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Stop this day and night with me

by Te

[Story Headers]

Stop this day and night with me
by Te
June 21, 2004

Disclaimers: Nothing here is mine; I'm just a fangirl.

Spoilers: All sorts of small and large things for various titles. Most of the large things are from the current run of Robin, but there are also refs to Outsiders and Green Arrow, among other things.

Summary: Families, road trips, bad food, and the surprisingly pleasant side effects of being a real boy.

Ratings Note: NC-17.

Author's Note: Bas wibbled about Connor, and the cuteness of Connor and Tim. Livia provided a bunny. Te surrendered.

More notes at end.

Acknowledgments: To Jack, LC, and Livia for audiencing, encouragement, and helpful suggestions. To too many people to count for putting up with my whining.

*

It takes a moment to recognize the girl.

While part of him wants to chastise himself for the lapse, he also can't entirely blame himself. For one, the picture isn't the best -- grainy, blurred, and taken while the girl was clearly in motion.

For another, the last time he'd seen Stephanie, she hadn't been wearing a Robin suit.

It's disconcerting to say the least. Star City is far from Gotham, and he hasn't spoken with Robin -- the Robin he knows -- in quite some time. However, he also hadn't been especially worried.

While his e-mail correspondence with Robin had been extremely regular (and something to look forward to), he'd assumed the long silence had more to do with Robin's rather extreme lack of free time than with anything... bad. And, truth to tell, he'd been busy enough in the last several months that he'd almost forgotten about it.

He'd left himself a mental note to try sending another letter at some point, but that point had not, actually, arrived before... this.

He blinks at the photo, and studies it more closely.

When he'd met Stephanie, her form had not been quite so noticeably practiced, and Robin had chastised her for continuing to work as the Spoiler in Gotham. She'd clearly been unsanctioned, if (in his brief acquaintance) no younger or more notably reckless than any of the other young heroes he'd met over the past few years.

He'd... dismissed it, at the time -- the fact that it wasn't his place to intervene perhaps not so important within his own mind as the fact that it was almost certainly Batman's.

And... he doesn't want to jump to conclusions.

If Robin had been injured and forced to take a leave of absence, surely someone would have heard something. Nightwing would know, and would almost certainly talk to Roy about it, and Roy would almost certainly talk about it to... well, him, if he'd asked, but mostly Roy would've talked about it with everyone, unless it was something deeply personal.

It's certainly possible that something... personal had occurred, but...

"... the hell? Christ, what's the ghoul up to this time?" His father snatches the newspaper out of his hands and glares at it.

It would be fair to assume that his father, at least, is equally surprised. "I was hoping you'd know more about this, Dad."

"Oh, now they're talking about Batman endangering kids. Jesus Christ. Son, if I never make you learn anything else, please let it be this -- the only difference between a reporter and a vulture is the feathers."

Connor sips his tea and thinks about mentioning Roy.

"God, I can't believe this tripe. Just because this kid's -- this Robin is a girl, they're going nuts? Unbelievable."

The sexism. Well, that makes more sense. "I have to admit, I hadn't paid much attention to the text, as of yet."

"Eh?" His father peers at him over the top of the newspaper. "Oh, you and Robin -- the old Robin -- knew each other?"

"Yes, which is why --" Connor cuts himself off to allow his father time to crumple the newspaper angrily, then smooth it out and put it in the recycle bin. "Why I was wondering if you'd heard anything."

His father stops muttering what sounds like a truly inspiring string of curses and looks at him again. "They're bats, son. Ghouls and uncommunicative sonsabitches at the best of times."

"Robin hadn't seemed --"

"Now that's a creepy kid, right there." His father scratches idly at his beard. "Don't know him all that well, understand, but he certainly gave the Bat a run for his money in terms of personality. Or distinct lack thereof, as the case may be."

"I hadn't gotten that impression, Dad. Actually, Robin --"

"You probably didn't know him long enough," his father says, half-buried in the cabinets. "Now what did I do with the coffee? Strike that, what did Mia do with the coffee?"

"I believe she put it in the refrigerator, so it would stay fresh, but Dad --"

"In the fridge. Right, of course. Because every sane person sticks coffee in the damned fridge."

"Dad --"

"I swear to God, Connor, you think she could've mentioned this --"

"Dad, I'm worried. About Robin. The... former Robin."

That makes his father pause. And look back over his shoulder. "You two were pals?"

The words are right, but there's a sort of surprise and cautiousness in the tone that Connor has come to know and fear. "We'd been exchanging e-mails," he says quickly, "since the Brotherhood of the Fist matter. He's a very promising martial artist. We... hit it off."

His father nods, slowly and consideringly. "E-mails. Hunh. Well, I suppose it makes sense with the guy across country. And you haven't heard from him...?"

Something tells Connor that he had, perhaps, not done enough to forestall suspicion. He'll deal with it later. "Not in quite some time. And... I'm not sure how to contact him. Which is why I was wondering if, perhaps, you'd heard anything. Perhaps from the League?"

His father shakes his head. "Sorry, not a word. I could ask?"

"Please."

His father claps him on the shoulder on the way back from the refrigerator. "Just let me have my coffee, son. I swear, you'd think those people never heard of a damned phone."

Connor nods. "I'll try to send another e-mail."

His father grunts acknowledgment and stares at the coffee machine, perhaps attempting to will it to go faster.

The house is quiet, with Mia already on her way to school, and Roy not due to visit for at least another couple of weeks. Which means that the house computer is absolutely free, which is a state of affairs Connor has come to appreciate in the last several months.

He's thought about purchasing one for his own use, but there are always any number of things to be done with his extra money, and he really doesn't have all that much use for one.

Not anymore, at any rate.

He frowns to himself when he catches himself waiting for a response -- near-instantaneous transmission doesn't, of course, guarantee near-instantaneous communication -- and is about to head back to the kitchen when the program beeps at him.

Perhaps...? But Robin does attend school, and it's well after eleven on the East coast, and...

It's the form letter from his server. Robin's e-mail address is no longer valid.

He frowns a little more, and checks to make sure he hadn't mistyped, but the second e-mail gets him the same 'response' as the first.

It does make sense. Stephanie -- Robin -- surely has her own account. Several of them, considering Batman's and his family's reliance on technology. The fact that he's more worried now than he was several minutes ago is irrational.

The fact that he's thinking about something his father had said about his time in heaven, who he'd seen there, and how much of a surprise it had been...

Is even more worrying.

Batman is a good man -- Connor knows this, in his bones. And if something had happened to Robin, something terrible, he would surely grieve. Nothing about his acquaintance with the man had suggested he held Robin in anything less than the highest regard.

And yet, it's also entirely too plausible that he would feel continuing his mission -- and keeping his secrets -- was far more important than informing people about what had occurred.

Even Robin's friends.

And Roy had said that Nightwing had seemed different lately. 'Grimmer,' was the word he'd used, and --

"No dice?"

He manages not to jump at the feel of his father's hand on his shoulder. "No. His e-mail account is no longer valid."

His father grunts. "Just like that bastard. Efficiency over everything else. Listen, I'm sure everything's all right, Connor."

Are you? He swallows back the question as being not particularly worth asking. "Did you get a chance --"

"Yeah, Superman's on watch-duty right now. He's just as surprised, actually."

"Oh. Is that..." It occurs to Connor that he doesn't know Robin's real name. He'd gotten used to that. Or he thought he had. "I mean..." He doesn't really know what he means.

His father sighs and squeezes his shoulder. "What that means is that Big Blue's probably going to show up on Bats' doorstep demanding answers sooner rather than later. They're friends. Kind of."

Connor nods slowly.

"You're really worried about the kid, hunh?"

"It... doesn't seem like him to disappear like this."

"Hm. I think I'm gonna have to take your word on that."

"I know your experience with Batman and his associates has been... less than positive."

His father laughs and claps him on the shoulder again before letting go. "Huntress is about the best of them. Chip on her shoulder like you wouldn't believe, but still okay in my book." Another laugh. "Of course, she's the one they don't like."

"Mm."

"Connor..." His father sighs. "Listen, I --" The chirrup of the communicator interrupts him. "Man, I hate these things..."

Connor watches him put it in his ear, watches him scowl and knows that he's pretty much only succeeded in making his father worry about him.

"Yeah, I'm here... uh, hunh... they do that?"

He works on being patient. It's usually not quite this difficult.

"Right. Damn. Well, I'll tell him. I appreciate this, Supes... right, you, too. Out."

"He flew right there?"

His father grins at him. "Teleported into the freaking Batcave, actually. Sounds like your Robin has more friends than I would've given the kid credit for. Superman likes him, too. Of course, he likes everyone, but... but you're looking at me like you really want to interrupt the hell out of me, because I'm taking too long. Here's the deal -- he retired."

Connor blinks. "He... oh."

"Yeah, 'oh.' He's perfectly healthy, he decided it was time to quit the vigilante lifestyle, Batman had informed the Titans when it happened, everything's fine, and... well. You know the kid better than I do, but I have to say it smells about as good as the fish market after that blackout last month."

Connor isn't entirely sure what to think. "He... doesn't strike me as the sort of person to make a decision like this one without informing those he was close to."

He can feel his father looking at him, and he thinks he can hear what the man's thinking. Just the same...

"You said Batman was the one who told the Titans?"

"Yep. And from what Supes said about what Superboy had said, the impression given was that Robin was too busy in Gotham. None of them have seen the kid in months."

"He'd mentioned the Titans in his last e-mail. He seemed --"

His father puts his hands up. "Hey, now, you don't have to share anything you don't want to."

Connor smiles ruefully. "We weren't lovers, Dad."

"I didn't say that. And there's nothing wrong with it. And --"

"And I wasn't intending to share anything overly personal, either. I was just going to say that he seemed to be enjoying his time with the Titans, especially the opportunity to spend time with the friends he'd made in Young Justice. He..." He'd used the word 'friends,' as opposed to allies, or anything else.

He watches his father watch him with an interesting mix of wariness and expectancy, and doesn't really know how to express it, any of it. Robin is -- was -- a Bat, in much the way his father defined them.

That Connor himself doesn't find them especially difficult to work with, or even to be around, has, he's willing to admit, more to do with who he is than with who they are. Though Robin is... had been...

'Different' isn't really the word, even though it feels that way. He shrugs, more than a little helplessly. "I think you're right about... well, about this not feeling right, Dad. I'm tempted to go to Gotham, myself, even though --"

"When are you leaving?"

"I... what?"

"You're worried about your... your friend, and you don't think you've gotten the whole story. The way I see it, you can either get Dinah to hook you up with Oracle, or you can go see for yourself."

It's patently obvious which option his father favors, but... "Don't you think it seems presumptuous? Especially --"

"With the ghoul?" His father narrows his eyes. "Listen, if he gives you any trouble --"

"I really don't think I should give the two of you any more reason for... mutual animosity." Connor smiles a little.

"Hmm. Well, you could always track down the girl. One thing about Robins -- they're not that difficult to spot. And she might be friendlier."

"I... she's Robin's girlfriend. Er... or. I'm not sure, actually."

"You know her, too? And a girlfriend?"

His father could work to sound a little less surprised. "Well, I didn't get the chance to spend much time with her, but --"

"Listen, Connor. If they are still dating -- or whatever the hell Bats do -- she'll know what's going on with your friend." His father gives him a conspiratorial look. "If they aren't? She'll know even more."

"Er... why?"

"Trust me on this one. Now let's get you to the airport."

*

Connor settles back in his seat and works on meditating. The airport had been... stressful. In very expected ways.

Of course his father would demand Connor get a seat on the first direct flight into Gotham, and of course he'd demand Connor went first class. It's not that he doesn't appreciate the effort, or understand it -- his father had the sort of ideas about friendship that Connor tended to reserve for increasingly hypothetical romance -- it was just more than a little embarrassing.

The ticket agents had been glaring at both of them by the time Connor had registered, and, judging by the wary looks the flight attendants have given him, had warned their associates.

It would be entirely for the best if he spent as much of the flight quiet, calm, and meek as milk.

This could very well be the first flight he'd ever taken during which not a single flight attendant (or pilot, considering what had happened the last time) attempted to share their phone number, home address, or hotel room key.

The idea is a relaxing one. He doesn't really enjoy turning people down, and he was beginning to wonder if such things could become... reflexive. He has a vague, faceless image in his mind of some wonderful person, someone who cared about him very deeply and with whom the feeling was mutual.

They would proposition him, and before he could even think about, he'd smile and say "no, thank you." And perhaps leave. It really is distressingly plausible.

Still, that doesn't have anything to do with this trip, and even though he's not entirely sure how he'd gone from the computer desk to this shockingly comfortable seat several miles in the air... he had.

And he will find Robin, and find out for himself what's going on.

If nothing else, he's quite sure that any information he receives -- and which could be shared without breaking confidences -- would be appreciated by everyone else who cares about Robin.

Why, even Superman...

Connor sighs to himself. He doesn't know Superman, and Superman could already be wherever Robin lives. Superman almost certainly knows his real name, and Superman is the last person who would need his help.

The Titans are the second to last, and... this has absolutely nothing to do with them.

His friend is missing, and he's worried, and he's more than a little irritated. There were any number of ways Connor could be reached, and Robin knew every last one of them, and...

It's entirely possible that his attitudes toward friendship are more like his father's than he would've considered.

Connor smiles to himself and closes his eyes. It will be hours before he arrives in Gotham, and he doesn't have much faith in his ability to, say, take a nap before hitting the streets in search of Stephanie.

Robin.

It will probably be a very, very long night.

*

The sun goes down before Connor is done re-familiarizing himself with the city in anything like a meaningful way.

It would, of course, have been impossible to do it completely, or even mostly, but... Gotham is very unlike Star City. It's older, and not even remotely designed for the eight million people who've come to live here. It's loud, dirty, and the sort of terrible things that happen here have always seemed entirely believable.

In daylight even more than at night, though he knows that's irrational.

Still, he knows he'll feel better once rush hour is over, and a significant portion of the population is safely indoors.

When it's quieter and, yes, more dangerous -- especially the neighborhoods he plans to focus on.

When Connor had asked whether Gotham had as many 'bad' areas as Star City, or if things were more generalized (he's not alone -- he's never had a conversation with anyone about Gotham City that hasn't included some mention or another of the other person's firm belief that the entire city was, at best, a poorly maintained septic tank), he'd never expected Robin to give him the sort of detailed information he had. Robin had seemed to see it as a challenge, or perhaps even something like an assignment he'd never be able to hand in to anyone in particular.

Or... it's difficult to describe. Those were just a few of the many e-mails he'd received from Robin that left Connor wanting to see his face, and hear his voice. He could -- and had -- imagined it --

The excitement, the truly impressive degree of thought that had gone into it, and thus the way it would come out with a sort of thoughtless confidence, but...

He wanted to know -- he still wants to know -- if it would sound like as much of an invitation as it had felt like. There had always been a faint sense of "come back and visit, let me show you what it's like." He'd wanted to, of course. He knows he's been remarkably lucky in the many partners he's worked with since leaving the ashram, lucky even before his father had come back to life.

However, there was something entirely different about working with Robin. A sense of curious mutuality, of... something.

Connor pauses on a rooftop overlooking... many, many more rooftops. There's a blank spot to the east, just beyond the reach of his vision without binoculars. If he were in Star City, it would probably turn out to be the site of some new, incomplete construction, or perhaps even a park.

Here... he feels no need to pull out his binoculars, because the sight would undoubtedly be a depressing one. It has been nearly two years since the earthquake, and there are still parts of the city that have not yet even begun rebuilding. He'll be headed there soon enough, if he doesn't find Robin -- or get found -- first.

Unsurprisingly, many of the areas Robin had spoken about as being particularly troublesome are those which suffered the heaviest damage. And... two years isn't a long time, especially since even the most unscrupulous developers must be inclined to show at least a little care for the properties they build, now that everyone knows precisely how vulnerable the area is to disaster.

And yet there's something more than a little terrible about seeing a building where rubble has been left long enough for weeds to grow, for graffiti to grow old and faded.

A reminder of everything they -- everyone outside of Gotham -- had not done to help, when things were at their worst.

He'd asked Robin about No Man's Land, of course. Connor thinks everyone who knew someone who'd stayed in Gotham during that terrible year must have asked. And while Robin had never been especially reticent about things that had nothing obvious to do with his and his family's secrets -- enough so that such silences were very, very noticeable in ways he'd tried not to think about too deeply -- he'd never spoken in much detail about his time in Gotham after the quake.

