The Year of Living
a Static Shock / Batman:TAS story
by Merlin Missy
copyright 2005
PG-13

Disclaimer: The characters and situations belong to DC / Warner Bros. /
Milestone and no infringement on their property is intended or should
be inferred.

Summary: Post-RotJ. Virgil Hawkins and Tim Drake are roommates in
college.

Notes: Yes, I know. But canon is buggered as far as the characters'
ages are concerned so this makes as much sense as anything else.
Spoilers up through SS "Power Outage" and also for "Batman Beyond:
Return of the Joker." Sort of a follow-up to "The Silence Game" but
you don't have to have read that story to understand this one. Thanks
go out to Matt Zimmer and BigScaryFreak for the Static continuity
checks, and to dotsomething for her always welcome betaing skills.


"Yeah, Pops, everything is fine.

"He dropped out. I know. No, freshmen can't live in singles. No,
Richie's already got a roommate. Yeah, that would make things a lot
easier but I'll figure something out. I think the Res Life people have
someone in mind.

"No, don't put Sharon on the ...

"Hi, Sharon. I didn't take your cd. I didn't! Did you look behind the
stereo? What about in the car? Well look again. Yeah. Put Pops back
on, will you?

"All right. I miss you too. I'll give you a call next week. Well if you
want to I won't say no. Yeah, the orientation for that is tomorrow, I
think. Okay. Love you too. Bye."

There was a knock at the door just as Virgil set down the phone. He
took a quick look around his room: half-decorated with posters, books
and clothes everywhere, nothing embarrassing or incriminating in sight.
He sighed and said, "Come in."

Kevin bounded into the room. He was one of the two RAs in the dorm,
and once Virgil got past the guy's kind of annoying enthusiasm about
all things collegiate, he was pretty cool.

"How're you doing, Virgil?"

"Fine. Just getting everything unpacked and put away."

"About that. I've talked with Stephanie." Stephanie was the head of
Res Life. Virgil had sat through two orientations with her so far and
guessed she'd been a cheerleader. For most of her life. "We've got a
new roommate for you. His roommate got a last-minute acceptance to
Harvard and won't be returning." Kevin's permanent grin faded a little
as he added, "We're going to ask you to move into his room." The grin
regained his luster. "But you'll love it. He lives on the other side of the
dorm. They get better tv reception."

Because I get so much time to watch tv. "Great."

"Come on upstairs. I'll introduce you. Then you can work out when
you're moving in!"

Virgil reluctantly followed Kevin out of the room and to the stairwell.
One roommate was just as bad as another. He and Richie had requested
each other, but Richie hadn't been able to hack the school's system to
make sure of it. They could get a room together in the coming semester
if one came open but until then, it was going to be a pain and a half
trying to go out on patrol. Not for the first time, Virgil wished he'd
found a way to live at home.

On the plus side, Dakota State had a fantastic electrical engineering
program and they'd offered him and Richie enough scholarship money
for them to afford to attend together. On the down side, it was just too
far too make commuting feasible, and Res Life forbade freshmen and
sophomores from living off-campus.

And life was so easy as a superhero when all I had to do was get by
Sharon.

Kevin knocked on a door that looked like all the rest in this cinder
block building but for that it was a corner room. "It's Kevin. I brought
your new roommate."

Virgil wondered if Kevin had to practice the perky thing.

A mumble came through the door that was probably "Come in."

Kevin opened the door and ushered Virgil inside. "Okay guys. You
can do your own introductions. If you think this won't work out, let me
know today and we'll see if we can find anyone else, but it might mean
one of you has to go to another dorm." Kevin clapped Virgil on the
shoulder but Virgil barely registered it. "Later, guys."

The door swung shut as he left.

Virgil found his voice. "Hey, Tim."

"Hey."


Tim hadn't rearranged the beds yet, so they were still in the prim,
parallel positions Res Life insisted they be left in at the end of every
year. Tim sat on the one he'd chosen, the one closer to the inside wall.
Virgil sat on the other bed, facing him but not looking directly at him.

Tim knew the expression on Virgil's face. He'd seen it enough times
over the past two years. Some people showed it clearly, some people
hid it almost perfectly, but he knew it all the same. Back in the day,
he'd seen that expression on the nurses' faces in Leslie's clinic, when
the rape victims came in for treatment. He'd probably worn it himself
back then from time to time.

I know what happened to you and I feel bad for you and I don't
know what else to say.

He unclenched his fists.

"So," he said.

"So," said Virgil.

"You talk to anyone lately?"

Virgil shrugged. "I run into people. Flash was in town twice this
summer. Saw Superman but we didn't have a chance to talk."

