Disclaimers in part 1. Many thanks to Charlene for letting me play in her world, as a beta and as a writer.

A Different Game: Sidelines (3/3)


Six teenagers in street clothes stood outside Jack Drake's door, pushing past each other to be the one to ring the door bell.

"Lemme do it!" Wonder Girl cried, flying a foot off the ground and pushing Superboy out of the way. "You're such a jerk, Kon!" she said as he grabbed his ankle and pulled him behind her.

Bart thought about it for half a nanosecond, then vibrated right through them and run the door bell.

"BART!" everyone cried out.

He just shrugged.

"Does it MATTER who rings the door bell?" Anita asked, folding her arms over her chest.

"We could break the door down," Lobo answered impatiently.

"No one's answering," Secret said quietly. "We should come back later."

"No way!" the other kids cried out venomously.

"I'm not leaving 'till I frag someone!" Lobo declared, just as the door opened.

Jack Drake had opened the door, and being confronted with the 'top teen,' he leapt backwards three feet.

Suddenly, everyone grew very still. Cassie flew out of the crow[e]d that was her peers, and landed just inside the doorway. "Uh. Mr. Drake. Uh. Is Tim?"

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Tim descending the stairs. Suddenly the mob of anxious teenagers rushed Jack Drake, pushed past him and flew at Tim with lightning speed. They'd gone so fast for their friend, they didn't even notice the damage they caused in getting there.

The young man had just dragged himself out of bed, awakened by the sound of the bickering out front. His hair stuck up at funny angles and his Superman boxers and t-shirt were horribly wrinkled. It didn't matter much to his friends, who tackled him all the same. The entire group slid down the remaining five steps, and ended up in a heap on the floor, trying to hug him at once. The moment was broken up with Kon and Cassie batting each other's arms away in an effort to get more of Tim, and also by Jack Drake staring down at the heap of heroes.

"Guys?" Tim said cautiously, staring up at his father.

"SupermansaidwecouldseeyouonSaturdaybutwewern'twaitingthatlongsowetoldhimtog oshoveitandthenwecamehere," Bart explained.

Superboy chimed in. "We were gonna come last night but Batgirl threatened to hurt us if we woke you up, and she's scary and really, really hot so we didn't. But we're here now," he said proudly.

"What?" Jack asked, not understanding at all

Tim groaned, then ruffled the speedster's hair. "Am I going to be getting a phone call from the Justice League about this?" the LAST thing he wanted right now was to hear about all the bad things his team had done in his absence.

"Naw," Lobo said. "We've been ticking off the Justice League of Stupidity since you went away. You'da got lotsa phone calls by now."

Tim bit his lip, a stray tear staining his cheek. His dad was giving him a terrible look of accusation. "Uh. Lobo? That's not nice. And um. Dad. these're my. friends. Young Justice."

For the first time, they noticed they'd destroyed the railing in their effort to get to Tim, when Jack picked up one of the rails. "We'llfixitallup!" Bart promised.

"That's.ok," Jack said, trying to take everything in. Yesterday had been a long and difficult day, trying to accept his new perception of his son, and the life the boy had chosen for himself.

"We were gonna break you out, but you beat us to it," Kon said proudly, pulling Tim to his feet. "You're such a show-off."

"Yeah. Uh. thanks," Tim said, turning a little red. "Um. it's the thought that counts. I think."

Dana came into the room, watching the young people dust the wood chips off themselves. She took the broken piece of wood out of her husband's hand. "Let's let them catch up," she said quietly.

"They broke--"

"We break stuff all the time!" Bart volunteered. Superboy smacked him upside the head.

"I never liked that railing anyways," Dana said reassuringly, tugging at her husband's arm.

"We wanted to help," Anita said as Jack was leaving. "But--we didn't know what we could do. The Justice League wouldn't let us."

Tim gave her a smile and squeezed her shoulder, trying not to think of the broken banister. "I don't think there was anything you COULD do."

"We're glad you're safe and home and cleared and everything. We knew you didn't do it." Everyone nodded vigorously to Cassie's comment.

"Thanks, guys. It was kinda lonely. But hey. It's all over, right?" Tim gave a hopeful smile to his friends. Everyone but Bart returned an equally hopeful grin.

They went into his living room. Looking around, the girls sat on the sofa. The TV was way bigger than they were used to, and he had 'toys' none of them had seen in real-life. Just in commercials. A twelve DVD changer was just more movie watching power than one man needed, Superboy decided. And why did Tim still look a little off-center?

"We painted the hall blue," Lobo said "But Stupid-boy got the wrong paint fer the second coat, and it looks like rain clouds."

"Hey! Same color, different brand!"

"Guys!" Tim said, stepping between them. "I gotta headache. Something about you guys jumping on me and dragging me down the steps."

Superboy chuckled. "Remember when the Super-Cycle dragged you half-across Vermont, and it burned a hole in your cape? That was so cool." Ok, so he was struggling here.

"It's ok, guys," Tim said finally. "I'm just glad you're here. I know a lot's happened. And we don't have to talk about it. That's ok." Tim really wasn't ready just yet.

