Diversions & Digressions | fanfiction by mara

Out There With You

Out There With You

by Mara

Summary: Tim runs away. Bernard follows.

CONTINUITY: Veers off after War Games and Identity Crisis. Also, I’m doing my
best to deal with the inconsistent personality of Willingham’s Robin. Wish me
luck.
DISCLAIMER: These characters belong to DC Comics. I just fantasize and worry
about them.
NOTES: This is a sequel to Te’s fic, “Go Down Knowing,” which can be found at
http://teland.com/godownknowing.html, and from which I borrowed two lines of
dialogue. All my gratitude to Te for allowing me to play in this corner of her
playground when the boys wouldn’t leave me alone. Thanks to various LJ folks for
squeeing at the idea of this fic. This story is unbetaread because I could have
a baby at *any moment now* and I wanted to get this story finished before that
happened ::grin::


* * * * *

It started as a game.

Except that Bernard knew all along it wasn’t *really* a game, unless you
considered walking through minefields blindfolded a party game. But Tim dared
him, he *dared* him to figure out his secrets.

Bernard could never resist knowing secrets.

So, he let Tim break up with him, even if they’d never precisely been going out,
and he settled down to doing what he did best: ferreting out someone else’s
secrets.

Pad of paper in hand, he wrote down every hint Tim had ever dropped in his path
like a crumb, every odd look Tim had given him, every off reaction, every time
he’d disappeared or reappeared, every bump, bruise, and limp. He pored over
newspapers, researched Tim’s family background, and ended up with a pile of
clippings that looked like he was starting a fan club.

After all of that background research, the answer practically beat him over the
head the day Darla was shot. When Tyrone and the others talked about everything
Tim had done, it was obvious: Tim Drake was Robin. Yes, Robin. That Robin. The
one with the cape and the tights and the working with Batman.

Bernard spent a week carefully not thinking about the discovery, a week in which
he burnt his clippings and his notes and every computer printout. Then he stared
at his computer and wondered how you went about permanently wiping your files,
although he knew he didn’t have the expertise for that. He settled for
reformatting the hard drive. Twice.

*Then* he sat down to consider what to do next.

It would have been a complicated question under any circumstances, but moreso
after subsequent events. Darla died and Bernard read in the newspaper that Tim’s
dad was killed by some weirdo. And Tim disappeared.

Not just from school, but from Gotham. He was gone.

Bernard resumed his obsessive newspaper reading, looking for a hint of Tim’s
whereabouts. It only took a few weeks. Blüdhaven news wasn’t a staple in Gotham,
but it trickled in often enough that the mentions of a new hero were sufficient.

By that point, Bernard knew what he wanted, even if he wasn’t certain how to get
it.

You can overthink things sometimes, he decided, packing a bag with necessities,
leaving a vague note for his parents, and hopping a train to Blüdhaven.

He received a few odd looks several hours later when he found the perfect street
corner and settled in behind a sign, but he ignored them. Unpacking his bag, he
settled in to eat the turkey sandwich, leaving the Perrier and cranberry bar for
later. When he was done, he pulled out battered copies of three Oscar Wilde
plays (for fun) and “Of Mice and Men” (for school). After all, who knew how long
this might take?

A passing police officer seemed to consider harassing him, but was apparently
confounded by his unconventionality–he wasn’t asking for money or causing a
disturbance. Bernard shrugged and ate the cranberry bar.

The sun was fully set and the streets slowly emptied to a trickle: partiers,
shift-workers, vagrants. Bernard clipped a light to his book, and dug out a
hummus wrap to eat with the Perrier.

The voice, when it finally came, was above him.

“What are you doing here?”

Bernard unclipped the light, put a bookmark in the book, and packed everything
away before tilting his head. Robin–no, *Tim*–was perched above his head on a
ledge. “Waiting for you, obviously.”

Tim launched off the ledge and landed in front of him with the grace Bernard had
always suspected he had. Tim glanced at the sign although he obviously already
knew what it said: “‘You dared me. Here I am.'”

Bernard lifted one shoulder and reached into the bag. “Would you like some
water? I drank the Perrier, I’m afraid.”

“No.” Tim was even harder to read behind a mask and cloak. “Why are you here?”

“Because you don’t have to lie to me. I figured it out.”

