I don't own, etc. etc.
I can still see it in my mind during my waking hours. The fall. The blood…
Bart's right. There isn't anything wrong with a drink before bed—especially if it means I won't be haunted with that while I sleep. I don't do it every night, just occasionally. Sometimes it hits harder than others.
I pour it, then sit on the edge of the bed, looking into the whisky. Unfortunately, I think he meant beer. Well, Bart Allen isn't my mother.
I hear the door creek behind me.
"Do you need something, honey?" I asked Sammy.
She drags her feet as she approaches the bed. I can tell that she's tired, and she should be. It's an hour past her bed time. Her mousy-brown hair is resting in a disheveled fashion on top of her head. "Got it stuck again," she mutters, tugging on the pony tail holder.
Steph was always a hell of a lot better at this than I was. Damnit, I miss her. "Let daddy see." I put the drink on the night stand, the pull her onto my lap, attempting to untangle the little purple balls from her waves.
"Aunt Cassandra doesn't pull," she informs me. "Where is she?"
"I know hon. Cass is working." Cassandra's been a lifesaver. She and Bart keep me sane. She sits with Sammy in the afternoons when I need her, and she does some of the things a dad can't do. Like those stupid mother-daughter things at school. I can't be the only single dad in the world, can I? You'd think they'd realize that not every little kid in kindergarten has a mother.
Why the hell did I feel like this tonight?
"Will she come over when she's done?" She often stopped in and sat a few minutes with Sammy before turning in for the night. It never seemed to bother Samantha that this usually occurred about an hour before I dragged her out of bed for school.
"I can ask her if she will—if she calls tonight."
I pulled her to me and closed my eyes. I knew why I was like this. It was only two weeks away. The Anniversary.
Discretely, I breathed in the smell of her hair. It was the smell of baby shampoo and detangler. It was the same smell she'd had every night since she was born.
"You ok, daddy?"
I didn't realize it. My eyes were wet. Tim, hold yourself together. "Yeah, kiddo. Hey, I'm gonna call Bart, ok? You go to bed, and I'll wake you up when I'm done and you can talk to him too."
She nodded. "And say hi to his pretty lady with the arrows."
I had to smile at that. It was a sad smile, but it was still there. "Get going, Pumpkin."
I watched her drag her feet out of the room and close the door behind her.
With a pain in the pit of my stomach, I dialed Bart's number. Actually, it was Lian's number, Bart just spent a hell of a lot of time there. Personally… I thought he should be paying rent.
"Wuh?" came a tired voice after the second ring. "Ung?" There was the rustling of sheets, Bart dropping the phone once, then, "Tim?" I was the only person that called at an ungodly hour, GMT.
"Sorry to bug you."
"'S ok. Lemme get outta here so I don't wake her up." A door opened and closed on the other end. "Ok. What's up?"
"Just need to talk."
"It's getting to be that time, isn't it?"
"Yeah," I said a little more desperately than I intended.
"Hey, it's ok. Want me to come over?"
"I'll never get Sammy back to bed if you do." Bart had chilled out considerably, but he still had the ability to irreparably wind up a kindergartener.
"I don't even know what the hell I'm doing any more, Bart," I admitted. "It's… its been three years, and it's like it happened last night."
"Calm down, Tim."
I sniffed, drying my suddenly very wet eyes. "The thing that bothers me… the thing I wish I could do over… is making it look like a suicide."
"What could you do? There wasn't a thing, Tim. Not the way she went off the bridge. Come on. We've been through this."
I clenched my eyes shut, wishing for something to take the pain away. "I'm falling apart," I admitted.
"I know, Tim," he said very sympathetically. "It's only a couple weeks away, isn't it?"
"Yeah," I breathed.
"How's Sammy doing?"
"She was so little when… She doesn't even remember Stephanie." No. This was my own private hell. I drank the whiskey quickly, then curled on my side on the bed. "It isn't fair, man. You know? Steph stayed in the game 'cause of me."
"Stephanie stayed because it's what we do. All of us."
"Not me. Not any more."
"Tim, you still save all our butts more than a retired guy oughta."
"It isn't freaking fair," I moaned. "We got through SO much. And then she dies like that?"