"So what do we do?" Anita asked finally. It was what they were all thinking.

"Umm. play Monopoly?" Tim asked.

"Play Monopoly?" Superboy asked. He'd been looking for some way to bridge the now awkward reunion, but he wasn't sure that Monopoly was the way to do it. Robin had never struck him as a? Monopoly kind of guy. He was more of a 'shooting razors, catching arrows for a good time' kinda guy. "Uh-- that's kinda weird."

"If I play one more card game, I'm gonna poke my own eyes out."

They all stared at him for a moment. "Pinnochio's a real boy!" Superboy said finally, tackling his friend and giving his already afflicted hair massive noogies.

* * *

"Bart HAS to be cheating!" Superboy said, handing over his cards. He'd just gone bankrupt.

"You think EVERYONE who's beating you is cheating!" Wonder Girl said, reorganizing the bank.

"Well, you ARE all cheaters!"

"The Top Teen don't cheat!" Lobo got up from his chair in the dining room to pound Superboy.

"Guys!" Tim said, raising his hands. "Kon, you're just really bad at Monopoloy," he said with humor. "And Lobo? Ah, never mind. It's good to fight with you guys again."

"We're not fighting!" Kon said dejectedly.

Tim shook his head, almost nostalgically and laughed.

Superboy put his head on the table and moaned. "I am undone!"

"Kon, you REALLY need to stop watching Masterpiece Theatre," Cassie told him.

Dana, who they knew was Tim's step-mom came into the room with a plate of cookies. "Will you marry me?" Kon asked, flirtatiously.

Tim turned a little red.

"Just rinse off the plate when you're done," she told them.

He leaned closer to her, batting his black eyelashes. "I gotta cut down on the married women. Superman's mom told me the same thing. Do you have a cute younger sister?"

Tim was trying really hard not to laugh, even for his embarrassment. "Kon, leave her alone! Don't mind him, Dana. He gets off by being turned down by pretty ladies."

Kon clutched his chest. "I am wounded!

"WAY too much Masterpiece Theatre," Cassie confirmed.

Dana nodded indulgently and left.

"He's been like totally addicted to it," Cassie told Tim. "It comes on when- uh--CourtWatch is in infomercials."

"You guys were watching?" Tim asked cautiously. They'd been avoiding this all afternoon.

"Yeah. All of it," she informed him.

Tim looked down, suddenly recounting his hundred dollar bills. They were surprised when Tim grew reticent suddenly. He bit his cheek. It wasn't really like their leader to be so? unsure of himself.

Looking around, the speedster in the group saw the strain. "Hey, uh. like. someone stole one of the pink ones off of me," Bart said. "I think it was Lobo. Robin, make him give it back."

Everyone leaned back in their chairs, the tensions diffused.

"He doesn't even know what the denominations of money are," Superboy protested half-heartedly. "How can he POSSIBLY have hotels on all of his properties."

"Because I don't spend all my money on girly magazines," Bart said smartly. For the sake of the situation, he stuck out his tongue and wiggled it around.

"Its Monopoly! You can't buy girly magazines!" Wonder Girl gave him a dirty look. "not that I'd buy girly magazines if I had. never mind." He reached for the tray of cookies. "Chocolate chips, anyone?"

Tim looked around the table at his friends. Things had changed for them. Bart hadn't turned on the super speed since they started playing. Kon was placing less effort into his ego. Wonder Girl kept giving everyone warning looks, and Suzy kept biting her lip, as though there were something she wanted to admit to, but didn't dare. And Anita and Lobo were like. mushy together. Even though they were their usual bickering selves, there was a sort of sedate quality to them all.

"So. uh. wanna do some training tomorrow?" Tim asked finally. He didn't know what else to do.

Everyone perked up. "YES!" was the general cry from everyone. There was relief in their voices, as if they couldn't wait to get back to something normal.

"If I would have known it'd take me getting arrested to get you guys excited about training, I'da tried it a long time ago." He'd meant it humorously, but as soon as it escaped his lips, he knew he probably shouldn't have said it. Suddenly, they were all staring at the Monopoly board. "Hey, come on, guys. It was a joke."

"Robin-- that's the LAST thing we wanted," Cassie said. "I know we're pains in the butts, and not the greatest team in the world, and lately the Justice League is ready to ship us to Zancara Five just to get rid of us, but, if we could have done anything?"

"You guys couldn't," he reassured her. "None of you guys could. Don't worry about it." He suspected they were as miserable on the inside as he was.

"We tried," Kon admitted. "We even came to Gotham, and the stupid Justice League wouldn't let us," he said dejectedly. "They got to be here, and we didn't. I? I hate it, and I'm sorry."

"I know, guys. And you did the right thing, listening to them, even if you didn't want to. I'm proud of you all." But what had the Justice League gained in not even telling Tim that his friends had WANTED to be there for him? He'd felt so abandoned-and that wasn't even the case. "Even Batman'd be proud of you guys working to keep the secret."

Bart looked to his left, then to his right, then asked, "so, uh, how is he?"

Tim smiled. "Glad to be back in Gotham."