“It’s too late.” Tim turned away.

Bernard jumped to his feet, stepping over his bag to stand behind Tim. “No, I
don’t believe it.”

“Go home.”

“And what kind of friend would I be then, darling?” The light-hearted tone took
more effort than he expected, but Bernard smiled as he put a hand on Tim’s
(armored, god) shoulder and gently turned him.

“You don’t want this. I shouldn’t have…I told you I don’t get to have this.”
Expressionless face but a broken voice.

“Why not?”

“Because everyone who gets close gets killed.” Tim’s voice turned to steel. “I
won’t let you die because of me. Go home, Bernard.”

“No.” He shook his head. “I can’t now that I know. I need…” He swallowed. “I
need to help you. Somehow.”

“It doesn’t work. The others…nobody’s managed it.”

“Does this mean you’ve learned *nothing* from me?”

Tim frowned.

“How many times do I have to tell you? We’re not like everyone else. We made our
own rules in school, so why should this be different?”

Tim’s chin came up. “You don’t get it. This isn’t high school. This is life or
death, mainly death. You don’t belong here.”

“And you do?”

“There’s nothing else for me. It’s too late.”

“Never.” Bernard reached out to stroke the mask, then ran his thumb down the
side of Tim’s face, watching how he suppressed a shudder. “Let me help.”

Turning his face away, Tim was silent for a long moment. When he spoke, his
voice was barely more than a whisper. “Have you got paper?”

“Of course.”

“I’ll give you directions. Meet me in half an hour.”

* * * * *

Bernard glanced at the building as he paid the cabbie, deciding that–like most
of the city–it would benefit greatly from a good powerwashing, and went inside.
He followed Tim’s rather odd instructions and found himself on the top floor
facing what looked like a closet door.

The door opened before he could even knock and Tim turned away, leaving him to
shut the door behind himself and follow Tim into a loft. The space was filled
with an impressive array of equipment, windows blacked out so that nobody could
see inside.

“How…” Bernard sought the bon mot, “dreary.”

There was a hint of smile in Tim’s voice. “It’s not intended to be a spread in
House Beautiful.” He sat down at a computer console, tapping at a mouse and
shifting around some kind of map.

“But you know, a few flowers, some lights, almost anything would be an
improvement.” Bernard wandered around. “The basic structure is quality. And the
tall ceilings could be attractive with proper lighting.”

“I don’t need an interior decorator.”

“Perhaps not, but it wouldn’t hurt.”

Tim glanced up, then went back to typing.

“So, were you planning to come back to Gotham, or continue to hide out in what
may be the most depressing city in the world?”

“Hide out?” The typing slowed.

“Well, if this isn’t a hideout, then I’m Superman.” Hand on his hip, Bernard did
a Superman impression.

Tim coughed and Bernard did his best to look offended as he walked around the
bank of machinery to stand behind Tim’s chair. He could see Tim’s reflection on
several of the blank screens as he gently stroked Tim’s hair. “Tell Uncle
Bernard your troubles.”

Eyes closed, Tim didn’t respond, but he didn’t move away either, so Bernard
shifted forward so both hands were on Tim’s shoulders. Now that the armor was
off, he could feel the tension in every muscle, and he did his best to massage
them.

“Why are you here?” Tim asked again.

Bernard took a deep breath. “Because I’d rather die with you than live alone.”

Next thing he knew, he was on the floor, Tim’s body holding him down, hands to
his throat. Tim’s face held no expression he recognized. “Are you so sure? Any
one of my enemies could take you down just this easily. Easier.”

“I’m sure.”

It wasn’t as if he hadn’t thought about it. Tim’s dad being killed by a costumed
wacko? It didn’t take a genius to figure out it had some connection to Tim being
Robin.

Tim’s hands tightened on his throat and Bernard stayed utterly still, hands at
his sides, waiting for Tim’s inscrutable brain to process whatever it needed to
process.

The hands only loosened a bit before Tim’s mouth was on his own–hard, cold,
familiar, tasting of coffee. Bernard grabbed Tim’s shoulders, rubbed his back,
tried to project everything into a kiss: I’m here, I’m here for you.

The kiss turned desperate, painful in its intensity. Tim’s hands moved to the
sides of his head, holding him in place.

I’m not going anywhere.

