Rating: PG (language)
Summary: Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.
Reasons: Because Tim and Shiva just both kick ass, Bernard's a doll, and everyone loves fabulous shoes.
Notes: Takes place following the events in Robin #125, refers heavily to the events of Robin #49-52, Green Arrow #135, and the first Robin mini-series.
It's better to burn out than to fade away
-Neil Young, "My My, Hey Hey"
Bernard watches Tim bend over his work.
They have a sub today in
English Lit. Bernard silently gives thanks to numerous higher powers, glad that
they'll be able to give Ulysses a break for today. He's had a nearly
constant migraine since they first started Joyce's nightmare of a novel.
The worksheet the sub passes out, however, is infinitesimally worse. Busywork. Shakespeare-themed busywork, nonetheless. Bernard groans. Who do they pay to come up with word-search puzzles made entirely of old Billy's plays, anyhow? And why would anyone think that forcing them upon apathetic high-schoolers constitutes as a qualitative use of the city's educational funding?
Bernard hates word-search puzzles. Hates them. Hates. Them. Especially the kind (such as the one sitting before him) that don't have the decency to come with word banks. They're confusing and monotonous. He always ends up having to go letter by letter, row by row, looking desperately for any combination of letters that even begin to resemble a word in a language he recognizes.
Tim, on the other hand, is insanely good at them. Out of the corner of his eye Bernard can see him idly circling answers. In pen. He's found twelve in the last fifty-seven seconds and has the audacity to look bored about it. The bastard. If Bernard cranes his neck a little, he can tell where a few of them are. He has no qualms about cheating on busywork. Really, he should have spotted "Othello" right off of the bat—it's on the first row and even spelled forwards, for Christ's sake—but there's no way he ever could have gotten "The Two Gentlemen of Verona"—upside down and diagonal in the lower right hand corner—seeing as he hadn't even known the play existed until now.
Bernard's much better at the living, breathing puzzles known as people than he is at crosswords or word-searches. He's the unrivalled reigning monarch of gossip at Grieve Memorial. The trivialities and intricacies and dirty laundry of the lives of both famous and everyday people have always fascinated him. He reads the society pages every morning religiously over breakfast, even before turning to the funnies. He has a lifetime subscription to People magazine. He once wrote Gossip Gherti a fan letter at the tender age of nine. He's even given serious thought into going into psychology, just so that he could get paid for once to listen to the sordid details of other people's lives.
Basically, if there's a secret out there to be known, he wants to know it.
Case in point: Timothy Drake. He's a strange one, that Timmy. When he'd first transferred from that prep school out in the 'burbs, he'd struck Bernard as one of the highly intelligent, quiet types that didn't do as well in school—not because they didn't know the material but because they never did the homework. There were two or three guys just like him in every classroom across the country. But there was something different about Tim—who came to school with black circles under his eyes and bruises creeping out from under his shirtsleeves, whose English notes were filled with frighteningly accurate schematics for strange airplanes and motorcycles, who never showed any sort of inclination towards athletic prowess and yet was ripped like an Olympic gymnast (Bernard has snuck more than one peek while they both change for gym), who had sweet blue eyes and a shy mouth but hard hands and more scars than a car-crash victim—that struck Bernard as oddly fascinating. There was something Tim was hiding from the world—something big. Something that made him moody and dark and strangely frightening beneath his school-boy façade.
But something has changed. Almost overnight, the shadow Tim Bernard thought he had grown to recognize, if not understand, disappeared and was replaced by something…different. Tim started doing his homework. His grades skyrocketed in every class (except English—Tim could analyze with the best of them, but they'd spent the last month on creative writing stint and Timothy's poetry was simply dreadful). The scars stayed, but the constantly healing bruises and cuts disappeared. Before the change it had been necessary to schedule an evening with Tim months in advance. Now he's ready, almost desperate, to hang at a moment's notice. He scratches aimlessly in the margins of his notes, carving circling holes of black ink that eventually eat through the paper and send unexplained shudders down Bernard's spine.
Yet for all of Bernard's instincts that scream that something is terrifyingly, horrifically wrong, Tim acts happy. He puts more effort into their friendship. He talks about inane things like television and baseball. He flirts with Darla. He sometimes (sometimes) flirts with Bernard. He invites Bernard over to his place on occasion, and they play video games and toss a foam football around and talk and bug Dana in the kitchen until dinner is ready. Bernard adores Dana, but he isn't so sure about Tim's father. Mr. Drake always stared at him as if he expects him to grow a second head or shoot plasma beams from his eyeballs.