"We shoulda busted you out earlier!" Lobo protested suddenly. "We shoulda fragged--" Anita's hand grabbed his arm, stopping him.

"Lobo--trust me. None of us thought it'd turn out like that." He looked at Bart's stacks of money. Bart had organized them about thirty-seven times since he started playing, and at normal speed. Every bill was going in the same direction, they were in nice neat piles on the table. "Look, can we just declare Bart the winner and like, go to a movie?"

"Only if you get me a date with Batgirl," Kon chimed in with a forced grin. Avoidance seemed to be an acceptable tactic at this point.

"Robin isn't a dating service, Kon." Wonder Girl responded tursely.

"But she's HOT! And she's WAY hotter than you-hey Rob! Guess what? I saw Cassie naked in the--" he didn't get the rest of the sentence out. Wonder Girl shot out of her seat and chased after Superboy who was out of his chair even quicker and flying through the house.

"Hey! Guys! No flying in the house! My dad's gonna kill--" there was a crash in the hall. "I'm never inviting you guys over again!"

"You didn't invite us over," Anita reminded him.

Tim rubbed a hand over his eyes, then leapt to his feet in pursuit. "Just stay here, guys!" The last thing he needed was all of Young Justice running around his house. Especially Bart. 'We break stuff all the time!' the speedster had declared to Tim's father. Yesterday's explanation to his father about his? nocturnal activities had been stressful to say the least. He didn't need to follow that up by Young Justice destroying his house.

It didn't take detective skills to follow his two empowered friends. He just followed the wreckage. His dad was near the study door, looking a little angry. "Sorry! Dad, I'll make 'em clean it up!" He pushed the door opened, and stopped in his tracks, staring at the big hole in the French doors on the other end of the room. "KON! CASSIE!" he ground out, but he knew they were too far away for him to hear. "They're not going to clean it up," Tim muttered to his father. "Cause I'm going to destroy them."

"They break things ALL the time?" his father questioned.

"Dad--I'm sorry. Superboy said something stupid and Wonder Girl went off to bash his head in." He sighed. "You should see how many walls we have to repair at Happy Harbor when those two get started. But, well, yeah. I guess they do break things all the time." He broke so much stuff himself, in fact, he really didn't think about how much damage his 'kind' did until it was inflicted upon his house-an obvious 'breakage free' zone.

"We're sorry, Mr. Drake," Anita said behind him. He thought he'd told them all to stay put?

"We can go frag 'em for ya," Lobo offered.

Tim turned around. Thankfully it was just Anita and Lobo. Boy, were those two weird together, Tim thought. "Uh, you wanna take the Super Cycle and hunt them down before they kill each other?"

They nodded, opening the broken French doors and jumping off the patio.

"See? I told you before," Jack said. "I don't like the company you keep."

"They're not bad. They just--let's face it. Costumed types break a lot of stuff."

"You're not going to start breaking things in my house," Jack said with authority. He needed to have some grasp-some control on the situation.

"Dad, I'm the same kid," Tim assured his father. "I didn't break stuff before, and I won't break stuff now. TRUST me, I don't think we're going to be hanging out a lot here."

Jack glared at his son, trying hard to understand. But after everything that had happened, could he really? "You'd rather hang out in a secret club house."

"Da-ad! No! I think we need to hang out some place mostly constructed of metal." This way, if they go crashing through it, it'll at least hurt 'em or something. "But the good news is, they're fixing stuff without me having to tell them now." Not that I've been around to tell them. "They're getting better," Tim said hopefully.

"And what, pray tell, do these over-powered? CHILDREN get from having you in their company?"

Bart and Suzie were in the study with them half a second later. She hovered slightly above Bart. The fact that Jack could see through her was a bit disturbing, but he tried not to let it show. "He's our leader," Suzie explained.

"Trust me. We like having him around better than not having him around, cause he's bossy, and he's a know-it-all, and sometimes, when you're doing something fun, he tells you to stop," Bart answered calmly.

"Uh, thanks, Impulse," Tim said peevishly.

"It's a good thing," Bart said simply. "Cause he's always right."

"I see," Jack said, not convinced.

"And he comes up with all the good plans," Bart said, getting excited. "We've been really lacking good plans since you went away. Can you believe Kon wanted to take on Superman all by himself because he thought it was a good idea? See, good thing you escaped all by yourself, cause your plans are better than ours." Bart nodded proudly.

"And what type of plans does my son come up with?"

"Well, when we were on Apkolyps--that's the hell planet-he--"

Tim made a gesture for Bart to stop.

"Ok, that wasn't a good story. Once, the Super Cycle wigged out when we were in China, and it went under ground and he?"

Tim covered his eyes with his hands.

Bart's face turned thoughtful. He was trying. Really. "I KNOW I can tell this one. Once, me and Superboy were stuck in No Man's Land?"

Tim's head shook.

"Never mind. Robin comes up with real good plans." Bart frowned, and looking to his friend with sympathy, sorry he couldn't be more help. He wasn't used to having parents who didn't know about all the weird stuff they did. It was harder for Bart to be normal than to be Impulse in a lot of ways.

"Impulse, is it?" Jack Drake asked, a false reassurance entering his voice.