"Look. We've had this conversation a thousand times. She died saving someone. If you're gonna go, go like that."
"She died saving some little kid so that OUR little kid can grow up without a mother. It makes perfect sense," I grumbled.
I missed Steph. It was beyond missing her. Times like this… it tore me up inside and ate at me like acid. We'd made ourselves miserable for years… We'd finally been happy. We'd been a family. "We were too fricking happy. THAT'S what the problem was, wasn't it? God looked down and saw that I was happy, and she was happy, and we had the best kid in the entire world… and he decided to smite that."
"Tim, you're drinking the hard stuff again, aren't you?"
"It doesn't matter."
"I worry about you, ok? What'd I say? A beer's one thing. Mr. Daniels is another."
I sighed. When in the world had Bart grown into a responsible human being? "You're right. Look… I just don't sleep very well any more."
"Do you want to be back out there?"
"What the hell makes you think that?"
"You can't sleep. You wanna be out there, doing something."
"I CANT go back out there."
"But you want to."
"I'm not going to leave my kid with NO parents." Where was the bottle?
"Tim… DO YOU WANT TO BE OUT THERE?"
Why was he bugging me like this? "Bart, maybe I thought you'd understand. Maybe… I don't know. Look. I'm going to bed. Ok?" I hated being harsh with him… but I couldn't stand to hear this question. It was the question I dared never ever ask myself. EVER.
"Ok, Tim. Sleep it off. Tell Cassandra I said hi." He hung up.
Damnit, Tim. You blew that one.
I stared down at the bottle on the floor. Where the hell had my life gone? It seemed to be a string of dicey decisions and messy situations… fighting with my dad during my entire four years of undergrad, burning the wick at both ends during graduate school… all while trying to play side-kick and keep Steph as MY side-kick, keep our relationship going, and occasionally, once a week or so, sleep.
I burned out fast and hard on that, and Dick came to my rescue. He and Barbara gave me sanctuary enough to recover (on their couch). But instead of realizing it was time to hang up the cape, I started going out as Redwing. Maybe I felt I owed it to Dick… maybe seeing how much fun Mara was having in my place gave me renewed enthusiasm. I even tried partnering again with Steph… in more ways than one.
Marriage seemed to fix the problems with my dad immediately. Why? I may never know. I never had a steady relationship with him. He still doesn't know about my former night gig. Maybe if I told him, he'd understand why I did so many unexplainable things. Maybe he'd terminate what little relationship I have with him, and give up the good relationship he has with Sammy. I should just settle for being scum.
That partnership with Steph lasted a whopping two years. And of course, my dad blamed me for it falling apart. Truthfully—neither of us were really ready. There were a lot of raging egos. I found out later that we lasted longer than Roy's bet with Plastic Man would have it.
I guess it's really then that you find out who your real friends are. My dad dropped me like a hot potato. Guess our relationship wasn't as magically repaired as I'd have thought. Bart really stuck by me. He listened to all the bitching I did about Stephanie and all the things she did, and all the things I did to pay her back.
Now that seems pretty stupid and unimportant.
Like… how could we spend three years divorced and fighting? It seems now like three years I wasted. Three years I could have been with her and happy and loving her. You always figure you'll have more time later, but when it comes down to it, you don't. You never do.
You end up seeing the woman you love fall from a bridge and land seven stories down… on railroad tracks. You pick up a little dark-haired toddler she died pushing to safety and return him to his parents… then you hunt down the worthless kidnappers who weren't worth your wife dying over. Then… when it's all over… you go home and tell your two year old that mommy isn't coming back. That's what happens. You can't get a second of that time you fought with her back. You can't take back the things you said.
I lied to Bart. I had no intention of sleeping when I hung up with him. How could I? I probably wouldn't sleep again until the date passed. Well, sleep without the aid of massive quantities of alcohol.
Taking the bottle with me, I went up on the roof. My loft was on the top floor, so it was a short trip. It was not even spring. The cold wind whipped past me, and it brought back so many mixed memories. The sky was heavy with clouds and was washed in salmon from the city full of street lights. A white moon hung high in the sky, peeking in and out of the overcast. How many nights had I spent on roof tops? To what purpose?
My hand began to stiffen up as the cold infected them, making it difficult for me to pour. Well, at least the drink'd be chilled.