Yes, Tim acts happy…most of the time. It's a sitcom sort of happiness, one that Tim obviously hasn't had enough practice at to maintain 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Sometimes, if he's fast and careful, Bernard can catch him with his mask down. And Tim…Tim looks so tired, then. So worn. Like whatever secret he had been carrying before, this burden is ten thousand times heavier and slowly eating away at him from the inside. Parasitic secrets aren't good for the psyche. Tim—the real Tim, whoever that may be—is slowly fading away. Bernard isn't sure he wants to see what will be left of Timothy Drake at the end of his contabescence.
So Bernard tries to distract him by doing what he does best: being Bernard.
"Oh, Timothy. Tim Tim Tim Tim Timothy! What am I going to do with you?"
Tim glances up from stirring the multi-colored mess that's supposedly the Second Thursday of the Month Beef Special with his fork. "What?"
"'What?' 'What?!?' Don't you 'What?' me, Timothy Drake." Bernard takes a seat across from Tim at the cafeteria table and stares disdainfully at his chest. "Your shirt, smartass. Or…shirts, rather."
Tim glances at his own chest, puzzled. "What about them?"
Bernard makes a face. "They're so… they're so…" He gestures vaguely in the air, as if the brown checkered button-up over a black t-shirt advertising Scare Tactics' 1996 world tour offends him beyond belief. "…90s grunge."
Tim stares at him, unimpressed, and takes a swig of milk. "It's only because it's a Scare Tactics' t-shirt. If it was a, oh, Cure t-shirt, you wouldn't be getting on my case."
Bernard has the decency to at least look insulted. "Hey! I'm not ridiculing your questionable taste in music. I'm ridiculing your questionable taste in clothing. It looks like you rolled out of bed this morning and wore the first thing you saw lying on the floor."
"Bernard!" a female voice calls out, amused. "Are you teasing Tim about his clothes again?"
"Of course I am. Anyone would, looking at that…" He shudders once all over. "…outfit."
Darla materializes from the teenaged mass of humanity in time to give Bernard a disparaging eye-roll. "Give him a break. He's been in a prep school where he had to wear a coat and tie to class every day. He's allowed to make a few fashion mistakes for the sake of comfort."
Tim smirks at the blonde boy. "Yeah, Bernard. I'm allowed to make a few fashion mistakes for the sake of comfort."
He scowls at Tim. "You…don't even go there. And you!" Bernard swings to point a finger dramatically at Darla. "Why are you encouraging him?"
"Because it gets you flustered. And you're so cute when you're flustered." She pinches his cheek playfully, oblivious to his sudden blush.
"Hi, Darla," says Tim. "Have a seat, join the party. It's 'Pick on Me' day. Have you gotten lunch yet?"
She sets down her books and backpack, raising two fingers in a small wave at Tim while giving his lunch the evil eye. "Well, I was thinking about getting a line lunch, but after seeing what's on your plate, I'm not so sure. What is it, anyway?"
"Second Thursday of the Month Beef Special."
She makes a face. "What's it taste like?"
"That was a question, wasn't it?"
"All righty then. I'm hitting the machines for lunch. Be back."
Darla leaves, destination: vending machine. Tim waves 'bye' absentmindedly and takes another bite of his goop. Just looking at it makes Bernard feel slightly queasy.
"How can you eat that? It looks awful."
Tim shrugs and swallows. "I've had worse."
Bernard shakes his head and extracts his own brown bag lunch from his backpack. "Just because you've had worse doesn't mean you should eat it."
Tim snorts and smiles softly, almost sadly, to himself. "Trust me, when I say worse, I mean worse."
Bernard's gossip-sense is clanging like a four-alarm fire. Now is the time to prod Tim for info. "Really? Do tell."
"My neighbor, this one time, made this really awful…" Tim's voice trails off.
Bernard leans forward in his seat, suddenly eager. Tim lived next door to Bruce Wayne for several years. This has the potential to get juicy. "…what? Made this really awful what?"
But Tim isn't paying him a lick of attention. He's staring at something behind Bernard's head with a genuine look of shocked surprise, his fork frozen halfway between his tray and his mouth.
Bernard can hear the clack of expensive shoes on the cafeteria floor coming up behind him. It's a loud, deliberate walk, one Bernard associates with the divas in his trig class that wear cat-eye makeup and fake Gucci heels. Normally, he would try to resists the urge to turn around and check out the approaching footwear—he's been disappointed one too many times, thank you very much—but Tim is staring at whoever-it-was-approaching-Bernard-from-behind really intently, his face hardening into something cold and violent. Bernard's interest is piqued. What is so interesting that it's snapped the Boy Zombie out of his sleep-walk of a life? What is so interesting and wearing what sounds like a really nice pair of really expensive shoes?
Bernard can't resist the sound of a good shoe. He looks.
