot at the door breaks them out of their concentration. "Are you two having fun?" Cassie's eyebrows are raised.
Tim wipes his forehead. "Something like that."
"Well, if you don't mind taking a break, I wouldn't mind a hand with the Tower alert system..."
Tim bows to Bart and heads to the side of the room to towel himself off.
"Thanks," Bart calls after him.
He repeats the routine on his own a couple of times before giving up and running around the world twice.
He feels unsettled. He thought he'd done well - or at least, managed to make a reasonable facsimile of doing well - but there was something... off... about the whole thing.
It was probably just that Robin knows what he's doing better than Corrine (and poor G). He's no expert on the subject, but assuming Robin is better at things just comes naturally by now.
Bernard informs him that Tim is on campus again on Monday morning, and when Bart checks his cellphone he discovers a text message from Tim saying he'll be dropping by to return the book he borrowed last week at lunchtime.
"Don't you like Tim?" asks Bernard curiously. "You're always making this weird face when I bring him up."
"What? No!" says Bart hurriedly. "Tim's really cool."
Bernard smirks a little. "Oh, is that how it is?"
Bart stares back at him, puzzled.
Bernard claps him on the back. "Don't worry, I'm not going to make trouble for you over it."
Bart keeps running the conversation over in his head during Introduction to Computing that morning, wondering what Bernard was implying.
He's still mulling it over at lunch.
Tim is late, and Bart starts worrying that some disaster happened and he didn't hear about it because he left his communicator in his room because he wasn't sure how to hide it and his phone is flat.
Bernard doesn't seem worried. He's talking about some girl in one of his classes and some guy he's doing an assignment with who is a member of Sigma Delta Pi, whatever that is.
Tim shows up almost a quarter of an hour late, rubbing his hand through his hair and confessing in embarrassed tones that he got caught up in a book.
Bart eyes him suspiciously, but Tim isn't meeting his eyes.
Bernard rolls his eyes and mutters something about Tim being a giant geek under his breath, but he sounds fond.
"So lunch," says Tim.
They eat in the international food court. Bart finds something particularly dismal about international food courts, when he could easily make the journey across the world to India or China or Mexico in less time that it is taking in this insanely long line.
Tim is behind him in the line and must sense Bart's frustration because he starts talking about the cultural significance of American Chinese cuisine.
"It's pink," says Bart, indicating the sweet and sour pig-product steaming in the bain marie.
Tim regards it thoughtfully for a moment. "Okay, you're right, that's a travesty."
That said, Bart's curry is tasty enough, the burrito is tolerable and the wonton soup actually edible.
"How is it that you get three times as much food as I do and yet you manage to finish before me?" asks Bernard in disbelief. "I have a good metabolism."
Tim snorts into his fried rice.
"You need to slow down, you'll make yourself sick."
Tim promptly starts choking on his latest mouthful of rice.
Bart tries not to be offended and joins Bernard in whacking Tim on the back and making helpless flailing motions.
If Tim dies here he's pretty sure Batman would blame Bart and that would suck because not only would Batman hate him he wouldn't have Tim anymore.
Bart has to go to class after lunch, but Tim says he's heading in that direction anyway and follows him out.
Tim waits until they escape the crush of students around the busy eating areas before he says anything.
"Listen, Bart, I've been doing some digging into these Campus Heroes of yours."
"They're not my--"
Tim rolls his eyes. "I hacked into the police database, and hardly any of the muggings have been reported."
Bart thinks about that for a moment. "Well, maybe they just forget to report them to the police."
"You'd think they would at least submit a description to the police. But that's not all, I did some more digging and it looks like crime rates on your campus are actually increasing."
"How do you figure that?"
Tim waves a hand dismissively. "Forums, social networks, it's not really important right now. I want you to see what you can find out about them. You said your RA was a member, right?"
Bart nods. "She was one of the ones who 'rescued' me."
"I want you to talk to her," Tim informs him. "Find out if they report incidents; how often they're rescuing students; find out whether they ever catch the perps and turn them in."