"Would you and, um, Suzan?"


"Suzie leave me and my son for a moment?"

Bart nodded. "We'll go clean up the game. Then we're going to a movie."

"We'll see about the movie," Jack said indulgently.

"Come on, Impulse." Suzie began floating down the hall. Tim was kind of disappointed when Bart followed, not giving his dad a hard time-and leaving Tim alone with his dad.

"I think there's a lot you still have to tell me."

"Dad--I mean? I told you a lot of stuff when Bruce and Dick left last night."

"What about the Hell planet, and China, and you never gave me a decent explanation of No Man's Land?" He folded his arms over his chest and looked down. His son had spent the last several years tearing his heart out. Surely he didn't think that this would be fixed with one long talk on Robin's Greatest Hits?

"Dad, I'm not sure it's important," Tim said, feeling sick.

Jack stared at the gaping hole in his glass doors. "Oh, I think it's important."

Tim frowned, the irony of his life etched in his features."Well, uh, where should I start? The mini-yetis, the snake people, my alcoholic room mate, Killer Crock repeatedly trying to eat me, King Snake repeatedly trying to kill me, taking down the Joker all by myself, taking back Gotham during No Man's Land.. facing Suzie's brother who tried to kill her and that's how she ended up all transparent, but her brother's a meta too and would really like to kill all of Young Justice? Two Face, Two Face, Two Face.. an incident involving the dean of Brentwood's dog, saving your wedding rehearsal from the spirit of the lady in that stupid necklace you gave Dana.. That is the SHORT version of the last three and a half years of my life."

"Don't cop an attitude with me, young man."

"Dad, all the stuff I've been through could fill VOLUMES. There is NO short explanation. And yeah, I gave you the 'look at my accomplishments' version last night. But there was dangerous stuff. And other places, and other planets.. Sometimes, if the world's about to end, and it's not a school night, I get to go with Batman on a Justice League mission." Tim laughed. "My life is absurd. The sooner you realize that, the easier it'll be to cope with all of it." He hoped that'd work for himself.

Jack let out a bit of a laugh too. This whole thing was.. absurd. It was surreal. "I WISH you'd have been involved with the drugs or something. That is something I can do something about. There really isn't anything I can do about these.. people, is there?" He lifted a hand to the broken glass.

"Well. uh, they are kind of a force of nature. They'll grow on you, I promise."

His father snorted disbelievingly.

"I mean it. Get to know them. They're good people. When they're not, well, it was an awkward afternoon."

"So instead of.. talking about things, they break things?"

"That'd be a good summary." Tim pinched the bridge of his nose. "Can we just--take this slowly?"

"You have this whole other existence I've not been privy to, and I'm trying to be patient. I'm trying to take it in."

Tim scowled at his father. He knew the way things REALLY were. "You're trying to get me to quit every fifth word out of your mouth."


Tim rubbed his eyes. "I'm sorry. That wasn't fair. I'm trying to be fair. I'm trying to be patient."

"I am trying to be patient."

"And it's just not working," Tim said weakly. "Is it?"

Jack sighed and walked towards his desk to call someone to fix the glass before it got too late. A carpenter had already given him an estimate on the banister in the hall. "Go spend time with your friends. We'll try this again later."

Tim nodded, considering himself extremely lucky. Things could have gone a lot, lot worse. After every encounter with his father since last night he'd been considering each escape both narrow and a blessing.

* * *

"So, uh, you both didn't have to come up here to help me put the game away." Tim placed it on his shelf, under Clue and Chess.

"We wanted to talk to you," Secret told him.


Impulse fidgeted. "Umm.. stuff."

He turned around to face them. "Guys, I'm fine."

"Are you sure, Robin? A lot has happened," Secret pointed out.

Tim sat down on the bed and gave his best smile. "Sure. Hey, guys. That was my longest vacation in a while. And rescuing Batman-well, got to go to a nice tropical country and kick some butt. It's cool."

"Tim," Secret began. "I was there every night," She confessed. "I know how worried you were-- how sometimes you cried."

Tim's features suddenly grew hard and his lips pressed together. His gaze turned downward and for a moment, they thought he looked uncannily like Batman.

"Tim--Robin. We didn't mean to make you mad," Bart said.

From his seat on the bed, Tim glared at them. "You--you were SPYING on me?"

"I-I wanted to be there for you," Suzie said sadly. "It was the only way. And when you cried, I wanted to comfort you, but? I couldn't. Please, don't be mad."

Tim's shoulders sank. "I'm sorry. It's? not you." He was upset that she'd seen him so emotionally weak. "It--it was rough." There. He'd admitted it. And the world HADN'T come to an end. "Dick's friends came for him, and none of mine came. And I love Superman. He was there every day. But he never even said you guys WANTED to see me, much less that they wouldn't let it."

"I'm so sorry," Suzie said sympathetically. She knew what it was like to be imprisoned and alone.

"It's not your fault," he said darkly, then attempted to cheer himself up again. "But hey. It's over now, right?"

"Uh.. Secret?" Impulse asked finally.