It had always been one of the things he'd hoped to be able to listen to sometime in the future, when, perhaps, he'd have the freedom to take Robin up on his original invitation.

Or when Robin had been able to take him up on his own.

Connor shakes his head. It had felt very strange to have to be reminded of the fact that even without Robin's teams and responsibilities to Gotham itself, he still wouldn't have been able to visit Connor randomly.

That he had a family other than the family he worked with, and from whom he had to keep secrets. In truth, the idea had seemed terrible, and more than a little mind-boggling. However, he understood that his own family situation is closer to the exception than the rule, and tended to assume -- when he thought about it at all -- that it was just one of those things that people who grew up entirely of the world at large would have an easier time getting used to than he could quite comprehend.

However...

It was possible -- probable, even -- that all of this would turn out to be nothing more nor less than the inevitable result of a good, kind young man deciding that the price of the secrets he kept was just too high. That his blood family was too important to risk for his other family, and that...

That he couldn't pick up a phone.

Connor keeps moving.

He's wearing his Green Arrow uniform, but only for ease of movement than anything else. It's a little strange -- but not very -- that people tend to pay less attention to people hopping around rooftops when they're in strange, armored costumes than when they're in civvies. He's become used to the convenience of strangers paying far more attention to his mask and his bow than anything else, but he really doesn't want to actually patrol here.

It would be rankest discourtesy, for one thing -- given what he's come to learn about how the other heroes tend to view 'their' cities -- and for another...

Gotham isn't Star City, and its charms are far less intriguing without Robin at his side to point them out, or to watch him noticing. Robin is... watchful.

And somewhere in this city even now.

The thought's thrilling in an uncomfortable way. It isn't that he thinks Robin lives in these neighborhoods -- though it would be an excellent way to study their crime concentrations, and rather an excellent cover and... he pauses on a fire escape.

A large, scarred tom glares at him balefully.

Connor considers attempting to be friendly to it.

It hisses at him.

Connor... keeps moving.

And he didn't intend to patrol, and he really isn't, but Robin hadn't been wrong about the sort of neighborhoods he'd pointed out as deserving extra attention, and it's not like he can just ignore drug sales. Or muggings. Or not do his best to avert a drunken brawl, though frankly he's now exceedingly glad that he'd packed an extra pair of boots.

He walks through a puddle, and the smell gets... well, not better. But different.

He makes his way through the city, and the night gets darker, quieter and louder at the same time. More music than he can classify, and enough different languages that Connor considers going back to school. He doesn't want to think of Gotham as being anything other than just a different sort of city than Star, but it's difficult.

There's a constant scream of sirens at varying distances, and the distinct impression that he could do a good night's work solely by picking a random tenement and knocking on doors. And... the signal never comes on.

There's nothing special about this night, nothing especially dark or strange. At least, not for Gotham's residents. He shoots a gun out of the hand of a woman who appears to be either mentally ill or extremely angry. She hadn't been aiming at anyone in particular, and she runs before Connor can get down from the roof.

He retrieves his arrow and makes a note to sharpen the head when he gets a chance, kicks the gun into a sewer, and wonders what it would be like to be accustomed to this. When there's a breeze, the air doesn't smell any different than it would in any coastal city.

When there isn't...

When they'd worked together, Robin hadn't seemed particularly different, or... affected may be the better word. Affected by this.

And, if he's being honest with himself, the city had not seemed so dark and ominous then. Even on the trail of assassins, even with death all around... perhaps that was the point. Perhaps that sort of thing had become usual to Robin, and so allowed him to be as calm and friendly as he had been.

Or perhaps Robin simply enjoyed that sort of excitement, and Connor himself had... what? Allowed himself to ignore the realities of the situation in order to enjoy Robin's enjoyment?

It wouldn't be out of character. There's something intoxicating about another person's happiness, something almost addictive. When Roy comes to visit, Connor tends to find himself in all sorts of strange and moderately terrifying situations. It isn't that Roy forces him into it -- he wouldn't.

It's just that it's remarkably difficult to say 'no,' when he knows -- knows -- that Roy will find a way to take pleasure out of whatever they do. And that pleasure will be infectious. It's...

Perhaps he's being selfish.

Perhaps he's simply trying to hold on too tightly to a brief moment of happiness, and Robin had only returned his e-mails to be polite. Connor spent much of his life being trained in the ways of letting go, in how to live a life unencumbered by anything that would drag him away from wisdom.

Nothing should be held too tightly, according to some interpretations of Buddhism. According to most, actually.

And while he might not have gotten on a plane quite so quickly were it not for his father's encouragement...

Connor climbs another fire escape, carefully and silently as he can. Several of these have planters, or children's toys, or other signs of family lives that may not be happy, but are clearly at least not apocalyptic.

He is here, and he hadn't needed much effort to be convinced. He's going to have to give this a great deal of thought. Sometime after he --

She nods at him, and cocks her head.

"Oh. Well. I'm looking for Robin --"

"Hey, wait up. Jeez, Batgirl, you know I'm still getting used to these jumplines and -- oh. Hey."

Stephanie's voice, quiet but still recognizable. Her hair is long and even more shockingly bright than it had been in the photograph, and her suit... is not very different at all from... the former Robin's. He's going to have to get used to that very, very quickly. The moonlight catches Batgirl's face for a moment, and Connor is almost sure she's smiling beneath her mask.

She nods again.

"Hello, Robin. I'm not sure if you remember me --"

"Sure," she says, and grins. "Green Arrow. Well... the other Green Arrow now, I guess. What brings you here?"

"Looking for you," Batgirl says, in a soft, even voice.

Robin looks at Batgirl for a moment before turning back to him, grin entirely gone just that fast. "Guess you probably didn't expect this." Her mouth is a hard line.

"Er... what?"

"When we met, I was still on the outs. Even T -- well. Even my predecessor was scolding me about being Spoiler."

She's clearly speaking to Batgirl, but Batgirl doesn't move, and she's out of the moonlight again, so Connor can't even make even the slightest guess about what her expression might be. "Robin --"

"Look, I don't really have time to prove myself to everyone who shows up wondering how I wound up in the suit, so maybe you should go back to Seattle or wherever the hell you're from."

"Star City," Batgirl says, before Connor can.

Robin snorts. "The 'wherever the hell' implied --"

Batgirl looks at her again, and whatever's in this look makes Robin turn away, just for a moment. Connor isn't sure whether he should try saying anything or not, but --

"Why are you here," Batgirl says.

"I just. I hadn't heard from... Robin's predecessor in quite some time --"

"Join the freaking club -- ow." Robin backs off a step from Batgirl, rubbing her shoulder.

"Um. I really don't mean to intrude. I was just..." Connor stares at his own hands. He feels ridiculous and out of place, and there are too many things here he can't even begin to understand. It's more than a little like being in the same room with his father and Dinah.

"You're worried about him," Batgirl says, and there isn't even the implication of a question.

"I... yes."

"And..." She trails off, cocking her head at him again, and Connor has the distinct impression of being stripped, measured, and analyzed. He remembers a mention of 'body language,' and wonders what he might be telling her. He takes a breath and forces himself to look her in the face.

"I was hoping I could talk to him." He turns to include Robin in the look, but she's still looking... elsewhere.

"He's not Robin anymore," Robin says after a long moment. To Batgirl. "Are we still supposed to keep his secrets? I mean, seriously. Oracle could probably hook this guy up in a heartbeat. Or we could just take him there."

There. He wants... and Batgirl is looking at the roof. "Batman," she says, and Robin snorts again.

"The only thing Batman wants to say about... about him is how much better..." Robin frowns and crosses her arms, and gives Connor a look that's only blank because of her mask. "Look, Green Arrow, if it was up to me, I'd just give you his damned phone number and address. He probably should talk to someone, and it really isn't me. Not anymore. But --"

"Tell him."

Robin stares at Batgirl. "Wait, what? You're the one --"

"He does. Need to... talk." Batgirl is still staring at the roof.

"How do you -- wait, never mind, whatever. This is me, so completely not asking. Green Arrow, you got a piece of paper on you?"

Connor slips the notepad from the compartment on his quiver and hands it to Robin. He's not asking, either.

"Don't go like..." Batgirl gestures at his uniform.

"His family still doesn't know?"

Robin laughs. "Dude, that is so not the problem," she says, and gives the pad back to him before rolling her shoulders and looking at Batgirl again. "Patrol?"

Batgirl leaps off the roof without another word, and Robin shoots off her grapple.

"Thank you," Connor says to their backs.

He's going to have to go back to his hotel to change.

He wonders how problematic it would be to take a taxi.

*

Robin's -- Tim's -- neighborhood is actually louder than the ones Connor had been doing his best to avoid patrolling. It's a different sort of noise, however. None of the streetlights here are broken, or even especially dim. The noise, for the most part, is centered around a movie theater and the surrounding restaurants.

It's a Thursday night, but there are a lot of young people milling around just the same. The street could be just about any in Star City, except for...

Well, except for nothing. It doesn't feel like Gotham here. No one is fighting, and no one appears to be in danger. Several people smile at him.

He wonders how it feels and looks to Robin. If it seems strange, or if he'd become used to the way his apparent double-life just kept doubling around him.

He... isn't entirely sure how he feels about the prospect of calling Robin 'Tim' to his face, since Robin had never offered his name. It seems more than a little presumptuous, and it really is late in the day to think something like that.

In a lot of ways.

Connor absently plucks the hem of his t-shirt out of the hand of a young woman with rather bright eyes and enters the building. The Drakes live only a few floors up, so he skips the elevator, ignoring the operator's strangely comforting sneer. It's much quieter up here, and he wonders if it is too late to visit and...

He decides to knock rather than ringing the bell. Sleeping people would probably be able to ignore a knock (and Tim would undoubtedly hear it, anyway).

A man not much older in appearance than his own father answers the door. No, rips open the door, really, because --

"Who are you?"

"Hello, my name is Connor Hawke. I was wondering if I could speak to... Tim."

The man narrows his eyes at him. They're faintly bloodshot, and a closer look reveals that he apparently hasn't shaved today. The line of his jaw is deeply familiar, as well as the shape of his brow.

"Er... if that's all right, Mr. Drake?"

Drake's look gets even more hostile for a moment, more measuring. "Which one are you?"

"Pardon?"

"I don't have time for games, young man. You so-called heroes..." Drake's face twists into something pained and ugly before smoothing out into something blankly aggressive. "He isn't here."

"I... sir?"

Drake's hand tightens on the door, tightens enough that his knuckles are white. "He isn't here. Are you happy now? Tim's gone. Why don't you ask Batman where he is, because. Because."

Connor moves before he can think about it, blocking the slam of the door. "Are you saying your son is missing?"

He gets another narrow look, questioning this time, and a woman slips into view.

"Jack, is it --"

"No," Drake says without turning around. "I don't know who this is."

"Connor Hawke. I --" Drake pushes hard on the door. "Green Arrow," he says quickly. "I've... I was worried. When I hadn't heard from your son. I just --"

"Do you know where he is?" The woman must be Tim's mother, though she doesn't really look much like him.

Perhaps her eyes are Tim's own. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Drake, I don't. I was... I was told he'd be here."

The pressure on the door eases a bit, and Tim's father fixes him with a look. "Who said that?"

"I... it was Batgirl. And... the new Robin. They seemed to believe -- is your son missing?"

Mrs. Drake looks like she's about to cry. "He left. He said... he said he couldn't be here anymore. We just assumed --"

"That he'd gone back to him," Drake finishes.

It doesn't take much thought to guess who that 'him' referred to. "I'm afraid not, sir. They... they would've said something."

"To you," Mrs. Drake says, and she doesn't look like she's about to cry at all, anymore. "But not to us."

He wants to protest that, but... but there's a lot here he doesn't know. And a lot of phone calls that could've been made never were. He settles for shaking his head. "If... I'll find him."

"And bring him back?"

Connor looks Mrs. Drake in the eye. "If he'll come."

Mr. Drake makes a small, choked sound, and it takes a moment to translate it to laughter. "We thought he'd go back to... that man." He's pinching the bridge of his nose, and his knuckles are white on the door again, even though he isn't exerting any pressure. "I... I was going to..."

"Sir --"

"I don't know what I was going to do." Another choked, terrible laugh, and even though Drake is looking at him again, Connor isn't sure what he's seeing. "And now I know even less."

"I --" The hand on his arm is Mrs. Drake's. "Ma'am?"

"Find him. Just... make sure he's safe. That's what you people do, isn't it?"

There are a lot of ways he could answer that. He settles for nodding, and watches Mrs. Drake pull Tim's father back into the apartment. The door closes, and Connor takes a moment to center himself.

It's only been a few minutes, and the entire conversation took place in the doorway. It feels more than a little surreal, and the only positive he can find is that he will, apparently, be spending even less time in Gotham than he'd guessed.

The thought isn't remotely funny. Connor stares at the closed door for another few moments and heads for the stairs.

Outside, the street is a little quieter. The next film has probably started. He has no idea --

"Hsst."

A black-gloved hand beckoning him into the shadows between Tim's building and another. Batgirl. Connor joins her, and works on trying to make her out in all of the darkness.

It really isn't possible.

"Tim is --"

"Gone."

Connor pauses. "You listened?"

Batgirl points upward, toward a window that almost surely looks into the Drakes' apartment. "Worried, too."

Robin hadn't mentioned her very often. He spoke very little about his... other family, but there had still been a difference. Connor had assumed Robin simply didn't work with her as often as he worked with the others.

He really should've known that nothing was simple at all.

"You'd been... watching him?"

"Yes."

"Why? I mean... were you close?"

"No." Connor can feel her shifting more than he can see it. "I wanted." She makes a small, frustrated sound.

"It's all right --"

"He left," she says. "Wanted..." He can feel her shift again, and he's almost sure she's looking at him, now.

He thinks about it. "You... you didn't think it seemed normal?"

A light tap on his chest. He's going to assume that means he's on the right track.

"And you... wanted to make sure he was all right?"

"How."

Connor nods, slowly. "And you wanted to know how he could. I... did he leave because... his family found out?"

"Said they'd tell. He'd tell. All the secrets."

He nods again. If he lets himself think about it very deeply, in a way he hadn't when Robin had used Stephanie's name... if he did probably very little research, he'd know Batman's identity. And from there, everyone else's. But his father already knew Batman's identity, and Roy knew Batman and Nightwing, and perhaps Oracle, too. As far as Connor could tell, none of them had ever tried to take that knowledge any further.

And he'd never needed to ask why. Still, there are other concerns.

"You heard what I told them."

"Yes."

"I... I'm not sure they wouldn't be better off asking Batman, Batgirl. I don't have the faintest idea --"

"West."

"I -- you think he went west?"

"Maybe. To start."

Well. That only leaves... most of the country. Right. "Do you have any idea how he's traveling?"

"Wait."

Connor waits. He feels her shifting again, and --

"Oracle... yes. Yes. All right. Out." Another shift. "He took the bike. Before."

"The bike? Before... he left?" Connor blinks. "And you didn't know...?"

"Batman," she says, and Connor's absolutely positive that shift was a shrug.

He sighs. "I don't suppose 'bike' refers to a twelve-speed?"

*

He decides to spend the rest of the night in his hotel room, though sleeping is more a matter of hope than anything else. It's an interesting sensation to be both anxious and exhilarated when no one is shooting at him, but he supposes that it makes sense.

He's somehow agreed to go hunting for a wayward ex-vigilante who failed to send him an e-mail. His life has been strange for quite some time now, but there are certain things he's not yet accustomed to.

Connor decides to worry when he does get used to it. For now... well, he can pick up a phone, and... not call.

It's barely eleven in Star City, and his father is almost certainly on patrol, and Mia should be sleeping. Or at least doing her homework.

Most likely, she's training in the basement, and wouldn't want to be interrupted, anyway. He isn't sure what he'd tell his father, anyway, and the fact that the man would only encourage him isn't as comforting as it could be.

Connor stares up at the blandly painted ceiling and listens to the faint hum of the alarm clock beside him. He's not going to get to sleep until, perhaps, an hour before it's set to go off. He knows himself and his body too well to hope for otherwise.

And Robin is...

Tim Drake is somewhere, on a motorcycle that would probably make Roy's eyes glaze over with lust, because there was no such thing as a normal Bat-vehicle. Right now he's... what?

It had never been difficult to read between the lines of his letters, not for some things. Tim had enjoyed nearly everything about being Robin, in the same way Connor enjoyed
almost everything about being Green Arrow.

A few hours ago, he'd been more than willing to admit that he'd read wrongly, and that the way Tim had acted -- had enjoyed himself -- when Connor had been in Gotham last... well, that it had all been a fluke, or a miscommunication, or even an exception to the rule. He'd retired.