"OK." Bart hesitates. "Do you think there's something wrong?"
Tim frowns. "I don't know. It just looks odd, that's all."
"I'll let you know what I find out."
Bart shows up to the Tuesday Self Defence session filled with confidence. This time it's going to work, it's all going to fall together like it had with Tim and maybe Corrine will tell him he doesn't have to keep coming any more.
It turns out that Tim is not only a better martial artist than the volunteers at the self-defence sessions (which is understandable, it's not their fault they weren't trained by Batman), but he also moves faster.
For the purposes of matching human speed, the entire weekend was a wash. He manages to avoid getting punched in the face this time, but he still reacts too quickly when blocking.
"You're over-analysing the situation," Emily tells him. She seems to have - correctly - concluded that he's reacting too quickly because he is trying to pick his moments by timing rather than instinct. "Just relax, feel the rhythm of it. It's not a competition," she adds severely.
"I know, I know." He sighs. "I just..."
She smiles gently. "Just keep practicing. You'll get there."
He finds Emily in her room that evening and knocks on the door quietly. "Can I talk to you for a moment?" He closes the door behind himself as he enters.
Emily looks uncomfortable. "Listen, Bart, you're cute and all, but...
"I mean, I'm flattered, it's just, you're kind of spacey, and I..."
Bart takes a few moments of relative time to contemplate this. "Wait, do you think I'm asking you on a date?"
Emily pauses. "Yes?"
"And you're turning me down by telling me I'm spacey?" He's insulted in spite of himself. It's not his fault the rest of the world can't keep up with him enough to hold his interest.
"I... I'm not very good at this," she confesses.
"I'll say." Bart folds his arms, then remembers why he came. "I actually wanted to talk about the self defense course."
"Oh." Emily flushes. "I'm sorry for misinterpreting you?" It's a very uncertain sort of apology, but Bart accepts it without comment.
"I'm thinking of quitting. It's nothing personal, I'm just thinking it's not really for me."
Emily sits up straight. "Bart, no, you can't quit just because you're not very good at it."
"That's not what I--"
"Is it because you're a guy? You know it's just as important for men to be able to defend themselves as women, there's no reason to be ashamed of it."
"No, that's not--"
"I know you're having trouble with it, but I really assure you, it gets easier. You just need to pay attention." Emily narrows her eyes at him.
"I do pay attention," mutters Bart.
Emily looks at him doubtfully. "I'm just saying it's too early to give up," she insists.
Bart looks at her face, strong with determination, and gives in. For now. "Fine, I'll come to Friday's session."
"Good." Emily smiles at him. "Was there anything else?"
"The Campus Heroes. Is it actually having any effect on crime on campus?"
Emily brightens with enthusiasm. "It's a great asset to the campus. I think we're really making a difference."
"We brought down another thug last night." Emily is glowing with fierce pride.
"Really? Did you tie him up and deliver him to the police?" asks Bart enthusiastically.
Emily flushes a little. "No, he kind of escaped while we were helping the victim."
"Oh." Bart pauses for a moment. "Did you report it to the police?"
Emily frowns in thought. "Corrine takes care of that. I told her about it, I'm sure of it."
"Do you catch a lot of thugs?"
"Combined, the team brings down a couple of a week." Emily is still beaming with pride.
"Wow. Do you ever catch them?"
Emily hesitates. "We prioritise calming down the victims. It's a very traumatic experience for them. Why?"
"I was just wondering," says Bart hurriedly. "Thanks, Emily." He lets himself out of her room and walks to his room thoughtfully.
He sends Tim a text message. Need more practice with the self defence. E won't let me get out of it.
An eternity later, he gets a reply, the phone buzzing on the desk making him jump. I'll come by tomorrow.
He feels strangely excited by the prospect, although it makes having to live through the present first even more frustrating.
Bart runs around the equator twice just for something to do. On his way back he finds himself on Anita's doorstep, knocking.
