Summer

Friday

Brambling wasn't anything like Robin.

Robin was all bright colors and smiles, the counterpart to the grim crusader, The Batman.

Brambling was covered head to foot in black, with brown stripes on his sides to make him visible to his partners. He was the counterbalance to the more jovial vigilante, Nightwing.

As they were, Robin and Brambling worked well together. Their mentors were opposites, of a sort, and their skills and demeanors complimented one another.

"Hey, Birdy!" Jason crowed as they jumped over the rooftops of San Francisco. Nightwing had dropped them at city limit, and then gone to keep an appointment of his own. "Are you excited about joining up with the Titans?"

Nightwing and Batman had agreed on the decision. It wasn't Bruce's to make, but for some reason, Dick had felt he needed his old mentor's nod of approval. Some things would never change.

Brambling glanced at him; there wasn't even so much as a glare off of his whiteout lenses.

"It will be good for building my capacity to work in a team," Brambling answered.

"Come on!" Jason groaned, he swung around without warning and crashed into the smaller hero. "The Titans are going to put up with that kind of shit."

"Noted," Brambling murmured.

They were only a few blocks from the Tower when a pair of flyers came out to hail them.

"Right on time, batboys!" Kon smiled as he swooped down and lifted Jason into the air. Wondergirl had been prepared to get the other boy, but she couldn't spot him.

"Jesus! Get out here!" Jason barked. His patience sometimes wore thin with Nightwing's partner. The little black clad figure immerged from where it had been lurking on a fire escape. He reattached the deer antler knife, disguised as a B, to the front of his chest plate. Cassie tentatively picked him up and they flew the rest of the way to the Tower.

Brambling hadn't expected to get a welcoming party. He had expected this to be very professional. He really should have known better. Dick would have arranged this because he hated when things got too stuffy, even, especially, when he wasn't around.

"Welcome to the team, kiddo." Cyborg.

"It is wonderful to be working with you at last." Starfire.

"Man, I am gonna love having a new person to try my acts on!" Beast Boy.

"Heyareyouaboyoragirl?" Kid Flash.

"You're kind of quiet, aren't you?" Superboy.

"I don't think he can breath with all of you crowding in on him." Wondergirl.

"That'saguy?" Kid Flash, again.

"I'll show you to your room." Raven: nominee for sainthood.

The empathic pulled him away from the noisy crowd of future teammates. Robin was smirking something terrible. Brambling considered shooting him a dirty look, but came to the conclusion that it wasn't worth the effort.

As Raven led him through the Tower she pointed out the essential areas: kitchen, TV room, training hall, pool, meeting room, quarters, etcetera.

They got to his room and…Superboy and a green goose were floating outside the window.

"I did what I could," Raven said and she was…she was smiling.

Monday

They shared an apartment. Dick had gotten comments about that from Roy and the like, but he didn't really care. So, he shared an apartment with his little brother, big deal. They were rarely actually in the apartment anyway. Tim went to school during the day and Dick was off being a policeman. They had an actual sit-down dinner together about once a week and that was it.

They didn't even leave for patrol at the same time. Tim got into the Brambling costume and headed out at the tail end of seven. Dick joined him at a quarter to ten.

Brambling spun around, his heel crashing into the thug's head. The man went flying. The heady scent of June heat wasn't enough to cover up the metallic tang of blood and odeur d'alleyway.

"It wasn't that bad."

"It was."

"It's good for you."

"I know."

"Cheer up?"

"Never."

Dick smiled and jumped into the fray. "You don't think you'll make friends with any of them?" he wondered with deceptive nonchalance. He hit a man over the head with his own blackjack.

"That isn't the point," Brambling huffed, jumped and landed on a dumpster to avoid a taser.

"Yes it is, teamwork and friendship can totally go hand in hand," Nightwing pointed out. He zip-stripped the last guy.

"Yeah, sure I can see it now. Me, hand in hand, with Superboy as we skip through a field of flowers with our 'pride' shirts on," Tim grabbed a bit of garbage from the dumpster he was sitting on and lobbed it at Dick's head.

"Drama queen," Nightwing snorted, then shot his grapple.