But now he knows -- he thinks he knows -- why Tim had retired, and nothing makes sense anymore. It would almost certainly be a mistake to judge the Drakes by how they'd acted tonight, when they were scared and angry, and yet...

Connor is having a very difficult time imagining them as being, for Tim, what Connor's family is to him. And it has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that neither of them are vigilantes, or connected to the life in any way.

He can't forget the hostility in Mr. Drake's eyes, and the fact that Batgirl...

Would she have kept watching if everything was happy, or even normal? It's conjecture on top of assumption, and Batgirl isn't the most normal person he's ever met, or even worked with, and yet she's also someone who can read a person as clearly as Connor can read a newspaper. She must've seen something like what he had, or something else.

Had Tim known she was watching?

There are so many questions, and in the end...

In the end, there aren't very many answers at all, save that he's even more worried about Tim than he was this morning, when the worst thoughts he'd had were about his death.

As opposed to his... hurt.

There's no real comfort in knowing that the few, small conclusions he'd made about Tim before he knew him as anything but Robin -- and he'd always signed his e-mails with a simple 'R' -- were correct. Because now... now he can't help but wonder what sort of stress Tim had been under that would make him run away from both of his families.

And to... what?

Would he go to the Titans?

Would he think to call anyone?

Or would he assume that his prior -- and apparently forced -- lack of communication with everyone in his life meant that he couldn't, or shouldn't?

He knows what his father would tell him about Bats, and he knows what his instincts tell him about Tim. At this point, perhaps the most important question is what sort of people he'll meet tomorrow when he starts hitch-hiking.

The sound of his own laughter is not loud enough to cover the knock. Robin -- Stephanie -- is on his balcony.

Connor pulls on a robe and joins her.

"I'm sorry," she says, before he can say anything.

"It's... all right?"

"No, it isn't," and she turns and stares out at the city. "I was a bitch, and you didn't deserve it. So I'm sorry."

Connor looks, reflexively, for Batgirl.

"And she isn't here." Robin snorts. "Well, she might be. I'm not that good -- yet -- but she didn't come with me." She smirks back over her shoulder. "Or make me come."

"I didn't mean to imply... that."

"Yeah, well. I'm pretty sure I've gotten really, really freaking touchy lately, and... yeah. There's no excuse for it. Not really."

Connor thinks of Batgirl's shrug. "I can't actually imagine what it's like to be trained by someone like Batman."

The smile on her face gets smaller and harder, but doesn't fade entirely. "I'm going to be really fucking good one day."

"I don't doubt it --"

"Because of me. Not because... Christ. I need a Midol."

"Um."

She looks at him from under her lashes for a long moment and then laughs. "Yeah, okay, you and Tim must have gotten along."

Connor smiles ruefully. "I have to admit, I thought I'd find out more from you than... anyone else."

Robin sighs and looks out at the city again. "A month ago, you would've been right."

"Did the two of you... argue?"

She shakes her head. "It's not like that. He's not like that." She sighs again. "There are a lot of things Tim never told me, and there are a lot of things I took too long to tell him, and we probably should have fought. But I've been busy, and Tim..."

"Isn't like that."

"Yeah. Anyway." She turns and hops up on the railing, kicking idly at the bars. The wind catches her hair, and she shoves it behind her ear, absently straightening her headband. "You've probably figured out that you're not going to get much help with this."

Connor nods.

"There's no way I can leave now, and Batgirl wouldn't leave her patrol for anything short of a direct order from Batman, and Batman... don't even get me started. Man, I just thought he'd moved Tim's bike into storage or somewhere, to keep it from... yeah, anyway. You could try Nightwing out in the 'haven, but I don't think even Oracle knows what's up with him these days. And who even knows where Oracle's sent the Birds..."

"I have worked on my own before, Robin."

"But never to track down one of us." She smiles again. "'Us.' 'Robin.' Heh. I still get a kick out of that."

He can understand that.

"I'm just saying... well, according to Batman, there's nothing to worry about, because Tim can do anything short of, like, flying. But if he isn't as worried as the rest of us, I'll eat my fucking headband."

Connor frowns. "So why --"

She cuts him off with an impatient look, but softens again. "Just... let us know when you find him, okay? Maybe he's better off out of Gotham, but... yeah." She pulls out her grapple. "I gotta get home before my mom rents out my room."

"Does your mother know? I... if you don't my asking."

"Yeah, she does." She grins. "But she also knows she won't stop me."

Until she learns Batman's secrets, too? Connor waves at her as she leaves and goes back inside, eyeing the bed for a few moments.

And then he packs.

*

"... so, it's good that you're getting out of Gotham," the trucker says for the fourth time.

His name is Bill, he's been driving this route for the better part of five years, and he hasn't let Connor get in a word edgewise for approximately twenty minutes.

"It's a cesspit. Nothing but crime and misery and more crime..."

He can't say he isn't used to it. Connor nods when it seems expected and otherwise lets it wash over him and keeps an eye out for red motorcycles. He has a morbid, compelling image of Tim giving the bike a paintjob, or perhaps rebuilding it.

"... and the kids! In my day, you'd never see a kid dressed like that..."

Bill is his third ride today, and Connor is sure he isn't a day over thirty, if that much. By his calculations, Tim has a less than thirty-six hour head start on him. However, he also has a motorcycle designed by Batman, and a will.

A will for what is an excellent question.

"... you headed, anyway, kid?"

Connor smiles at Bill. "I'm not sure yet."

"Just seeing what you can see, hunh? I hear that. Of course, it can be dangerous out here for a kid alone."

"I'll be careful," Connor says, and wonders if his first ride has made it to a hospital yet. Probably. He really hadn't meant to break the man's wrist, but sometimes the world is a dangerous place.

"Of course, it can't be worse than what you're used to in Gotham. I heard they were eating people back when the government shut them off. Did you see anything like that?"

Connor considers pointing out, again, that he isn't from Gotham. "Can't say that I did, Bill."

"Hm. You must be one of the lucky ones."

Connor makes a non-committal noise and considers his strategy. He's assuming Tim isn't, really, planning on going anywhere in particular, and theoretically it should make this both easier and harder.

Easier, because a careful person wouldn't risk riding through random towns on a motorcycle like that without several different firmly-memorized lies to tell, and so would almost certainly stick to the highways.

The parking lots of the rest stops are easily in view, and he's confident in his ability to spot the bike, even if he isn't entirely sure how he would go about convincing someone to turn around and drive into a rest stop they'd just passed. Faking illness seems like the best option.

It's harder, too, however, because... well, because without anything resembling a destination, Connor's immediate future involves a rough, continuing circuit through the highways of southern New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania, and perhaps a slow death through carbon monoxide poisoning.

"... and the Knights haven't made it to the playoffs in years."

Perhaps it would be faster if he took deeper breaths.

*

He sees the boy over a cup of very strong, very bitter coffee. Just another slight, dark-haired boy in clothing too loose to get an accurate idea of physique. There seem to be dozens in every rest stop Connor's paused in. The motel he'd stayed in the night before alone...

Connor shakes his head and drinks more of the stuff, waiting for a better look at this one and quietly fantasizing about tea. There's nowhere near enough caffeine in it for his needs, though, and while Tetley tastes the same wherever you go, Connor has developed a healthy degree of terror about New Jersey water, even boiled.

The boy orders coffee and a sandwich, and persists on staying in profile. He's wearing sunglasses, and has a small, ragged goatee.

He moves through the crowd of sluggish morning travelers easily, speaking to no one and scanning the room like --

He moves like --

And his eyes don't so much as pause on Connor, but he's moving towards the exits. Connor drops his coffee. Literally drops it, and pausing to wipe up the mess is a mistake.

By the time he gets to the parking lot, the motorcycle is back on the highway, headed east. And the sandwich is on the ground, still warm.

It cools in his pocket while he waits for the next ride.

Suzanne apologizes absently for the lack of leg room in her Porsche. Connor smiles at her and tells her he'd never ridden in one before.

"Nothing like it, honey." She strokes the steering wheel like the spine of a cat.

"Is it true how fast they can go?"

The smile she gives him is sharp and narrow, and makes her look closer to thirty than the forty-four he'd estimated, in a somewhat terrifying way. Definitely in a familiar way. He shifts a little closer to the door and Suzanne snorts. "I'm pretty sure my daughter's older than you, pretty boy, so why don't you just hold on and let mama show you what she can do?"

The acceleration knocks him back against the seat. The engine sounds aren't really louder so much as more noticeable, a hum that matches his own excitement. There's a quick series of shifts, and Connor makes himself focus on more than the feel. Suzanne is making the car weave through traffic exactly like a runaway vigilante might move through a crowd of people entirely unaware of just what's in their midst.

Connor grins, a little helplessly, and looks for red.

"Answer your question, kiddo?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Ma'am. Jesus. Pass me that headset. Mama also has some phone calls to make."

As near as Connor can tell, Suzanne is an attorney with several secretaries who must either be extremely tolerant or entirely broken of spirit. He thinks about discussing meditation techniques with her, but she moves from one phone call to another as fluidly as she makes the car move through traffic.

And he's looking for motorcycles.

He's a little surprised that he hasn't seen Tim yet, but then, judging by the speedometer, Suzanne is only breaking the speed limit.

Tim had seemed ready and willing to shatter it, and he's most assuredly able.

The only consolation is that he's just a little bit too frightened about the prospect of winding up in a pile of twisted metal to be lulled by either the admirably smooth ride or the pattern of dashes.

But he still almost misses the flash of red when Tim takes the exit. It's on a rise and --

"Oh, dear."

"Shut up, Carmen," Suzanne says, and flicks her gaze at him. "What, kid? I said shut up, Carmen."

"I need to take that exit. I'm sorry, but I --"

"Man, I should've known you wouldn't be paying attention. Not you, Carmen, Christ, did you forget to take your fucking ginseng again?" Suzanne punches the hang-up switch, and they wind up leaving a great deal of rubber on the road.

Horns blare, and Connor has just enough time to wonder if his father would understand this, too, before they're on the exit ramp. He can smell burning rubber, and Suzanne's grin is just that slightest bit maniacal.

"There. Now where are we going?"

There isn't a rest-stop in sight, and the only visible gas station flashes past in a flicker of bright colors that aren't anything like the red of the bike. Robin red. He doesn't know, and any lies he could come up with... "I'm. Actually chasing someone."

"You're what?"

"I don't mean to get you involved in this, ma'am --"

"You're trying to chase someone driving by hitch-hiking? Are you high?" Suzanne veers around what was either a squirrel or... something else. At this speed, it's nothing but a small, blurred, greyish lump.

"Well, I --"

"Who is it?"

"My friend, actually --"

"What's he driving?" She looks like she's trying to decide whether to stab him with a ballpoint pen or laugh.

"Er -- red motorcycle. Very distinctive and -- taking that left -- oh God --"

They're going to die. They're going to be arrested. Possibly both.

The road is mostly empty save for them and Tim's bike, but it twists like a snake.

"I would just like to apologize for --"

"Oh, shut up. Carmen was boring me." Suzanne punches the stereo on and music blares immediately, too loud for him to even make a guess about who it might be. Roy would probably know.

Roy would possibly ask Suzanne out on a date, at this point.

"That kid can drive," she says.

"It's my understanding that he's been doing it since he was fourteen."

"Hm. So, what, he owe you money? Or is that your bike? If so, you have excellent taste." The look she gives him is glittering and mercifully brief. She really does a very good job of keeping her eye on the road for an insane person.

"Oh, I, no. He's actually... running away from home."

"And you're trying to convince him otherwise?"

"Mostly I'd just like to talk to him -- right!"

Suzanne grunts and they leave more rubber behind. "He's a terrible conversationalist."

"I think he's just... moody. Right now." There are a lot more trees. He wonders if they're near the Pine Barrens. He'd read about them -- they're apparently very pretty when they're not a brown and green blur.

She takes one hand off the wheel to pat him on the shoulder. "My daughter Annie gets the same way, sometimes. Had to chase her all the way to North Carolina a few years back. Of course, I had a car."

The song changes, and Suzanne starts singing along. Something about a 'gold dust woman.' Connor makes a note to ask someone about it when he isn't about to die.

"Hm. He's slowing down. Do you think it's a trick? Annie got me that way when I was still driving that damned Jaguar."

"I'm... not sure?

Another grunt. "Nothing for it," she says, and eases her foot off the gas.

Connor tenses, and watches Tim as closely as he can, but he really does come to a complete stop at the side of the road. Connor reaches for the door handle and Suzanne squeezes his shoulder.

"Wait for it, kid, he looks squirrelly."

She keeps the engine idling, but Tim puts the kickstand down and takes off his helmet, looking back at them over his shoulder. "I think..."

"Yeah, go for it." She claps his shoulder one more time and shoves a business card in his pocket. "Call me if he bolts. I could use a vacation."

"I -- I don't know how to thank you. I can't tell you how much this means to me --"

She narrows her eyes at him. "You love my car. Say it."

"I... love, respect, and fear your car."

"Good boy. Out."

He gets out, shouldering his pack. Suzanne lets him get approximately five feet away before peeling off again, and Connor rocks a little in the car's wake. Tim isn't looking at him anymore, but he also hasn't put the helmet back on.

"Robin --"

"Don't call me that." His voice is quiet and low. Tired.

Connor thinks about reaching out. He's not sure if it would be easier or harder if Tim was looking at him. "All right. It's just... we've never exactly been introduced, and I didn't want to presume."

"Chasing me isn't presumptuous?"

"I didn't want to presume more." He tries a smile, though since it's aimed at the back of Tim's head... Connor sighs internally and moves around to the front of the bike. Tim's eyes are nothing like his mother's. They're wide and blue and blank. Connor offers his hand. "Connor Hawke."

The corner of Tim's mouth twitches, once, and he stares at Connor's hand for a long moment before shaking it. "Tim Drake. Why are you here?"

It's tempting to say something about this entirely random -- but surprisingly pretty -- road being the one Tim had led him to, but... "I was worried when I hadn't heard from you. And then when I tried to e-mail, your address was no longer valid, and I... was more worried."

Tim turns his head to the side, and the skin at the corner of his eye tightens. Nothing else. If he'd been wearing a mask...

Connor takes a breath. "I went to Gotham to find you, but you were already gone."

"How did you know where to look?"

"Batgirl and... the new Robin."

Connor watches Tim's expression get even tighter, and thinks about touching his face. "They just... told you?" There's an edge of hurt in Tim's voice, and Connor gives up and puts his hand on his shoulder. It feels like a compromise.

"They seemed to think that you... might want someone to talk to."

He can feel Tim's shoulder tense beneath his hand, and he watches Tim breathe with a very obviously conscious steadiness.

"Tim?"

"Someone... to talk to."

"I --"

Tim brushes Connor's hand off his shoulder and then puts his own back on the handlebar. "I'm sorry I didn't get in touch with you, Connor."

"You don't have to apologize." I met your parents, he doesn't say, but the look Tim gives him says he heard it, anyway.

Tim's smile is narrow and bleak and doesn't touch his eyes at all. "As you may have guessed," he says, "it was part of the deal."

"For keeping the secret."

Tim nods.

"I'm sorry. I can't imagine spending months without my friends. I think --"

"Your friends are your family."

Connor looks at Tim, holding his eyes as best he can. It's too late in the year for many insects, but it's still warm. Almost uncomfortably so with his pack. "So are yours," he says.

Tim looks right back at him, swallowing once. And Connor would've called that expression blank, but it's still immensely obvious when Tim closes it off even more. "I know Batgirl was... watching."

Connor nods. "She... she said she was confused."

Tim raises an eyebrow. "She knew why I had to leave."

"She didn't seem... I think she wanted to know how you managed it, even with... everything else."

Tim's mouth twitches. "She didn't stop even after Batman fired her. No one ever really does."

"Except for you."

Another twitch, and Connor feels himself willing it to be a smile. He hasn't seen Tim smile in much too long.

He wishes he knew more jokes.

"I'm not exactly doing a good job at it."

"Everyone needs time to adjust to change."

Tim looks down at the handlebar again for a moment before reaching up to... rip the goatee off his chin.

"Ow?"

That gets him a smile, and Connor can see the remnants of glue on Tim's chin. "I don't really know why I decided to dress like 'Alvin Draper.' I guess it was a reflex. It didn't stop you from recognizing me."

Connor rubs the glue off with his thumb before he can think about it, and looks into Tim's eyes and... and he isn't sure. "It took a moment, but you move in a very distinctive way."