Tim pulled away, breathing sped up. Bernard wished for a grin, but the new and
improved Tim didn’t look capable. “You can’t stay here,” Tim said, sitting back
on his heels.

“Of course not. Some of us still have to go to school.”

Tim’s face shifted and he stood, heading back to his computer.

Shaking his head, Bernard hoped a few of his brain cells would shift back into
place, because that was easily on one of the stupidest things he could have
said. Sitting up, he watched the figure hunched over a monitor that provided
more illumination than the few other lights.

“Tim–” he began.

“Don’t.” Tim didn’t turn.

“I would have come to your dad’s funeral if you’d told me when it was.”

“I said don’t. You should go. Forget about all this.”

Bernard stood unhurriedly, clearing off a chair by moving the pile of esoteric
weapons it contained to another surface. Dusting the seat off, he sat. “I
thought we had determined you’re stuck with me. My mind is made up.”

“You have no idea what you’re getting into.”

“I read the newspapers. I’d say I have a moderately fair impression.”

“You know *nothing*.”

Don’t stop there. Tell me what happened since you gave me that grin and dared me
to find the real you. Tell me what’s turned you into the grim avenger of the
night.

Crossing his legs, Bernard settled in to wait.

The typing slowed and finally stopped. In the green glow from the monitor, Tim’s
face looked grotesque. “What do you want?”

You. The rest of the story. A happy ending. “A chance.”

“To do what?”

“To make it in your world. I did get this far, so surely I deserve a chance.
Besides, it seems to me that Robin needs a keeper.”

Tim froze.

“Tim?”

“I…If you tell me Batman needs a Robin, I think my brain will explode.”

“What?”

Slowly, he turned in the chair. “You reminded me…”

“Of?”

“How I became Robin to begin with. Never mind, it was a long time ago.”

“But that was in another country and besides, the wench is dead,” Bernard
quoted. “Why don’t you tell me anyway?”

There was a moment where it looked like Tim wouldn’t do it, but he shot an
absolutely unreadable look at Bernard before looking away. Eyes distant, Tim
told a story of a dead boy, Batman out of control, and young Tim Drake’s
obsession. Bernard held his breath, not wanting to interrupt the flow of more
words, more truths, than he’d ever heard from Tim.

When the story was done, Tim left his computer and climbed out onto the roof,
obviously expecting Bernard to follow. Tentatively, he stepped out, finding Tim
sitting at the edge, legs dangling.

It was certainly a long way down, Bernard thought, peering over the side before
sitting next to Tim. They spent a long time looking at the city, which Bernard
privately thought was even grimmer than Gotham, a fairly impressive
accomplishment.

It was impossible to tell what Tim was thinking, but Bernard pondered Tim.
Knowing his high school coffee-drinking buddy was a costumed vigilante was one
thing, but…he’d fought for the job. When the original Robin refused to come
back, he’d set himself up as a sanity check for *Batman*. Taken the fate of the
world on his shoulders voluntarily.

And from the looks of things, the world had broken him this time. Bernard
glanced to the side. Now that he wasn’t bothering to play the role of Tim Drake,
ordinary high school student, he looked different–he looked dangerous.

It was an attractive look, even more than it had been back when he only saw
glimpses of it.

“When Nightwing comes back to town, I’ll return to Gotham.”

Bernard nodded, sensing that was all the concession he was going to get. “I’ll
be here as often as I can, you know. And if you pull another disappearing act,
my dear boy, I’ll track you down again.”

Tim’s sideways glance was almost like old times. “What makes you think you’d
find me?”

“I found you this time, didn’t I?”

“Maybe I wanted you to.”

“Maybe.”

Tim stared at the streets below. “I need to go back out there for a few hours.”

“I’ll be here when you get back.”

Hesitating, Tim looked at him, then leaned over to kiss him again; this time the
kiss was unusually gentle and Bernard stroked Tim’s cheek. Tim broke the kiss,
almost smiled at him, and went inside to change.

Bernard took a deep breath and wondered what happened next.

* * * * *

There was no click from the window or footsteps, so Bernard didn’t wake until a
shadow passed across his sleeping face. He sat up, alarmed, but stifled his
instinctive shout when he saw who stood over him.