The shoes are Prada. He smiles. Looking into their patent-leather pointiness is like stumbling across an oasis in a desert. Sooo stylish, sooo chic. The suit ain't cheap, either, that much he can tell just by looking at the cuff. He follows the crease of the well-tailored pant up a feminine stretch of leg, hip, abs ('Abs?' his mind questions, but yep, there's no denying that bare and exposed triangle of muscle framed by the waist of the pant and the hemline of the single-button jacket), breasts, collarbone, shoulder, neck, lips, almond eyes, and shocking twist of black hair. Even without makeup, the woman's face is sharp and beautiful in that Asian way that reminds him of Tim. Bernard has exactly 0.46 seconds to wonder who she is and what she's doing in the cafeteria without a visitor's pass before she slides gracefully into Darla's empty seat.
Bernard glances to the side in question, ready to ask Tim if he knows who she is, but stops when he sees his face. This is not the Timothy Drake he knows. It isn't even the shadow Tim from…before. This is someone new and more than a little scary, someone Bernard isn't exactly sure he'd like to know. This Tim's eyes burn black flame.
The woman ignores Bernard, her attention focused solely on Tim. When she speaks her voice is sleek and cultured, but with a backbone as hard as tempered steel. "I'm surprised, little bird. This is not where I expected to find you."
Tim stares at her, an unreadable expression on his face. He swallows his last bite of food rather heavily. Bernard can hear his knuckles creak as his grip on his fork tightens. "There are still some countries in this world that require their children to attend school past the age of twelve, Shiva."
The woman in the black suit—Shiva, apparently—laughs, and Bernard shifts nervously in his seat. He glances back and forth between the two of them. Tim knows her, obviously, but from where? The part of his brain that's so good with people puzzles whispers that maybe, just maybe, this woman has something to do with the change in Timothy. Bernard keeps quiet and listens.
"What do you want, Shiva?"
She doesn't answer immediately. She cocks her head to the side, letting her eyes slide toward Bernard. He freezes. She winks. She turns back to Tim, smiling.
"I would like to talk. May we talk?"
"Not here," says Tim, his voice a growl. "Somewhere else."
"No." Shiva knocks on the cafeteria table. The plastic creaks in protest. "Right here. The ambiance needs some work, but I find the company enjoyable."
Her hand is suddenly on Bernard's arm, sort of…petting him. Bernard fights hard not to squirm in discomfort. Her gaze is a challenge. "I can play nice, little bird. Can you play nice? Can your…friend play nice?"
For the first time since Shiva sat at their table, Tim glances at Bernard. His look is an apology and a command all at once. Bernard doesn't need to be a Governor's Distinguished Scholar to understand its meaning: 'I'm sorry, but stay seated, stay quiet, and don't make any sudden moves.'
There is a long moment of silence before Shiva releases Bernard. Bernard is sweating. Why is he sweating? 'Fear,' his mind tells him. 'You're sweating because you're afraid.'
'No shit, Sherlock,' he thinks to himself. And then:
'Oh Lord, what have I gotten myself into?'
Shiva folds her hands in front of her on the table, settling into a thoughtful expression. "You are surprised to see me," she says after a long while.
Tim hasn't moved. He still has a death grip on his fork. "Yes," he growls.
"You were not expecting me."
"You were not expecting me to come here, or to come now?"
"That was stupid of you. You should expect death at any time, at any place, and be prepared for it."
Bernard hasn't noticed until now how much the cheap aluminum fork in Timothy's hand looks less like a utensil and more like a weapon in Tim's grip.
Tim narrows his eyes. "Is that really why you're here? Something this public isn't quite you're style."
"You are right. It is not my style. I told you I would wait until you were grown, little bird, and you have more to learn yet before we meet again in combat."
"We won't meet again, Shiva. I've left that life behind."
Shiva's eyes are deadly. "Is that so? Did you leave of your own free will, or did somebody force your hand?"
"Nobody…" He struggles with the word. "Nobody forced me. It was my own choice."
"And why would one with your talent and enthusiasm choose to leave the game? It is an interesting question. But then again, you like to pretend that you have your mentor's morals." She leans forward. Her voice slithers around them like a snake. "Is that what drove you away? Did you finally do what you could not finish in Hong Kong? In Transbelvia?"
Tim lowers his head, and a shadow darkens his face. Bernard can't see his eyes, and it scares him more than anything else so far. He still hasn't got a clue what either of them is talking about.
"No. Despite what you like to think Shiva, I am nothing like you. My reasons are my own. That should be enough."
Shiva sits back in her chair and snorts. "Tch. How honorable of you. Naïve, but honorable. Did you truly think you could leave the game so easily? You can withdraw your hand from play, little bird, but you cannot withdraw your reputation. I am not the only one waiting to see what becomes of the Detective's protégé.