"Batman always said I should work on that. I was supposed to start going out as a woman more often. Apparently, the shoes alone force you to really think about it."

"I imagine so." He... really does. There's a certain ambiguity to Tim's features --

"You're picturing it, aren't you?" The smile is in his eyes, now. Very much so.

Connor feels like he'd missed that, too, even though he'd never actually gotten it before. He smiles ruefully. "Wouldn't you?"

Tim cocks his head at him. "You might have trouble with the falsies the first few times you tried to draw a bow."

"I'm surprisingly adaptable," Connor says, and smiles a little more.

But Tim stops smiling back.

"Tim?"

"You've worked with Batman. You know... well, you know."

Connor isn't sure about that, but he nods anyway.

Tim clutches the handle bar with one hand and runs the fingers of the other over the console. "It took me a long time to figure out that when he wasn't criticizing me, he was complimenting me. No matter what it sounded like. And even some of the criticisms... I just." He squeezes the handlebar, once. "I'm just remembering that he told me once that I was very adaptable."

Connor nods again. "You'd have to be."

"Yeah. Yes. That's exactly it. You can't do this without being adaptable, so I didn't really think of it as a compliment, even though he meant it that way. Because... because, for Batman, the fact that he thinks you can do it is a compliment in and of itself."

"You must miss him very much."

Tim looks up at him again, and his eyes make Connor want to shoot something. Or just...

"Tim --"

"I didn't figure it out. I think... I mean. I don't think, I know. I figured it out one night when I'd finished my homework, and I could hear sirens in the distance, and I was supposed to be asleep but I couldn't. So I thought back, and made a list of every time I realized Batman was complimenting me versus every time he was complimenting me, and it was really..." Tim's laugh is choked, and he stares off into the trees.

The wind shifts, and Connor thinks he can smell deer, and for just a moment, it's really very easy to see Tim's father.

"It was really pathetic. All this time, and I..."

Connor wants to put his hand back on Tim's shoulder. No, he wants to hug him, but... he puts his hand back, and squeezes gently until Tim looks at his again. "I... I have reason to believe he misses you, too."

"I know he does. I'm his partner. I was his partner, and why the fuck am I just figuring out what that means now?"

He doesn't know what to say to that, and can't help but remember all the things he's heard his father say over the years about 'the Bats,' and can't help but think about how sad it is that his father was right about so much of it, even though he isn't sure his father realizes that they're real people, too. And Tim's shoulder is tensing under his own again.

"God -- Christ. I have to... I have to..."

"We could... go back?"

"No," Tim says. "I'm not... I'm not going back to shut up in that stupid little apartment, when I can feel the whole city around me and I can't touch any of it. I'm sorry, Connor, I know you came all this way -- and chased me, even, and... I can't."

Connor nods. He isn't surprised. "We could continue to not go back... together."

Calling the feel of Tim's shoulder under his hand 'tense' is an incredible understatement. He feels absolutely rigid, to the point where Connor wants to wince in sympathy. He
wishes he wanted to let go, because he's almost sure Tim doesn't want to be touched.

"That is... if you wanted me to join you."

"Would you keep chasing me if I said I didn't?"

Connor thinks of Suzanne's business card. But. "No," he says. "I wouldn't." He's almost sure he means it, and he's absolutely sure he could make himself not to do it. He has a lot of experience with self-control, and. He doesn't want Tim to be angry with him.

The look on Tim's face is a searching one, with a hint of mild surprise. "You really wouldn't."

Connor nods.

Tim smiles at him, and it's something like taking a deep, cleansing breath. "I missed you, Connor. I... I'd forgotten."

It feels like there's something he should do, something more than just smiling back at Tim, but he isn't sure what it is. And then Tim pats the... passenger seat, Connor supposes, behind him.

"Come on. Let's go see... something." And Tim smiles a little wider.

Connor moves to sit behind him, irrationally positive that Tim will pull away as soon as he's no longer in front of the bike, but he doesn't.

"There's an extra helmet back there."

It's the same green as Tim's old gauntlets, but it feels fitting, just the same. Tim smiles at him again and slips on his own red helmet.

"Can you hear me?"

Connor blinks. "I... yes."

"Good. I hadn't checked the radios before I... left, so I wasn't sure. We probably won't be able to hear each other perfectly over the road noise, though."

"All right."

"Have you ever ridden on one of these before?"

"No."

It's an odd feeling. He can't, obviously, see Tim smiling, but he thinks he can feel it just the same.

Tim moves the kickstand back up and tilts the bike fully upright again.

"You're going to want to hold on."

Connor doesn't have a problem with that, at all.

*

The ride is good -- wonderful, actually -- though Connor thinks it might not be so pleasant if he wasn't wearing a jacket and long pants. He's also glad that fastidiousness had caused him to keep wearing boots, instead of the sandals he'd packed. He thinks he might owe that man with the alcohol poisoning a debt.

But he's covered enough that the wind feels more like a really aggressive caress than a beating, his pack is settled comfortably on his shoulders, and. And he's pressed to Tim's back.

It isn't really a hug, but his body doesn't seem to know that, or maybe it just doesn't care. Tim... feels good in his arms, and it hadn't taken long at all for the tension to dissipate.

He's --

"Are you all right back there, Connor?"

"Yes." The radios really are excellent, though he wouldn't have expected anything less. There's the barest hint of tinniness, and, at this point, he has to concentrate to hear it. It's just Tim's voice in his ear. The same one he'd imagined while reading Tim's
e-mails, only... closer.

"You've been quiet," Tim says.

"I didn't want to interrupt you."

"I've ridden this thing through heavy traffic with bullets flying at my head, Connor." The smile is entirely audible.

He smiles back. "Perhaps we can avoid that."

"I think I'd like to see you firing your bow from the back of the bike."

"I'd hope you'd be watching the road."

Tim laughs. "I always watch the road. Though I have to admit, the way that woman was driving could've been distracting. Who was she?"

"Suzanne Parsons. I believe she's an attorney."

"And amateur stock-car driver. Wow. She's going to need to get her tires replaced."

"She did seem... enthusiastic about chasing you down like a dog."

Another laugh. "What did you tell her?"

"The truth."

The silence is a waiting one.

"That you were my friend, and that I wanted very badly to talk to you."

Tim sighs, quiet and brief enough that Connor thinks he might not have noticed were it not in his ear.

As it is, he can't stop himself from squeezing Tim a little.

"Connor..."

"Yes."

"I never wanted to just cut you off like that. Cut everyone off... God. I know Batman would've told people something --"

"Not that many."

Another sigh. "Of course not. Just whoever he thought needed to know, like the Titans. And whatever he told them... probably wasn't enough to explain Steph showing up as the new Robin."

"No."

"I have to... whatever else I do while I'm out here, I have to make phone calls. Because... because it won't mess things up any more than I already have."

Connor nods, knowing Tim can feel it through the back of his own jacket.

"I think... I think it would've been easier if my father had let me say my goodbyes. I probably should have explained it better. I should've... I should not have used the word allies, and associates. It must've just made it worse."

"You've had a lot of time to consider it."

The laugh is humorless. "Yes, I have. And I didn't know how to bring it up again. I was just supposed to be... a normal kid who didn't have much of a social life for the past few years, but was getting back into the swing of things.

"For a while, my father looked at every kid I spoke to who also happened to be in good shape like some... I don't know."

"Like someone who'd take you away from him?"

"How are they," Tim says, and his voice is quiet.

Connor watches the trees blur past at a reasonable speed. There are a few other cars on the road. They mostly seem older, and several of them look more like farm vehicles than anything else. He wonders where they're going. "They're both angry and worried. More the latter than the former."

"Are you sure about that?"

"Tim --"

"When my father found out, he threatened B -- Batman with a gun. I didn't know he owned a gun. Three years of my life searching homes and reading people and knowing them, and I didn't even realize that my own father kept a gun. In our own house."

For a moment, Connor is sure that Tim's upset is more about not knowing than it is about the fact of the gun itself, but then... Connor is absolutely sure that Roy owns more guns than shirts, and the only Gotham vigilante he can think of who even uses projectile weapons is the Huntress.

'The one they don't like,' his father reminds him in his head.

"You were shocked."

"I was horrified, Connor. I... I couldn't even recognize him. My father barely yelled at me when I 'disappeared' into No Man's Land. I could count the number of times I'd seen him honestly angry on my hands. And then, when we talked, he was alternately threatening Batman's life and threatening to expose us all."

"Which would be just another way of murdering your other family."

"Yes. I... you've never taken your secret identity very seriously."

"I..." Connor smiles ruefully. "I suppose it must seem that way to you."

"I admire people like you. And maybe if Gotham wasn't Gotham... Batman used to tell me stories of the old days. When Nightwing was Robin, and before. How people like the Joker almost never killed anyone, or even tried to kill them. How only the big guys carried guns, and most people would try to use their fists first. Does your father ever talk about those days?"

"Sometimes. Not often. It's mostly in his eyes when we're working. On the bad nights."

There are a few more cars on the road now, and the trees are thinning out. He can just make out a few houses now, situated far back from the road.

Connor listens to Tim breathe, and thinks about Mr. Drake's white knuckles.

"I try to imagine it. What it's like. I was still in training when I met Lady Shiva for the first time -- I told you about that."

The Paper Monkey. Connor nods against Tim's back.

"And then the first time I went solo, it was up against the Joker, and all I could think... I never got the chance to meet the boy who was Robin before me, because the Joker murdered him. Beat him to death and. I... I try to imagine what it must've been like, in a world where just because Two-Face escaped from Arkham again, you didn't have to assume that someone was going to die."

"Can you?"

"No. No, I can't. And the only way I could've explained that to my father was by talking more about the things... the things that made him so angry, because I'd lied to him for so long, because he was worried about me. And I just..."

And Connor understands it. How Tim had tried and failed to come up with a better way, and how it was possible that no one could. Not without more lies.

More than that, he knows that Tim knows that Connor understands. And he's starting to understand what it must have been like for Tim to have no one to talk to about any of it, and there's a crawling kind of horror in his belly.

"Tim... you don't have to talk to me about any of this," Connor says, and he can feel Tim's body tense against his own. "But I'm glad you are. I..." He doesn't have the words for it. He squeezes Tim again, and this time Tim pushes back against him, just a little.

"Thank you," he says, and his voice is low and rough in Connor's ear.

"You're welcome."

They're definitely in a town, now, though the brief look Connor had taken through the New Jersey and Pennsylvania atlases hasn't given him the preparation to have any idea which.

Tim slows down when they reach what must be the main street, and pulls in to a parking space in front of... a diner. Connor laughs.

"What is it?"

"I still have your sandwich, you know."

"Where?"

"In my pocket."

"You've been carrying a cheeseburger from the Vince Lombardi memorial rest stop in your pocket since this morning."

"I thought you might get hungry."

"I dropped it in the parking lot trying to get away from you."

"Well," Connor says, "you really shouldn't litter."

Tim elbows him in the stomach and laughs in Connor's ear. It's... surprisingly difficult to let go of him, even so, but he does it. And stands, and wobbles a little on his feet.

Tim takes off his helmet and grins up at him. "Takes some getting used to."

His inner thighs are sort of... tingling. Connor blinks. "So I see."

The diner smells like very good coffee and a large amount of fried meat products. Connor dumps the cold cheeseburger in a trashcan, and when he looks up again, Tim is giving him a look.

"What?"

"We should find a city. So it'll be easier to find vegetarian restaurants."

Connor smiles. "I've grown accustomed to being taken places like this by my family, Tim. I know how to find something to eat."

"Still..." Tim frowns. "I didn't think."

Connor puts his hand on Tim's shoulder. "You don't have to remember every detail about me, you know."

Tim looks at him from out of the corner of his eye, and there's something like the beginnings of a truly sharp smile on his face. "I've spent the past several months with nothing whatsoever to obsess about other than my textbooks, Connor. This... is like breathing."

"Far be it from me to stifle you."

The smile gets wider and sharper, just for a moment, and then fades into something entirely innocuous in an eye-blink. A waitress is in front of them, and she can't seem to decide which of them to frown at more assiduously.

"Good afternoon, ma'am," Connor says, and smiles at her.

"We were wondering if we could have a table," Tim says, also smiling, and leaning in to read her nametag. "Beatrix. I've always liked that name."

The waitress blinks, jaw working for just a moment, and then turns away to lead them to a booth in front of a window.

Connor hides a smile behind his menu. Roy would say something, at this point, about the power of charm, but Tim looks faintly
uncomfortable, and spares a glance for the empty table in the farthest corner of the restaurant.

Connor thinks about it for a moment and has to hide another smile. That table is in the shadows, would allow Tim to keep his back to the wall, and has an excellent line of sight to the entirety of the diner.

"I missed you," Connor says, and Tim freezes and blinks.

"I'm getting too obvious."

"Or I've gotten to know what to look for with you."

Tim looks at him, and there's nothing particularly strange about his expression, but his eyes are wide and almost hungry, and Connor can't make himself look away until Tim picks up his own menu.

Connor focuses on breathing steadily and tries to figure out what sort of food he'd find edible. Nearly all of the omelets involve some form of meat, but the cheese one looks good enough.

And maybe some hash browns.

When the waitress comes to take their order, he's not really surprised at all by the fact that Tim orders nearly the same thing, but...

"You know, I don't mind it when people eat meat in front of me."

"And I don't need to eat meat with every meal," Tim says, and grins at him.

"I think my father would say that I'm being a bad influence on you."

Tim snorts. "What does your father think about... all of this?"

"Are you kidding? He drove me to the airport and put me on the plane."

Tim nods, slowly, and slides the salt shaker back and forth between his hands. "He always seemed like someone who believed in... friendship."

Connor thinks about playing with the pepper shaker. "Roy told me, once, that our father had t old him that it was just another kind of love, and that he was glad Roy had always had the Titans."

"'Another kind of love.' I like that. I... it seems so simple. So basic."

"But?"

Tim smiles ruefully at him. "I spent a lot of time just... completely failing to get that. I mean, I can blame... my former boss for some of it. I wasn't allowed to tell the people on... my former, former team a lot about myself, and I wound up staying aloof from them for a long time. But it wasn't just that. There were a lot of things I could've done, or said..." Tim shakes his head. "Anyway. I was just starting to understand what having friends, real friends, who knew just about everything about me, really meant."

"And then you had to leave." Connor reaches across the table and squeezes Tim's hand, and the look in Tim's eyes is wild and dark for a moment before he turns his hand over and squeezes back. And lets go.

"I feel like I'm saying too much. Part of me thinks I'm just... dumping this all over you --"

"No, Tim, I --"

"And part of me wonders if this is friendship, too."

He really can't seem to keep his breathing steady. "I hope it is," Connor says. "I... want it to be."

Tim smiles at him again. "Then it is."

*

They've been heading north for a little more than an hour, and Connor wonders if Tim does intend to take them into a city.

New York, probably, and it would be like Tim for a throwaway comment in a diner to lead to a definite change in plans.

Or, most probably, just into a plan.

The starchy lunch is making him feel a little sleepy, and... well, he hasn't actually gotten very much sleep at all in the past few days, between patrolling with his father, trying very hard to avoid patrolling in Gotham, and hunting Tim down.

The thought is like a catalyst -- he yawns before he can stop himself.

"We should stop for the night," Tim says.

"It isn't night." It really isn't. It's fall, but the sun isn't even down yet.

"How much sleep have you gotten?"

"How much have you?"

"My point entirely," and it's another one of those audible smiles.

He isn't sure why he feels like resisting -- it would be entirely sensible for both of them to get an early night. Especially Tim, since they'll almost certainly be doing more driving tomorrow, which means that Tim will be doing more driving, and...

It's a lie. He knows exactly why he's resisting.

He doesn't want to stop holding on.

"I really... wanted to make a few phone calls," Tim says, and his voice is hesitant.

Connor blinks, and swallows back a sudden tide of guilt. He'd forgotten. "I -- God, I'm sorry. I'd completely forgotten --"

"It's all right. I kind of like the idea of you forgetting things like that."

Connor smiles to himself.

Tim takes the next exit, and guides them into a Holiday Inn. Connor eases himself off the bike, bracing himself for the tingle and... he's actually a little sore. Nothing severe, but he'll have to do a bit more stretching than usual tonight. He slips his pack off, and rolls his head on his shoulders.

"Oh, here," Tim says, and slips around behind Connor, pushing up the back of his jacket and digging his thumbs into the base of his spine.

"Oh, you don't have to --"

"It's not your fault I didn't steal the Batmobile."