Although Tim hadn’t said anything about this in the past three weeks, after
getting bits and pieces of the story of what had happened to Tim recently,
Bernard had half been expecting a visit. He leaned against his headboard and
smiled brightly, as if ominous black-clad vigilantes broke into his bedroom all
the time.

“Can I help you, Batman?”

Batman loomed over him and Bernard smiled harder, certain just how annoying that
would be. Tim hadn’t said all that much specifically about Batman, but Bernard
was very good at reading between the lines.

“Not that I don’t appreciate late night visitors to break up the monotony,”
Bernard went on, “but it is a school night. Did you want something in
particular? My resume, perhaps.”

“I know all about you already.”

Despite himself, Bernard felt a shiver run down his back. Oh yes, Batman was
*very* good at intimidation. He took a steadying breath. “I’m sure you do. And I
know very little about you. That hardly seems fair. Perhaps you’d like to
share?”

“Cut the humor. I’m not amused.”

*No* cowering like a common criminal. *No* pulling the blankets over his head
like a child. Bernard was proud of how steady his voice was–at least to *his*
ears. “Then I repeat my question: Can I help you?”

“You have nerve, I’ll give you that.”

“Thank you.”

“But you’re a civilian. You’re going to get yourself killed if you get involved
in our business.”

Bernard sniffed quietly. “And I’m expected to believe you’re here because you’re
worried about me?”

“I don’t care what you believe. You’re completely untrained, you can only hinder
Robin in his mission at a time when he needs to regain his focus.”

“*Tim* needs a friend. Robin needs a keeper.”

The dark shape silhouetted by moonlight seemed to grow darker. “Stay out of
things which don’t concern you.”

“Tim is my concern.”

“I will be speaking to Robin.”

“I’m sure. Do tell him I said hello.”

Batman didn’t deign to answer, just stepped back out the window and disappeared.

“I hate when they do that.” Bernard shivered and wondered if he’d gone too far,
if Batman could convince Tim this was a bad idea.

What Batman said and how Tim responded, Bernard never knew, probably because he
was afraid to ask. When he showed up in Blüdhaven next, Tim shot him one of
those glances that could mean anything from ‘I’m going to kiss you until you
forget your name’ to ‘I’ve got a plan to take out the entire den of drug dealers
with one blow.’

But he went back to repacking his tool belt without saying anything, so Bernard
shrugged and settled down at the computer. They’d spent an entire weekend
getting him familiar with the systems and seeing what he could do; Bernard found
himself more talented with it than he’d expected, although not in the same
ballpark as Tim.

Tim was training him to help out with research and information-gathering while
Robin was on the streets. They’d already tricked out his computer at home with
more software and hardware than his parents would ever believe existed outside a
major computer lab. Bernard was training *himself* in the fine art of sleeping
in fits and spurts, although that wasn’t going quite as well.

Bernard was gradually getting Tim to talk about his past experiences, but it
made pulling teeth look like an easy hobby. And Tim was still unwilling to
discuss the past month’s events in detail, but Bernard was getting him closer.

Perhaps most importantly, Tim was showing signs of normality, encouraged by
Bernard’s unwillingness to tolerate too much brooding and/or sulking.

To both Tim’s and his own amusement, in this process Bernard had learned where
his true talents lay: playing people. It turned out that once he’d gotten a
person on the phone or over e-mail, he could convince them to do just about
*anything*. He could convince them that *he* was just about anything.

“I knew all those summers in the theatre would come in handy,” Bernard remarked
as Tim gave him the details of the latest operation.

“Hmm?” Tim looked up from his notes with a frown.

“This isn’t exactly Shakespeare, but I’m glad I learned how to act.”

Tim quirked an eyebrow at him. “And there I thought it just came naturally to
you.”

“Maybe it does.” Bernard shrugged and tried to decide if he could distract Tim
for a while by kissing him senseless.

“I’ve determined that they’re storing the stuff in the warehouse…” Tim went
on.

Maybe not. Sighing, Bernard turned his attention back to the screen and put his
plan off until later.

Tim set out into the night, leaving Bernard with his assignment. Within minutes,
he was immersed in shipping records and still secretly marveling at the amazing
tech that Tim had to play with.

Bernard wasn’t paying any attention to his surroundings, which was what made it
all the more shocking to hear a voice not too far behind him that he didn’t
recognize.

“Who?”