Tim's mouth twitched. Clark was one of the people who couldn't hide
his expressions. He suspected but could never prove that he'd been the
one to let the word out to the rest of the "community." If not him, then
Kara. Didn't matter.

Virgil asked, a little hesitantly, "You?"

"I've been staying with Nightwing. I run into some of the Titans now
and then." But things had changed with them, too, and there was
nothing he could do about it, not change his name, not change his life.

"The Titans asked R ... Gear and me to join up. We didn't have the
time, though."

"You wouldn't have liked it. Too many meetings."

Virgil smiled. "I didn't think you'd be in college yet."

"GED."

"Oh."

They descended into silence. Through the open window, Tim heard
people talking in the dorm's parking lot. Further away, there was a
touch football game going on somewhere. Traffic snaked by on the
roads beyond, and there were birds twittering and calling in the trees
elsewhere on campus.

"This could work out," Virgil said. "I was worried about hiding things
from my roommate. But you already know, so."

"Yeah."

"Um. How much do you know?"

"Enough. And you can tell Richie to relax when he finds out." Bruce
had investigated Virgil thoroughly before he'd come out to him.
"You?"

"I looked things up after Batman told me. Figured out about you and
Grayson." Tim nodded. He wouldn't have to be careful about saying
Dick's name. "I don't know Batgirl's real name."

He nodded again, carefully controlling his wince. Babs was with
Bruce, and Bruce had made it perfectly clear that Tim was not to return.
Alfred was the only one who stayed neutral, who called and wrote and
sent clothes and cookies and notes.

"Doesn't matter," Tim said.

"I haven't told Richie. About Batman or you. He knows I know
something."

"You trust him."

"With my life."

"We'll tell him together." Virgil nodded. And it was decided.


Richie brought pizza. It was as good an excuse as any to be away from
his new roommate, and besides, dinner had sucked. Virgil and Tim
both said they'd make sure the food was better when they started their
work-study jobs in the cafeteria — funny that they'd gotten the same
assignment, when he thought about it later — but Richie was privately
sure that the best they were going to get was during parent weekends.

"So I can keep Backpack and my uniform here?"

"Sure," said Virgil. "Right?"

"It's a good idea," Tim said. "I think we should install a false back to
the closet and keep our costumes there."

Richie stopped eating. "You still wear the Robin suit?"

"No."

Richie thought fast, which wasn't a problem for him. Old news reports
filtered through his head, matched up to half-rumors and mutterings
from the members of the superhero community who actually spoke to
the two Dakota heroes.

"You're Red Bird."

"Huh?" Virgil looked way confused as Tim nodded.

"I've been hearing reports. Bludhaven?"

"Mostly. I figure this place could use some extra protection, though."

"And you're ... good? With that?"

Richie thought maybe he saw a little twitch. "It's what I do. It's who I
am. Bird's gotta fly and all."

Richie laughed.

Tim didn't laugh. Tim didn't ever laugh, Richie would learn in time.


Classes started two days later, and there was no time to worry about
anything but running from class to class and then to work and later to
patrol and to grab what time they could for their homework and sleep.

Tim was in the EE program too. Richie was double majoring in EE and
Comp Sci, so the three of them had most of the same classes. Tim
worked the lunch shift in the cafeteria, Virgil the dinner shift. Richie's
work study was in the campus print shop. Richie spent most of his
evenings studying in their room, except for the nights when it was his
turn to patrol. He even spent two or three nights a week sleeping on
their floor. He stored his uniform and Backpack in their closet and a
sleeping bag and a spare pillow under Virgil's bed. Virgil wasn't sure
what he told his roommate.

They switched off patrol duties. On the weekends, they'd go two at a
time, during the week they alternated solo patrols. It wasn't more than
a month before the news spread to all the crooks in the area that Static
and Gear had relocated. Red Bird didn't get the same respect, not yet.


Red Bird scanned the alley below him. He'd had years of training for
this, and he went through his check methodically. Nothing suspicious,
nothing out of the ordinary. He made a mental note, fired his grapple,
moved onto the next street.

The rhythms moved through him. Hunt, search, move on. Watch the
shadows. Assume nothing. Listen for the screams. Learn the routes
taken by the working girls, and watch to make sure no one else is
marking the same routes. Note what businesses let out late. Note what
businesses only start late. Note faces. Note names.

He knew this wasn't what his two ... partners wasn't quite the word.
Coworkers. Yes. His new coworkers would look and listen, but they
didn't know all the ins and outs of finding trouble before it started.
They were used to going up against other Bang Babies and metas, not
tracking a scattered network of small-time drug dealers for weeks until
the big money behind them finally put a toe out of line.

