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When I have lost my way

by Te

[Story Headers]

When I have lost my way
by Te
April 3, 2004

Disclaimers: Not even close to mine.

Spoilers: Various ones, for various books, up through Robin #124 specifically, with spoiler-based speculation for events beyond that.

Summary: Desperate times call for desperate measures. Though probably not that desperate.

Ratings Note/Warnings: R. Content some readers may find disturbing.

Author's Note: Owes a lot to the fact that I finally read the Gotham Knights story "Transference," as well as to multiple conversations with Maire, and to a discussion with Livia about just what clich I should pick to write about for my own challenge.

Acknowledgments: Much love to Livia, Jack, Reilael, and L.C. for audiencing, hand-holding, and helpful suggestions.

*

Every problem has a solution.

Perhaps not a pleasant one, or even a complete one, but still... a solution. You just have to be willing. The necessary skills... well. Tim had developed the basics during his training. As for the specifics...

Bruce had, of course, taken copious notes after the matter with Strange.

Tim had, of course, studied them.

His father and Dana are downstairs. The arguing has stopped -- Dana had been less than enthused about how his father's reaction to learning about the Robin thing had involved pointing a gun at Bruce -- but the silence isn't a comfortable one.

It's heavy. Watchful.

Even here, in his wrong room -- they had made a passable effort to clean after their search, but nothing is right, anymore -- even upstairs, with the door closed...

He can feel them. Waiting.

Tim takes a slow, even breath, and then another. Another. He has to be calm for this. The idea is a laughable one, but the joke had stopped being funny rather a long time ago. The entire point of being trained in this sort of meditation was to make him capable of calming himself down under any circumstances.

And the letter... the letter is as good as he can make it. Perhaps not apologetic enough, but it's far more necessary that they understand what Tim's doing (for them) than that he salve their wounded feelings. After all, after tonight they'll have nothing to complain about.

It's entirely possible that emotion is getting in the way of what he needs to do. It's unacceptable.

The letter to Alfred has already been sent, as well as the one to Koriand'r. It should be enough. It isn't.

Tim pulls the calling card out of his wallet and... pauses. His father and Dana had been quite thorough in removing everything to do with Robin's existence from his room, missing only a few items. Those items are currently in a box he'd brought home from a liquor store. They had, of course, missed those items that were currently on his person.

Tim takes another breath and places the calling card -- billed to one of Bruce's -- mostly -- untraceable accounts in the box. And checks himself thoroughly. The slingshot strapped to his thigh would be innocent, were the straps not made of a material the military would kill for, and were he living in a nineteen-fifties sitcom.

The pellets in his pocket are entirely non-innocent, and he considers placing another note about proper handling in the box.

If he thought about it, he could come up with a dozen different notes to write about this. The important information is in the original letter, and a blanket caution not to touch anything will have to be enough. He can't afford... procrastination.

There isn't anything else.

It shouldn't be so strange to be sitting in his own bedroom unarmed and with no secrets beyond whether he's wearing boxers or briefs. It will stop being strange soon.

He places the box outside his door, carefully and quietly, the letter set prominently on top of everything else.

He goes back to his desk and picks up the phone, and dials the number he'd memorized reflexively when Kon had given it to him. One ring, two rings, three --

"Yo."

Tim closes his eyes. "Conner."

"I... Tim? What's up? You sound --"

"Listen carefully; there isn't really any time. I have to tell you something."

A brief silence. "I'm listening."

He remembers when Kon didn't have a seriousvoice. He remembers... "I can't be... the person you know anymore. My father found out. I --"

"Wait, what --"

"There's no time, Conner. You know what I'm talking about, and this line isn't secure."

"I -- Christ, Tim, what are you --"

"In a little while, there won't be... that person won't exist anymore. There are certain techniques... it doesn't matter. Kory has the details, and she'll tell you this weekend. I just. I had to tell you myself."

Silence. Silence.

I'll miss you. I'm sorry. I meant to do this better. "Good-bye."

"Look, I'm just going to pretend you're on crack or something, and that it's about to wear off and then --"

Tim hangs up and breathes. Breathes. He should've written a letter to Kon anyway. There are promises he made, things he still meant to do, and it doesn't really matter that Luthor is dead, he was supposed to --

Robin was supposed to.

He isn't Robin anymore. He --

He breathes.

He focuses.

The vault in the fortress, the fortress beyond the edge of the horizon, the horizon hidden in the grains of a black.

Pearl.

*

Someone's tapping his shoulder. He hates it when that happens, because that means -- "What? Ow." He blinks himself awake, rubbing at the back of his neck, which hurts because... he'd fallen asleep at his desk. Hunh. He didn't think he was that tired.

"Tim..."

He blinks some more and turns around. His father is there, looking... strange. "Dad? What is it? Did I... what time is it?"

"It's..." There's a searching look on his father's face.

Tim rubs at his own face, but there's nothing there. "Dad?"

"You had... someone came..."

"I had a visitor? Oh, man, I told Bernard I had too much homework to do tonight. He never listens."

"Bernard."

"Yeah, I told you about him, remember? He's nice, but a little weird."

"A little..." His father's hands are shaking, and that's --

"Dad, are you okay? What happened? Is M --" No. His mother is dead. Dana's married to his father now. How had he forgotten? "Is Dana all right?"

His father shoves his hands in his pockets and swallows. His mouth must be very dry -- the click is audible. "Everything's fine, Tim. Everything's..." Another searching look.

Tim grins ruefully. "I'm okay, Dad, but I'm not sure about you. You're feeling okay, right?"

His father's smile is strange, but there. "I'm all right, Tim. It's just... late."

Tim reaches for the clock on his desk and turns it around... yeah. After two. "Wow. I have to be up in a few hours."

"Yes. For... school. Why don't you... get some rest, Tim?"

"Yeah, okay. You, too, okay?"

His father nods.

"I'll tell Bernard about dropping by unannounced tomorrow."

"Oh -- I. It wasn't Bernard."

Tim frowns. "But... I don't know who else would visit. I haven't really made too many friends yet." He really needs to try harder. It's not like he has anything... the thought doesn't stay.

"Ah, well. You know Gotham, son."