"At least I'm not a drag queen," Brambling muttered into his ear.

"Haha, very funny," Dick answered dryly.

Nightwing liked to banter. It was part of what made him so endearing, to everyone else in the world but his own partner. Brambling had his own reasons for sticking around though. He had his own reasons for humoring Nightwing's need for repartee.

They swung from rooftop to rooftop, in communication almost constantly. They talked about everything from the bank heist on the corner to the stupid boxers Kid Flash had come streaking out in, at midnight.

At half-past one Dick paused,

"Did Robin say anything?"

"About?"

"Anything."

Tim was three streets up. Dick heard him moving. Then Tim was five streets up.

"No."

"Batman called."

"I'm turning in. Brambling out."

The line clicked and then there was nothing but deafening silence.

Tuesday

Tim had only gotten half an hour of unintentional sleep before he woke up from a dream. He'd fallen from thousands of feet up, into a pile of corpses, the bones piercing him. Needless to say, he was awake the rest of the night.

He obtained himself a great steaming mug of coffee at breakfast, standard fare at this point in his life.

"Homework?" Dick asked around a granola bar that he'd shoved in his mouth as he hopped around on one foot to get his shoe on.

"Did it." Tim replied. He took another sip of coffee and continued to read the newspaper.

"Tests?"

"None."

"Plans for this week?"

"None."

"Kory is coming over for dinner tomorrow."

"I know."

"Bruce called."

"Your ride is here."

Dick had to run out the door when the carpool pulled up.

Tim had a few friend-like objects. They were a little band of misfits that he sometimes brought home for dinner, to appease the mighty God, Richard Grayson.

Before he'd come to Blüdhaven, he'd hung out with the guys he gamed with. Now it was just whoever was willing to stand him. That was where Kyle and Johnny stepped in.

Tim walked two blocks to the bus stop. Kyle was applying mascara. The polish on his long nails glittered under the heavy sunlight. Johnny had his iPod and began to sing for Tim as he approached.

"You're not shy! You get around! You wanna fly! Don't want your feet on the ground! You stay up, you won't come down, you wanna live, you wanna move to the sound. GOT FIRE in your veins!"

Kyle rolled his eyes as Johnny began to do pelvic thrusts inbetween gyrations of his hips.

"Timmy," Kyle simpered and patted the seat on the bench beside him. He folded his hands neatly in his lap, covering his purse. Johnny danced around them, first his butt was in Tim's face, and then the red 'S' shield on his black sweater. The bus pulled up and the kids already aboard were smirking.

"Hey, faggots," they cheered. Johnny flicked them off as he continued to sing.

"You say it's urgent! It's so urgent! So oh-oh urgent-urgent-urgent! Just you wait and see, how urgeeeent our loooove can be. It's urgent!"

Someone tried to trip Kyle, so Tim kicked their shin, hard. He wore motorcycle boots all the time, and the kid hissed in pain. Kyle batted his eyelashes at Tim as they sat down.

Tim got the window seat after being such a gallant hero. Kyle produced a little red copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray from his purse and began to read. Johnny kept singing in the seat behind them. Tim was content to stare out the window.

"Timmy," Kyle called when it was time to get off the bus. He offered up his delicate hand. Tim took it and rose.

"Movie tonight, guys?" Johnny wondered as he stuffed his iPod into the pouch of his sweater.

"Nnn," Tim answered without commitment.

"Come on," Johnny insisted. "My sister has been taping these movies on the Biography channel."

"Why would we find that interesting?" Kyle inquired with an exaggerated sigh.

"Well it's about this little fat Belgian guy…Dude. Solves mysteries. Mystery for me and Tim, poofters for you." Johnny was grinning, even after Kyle hit him with his purse.

"There are no homosexuals in Poirot!" Kyle puffed.

"I'll have to call Dick," Tim noted.

"Right, poofters for you too."

"Shut up, Johnny."

Wednesday

Kory had never been capable of a subtle entrance. Landing in a stream of orange boob-tastic-ness probably seemed perfectly normal to her, she even put on civvies, but the neighbors still talked.