It was weird, working with amateurs. But he'd take what he could get.


It was two am, and Richie surfed. His roommate Steve snored in his
own bed, undisturbed by the glow of Richie's monitor. He itched to
call Backpack, knowing the interface was so much better suited for his
own synapses, but Virge was probably back from patrol and asleep by
this point and Richie knew Tim was weirded out by Backpack crawling
around their room.

Richie didn't want to weird out Tim. But he did want to find some
things out about him.

Everybody in the biz knew about Robin, about what had happened.
Richie didn't know details, and he was pretty sure Virge didn't, either.
At the time, all he'd heard was that Robin had gone missing for three
weeks, the Bat had called for a manhunt, and then he'd been found
alive. Other things filtered down, later, and he still couldn't parse out
the rumors from the facts. The Joker had been involved. No, just
Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. It'd been all three, and the Joker was
dead. The Joker was alive in Arkham but with his brain burned out.
Harley was dead. Harley had been spotted in Metropolis with a baby
that might have been hers. Robin was completely fine. Robin was
injured. Robin was insane. Robin was never coming back to the streets
again. Robin had broken with Batman. Batman had kicked Robin out.
Robin had died and it was another boy that all this was about. Batman
was billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne and Robin was his adopted son
Timothy Drake and the first Robin had been his ward Dick Grayson
who was now Nightwing.

Okay, that last thing wasn't rumor, it was what he'd found out this
semester, and it was just as crazy as the rest. But not quite as crazy as
the former Robin coincidentally being assigned as a roommate to Static.

Richie could do things with computers that literally no one else on the
planet could. It was his gift from the residual fallout of the Big Bang.
He could trace signals and check files and find the tiniest changes that
signaled an otherwise perfect hack.

He'd tried to hack the Res Life system over the summer. And now he
was past the firewall and he could see the tampering even if no one else
could. Someone had assigned Virgil a roommate who'd already
dropped out before the roommate assignments had even been made.

Code scrolled by in a different window — Harvard's mainframe — and
Richie wasn't in the least surprised to learn the name of the benefactor
who'd made a special donation to get the boy who would have been
Tim's roommate accepted.

Big. Scary. Freak. With lots of money.

By three am, he'd successfully tracked half of Tim's scholarships back
to three charitable foundations which were funded by a dummy
corporation that also made significant contributions to the Justice
League.

He bet Tim didn't know. As he shut down his system and tried to catch
a few hours of sleep before arriving bleary-eyed to Calc, he wondered
how many other things had been arranged in Tim's life by the man
whose name he never spoke.


"I'm fine.

"Yeah. They're fine too. We get along great. He saw Superman a few
months ago but they didn't talk. I know. No, I'm good. A few repairs.
I've got the kit.

"Are you okay? Do you need me back there? You're sure? I can be
gone a few days. We've got most of the same classes and I can catch
up. All right, but promise you'll call if you need backup.

"I'll stay here during Fall Break but they make us leave the dorms for
Thanksgiving. Wednesday through Sunday. Okay. Thanks. I'll bring
laundry.

"Chocolate chip. And a sweater. Pretty sure he bought it.

"Me too. I know. Bye, Dick."


Past midnight and Virgil couldn't sleep. Richie was out in the city
tonight. Virgil half-thought about pulling the Static uniform from the
closet, dressing in the dark and joining Richie until they were both too
tired to do anything but fall unconscious. As he lay in his bed, listening
to Tim's even breaths, he pictured himself getting out of bed and
changing, and what he'd say to Richie when he caught up with him.
Richie'd probably remind him they had a quiz in the morning.

A half-moon peeped in over where the shade didn't quite cover the top
of the window, and Virgil stared out.

"Can't sleep, either?" asked Tim, a ghost-voice.

"No."

"What are you thinking about?"

"Quiz tomorrow."

"No you're not."

"You never told me you was psychic."

"Not. Just psychotic." The ghost-voice was hollow.

"Don't say that." Virgil rolled over so that he could almost see him.
Tim was on his back, watching the ceiling. "Nobody thinks that."

Except ... Tim took pills when he got up in the morning and before he
went to bed, and they weren't vitamins. And during the scrap of free
time he had between classes and work and their other work, he
went to the gym and did things with the weights that made the football
team stand back in respect. And he was just a little too focused when
they had the books out and were trying to study. But Virgil had met
Batman, and none of these things were really surprising.

"Tell me you don't think so."

Virgil sighed. He tossed his arm out, pointed to the lamp on his desk
and sent a charge. The small bulb burned into his night-adjusted vision
for a second, and he blinked. Then he sat up.

"Look at me." Tim rolled his head over. "I don't think you're
psychotic. You had a bad thing happen. You got past it, probably
better than I could've."