How did he say this in a way that was all polite and stuff? "Can you like.. go make sure everyone's not killing each other?" Sometimes, they did that.

Secret nodded, knowing what Impulse was asking. Tim wouldn't talk with her there. She'd seen the way he'd been, and he was somehow embarrassed by that. Right now, he needed to talk. Later they could work on convincing him that they were his friend-no matter what.

"Bye, Tim. I'll see you later," she promised.

She dissipated into mist and slid out the crack in his window. The sand colored gas floated upward and away.

"So, you got me here. What do you want?" Tim hated how he sounded, but he couldn't help it.

"To-ouchy. Max'd put you down for a nap, if you talked to him like that." He HATED when Max made him take a nap. Maybe he should tie Robin to the bed and make him sleep. Unlike Impulse, Robin couldn't vibrate out of the restraints.

Tim ran a hand through his hair. "I'm sorry. Just. I don't like talking about it."

"Then you need to talk about it more." That sounded very Max-like and grownup.

"Look it wasn't that bad! So I got upset and lonely sometimes. Everything's OK."

Bart got angry. He wasn't angry often, so it caught both of them off guard. "Look, things WERN'T ok, ok? They weren't OK for any of us, and least of all you. So don't go lying to me, or to anyone else to make YOURSELF feel better."

Tim scowled and turned away from his friend. Why was Impulse DOING this to him? "Bart, you weren't there. Dick and me were ok. We've done undercover before. It wasn't any different that that. Dick's even been IN Blackgate before."

Bart dared to grab Tim's shoulder and gently pull him around so they were face to face. "I'm just saying this for your own good. Don't go all into denial and stuff."

Tim turned to completely face him, and stared into the boy's amber eyes with anger-fueled intensity. "I'm not in denial. There's nothing to deny. We were convicted. Now it's over. Back to normal time."

Bart was practically pleading. "You can pretend stuff didn't happen, and you can pretend you didn't... think stuff, but you did. And stuff doesn't go back to normal. If you do that, then you're just pretending. Robin always faced things head-on." It distressed him to see his friend shirking the issue. "I mean... we know stuff about you now, so you can't go being all dark and mysterious. It doesn't work when we've seen you in your underwear. And after we broke half your dad's house. What I'm saying is... its different now."

"I'll catch up."

Tim's friend sighed. This wasn't coming out right. In a fit of frustration, he began a new tactic: take away Tim's excuses. "Look. I'll catch you up. We FINALLY got the bathtub back because Superboy moved out. Anita and Lobo are going out.."

"They're WHAT?" Tim was angry. Not with his friends, but with the world.

"Totally. That's how we found out I could hypnotize people just by reading a book about it. Books got all the answers." Like to his school work and stuff. Who'da guessed. "So. Yeah. Superboy got his own apartment, and I kissed a girl."

"That last part you made up," Tim said with false humor.

Bart shook his head no. "Carol. Right before? Well. Yeah. She went away. And she's not coming back." Sometimes, Bart thought it'd be less painful if she had died. It was cruel--but he thought it. Bart just wished he could keep his thoughts entirely at bay sometimes. "So my friends're like--she just moved, and we're upset too. But, well, they don't know it was more than that."

"I'm sorry," Tim said solemnly. "I missed everything."

"I didn't want to be Impulse any more for a while. It wasn't fun any more. You were gone, and Carol was gone. And the weird thing is, Max just let me do what I wanted. He kept saying that as long as I thought things out, he'd support me. When ya gotta stop and think, and there're so many things to think about it--you kinda slow down."

Tim nodded, not really sure what his friend was saying. "Well, I kinda noticed you weren't. all.you know. Some of the time."

"That's why I like ya. Yer the only one who noticed." Bart gave an honest smile of appreciation. "So what I'm saying is some stuff was good, and some stuff was bad."

There was a quiet that overcame them as Bart's words settled in. "Did you really watch the trial?" Tim asked finally. He had to know. Deep inside, he felt knots twisting around whenever he thought about Young Justice seeing him like that.

"Yeah," Bart said quietly. "All of it."


Bart shrugged. "Because they wouldn't let us be there. The first day? We came to Gotham, and the stupid Justice League made us go home."

"They wouldn't?? You WANTED to be there?" That familiar twisting in his stomach had begun again, and he couldn't pinpoint it's cause. He'd spent months with his stomach in knots like this. Why was it happening now that he was out and free? Besides this being an..uncomfortable conversation. It was over. Wasn't it?

"Yeah. We got there, and they totally sent us back. Wally and Superman are the most stupid."

Tim's heart was now racing in addition to the ulcer forming in his stomach. "YOU CAME?"

"Yeah. And that's why Wally and Superman--"

"They didn't tell me. They didn't even say you'd come."

"Maybe they didn't want to make you feel bad."

"Well, THAT was effective!" Tim could scream. He'd been so alone there, every single night, when all anyone had to do was open their mouths!

He got up and started pacing. Bart watched for a few moments. It was difficult. He knew Tim was hurt, but he didn't know how to fix it. "That's why they're stupid. Especially Superman with his big blue S, and telling us bla, bla, bla all the time."