Tim answered the door because Dick wasn't even home yet. He was still out playing average-everyday-working-hero.

"Hello," Koriand'r smiled at him, the edges of her eyes crinkled with delight. "Dick is not yet here?"

"No, sorry, Kory," the kid answered.

"How has he been?"

Tim resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Some things would never change. "He's been great. Not too much trouble at the station."

"I am glad," she said. "You require assistance in the kitchen? I can smell something…"

"I got it, just sit down and be comfortable."

She chuckled to herself and obeyed. As they waited for Dick, Tim reflected on the dysfunctionality of this—his—family. He had two older brothers, both of who sidelined as superheroes. He lived with his oldest brother, who, in actuality, was more like his father-slash-mentor. Who, by the way, was in the midst of a cold war with his own father-slash-mentor. Bruce hated the very idea of Brambling, but everyone generally ignored him because they, Bruce included, like Tim. Then he got back to Kory. Who was an alien princess-slash-superheroine. Who was also his father-slash-brother-slash-mentor's ex-girlfriend.

Meanwhile, none of these people were Tim's actual family and he cringed away from that thought and focused on the fact that the oven was at two hundred-fifty degrees Celsius.

The door to the apartment opened, the hinges squeaked. Tim made a mental note to oil them.

"Hey, Kory, sorry I'm late. Tim you got dinner started?"

Tim saw no need to reply. Of course he had dinner started.

Dick and Kory set the table together, talking and smiling. Tim saw the whole thing as a critical flaw on Dick's part. They were so good for each other, but it would never happen because Dick was a flake. The corner of Tim's lips curved upwards. Dick's dysfunctional relationship with the alien was normal in comparison to the train wreck that was Tim.

"What are you laughing about, kid?" Dick asked.

Tim told him, and Dick didn't think it was funny. He never did. He looked sad and then ruffled Tim's hair because there was nothing better for him to do.

That was okay though. That would teach him to try and make Tim think about things before he was ready to. He wouldn't be hearing anything more about how 'Bruce called' for a month.

"You know, Tim," Kory spoke up as they ate. "You really do not have to do the paper I assigned."

Tim shook his head as he finished chewing. "S'already done."

"That is very good of you," she commended. "Jason and Kon never do their papers…"

"Jay is a slacker through and through," Dick agreed. "Maybe you'll rub off on Kon though."

"Mmm," Tim made his patented evasive noise.

They stopped acting like a happy family at about nine-thirty. Tim wanted to patrol and Kory wanted to spend time with them, so it seemed the logical choice to just bring her with them on the beat.

She had her purple stripper outfit on beneath her civvies and she voiced her opinion about the Brambling and Nightwing costumes. Not enough color, she always said. They replied by saying they were Bats. She pointed out that they were both Birds and they ignored her. Dick had never really been able to satisfactorily explain what it meant to be part of the Batfamily. For example, Tim had only met Bruce a few select times and he was the battiest bat child there was.

Thursday

"Hello, Wayne Residence, Alfred Pennyworth speaking."

"Could I please talk to Jason?"

"Ah, master Timothy, young master Jason is currently below."

"It'll only take a minute."

"If you insist."

"Hey, Birdy, what's going on?"

"I'm coming to Gotham tomorrow afternoon."

"Uh, why?"

"You don't have to wait for me, but I would appreciate it."

"Shit, are you going to…?"

"Yes."

"I'll wait."

"Thank you, and don't forget to write Kory's paper."

"You suck."

Friday

"Could you be gloomier?"

Today Johnny had a Green Lantern sweater because he was a proud fan boy. Tim found that painfully ironic sometimes.

"If I tried," Tim nodded. He had, at first, striven not to think about his upcoming trip to Gotham. Then he'd given up because it was (oppressing) looming over him.

"Would a make over help?" Kyle offered with a wicked quirk of his painted lips. "Some eyeliner and mascara?"

"Funny. I'm laughing," Tim muttered.

"So, what's the problem?" Johnny asked, pulling out an earpiece. The music blared. Tim marveled at the fact that he wasn't deaf.

"I have to go to Gotham, to visit family."