Tim watched his face for a while, then stared back at the ceiling. The
charge faded from the lamp, leaving the room even darker than it had
been.

"I killed him." Virgil bit his lip but stayed quiet. "Joker. Shot him
dead."

"You had to."

"I'm not sure I did." He rolled over, toward the wall.

"I'm sure."

"You weren't there." Tim went quiet for so long, Virgil thought he'd
gone to sleep, and then he said, "You want to know the worst part?"

No. He had plenty of theories about what had happened, what
Joker had done with Tim under his control for three long weeks. It was
enough for Virgil to have nightmares. Tim moaned in his sleep some
nights, but only rarely. Virgil was pretty sure that's what the evening
pills were there to handle.

"The worst part is the way everyone changed. The way they started
treating me like ... like I was fragile. Like I was a little boy and they
were all these big heroes going to coddle me and protect me.

"I saved Superman's life once. Saved his at least a dozen times.
And after, they ... God. Toys. Bruce made sure there were toys in my
room. Barbara brought me a fucking teddy bear. It was crazy. I mean,
yeah. I wasn't ... right. I know that. I knew that then. But I was
supposed to be getting my driver's license, not sitting in my room
playing with goddamned stuffed animals. He wouldn't let me go out on
the streets. He said I was done."

After a moment, Virgil said, "When my Pops found out about me, I
thought he was gonna tell me I couldn't be Static anymore. I don't
know what I would've done if he had."

"You don't stop being who you are," Tim said.

Virgil stared into the darkness. You can hide it and you can pretend,
but it's like trying to pull a blanket over a mountain.
"No."

"This is the greatest thing we will ever do in our lives. Some people
will become doctors and cure diseases. We do this. He wanted to take
it away from me. What the hell do I have if I don't have myself?"

Virgil didn't know the answer, but he was sure Tim wasn't really
asking him anyway. He was spared further impossible questions by a
tap at the window. Richie waited as Virgil opened it and let him inside
to change.

"Hey. Can I just crash here?"

"Yeah," said Tim. "Just make sure you put your stuff away. I tripped
over Backpack this morning." His voice was back to normal, or as
close to normal as he ever got.


"Yeah, Mom. Mr. Hawkins is picking us both up. I should be home by
dinnertime. Sure I can go. I've got a paper due the Monday I get back,
so I'll have to work on that.

"Steve? He's okay. We don't see much of each other. Virgil's good.
His roommate's good too. There's a triple in their dorm and we're
thinking about trying to get it for the Spring semester. Yeah, I know.
Virge and I will have to make sure we study, too.

"Really? Okay, yeah. Let me write it down. I'll call her after I get off
the phone with you. Okay I'll ask her. Yeah, she sent a couple of
letters. She said she and Daisy were getting along okay as roommates,
but you know. No, no girls allowed in our dorm after hours.

"Mom.

"Mom!

"Is Dad there? Okay. Tell him I said hi when he gets in. I gotta go.
Love you."


The crime rate hit a lull after Thanksgiving, which was a godsend
during the run-up to Finals. Richie could study via his linkup with
Backpack while he haunted the streets. He paused in his Physics
review to stop a mugging, and again later to escort an old lady to the
drug store for a nearly forgotten prescription before the store closed.
Tim would yell when he found out, saying Richie couldn't pay close
enough attention to his environment while he was going over study
problems, but the fact was, nothing was happening and Richie was
going to call it an early night after he swung through the park.

She was crying when he found her. He'd seen her around campus once
or twice, didn't know her name. She shied away when Richie landed
his skates and he didn't have to ask what had happened. She'd been
trying to stagger back to school, hard to do without her shoes in the cold
weather. She wouldn't let him touch her.

"Please," Richie said, trying to control the anger in his voice. "I can
carry you. I swear I won't hurt you."

She jumped and twitched, but wrapped her arms around him. He stayed
close to the ground, took her to Student Health, waited out in the small,
antiseptic waiting room as the nurse on duty attended to her. Backpack
fed him more Physics, but he'd stopped paying attention.

He pulled out his Shock Vox. "Gear to Static. You awake, bro?"

Virgil eventually answered, groggy and unhappy. As Richie explained,
the sleep left Virgil's voice.

Over the Vox, Tim said, "Get a name."


The zip strips cut off the circulation in the guy's feet as he dangled for
over an hour before the cops were finally called. Virgil tried to get Tim
to talk about it, but he said nothing, not even when Richie pulled off the
hospital computer that the man probably was going to lose at least one
foot.

