Other People's Problems
January 9, 2004
Disclaimers: Warner Brothers, DC, etc., etc. I am again playing in other people's attics.
Spoilers: Major ones for "Secret Society."
Summary: Flash goes looking for Batman and fails to find him.
Ratings Note: PG.
Author's Note: Yes, this is another comic/cartoon crossover. This time solely to make Tim something other than perpetually pre-pubescent. All you need to know is that Tim is canonically sixteen now in the books (and probably for the next five to ten years.), and occasionally even looks it.
Acknowledgments: To Livia, the Spike, and the Jack for audiencing and negotiating the waves of mood swings.
Feedback: Absolutely. firstname.lastname@example.org
Tim's about midway through what will be, if he does say so himself, a world-class beating, when he feels it.
The kind of wind that really just... isn't. Too warm for the season, too strong for the weather, and, most of all, too personal.
Somewhere behind him there's a person with superspeed, but since he is just about due for a random inappropriate visit from Impulse, he doesn't worry about it. Turns around just enough to make sure there isn't anything flying at his head, and then goes back to work.
Granted, he could just immobilize the guy and move on -- the punk's in his twenties and clearly used to be healthy, but is also clearly an addict of long-standing -- but he'd been in the process of mugging, like, the tiniest little old grandmother Tim had ever seen when Robin had found him.
And also Tim's bored.
He wonders if he can get away with shattering a kneecap.
Squints at the guy.
No, any more than a dislocation and the papers would start talking about 'dangerous vigilantes' again, instead of 'masked and mysterious heroes.'
"You're pretty much the epitome of not needing any help, hunh?"
And that's not Impulse. Unless he got hit with another age-ray while they weren't paying attention, which is certainly possible, but... no, it's the Flash. Which is... new. Tim holds the mugger up against the wall and turns around, doing his best to look gently inquiring.
"Oh, don't mind me."
Tim shrugs internally and finishes up, dragging the mugger closer to the mouth of the alley for the actual authorities to retrieve.
Considers shooting off a grapple and continuing the Patrol of Boredom, but Flash is watching him. Looking patient. You never leave a speedster alone when they're looking patient. It's just asking for trouble.
"Uh. Can I help you?"
Flash grins at him. "I hope so. I mean, I didn't actually know where to look for Batman, so I just wandered around until I found some violence, but... no Bats."
Looking for Batman. Right. "Is there some kind of emergency Justice League thing that I'll be reading about tomorrow?" There. That didn't sound too bitter.
"What? Oh, no. I'm just..." Vague hand gesture, too fast to actually make out. "You know. Visiting."
Tim looks at him.
"Wow, can you do that with both eyebrows?"
Tim demonstrates, mostly on purpose. Mostly. Visiting Batman. People do that?
Flash grins at him again.
Tim shakes it off and folds his staff into the belt. "I... uh. I don't actually know where to tell you to look, Flash." Well, not exactly where.
"Separate patrols. I hear you."
And then it's one of those awkward silences, with a nice touch of the surreal added in when the mugger starts moaning. There's a tightness in Tim's belly, and he realizes that he's waiting. For something.
If it was Impulse, there'd be a brown and yellow blur running around him by now. Something playing with his hair a little too hard to call a breeze.
Flash seems content to lean against the alley wall, arms folded and utterly casual.
"I don't think Batman's going to join me," he tries.
Flash just nods, and not really at Tim so much as at the alley, Gotham, and the universe in general. Either the bits of mugger Tim left on the opposite wall are really interesting, or Flash is staring off into space.
He reviews what he knows about the guy, and it's... really not much. Bruce's purview, though that stopped being a good enough reason for anything when Tim started being Robin.
Really, his ignorance has way more to do with the fact that he didn't even know Bruce was building a Tower before he launched the thing into orbit than with anything reasonable or mature.
Tim rubs the back of his neck. "Flash."
"How long have you been doing this? Being Robin, I mean. There's been a Robin ever since I was a little kid, but you can't be more than... fifteen?"
Tim knows all sorts of ways to get around a speedster's natural advantages. "Sixteen."
Flash just nods again, this time staring up through the fire escapes at the tiny available slice of Gotham night sky.
Tim wonders when he started feeling claustrophobic on the ground, as opposed to just... limited.
"He must be a good teacher."
"Batman, I mean. All of you guys with no powers, no magic accessories..."
Tim snorts and shoots off his grapple. "He already has a Robin." Red one, green one, dead one, mean one. Tim shakes it off. "Look, I'll tell him you were looking for him. I'm --"
"Maybe I could do the Robin thing."
Tim blinks and bites back the first dozen responses. Fellow good guy. Then the next dozen, because... because Bruce's fucking team-mate. When he's got his expression back under control, he forces himself to look at Flash.
The man's brow is furrowed under the mask, lightning bolts catching the gleam from streetlights and turning it yellow and strange. He looks like the kid who forgot it was his birthday, as opposed to just another day to survive.