I stared out into the darkness, looking at nothing and everything, thinking of nothing and everything, until my mind was numb from the pain and the cold.
"It is too cold," Cassandra informed me. When had she come to sit next to me?
"I need the cold."
"Let's go inside."
"I want to sit out here."
Her gloved hand rapped around my arm. "You can't sit out here."
"I'm a grown man. I can do whatever I want."
"Fine. You sit here. I'll sit with Sammy."
I sighed. She was right. I had a kid down there. As much fun as it was to go into self-torture mode the way Bruce does, I can't. I might be dying on the inside, but I couldn't let myself freeze to death. If I'm going to do that—then I might as well just put on the suit again and go back out there. It ends up the same way. Sammy is alone.
When I turned to follow, she was gone. Batgirl. She was still the best of all of us at the disappearing act.
She was with Sammy when I came below, in a black turtleneck and black jeans. Still, after all these years, she'd never really seen the point of adding other colors to her wardrobe.
I couldn't believe I'd once been intimidated by her. Yes, she was a trained assassin. But to see her sitting on the bed next to my sleeping daughter with the faint glow of feminine affection lighting her features, you'd never know.
"She wants to wait up for you every night. It… it means a lot to her that you're here. To both of us. It… would be a lot harder if you weren't."
"Have hypothermia yet?" Cassandra asked with a small smile.
Ashamed, I dug my hands into my pockets. "I was working hard on it."
"Yeah, you were. No more alcohol."
I sat down on the bed and stroked Sammy's silky waves. "I can't sleep right now, Cass. You know how it is."
"You need to find a better way."
I shook my head. "It… it hasn't been easy. I've tried other stuff… I've tried just staying up all night, I've tried reading, running… I'm up for recommendations."
"This…" she pointed to my heart. "Doesn't get tired. It doesn't forget. You need to do something to tire out this," she said, tapping on my forehead. "To do that… you tire out the rest of you."
"I already told you I tried running."
Her almond eyes lit up as she shook her head. "Exhaust yourself." Those huge eyes rolled, and she looked seventeen again… that same girl I was intimidated by, because of her apparent innocence. "Train with me."
"Cass… shh. I don't even want you talking about it around her."
"You can't keep your past a secret forever. She's asleep. You're avoiding."
This wasn't the first time she'd made the suggestion. This was the first time she'd been so direct. "Cass… I can't. You know that."
"Not asking you to go out with me. Just asking you to train. Keep ME in shape. You'll be doing ME a favor."
"Trying to put it in terms I'll understand again, eh? Look… you don't really need me. You have Mara to spar with."
"She's gone as far as she'll go with me."
"So? Are you teaching, or working out?"
"I like to teach."
"Cass, I can't be your student."
"I'll teach you how to exhaust yourself."
I buried my head in my hands. "I know what you're trying to do. Look, I can't do it, ok?"
One arm came around me and rested on my shoulders. "I'm just trying to exhaust you, Tim." Her hand brushed through my hair in a sign of affection. "All that other stuff? YOU add it."
"Cass…" I was going to protest, but what could I say, really? I was adding to her request withwith baggage. But with good reason. "Look. I'll think about it, ok?"
I didn't think I'd think very hard about it, though. I didn't know if I could do that to Sammy… or to Steph. I loved them both too much.
She rose, folding her arms over her chest. "Tell the Goober I stopped in."
"And think about it? For real? No fake thinking about things, like you always do."
"I'll think about thinking about it."
Cassandra grabbed her bag off the foot of the bed. "I'll see you when you come home from work."
"Are you stopping in?"
"Oh. Dana said she'd tell you. She can't sit with Goober tomorrow after school."
I shook my head. "No one tells me anything any more." It was amazing, Dana, my step-mom helped out by watching Sammy after school, and my dad still wouldn't talk directly to me. He always thought there was more to Steph's death than I was saying. Of course… chaos and wrong-doing seemed to swirl around me, and my father usually suspected me as the source.
She stepped toward me, and I was a little unsure of this closeness. It was unlike what I was used to from her. It was… something else. "I think they do… you're just too sleep deprived to notice."
"It's possible, Cassandra."