They survived Finals, keeping one another awake during the exams as
well as they could. The night before the dorms shut down for the
holidays, they moved all the stuff they weren't taking home into the
triple on the fifth floor. As soon as they were finished, Tim hopped on
his cycle and drove away with barely a good-bye.

Virgil's dad got there ten minutes too late to see Tim.


Three days after Christmas, and the hardest part about getting away was
finding yet another excuse that Sharon would believe. She glared at
him, more than usual, every time he gave his reasons for going out at
night with and without Richie. Even with Pops helping, suggesting
things that Virgil suddenly needed to get from the store or asking him to
take something over to Richie's mom, Sharon was getting suspicious.

Vigil sighed. He was going to have to tell her soon, and she was going
to go ballistic. He just knew it.

"You ready?" Gear asked, clipping his mask shut.

"Yeah." Virgil flipped open the communicator the Flash had given
him. "Static and Gear to Watchtower. Um. Engage?"

"Transmission received," said the voice on the other end, no one he
knew. Seconds later, his stomach started twisting, and he had just
enough time to see Gear vanish in a bright light before ...

The transport pad on the Watchtower appeared around him. He let out
a breath, and stumbled off. "Whoa."

"Yeah," said Gear, eyes wide behind his mask. They craned their
necks, trying to get a good look around the place. They hadn't been
invited up to the new Watchtower before this, and it was huge! It made
the old Watchtower look like a sad little clubhouse in comparison.

"Hey," said Flash, zipping up to them. "You guys ready to party?" It
was bizarre, looking at him eye-to-eye, and Virgil saw him move back
just that fraction as he noticed too. Growth spurts were fantastic things.

"Sure!" they said almost in unison. Play cool, Virgil thought at
Richie.

Richie immediately asked, "I don't have to stand in the corner this time,
right?"

Flash laughed, and it was a good, warm laugh that took them both in
like a not-entirely-weird hug. "C'mon. I'll introduce you to Stargirl."

The party was ... Virgil had expected more, hanging out with
superheroes. There was punch (which Virgil had plenty of and which
made Richie moan about his full-face mask) and a bar (which there was
zero chance of their sampling and they knew it). The music was
standard holiday stuff, and if it included holidays celebrated by all the
members of the League, at least that meant he wouldn't have to hear
"Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" too many times in a row.

Mostly people stood around in bunches, chatting and trying to look
comfortable while sipping drinks and not beating up bad guys. Stargirl
was nice, though. She asked about school, chatted about her friends,
bitched about her stepdad-cum-crime fighting partner, and was just
bubbly enough to make Virgil almost forget the reason he'd accepted
the invitation (aside from the fact that the Justice League had
asked him).

He saw Superman go for more punch.

"'Scuze me," he said in the middle of one of her stories. "I gotta go talk
to someone." Richie turned his attention back to her, shooting glances
to the lone sprig of mistletoe in a very empty corner of the room.

Virgil hurried while trying not to look like he was hurrying, and got to
the punch bowl before Superman left. "Hi, Superman!"

"Hi, Static. Having fun?"

"Sure. Thanks for inviting us." Superman smiled hugely at him and
took a swallow of his punch. Virgil refilled his own cup. I'm
standing on the Watchtower sipping punch with Superman.
He so
didn't care how much Sharon yelled at him later.

"We're talking about expanding membership again. If you two aren't
busy this summer, you might want to consider joining up."

Warmth bloomed in his toes and worked all the way up. "You mean
it?"

"We've been watching you for a while. You'd both make good
additions to the League."

"I'll tell Gear. He'll freak." Superman smiled again. Virgil had read in
an article once that his powers came from the sun, and when the guy
smiled, Virgil could really believe that. "Um. Is Batman here tonight?
I didn't see him."

The smile went away. "He hasn't been around in a while. Been
spending more time in Gotham."

"Oh. I just wanted ... Anyway. Okay."

"Is it about Tim?" Superman's voice was so low, Virgil almost didn't
hear him.

"You know who he is?" Superman nodded. I guess you would,
wouldn't you?
"Yeah. I guess."

"How is he?"

Virgil shrugged. "Seems fine to me." The hospital report poked at his
conscience, but that was one time, he reasoned. "I wanted to tell
Batman. He's okay."

"I'm sure he knows."

"You think he's keeping tabs?"

"Don't you?" Virgil thought about it and yeah. Batman would know.

"He's a good guy. Tim, I mean. This whole superhero thing. It's who
he is. I get that." He flickered electricity between his fingers.

"Tim's not a meta."

"No, he's a Bat. That's worse."

Superman chuckled. "I suppose it is."

"I can't believe Batman just threw him away." It was only when he saw
the shock on Superman's face that he realized he'd said that out loud.