"'A crazy on every street corner.' Yeah, Dad, I know." He grins. "I guess I'll find out tomorrow."

"I guess... so." His father claps him on the shoulder. "Get to bed. You don't... want to be late tomorrow."

"Okay, Dad!"

He watches his father leave and checks that his books are all in his backpack, and double-checks his notes. He had gotten everything done, which makes it even weirder that he'd fallen asleep at his desk.

He doesn't really remember missing any sleep, but maybe he just hadn't been getting the right kind of sleep. He'd read something about that... somewhere. Maybe he should keep some sort of dream diary, just in case.

Maybe he should get some sleep, because of course his thoughts would be weird in the middle of the night.

Tim smiles ruefully to himself and strips. He'll shower in the morning.

*

It's a sunny day, really sunny, so Tim had dug a pair of sunglasses out of his drawer and -- well, it's weird. They were in the wrong drawer.

It isn't that his room is messy, just kind of... off. Well, he'll have time tonight to fix it properly later. He still feels a little tired, but, well, there's no way anyone's body would be happy with passing out at a desk, and... he's not very tired.

It's more like... there's a vague sense that he's not supposed to be awake now, but that's just idiotic.

He pushes it aside and forces himself to keep his eyes open on the bus. Maybe he should push the glasses back up over his forehead. He has a habit of taking naps on bus rides, and teenagers do need a lot of sleep, according to... something or other, but he clearly needs to get himself on a regular schedule and keep it.

No naps.

He pulls out his History book and rereads, instead. Which goes fine right up until they get to Bernard's stop, because Bernard takes one look at him and sighs dramatically.

"Tell me you're at least making up for slacking on your homework last night, Drake."

He likes Bernard. "Would it help?"

Bernard puts his hands on his hips and raises an eyebrow at him. The bus is moving again, but Bernard's got pretty good balance for someone who doesn't play any sports.

And it's not like anyone tells him to sit down and shut up. Tim grins to himself. "I'm just trying to stay awake."

"By reading about the Gold Standard? Drake, baby, what am I going to do with you?" Bernard finally sits down. Really, it's more of a carefully casual sprawl, which really shouldn't be possible on bus seats, but determination takes you a long way.

Bernard puts his arm around Tim's shoulders companionably and yanks the book out of his lap. "Now. Let me explain to you the proper ways of keeping oneself awake and alert at this ungodly hour."

Tim reaches for his book and Bernard holds it away from him. He could just... just... he's not sure. It's not important. Tim turns around a little so that his back is against the window, and Bernard's arm slides around until he's just got a hand on Tim's shoulder. Tim raises an eyebrow.

Bernard doesn't actually move his hand, but Tim hadn't expected him to. "There are a few options, Mr. Drake."

"Mm-hmm."

"Certain members of our illustrious student body prefer chemical means, but you're far too clean for that sort of thing."

"I don't need drugs."

"Yes, yes, you're so high on life you're positively floating above the world."

Tim snickers. It's funny. Bernard gives him kind of an odd look, though.

"Anyway. Others prefer amusing themselves with chatter about the previous evening's television programs, but I think I could more easily picture you breaking into the janitor's closet to indulge in some quality huffing than voting for the next Teen Idol."

It's true, he doesn't really see the point of much television. There are better things... there are other things to do with his time. He focuses on looking attentive. It's not hard.

Bernard has the sort of gaze that isn't so much piercing as... inviting. He wants people to look at him, to pay attention to him, and he shows it in everything from the way he moves his hands to his clothes. Sometimes Tim wonders what that's like.

And Bernard isn't saying anything so much as looking at him. "What?"

"You seem different today, Drake. More..." Bernard squeezes his shoulder and narrows his eyes at him.

The expression is exaggerated, but the intent probably isn't.

"What is going on with you?"

Tim grins ruefully. "First my parents and now you. Nothing's up, I swear."

Bernard keeps looking at him.

"Scout's Honor. Though I must've been acting like a real freak if acting normally is making everyone... freak out."

"Well, I told you that." Bernard gives his shoulder one last squeeze and leans back. "Where was I?"

"Ways to amuse myself that don't involve studying."

"Rhetorical question, dear boy. I'm sure they taught you all about that in Boywood."

Tim grins. "Brentwood."

"Whatever. Now, as I was saying..."

Tim crosses his arms and lets Bernard chatter at him. It is, actually, sort of interesting. He does need to do something about his social life, and Bernard doesn't seem to have that problem.

He should be grateful that Bernard seems determined to take Tim under his wing.

He is.

*

School is school, and it's never been anything but easy, really. Not since he was a kid and the teachers kept trying to get him to stop reading and go play with the other kids. Thankfully, they'd stopped doing that sort of thing by the time Tim got to middle school.

He doesn't think he's maladjusted or anything -- he isn't depressed or suicidal or on drugs or anything, and he doesn't want to be.

He doesn't think he's better than anyone, either. It's just that he'd never really gotten the point of being 'one of the gang' or anything like that. No one had ever really seemed interested in the things he was interested in. Like... he doesn't really remember, actually.

Still, he is in high school now, and a brand new one at that. A big one, and there really ought to be a few people who he could talk to about... about.

Tim pauses at his locker.

What is he interested in? Why is that such a hard question? He... he likes science, and it is fascinating the way the human mind works, particularly when the psychology is aberrant or... or.

Tim frowns to himself.

Maybe he should try watching television. Or... hmm.

"Plotting world domination, Drake?"

Tim shifts automatically, knowing Bernard will -- there. Both hands on his shoulders and Bernard leans in over the left to peer into Tim's locker.

The funny thing is that he did have some oddly weapon-esque looking blueprints tucked into his math notebook. Funny the things that you can pick up just walking around. Even though -- "Drake. You're woolgathering. What are you doing just standing around?"

"I..." The halls are practically empty. Tim blinks. "I suppose I... lost track of time."

"Hmph. That's it." Bernard reaches over and tugs on Tim's hand until he lets go of the locker door, and then slams it. "You're coming with me."

"I need to get home."

"So be a good boy and call your parents and tell them you'll be late, Drake." Bernard adjusts Tim's backpack and gives him a shove toward the exits. "You clearly need something, and for now we're going to start with caffeine."