"Superman did help us in the end." Tim stopped pacing and stared out the window. Why were things always so complicated?

"Fine, then Wally's the most stupid. He was always the most stupid."

"Wally helped us too. He dug up what we thought was Bruce's grave."

Bart winced. "Maybe.. Wally's less stupid too."


There was more silence. The afternoon sun had begun creeping lower in the sky, making Tim's room bright and warm.

Finally, Bart spoke. "Did you really--Did you open the coffin?" His voice was quiet with a sort of sad awe.

"Dick did. He wouldn't let me. Like I needed protecting or something," Tim answered bitterly.

"Well, sometimes it's nice to be protected," Bart said in what he thought was his most hopeful voice. "Like a girl doesn't NEED you to hold a door, but they like it a lot when you do."

"Maybe," Tim answered, sitting down again next to Bart. The problem was, the protecting had happened too little too late. After everything that had happened? And suddenly they didn't want him to look?

Letting his elbows rest on his legs, Tim sighed. "It means a lot to me. That you guys stuck by me."

"You're our leader," Bart said.

Tim could tell he was hiding something, but didn't press. He wasn't in a position to press anyone about anything right now.

"I'm outta school for the rest of the year," Tim finally admitted. "I'm gonna be home schooled. Don't think I can go back there. None of my so- called 'friends' visited me. And if I go back, they're just going to be talking about me."

"People're stupid," Bart told him in all honesty. "You got like three people who're your friends, and the rest of the school wants to beat you up. Well, that's just me. I don't know about you."

Tim frowned even more harshly than he had been before. "You're pretty close. I told my dad I wouldn't go back and listen to them whispering about me." He hated the idea of that. Cleaning out his stuff at Brentwood Academy had been difficult enough. That alone had been TOO LONG spent in the presence of THOSE PEOPLE.

"Well, we could get your guys that wanna beat you up and my guys who wanna beat me up together and let them duke it out. Like WWF, only real. Who's gonna teach you? Your dad?"

"Alfred is."

"Wait, who's Alfred?" Sometimes, Bart couldn't keep everyone straight.

"He home-schooled Bruce."

Bart's amber eyes grew wide in awe. "Wow. He must be a million years old." Cause the Bat had like, lived forever, right?

Tim stared wide-eyed at Bart. "Don't EVER say that out loud. You think Batman's really the boss of us -- you're wrong. Alfred is BATMAN'S boss."

"WOW! How old is he?" Bart looked to his friend with wide, enraptured eyes.

"Like sixty-something," Tim ventured a guess. Now that he thought about it, he really DIDN'T know how Alfred was. Weird.

"That's still ancient. Maybe more ancient than Max. And Wally says that Max sleeps in Formaldehyde." Bart knew what that was from science class. See, he wasn't just a pretty face. He could pay attention too. Sometimes.

Bart noticed Tim was smiling. "Oh boy, you're so funny Bart. I missed ya."

"I missed ya too," he replied in an awkward guy moment. "What I had to do, since you weren't there, is just think of all the things you'd say after I did stuff and consider myself scolded. Max liked it because I started doing it at home too."

Tim doubled over, a choking laugh escaping from his lips.

"OK," Bart chirped, folding his arms over his chest. "Now you're just laughing AT me."

"I'm laughing cause I'm happy, Bart. It's been a long time since I've been able to do that."

"Oh." Bart had officially run out of things to say.

They sat in silence, staring into the mid-day sun, letting it blind them. The contents of the bedroom threw long shadows against the carpet, a big gaping hole yet to be filled, something that needed to be said--a chasm which needed to be crossed and yet, somehow, could not.

Finally, Bart worked up the courage to speak. "While we're being honest and stuff."

Tim looked up at his friend. From the pensive tone the conversation now took, Tim knew whatever it was, it wasn't good.

"I gotta tell you this because I feel really bad about it. It's kind of the reason I slowed down. I had to stop and think about it."

"What, Bart? What happened?"

"When we first heard? Well, I kinda wondered. If you could. You were real mad at Batman--"

Tim almost fell off the bed. "YOU thought I. That I. BART!" He had no idea what to say, how to even react.

Bart looked at the carpet guiltily. "I'm sorry. I had to stop. And when I did stop, I knew you didn't."

"I. understand," Tim conceded finally. "I know it looked bad. Really bad. Dick and I started to wonder if we did it too. The DA used everything he could find and it looked so bad. Bruce tried to fix it in his press conference yesterday but I know it didn't. People are still gonna think bad things about us."

His friend nodded. "I didn't even hear all that stuff yet when I got confused. It was like playing ping pong with yourself in your head, you know?"

"Yeah, I know."

Bart tried to cheer his friend a little. It was the least he could do, after being so brutally, pinfully honest. "Well, we'll give ya a pair of sun glasses, and you can be Alvin all the time. Then people won't think bad stuff." People didn't know anything about Alvin, right?

Tim cringed. "Great. My dad'll love that."

Bart grinned. He knew about all that identity stuff. Max never shut up about it. "He's all. 'gerr' like Max. Like his pants are too tight."

"It's a universal parent thing."