It was enough. It got them off his back and got him through the rest of the day, at least.

He forgot to call Dick after school, on purpose. Forgot to leave a note about where he was going; Tower or otherwise.

Saturday

He thought, for a second, that it was weird he founds tarpaper more comfortable than any couch on Earth. Then he didn't care any longer. One of Gotham's fetid breaths blew past him, rustling the stiff reeds of his hair. He closed his eyes and saw the backwards drip of blood. It was surreal and frightening. He whimpered, but kept his eyes shut with conviction.

Deep blood splayed out before him on darkness. Inverted into a bright barren waste. A choking heat encircled him. Licked at his skin. The scorching rays of the sun beat down on him, stiffening, straightening into a sharp perceptible line against the blinding white. The sound of mechanical beeps filled his ears like buzzing bees, intent on antagonizing him. He could see the clear liquid squirting through the IV.

It burst from someone's helpless veins and sprayed him. Drenching him. A ragged stream of screams carried his terrified whispers away.

Blood…everywhere…sluggish, congealing, drying, and hardening…

"I was waiting for you, Birdy," Jason said loudly. (Saving) Interrupting.

Tim looked down at his watch. It was midnight. "I lost track of time."

"Like hell you did. Dick called."

"What did you tell him?" Tim asked, shoving his hands into the pockets of his jeans. He viewed it as some kind of protection. Hide as much of his skin as possible and it could make up for the fact that he wasn't in uniform.

"That we'd be late to the Tower."

"How proactive."

"Fuck you. I have the damn jet, now get in so we can go to San Fran."

"Since when do you call it San Fran?"

"Shut up."

Jason tried to punch his arm and Tim completely failed to dodge.

Tim was actually surprised to find one of his Brambling suits on the jet. It sat mute and well behaved in the copilot seat. He slipped it on. He was firmly oblivious to Jason's stare and his concern.

Then there was the bruise that was forming on his arm 'cause Jason punched him.

"I'm telling Dick."

"Telling him what?" Jason inquired.

"That you hit me."

Jason rolled his eyes. "Oh, Jesus-fucking-Christ. How old are you?"

"You could always bribe me," Tim suggested.

"With what?" Jay was watching him, he had the mask on but Tim knew how to read his face. Knew where his eyes were.

"You could always let me fly," Brambling shrugged with so much casualty it was almost believable. Jason's mouth became a thin, annoyed line. He got up, however.

"I'm telling Dick," he grumbled.

Tim was in the chair caressing the controls and nearly smiling. "Telling him what?"

"That you're a bitch."

Tim was busy flying. He got a strange pleasure from flying across the country. Tim knew when, viscerally, when they officially went from 'East' to 'West'. There was this amazing difference in the air and the way he saw things. The only comparison was a native of the 'North' returning there after a prolonged stay in the 'South'.

He realized that didn't help explain his point, but he'd long since accepted the fact that there were some things that could not and should not be explained.

They were approaching closer and closer to San Francisco and the Tower was on the radar.

Superboy was in the window. He was grinning and Jason grinned back, but Tim concentrated on flying.

They landed smoothly on the roof, no turbulence at all because Tim was just that good. The bay doors opened and Kon was after them like a puppy, but Tim put him off because he was just that (fucked up) antisocial. Jason made up an excuse because he didn't want to explain.

"Birdy was driving, he's just tired. Give him some coffee and he'll be back to his usual sardonic self."

"Why do you always call him that?"

"Brambling is a type of little bird, you dumbass."

All the tension had left the atmosphere and Tim was already inside, putting distance between him and the other humans.

That early in the morning, it was two o'clock. (It's two o'clock) It was easy to avoid people. They were all asleep except for Kon and Jay. Tim launched himself over a motion sensor so that he wouldn't disturb Vic.

He'd made note of the detectors during his nighttime prowls on the first weekend. Now he headed to the control room. He printed out Kory's lesson, which both he and Jason had missed, then he checked in on the news.

Dr. Light was running around again, Slade had been spotted in New Guinea. That was nothing imminent, nothing important enough.