Willoughby's is loud, and packed with a lot of people Tim recognizes from school. Bernard gives him another light shove toward the phones and wanders off to talk with several of them.

Tim shrugs and calls home. His father picks up on the first ring.

"Hello?"

He must be working in the study or something. "Dad, it's me."

"Tim, are you... are you all right? Where are you?"

Tim blinks. "I'm at the coffee shop near school. I was just calling to let you know. Is there something... should I come home?"

"You..." There's a small sound that Tim's mind insists is his father running a hand back through his hair. "No, it's fine, son. I was just... wondering."

"Yeah, I know, I'm usually home by now. Bernard's doing his best to make me a social animal."

"Well, that's good, son. That's... maybe you should invite him over for dinner sometime."

Tim grins. He has a sudden, vivid image of Bernard critiquing his step-mother's wardrobe. "I'll ask him. Anyway, I should be home before dinner."

"All right, Tim. Be careful now."

"I will. And... Dad?"

"Yes, son?"

"You know... I know you don't like to... talk about things. But. Um. You'd tell me if there was anything wrong, right?"

There's a strange, choked sound, and it takes Tim a moment to realize that his father is laughing.

"Dad...?"

"No kidnappers, no monetary disasters, no... there's nothing wrong, Tim. Just... an old man's worries."

His head hurts. His head hurts a lot. "You're not old," he says, and why is it... there had been a kidnapping, and that's why his mother is dead, and Tim had had to live with.

He had had to live with someone, and why can't he remember? His mother is dead, and it was.

Laughing, grinning man in a hat and -- "No."

"Son?"

Tim blinks. "I... sorry. I think I... might be coming down with something." It isn't a lie. It's the only rational explanation.

"Maybe you should come home, Tim."

Tim nods -- carefully. "I'll cut things as short as I can here without. Heh. Offending my one friend."

His father sighs. "It will... it will get better, son. I promise."

"I know, Dad. See you soon."

He hangs up and rubs his head a little more. He really does have a headache. And since he doesn't have any painkillers on him, a little caffeine might actually be a good idea.

Not too much. He doesn't want to be up all night or anything. He moves out of the little hall and into the shop proper and... he really isn't at all surprised to see Bernard at a table all by himself, even though that means several other tables are filled past capacity.

He grins and heads toward the counter to order --

"Taken care of, Drake. I don't trust you not to do something silly like ordering herbal tea."

Tim shakes his head and sits down across from Bernard. "I don't know what I'd do without you, Bernard."

"Suffer miserably in your own inadequacies, I'm sure." Bernard has his fingers steepled beneath his chin.

Tim laughs. Bernard actually would make a pretty decent Bond villain. "So what did you do to get everyone to clear out? Tell them I was contagious?"

"I can't share all my secrets."

"Of course not."

"You, on the other hand..." Bernard leans in. "You've been distressingly reticent, Mr. Drake. Mind you, the ingnue routine has its charms, but it's clearly starting to affect you. We can't have that."

Tim grins and shakes his head. "You're going to be disappointed, Bernard. There really isn't that much to tell."

Bernard waves a hand at him. "I'll be the judge of that. Now why don't we start with what's going on with you today, hmm?"

"Well, I..." It's a good question. There's no reason not to answer. Bernard is his friend, and friends talk to each other, even when they don't have anything to say.

Tim frowns to himself. He's... he doesn't really remember having friends. His head is pounding hard, and the coffee isn't ready yet, and... Bernard is waiting.

"Do you ever get the feeling that you had a really important dream and forgot about it? Or... maybe it wasn't a dream. Maybe..." There's something black in his head, huge and gleaming with a weirdly forbidding shine. Tim shakes it off. "Look, it's boring and stupid. Shouldn't you be giving me more advice?"

"Dear boy, I don't think I'm ever going to run out of advice you need to hear, but -- ah. Our orders are up. Fetch."

Tim snorts. "Arf arf, Bernard."

Bernard gives him a narrow grin. "Good boy."

Tim gets up and brings their orders back to the table. They both seem to involve a lot of... froth. He puts them down and pushes one over to Bernard. "You know, I usually take my coffee black."

"Like your... women? And what about this imaginary girlfriend of yours? Where does she fit in this dream you can't remember?"

"Hunh? I don't have a girlfriend, Bernard. Not since Ariana."

Bernard blinks at him. "Ariana? What about... Stephanie, was it?"

It's strange how he wants to smile even though his head is killing him. He winces and rubs his temples instead. "You must be thinking about someone else, Bernard. I don't know anyone named Stephanie."

"O-kay. Leaving that alone for a while." Bernard's frowning at him.

He's made a mistake, he's going to have to be careful, or else Bernard might... might what? "My head is killing me."

"And here I just thought you'd found a new way to masturbate in public."

Tim laughs, but Bernard doesn't laugh with him. "Look, I... damn." Tim takes a big swallow of coffee. "It's the strangest thing. Like there's... something missing." Why did Ariana break up with him? "I must sound insane."

A small smile. "It wouldn't be the first time, Drake." And Bernard pulls his backpack off the back of his chair.

"Oh, do you have to go?"

Bernard gives him a curious look, a searching look, and this is probably the first and last time Bernard is going to remind Tim of his father. And then Bernard reaches in his pack and pulls out a bottle of Tylenol and tosses it to him.

"Oh, hey, thanks. I haven't had a headache like this since... um. I'm not sure."

Bernard raises an eyebrow at him. "Did you get smacked in the head with a basketball in gym, Drake? You're acting like --"

"Jesus, there you are."

Hard, heavy hand on his shoulder, making Tim jump. There are so many people in the coffee shop that he didn't feel this one coming. He isn't sure why that matters. And this one is... he turns around and finds himself looking up at a large boy in little round glasses. "Um."

"Tim, I've been looking everywhere for you!"

Tim blinks, and tries and fails to come up with anywhere he might know this person from. He looks like a football player. He turns to check with Bernard, since Bernard knows everyone, but Bernard's eyebrow is doing a great job of crawling into his hairline. So. He looks up again. "Do I know you?"

The boy's eyes widen behind the little glasses. "Tim...? Look, I talked to... uh. Kory. But... shit."