He froze, fingers poised over the keyboard. Something about the voice said ‘no
sudden movements’ so he licked his lips and said, “I’m Bernard. And you are?” as
he turned around an inch at a time.

The leather-suited figure that stood just inside the roof entrance was small,
but Bernard had no doubt that she could kick his ass in less time than it would
take him to blink. She tilted her head and examined him, while he held his
breath, then she nodded once.

When she stepped forward into the room, there was something different about her
posture and she no longer seemed as threatening.

“Ah, Batgirl?”

She nodded again. “Tim?”

“Off righting wrongs, avenging the innocent, you know.”

She waited, a dark statue poised to leap into action.

Bernard shrugged. “Okay, he’s casing a warehouse to see if that’s where
shipments of amphetamines are being kept.”

“Help?”

“Uh…oh! No, I don’t think he needs any help.” Bernard grinned to himself,
pleased he was getting the hang of this. “He’s not raiding tonight, just
checking. Maybe he’ll plant some bugs.”

“What, then?”

“I don’t know.” Shrugging, Bernard tried to look apologetic. “I mean, there are
a bunch of things that need doing, but I’m not sure what he’d want you to do.”
Damn, one more thing to learn about, he thought with a sigh.

“I’ll call.” She bowed slightly in his direction, tapping her ear, which was
presumably where her comm was located.

“Okay. Sorry, I’ll try to know something next time.”

A little twitch that was something like a shrug. “Next time. It was very nice to
meet you,” she said clearly, the words sounding like something she’d been
carefully coached to say. Bernard’s head swam at the idea of Batgirl getting
etiquette lessons from Batman.

Still seated, he bowed elaborately. “And it was lovely to meet you as well. I do
hope we can meet sometime under better circumstances.”

That almost got him a smile. “Take care of Tim.”

“Ah…I will. I’ll try.”

“Good.”

Bernard stared after her for quite a while before getting back to work.

* * * * *

Weeks went by and it seemed as if life had always been like this–school,
computer work, seeing Tim whenever he could. Sometimes Batgirl was there and
sometimes she wasn’t, but she always seemed to know when to make a discreet fade
into the night.

Best of all was being able to spend time in Blüdhaven, and Bernard was enjoying
unaccustomed luxury since his parents had gone out of town for a three-day
weekend.

Tim was out, so Bernard was perfecting his gunsel impersonation on the line with
Big Al Dunwoody’s right-hand moron. “Yeah, I toldja,” Bernard said, his voice
nasal and whiny, “I got this call from Nate and he said he’d heard you had the
goods. Hey, I’m just lookin’ for a couple of guns.”

Leaning back in his chair, Bernard took a sip of tea and stretched out his legs.
“Uh-huh. So, you haven’t got ’em? So where’d they go?”

A sound from the microphones planted all around the roof made him glance at the
cameras. A flash of color heralded Tim’s arrival but…Bernard’s throat went dry
at the splatters of red where they didn’t belong. “Look, I gotta go. If you
ain’t got ’em, you ain’t got ’em.” He hung up.

A heavy tread hit the ladder before Bernard reached the bottom and there were a
few instants of fumbling before he was able to help a shaky Tim to the ground.

“Tim,” he said as Tim sank into the chair next to the sink.

“It’s not as bad as it–”

“Fuck that.” Bernard barely even noticed his own unaccustomed obscenity as he
grabbed the well-stocked first aid kit.

“Bernard, I–”

“Shut up and get that costume off.”

Tim’s mouth snapped shut and he obeyed, letting Bernard help him strip as much
as necessary. Bernard immediately applied a sterile dressing to a still-bleeding
wound on his thigh, only taking a moment to apply an antibiotic powder first. At
least the flow of blood was sluggish, meaning it wasn’t an artery. But once
they’d taken stock, he’d have to put stitches on that one.

Tim held out a smaller bandage as Bernard finished rinsing clean a gash on his
bicep. Wetting another cloth, Bernard wiped down smaller injuries, looking for
anything else that needed more than ointment.

“It’s just those two,” Tim said.

Bernard ignored him, gently cleaning blood and dirt off his neck, revealing
bruises and scrapes that made it look like he’d been dragged behind a car.

“I’m okay. I’ll just go clean up–”

“Sit.”

Tim sat, eyes wide as Bernard removed the mask and began cleaning his face.