The kids -- her parents -- whatever you want to call them -- latch onto his legs as soon as he steps inside and demand that he plays with them.
Bart likes kids. They don't expect him to hold onto conversations for longer than absolutely necessary, they don't mind when he gets distracted and changes the subject and they never want him to talk about boring stuff. It's the perfect way to burn off some excess energy.
"I think you're the only person I know who can keep up with them, mon," mutters Anita, after she's coaxed the excitable children into sitting down for a snack. "You must have been a terror when you were three."
"You knew me when I was three," Bart points out.
She winces. "You know, so much of that time makes so much more sense when you keep that in mind."
Bart sighs indignantly. "I wasn't that bad."
"No, after raising these two, I agree. You weren't that bad." She pauses. "Not quite."
Bart is waiting for Bernard's 'Tim-Alert' over the breakfast, but it never comes. Instead, he gets a text message barely a minute after he's left his final class for the day (how does Tim do that?).
I'm in front of the science library.
Bart shoulders his backpack, slips his phone in his pocket and walks to the library as quickly as he thinks he can manage. He waves to Mizuki as he passes her chatting to a blonde girl walking along the path.
"Hey," says Tim. He's sitting on the half-wall that frames the stairs, a pile of library books next to him and an open one on his lap.
"Want to get coffee?" asks Tim, snapping the book shut with a loud clap.
Tim manages to keep up a completely banal conversation the entire time they walk and order their drinks, talking about politics and engineering advances and other things Bart could follow if he put his mind to, but has never seen the point in trying.
Mizuki and the blonde girl have followed them into the cafe, and appear to be deep in conversation with their heads bent closely together over the table. Chat is talking to a blond boy in one of the booths. He also recognises a girl from his sociology class scribbling furiously on her notepad and a boy from bioinformatics is chatting enthusiastically to a dark-haired girl in the far corner.
Tim asks his opinion on something, and Bart snaps to attention immediately.
"So," says Tim in a lower voice, folding his hands over his books. "Did you get the chance to talk to your RA?"
Bart relates everything Emily told him.
Tim taps his finger on a book cover thoughtfully. "I see."
"What's on your mind?"
"I can't say yet. Just, keep an eye out for things that seem off, will you?"
They leave the cafeteria together, and Tim presses a slip of paper into Bart's hand before heading off. Bart clenches his fist, a little confused.
"Bart!" calls Mizuki, waving at him from the cafe entrance. She runs up, her friend following at a slower pace. "Hi. This is my friend Julia."
Bart nods in acknowledgement. "Pleased to meet you."
"Is that your boyfriend?" Julia asks, bluntly.
"Julia!" hisses Mizuki, cheeks turning pink.
"What?" says Bart. "No!"
"You just looked really happy to see him earlier," she says. "Your face lit up, just like that."
"I-- We barely know each other," he says, kind of hating the lie. "I just think he's really cool, that's all."
She gives him this knowing look, but doesn't say anything more. Mizuki is blushing furiously and changes the subject.
As he walks back to the dorm it occurs to him to wonder if maybe Tim isn't supposed to be cool and that maybe Mizuki and her friend think he's weird for thinking Tim is cool, and trying to separate Tim from Robin in his head is starting to hurt his brain.
He's starting to think that perhaps Tim was right that their civilian identities shouldn't know each other when he unfolds the paper that Tim gave him and find it contains an address.
Bart is at the door of the apartment without a second's thought, and then he realises that Tim only just left him fifteen minutes ago and won't be home yet, unless he's borrowed one of the bat-vehicles, but he thinks that's a little unlikely given how emphatic Tim is about keeping his secret identity secret, and should he be thinking about him as Tim or Robin?
He blinks and finds himself at Carol's door. He crumples the address into his pocket and knocks lightly.
Carol opens the door and raises her eyebrows at him.
"Is now a good time?" he asks plaintively.
"Now is fine." Carol hugs him lightly. "What's up?"