Tim sighs to himself.
"Look, if you want to talk or something..."
Flash doesn't pick up Tim's helpful slack, or even look at him. Now he's the kid waiting to get pushed in the mud. Which is either the best or worst possible time to look for Batman.
"You can run up walls, right?"
Flash blinks at him. "Uh... yeah."
"Follow me," he says, heading up and up and up until he can get out, out of the alley and into the sky.
Sometimes Tim thinks he's getting close to something up here, something huge and momentous that he could touch, that he could have, if he just stopped paying attention to other people's problems long enough to... no.
It's enough that the air is better up here, if not sweeter.
And Flash is following.
He stops them on one of his favorite apartment buildings. It's just another project development, but Bruce Wayne had gotten a few of his own people in on the design. It's sturdy, and the tenants don't have to deal with a lot of the crap their neighbors do, because Bruce's people own the management company, too.
It's a good, flat roof, and this isn't the first time his staff has been used to block off a door from the outside.
When he's got it braced, he looks around and sees... a blur. Making a perfect square around the edge of the roof, over and over.
"Checking the perimeter?" He doesn't bother to try to look any one place.
Flash skids to a stop in front of him, looking sheepish. That, at least, fits with the rough profile. 'Unconscious of how others actually perceive him, for good or ill, until such time as it's beaten into his head. "Uh. Sorry, just. A little restless?"
Tim softens his expression and sits down tailor-style. It wasn't hot enough today to make the roof anything but comfortably warm. It'll fade within an hour or so, but he doesn't intend to be here that long.
"So. You probably want to know why I'm being a freak."
Tim shrugs amiably. "I don't know you. You could be a freak all the time."
Flash's smile is sharp and just a little meaner than anything that could look remotely right on that face, cowl and all. "That's what they call you guys, isn't it? Freaks."
"People call me a lot of things, Flash."
Short bark of laughter. "Yeah, and then you start rearranging their internal organs."
"I didn't think I'd have to put up with a lecture on 'proper vigilante conduct' tonight," he says, as casually as he can manage.
Flash presses his lips together and shakes his head. "No. Not that. I'm just. Trying to figure a few things out."
Tim rolls his eyes. "Questions help."
"Do they? Really?"
"I never said I'd answer any of them, but it's gotta work better than just talking at each other." Tim lies back on the roof, folding his arms behind his head. Unfolds his legs and bends one knee. Ostentatious, but it's a speedster, not a Lantern. Sacrifices must be made.
"I didn't think you'd be so impatient."
Tim sits up on his elbow for the sole purpose of drawing attention to his pose. And Flash is smirking at him.
"Yeah, I think I'm getting it now. You guys... your little family. It's all about putting a show, right?"
Tim taps his chin with one finger, mock thoughtfully. "I don't know how I missed it. All those people wandering around the subway in red long-johns with lightning bolts pointing at their crotches. They're all over the place, really. Like rats. Like --"
"I get it. And... it isn't what I meant."
The look Flash gives him this time is wary, which is both uncomfortable and, as far as Tim's concerned, long overdue. Tim loosens his body language a little bit. Tries.
"Really. I'm here, aren't I?"
Flash stares at him for another few moments that are probably subjectively long enough for the man to count the individual hairs on a portion of Tim's skull, but then he nods.
Crouches next to him.
"How much did you hear about the League dealing with the 'Secret Society?'"
"Other than what was on television?" Tim shrugged. "Batman said it boiled down to mind control." And the fact that none of you people would know an honest thought if it bit you in the ass. "Nothing you haven't dealt with before."
"It wasn't mind-control. Not really. Grodd... see, they always lecture me about impulse control, you know?"
It's been a long time since 'impulse control' has meant anything for Tim other than careful monitoring and augmentation of Bart's diet, and the occasional dreams of kiddie leashes. He nods anyway. "Tell me."
"It was... he just pushed us all. Not to do anything we wouldn't normally do or say, so much as to make it harder not to do or say the things we knew we shouldn't. It was... it was really a mess."
Bruce had called it 'the most awe-inspiring display of twelve-year-old girliness' he'd seen since the last U.N. meeting he'd broken into. Tim says, "I can imagine."
"Can you?" Flash looks at him, open and clear. "I don't think you've ever lost control in your life, kid."
Tim narrows his eyes. "Looking to be the first?"
Flash laughs at him, honest and loud. "And even when you kicked my sorry ass -- and I have no doubts about whether you could or whether you would -- no. You'd still have a plan. Step by step by broken bone. You're fine-tuning it right now, aren't you?"
"Just in case you haven't noticed? You've completely failed to explain why you're here." He's not -- quite -- scowling at the man.
"Patience, Robin." Flash's weirdly dark laughter floods the rest of his words, dirty water through a broken grate. "I'm getting there."