Bernard clears his throat. Loudly.

The boy blinks. "Oh, you must be Bernard. Listen, freaking every kid I talked to said you were probably with Tim --"

"Oh, did they?"

"Yeah, and I have about nine hundred messages for you. Uh..." The boy squeezes Tim's shoulder and looks at him expectantly.

Tim looks back.

"Right," the boy says, and pulls a handful of crumpled papers out of the pocket of his jeans, dropping them next to Bernard's mug. "Those are for you. I'm just... Tim, can we please go talk somewhere now? Alone?"

Tim looks back at Bernard, and his eyebrow doesn't show any signs of descending anytime soon. "I'm... uh. Gonna go talk to... er." He looks up again. "What is your name?"

"It's me, Tim. Conner." The boy's face crumples like he's hurt. "I -- Christ, would you just come with me, please?"

"Yeah, I... okay, sure."

He lets the boy -- Conner -- pull him up out of the chair and then out of the shop. It's still really bright out, and it's doing nothing for his headache. Tim takes his shades out of his pocket and... well, he's still carrying Bernard's Tylenol. He dry-swallows two and looks over to find Conner... looking at him.

"Wait, are you the guy who showed up at my house last night?"

"What? Yes! Yes, dammit, I came right over and... okay, your step-mother is freaking scary, dude, and --"

"Why?"

Conner freezes. "What?"

"Why did you come to my house? Who are you?"

"You." Conner bites his lip. "There's no one around, Tim. There isn't... you can stop pretending. I really, really need you to stop pretending now."

"Pretending? Christ, why does everyone think I'm putting on some kind of act today? My father, Bernard, and... why the hell do you think I would know you?"

Conner looks like he's been punched, and then... doesn't. He stands up straight and sets his face like... it's weirdly like he's putting on a mask.

Tim rubs his head. "Look, whoever you are. Conner. I've got a splitting headache, and you're apparently stalking me, and --"

"What do you do on the weekends, Tim?"

"I go." He blinks. "I do my homework on the weekends, and why the hell should I tell you?"

Conner folds his arms over his chest. "You know, Kory freaking told me that I shouldn't... that you people know more than anyone about raping your own minds, but..."

"And who is this 'Cory?'"

Conner winces. "I can't even begin to do this right now without wringing your scrawny little neck. And... fuck, you'd let me right now, wouldn't you?"

Tim takes a step back.

"Christ, I wouldn't --" And then the boy growls and... it's strange. He's not running or anything, but it doesn't seem possible that anyone could walk that fast.

He hopes the painkillers kick in soon.

He wishes he knew why there were so many pieces -- black. So much black, except if it was really dark it wouldn't hurt this much. Tim hears himself groan and covers his own eyes, dropping into a crouch.

He can feel the people moving past, little bits of shadow. Some of them pause, most of them don't. It's Gotham. Crazy on every street corner. If he stays here long enough, people might start dropping money in front of him.

Or maybe he'll just get mugged.

One of the shadows lingers. Tim can't make himself look up. It hurts too much. And then there's a hand on his shoulder and a faint hint of cologne. Bernard. Tim takes a breath. "I still. I have your Tylenol."

"Mm. Amazingly enough, I was able to deduce that, given the fact that you seem to be trying to make the bottle become one with those tacky little sunglasses of yours."

Deduce. Deduction. Detection. Discovery. "Bernard, I think I'm going crazy."

The hand on his shoulder tenses for a second, and then it's in his hair. And prodding.

Tim laughs despite himself. "I didn't get hit in the head."

"And you'd definitely remember it if you did, because we all know head injuries result in perfect recall."

"I don't have amnesia, Bernard -- ow."

"Ow?" Bernard pokes him harder, and Tim brushes the hand away.

"You hit a pressure point. The pain's inside my head, except for what you're currently causing."

There's silence for a moment, and Tim can feel Bernard shifting. "You know, I'd feel a lot better if you'd look at me, Drake, but I think I'd settle for you telling me more about pressure points. Give a killer back-rub, do you?"

Tim grins. "Actually, I... think I'm going to puke."

"What --"

Tim jumps up and knocks Bernard back and he really wants to apologize, but mostly he wants to get off the street and into the alley next to Willoughby's and thank fucking Christ, the Dumpster isn't locked.

The smell is terrible, and vomiting is even worse, and there's a strange, strange voice in his head saying something about this being a 'bad idea,' and the strangest thing about it is that it sounds like him.

Almost.

When he's done, he thinks his stomach is emptier than it was when he was born, but at least he doesn't have to think about his headache.

Tim staggers until he can get his back against a wall, and then he just focuses on breathing.

When he opens his eyes again, it's bright, even in the damned alley, and there's a hand in his face with a bunch of napkins.

Tim swallows, winces, and takes them, wiping his face and hands. "I. My sunglasses?"

There are spots dancing in front of his eyes from vomiting, and Bernard is just a shadow against the light from the street, anyway. "I believe you tossed them with your cookies, Drake. No great loss."

Tim snorts, and winces again. "Gonna take me shopping?"

"Who would've ever thought you could be so high maintenance? Tch."

"Sorry. I. I really think I should get home."

Bernard shifts. "I could go back in and call your parents...?"

Tim shakes his head. "No, they seem kind of stressed out, anyway. I'll just take the bus."

"Then come on. I'd put an arm around you, but considering what you've been touching -- and what you are leaning against -- you're probably crawling with filth. Limp along as best you can."

"Arf." Tim steps out into the sunlight and... yeah, probably swaying.

"Oh, for the love of Christmas, Drake." Hands on his face, tilting his head up and... shoving on a pair of sunglasses. Bernard's.

"Um."

"Hm. You still look like the bastard child of Skank and Ew, but the glasses help."

"God, don't make me laugh --"

Bernard nudges him away. "I wouldn't dream of it. I like these shoes."

They get to the stop just in time for the bus, and Bernard prods and pokes him until he's sprawled in a seat. And then prods him some more until he's against the window. "Maybe I should be in the aisle. I mean --"

"You're a tough boy. You're going to resist the urge to yark."

"I'll just... do that."

"Besides, you look like you'll fall into the aisle the next time this thing takes a tight turn."