"People keep thinking I'm dating Tim."
Carol processes this quickly. "Well, I have no idea why that might be," she says archly. "You only talk about him all the time."
"I do not!"
She rolls her eyes to the ceiling thoughtfully. "No, I suppose not. There was only that phone conversation two days ago, and the time you dropped in on me before that, and the phone conversation the day before that. And maybe that other time you dropped in on me..." Carol trails off significantly.
"Uh," says Bart.
"I'm just saying, I don't even know who he is and I think you have a crush on Tim."
Bart scrambles to recover the situation. "He's a friend of one of my dorm-mates."
Carol gives him a disbelieving look. "You're getting self defence lessons from a friend of a friend, who just happens to be a martial arts expert?"
Bart really needs to pay more attention to what he's telling Carol. "He went to school with Bernard," he insists.
Carol isn't listening to him. "Oh my god, one of the Teen Titans is named Tim?" Carol puts both of her hands to her mouth, eyes dancing with suppressed laughter.
"Don't," Bart insists, looking around frantically.
"OK, I won't press any more. But really. Tim."
"What's wrong with being named Tim?"
"There are some who call me... Tim," Carol says, sing-song. "No, it's just kind of an unlikely name for a superhero, isn't it?"
Bart shrugs. "Sure, I guess."
Carol sighs. "Fine. So what's wrong with having a crush on this totally-not-a-superhero named Tim? We've both lived in the future, we both know it's not the 'guy' thing."
"I just... I just don't."
She raises an eyebrow. "Really."
"Really," Bart says firmly. "How are things with Terry?"
"Things with Terry are fine. Stop changing the subject."
"I thought we were done with it. When are you introducing me to him?"
Carol rests her forehead in her hand with a heavy sigh. "Soon. Let me find out when he's free and I'll lie and say you're going to be in town then."
"Good," Bart says with determination.
Bernard vaults over the back of the sofa to land next to Bart, raising a cloud of dust high into the air. "Bart, my man."
Bart coughs for a few seconds as the air clears. "We really need to clean these sofas."
"What do you mean?" Bernard waves a hand to indicate that Bart shouldn't answer and pumps a fist in the air triumphantly. "I have the invites!"
"The party I told you about, man."
Bart shakes his head. "You didn't tell me about any party."
"Really? I'm sure I did."
"Anyway, they're tickets for the Sigma Delta Pi party on Friday."
"Bart. I know I said I'd get you into the scene, but it can't just be me, you have to make the effort too. They're the coolest fraternity on campus. These tickets are a high priced commodity and almost impossible to get."
"Congratulations," Bart offers.
"And you're coming with me."
"Oh." Bart hesitates. "When is it?"
"Friday night. I'll hold onto this for you so you don't lose it." Bernard leaps off the sofa and disappears into his room.
Bart blinks for a moment, then checks the time. Tim should be home now.
He mumbles something about going to his room for the benefit of anybody else who may be around, locks his door behind him, and is at Tim's doorstep barely a second later.
He knocks impatiently. After an eternity of waiting, the door opens and Tim asks him to come in. "I suppose it's too much to hope that someone else let you up here."
"The apartment building. You can't get in without a key fob."
"Oh." Whoops. "Sorry?"
"Just be more careful next time." Tim leads Bart through to a well-furnished living area with plush sofas and a large LCD television. "So you need more practice with the self-defense thing?"
"You're too good at it," Bart says glumly. "I was hoping you might have some other suggestions."
"What, exactly, was going wrong?"
"I just can't find the rhythm of it. It's always pretty bad when I'm waiting for something because time seems to take forever to pass and it's just as bad waiting for someone's punch to come near me as it is waiting for taps to come on or phones to connect and I get bored."
"Have you tried meditation?"
Bart stares at him.
"I know, I must be a glutton for punishment."
"I don't think zoning out is going to help me."
"It's to help you clear your mind and slow down your thoughts. It sounds like it may be beneficial to you."