"So, um, like no Young Justice sleep-overs at your house, I'm betting. I mean. We destroyed half the house. That's a great first impression of us."

Tim's lips pulled back into an evil smile. "Maybe I can talk Dad and Bruce into letting us have them at the Manor."

Bart let out a yelp. "YEEPS! Spending the night with Batman?"

"Well, he's home right now, getting better, but when he's working, he'll be out at night."

"Oh, yeah. I forgot. But then it'd be like..be out before dawn."

Tim nudged his friend. "You guys listen to Roy too much."

Bart crossed his heart. "Dude, I was a Titan when he was the leader. I don't listen to Roy at ALL! The Bat's scary all by himself without Star Wars-type hype. He growled at me once when we here during No Man's Land. I needed a diaper."

Tim rolled his eyes.

"What if we broke something over his house? Then he'd growl at us, and who knows what that Alfred guy would do. And then where would we be?" We'd be getting growled at and murderized by someone who ruled the Bat.

"I'm really glad you guys came here today."

Bart grinned. "Heh. Your dad wasn't."

"Yeah, well, he just found out about the Robin thing last night. It's like.. culture shock."

"Great. Betcha seeing us on his door step did real good for him adjusting. Even outta uniform we're kinda obvious." Bart had asked about that-if maybe they shouldn't be showing up all obvious and stuff incase Tim's dad didn't know.-but in their rush to see Tim, no one'd really bothered to think about it real hard.

Tim shook his head with a sad smile. So many things had changed, he was closer to Young Justice than he'd ever been, closer to Bart..He rose and walked to the window, pressing his palm against the warm glass. "It's been good to see you guys."

Bart could sense a 'but'. Max was famous for them. Bart was getting very good at detecting them. Knowing better, he kept his peace.

"It's good to be home. With friends. There was a time I thought I'd never.." he couldn't say it. Bart had been so honest with him, and yet Tim couldn't let go of that last bit of himself.

"Never what?" NOW was the time to be a pest, Bart realized.

"Be here," Tim said reluctantly, searching for the words. "Be happy. Ever again. They wanted to send me to Blackgate. For life. Forever. You don't know what it felt like-hearing that."

Bart's heart sank, sensing his friend's pain. "But--but you knew you didn't do it." Unfortunately, one thing that Bart had recently learned was that things didn't always work out right for the heroes in the end.

"That's what made it worse, Bart. I knew I didn't do it. But no one else did." Sometimes, thought Tim, he wished he could turn invisible like Suzy, and disappear into the glass, and be safe and hidden and never found again.

"I--I knew you didn't. And Young Justice didn't." After much debate. He wouldn't trouble Tim with that. "It was like? a hole opened up and we fell in."

Tim realized he wasn't going to dissipate into mist, and took his hand away from the glass. "That's how I felt too. And then..they started filling the hole up with dirt and I was suffocating."

"I'm sorry," Bart said quietly. If there was anything he could have done to take it all away from his friend, he would have.

"Bart, I thought my life was over when the jury convicted me. I even thought about.. wanted to, too.. If it hadn't been for Dick..Tim clenched his eyes shut and hugged the window frame. "No one knows this," he said quietly. "I wanted to kill myself, Bart."

Bart somehow found the strength to stand, even though he couldn't catch his breath. He put a hand on his friend's shoulder, then grabbed Tim's arm with his other hand.

"No one but you and Dick know this. Please don't say anything about this to anyone. Please."

Bart nodded, not sure what to say. "I--I'm glad you didn't," he said finally. What would they have done without Robin?

"I'm glad you don't know what it was like. I didn't want to live my life in prison, Bart. I couldn't do that. I put some of those guys there. I know what they're like. And I was so scared of what they were going to do to Dick. He's the only brother I've ever had and they said he was so bad.. That." Tim couldn't finish. Even after being released and redeemed, it was still too painful to talk about. "I don't know what's wrong with me. It's all over now. Why can't I get it out of my head?"

Bart sat back on the bed. "I think some things don't go away, y'know?" Bart knew he'd never forget Carol or how much he hurt when he knew she wasn't coming back. Tim probably wouldn't forget this either.

"I know. But I want this to go away. I want things back to normal. But things aren't normal. I missed the season opener of Wendy - I don't even know how she came back from the dead. I don't know who my friends are dating. There's so much I've LOST and can never get back. And it bothers me and it makes me angry."

Bart nodded. "Y-you can't, I don't think." He knew that wasn't encouraging. But Bart hated when people lied to him to make him feel better. Max was mean, but at least he was honest.

"And do you know that cop, the one who arrested us, wanted to arrest us yesterday? For the escape? Handcuffed us again and everything. I felt like it was starting again and that I'd never get home. And--and it was a nightmare. But I was too tired to fight, and too tired to wake up."

Bart wrapped his arm around Tim's shoulder. For a change, he wasn't struggling for something to say. "Tomorrow we can fix the bathroom wall. Make some new memories. You know? And maybe if they're really good, and they're really ours..we'll have those and they'll be bigger than the bad ones." Max had said something like that to Bart once. He couldn't remember it word for word.

In an awkward guy moment, Tim hugged Bart back. "Yeah, I hope so. I'd like to try. Thanks for everything."