Wiping his mind, Bernard focused on the immediate: Find a clean section of
cloth, wet, apply to out-of-place bodily fluids and dirt. Don’t push too hard.
Gentle strokes. Touch his hair sometimes.

Blood gone, Bernard switched to fingertips, running them along bruised
cheekbones, scraped jawline, the bump on his chin. Tim sat quietly, watching
him, but showing no sign that any of this might hurt.

Neither spoke again until Bernard’s hands slowed.

“I’m okay,” Tim said. “How are you?”

“Well, *I* don’t look like something the cat dragged in, so presumably better
than you.”

Bernard thought he’d managed his usual insouciance, but the way Tim’s eyes
narrowed belied that. “Bernard, I said I’m fine. The injuries are minor, they
look worse than they are.”

“Minor.” He bit the word off. “Are you ready for stitches?”

Tim frowned but carefully pulled up the dressing. “Yes.”

Each movement ripped at him as if he’d been the one injured, but Bernard focused
again, managing a creditable row of stitches that looked vaguely like the ones
in the book. Another dressing, this one taped in place, and it was done.

“Thank you. I appreciate the help.” The words were offerings, given in hopes of
appeasement.

Bernard tidied up, noting on a piece of paper which first aid items would need
replacing.

“Bernard?”

“All my notes on the bank robberies are in the file. Dinner is ready to go in
the microwave. Eat the vegetables, you need them.” As he spoke, he threw a few
odds and ends in his backpack.

Eyes wide and body vibrating like a tuning fork, Tim leaned forward. “Bernard–”

“I’m sorry.”

The door was twenty feet away but he was caught in Zeno’s Paradox, always
getting halfway there but never reaching the door. Tim caught him a few steps
away, grabbing his arm. “Wait.”

“I need to go,” Bernard said, not turning.

“Are you…are you coming back?”

Each breath echoed in his ears, harsh, painful. “I don’t know.”

Tim’s grip tightened, bruising. Bernard waited, staring at cream paint on the
door, the patch in the corner that had bubbled up, the unidentified orange stain
along the bottom.

Tim let go and Bernard went out the door without looking back.

* * * * *

To keep his parents from noticing anything when they returned, he took to
spending more time at the library, in the park, anywhere he could find lots of
people to watch. Playing his old games kept his mind busy.

Not busy enough, but he did what he could.

A week went by. He deleted e-mails unread, took long walks. He was meandering
through the neighborhood when a shadow moved in a very familiar fashion in an
alley just ahead. Bernard stopped, put a hand on his hip and glared. “Ollie
ollie oxen free,” he called. “There’s no need to lurk, Tim.”

The figure stepped out of the alley. “I’m not Tim.”

Bernard tilted his head and allowed himself a moment of pure appreciation of the
figure half in shadow. From the silky dark hair framing classic good looks to
the sculpted muscles outlined in black and blue, this was a figure that deserved
appreciation. “Nightwing, I presume.”

“And you’re Bernard. Now that we’ve established that, can we talk?”

Bernard crossed his arms, realized he’d just taken the same pose Tim did when he
was feeling defensive, and stuck his hands in his pockets instead. “I wasn’t
aware we had anything to talk about. Unless Tim sent you, in which case I’ll be
heading home.”

“Tim didn’t send me. You should know he wouldn’t do that.”

“Ask for help? No, you’re right, he’d never do that.”

Nightwing coughed a few times. “That wasn’t quite what I meant, but now that you
mention it, you’re right.”

“Well, I know Batman didn’t send you, because he’d gladly have hustled me out of
town to begin with.”

Frowning, Nightwing shook his head. “I gave up trying to understand *his*
motivations years ago. No, I’m not Batman’s errand boy.”

“Then why are you here?”

Nightwing shifted in place. “Can we get off the street first?”

“There’s a park two blocks on–”

“I know it. Meet you there.” Stepping backward, Nightwing disappeared.

“I hate when they do that.” With a sigh, Bernard walked to the badly-lit patch
of green and sat on a bench facing a pathetic shrubbery. He steadfastly refused
to jump when Nightwing materialized on the bench.

Bernard crossed his legs in front of him and studied his loafers in the
darkness. “So?”

“Tim’s been a basket-case since you left last week.”