Connor laughs and moans, bracing his hands on the motorcycle's seat. "That feels wonderful."

"Good," Tim says, and works his way to every sore or tight muscle with ruthless efficiency. "You can return the favor sometime."

"Gladly. I'd be very -- oh -- interested in comparing technique." He wonders what Tim's skin is like, what it would feel like to touch. And his musculature... Connor would probably have to use a very firm touch to make himself felt, much less to do any good. He moans quietly and laughs again. "If you're going to do any more than that, we should probably go indoors, Tim. I think I'm making a spectacle of myself."

Tim's hands pause just beneath Connor's shoulder blades, but he doesn't say anything.

"Tim...?" Connor looks back over his shoulder. It's getting darker quickly, but it isn't difficult to see Tim's expression. It's just difficult to read it. "Is something wrong?"

"I..." Tim's smile is brief, and a little twitchy. "I just realized I haven't given anyone a massage in months." He moves his hands, shoving them in his pockets.

Connor stands and straightens, and turns to face Tim. The parking lot is empty, quiet save for the road noise that pass the sound-break of the few trees, and the skitter of dead leaves across asphalt. Connor thinks it should feel almost peaceful, but instead it just feels like something waiting. He brushes a hand over Tim's forearm, and thinks of the gauntlet that isn't there. "There are a lot of things to miss, I would imagine."

The smile on Tim's face gets somewhat steadier, and a lot more rueful. "Yes. Come on, let's go... wait. What name do you want to check in under?"

"Oh. I thought we might use my credit card... but you don't want to be traced."

"Old habits die hard. Though I suppose one of my phone calls should be to my parents." The smile fades off his face. "I owe them that much."

"I think it would be a good idea," Connor says, and watches the smile come right back to Tim's eyes.

"You're pretty much the acknowledged master of the carefully neutral statement, aren't you?"

Connor smiles back. "Some have suggested as much."

Tim laughs. "I think I'm starting to understand some of Kon's frustration with me."

"Kon...? Kon-El is Superboy's Kryptonian name, yes?"

Tim nods. "Him I'll call from here. My parents... well, we're going to have to fill up again before we hit the road again tomorrow. Gas stations have pay phones. They can wait another night."

"You sound..."

"Bitter?" Tim raises an eyebrow at him in something not quite like a challenge.

Connor thinks about it. "A little, yes, but mostly... you sound like you did when you were making a plan of attack."

Tim blinks. "So I'm apparently thinking of my parents the same way I would about a group of deadly assassins."

"On the upside, you're making me feel a lot better about the problems I have with my own family."

Tim snorts. "Let's check in."

*

It only took a few moments of watching Tim stare grimly at the telephone in their room before ducking out to see what sort of take-out he could get from the hotel's restaurant began to seem the better part of valor.

There's what appears to be the remnants of a small wedding party taking up approximately a third of the bland little place, and, judging by the noise, a few more filling up the small bar.

He watches them while he waits for what will probably be two very depressing interpretations of the word 'salad,' the women almost entirely uniform in pastel-colored dresses, varying only in their beat-up sneakers, the men in rumpled suits or tuxedos.

All of them are drinking coffee, and talking about...

Well, he's a little too far away to eavesdrop, even if he wanted to do so. But they seem to all agree that the wedding was a beautiful one, that the groom was lucky and the bride beautiful (or perhaps the other way around), and that they hoped to have the same sort of thing for their siblings or children or friends or themselves.

The sincerity is palpable and warming, the continuing celebration just somewhat different and quieter than the one in the bar.

These are people who've shared a joyous event, and clearly wish it to continue for as long as possible. They drink coffee and eat desserts, and talk about the photographs that are sure to come, and joke about the presents they'd given the new couple (wherever they might be at the moment), and...

He has to admit, he's spent a lot of time thinking about it. What his own wedding would be like. He wants to get married, and to... if there's any one thing he regrets about the course his life has taken, it's the loss of ritual, of tradition that requires more than a shared look on a rooftop, or a pair of loosed arrows.

It's partially his own fault, of course. He's far from the ashram, but there are plenty of groups, plenty of fellow Buddhists with whom he could spend more time. He'd always imagined himself settling in with his new family as much as possible, finding a small, quiet space for himself, and then re-establishing himself in other ways.

He'd never expected that his place with his family would be quite so real. He'd never really dared to hope. But...

He can picture them all so clearly. Mia getting out of school, and his father making the rounds at the youth center, preparing for another busy afternoon full of children who are just another part of Connor's family. And Roy... he's not very far from Roy at all, right now.

Connor has yet to visit the headquarters of Roy's new team, but he can imagine it vividly as well. Some hidden technological wonder, full of weaponry and people as loud and bright as Roy himself. At least, the way he speaks about his team-mates suggests that would be the case.

He thinks -- he hopes -- it means that his family will be even larger someday, though he has to admit he finds the way Roy describes Grace Choi as being more than a little... intimidating. But then...

His life is full of intimidating men and women, larger than life men and women, and he feels greedy for wanting more, and more than a little scared about the ways in which he wants more. As if he'll never get enough of these people, any of them, and as if he'll never get enough of... acquiring more?

He watches a smiling waiter fill the wedding party's coffee mugs again, and wonders if that's what he's doing here. He's not quite back to the point where he wonders if he's presuming too much on what had been -- and still is -- a brief acquaintance. He doesn't think he can get back there.

And yet, there's something large and strange and difficult to comprehend about just how strongly he feels about this, how very vital it seems to be here, now, with the boy he'd grown accustomed to having in his life when they were still three thousand miles apart from each other, long before he'd ever given the matter any thought.

He'd never questioned his tendency to think things through slowly and deliberately, because it had simply always been there. He barely remembers the lessons received about it in the ashram, because there had simply never had to be that many. Except it seems that now he's lost it, or some desperately important part of it.

He is still the arrow, but now it almost seems that there's some other consciousness entirely holding the bow.

Now it seems...

He isn't sure, at all.

He only knows that he'd spent little enough time with Dennis in the months before his death, and even less with the others in Dennis' group -- not enough for it to become his own. And he knows that even if he never would've considered making a trip like this one, he would be here just the same.

Surrounded by the happiness of others, and helplessly, curiously aware of Tim just a few floors above him, re-connecting with the personshaped needs and desires he'd been forced to go without for far too long.

And wondering, just a little -- and far too much -- if the only reason he's being allowed so much of this pleasure is because he's the friend who got here first.

He's going to have to give some thought to the person he appears determined to become.

"Sir?"

He turns, and the little hostess of the restaurant is smiling up at him apologetically. Connor smiles back. "You're out of lettuce, aren't you?"

"What?"

"Nothing. What's wrong?"

"Well, your order got lost in the shuffle and... well, I'm sorry about this, but it will probably be at least another twenty minutes. Could I get you some coffee? On the house?"

"Please, it's no trouble. But I would appreciate some coffee. I'm going to go make a phone call, though, so there's no rush." He smiles again, and the hostess seems very relieved.

"There's a pay phone in the bar, but you might prefer the one outside."

Connor nods. His father would be deeply disappointed to hear the sounds of an obvious party in the background only to find out that Connor wasn't, actually, a part of it. He has a moment of pause before using his credit card, but Tim will call his parents tomorrow, so chances are anyone tracing the charges wouldn't be especially interested in him.

He tries the youth center first, and the phone rings seven times before Jamal picks up. It is snack time.

"Star Kids, we're cute and we take checks."

"It's just me, Jamal. Connor."

"Heyyy, Tiger Woods! Where you at?"

"Well, I'm in New Jersey, actually --"

"What? No, it's Tiger Woods... naw, man, I don't like pudding. Why you always trying to trade me your lame-ass pudding?"

Connor waits.

"No, you can't have my brownie."

Connor thinks about inviting Tim back to Star City with him, and tries to picture him at the center. He has a disturbingly clear image of the children learning just enough martial arts to wreak havoc on the city as a whole. Or possibly Tim would just be tempted to tranquilize them.

And... neither image really explains why the idea of bringing Tim back with him feels quite so good, and the excuse that Tim would, perhaps, benefit from being around normal, boisterous children in the same way he does...

... is just an excuse. Connor smiles to himself.

"You still there, Connor?"

"Yes."

"You want to talk to Ollie, right?"

"Yes, if he's --"

"OLLIE!"

Connor winces and holds the phone away from his ear.

"It's CONNOR!"

And waits.

"Connor?" His father sounds rushed, but all right.

"Yes, Dad. I just thought I'd check in and let you know --"

"Did you find him yet?"

"Yes, I actually had to --"

"Katie, stop throwing the basketball at David's head! Kid's got killer aim. So what's the deal?"

"Well --"

"Short version. Mia hasn't shown up to help yet."

Connor grins. It explains a lot. "The short version is that I appear to be on something of a road trip."

"Are bats allowed to go on road trips?"

If he's judged it correctly, the fifth lighted window on the fourth floor is their room. "This one seems to have decided he should be."

His father makes a small, impressed noise. "You know... everything's under control out here, Connor."

"Dad?"

"Take all the time you need, let me know if you need anything, and..."

The connection isn't the best, and he can hear the children better than he can hear his father, but Connor knows the look that must be on his father's face. It's the same one he has whenever he's not speaking in a very clear, distinct manner about the friends he's lost. "Dad, I..." He wants to say he understands, and how he hadn't realized how very much he hadn't understood. He wants to ask his father about love, and he wants to know more about the road trip than just the amusing things that happened to all of them. And he isn't sure how to express any of it. "Thank you."

"You're welcome, son."

*

Connor balances the salads and coffees in one hand and knocks with the other.

"It's open."

Tim is on the bed closest to the window, sitting up against the headboard with his shoes off and his knees bent. His eyes are closed, and there's a small, calm smile on his face that Connor thinks he'd like to touch. "I take it the phone calls went well."

Tim doesn't turn so much as swing his head on his neck, and the smile becomes deeply sardonic.

"Or not?"

Tim laughs, and Connor joins him on the bed, setting one salad and both coffees on the night table before settling at the foot. "Salad?"

Connor raises an eyebrow. "Even Roy doesn't eat Salisbury Steak. Though I could always go back?"

"No, I think I can live without the flesh of animals between my teeth for just a little bit longer."

Connor peels the plastic off the forks and hands Tim one. "Your sacrifice is noted."

Tim smiles at Connor with his eyes and begins systematically eating the chunks of tomato. "Did you get a chance to check in back home?"

"My father was impressed with your ability to go against type and strike out on the open road."

"He really has a thing about Bats, doesn't he?"

Connor raises an eyebrow and takes a bite of his own salad. It isn't entirely tasteless. "It seems to be a common affliction."

"How did you manage to avoid it?" The tone of Tim's voice is teasing, but the look in his eyes really isn't.

"I suspect a pernicious campaign of brainwashing."

Tim looks down and his smile gets a little wider. "I talked to Kon."

Connor nods.

"First he was mad at me, and then he was mad at Batman, and then he was mad at Batman and... Robin, and then he was mad at my father. And Batman. And Robin. And me."

"Full circle?"

"Something like that. You know... everyone pretty much knows that Superman has, well, super-senses, but no one really thinks about it. If you call his name, from pretty much anywhere, he'll hear you. And if he can... he'll come for you."

Connor shifts until he's sitting cross-legged on the bed. "Superboy thinks you should've called Superman? Even though you had that... bargain, with your parents?"

Tim nods. "Because I'm a 'sneaky little bastard,' and, apparently, pretending otherwise is just insane. And possibly unnatural." Tim moves on to the cucumbers. "He has a point. If I had a garage, I could do a decent job of making the bike almost entirely unrecognizable. I only needed a few tools to get rid of all the tracers on it.

"If we headed back south to Bludhaven, I could use Nightwing's. The work would go even faster, and if I did a good enough job disabling the alarms..." Tim's expression is an odd blend of dreaminess and calculation. "It would take Nightwing at least an hour to know I'd even been there, and by that point..."

"We could be well on our way to anywhere. But, Tim --"

Tim waves him off. "Don't worry. I'm not actually planning on going underground for any significant length of time. I just..." He sighs. "I spent the past several months doing everything short of lobotomizing myself in order to keep from thinking thoughts like that one. Because I was trying to be good. To live up to my end of the bargain."

"It... was never an especially fair one."

"No. No, it wasn't. But it was an understandable one, and the absolute best one I could get at the time." Tim snorts. "Or maybe it was just the best one I could think of. It feels... have you ever been drowned?"

Connor blinks. "No..."

Tim nods again. "For a while once you're out of the water, you just gasp. If you don't get control of yourself quickly, you can take in too much oxygen. If you do... well, you're still going to be a little drunk. The human body is incredibly adaptable, even for things that are fatal. You get out of the water, and even though it's only been a few minutes, having oxygen again is just... it's just the most incredible feeling in the world.

"It's almost arousing. And then... well, after that, it takes a little while for your mind to catch up to the idea that the air isn't going to go away again. And every breath feels like a miracle, or maybe just something...
incomprehensibly valuable. Something worth... anything. I don't... I don't know how to say it. Any better than that."

"You don't have to."

And Tim frowns, and looks like he's about to protest, so Connor cups his knee and squeezes until Tim looks at him again.

Until Tim sees him again. "If you'd like, we could skip dinner and go straight to plotting world domination."

Tim's eyes get wide and shocked for a long moment, and then he's laughing. And Connor doesn't think he could get tired of that, but... it's really a lot of laughter. He hadn't thought it was that funny.

"Tim...?"

"No, it's just..." Tim is breathless and flushed and grinning. "Remind me to tell you about what Batman got me for my sixteenth birthday."

Connor wonders if the bike has a death ray. Or, well, probably just a maiming ray.

Tim frowns at his salad and picks out the last of the cucumber slices before setting it aside again and wiping his hands on one of the napkins.

"I could try to get something else...?"

"Mm. I'm not actually hungry. I'm a little... well, probably a lot wired," Tim says, and rests a hand on Connor's own.

There isn't a lot of pressure, but Connor still feels more aware of the curve of Tim's knee beneath his palm than he was a moment
before. He's not really hungry, either.

"I called Oracle, too."

Tim's jeans are thick, and it's hard to feel the heat of his skin through them. "From here? I thought...?"

"I don't mind Oracle tracing me. She'd only hunt me down if she needed me for something." Tim smiles ruefully and traces small, perfect circles around Connor's knuckles. "I wouldn't mind being needed for something, in all honesty."

"I..." It's a little hard to think. He doesn't know what to say, or... no. He knows exactly what he wants to say, it's just that he can't decide which should come first, or at all. It would be easier if Tim stopped staring directly into his eyes, but Connor is suddenly, irrationally positive that if Tim did look away, he'd hate it.

That it would hurt.

"Tim."

Tim takes a long, shuddery breath. "I told her how much I missed her. And then she..." A small, twitchy smile. "She casually mentioned that she'd just been speaking with Batman on another line, and so I casually mentioned how much I missed him. For about five minutes. I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I thought... I thought..."

Tim takes another breath and pushes on Connor's hand until he can twine his fingers with Connor's own.

He squeezes, and Connor tries to remember how to breathe, or at least blink.

"I thought a lot of things, Connor, and some of them were... really incredibly funny. Like the fact that I'm sitting here talking about absolutely everything except for the fact that I missed you, and that when I saw you in that... that stupid rest stop --"

"Don't."

And Tim's eyes are wild and hurt for a moment, and then he turns away and starts to pull his hand away, and Connor squeezes it and tries to regroup.

"No -- I didn't mean. I didn't --"

Another breath, and this one is even deeper. Steadier. But he doesn't look at Connor again. "What shouldn't I do, Connor?"

Anything. Nothing. Connor licks his lips, and watches the pulse beat in Tim's throat, and he thinks he might be hungry, after all. "It's always been so easy... with you."

Tim turns back, and his expression is only wary on the very surface. Connor thinks he could brush it away with a touch, and he doesn't have the faintest idea where his rational mind has gone.

"Tim --"

"I could hear your voice. In your letters."

"Yes, I --"

"You made me think of everything I'd lost, Connor."

Tim's voice is even and sincere, and it's everything he should want to hear. Everything he should want for a friend, to be the catalyst that allowed Tim to get what he needed, to have everything he needed, and Connor feels small and awful, because.

Because right now he doesn't want Tim to need anything but him. Connor bites the inside of his lower lip hard, viciously, and forces himself to breathe. To think.

"I want you to be happy," he says, when he can, and forces himself to look Tim in the eye, too.