Bart gave a lop-sided grin. "You haven't seen the bathroom wall yet."

"I'm sure it'll be ok."

"I mean..the whole place is standing. That's what counts, right? Not the, uh--incidental property damage."

"Yup. Exactly."

"And, y'know, maybe we should knock down the wall. Have a real big bathroom. Sometimes ya gotta do that too. Knock down walls."

"That's a thought. We could do some remodeling. I bet Bruce'd pay for it too--right now. We need to get him while he's in a generous mood."

Bart bounced on the bed. "YOU ask. I'll stay outta scowling distance." Bart squinted at something, then turned back to his friend. "Y'know, there're feet at the bottom of your door."

"Huh?" Tim looked to his door. Master detective, all right. "Oh no," he whispered. "How long do you think?"

"Just noticed," Bart muttered.

Tim took the initiative. "Uh, dad? Is that you?"

Jack walked in, a little sheepish.

Tim decided to play it cool. "Hi dad. S'up?" The day had gone horribly already with his dad. He didn't need more.

His father shoved his hands into his pocket. "Does your friend want to stay for dinner?"

Tim certainly hadn't seen that one coming. "Uh? Can you, Bart? Would Max mind?"

Bart looked to both of them, and got a clue. "Lemmeask. Holdon." He zipped off in a blur and a rush of wind.

Tim dug the toe of his tennis shoe into the carpet. "He doesn't see the necessity of the phone."

"Well.. I suppose in his case, why would you?"


Finally, Jack sat down next to his son. The bed was getting a work out today. "We need to talk more."

That wasn't what Tim wanted to hear. He had to know. "How much did you hear?"

"We need to talk more," was all Jack said by way of reply.

"I'm sorry, dad."

"Tim, I'm just saying we need to talk more." He gave his son half a smile then patted his leg. "This life.. I guess it's less stressful than..well. What you've been through."

The boy's eyes followed his father's hand up from his leg, and then met his father's gaze. "Yeah. I've done both. I know."

"You have friends who care about you." He paused, thinking. "Even if they ARE destructive little monsters."

Tim looked at his father hopefully. "Well, they can't help that. And being Robin's not going to be as stressful now that I don't have to lie to you. That was the worst part of it."

Jack stared into his son's blue eyes for a moment. Tim had his resolve. There were some parts of him that were his mother's, and some parts of him that belonged to neither parent. He supposed those parts belonged to Bruce. "I guess you should go out then and try to help other people, so they don't end up in... painful places. Since you can."

Tim nodded, his wide eyes staring with disbelief at his father. "I like helping people," he said slowly, almost in shock.

"It would be like your friend using the phone when he can visit."

"I.. I guess." He really couldn't comprehend what his father was saying-the way he was saying it.

For the second time that day, Tim felt an arm around his shoulders. "Tim.. I'm proud of you."

Tim was almost ready to start checking for pods. "You-- you are? REALLY?" When his father didn't show any signs of taking it back, he grinned.

"You've come through so much, and yet--you're focused."

Tim had to give a mirthful grin at that. "Good training. Keeps me focused."

Suddenly, his father's face went unreasonable. "I'll have to talk to Bruce about that."

Before Tim could ask what that meant, Impulse returned in a flash of red and white that blurred into pink. He looked--disoriented or something.

"Hey, Bart?" Tim asked.

"Sumbodyclonedadinosaur!Andit'sonewithbigteeth! Andit'sgoingtoWashington! AndSuperboyandWondergirlareaontheirway." Bart took a deep breath and looked from Tim to his dad. "Hi Tim's Dad." His redish brown hair flopped as he turned his head back to his friend. "Gottagonow,comeonRobin." Bart was gone in another blur.

Tim smacked his forehead. "He forgot me! Dad, he forgot me! And I'm the leader!"

Jack drew breath to say something consoling, but before he could, Impulse was back.

"Justkidding! Hurryup!"

Tim shook his head. "Dad?" Bart began tapping the carpet with his foot impatiently.

"As much as it'd be nice to let Washington get stomped?" he shook his head, smiling at his son's anxious expression. "Get going."

Tim dove for his closet and unlocked the number combination and padlock on the trunk in the bottom and began throwing on his Robin costume. Jack Drake watched admiringly as his son suited up, and he realized he had done so much to try and contain him, and like his friends, he was a force of nature that couldn't be subdued.

Bart's foot tapping began to make the carpet smoke. "You really need Scotchguard, Mr. Drake."

Jack's gaze went from his son to his son's friend. He scowled, and the boy who was little more than a teddy bear with super powers looked down and blushed.

Just then, Tim clipped on his cape, adjusted his belt, and looked to his dad. "Come on, Bart."

Jack smiled. "Get going. We'll keep dinner for you. Both of you."

Without letting Tim give his thanks, Bart grabbed hold of his leader and sped off. A sharp wind blew through the house, and Jack just shook his head. When the air settled, he turned to Tim's night table, picked up the red car phone and dialed Bruce Wayne's number.


Ps, it's been a blast, ladies and gentlemen! Thanks for reading.