Tim smiles ruefully and presses his head against the glass. "Bernard... I just --"

"Don't start with the sap, Drake. We haven't even had a date, yet."

Tim smiles a little more. "Guess not."

"Go ahead and close your eyes. I know your stop."

He does. And for a while it's worse -- he can't stop thinking about the motion of the bus, and the faintly oily feel of the window against his face, but...

The headache passes. He's going home. Bernard, for whatever reason, is taking care of him. He'll shower for about a year, and do his homework, and pass out, and try again tomorrow.

He's not going to think about stalkers (detectives), or girlfriends (don't remember don't), or black... shiny things that feel... (so important. It's everything, everything.)

Bernard puts a hand on his shoulder.

He's not going to think about any of it.

*

It's all a series of images and flashes of nothing. His father's face, Bernard's hand on his shoulder, his step-mother's face, the shower, his pajamas, the... bed.

The bed is warm, and smells like him.

There's someone in the room.

"It's just me, Tim."

"Dana."

"Shh. You... you're a little feverish."

"Okay."

Dana's hand is cool on his forehead, but it isn't soft. She's got calluses, and... she's an athlete. She still is, when she has time. Of course her hands feel like that.

Tim smoothes his face out of the frown. "Think I... caught something."

"Tim..."

"Mm?"

"I know you think you were doing the right thing, and I know I'm not supposed to talk about it..."

He frowns again. "Dana...?"

"You have to get better, Tim. Just... just rest."

"Okay, Dana."

The flat shine grows and grows and swallows him whole. The funny thing is that there are colors inside. Red and green and yellow.

*

There's a wrenching sound, a really familiar wrenching sound and --

"Ow, dammit."

There's someone in his room, his brain offers stupidly.

Tim blinks awake and wonders why he's so calm, especially since it's the stalker. Well, maybe he can distract the guy long enough to get to a phone. Tim sits up and rubs his eyes. His throat hurts. He feels...

It's a weirdly familiar kind of exhaustion (what it feels like after you've been in pain), even though it doesn't really make any sense. "Um, hi."

"You're awake. Guess I wasn't subtle," Conner whispers.

Tim turns on the light next to his bed. "No. You weren't. Should I even bother asking why you're here?"

Conner crosses his arms over his chest, and the pose is a weird mix of stern and unsure. His t-shirt is black and has an 'S' on it like... like Superman's.

Everyone has fans, he supposes. "Well?"

"I can't just go to the front door --"

"So you decided to --" Tim checks. "Rip my window out of the wall the hell? Who are you? What are you?"

"Just listen to me, will you?"

"Do I have a choice?"

"If you hadn't fucked yourself over, you'd know the freaking answer to that, asshole!"

Okay. Okay. Try not to make the apparently super-strong stalker mad at him. He can do that. He has practice. He. "My head hurts."

"No. Fucking. Shit. Your name is Tim Drake. For the past three years -- I checked -- you've also been known as Robin."

Batman needs. "I don't know what you're talking about."

Conner scrubs a hand back over his hair. It's too short for it to go through, and Tim wonders when he's going to grow it --

"I need to puke."

Conner grabs a waste basket and shoves it in his face. "You do that. We are going to talk."

"My parents --"

"I swear to God, if I have to I will knock them out, Tim. Funnily enough, you taught me how to do that without causing permanent damage."

It's all about the placement of the hit, and the pressure, and Conner has to be careful because. Because. Tim retches and nothing comes out. He keeps retching.

"Here's the deal, Tim. One day, we were on the roof of the Tower, and I was wigging out, and you were coping. Remember that? You used to fucking cope --"

"Why is it dark --"

"It's not fucking dark, you freak." And Conner grabs his shoulders and squeezes. "Focus. Fucking focus."

"It's dark. It's... black. There's a. It's a pearl. Why do I have a pearl in my head?"

"I don't -- I don't fucking know. Tim." Conner's staring at him, and his eyes are a familiar blue.

"You're not wearing your glasses."

Conner blinks, and... laughs. It's a choking, strangled sound.

Tim wonders when he's going to hear someone laugh the right way. "Listen, my Dad knows people. Maybe he can... get you some help."

"Get me. Some help." Conner squeezes his shoulders again before letting go, and sitting back. He stares at his own boots. "You're actually kind of a nice kid, aren't you, Tim Drake?"

"There's no reason not to be. I don't have to." Lie. He doesn't have to lie anymore. He --

"Aw, man, no, don't pass out on me, you little fuckup, don't you even think about..."

A boy steps out of the pearl, and he's wearing the most ridiculous outfit Tim has ever seen. What possible reason could there be for boots to have toes?

"You're fucking up. You know this, right?"

Tim looks around, and there's... nothing. There's never really been anything. "People keep telling me."

The boy shifts, and it seems like he's crossing his arms. Under his... cape.

"Why are you wearing --"

One hand comes out from under, and the boy holds it up in a 'stop' gesture.

Tim stops.

The boy looks over his shoulder at the pearl, and then sighs, quietly. "It's my own fault."

"Um --"

"Shut up," the boy says casually, and then looks at him again.

Or... it's hard to tell. The mask's lenses are whited out entirely.

"The problem is twofold."

Tim shoves his hands in his pockets and tries to pretend he's not freaking out. "I'm listening."

"One," and the boy holds up a finger, "you weren't finished. I'd been working on you for quite a while, but the fact is, I fully expected to have a lot more time."

"Er --"

"Two," and the boy holds up another finger, "I had still miscalculated. You don't even have your own childhood."

"I was... wondering. There seems to be a great deal of blank space."

"Yeah. You just go ahead and completely fail to think about that, why don't you?" The boy smirks at him.

Tim swallows. "I don't think I can."

The smirk softens, but doesn't entirely fade. "No, you can't. You're trying, but the fact is, Tim Drake was a detective long before he was anything else. And you're going to give us an aneurysm if you keep trying to pretend differently."

"Er." It seems like the thing to say.

"Meanwhile, Conner is calling 911, Dana is crying, and... your father is probably considering hanging himself."

"Look, do you have suggestions, or are you just going to stand there being the world's creepiest fucking clown?"