Bart looks at him doubtfully.
"Sit down, close your eyes, and concentrate on your heart beat."
What feels like a day later, but which Tim informs him in very dry term is a little over a quarter of an hour, Bart is more bored than he has ever been in his life. "This is not working."
"Look, maybe you should talk to the Flash about this. This is the reason you have mentors, after well."
Bart makes a face. "Wally isn't my mentor. He's my reluctant -- what's the opposite of a sidekick called?"
"The Silver Age Flash, then."
"I've already tried. None of them can really explain anything because they all grew up knowing how to do this sort of thing, but I don't even know what normal speed is." Bart stares at his own hands. His knuckles are all knobbly. Huh.
"You're a lot better than you used to be. Maybe this will come in time, too."
"There's no such thing as miracle fixes."
"Except for when there is."
"But relying on them is suicide."
"So you're saying I just need to keep practicing?"
Tim glances at the digital clock blinking on the front of the media player. "You should probably get back to your dorm."
Time with Tim at least progresses at a reasonable pace. He pauses at the door. "By the way, I'll be late to the Tower on Friday. Bernard is making me go to a party."
"He does that," says Tim dryly.
"Force people to go to parties?"
"More that he tends to... adopt people."
"Huh. Why me?"
"Maybe you looked like you needed the help."
While it's true that Bart's social interaction with his peers since leaving Manchester could best be described as "awkward", it rankles to have it pointed out.
"Hey, he did it to me too. Look on the bright side, at least he'd never suspect you're a superhero. For some reason they seem to think superheroes are never awkward or geeky in normal life."
"Great," says Bart.
Bart skids into the tower without using the door and speeds to the bedrooms, avoiding the other Titans, who don't even seem to notice. He knocks on Tim's door and enters without waiting for an answer.
"Well, at least you've managed knocking," Tim says dryly.
"So I'm at this party."
Tim looks him up and down. "No you're not."
"I can really see you were trained by the world's greatest detective." Bart waves a hand impatiently. "Well, they all think I'm still there and I can be back there in a few seconds so for all intents of purposes I'm at this party, stop interrupting."
Tim looks like he's about to start laughing. "I apologise. Please, continue."
"It's illegal to drink if you're under twenty-one, right?" Bart bounces up and down on the balls of his feet.
Tim nods. "But, let me guess, they're ignoring that at the party."
Bart nods repeatedly. "Should I say something?"
"I think they know what they're doing, Bart."
"But it's wrong, isn't it? I mean, laws are made for a reason, aren't they? And as superheroes and Teen Titans we're supposed to uphold the law, right?"
"Sometimes you have to make your own judgements."
"Why is nobody ever specific when they answer my questions?" Bart complains. "How am I supposed know whether I should let things slide?"
"I find a good rule of thumb is to see if anybody is being hurt by it."
Bart thinks about that for a moment. "You mean emotionally or physically?"
"Both. And, uh... if it's drinking, keep an eye out for if it it's happening too much. If your friends are failing their classes because they're out getting trashed every night, yes you should say something." Tim looks quite uncharacteristically fierce.
"OK," says Bart. "Thanks, Tim."
Tim winces. "Don't call me..."
Whoops. "Sorry, Robin." Bart vibrates through the wall and back into the frat house.
"Bart, where did you disappear to?"
"I was outside," says Bart. "What did I miss?"
Bernard has a wicked grin on his face. "Frank is trying to chat up Cara. You have to come see."
Bart isn't quite sure what reaction is expected here, but Bernard isn't even looking at him anymore.
"Hey, fresher kid," says one of the frat members. "You haven't had a drink yet."
"Er," says Bart. "No?"
The guy pushes a large plastic cup into Bart's hand, sloshing beer over Bart's hand. "Drink up."
"Thanks." Bart stares into the cup, bemused. It smells kind of bad, and he's pretty certain his metabolism would take care of any intoxicating effects within a few seconds. On the other hand, life experiences are life experiences and he's here at college to learn to be a normal person.