It felt like a stab in the stomach but Bernard didn’t move. “Darling, how could
you tell?”

“He kicked Batgirl out of town. Told her to tell us to leave him alone. I’m
hearing,” Nightwing hesitated, “well, he’d been more Robin than Batman recently,
but…”

Who lowered the oxygen content in the air? Bernard concentrated on his
breathing.

“What happened?” Nightwing asked. “He needs you now.”

“Why do you care?” Not as casual as he’d intended.

“What?” The way Nightwing moved, Bernard suspected he’d nearly gotten himself
punched.

Breathe. Calm. Casual. “All of you left him alone to deal with his father’s
death, with losing Stephanie.” The not-mythical girlfriend had been a blow at
first, but he hadn’t been able to stay angry when he saw how Tim grieved.

“No!” Nightwing jumped up, pacing back and forth. “We tried but he wouldn’t let
us help. We called and wrote and showed up but he pushed us all away.”

Bernard frowned at the shadowy figure.

Nightwing paused, head turned to look at him. “I had, have, my own troubles, but
I swear I’d have done anything to help him if he’d let me.”

Bernard crossed his arms, no longer caring if he was imitating Tim.

Nightwing swore under his breath, swiveling on a heel to face him. “Don’t you
get it? You’re the only one he’s let close since…since everything. The only
one he trusts.”

Even in the dark, the look on Nightwing’s face was intense. Bernard looked away,
watching a pigeon hop across the grass, stopping to peck at something then
hopping a few more feet.

“Tim’s hurting. Don’t you care?”

Bernard bit his tongue. Nails digging into his palms, he fought to keep control.
Look at the bird. Think about birds…no, don’t.

“You do care or you wouldn’t be sitting here listening to me.” Nightwing’s voice
went from angry to something like understanding. “Look, I don’t know what
happened, but I could probably take a good guess.”

“Don’t.”

“Whatever Tim did, please give my little bro another chance. He’s young, you’re
both young, don’t give up so easily.”

“Who said it was easy?”

Nightwing sighed. “Look, I’ve got enough regrets in my life to fill the Grand
Canyon. And some of the biggest ones have to do with people I failed, the ones I
wasn’t there for when they needed me. Right now, Tim won’t let *me* help. Just
you.”

Bernard was sure he would explode. “I don’t know if I can,” he said. The coppery
taste in his mouth wouldn’t go away, no matter how often he swallowed.

Nightwing moved in front of him, waiting to get his attention. “Believe me, you
do not want to deal with the regrets if Tim does something stupid and you didn’t
try.”

Bernard closed his eyes and waited. There was a tiny sound and when he opened
his eyes again, he was alone. He sat on the bench for another half-hour before
going home.

His mother looked up from her book and gave him a strange look when he came in,
but he couldn’t be bothered to distract her, so he went to his room.

In the dark, he stared out the window at nearby rooftops. In his imagination, a
war was fought atop them, figures he’d seen mixed with ones he could only
imagine. Robin–Tim–was there, kicking ass and taking names. And there was a
knife. Or maybe it was a gun.

Tim was falling–

“Bernard?”

He jumped, nearly smacking his forehead on the glass. “Yes, Mother?”

“Is something wrong, dear?” She hesitated, nearly wringing her hands. “You’ve
been so quiet.”

He started to shake his head, but out of the blue heard Tim’s voice: ‘Never lie
needlessly. The more truths you tell, the easier it is to slip in a lie.’

“Something’s wrong, but I’ll get past it.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?” She stepped further into the room, trying
to get a look at his face.

When had he adopted Tim’s habit of hiding in shadows? “Thanks, but I’ll be
okay.”

“Is it a girl?”

“Uh, no.” Definitely not a lie. “It’s not about a girl. I just have a lot to
think about and…a decision to make.”

She didn’t look entirely convinced but let it go. “I’ll leave you to that, then.
Just remember, you’re still in high school. It may seem like it, but no decision
you’re making now is life or death.” Smiling, she left, closing the door behind
her.

Bernard repressed a slightly hysterical laugh. Life or death? She had absolutely
no idea and even if he told her, she wouldn’t believe it.

Head in his hands, he blew out a slow breath. So this was how Tim had felt, why
he’d dared Bernard.

Life or death.

Tim warned him. ‘There are secrets that can get people killed.’