"That's not ... He didn't." Virgil thought about protesting, but
Superman continued, "There's a lot you don't understand. Bruce loves
that kid."

"Funny way of showing it."

"Like you said, they're Bats." Virgil smiled, a little. "Look, tell Tim I
said hi."

"I will." One thought overcame the others in Virgil's mind. "Hey, is he
gonna get an invite to the JL, too?"

Superman refilled his cup and drained it again before he answered in an
oddly formal tone: "We don't think Red Bird is going to be League
material." He clapped Virgil on the shoulder, gently enough not to
damage him. "Take care, Static." Then he walked away and joined a
conversation with Green Arrow and some other guys Virgil had idly
hero-worshiped in days past.

And then he was caught. On the one hand, Superman had asked him
and Richie to join the League, and on the other, he'd also said Tim
wasn't invited. Great. Just great.


The overhead fluorescents in the room gave all three of them
headaches, so they kept those off and lit the room with desk lamps and
the constant glow from the computer monitors. Richie'd been reluctant
to let Tim have free run through his system; he had everything
optimized to where he could access data so fast it was like a kind of
telepathy. Tim's upgrades changed the system and made it harder for
him to find things, just a little. And then Tim figured out how to tap
into the school's ethernet with ten times the regular access speed, and
tossed up a firewall second only to the one on the computer in the
Batcave.

The other guys on the floor called it the Cave. Richie cringed when he
heard them at first, wondering what that was going to do to Tim. But
Tim just got a tight little smile. The next morning, a sign reading "The
Cave" was on their door and Tim had even drawn a very tiny bat in the
corner.

Crazy was relative, Richie figured.

Virgil had sworn him to secrecy for now about the whole League thing.
Richie got that. It wasn't real yet, no need to bother Tim with telling
him the Big Guys didn't want him to play with them. "And maybe,"
Richie'd said, "by summer he'll have shown them he's good enough for
them." He wasn't sure he believed it, though.

Other than the League thing — and it was a big thing and he so
wanted to tell when he could — Winter Break hadn't been so hot. His
dad had been in a foul mood the whole time, and didn't want to hear
about his son's college exploits which at least saved Richie the trouble
of lying.

Also, Frieda had come out, and he was having trouble wrapping his
head around that, and it didn't seem quite fair and didn't seem right and
he didn't think he was freaking or anything, but she seemed happy, and
Daisy wasn't at all freaking or she was hiding it better and if he'd
managed to get Stargirl under the mistletoe, it might have been a little
easier to deal with, but no.

Richie was just as happy to get back to school. Things were actually
normal there, for his current definition of normal.


The new semester meant new schedules. Freshman Engineering gave
way to Circuits. Tim had dropped Bio in favor of a one-semester Intro
to Chem course that he was pretty sure he could sleep through and still
pass. Without even discussing it, all three had replaced their foreign
language classes to slog through English 101 instead. Science and math
held no fears for Tim, but now he was being asked to write about early
American poetry and this he felt was unfair.

"We're studying to be engineers," he grumbled one night while gearing
up for patrol. "Why the hell do I care what some guy two hundred
years ago thought about a butterfly?" The B minus on his paper
discussing that poem stung. English was a slack-off course. He wasn't
supposed to have to think.

"Engineers need to recite poetry to get girls to go out with them," Virgil
said over the top of his book. He'd at least managed to get into a
modern American novel class. He got to read Toni Morrison and John
Irving. Tim had to deal with girls who swooned over Emily
Dickinson's death-obsessed angstfest. He'd had enough of brooding
and darkness, thank you.

"Later," he said, opening the window.

"Later," Richie called from in front of his computer. Virgil just kind of
waved. Tim rolled his eyes.

Outside, it was better. Outside, he could breathe in the crisp air as he
danced from rooftop to rooftop, and yeah, okay, so it was dark, but it
wasn't depressing dark and it wasn't brooding dark.

It was just the night, the only old friend who had yet to abandon him.

"You should stay in tonight," Dick had said.

"I'm fine."

"You're not sleeping and you're doubling your meds. I can call Doctor
Nichols right now. Maybe he can adjust your dose."

"I. Don't. Need. Doctor. Fucking. Nichols."

Dick had dropped it, but Tim had felt eyes on him behind Nightwing's
mask, and yeah, maybe he'd left the guy who'd beaten up those two
prostitutes with more bruises than he needed to, but he'd been careful
not to break a single bone.

Little steps.

The night called, and Tim forgot about Dick as he answered.


"Hey, Daisy.

"That'd be great! I can reserve a room for you on our floor. Or you
could get a hotel room. Okay.

"Richie's doing good. Yeah, I think he was kind of surprised. Um.
You're not gonna tell me ... No no! Of course I don't think ... I was
just ...