And the look in Tim's eyes has absolutely nothing to do with happiness. At least... no kind of happiness that Connor feels qualified to even pretend to understand. The sharpness is back, the diamond-hardness and steady, watchful calculation. It's a Robin look, and it couldn't be moreso if Tim were actually wearing his mask.

"Tim...?"

"Really?"

Connor blinks. "I'm not sure --"

"Is that what you really want? Strike that -- is that really the only thing you want?"

He thinks about lying. He thinks about it very, very seriously, but then he thinks about reflexes, and. "No."

Tim squeezes his hand and uses his other to move Connor's salad to the bedside table. And then he shifts, moving up onto his knees. Moving closer, until Connor can feel Tim's breath on his face. On his mouth. "You made me think of everything I'd lost," he says again.

"I know --"

"And everything I could have, if..."

It takes a moment to realize that Tim isn't going to finish the thought, and another to drag his attention away from Tim's mouth, from the fact that, this close, it's not remotely difficult to feel the heat of him. And he could feel even more. "If?"

This close, it's easier to feel Tim's smile than it is to see it. "If I stopped worrying about what everyone else wanted from me. What they needed." He twists his hand free of Connor's and slips it between them, dragging the palm up over Connor's chest before cupping his cheek.

Connor feels his eyes slipping closed, feels himself wanting. His hands feel useless and awkward and he knows -- he thinks he knows -- exactly what would make them feel better, but -- "Everyone?"

Tim's teeth brush against Connor's mouth. Another smile. "Almost everyone."

"Tim --"

The kiss is soft and slow and -- not gentle. Tim's mouth only looks soft, and Connor hadn't even realized he'd noticed it enough to be wrong about it. But he had. He is, and Tim feels --

Tim moans, low-voiced and rough, like it's a sound he's never made before, and the sound Connor hears himself make is very similar.

"Connor. Your mouth..." And Tim's hand tightens on his face, and Connor opens his mouth wider, but Tim doesn't kiss him again. He just... he drags his mouth over Connor's own, back and forth in a slow, wet nuzzle, pressing his cheek to Connor's mouth, and his chin, and his mouth again, and Connor feels himself shuddering.

"Tim --"

"It's so -- you're so --" The hand on his face tightens again, almost flexing, and Tim starts to pull away and Connor moans and follows, sucking fast, hard kisses until he can get a feel for the positioning and tilt his head enough that.

That it's perfect, and Tim slides his hand over the back of Connor's head and starts to rub, starts to stroke, and whimpers into Connor's mouth and Connor wants. He wants.

He shoves his hands between them -- has to shove, and he doesn't know when they'd gotten so close, and he honestly isn't sure if he cares. Tim's t-shirt is much thinner than his jeans, and his body is just as lean and hard as he'd imagined.

As he'd always imagined, and when Tim slips his tongue into Connor's mouth, he sucks hard just to keep it there.

And then just to make Tim whimper like that again, and scratch at Connor's scalp. He needs to take another breath, but he isn't sure he can, not if it means letting go, and Tim's other hand is between them, too. Covering Connor's hand and pressing it harder against his own body and --

Tim pulls out of the kiss gasping. Or maybe he is. He's not sure. He doesn't care. "Tim."

Tim's face is flushed and his lips are wet and his eyes are wide. And then narrow, when he tugs on Connor's hand until it's over his own nipple. Hard through the shirt and Connor can feel his heartbeat, too.

"I don't know what I'm doing," he says, because it's the first sentence he can clearly form in his own mind, but it really doesn't have much to do with w hat he's doing. With the touching.

Tim arches into it, and Connor strokes his nipple through the t-shirt. He wants to feel it, the shocking, faintly obscene hardness of it through cotton, and the way his touches are making Tim breathe faster. More --

"Connor."

The urgency in Tim's voice is palpable, undeniable, like a command spoken directly to Connor's nervous system, something to be obeyed without thought or hesitation. There's a thump and Tim makes a small, muffled noise into Connor's mouth, and the part of his mind still thinking -- he isn't grateful for it -- wants him to know that he's just shoved Tim against the headboard. That he's pressing his body to Tim's own as tightly as he can, that he's kissing him, selfish and greedy.

He's not sure he can stop.

He can't... he can't think about stopping, not even when Tim bucks and shoves back at him, because...

Because he's only trying to move. Spreading his knees and wrapping his thighs around Connor's own and moaning. He won't stop, and Connor thinks he might be going crazy.

Quietly in his mind and anything but with his own body, needy and grasping. He can't. He can't --

He slips his tongue between Tim's lips and it feels perfect, amazing, like any other act his body was supposed to perform. Primed to perform, and he feels himself shaking, hears himself making a soft, constant stream of noise, and feels Tim.

Taking everything and moving against him, sharp, grinding movements because Connor isn't giving him any room and sharp, grinding pleasure.

Heat.

Connor breaks the kiss to pant, to open his eyes again, and it's a wonderful mistake. Tim's eyes are open and focused on his own. Wild again under a thin, perfect layer of control that Connor wants to feel.

And then Tim looks at Connor's mouth again. A hard, deliberate look, and he licks his swollen lips and --

He'd made them that way. Connor made them look that red, that soft and wet, and he's not sure which of them moves first, and it doesn't matter. The kiss is hard, shockingly, intensely perfect, like the first time everything had fallen into place and he'd felt the lessons his teachers had tried to give him about the bow, as opposed to merely hearing them.

His heart is beating faster from the wonder of it, and the sense of raw potential. A future of this perfection, if he can only stop being helplessly enamored with it for long enough to do it again. Kiss him again, and again, and Tim's hands are on his shoulders and Tim's lean hips are moving against Connor's stomach. The heat of him, and -- Connor is supremely conscious of the height difference, in a way that just hadn't mattered when the only thing he did with Tim physically was patrol.

He rears up on his knees and Tim follows, tilting his head back on an uncomfortable-looking angle to keep kissing him. He doesn't want Tim to be uncomfortable, or in pain, and he can't keep himself from holding Tim's head in that position, from stroking in and in with his tongue and pressing closer still and --

"Oh God -- oh God, Connor, I feel you --"

He feels himself. Hard, and the sense of embarrassment and discomfort is absolutely meaningless to the way he can rock his hips against Tim's own. "I... Tim --"

Tim bites Connor's lip and strokes his back, his sides. Clutches Connor's hips and pulls. "Connor, I want... I can't --"

And it doesn't matter how long Tim has been out of action, how long since he's done any of the things Connor remembered so clearly every time his e-mail had chimed for attention. His hands are still hard, still strong. As impossible not to feel, not to covet as it is to look away from his wide eyes, his red mouth. "I want to taste you, Tim."

"Oh -- God --"

And Tim thrusts hard against him, hands digging painfully into Connor's hips and head thrown back. Connor strokes Tim's cheekbones with his thumbs and watches, feels, wants. Feels Tim shaking, the heat of him rising -- he'd just had an orgasm.

Connor kisses him again, stroking his cheekbones harder to keep from just clutching at him and swallowing the sharp, sweet sounds Tim's making.

He wants...

Tim slides his hands from Connor's hips up over his back, and the moans get lower, longer. Connor can feel him calming down, and it just makes him want more. He's desperately aware that he's been holding Tim against a wall, but he doesn't have any idea what he wants to do about it. The best he can manage is to pull out of the kiss again and move his hands to Tim's shoulders and... stare.

Tim's pupils are visibly dilated, and his mouth is even more swollen than it was a few minutes ago. And he's smiling ruefully.

"I needed a shower when we got here. Now... it's pretty much a necessity."

He doesn't want to let Tim off the bed. He feels himself tightening his hands on Tim's shoulders and keeps himself from shoving solely by act of will. He can't keep his hips from rocking.

He doesn't know how long he's been doing that.

"Tim." Tim's eyes go shuttered, unreadable, and Connor thinks he might be squeezing too hard. He can't stop doing that, either.

"On the other hand..." And Tim strokes down to Connor's waist, slipping his hands under Connor's t-shirt and digging in with his thumbs.

"I --"

"I might feel more comfortable if I just got out of these clothes." There's a certain degree of amusement in Tim's voice, but it doesn't seem to be directed at him, and --

"I'd like that. I --"

"You said you wanted to taste me." Tim's lashes dip, shadowing his cheeks. And then he leans in, breathing against Connor's throat. "I can't... I can't even imagine."

Connor shudders, and wraps his arms around Tim. He just wants to feel him more, and slide a hand into his thick, dark hair, and --

"Connor..."

And roll them onto the bed, roll Tim onto his back, and the move is awkward, shamefully clumsy, and Tim doesn't stop him, or even try. He's tugging on Connor's shirt and kissing his throat and Connor groans and grinds down helplessly. Again --

"Or we could do this," Tim says, laughing breathlessly.

Again, and it's something else to be afraid of. There's so much he wants to do, so much he's hungry for, but he's too trapped in this hunger to touch the rest of it. And Tim is moving beneath him, locking his legs around Connor's waist. His hands move restlessly over Connor's back, and Connor's mind tries and fails to find the pattern, the reason behind it.

There is none -- Tim is just touching him, the way Connor is just --

Losing himself, and holding on desperately to everything else. He digs his fingers into the coverlet and wants and aches and moves --

"God, Connor, yes --"

His pants are hurting him. His body is hurting him, and demanding more of the same pain, and Tim shoves Connor's shirt up to his armpits and slips his hands back between them, rubbing Connor's nipples with his fingertips --

"I liked it... when you did this to me --"

Connor gasps, moans and comes in his pants. 'Just like Tim,' he thinks, and moans again.

And realizes his arms are shaking only when Tim starts to stroke them. And realizes his eyes are squeezed shut only when Tim calls his name.

He blinks them open again, and tries to think beyond the feel of his own sweat. The smell of both of them, and the thick, coiling way the air seems to settle in his lungs. Pushing them open, filling them.

Everything is suggestive, obvious, and he isn't sure whether to be terrified or just lost.

And Tim looks worried.

"I'm all right," he says, reflexively, and the worry on Tim's face immediately shifts to something harder. Connor laughs at himself, or tries to. It comes out nearly soundless, and he pushes up on his knees and takes several slow, deliberate breaths. "No, I'm not all right."

"Do you want to talk about it?" Tim's hand is light on his thigh.

No. Yes. Connor laughs again and scrubs a hand over his face. "I'm not sure. I..." He looks at Tim again, and it feels as though he's contracted some strange form of blindness. He's almost positive he used to be able to look at Tim without getting lost in the details of his appearance.

The way Tim's skin is flushed, and the way he can't help but wonder if he'll be able to let Tim's mouth heal. The absolute patience in Tim's eyes that seems to exist in perfect harmony with... Tim's hard again.

Connor swallows and breathes. "How do you do that?"

Tim raises an eyebrow.

"I want you so badly I can't think right now, and you..." Connor presses Tim's hand against his thigh.

Tim blinks, and then braces himself on his elbows, smiling ruefully. "I have a lot of practice in... waiting for what I want. Or just assuming I won't get it."

Connor nods slowly. "The past several months."

"Something like that." Another fine, edged smile.

Connor reaches out to touch it with his free hand, and Tim lets him. Watches him and holds Connor's gaze and tilts his head back just a little when Connor traces his lower lip.

"I've wanted a lot of things, Connor, and I've known it."

The motion of Tim's lips against his fingertips is making it very difficult to pay strict attention to what he's saying.

"Not letting yourself think about something you want only looks similar to not knowing you want it. I've used that." Tim wraps one hand around Connor's wrist, but doesn't move it. Just... holds it there.

"Against whom?"

"Everyone who wanted to get close. Everyone I thought might want to get close. Fear only looks similar to caution."

Connor nods, and stares into Tim's eyes until Tim looks away.

"This hotel isn't full, Connor."

"I... what?"

He can see the corner of Tim's smile, but he can't see his eyes. "Between us, we have more than enough cash to have gotten separate rooms. I never bothered to ask."

Connor frowns. "But this is a double. There's more than enough room --"

Tim squeezes his wrist. "I never intended for us to use both beds."

"I --"

"No one would ask questions if I went downstairs and got myself another room, and. The last thing I want to do is take advantage of you."

Connor thinks about the hand on his wrist. Tim must know exactly how fast and unsteady his pulse has become, and part of him wonders what he thinks about it. If he believes it's fear. The rest... "Is it really? The last thing you want, that is."

Tim looks up at him again and...

About a year ago, Tim had mentioned working with 'his boss' in one of the e-mails he'd sent, and had made it sound -- in his subtle, careful way -- as though it was an event. Something that occurred all too rarely. It hadn't seemed strange in the least.

Tim had always been... someone whose only apparent similarity with the Batman was his undeniable competence and skill. Now, though, it's rather easier to see what his father had seemed to.

Connor smiles ruefully, mostly at himself. "You're a little bit terrifying, aren't you?"

"I'm usually better at hiding it," Tim says, and drags his thumb over Connor's pulse.

"When you want to."

"Yes."

"Tim --"

"The last thing I want, right now, is to stop touching you. But it's irrelevant, because I know exactly how to control myself. The fact that you know what I want has nothing to do --"

"It isn't irrelevant."

Tim hisses a breath between his teeth, but doesn't say anything.

"Isn't that the point of all of this? Letting yourself have what you want?"

Tim's expression is blank and steady for several moments, and then his eyes narrow. It isn't hostile so much as... curious. "Is that what's bothering you, Connor? That you want too many things?"

Connor smiles ruefully. "That's a part of it. But knowing I'm not alone is... comforting isn't the right word. At least, it isn't the only one."

"One of the best excuses for never showing what you feel is that you never have to know, for sure, that the other person doesn't feel the same."

Connor twists his hand until it's twined with Tim's own again. "And there is, perhaps, a difference between denial of the self and... self-denial."

"Connor..." Tim frowns. "We're talking around a lot of things."

"Yes."

"Does it bother you?"

It's a good question. More than that... "I'm not accustomed to this. Any of it, Tim."

Tim nods slowly, and watches him. Connor spent much of his training with the bow deliberately not allowing himself to use his vision, so as not to risk distraction. He thinks Tim must have spent much of his own training learning how not to do so much as blink.

"I... you know what you want. I know what I feel... even if I'm not sure I have the words for it."

Tim tugs on their hands and... no. He uses the leverage of their grip to sit up entirely, and then move on to his knees. Connor leans in when Tim does, and closes his eyes for the kiss. It feels like it should be a comforting one, or a sweet one, but Connor frankly doesn't have enough experience to make that kind of judgment.

All he has is the knowledge -- body knowledge -- that Tim is still hard, and that the kiss is only slow and easy because Tim has the sort of silent self-control that comes off as command.

But he doesn't think he'll feel like following orders for very long.

"Connor," Tim says, pulling out of the kiss, and Connor licks his mouth before he can say anything else.

And then leans back. And pulls off his shirt.

There's something avid and blackly glittering in Tim's eyes. "I was just going to mention that the shower isn't very small," he says, and presses his fingertips over Connor's sternum. Lightly.

Connor blinks, and thinks about it. "From what Arsenal has suggested, the shower can be a dangerous place for sexual activity."

Tim's mouth twitches. "And this is why I don't let Nightwing tell me stories about his days as a Titan."

"That works?"

"Not even remotely," Tim says, and lets go of Connor's hand before moving off the bed and stripping off his own shirt. His skin is pale and scarred, and Connor wonders if part of the reason Tim's parents had reacted so badly to finding out the truth is because it truly was -- is -- written all over him. "I'm not afraid of death by slippery tile, Connor," and he starts walking backwards toward the shower.

Connor follows, and works on his fly. "No?"

"I know you can watch my back."

"Wash it, perhaps..."

Tim grins and unbuttons his fly with a flick of his wrist. "You're not watching?"

Connor shoves his pants and boxers down at the same time, bending and stepping out of them, and feeling something inside himself seize and burn at the way Tim stops moving backwards at the same time. "You're better at it than I am," he says, and watches Tim shove his own pants down.

His legs are just as scarred as the rest of him, perhaps more. It makes sense -- the tights were never as much protection as the tunic. And...

He's naked. They both are, but somehow Tim's nudity seems far more important.

"I don't know, Connor... I think you could be taught."

And he intends to say something, to continue the game of this, but he isn't entirely sure what it would be. And it's much easier to just close the distance between them and kiss Tim again, to keep moving them together and --

Stop, because there's a wall there, and his aim hasn't been this terrible since he was a child. On the other hand, it feels wonderful. Even better than it had on the bed, because now there's nothing between himself and Tim's skin. Silky heat and the dozens of subtly jagged interruptions.

"I wish I had more scars," he says, and Tim growls, low in his throat. "Yours feel... so good."