He takes a swig and feels a light buzz zap through him, passing in a few milliseconds. It's not unpleasant, but he doesn't feel much of an urge to repeat it.
"You going to finish that?" Bart doesn't recognise the guy talking to him, he's tall and lanky and his hair is in dreadlocks.
Bart shakes his head, and the cup is out of his hand before he can even vocalise a negative.
Bernard seems to be making very good progress with one of the girls at the party, and Bart is prepared to give him his space, but Bernard beckons frantically for him to come over.
Bernard's new friend Amberley has long dark hair hanging straight over her shoulders and her eyes smudged with black. It turns out that Amberley and a bunch of her friends are "blowing this joint" and heading to a nearby club, and Bernard is going with them.
"Oh, and... You can come too." Amberley looks him up and down.
Bart shakes his head hurriedly. "No, I think I'll just head back to the dorms."
Bernard makes mortified faces at Bart, but Amberley just pats him on the shoulder. "Have a nice night." She turns back to Bernard without giving Bart a second glance.
Bart speeds to his room, grabs his gear and zip off to Titans Tower.
"Still at the party?" asks Tim, when Bart flops on the sofa next to him.
He gives Tim a puzzled look. "No. Bernard left with some girl so I decided to call it a night."
Tim has a little worried wrinkle in his forehead. "Did she seem nice?"
"Sure," says Bart. "I mean, I think she thought I was kind of lame but I'm getting used to that and it didn't seem to affect her opinion of Bernard which is good."
"You're not lame," Tim says promptly. "You just... live on a different planet to the rest of us."
"I run at a different speed to the rest of you," Bart corrects. "Did I tell you Emily said she wouldn't go out with me because I'm too spacey?"
Tim fumbles the game controller and Bart stares at him in surprise. "You asked her out?"
"No," Bart huffs. "She just assumed I was when I went to ask her about the Campus Heroes. And I'm not spacey."
Tim looks at him thoughtfully. "You're kind of the opposite of spacey. Whatever that is."
"So what are you two being all buddy-buddy about recently?" asks Cassie, leaning up against the doorframe of Bart's room.
"You and Robin. You keep having little private conversations and all that."
"Oh. We're both--" Bart stops. He probably isn't allowed to talk about where Tim is living. "He--" Or where he's studying. "I mean, I--" Whoops, probably shouldn't mention real life friends of his either. "Uh."
"Wow. You really have it bad."
Bart glares at her. "It's this self-defence course thing."
"Really! He seems to think there's something odd about it. Well, not so much about the self defence thing as the group that run it, the Campus Heroes, the ones that run the nightly patrols that rescue students from muggers and--" Bart stops as something clicks. He zips to find Robin, locates him, then realises he probably shouldn't just leave Cassie hanging, so he zips back to say, "Excuse me."
"You think they're staging the muggings," Bart tells Robin when he finds him again.
Robin raises his eyebrows at him.
"I'm not stupid, I can read between the lines with all the questions you made me ask Emily."
"I never said you were. I'm not certain that's what's going on, but it seems likely."
"Do they charge money for the self-defence courses?"
"No!" Bart snaps indignantly.
"Funding, perhaps? It's not even necessarily everyone in the group, just one or two. The rest could be completely innocent."
"OK." Bart feels slightly mollified. "What are we going to do about it?"
"We really need some kind of bait. Someone they can attack who won't let them get away. It can't be you because they'd be stupid to do you twice, and it can't be me because I'm just an ordinary student."
"Of course you are," murmurs Bart. "How about Cassie?"
Robin nods. "In a wig, maybe. I was initially thinking Kon, but you'd have to be crazy to try and mug him."
"They must have someone in the patrol group too, or the mugger wouldn't get away all the time."
"Right. So maybe both Cassie and Kon. One to keep the mugger from escaping, the other to flush out the mole."
Bart bounces enthusiastically. "But then why are we on the scene?"