"Okay, yeah. See you Saturday. Bye."


Most of the Bang Babies had been cured a few years ago, but a few
metas still showed up from time to time. A small gang set up shop near
the college, terrorizing people, robbing the college kids, generally
causing trouble. The three of them went in together, and it was great. It
was like the old days, when it'd just been him and Gear and the fight,
except there was Red Bird behind them with birdarangs flying with
deadly accuracy.

It made the low grade on his Chem test the next day a little easier to
bear.


"Hello?" Virgil listened for a sec. "It's for you."

Tim grabbed the phone as Virgil went back to studying. "Hello?"

"Tim, it's Barbara." He froze.

"What do you want?" Virgil tensed, then continued to pretend he
wasn't listening.

"How ... how are you? We haven't talked in a while."

"We don't have anything to talk about."

"Tim. Look. I just wanted to say hi. Is that so bad?"

"Where did you get this number?"

"I asked Alfred."

"Tell him not to bother calling again." He slammed the phone down.
Virgil pored diligently over his notes, whistling slightly. Tim fumed,
tried getting his cool back, couldn't.

Babs had chosen sides, had chosen him. She didn't get to play
nice now. He wanted to shout at her over the dead line but all he could
do was stand there shaking.

The phone rang again. Tim stared at it, didn't answer. Virgil looked
up at him. A bright purple charge flew from his finger. The phone
smoked and fused and silenced.

"Oops," Virgil said. "Sorry about that. Guess I don't know my own
strength."

"Guess not," Tim said. But he could breathe again.


Alfred sent a big box of treats as an apology. Virgil and Richie
privately agreed Tim should fight with him more often if it meant
brownies. God knew the food in the cafeteria was getting worse. Virgil
and Tim had switched off shifts, and now that Virgil knew what went
into the lunch menu, he was just as happy to live on potato chips and
cheese sandwiches for both meals he managed to attend. Richie usually
dragged himself out of bed in time to grab breakfast. He swore the egg
dishes they served were edible and could easily be washed down with a
few doughnuts. Virgil teased him about the paunch he'd seen Richie
with in the future to which Richie always responded with a mumble
about going to the gym later. Virgil himself preferred the extra ten
minutes of sleep.

Tim lived on coffee, salads and the occasional pizza, and Virgil was
starting to wonder if he slept at all. Most nights when Virgil was
coming home late from a patrol, he'd find Tim sitting up in bed,
sometimes studying by a penlight, sometimes just staring out at the
night. The nights Tim had patrol, he wouldn't wake either of them until
it was time to hit the showers in the morning.


Something in the way he stood, something in the way he watched. Tim
wasn't sure what it was, but at the moment, the man in the button-down
shirt and khakis was the center of Red Bird's attention.

He'd gone out early tonight. He'd been going out early a lot of nights
lately, when it was his turn. Sometimes when it wasn't. Tonight was
Saturday, finals were in a week, and he should be studying. Instead,
he'd dressed and gone out even before dusk had crept its way across the
city. Proper night had almost descended, and when Virgil was finished
reviewing his Circuits notes, Static would join him. Right now, he was
alone, save for the man he followed from the rooftops.

The man's attitude was familiar, but it was only when his head snaked
around to follow a kid on a bike that Red Bird's conscious mind caught
on to what his subconscious had been telling him for the past half-hour.
The man was hunting.

Silent as the grave, Red Bird cast a grapple out, swung himself to the
next roof.

The kid on the bike was maybe eight or nine. He had hair of that sandy
color that wasn't quite blond but wasn't light brown either, and he wore
short-sleeves and ripped jean shorts in the warm May evening. Twenty
years later, Tim's oldest boy Ben would be that same age and he would
wake from nightmares where Ben was on that bike and wearing those
clothes.

The bike slowed down, then stopped. The kid looked around, maybe
realizing he wasn't where he was supposed to be and that it was getting
late.

The man was fast, not quite speedster fast but so fast Red Bird wouldn't
have seen him if he hadn't been watching. One hand over the boy's
mouth, the other clenched around both arms, and the bike hadn't
completely toppled by the time they were out of sight.

Red Bird ran across the rooftop and slid down a fire escape. He heard
nothing but the beating of his own heart, and had to pause for a precious
second to listen for footsteps. The man was quiet, but not quiet enough.

Red Bird hit the pavement and rolled to cushion the fall. The man
hadn't gone far into the alley, just enough to be out of sight of the
street.

He saw the kid's eyes, wide and scared.

Later, he wouldn't remember anything after that but a kind of red haze
and the crunch of bone under his gauntleted fists.