Tim sits up again and scrubs a hand through his hair, enjoying the tiny cracks of gel coming loose. "Why don't you let me try?"
Flash's look is flat for a long, interesting moment before his expression clears. "Go ahead."
"You said nasty things. They said nasty things. You don't have a girlfriend, so you're not bitter about a breakup. Unless you really were fucking the new Lantern --"
Tim makes a distinctly half-assed placating gesture. "No friends, no team -- Batman mentioned something about that -- and you're blaming yourself, but mostly you're blaming them. Because, really, how could they? And now it's all over and it was all the bad guy's fault. Except --"
"Except for how it was nobody's fault but our own."
"Hey, Flash, I'm not saying that now isn't a great time for a fit of existential angst. Batman has his own rooftops, you know? He just prefers the ones with gargoyles."
Huffed laughter. "Atmosphere."
"Exactly. But here's the deal -- no matter how you guys acted recently, you are, actually, professionals. The mission comes first, and none of you are going to forget that."
"I didn't think they would."
"Then what were you thinking?" And Tim makes it sound like exactly as much of a dare as it is. He may not be Batman, but this is Gotham. Flash isn't really going to whine about his poor, lost friendships.
Flash stares at him hard. "I was thinking that there were better ways... other ways of doing the team thing. And that Batman would know what they were."
And... okay. That's something worth paying attention for.
Because if Flash is seriously looking for advice on interpersonal relationships from Batman... Tim takes a breath.
"I think I want to start over. Possibly with less of me being an asshole."
The wary look is back, sitting a little deeper on the man's face. And staying there. Tim's not getting off easy this time.
"Look. I never pretended I didn't have my own issues, all right? Everybody does. Look at it from my perspective: some guy comes looking for my partner, dripping soppy depression like something out of some freaking chick movie --"
"You're protecting him."
"You may or may not know where Batman is, but you're protecting him, right?"
Tim's turn to do some hard staring, but really... sometimes there's no point. Or, well, maybe slightly less point. He sighs, aloud this time. "He doesn't need any more trauma than he already has."
"I... never thought of it that way."
"Keep that up, or he'll shoot me out of one of the plane's missile bays."
Flash's smile is small and rueful, but real. "Got it."
And the words crowd up into Tim's throat like bile, when your only choices are spit or vomit. "It's going to be all right, you know. I mean... you're not... you're not us. You're the freaking Justice League, and you've got more happy endings than this whole fucking city, all right?
"You're all licking your wounds and being bitter now, but you'll get over it."
"Because we have to."
"Mostly because it's who you are." And truth shouldn't taste this bad, but... way down deep, Tim knows this is where he belongs. Gotham. Nowhere else.
And Flash's look is so open, so heartfelt and wondering, that Tim seriously considers wrenching the staff out of the door and beating Flash with it.
"Don't worry. I'm not about to get sappy or anything. Promise."
"Right." Tim stands up and stretches, moving toward his staff, wondering which roundabout route he'll have to use to get back to the Cave, and whether there's any point to trying to evade someone who moves faster than he can blink.
"What." There's a hand on his shoulder, warm and solid. Flash's gloves are gloves. Not gauntlets. A squeeze.
"I wanted... you don't. I'm not going to make it harder on him."
Tim lets out a breath he didn't know he was holding. Turns around when he can smile. "Thanks."
And it's strange to watch a man's face work when it's half-hidden. Like being forced to watch a fight behind a curtain. Dick doesn't actually let himself have expressions like that when he's being Nightwing. And Bruce... is something else entirely. And Flash still looks like he's chewing on something big and nasty.
Flash shakes his head. "You know, I would always wonder about you guys, here. Even before. How you dealt with... everything."
"There's no secret."
"No?" Quicksilver flare of a smile.
"Look, Flash, it's been a long --" And the rest of it winds up muffled in red spandex. Spandex. No armor at all, and Tim can't decide if that's more or less bizarre than the fact that he's getting a hug.
He gives it back, awkwardly, and when Flash pulls back... he's not smiling. His mouth is a little slack, and this close Tim can see how wide his eyes are, even behind the mask. There's a part of him that doesn't really want to know what he isn't seeing.
He zips to the edge of the roof, gripping the railing in flexing fists. "I'm... uh. I'm gonna go. Tell Batman... tell him I just came by to thank him for the assist, okay? He'll know what I mean."
Tim nods. "Will do. You're heading home?"
"Yeah, I... you know the thing about friends, Robin?"
Rush of air, personal air, and Flash is right there, hand sliding down the outside of his arm just a little too fast.
"You can always make new ones." He squeezes Tim's hand in his own. "Friends, I mean."
And then he really is gone, and Tim... isn't sure what he's supposed to do with any of it.
He retrieves his staff and spins it a few times, going through the basic defenses more to warm himself up again than for any other reason.
Flash is... he's going to have to pay more attention to Bruce's files. Maybe make a few of his own.
He has a patrol to finish.
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