"Maybe we can't be. I'm sure Kon and Cassie can take care of it by themselves."
"But where's the fun in that?"
Robin's lips twitch. "It is kind of hard to do all the work and give it to someone else to get the glory, isn't it?"
"Couldn't we just happen to stumble upon them once they've all been immobilised?"
"I generally like my excuses to be a little more definite than 'just happened to be in the area'," Robin says dryly.
Bart groans. "Say we were out on date or something and you were walking me back to my dorm."
Robin's cheeks turn faintly pink. "Um."
After a few microseconds of confusion, Bart's brain catches up with his mouth and he has the same reaction. "Uh."
Robin clears his throat. "We'll come up with something. Let's talk to Kon and Cassie."
"You know, you're pretty hot like this," says Kon, looking Cassie up and down appreciatively.
Her wig is light brown and done up in a perky ponytail, she has thick-rimmed spectacles settled on the bridge of her nose and a pair of headphones hanging around her neck. She cocks a hip at Kon and rolls her eyes. "What, I'm not hot normally?"
Kon back-pedals hurriedly. "No, that's not what I--"
Tim groans impatiently. "She's teasing you, Kon."
"Even I spotted that," says Bart.
Tim clears his throat. "Let's go over the plan again. Cassie is power-walking around campus, pretending to be completely absorbed in her music. Kon is keeping an eye on the Campus Hero patrol from a distance. When Cassie gets attacked, she's going to hold her attacker until the Campus Heroes appear to 'rescue' her."
"And that's when I come in and save the day with tactile telekinesis," Kon adds proudly. Cassie rolls her eyes.
Tim continues firmly. "Kon is going to swoop down in front of the Campus Heroes, disable Cassie's attacker and fly him off."
"Why, again?" asks Cassie. "Couldn't I just take the guy down myself?"
"If I'm right, someone in the group is going to be quite distressed that their plant has been arrested. I want you to be there to watch their reactions."
"OK," says Cassie. "And that's when you guys will arrive?"
"I want there to be 'external' witnesses so that the Campus Heroes don't think they can just hush it up with themselves," explains Tim.
Kon snorts in disbelief. "Don't lie, you just don't want to be left out of your brilliant plan."
Tim smiles beatifically. "Well, maybe a little."
"What if I don't get attacked at all?"
Tim shrugs. "Then we try again tomorrow."
Cassie makes a face. "You know, I do have a social life."
"We won't do it every night. You can just say you're out with your boyfriend or something. It's not like it isn't true."
Cassie and Kon both flush and Bart rolls his eyes.
After Kon and Cassie head out, Tim and Bart end up waiting in Bart's room, at Tim's suggestion. "I don't think it's a good idea for us to be anywhere public, in case we have to leave in a hurry."
Bart nobly offers Tim the desk chair and settles himself on his bed, cross-legged. Tim picks up one Bart's textbooks and starts flicking through it, asking Bart questions about the subject matter occasionally.
"You know, I think they prefer it if you put your own thought into things rather than just parroting off what the textbook says."
Bart flushes guiltily. "Sorry?"
"Hmm," says Tim, returning to the book.
Bart shifts to kneeling, then leaning against the wall with his legs straight in front of him, then with his legs bent and his arm resting on his knees, then cross-legged again. "Waiting sucks," he whines when Tim gives him a look.
"Understood." Tim snaps the book shut. "Do you have a game system in here?"
"Only the portable."
Tim gives him a somewhat-disbelieving look.
"I'm sorry, can you see any space for a TV here? We're not all millionaires."
"You're right. I apologise."
"Yeah, next time we're waiting in your apartment." Bart shifts back to leaning against the wall with his legs in front of him. "Is it wrong that I'm hoping that you're wrong about the Campus Heroes?"
"It's never wrong to hope for the best outcome. It's just not always practical." Tim glances at his watch. "I'm guessing nothing is going to happen tonight, anyway."
Tim is correct.
It takes three tries before they finally catch something in their trap.