"Connor," and Tim is petting his chest, stroking him, finding every scar he does have.

"You can touch me... anywhere."

Tim eyes are bright and narrow.

"I want you to. I want..." He cups Tim's jaw and pushes his head to the side and leans in. The first lick feels strange, awkward, but the taste of Tim's skin...

"Connor..."

Salt. Sweat and skin, and when he licks again Tim grunts and tilts his head a little further. 'I can't even imagine,' he'd said, but Connor... absolutely can.

He presses a kiss over Tim's pulse-point, and Tim nuzzles his hand. His breathing isn't ragged, but it's loud. Sharp. Connor presses his tongue to the beat of Tim's pulse and feels it get faster and more urgent and he wants so much more.

He sucks, lightly --

"Harder --"

Harder, and Tim groans and rakes his short, even nails down Connor's chest and Connor feels his knees try to buckle and... lets them.

"Connor --"

Tim's stomach is flat, hard and defined. Saltier. It's easier if he doesn't think about what he's doing, if he just lets himself taste and feel, because the fact that he doesn't know has nothing whatsoever to do with how wonderful it feels to shove his tongue into Tim's navel --

"Oh -- oh God --"

Tim's fingers press and scratch at his scalp, and Tim's erection bumps against Connor's chin, and when Connor licks his way down the taste changes. Thicker, a little sweeter, and Connor moans and squeezes Tim's hips and keeps licking.

"Connor, please --"

"Oh, Tim... you taste so good." And it's the absolute truth, even though a small, no longer sane part of his mind is laughing hysterically about how he'll never be a vegan, now. But mostly...

It's the feel. Tim shaking under his hands and sweating for his tongue, arching and pushing toward him, wanting this.

"I... I like having my mouth on you --"

And Tim makes a harsh, animal sound and bucks.

"God, Tim, can --"

"Suck me. Please suck me -- God, your
mouth --"

And Tim takes one hand off Connor's head and wraps it around the base of his erection, and his other hand spasms against Connor's cheek, and Connor leans in --

"Oh... oh please --"

It feels like slow-time to drag his tongue over the head, like the moment just after he's gotten off the last shot he can, and he's down to his other skills. His body and his mind and his heart, and the taste is making his heart beat faster, but Tim doesn't want to be licked.

"Oh... oh..."

He wants to be sucked. Connor wraps his lips around the head and groans. The taste is somehow more, like this, and the feel --

"I -- Connor --"

He sucks hard, and Tim shouts, twists and shudders in Connor's hands and only the fact that he's actually holding Tim is keeping him from... thrusting. Pushing in. He could...

Connor moans again, and tries to suck and lick at the same. He wants to spend time on this... and the reason why has very little to do with wanting to make it better for Tim, as opposed to just...

Going down a little more, pressing up with his tongue just to feel Tim sliding over it, feel him opening Connor's mouth --

"Please -- don't stop --"

"Oh --"

And again, on purpose, because Tim's shaking even harder, hips making fast, ragged pushing motions under Connor's hands. There's an almost helpless feel to it, and Connor opens his eyes and looks up and aches.

Tim's head is thrown back and every muscle is tensed, arching. A flush spills down his chest and Tim is sucking on his own fingers just like... just like --

He pulls his fingers out of his mouth with a sudden, sharp yank --

"Stop. You have to --"

Connor blinks and pulls off. "Tim?"

And Tim looks at him, eyes wide and almost panicked -- "Connor --"

Squeezing himself hard and squeezing his eyes shut and coming all over Connor's throat and face. "Oh, Tim..."

Tim whimpers and shudders once, all over, knees buckling. Connor catches him and Tim pushes them both down to the floor, kissing him hard. Connor feels his mind freeze, but his body doesn't. Won't. He wraps his arms around Tim and kisses back, arching up.

And then Tim pulls out of the kiss and licks him. No, licks his own come off Connor's face, sucking and kissing.

"I didn't -- mean -- God, Connor, I can't --"

Connor slides one hand into Tim's hair and pulls, just a little, until Tim is looking at him again. "You're so beautiful."

And Tim's eyes are wide and full and... glittery with humor.

"What?"

Tim leans in and nuzzles Connor's throat, breathes on him and laughs, a little. "We're not making it to the shower yet."

"Ah. Was this part of your plan, as well?" There's something incredible about the feel of Tim over him, and the fact that he's still naked, that the skin of his back is still fine and sleek under Connor's fingertips and palms.

And that, when he shifts half to the side and strokes Connor's chest and stomach there's just more of him to feel, more ways for them to touch. He'd like to spend a great deal of time just finding every place on Tim's body that... makes him hum quietly, just like now.

Connor presses a little harder at the base of Tim's skull and watches Tim's eyes narrow. "I really am curious about... what you wanted to do. With me."

Tim hums again and presses up against Connor's hand. And starts tracing small, not-entirely-ticklish circles around Connor's nipple with his thumb. "I wasn't thinking of specifics. Not really."

"No?" Another shift, and Tim's thigh is between Connor's own, nudging. Rubbing. Connor arches against it and can't decide whether the feel or the expression on Tim's face is better.

The tightness and concentration. He doesn't look so different as the way he does when he's working -- was working, and it's probably not a good thing that Connor can't quite imagine a future without, at least, the possibility of patrolling with Tim again. He won't think about that, yet.

He doesn't think he can. Not with the scrape of that short, even fingernail over his nipple. "Tim --"

"I spent most of the day enjoying the feel of you pressed to my back." Another scrape, and Connor gasps.

"I did, too."

"And in the diner. I wanted to kiss you. You looked... like you wouldn't mind." Tim's voice is quiet and matter-of-fact. His eyes are not.

If Tim doesn't go back to vigilantism, those expressions would never be hidden. Connor swallows, and strokes Tim's cheek with the back of his hand. "I would've been surprised."

Tim nods, and moves his hand from Connor's chest, wrapping it around his wrist instead. "I thought you might be," he says, and presses his mouth to Connor's palm.

It isn't a kiss. Not entirely. Tim's dragging his lips over Connor's palm and breathing heat... all through him. Connor feels himself start to sweat and pushes a little harder against Tim's thigh. And then bucks, because Tim is licking his hand in slow, firm lines.

"Do you want my mouth on you, Connor?"

"Yes -- I -- oh --"

Tim's hand is firm and sure around Connor's erection, and the first squeeze makes his hips thrust, work. His own greed has stopped being surprising, and the fear seems increasingly irrelevant, but there's something else, too.

Something dark and wild and subtle about this, about sex.

Connor watches Tim move on him, over him. Tim's gaze moves over him constantly, steadily. There's a science to it, as Connor suspects would be true about anything and everything Tim did, but there's also hunger. Lust, and Connor thinks that it might be the most dangerous thing of all.

More than the feel of Tim pushing his thighs apart, more than the scrape of his teeth on Connor's fingers, and the slow, hard, promising stroke of his hand on Connor's erection --

"God, Connor..."

Heat, Connor thinks. Wet, and he curls up before he can think about it, just to see Tim's reddened, dangerous mouth wrapped around him, to see the way those eyes finally flutter closed, because Tim wants...

Tim wants to feel this, concentrate, feel him. Taste him and --

"Tim --"

Hear him moan his name, just like this.

It's the hunger Connor wants. Tim's quiet, strangled moans -- louder when Connor buries his hands in his hair -- and the sound of his own desperate panting, the need, the sheer, undeniable, unambiguous reality of the way Tim's making his thighs tremble.

His hands spasm, clench --

The sound Tim makes is slightly different, and Connor knows he's pulling too hard. He manages to get one hand out of Tim's hair, but then Tim moves his own hand and --

Connor hears himself shouting, feels it as just another sensation, just another ripple of consequence from Tim swallowing him. Taking him -- taking him in.

"Tim..." It's a whisper, a moan, and he isn't even sure it's remotely audible, but before he can try again, he's coming. Pulling Tim's hair and curling in even further on himself and he can't --

Skin and heat, wet --

Tim's muffled, high-throated whine --

Connor hears a thump and gradually realizes that he's no longer sitting up, and that he's just bounced his own head on the floor. He's almost sure that will, eventually, be painful, but right now...

Right now, all he can see is Tim rising above him like the stark, shocking mockery of some kind of myth, pale and scarred and damp with sweat, grinning with his eyes and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

"Tim."

"Connor," Tim says, and his voice is rough. Amused. Beautiful.

"I think I'd like to do that again."

"Good," Tim says, and straddles Connor's waist.

*

Connor blinks awake, and he isn't sure why until he turns on his side. The pillow is faintly damp against his cheek, and smells like the hotel's shampoo. And Tim is watching him.

"Good... morning?"

"Mm-hm."

Details are rising up out of the haze, slowly but surely. The curtains are the sort of inadequate Connor appreciates, letting in a warm, buttery wash of sunlight. It's at Tim's back, so his face is mostly shadowed, but he doesn't look tired so much as... calmly watchful.

Patient.

Connor raises an eyebrow.

Tim shifts, and Connor watches the sheet slip down over Tim's bare shoulder, and remembers that they're both naked, and remembers why with his entire body. The stutter of his fingers over Tim's wet skin, the feel of tile against his back...

"You're wondering if this is going to be the sort of 'morning after' people make jokes about."

Tim's smile is rueful, and he shifts again, as though he'd like to move. "They aren't very good jokes."

"No," Connor says, and reaches beneath the covers. He finds Tim's hip before anything else, and it's smooth and warm. The unscarred one. "I never thought so," he says, and squeezes.

Tim covers Connor's hand with his own. "I'm tempted to be cautious."

"For me, or for yourself?"

Brief, glittery-eyed smile. "For consistency," Tim says, and pushes their linked hands down to where he's even warmer. And hard.

"It's good to resist temptation."

Half-gasped laughter. "I know I can be strong," and he squeezes Connor's hand when Connor wraps his fist around him.

"I have faith in you. Perhaps we can meditate together," he says, and starts to stroke.

Tim jerks and shudders, head tilted back. Connor watches the tendons in Tim's throat grow tensely visible, and licks his lips.

"Or perhaps you could just continue driving me insane."

"God, Connor --" Tim takes a deep, shuddery breath and Connor has to lean in. Tim's throat tastes like sleep and the memory of soap.

"You're doing a very good job at it so far," he murmurs, and tongues the hollow of Tim's throat.

"I -- try -- please, faster, do it -- oh God --"

He can see the coverlet shifting out of the corner of his eye with the motion of his hand and Tim's hips. He tightens his hand and sucks at Tim's pulse-point, pressing with his tongue so he can feel it race, feel it lose its steadiness.

Me, too, he wants to say, but then he wouldn't be able to hear the sounds Tim is making. Soft, growling moans, rhythmic and intoxicating.

He sucks harder for a moment before pulling away, shifting to straddle Tim's legs and knock the covers back. Tim is flushed, panting. His erection is dark with blood, wet at the tip --

"Connor, don't... don't stop --"

"No," he says, and he'd like to be more specific, but words are nowhere near as important, as vital as pressing his erection to Tim's own. And he hadn't been sure of what he wanted beyond just contact, but Tim opens his eyes and looks at him, seemingly into him, and wraps their hands around both of them --

"Oh, you feel --"

"Tim --"

It's better, amazing, and it shouldn't be so surprising, but he's almost glad of it. Tim looks like he's drinking in every expression on his face, like it's just making it better for him.

Connor rocks his hips and tries to keep his eyes open against the feel, the slick, sliding pleasure and heat --

"I'm -- Connor, you feel so good --"

Moving together, driving into their joined hands, and Connor slides his free hand up the center of Tim's chest. He just wants to feel this, to have as much of it as he can. So greedy for this, so --

"Connor, I --"

Tim tenses, flexes and groans and comes all over their hands. All over Connor --

"Please --"

He can't let go and he can't look away --

"Connor -- Connor --"

So wet, so hot, and Tim's eyes are wide and blue and deep --

"Do it --"

Connor jerks hard and comes, bracing himself on his knees to keep from falling. He's oversensitive, hurting and needing, and he can't tell which of them gasps louder when he can finally make himself let go.

"Connor..." And Tim's curling up on himself and stroking Connor's thigh, but... his hand. The smell of them and --

The taste. Connor licks his fingers and shivers. Both of them, together --

Tim's hand flexes on his thigh, fingers digging in -- "Oh God, that's hot..."

And Connor sucks his fingers and tries to think, tries to open his eyes and get something like calm back, but every deep breath just makes him taste it more, feel it more. He can't stop until his fingers are clean again, and when he does open his eyes, Tim is looking at him like a meal.

He watches Tim slip the tip of his tongue out between his lips. It's a very deliberate motion, and it takes a moment before Connor can even remember that he'd been reasonably calm when he'd woken up...

No more than ten minutes ago.

Connor smiles around his own fingers, and Tim smiles back.

Pulling them out of his mouth feels like... like a tease. "Tim..."

Tim digs his fingernails into Connor's thigh and drags them down. Lightly.

"I was going to suggest breakfast."

"Mm-hm." Up.

"But your arguments against it are surprisingly articulate and compelling."

"I'm on the debate team," Tim says and sits up, stroking Connor's sides and nuzzling his chest.

Connor strokes the back of Tim's neck. "Really?"

"Nope."

*

Breakfast was terrible, but then Connor hadn't really expected any better. He doesn't want to think about how long those scrambled eggs had been sitting out in the steno-warmers before they'd arrived.

On the other hand, they did have tea -- albeit stale -- and it makes up for rather a lot.

Tim takes his coffee black, and in the back of his mind Roy is snickering helplessly. It doesn't matter save in the way it adds to the humming, pleasant feeling that seems determined to work its way through him.

He's on the back of Tim's motorcycle again, and every part of him feels pleasantly... used.

Intellectually, he knows it won't last. The only question is whether the need for a strenuous patrol will make him restless before the need to hold Tim against something again.

Taste him again.

Connor squeezes Tim's waist and watches the road.

"What are you thinking about, Connor?" Low-voiced, honest curiosity.

"Sex."

"I... yeah, now I am, too. You might be bad for my health."

"Only if I distract you from driving, I hope."

A brief laugh, and the bike swerves as Tim passes a minivan that seems to be entirely full of toys. There may or may not be children in there, somewhere. And a driver. "Were you planning on it?" Tim's voice is a quiet tease.

"There's a strange -- and probably suicidal -- temptation to the idea." It wouldn't take much effort at all to lift Tim's jacket and shirt, and, say, press his knuckles against Tim's abdomen.

"Mm."

Connor regrets the wind. Tim's body is clean, but he hasn't bought new clothes, and Connor's are too big for him. If they weren't moving -- and Connor weren't wearing the green helmet -- he'd be able to smell Tim very clearly. The thought makes him want to lick his teeth.

"I'm surprised," Tim says, and swerves them around a pick-up truck.

"By?"

"I expected you to have more reservations."

Connor turns his head and presses the other side of the helmet against Tim's back. "Even after?"

"After, during, before..."

Connor laughs. "That doesn't seem... pointless, to you?"

"It seems incredibly pointless, actually, but it also never seems to stop anyone."

"I've always found that acceptance makes things easier, in the long run."

Tim's laugh is humorless and sharp. "I haven't managed it very well."

Connor smiles to himself. "Perhaps if the universe had asked you to accept more rather wonderful sex and less repression and involuntary imprisonment you might have found it easier."

"You just might be onto something there, Connor..."

There's a sign advertising a rest stop, and Tim moves them into the right lane. There will, undoubtedly, be a gas station, and that gas station will almost certainly have a telephone.

It isn't that he'd forgotten the fact that Tim really does have to call his parents. He hadn't. It's just that there's a part of his mind...

It's isn't just the sex, or the affection, or the fact that he could, honestly, imagine himself being quite happy if, when he had to go home, Tim could sit next to him on the plane. It's all of it, and more, and the whole of it has merged into something like an eight-hundred pound gorilla of shameless greed.

For a sixteen year old runaway with more connections and responsibilities than Connor can entirely wrap his mind around.

As much as Connor has enjoyed -- reveled in -- his own family, and the life he's made in Star City with them, he can't help but want Tim to have... much less than he does.

They pull into the gas station, and Tim cuts the engine. Gradually, the rumbling purr of the bike fades to nothing while the other road sounds get louder, and faintly oppressive.

"Connor..."

"You have to call home," he says, and winces at his inability to keep the question out of his voice.

"Yes. But... I don't have to go home."

Connor squeezes Tim reflexively and forces himself to think around the pound of his heart. "Perhaps not right away --"

"What could they do to stop me? Really."