She seemed to move forward for a moment, hesitate, and go back to being rooted where she was. The girl moved like lightening, so it wasn't like her to lack commitment in her actions. "Look… Tim…" Suddenly her arms were around me, squeezing me firmly. "I know it's a bad time."
"It is." Ok, so what was with the bear hug? Sometimes, as much affection as I had for her, I still didn't understand her.
"Ring me up, to talk. If you want to."
I was forced to smile. She really did look out for Sammy and me. "Have a good night. You deserve to pack it off early."
"Oh. Not tonight. Going to Bludhaven. Checking up on Oracle."
"Oh?" You don't want to know, Tim. You shouldn't ask, and you shouldn't pay attention to the answer.
"She's been quiet since last night. Batman's out of town. Just making sure."
I nodded. I knew how it was. Yeah, sometimes you could go half a week without talking to anyone, and sometimes there was someone in your ear the entire night.
"Tell Babs I said hi, huh?" And maybe she was just looking for an excuse to visit. "Guess Mara's got the city, huh?"
"Dunno. Don't care."
Eeug. Sounds like they're still getting along splendidly. "That's why you want me for a sparing partner. She still being a big load of attitude?"
"Yeah. I know. She's that good, and she knows she's that good." If Cass's method of dealing with her was to avoid her? I wasn't going to question that. "I missed when she was little and cute and you could lock her in a closet for a few hours'peace."
"And she liked it in there!" Cass chimed in.
We both laughed. The release was good. There were too many things built up…
I knew Cass was one of the best, THE best at some things, but I worried like hell for her. I didn't want to tell Sammy why Aunt Cass wasn't coming over any more. I worried about Mara. Her lack of social skills wasn't winning her any friends. Jimmy… that kid was a nut who liked making trouble, and I didn't think Dick even REALIZED his son was a major instigator in every fall-out Young Justice had had with each other in the last three or four years. And Bruce and Dick? When did I NOT worry about them?
Wiping a tear from my eye, I squeezed her shoulder. "Hey, thanks for spreading the sunshine."
"Robin locked in a closet is lots and lots of sunshine," she answered knowingly.
"Naw, its just justice."
"Hey, daddy? Who's Robin. Why we putting Robin in a closet?" Sammy sat up in bed and rubbed her eyes. As soon as they were clear, she grabbed on to Cassandra's leg.
This is why there was a no-costumes rule in the house, a no talking about it policy in the house. It was too easy to slip up. "Just a joke, honey."
Cassandra sat down and pulled Sammy into her lap. "I'm going to go soon."
They could go on like this for a while. It WAS cute when they played together like this.
Out in the rest of the loft, I heard my computer beep. "Hey, Cass… I think our mutual friend's back to needing something. She's probably looking for you. Be right back."
I waved to both of them, then left the room. My little work area was just outside the kitchen. When I worked at home, it let me keep an eye on Sammy better, as she liked to traffic between the kitchen and the living room all afternoon after kindergarten.
Tossing myself into the swivel chair, I typed the password for the screen saver, then opened up the connection to Oracle. I didn't do it much any more, but occasionally she called on me. They all knew it wasn't my gig any more, and mostly tried to respect that—so when they did want me, I tried to be cooperative.
"What's up?" I asked. It was a little strange, I was talking to Oracle's floating head, instead of Babs. Usually she tried to make these personal conversations any more.
What was even weirder was that it was Oracle's electronically engineered voice as well. "Redwing, this involves Batgirl as well. I know she is within the vicinity."
I didn't feel so good, suddenly. She NEVER referred to me by that name any more. Something was seriously, seriously up.
"Give me a second," I replied then jumped out of the chair and went back for Sammy's room.
Sammy was on Cass's lap still, laughing away. "Hon, I need to steal Cassie from you for a minute." I looked at Cassandra. "We're needed."
Cassandra lost her previously jovial attitude and put on her game face. She followed me back to the computer quietly. Before we were even there, she saw the green head on the screen. "Yes, Oracle?"
There was a pause, a hesitation that lasted long enough for me to get a sick feeling in my stomach. "I have some… bad news."
Oh no. It was happening again.
Cassandra's hand found mine. At least I wouldn't face it this time alone.
THE END…for now.