Corrine, Emily and a guy Bart doesn't recognise are standing in a little group next to a defiant Cassie when Bart and Tim catch up with them. Cassie's wig is off and she looks pretty much like her normal self.
"Bart!" cries Emily.
Bart makes a show of looking around. "What's going on?"
"It was Superboy," says Emily. Her eyes are shining with something that looks suspiciously like, well, hero-worship. "He took the mugger to the police. He flew."
Corrine winces. "He can't!" she wails.
"But why not?" demands Emily.
"It's... I mean, we do all the work around here. It should be us!"
"Surely it doesn't matter as long as we get a criminal off the streets."
"But it's not like that!"
"You keep saying that. What's not like what?" asks the guy.
"You!" Corrine has turned on Cassie. "Why are you interfering?"
Cassie has her best bemused face on. "We noticed there was a high incidence of muggings on this campus, so we decided to flush out the culprit. Why, is something wrong?"
"Yes!" Corrine glances around her at the circle of surprised faces. "I mean... It's just..."
"You may as well admit it," says Cassie kindly. "You set up the muggings, don't you?"
"I'm going to bet the first few times you genuinely rescued people. But then once the Campus Heroes system started actually working, people stopped seeing the need for it. Isn't that right?"
"We weren't trying to actually hurt anybody! We're trying to help people!"
"Corrine." Emily is staring at her, eyes wide. "What have you been doing?"
"I feel so stupid," says Emily. "I was so proud of the Campus Heroes, too."
Bart clears his throat and shifts uncomfortably. "Well... I think you guys are great."
"You wanted to quit."
"I know, but... I really do think what you're trying to do is important." He shuffles his feet again. "It's just kind of embarrassing for me, you know?"
Emily isn't really paying any attention to him. She starts tapping her finger thoughtfully. "Do you think Superboy would be willing to do an endorsement for us?"
"If this thing with Corrine gets out we're going to need a lot of positive PR to keep the Campus Heroes going. Maybe he could come and do some motivational speeches on campus?"
Kon is great and all but the image of him giving a speech is frankly kind of ridiculous. "Wouldn't Wonder Girl be a better choice? Superboy isn't exactly known for his motivational speeches." On further reflection, Bart is starting to feel a little offended on Cassie's behalf. "Besides, she's the one who actually talked Corrine down. Superboy was barely there."
Emily gives him a surprised look.
"I'm sorry," says Bart hurriedly. "I didn't mean to offend."
"No, you're right." Emily is furrowing her brow thoughtfully. "I guess I'm kind of silly about Superboy sometimes." She flushes. "We all have favourites, and, well, he saved my life a couple of years ago. Although I doubt he remembers."
She's probably right about that; Kon saves a lot of girls. Bart bites his tongue.
"That was part of why I decided to start doing this." Emily shakes her head quickly, as if shaking off bad thoughts.
"So you're not quitting?"
"Of course not!" Emily looks indignant for a moment, then she laughs. "Did you just come here to convince me not to quit?"
"Um," says Bart.
She smiles at him. "That's very sweet. You know I'm the one who's supposed to be counselling you, right?"
Bart shifts uncomfortably.
"Anyway, I'll prove to the college that we can stand on our own merits!" She raises a fist in determination, and Bart feels compelled to join her. "I guess this means you're not quitting either."
Bart is expecting a wave of resignation that never comes. Maybe Emily is contagious. "Nah. I figure the only way I'll improve is to keep practicing."
"Maybe you can get that cute boyfriend of yours to come along too."
"He's not my--"
"Really? Huh. The way you two came up together, I thought..."
"He's not." Bart pauses momentarily. It feels dishonest to leave it like that.
Emily starts to say something else, but is interrupted by a very large yawn. "I'm sorry, I barely slept last night."
When Bart is safely back in his room, he leans back against the door and slides slowly down to the floor.
"He's not my boyfriend," he tries, in the vain hope that it might stick this time.
"Although... maybe I wouldn't mind if he was."