The boy just stares at him for a long moment, and then he... laughs. A lot. "I don't," he says. "I really, really don't."

"Fuck you!"

The boy grins at him, and shifts into... it looks like a fighting stance. And then he raises a hand, and makes a come-on gesture. "Let's go, Tim."

And that's. "I'm. I'm going to lose."

"Oh, yeah, you really are. Don't try to tell me you're shocked."

He isn't.

At all.

But he has to fight anyway.

*

Tim wakes up with his eyes closed, and takes a deep breath. Disinfectants, old blood. The sound of machinery, and a dozen voices. More. He's in a hospital. This isn't a surprise. He takes another breath.

Presences, nearby. Focused on him.

"I know you're awake."

Bruce. Tim opens his eyes. "What are you doing here?"

Bruce is being Bruce Wayne. The clothes, the pose -- one ankle casually crossed over the other knee. The eyes, of course, are no one's but Batman's. "My lawyers convinced your father's that the restraining order was less than a wise idea."

"Publicity."

Bruce doesn't bother to answer that.

"Where --"

"Your parents are in the cafeteria with Alfred. Clark is convincing the GCPD to let Conner out of jail. There's --"

"They arrested him?" Tim blinks. Thinks. "He allowed himself to be arrested."

"Yes. There's a boy named Bernard patiently waiting to be allowed to visit you."

"Fuck."

"Language."

"Fuck you, Bruce." Tim pinches the bridge of his nose and listens to Bruce breathe. And lets himself laugh, a little. "You aren't going to ask 'why?'"

He sees Bruce shift out of the corner of his eye. "Why did you think it would work?"

Tim laughs a little more. "One, I knew exactly how you did it. Two, I've had as much training in this sort of thing as you have -- and better teachers. Three, I would've gone insane if I didn't. No options." He looks at Bruce. "And if you try to tell me otherwise, I'll tell a doctor that my scars are from the years of nightly abuse at your hands."

Bruce narrows his eyes. "One, it was never supposed to be anything but a temporary solution. Two, your training never covered psychic suicide. Three... I know."

Tim blinks first, and stares at his hands. "What exactly am I in here for?"

"'Shock.' They didn't know what else to call it."

"Shock works."

"Tim..."

"It's an impossible situation, Bruce. It was a few days ago, and it is now."

"Yes."

"How's Dick?"

Bruce takes another audible breath. "He's home. At the manor. He's... finished in Bludhaven, for the moment. Leslie gave him something to help him rest."

"You mean sedated him." Tim snorts. "He's going to love that."

"I believe Alfred plans to distract him by telling him what you did."

"I hate all of you. You realize this, right?"

Bruce is smirking at him. "I used to wonder what it was like to have a family."

Tim rips off his hospital bracelet, balls it up, and throws it at Bruce's head.

Bruce catches it, of course.

Tim stares at the ceiling. "I don't know what I'm going to do, Bruce."

"We've never had a situation quite like this one."

"No." Tim grits his teeth. "I... I really did think I was making the right decision." Tim scrubs a hand back through his hair. "And the only reason I thought that was because, on some level, I knew exactly what -- it -- meant to me. My entire childhood, leading me to one place, and that place..."

"It's still your home, Tim. You've never... you. Are very important."

"To the mission. Steph will be fine. She's always just needed more focus. No one trains with you without getting that."

"You're important to. All of us."

Tim raises an eyebrow and smirks. "Don't hurt yourself."

"To me. And I'll try to avoid it." Bruce sounds like he wants to be laughing.

Tim takes a slow breath, but doesn't manage to keep it from becoming ragged. He could say something about how Bruce should've -- how he could've -- said that a month ago, but a, he really couldn't have, and b, it's not like Tim hadn't known.

Bruce always says things with action, anyway. The fact that he's using words now is just one more piece of evidence about how fucked the situation is. Overkill.

Tim closes his eyes. "I'm not Tim Drake. And I'm not... him."

He feels Bruce move, and there's a hand on his face. "You are. You seem... different, but you are."

"She is."

"You both are."

Tim opens his eyes. "Two of us."

Bruce's smile is nearly feral. Batman's. "It would be... something to see." And then he pats Tim's cheek and stands up straight, glancing back over his shoulder.

Tim listens, and the babble of voices outside the door includes those of his parents and Alfred. "The situation --"

"Will not be permanent." And Bruce straightens his tie, unnecessarily, and plasters Bruce Wayne over his face with practiced ease.

Tim needs more... practice.

"Now you take care, Timothy --"

"He still knows."

Batman's eyes. "He doesn't want to." Bruce's. "I want to hear about you being back on your feet ASAP, son."

And this would be why he's Batman. His father comes in first, followed by Dana and Alfred.

His parents bracket the bed, and Tim steals one last look at Alfred.

Alfred tips his cap at him before leaving with Bruce.

"Son --"

"Tim --"

His parents look at each other, and laugh precisely like people who've had too much coffee and not enough sleep. Tim sighs internally.

And drags on Tim Drake. It doesn't feel as difficult as he'd expected.

That still isn't saying much.

*

The biggest surprise is that it isn't, actually, late. He'd 'slept' through the night and most of the morning, his parents had called him in unconscious to school, Bernard had found out about it through his network of spies and minions, and... come to see him.

His parents don't seem to mind the fact that Bernard is obviously skipping school to be here, at all.

Skipping school to visit a sick friend probably looks fan-fucking-tastic to them right now. A nice, normal thing for a nice, normal kid to do.

Granted, they haven't torn him a new one for his little experiment in auto-hypnosis, and show no signs of doing so. A mean, small, bitter part of him suggests that it has more to do with guilt over not taking him to a doctor immediately than with anything else.

It's ridiculous on top of being petty -- he would be in an even worse position, on a number of levels, if he was stuck in some mental institution right now.

The amusing thing is that it would probably have been the best possible position for young, Robin-less Tim Drake. Kon would've been more hesitant about breaking in to harass a crazy person, and there would've been practically nothing to remind him of all the things he'd worked so hard to forget with his pretty, deadly little black pearl.

It has to be a good sign that he's amused.

"Are you brooding or sick?" Bernard.

His parents are out in the hall, probably desperately hoping that Bernard is infecting Tim with his rampant normality.