It's a good question and a terrible one. Connor lets go and leans back, pulling off the helmet. And waits for Tim to turn around and take off his own.

His eyes are hard, with anger waiting just beneath the surface. Stubbornness.

"To stop you? Practically nothing, Tim. But... this was never entirely about you, was it?"

"Maybe --" And Tim bites his lip, face twisting into something harsh and pained for just a moment. "I don't want to go back there, just to pretend I'm... someone I'm not. I..."

Connor rests his hand on Tim's back. "I can't imagine --"

"I hate my room. I hate the sight of it, I hate the smell of it. I hate the fact that everything there belongs to the person my father wants me to be, as opposed to the person I am. I think..." Tim closes his eyes for a moment. "I didn't tell you why I left."

"I'd... formed a few theories."

Tim snorts. "I was sitting at the dinner table, and my parents were talking about... about getting the fucking car serviced, and I was eating my freaking lamb chops and watching my father's throat and thinking..."

"Tim --"

"So I left." Tim scrubs a hand back through his hair and shifts, and Connor stands up to give Tim room to swing off the bike. "I left, and, in retrospect, I think it was a good decision on my part."

Connor watches Tim's expression fade into something sardonic.

"Considering."

"Tim. They have to..." Connor swallows. "Perhaps you'll be able to renegotiate."

Tim raises an eyebrow. "That was nearly unambiguous."

It's tempting to laugh at that, or laugh it off, but. Connor deliberately takes Tim's hand. "I don't want you to go back home if it's something... if it will be bad for you. I've been fantasizing about taking you home with me. But... I can't help but think that there's more for you in Gotham than just your parents. And I don't want to take you away from that."

Tim stares at their hands. "And I don't, actually, want to run away from any of it." A squeeze, and then Tim lets go. "I... I'll be back."

Connor leans lightly against the bike and watches him go. The phone is on the side of the small store, and the gas station attendant spares a glance for Tim before joining him.

"Help you?"

Connor blinks, and looks at the bike. "Er. I believe my friend wanted the tank filled."

The attendant nods, and gives the bike a thorough, approving once-over. It's the sort of look that makes Connor feel tempted to pet the seat affectionately.

He smiles to himself.

"So where's the tank?"

That's... an excellent question. "Perhaps it would be best to wait for my friend to return."

"Uh, huh." The attendant starts a slow circuit around the bike, wiping his hands on a rag that might have been clean while Connor was still at the ashram.

Connor backs away to give the man room to covet.

"So what kind of bike is this?"

'Motorized' is probably not the right answer. "I believe it's... customized."

"Yeah, I figured..." The man crouches by the back tire and looks as though he'd like to poke at it.

Connor checks, but Tim is still on the phone. The light breeze is ruffling his hair, and the phone is blocking whatever expression is on his face.

"What's this button --"

"Don't touch that."

The attendant looks up at him, one finger poised just above a small, well-hidden button that might be entirely innocuous.

"Er."

"What, is it gonna electrocute me?"

Quite possibly. "It's... private," Connor says, and fixes a smile on his face.

The attendant gives him the sort of look Connor tends to reserve for drug dealers attempting to convince him they're only 'hanging out.' He's going to have to work on that smile.

"I think... well..."

"Oh good, you found the trunk-compartment release," Tim says, and crouches next to the attendant with a smile. "But you want the tank." He slips his fingers beneath... something and a perfectly innocuous-appearing gas tank pops open.

"Hunh," the attendant says, and turns the look on Tim. "You're pretty quiet, there."

Tim's smile is a marvel of perfect, benign blandness. "There's a lot of traffic noise. Could you fill me up? We've got to get back on the road."

And then he stands, wipes his hands on his jeans, and... it's very strange to see one expression on Tim's face and another one entirely in his eyes. He thinks about the mask Tim isn't wearing, and wonders if there were people in Tim's life who, perhaps, missed it more than he did himself.

Tim's expression turns curious for a moment, and then he starts walking away again. Connor follows, and isn't remotely surprised by the fact that, when they stop, Tim has found both a shadow and a position that will undoubtedly allow him to watch the attendant's every move.

Connor makes an effort to stay out of his line-of-sight. "I'm beginning to see... even more of your point about the ways we deal with secret identities." Connor grins ruefully. "It didn't even occur to me that the button would be for the trunk."

"It's actually for creating oil-slicks."

"I... see."

Tim grins at him. "You're just not used to making up excuses for Bat-bikes. Now, if someone were to ask questions about your pack..."

"And the large amount of weaponry inside it?" Connor snorts and shifts it on his shoulders. "Most people seem to assume I'm a student, presumably carrying a large number of books."

Tim nods absently. "You'll be able to pull that off for a while."

"I don't often have to. This is probably the longest I've ever gone just carrying..." Connor shakes his head. "None of that is important. Tim --"

"Dana wants me to come home. My father..."

Connor saw a film once in which a lake iced over. It was played at speed, and was really a bit disturbing -- like watching the act of a supervillain as opposed to nature. And Tim's face... "Tim."

"You were right, to some extent. He is worried about me. And my sanity, which was, of course, broken when --" Tim hisses a breath in through his teeth and... he doesn't clench his fists, or snarl. He just tenses, all over.

"Don't --"

"I'm all right." Tim gaze doesn't -- quite -- meet his own. Something else that would work better if he were wearing a mask.

"Tim... please."

And Tim continues to stare past him for a moment, and another, before exhaling with slow, visible care and, finally, looking at him. "I am all right, Connor. Just... I can see it now. What I'm going to have to say to my father, and how little of it he'll actually hear. And it pisses me off, because I was right, too.

"And I didn't want to be."

"I don't suppose you'd let me hug you right now."

Tim snorts. "I think I'd prefer a spar." And Tim's expression shifts again, grows distant and speculative, and for a moment Connor thinks that Tim will attack him here.

And then he isn't thinking about sparring, at all. And Connor can see Tim not-thinking about it, too.

"Bike's ready."

Connor forces himself to stand absolutely still until he stops hearing those words as 'kiss me.' And Tim just watches him, restless energy just beneath the surface of his skin, and... damn. "There are any number of reasons why I wish you weren't going home."

Tim's smile is lazily predatory. "One of the things I'll be... suggesting is that Winter Break would be an excellent time for me to visit... friends. I have a few of them on the west coast."

"I'd like that." And he's almost sure that several cumulative days worth of meditation would allow him to be sanguine about the time Tim will undoubtedly want to spend with the Titans.

Tim grins at him, and takes a step closer, looking up into his eyes. "How much do you care that the attendant is watching us right now?"

"That depends on how much time we'll get to spend alone before --"

Tim pulls him down into a hard kiss, bruising and -- not fast. Enough time for Connor to get over the shock, enough for him to open his mouth for the stab and sweep of Tim's tongue, enough to listen to the road noise fade under the pound of his own heart, and enough to give up and close his eyes.

Connor cups Tim's face and tilts it up more, half-aware of the selfishness and barely aware of the fact that it would be a bad idea to tumble them to the concrete. He wants to laugh and he wants to ask Tim if he's out of his mind, if they both are.

He licks Tim's tongue as thoroughly as he can, instead, and groans when Tim stills enough to let him do it slowly.

And he doesn't pull away until he absolutely has to.

"Not enough," Tim says.

"You asked me once to stay in Gotham."

Tim's eyes are dark and steady on his own. "I meant it. But I won't try to convince you to leave your family."

"I think..." Connor strokes Tim's cheekbones with his thumbs. "I think I'm not prepared to be grateful for that."

Tim closes his eyes and turns his face into Connor's hand, briefly enough that it wouldn't seem like anything more than Tim twisting away from him. Connor's palm tingles from the brush of Tim's mouth.

The attendant appears to paying a great deal of attention to the pumps on the far side of the station. Connor supposes it could be worse. He settles himself on the bike and watches Tim paying the man. The smile on his face is sweet, ingenuous, and suggests bribery.

Connor reaches for their helmets, and... puts on the red one.

Tim gives him a brief, unreadable look before putting on the green one. "Kinky," he says, and releases the kickstand.

"I can taste your breath." Connor blinks at himself. "I mean --"

Tim sighs, breathily enough that it makes Connor shiver despite the fact that it isn't, actually, against his ear. "The fact that we're trying very hard not to convince each other to misbehave is going to limit the acceptable scope of conversation."

"I... how do you feel about... sports?"

Tim snickers and pulls out of the gas station.

"On second thought, why don't you tell me how many booby traps I'm inadvertently brushing against every time I take a deep breath?"

"No, that's just going to turn me on. But try not to press too firmly with your left calf."

"You might have mentioned that earlier."

"Mm," Tim says, laughter palpable in its silence, and drives them back onto the highway.

*

Connor slips off the bike and stretches. The airport is close to the coast and it's gotten windier. If he concentrates, he can smell the sea.

If he concentrates on something other than the way Tim's watching him.

Tim's hair is a sweaty, mussed tangle. It's the only thing about him that seems young.

"I could wait with you."

"I thought Oracle booked me on the flight leaving in..." He checks his watch. "Half an hour."

Tim scrubs a hand back through his hair, mussing it more. "I'm tempted to test airport security."

"I'm tempted to watch you."

"I think that if I'm forced to spend one more week not patrolling, or even training..." Tim shakes his head. The smile on his face is incongruously gentle, considering the thoughts Connor's sure are going through his mind. But it only lasts a moment before hardening into something else, entirely. "And you won't even be here to distract me."

Connor reaches out and presses his thumb against Tim's lower lip. He can't decide whether more of the thrill is in the fact that he can, the fact that he is, or the fact that this is just one more act Tim has let him perform.

Encouraged, with his stillness and the hunger in his eyes.

"I'm going to call you when I get home."

"Yes."

"And... I hope to find a way to distract you."

Tim looks at him silently for a long moment, and then deliberately lets his mouth fall open and closes his teeth around the tip of Connor's thumb. His tongue flicks at the nail once, twice. Again.

He doesn't so much as blink.

And then he lets go, and leans back.

"Tim."

"I never thanked you."

Connor laughs. "I'd have to disagree."

Tim shakes his head. "Not for... I never thanked you for coming for me. For wanting to."

"Can you be thankful for another person's emotions?" Connor frowns. "I don't think I'm saying that right. But..."

Tim smiles at him. "Think of it this way -- how do you feel about the fact that I'm falling for you?"

Connor blinks. "Grateful. Tim --"

"To the universe...?"

"No."

"My point," Tim says, and tucks the red helmet away. And slips on the green. He watches Connor -- and even through the blacked-out visor of the helmet, the watching is undeniable -- and... waits.

Connor nods and turns and walks into the terminal. And forces himself to keep moving when he hears the engine start up again.

*

Dear Connor,

Operation Winter Break is a go. There's only so much I'm willing to talk about until O's little birds get back to me about your system's security, but...

I'm willing to wait until you turn the comm I sent you back on.

I find myself wondering how many people have misused the things as badly as we are, over the years. And then I find myself considering self-lobotomy.

BG sends her regards, or possibly a nerve-strike. It's hard to tell.

My parents are wondering when you plan on coming back east, although, as they seem hopeful that our relationship will prompt a certain degree of 'settling down' -- for both of us -- I'd recommend putting that off as long as humanly possible.

Whenever I'm feeling petty, or bitter, or likely to do something selfish and/or violently idiotic, I think of the look in your eyes.

It doesn't make me feel any better, or more human, but.

It makes me want to.

Wrt the new work uniform we discussed, I'm not sure how I feel about suspenders. I frankly don't think I have the chest for it, and I'm not willing to model anything like it until I know no cameras will be present.

I look forward to you convincing me otherwise.

Connor smiles at the screen and hits reply, and pauses when he hears a sound behind him. He turns to find his father leaning in the doorway.

"Your... partner?"

"Yes, Dad."

His father nods slowly. "The two of you are making a go of it at long-distance, then?"

Connor isn't sure how to convince his father -- or the rest of his family -- that there'd be no 'it,' if he wasn't ready to do anything possible to make it work, but then... he'd never been able to convince them of that sort of thing before, either. "He's a wonderful correspondent."

"Considering how much Mia's been bitching about the time you spend on that thing, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised."

Connor smiles. "But you are, anyway."

His father snorts. "Yes and no. I don't think anyone with half a brain would screw around with the chance to have a relationship with you, son. I just didn't think the Bats had half a brain among them."

"You may have mentioned something along those lines."

"Hm. So when do I get to meet him without the mask and attitude problem?"

"He's coming out here to visit for the holidays, Dad. I..." Think you'll like him, is what he means to say, but he's honestly not sure. "I hope you come to like him as much as I do."

His father scratches at his beard and smiles. "Maybe not quite as much as that, son."

Connor works diligently to pretend he never had those images.

"Look, I know I'm not doing this right. You... I just want you to be happy."

"I am."

His father nods again. "And the ghoul? Any trouble with him?"

"Not really. Tim's given the impression that he... doesn't disapprove of me. Entirely."

"Well, isn't that big of him. Disapprove! I'll --"

"Dad."

His father's expression is narrow-eyed and stubborn. Connor braces himself, lining up several potentially soothing things he can say -- again -- but then his father... laughs. "How many in-laws are you looking to wind up with, kid?"

Connor smiles ruefully. "Tim's isn't the only e-mail I have waiting for me. I'm not sure whether Nightwing is welcoming me to the family or threatening my life. Roy suggests both."

"Hm. Well, Roy's always gotten along with him. Talk to him about it."

Connor nods. Whether Roy will interrogate him for far, far too many personal details or invite Tim out to get drunk is something else he isn't sure of.

His father nods back at him. "I just have one question. You'd mentioned the new Robin had been your partner's --"

"I'm reasonably sure I didn't turn him gay, Dad."

"Are you sure about that? You shouldn't sell yourself short, Connor. I mean --"

"Dad."

"Right, right. Well, I'll leave you to your love letters. Try not to get the Fascist Bee Eye on our cases for internet porn --"

"Dad."

His father winks at him. "Night, son."

"Good night, Dad."

He watches his father leave and turns back to the computer. Three hours later and three thousand miles away... he's not sure what Tim is doing. He'd mentioned spending more time in
Bludhaven with Nightwing, but he'd also suggested that his schedule wasn't entirely normalized yet, in terms of how much
information his parents wanted from him before he left for a night's patrol.

At the same time, it's not very difficult at all to imagine Tim in the bedroom Connor hasn't seen yet, perhaps working on something on his own computer, and, perhaps, waiting.

Or waiting for their rather definitively scheduled comm-time.

It's a feeling, vivid despite its basic irrationality. Something like the sense that Tim isn't ever entirely separate anymore, and that, perhaps, every time Connor centers himself, he's centering Tim, too.

Somewhere, Roy is choking on the sentiment Connor thinks he must be sending out in waves.

Connor grins to himself again. He'd never claimed to be anything other than a romantic.

end.

Additional notes: As you can see, I decided to use a great deal of the canon -- and characterization choices -- Willingham has in this latest run of Robin. I have my issues with it, but it's there, and it's canon, and it really does make a few things easier to write... even as I'm twitching madly.

(Especially about Jack Drake's characterization.)

Basically, this note is all about me saying: Just because I write it, doesn't mean I believe it.

Or maybe I do. Tough call. ;-)

Title from Whitman. Excerpt:

The smoke of my own breath;
Echoes, ripples, buzz'd whispers, love-root, silk-thread, crotch and vine; My respiration and inspiration, the beating of my heart, the passing of blood and air through my lungs; The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the shore, and dark-color'd sea-rocks, and of hay in the barn;
The sound of the belch'd words of my voice, words loos'd to the eddies of the wind; A few light kisses, a few embraces, a reaching around of arms; The play of shine and shade on the trees as the supple boughs wag; The delight alone, or in the rush of the streets, or along the fields and hill-sides; The feeling of health, the full-noon trill, the song of me rising from bed and meeting the sun.

Have you reckon'd a thousand acres much? have you reckon'd the earth much? Have you practis'd so long to learn to read? Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?

Stop this day and night with me, and you shall possess the origin of all poems; You shall possess the good of the earth and sun--(there are millions of suns left;) You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books; You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me: You shall listen to all sides, and filter them from yourself.

Please post a comment on this story.









Fandom:  Other (Mixed DCU)
Title:  Stop this day and night with me
Author:  Te   [email]   [website]
Details:  Standalone  |  NC-17  |  *slash*  |  156k  |  06/21/04
Characters:  Connor Hawke, Tim Drake, others
Pairings:  Connor/Tim
Summary:  Families, road trips, bad food, and the surprisingly pleasant side effects of being a real boy.

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