"Word of your disappearance is working its way through the circuit, and many of them will not be content to leave you be. Already a man in Arabia has put a price on your head. Yours, not your replacement's. Imagine when I first heard of this girl that has taken your throne. I thought that our mutual friend had taken a liking to brighter colors and abandoned her black. But I was wrong. I have seen the pretender. She was not worth the long flight."
Tim's eyes flash. "Did you…make contact…with her?"
"Make contact?" Her laugh is deceptively beautiful, Bernard observes, like an ornately carved dagger. "No. I only watched from afar. Your former mentor is keeping her on a much shorter leash than he kept you. I notice he has not sent her abroad to continue her education."
A strange sort of smile quirks its way across Tim's face. "No offense, but thanks to you there are few teachers that he would trust left breathing in this world."
She laughs again. "Are you still bitter about the death of the Iron Hand? Your legless master? Surely I taught you more than he ever could."
Tim licks his teeth. The fork gleams brightly in the fluorescent cafeteria lighting. "Yes. You made certain of that, Tengu."
The name puzzles Bernard, but Shiva softens a little. "You have come a long way since we first met in Paris, little bird."
Tim sighs, and for the first time since Shiva joined their lunch hour he looks away, pinching the bridge of his nose as if to sooth away a headache. "Why are you telling me all of this? As a favor?"
"You should know better than that. All favors between us ended the day you gave your life for Conner Hawke's. I am doing this to…how do you say…make sure my investments don't go to waste."
Tim leans back in his chair and lets his eyes drift upward to the ceiling, as if seeking answers there. "Why are you putting so much time into me, of all people?"
And Shiva…smiles. A real smile, or at least one that Bernard doesn't interpret as homicidal glee. This smile is softer, younger looking, shy, almost…maternal.
"Because I like you, little bird. Because there is something in you yet that your mentor does not see. Because each fight is different, and you have never been the one to play the game by the rules of others. Because I look forward to the day when we do meet face to face on the field of battle without…distractions."
She pushes back from their table and stands, bowing slightly at the waist. "I take my leave of you. Your female friend returns, and I have compromised your secrets enough today in front of present company." She winks at Bernard. "Good afternoon, monsieurs."
She walks away, Prada shoes clacking, but before she completely melts into the crowd she turns one last time and calls over her shoulder.
"I will wait, little bird, but I will not wait long. Do not prove to be a waste my time. I love a fight, but I hate disappointment."
Darla chooses this precise moment to reappear. She stares after Shiva a long moment in confusion, then turns to Bernard, who's busy trying to get his heart started again.
"Who the hell was she?" she asks, pointing with her thumb.
They both look to Tim for answers.
Tim's still staring into the teenaged sea, his brain obviously rebooting itself from binary mode. His breathing is hard and deep, and it's a minute before he actually processes the question.
"Old coach of mine," he says, his expression blank, but doesn't really look at either of them. Especially Bernard.
It's a blatant lie, one that Darla doesn't catch. Bernard does. He pretends he doesn't, though—plays the fool while the information stirs in his brain. Tim's never played sports in his life. Bernard knows because when he first suspected that Tim had a secret he looked him up in the online student directories at his old schools. Other than a grainy photo that might or might not have been Tim during his freshman year and being voted "Most Likely to Succeed" during the year he spent at Brentwood, Tim's name and face are conspicuously absent. No awards, no clubs, no extracurricular activities…no sports. This afternoon Bernard will head to the school library and try to find books on Shiva and Transbelvia and all the other little minute details he managed to glean from this rather strange conversation. He wont' be surprised, though, if he arrives to find that all of the books he's looking for have either been checked out or carefully censored. The same will probably hold true at the Gotham Public Library. And if he turns to the internet his computer will probably crash, just like the last time when he'd Googled "Timothy Drake" more than once.
That's all right. Let Tim keep his secrets…for now. If that Shiva woman is any indication of their magnitude, Bernard needs to put some serious thought into whether or not he's prepared to face the consequences of knowing them.
Darla, oblivious to it all, rips into her corn chips and starts complaining about the magnitude of notes she had to take in her history class.
Bernard nods absently, not really listening. He'll have to keep a closer eye on Mr. Drake, nonetheless. It seems that Tim's disappearing act is the least of his worries. He takes a bite of his sandwich, not really tasting it, and watches Tim use his left hand to physically pry the fork from his right.
Besides, Tim looks more solid already.
-finShiva's referring to the two times when Robin came close to killing his opponents. Once in Hong Kong, where he walked away from the opportunity to push the King Snake off of a building (Robin I #5), and once in Djiska, Transbelvia, where, under the influence of the speed-enhancing drug armilla, he accidentally killed Shiva and then revived her (Robin#51).