"Red Bird!" He sensed the wet slap of flesh on the concrete and a
strong hand on his shoulder, easily shrugged off.

"Enough!" He flew off his feet, tingling, and was pinned against
a metal dumpster. His fists pumped out, punched the air until they
registered there was nothing to hit, went limp to his sides.

The kid was crying. The man wasn't moving and his face was a mess.
Static knelt down to the man and checked his pulse. "God," he
breathed. The man moaned.

Static turned his attention to the kid. "Are you okay?" The kid's mouth
opened and shut, but no noise came out. Static pulled out his Shock
Vox. "Gear. We're at the corner of Third and West. Call the police
and get here now." He turned back to the little boy. "Do you know who
I am?"

The kid nodded. "Good. I'm not gonna let anything bad happen to you.
Do you believe me?" The kid nodded again. "My friend Gear is
coming. He's gonna take you home, okay?"

"Okay," came the whispered reply.

"I can take him," Red Bird said.

"No," said Static. The pulse of electricity binding him to the dumpster
didn't fade. He twitched as the occasional charge grounded through
him, but otherwise, it was warm, almost soothing in a weird way.
Virgil had never zapped him before.

When Gear got there, he stared at Red Bird until Static grabbed his arm
and told him what to tell the boy's parents. Without further
explanation, he took the kid home.

Sirens blared nearby. Static pulled the energy off him. "Get on the
roof. Wait for me."

He didn't hear what Static told the cops. The newspaper would say that
a child abductor had been caught in the act and that the man had a list
of priors (and maybe that made it better a little and maybe it made it
worse). The hospital, which hadn't fixed its firewall problems yet, said
the man was in critical for over a week and had suffered permanent
kidney damage. That would explain the blood Tim found on his boots.
If anything ever could.

Thinking was hard, and Tim stopped it gratefully.

In observe mode alone, he heard the rumble of the cops' voices if not
their words, watched the flickers of red and blue lighting the buildings
around them like Christmas lights, felt the warm night air against the
tears on his face, smelled exhaust and the briefest scent of new flowers
from somewhere far away.

Static joined him on the rooftop. Without words, they went together
back to the dorm. Without words, they crept in through the window.
Without words, they stripped off the uniforms, Virgil's to be hung in
the secret compartment of the closet, Tim's to puddle darkly in a
stained pile on the floor. It was only in the showers, as Tim watched
the pink swirls at the drain, that he heard Virgil from the next stall over.

"You're done."

"I know." Pink swirls, followed by soapy swirls, followed by clear, hot
water.


Tim hadn't said good-bye. He'd left a cellphone number and a post
office box address, and the Red Bird costume. Finals were over and he
was transferring to another school and that was that.

Virgil was on one last patrol of the area. His dad would be there in the
morning to take them both home. His neck of the woods would be
safer, and this one would be less safe. There was no way to protect
everywhere, protect everyone, and maybe that's why half the League
was more than a little insane.

He touched down for a breather in an alley. A shadow emerged from
the other shadows.

"I never throw anything away."

Virgil tried to cover his surprise. "Could've fooled me."

Batman said, "He was broken. I couldn't take the chance that he'd hurt
someone else."

"You didn't keep him from going out with us."

"The only way I could have was to stop him completely. I wasn't ready
to do that."

"And now?"

"He needed to be the one to decide it was over. He's finished. No
more costumes, no more masks. His choice."

He tried to picture putting away the Static costume, the Static
life, forever just because of what someone else did. "It isn't
fair. What happened."

"No."

"What's he going to do now?" The silence stretched between them, and
the shadows deepened, until Virgil wasn't sure Batman was even still
there.

"He'll go to school somewhere that doesn't have a hero, and he'll try to
live a normal life. He may even get one, eventually." The word
"normal" hung in the air. Their kind didn't get normal, as a rule.

But that kid who was going to be Batman someday had told him —
would tell him — that Virgil was going to have a son and
maybe that was something like normal, if family ever could be.

"You should call him," Virgil said, but Batman was gone and he was
talking to himself in the warm night air.


"Hi, Daisy. Sorry to call so late.

"Good. I couldn't sleep either.

"No reason. I just wanted to talk to someone. Richie doesn't count.
No, Tim already left.

"Hey. You know how I told you Richie and me might have a summer
job lined up? Yeah, that internship thing. Well, I'm thinking we're not
doing it this year. Just gonna hang out at home, spend time with
everybody. The job'll be there next year.

"They'll still take us. Yeah I'm sure.

"Hey, if you're not doing anything tomorrow night, maybe we can get
together for some pizza. Sounds good. I'll come by your place. Six.
Cool.

"Bye." click "Love you."


The End