"Tim...?"

Sick. Brooding, he doesn't have to lie. Sick -- he absolutely has to lie. Brooding, because Bernard doesn't -- he has a perfectly normal headache. "A little of both, I think."

"Uh, huh." Bernard gets out of the room's one comfortable chair and leans over the bed, crossing his arms and resting them on the metal bars.

Do they think he's going to escape? Not that it wouldn't be wonderful. Right up until it would profoundly suck.

"Drake."

He forces himself to look up, and Bernard is giving him a terrifyingly serious look. "Yeah?"

"There are easier ways to get people to stay away from your secrets, you know. More effective ones, certainly."

Tim swallows. "I don't --"

"First and foremost, stop being so damned obvious about everything. Fade into the woodwork."

"I'm pretty damned faded, Bernard."

Bernard raises an eyebrow at him. "You could've blown me off at any time, you know. Called me a faggot, punched me in the face, started talking about the jejune faux-industrial band of the moment --"

"Christ --"

"Or you could've gone the other way entirely. Invited me to go play your little RPG, stopped bathing, insisted on wearing clothes even less stylish than your usual -- it is possible."

"Bernard --"

"Instead..." Bernard leans in a little closer. "Instead, you've persisted in being... some fucked-up little variety of a person, always just close enough, just interesting enough to keep my attention. Will this be the day Mr. Drake asks me if staying 'away from the girls I like' means staying away from the ones with penises? Will this be the day he decides to open up and admit to..." Bernard's face twists into something ugly, just for a moment.

Tim breathes.

"You're not actually going to tell me anything, and I haven't the faintest clue what the secret might be. I have a lot of ideas -- I'm good at that sort of thing, as you may have noticed, but frankly, you confuse the ever-loving shit out of me, Drake, and I don't like that sort of thing."

"I'm sorry --"

Bernard's fingers are on his mouth. Two of them. "Except for the fact that I clearly like it enough, don't I?" The focus fades out of Bernard's eyes slowly, replaced with something a lot more diffuse. And then he bites his lip and pulls away, tucking his hand under his other arm again.

"Um."

"So why don't you answer an easy question for me, darling."

"I'm listening."

"Why are you trying so hard? You're smart enough to hide just as much as you clearly feel you need to. You're certainly freakish enough. So why aren't you doing a better job at hiding from me?"

Because I'm attracted to you. Because I clearly don't have as much of a handle on my identity issues as I thought I did a week ago. Because... "I like you."

Bernard blinks. "You like me. You... want to be my friend?"

"I don't have many. And." Tim licks his teeth. "Neither do you."

A raised eyebrow, but Bernard stills, all over.

"You don't. You know everyone, and you know everything about everyone, but you always go home alone." Just like me.

"Someone's been paying attention."

Tim smirks. "I'm good at that."

Bernard shifts, frowning. "And if I want more than that?"

"Then it gets complicated." Just like everything else.

"Mm-hm." Bernard leans in a little again. "How complicated? Did you remember your imaginary girlfriend, yet?"

"She may have dumped me. I'm not entirely sure. She..." Tim feels the smirk try to fade from his face. "Has other priorities right now."

"And that interesting hunk of beef who dragged you out of Willoughby's?"

Tim winces. He pretty much owes Kon a kidney at this point. Or possibly just the opportunity to beat him unconscious. "Even more complicated."

"Uh, huh. You're a busy little boy, aren't you, darling?"

"You're not wrong." Taking off the suit was never going to be easy, but once upon a time he'd honestly believed it would make other things... less fraught. And Bernard deserves better.

At least Dick tended to keep his romantic fuckups in the community, with people who could know at least a fraction of the truth. Tim stares at his hands.

"Bernard --"

Has his hand on Tim's face. Same positioning as Bruce, entirely different feel. If Bernard has more than writing calluses, Tim will eat his pillow.

And his mouth is even softer.

And Tim doesn't have time to think about doing more than opening his mouth before Bernard's pulling away again.

"So make a decision, Drake."

"Uh --"

"Or throw a really interesting party." Bernard stands up, and his smile is deeply smug. "I might even consider attending."

Bernard doesn't leave so much as make an exit.

Tim listens to him charming the hell out of his parents, and then the door finishes swinging shut and the voices go back to being an indistinct, distracting blur.

It's long past time for him to get out of here.

*

Of course, there's still a giant hole in his wall, but there are workmen coming out to fix it tomorrow, and the plastic sheeting keeps out the wind.

In the loudest way possible.

Still, he'd managed to get sleep during No Man's Land, so he shouldn't really complain about this. Granted, he didn't have to do his math homework during No Man's Land, but he also knows how to focus his concentration.

There are always distractions, and there will always be distractions.

Like the guy hovering outside his... plastic.

Tim rips up one side of the tape and lets Kon in.

"You could've used the door this time."

"Dude, your parents had me arrested the last time I was here."

"They understand now. You were worried."

"Hell fucking yes, I was worried!" Kon shoves him -- lightly. "Christ, man, what the fuck were you thinking?"

Tim tapes the plastic back up. "I wasn't."

"What?"

"I wasn't thinking. Not clearly, anyway." Tim thinks about resting his head against the wall, and then thinks better of it. Kon would almost certainly catch him when the wall finished crumbling and sent him hurtling towards the ground, but that isn't really the point.

He turns around instead, and Kon is... staring at him. Angry and confused.

"I'm sorry."

"You're... sorry."

"I won't do that again." Not without a great deal more preparation, in any case.

Kon glares at him like he hears everything Tim hadn't said.

"Kon --"

"Why am I not punching you in the head right now, Tim? Christ, I don't even want to call you that anymore."

Tim winces. "I know. I --"

"You don't know. You..." Kon crosses his arms over his chest and glares at him some more. "Okay, try to imagine this. One day, your best friend in the entire world calls you up and says he's decided to stop existing. There's nothing you can do about it -- no matter how much you want to, no matter how much you try."

Tim stares at the floor.

"Instead, when you go to see him, his parents read you the fucking riot act. So you try to hunt him down away from them, and, guess what? He really is gone. Not just gone -- he's forgotten you, and everything you've shared for years.