Life or death.

Tim trusted him. ‘A life of secrets, angst, and danger.’

You can’t unlearn a secret, Bernard thought. You either move forward with it or
you stay right where you are and wonder.

* * * * *

The loft was a mess, Bernard found when he disarmed the security systems and
unlocked the door. Standing in the doorway, his eyes immediately found the
remains of at least four fast food meals, as well as signs that Tim had been
sleeping either on the couch or at the computer.

He heaved a sigh and went to the computer, finding–as he’d expected–that the
files were obsessively neat and up-to-date. Shaking his head, he sat down to
wait, one foot tapping as he stared around the room.

The tell-tale click came only fifteen minutes later, much sooner than he’d
expected; he jumped, worried that Batman might have decided to drop by for a
visit.

Fortunately, it was Tim’s expressionless face that met his gaze. “What are you
doing here?” Tim asked.

“Haven’t we been through that already?”

Tim didn’t move, pinning him in place with a grim expression he had to have
learned from Batman.

“I…” It was a good question, to be honest. What *was* he doing there? “I’m
sorry.”

“You said that already. The day you left.”

Meeting Tim’s gaze was like being flayed by a million tiny knives. “I know. But
it bears repeating.”

“I know why you left. Why come back?” There remained no pity, no mercy, in Tim’s
voice.

Bernard wondered if he’d waited too long. “I said I’d be willing to die rather
than be alone. I said I’d risk living your life of secrets, lies, and danger.
Oddly, it never occurred to me that you were in more danger than I.”

That got an almost imperceptible response, a twitch in one gauntleted hand. “The
danger won’t change,” Tim said.

“I know. It took me some time to come to terms with that.” Bernard stood,
walking slowly toward the figure who hadn’t moved away from the wall. “I’m
sorry,” he said again.

Tim watched as Bernard stopped in front of him, placing a hand on Tim’s chest.

“I’m sorry I was frightened. I’m still new to all of this, you know.” Under his
hand, all Bernard could feel was armor.

“This life doesn’t allow much time to play catch-up.” Tim made no move to remove
his hand but his expression hadn’t softened either.

“I’m here and I’m not leaving again.”

Tim took a step back, letting Bernard’s hand fall. “Why should I believe you
this time?”

“Because now I realize I can’t leave. I’ve made my choice and that’s to be with
you.”

Bernard held his breath, hoping he’d said enough, that he hadn’t said too much,
that he’d said it right.

Loosening the cape, Tim stepped forward. Bernard saw Tim’s jaw clench and then
he was too busy holding an armful of Tim to see anything else. Tim held the back
of his head and kissed him fiercely, more of an invasion than anything else.

Bernard let Tim swing around and push him against the wall. Armor jabbed in
uncomfortable places, but Bernard just held on and let Tim assure himself of his
presence.

A wet tongue licked behind his ear and Bernard choked back a gasp at the
ticklish sensation, trying to feel Tim underneath his Robin uniform. Tim seemed
determined to taste every part of him not covered by clothing and Bernard
couldn’t find it in him to argue.

Later they curled up on the couch, Bernard running his fingers through Tim’s
hair, watching the strands as they trickled down and thinking about what he’d
said. He hadn’t lied–anyone who tried to lie to Tim, no matter how good their
acting ability, was very foolish–but he hadn’t told the entire truth either.

He couldn’t leave. Ever. He couldn’t leave, because if something happened to
Tim, he’d always wonder if he could have prevented it, helped him survive it,
somehow protected him.

Curiosity, caring, and ego had brought him to Blüdhaven, but love would keep him
wherever Tim was as long as he would let Bernard stay. It wouldn’t be a bad
life, of course. And it would certainly never be boring.

They say “curiosity killed the cat,” but that’s not always true–sometimes
curiosity traps the cat in a gilded cage along with the bird.

–end–

Te’s fic was inspired by lyrics from Ani DeFranco’s song “One More Night” and I
took my inspiration from them as well:

I’m gonna come to your town, I’m gonna call you up.
Then I don’t know what I’m gonna do,
You feel like you’re out on a long limb;
Like you’ve risked it all. But I’ll go out there with you,
And when the bough breaks, the cradle will just fall.
I’d rather go down knowing what it was like-
Than to keep myself company one more night-
One more night.



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