Tim's eyes burned. He'd begun to close them, but he saw the flames. He had hoped, briefly, naively, that he was finally getting over all of this. Wrong, wrong, wrong. He pushed back from the desk, and made his way to the kitchen. He would take Jason's advice and drink some coffee.

Kyle had given him makeup to cover the marks of his insomnia. No one in his family knew (ideas) that he didn't sleep for weeks after his visits to Gotham. No one realized (wondered) that even if he never went to Gotham again, there would still be other nightmares that haunted him.

He was the last one awake and the first one up. He kept watch constantly and considered what it would be like to never feel the nagging pain of exhaustion again.

Caffeine powered boyflesh.

He ate the pancakes Bart made without really tasting them, judging from the others' muttered complaints, that was a good thing.

The phone rang and Kory said it was for him. Tim knew it was Dick. He was muttering out apologies before he even had the phone all the way to his ear. Dick already knew he didn't mean a word of it.

"I got your report card," Dick said.

Tim stopped breathing in shock. "And?"

"You've got straight A's."

"And?" Tim, usually so unflappable, was confused.

"I'm proud of you. I'll see you Monday."

Tim's heart nearly stopped. He heard Dick say goodbye. He heard the line cut. Wondergirl walked by, her eyes watching him.

"You okay, Brambling?"

"Yes," he answered in his blankest voice. "I'm fine."

Sunday

He liked the pool. He stretched and warmed his shoulders. Then jumped as high as he could and bent his body, diving down into the swimming pool. He sliced through the water like a knife. His fingertips brushed the light blue tiles at the bottom as he sunk completely. The water was warm and comforting on his body, even though his eyes stung a bit from the chlorine.

He twisted so his backside was on the pool's floor, kicking arms and legs. He kept himself underwater with ease.

He looked up and could see the distorted edges of the moon. It was night, it was midnight, and he hadn't even tried to sleep. Bubbles burst from his mouth as he grinned and laughed. If anyone had been able to hear it, they would have heard the hysterical note. He couldn't hold his breath much longer, and he contemplated waiting until he passed out. He wouldn't drown, but it would be a lesson in endurance. He could say that if anyone asked.

He watched the moon waver, soft and bright. Calming. He understood why bats preferred the dark. The night was far away from the flames and the brutal light of the sun. He closed his eyes and continued to hold in all his air.

He was pulled up until his head broke the surface, yet he refused to gasp. His lungs screamed, but he took deliberately small sips of air. Superboy floated out over the water.

"Shit, you were under there forever! Freaked me out."

"I had a few more seconds of air."

"Sorry. I…sorry."

"Mm," Tim murmured. He pushed onto his back and kicked towards the edge leisurely. He knew that Kon wanted something. He wouldn't have been there otherwise. Tim would just have to wait for him to spit it out.

"You're…Dick and Jason talk about you a lot."

Tim looked at him expectantly. He had to keep his face expressionless to make up for the fact that he didn't have his mask on. Inside, however, he was frowning. He didn't like to be talked about.

"Whenever Dick comes and trains us himself…you're like the standard. You know, if my little brother can do this, you bums should have no trouble."

Tim could image it. The tone of Dick's voice, the sneer that would curl to Jason's lips. He couldn't quite picture the exasperated look that might possibly cross Kon's face though.

"He exaggerates," Tim replied. He pushed with his arms until he was sitting with just his legs in the water. He wiped the droplets away from his eyes. He could feel the makeup smear just a bit. He didn't expect Superboy to be observant enough to notice it.

"Yeah, well, they really like…uh…" Kon scrubbed at his hair. "Care about you, you know…you guys act like a family. You guys aren't blood related though…are you?"

"No, we aren't," Tim answered. He supposed he could understand why Kon felt the need to ask. He was a clone, and he was expected to call Superman's family his own. Tim thought perhaps that would make for a kind of identity crisis.

"Right, well, I'll leave you the hell alone now," Kon said, and made an awkward gesture. "Sorry about interrupting…"

"I don't mind."

What shocked Tim was the moment in which he realized it was true.


Disclaimer: Birds and Boys may break my bones but DC always owns them.