"And he's afraid of you."

Tim bites the inside of his cheek. "Sorry isn't going to cut it, is it?"

"No, it's not going to cut it, asshole. Christ!"

Tim stares at the floor a little more. Right up until Kon grabs his shoulders and shakes him. Not lightly. "Ow."

"Do you have any fucking idea how scared I was?"

"No."

"And then you lose consciousness, and I thought you were going to die and -- no?"

Tim looks at him. "No. I don't know. But I'm figuring it out."

Kon just looks really, really frustrated. "What are you figuring out?"

"That there are no easy solutions. To anything. Everything has consequences, everything is complicated, and... I never wanted to hurt you, Kon."

"You did."

"Hurt me back...?"

"Hurt you..." Kon laughs, and Tim's still waiting to hear someone do that like they really are happy about something.

"Kon --"

"You know, I think the worst part of this shit is that now I know for sure that killing you -- no matter how much I really want to -- won't actually make things better."

Tim smiles a little helplessly. "That's reassuring."

"Reassuring. Fuck, you asshole."

Kon either doesn't care about the structural damage he's caused to the house, or actually wants to make another hole in the wall. This one would be Tim-shaped, because Kon's pressing him against the wall, and there's nothing soft about his mouth at all.

It's like kissing a warm -- hot -- living statue, it's like being kissed by something precisely as inhuman as Kon is.

Only inhuman things don't moan like that. And they don't taste that good.

Kon pulls back gasping and squeezes his shoulders again.

"Ow."

"Jesus. Jesus fucking Christ, Tim. Why haven't we been doing that forever?"

"I have a girlfriend." And possibly a boyfriend.

"I know that. And she looks fucking hot in that suit, by the way."

"I still haven't seen her in it."

Kon chokes on a laugh. "Yeah, well, you're missing something."

Bruce seems to think so, too. He's really not going to say that. "Kon."

"Yeah. Christ. Tim..." And Kon isn't glaring at all, anymore. It's that soft, vulnerable look he's had since he was the Kid, and it makes Tim feel like it always has. Like he needs to do absolutely everything to make sure Kon's okay.

Tim takes a breath. "There's something else."

Another laugh. "What? You're planning to run off to freaking Oa to become a Green Lantern? You're getting married to Catwoman tomorrow? Come on, lay it on me, jerkoff."

"I seem to have... uh. Well, remember Bernard?"

"The guy you were with at the coffee shop?"

"Yeah. I... might be dating him. Too."

"What the fuck, dude? You stop being Robin and start being a ho?"

"Well. I've got a lot of free time." He probably shouldn't laugh. Especially since he might not be able to stop.

"Yeah, in between fucking attempts to kill yourself, and next time let me do that and fucking Christ!"

"Ow."

Kon glares at him. And lets go of his shoulders. And glares at him some more.

Tim shifts, rolling his shoulders. "So..."

"So what?"

"I just thought you should know."

Kon braces his hands on the wall to either side of Tim's head.

The wall groans. So does Kon.

And then Kon steps close again, and rests his forehead against Tim's own.

Tim can taste his breath.

"Tim."

"Yeah."

"Just..." Kon cups his shoulder again, and then slides his hand over to his neck, stroking with his thumb.

Tim swallows. He wonders if this is where he's supposed to point out that Bernard seems willing to share.

He wonders when he's going to stop feeling like he's lost his mind. Although, that tends to be a bad sign. The people with the most confidence in their own sanity. Kon's thumb feels really good.

He swallows again.

"It would be so easy to strangle you right now, Tim."

"You'd probably have better luck just crushing my windpipe."

"I'll keep that in mind," Kon says, and looks up at him again. "I have to get back to Smallville."

"Okay --"

"No, not okay. What are you going to do?"

Tim doesn't lean in and bite Kon's lip. At all. "My math homework."

"Tim --"

"Seriously. My math homework, and then I have to call Nightwing and let him yell at me -- we got cut off by my parents -- and then I plan on sleeping."

Kon frowns. "Yeah, but... after that. Everything else."

"I'm not feeling confident in my ability to make plans right now."

Kon narrows his eyes. "And crushing your windpipe would definitely kill you, right?"

Tim smiles ruefully. "I don't know, Kon. I really don't. I don't... I don't even know what I want." It's surprisingly easy to say.

"I could probably help you with some of that." The thumb-stroke over his throat is distinctly... purposeful.

"If you didn't have to get back to Smallville."

Kon snorts. "I don't think you're allowed to try to get rid of me right now, man."

"Probably not." Tim reaches up between them and pulls Kon's hand off his throat. And swallows again.

Kon squeezes his hand. "You're definitely not allowed to disappear again, or hypnotize yourself into thinking you're some normal kid who doesn't know me, or anything else."

"Noted. You know..."

Kon twines his fingers with Tim's own. "What?"

"I... I used to wonder what it was like to have friends."

Kon blinks at him for a long moment before smirking. "You would, asshole."

And then he lets go of Tim's hand, rips the plastic away from the wall again, and leaves.

Tim tapes it down. It'll be time for dinner soon, and he can work on being Tim Drake some more while his parents pretend they don't see him pretending, or whatever they've decided to do.

And then homework, and then Dick yelling at him, and then he can try to sleep while he tries to figure out a) how to get back into the suit where he belongs, b) whether he is still dating Steph, c) whether Bernard was serious about the party, and d) how many of the Titans would show up if he was.

Or maybe he could just have a nice stroke and die.

Tim waits for it.

The wind makes the plastic crinkle and shift the shadows in a way that makes Tim feel like he's in the Cave.

It's comforting. He sighs and opens up his textbook, and... gives up entirely, sneaks up to the attic, drops his pants, and straps on the slingshot.

And then goes back to his room.

He can settle for knowing one thing about himself.

He has to admit that it's an improvement.

end.

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Fandom:  Teen Titans
Title:  When I have lost my way
Author:  Te   [email]   [website]
Details:  Standalone  |  R  |  54k  |  04/03/04
Characters:  Tim, Kon, Bernard, Bruce
Pairings:  Tim/Kon, Tim/Bernard
Summary:  Desperate times call for desperate measures. Though probably not that desperate.

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