Tim was just searching out locations for his next brood—-there was a cathedral on Gregg Street with some promising gargoyles—-when his phone rang. Grunting in annoyance (it was probably another pal who cared about him and loved him and wanted him to be happy), he scanned his maps again as he waited for it to go to voice-mail.
"This is Tim Drake. Leave a message. Or don't. I don't care anymore. Bruce lives, haters."
The machine beeped.
"Hey, Tiiiim! Timmy! Tim-Tim! It's Steph. Pick up! Your answering machine message sounds weird and gruff. Do you have a sore throat? HEY TIM! Pick up or I'm giving Ms. Martian your phone number. And telling her you got a new kitten."
Shuddering at the thought of M'gann calling at all hours asking about his pussy, Tim picked up the phone. "What do you want?"
"Tim! I have to tell someone about this! Cass and I were fighting crime on a rooftop, like we do, then she started taking off her costume and telling me I was Batgirl now—"
"Steph, I really don't need to know about your sex life."
"Damnit, this is serious! Dag nasty serious."
"I don't have time to be your sob sister. I have angsting to do, then some brooding, then I have to be emo for a while, and if there's time I'll cut myself because I'm so ugly!"
"Tim, if you hang up, I'm telling Rose you sleep in the nude."
"She always knows I don't," Tim noted with half-baked triumph.
"If I tell her you just started sleeping starkers, do you really wanna take the chance she'll believe me?"
Tim shuddered. Cooties. Ugh. "Alright, what do you want? Tips about falsies? Where to find a good wig? How to run in high heels?"
"You know a disturbing amount about this."
"Batman, who isn't dead by the way, trains us for everything."
"No one ever taught me to act like a boy when I was Robin."
"No. No one ever taught you that." Tim say down, trying as best he could to express his inner torment while sitting in a Laz-E-Boy. "So what is the problem with filling Cass's costume?"
"Aside from the bra? I worry about Cass. What if she starts running with a bad crowd, some set of miserable, dark, infighting douches, like the Titans?"
"I'll send someone to check in on her."
'Good. I worry about her. She doesn't know how to read, how the world works, how people interact… what if she becomes a Twihard?"
"I'll send Bart. He has experience in Mormonism. I think he invented it when he went back in time."
"Okay. Other than that, I'm just conflicted about being Batgirl. I know this isn't the first time I've stepped into another hero's shoes."
"Or bomber jacket."
"Would you let that go? I wasn't even talking about you!"
"Then who were you talking about?"
"That tears it!" Ollie cried, throwing his beer at the election coverage. "I'm moving to Canada with Alec Baldwin. Lolita, you're Green Arrow now."
"I told you, my name is—huh." Steph picked up Ollie's costume. "There's a naked 40-something man running around. Good thing Will Ferrell movies have trained me to find that hilarious instead of disquieting. Well, these arrows aren't going to green themselves."
In a few moments, Steph was dressed in Ollie's costume. "Wow, it's like being in an Old Spice factory."
Just then, Hal burst into the unspecified location where Ollie and Steph had had their conversation. "Green Arrow, they're right behind me! Get a boxing glove arrow ready, it's our only chance!"
"Umm," Steph fumbled through Ollie's quiver. "These are mostly condoms and Grateful Dead albums. And one condom-arrow."
"Muahaha!" the villain of this segment laughed as he walked in. "Condom-arrows. High-larious. Also, Hal Jordan, you are powerless before me, I have painted myself with the one primary color that is your weakness! And Green Arrow, your fabled punching arrows are useless against me, for I possess the power of… a helmet!"
"And it's yellow!" Hal cried. "He's thought of everything!"
"Not everything!" Steph said. She picked up a chair and threw it at the villain, hurting him a lot.
"After that," Steph narrated, "Hal asked me to go on a road trip to Mexico to see a donkey show? I asked him if they were baby donkeys because I don't think the adults are cute. Apparently, not that kind of donkey show, so I said I'd rather spend time with Dinah. At least she doesn't have a list of toppings to put on a 'Hal sandwich'."
"Being chairwoman of the JLA sucks," Dinah said as she slumped into Ollie's apartment, where Steph was hanging out because Ollie had a huge frickin' TV. "Wonder Woman spent the whole meeting insisting she was a founding member, then Batman started in on how he was an urban legend and I had to go 'Bats, if you're an urban legend, why is your logo on the back of your chair? Should we put the Hookman's logo on the back of an empty chair, spice things up?'"
"That's rough," Steph said, trying to think of what Tim would say in a similar situation. "Want a back-rub?"
"Love one. And From Here To Eternity is on tonight. I know you wanted to watch Black Bitches, White Semen 7, but…"
"The eternity movie is fine!" Steph cried quickly.
"I hope this Mr. Sensitive act isn't supposed to get you into my pants."
"No, we could just have a tickle-fight, those are fun."
"Well now! If you weren't so afraid of commitment, you'd be the perfect boyfriend."
"What, you don't believe me?" Steph asked after Tim hadn't said anything for a whole minute.
"No, that does seem slightly more plausible than the way I heard it happened. And it would explain the maple syrup rustlers who swear they were arrested by Robin Hood. So, it was nice chatting with you, but there's a Linkin Park documentary coming on and I need to know what brought on the darkness in their souls that could only be expressed by music."
"But wait!" Steph said with 'I'm-giving-out-your-home-phone-number' vehemence. "You haven't even heard about the time I was Batman!"
"You were Batman?"
"Remember when everyone was dressing up as Batman? I started it on the dance floors of Gotham's night scene, tracking down my nemesis, DJ Jokah. I taught Cass the Batusi!"
"No wonder she quit."
"Hey! You used to like my dancing."
"I still do," Tim said, too amused by the thought of Cass doing the Batusi to remember he was supposed to be gruff and terse, so he only ended up being chipper and terse.
"Really? We should go dancing then."
Tim felt like smashing the phone against the wall. Now he'd stepped in it. Steph would think he liked her, or dancing, or things that weren't brooding. "But what would we even talk about?"
"Batman being alive," Steph offered readily.
"Yeah, I read in a major metropolitan newspaper that he was seen with Elvis. If I find Elvis, I find Bruce."
"And I could tell you about the time I subbed for Aquaman!"
"What's that, my liege? You wish for us to go to war with the surface world?"
"By your command, majesty."
"Luckily, I managed to convince them I just wanted to beach some whales," Steph concluded.
Tim laughed, then remembered to do so in a grim and gritty way.
"I'm going to the ladies' room."
"Tell me if you spot Batman."
When she came back, the club was playing something that didn't suck, so she and Tim danced. It was fun. Steph thought that if she played her cards right, maybe she could get Tim to look for Batman in her pants. Although she hoped he wouldn't literally think her pants were big enough to hide Batman. Just because she'd retained a little water…
"And then, this pale guy shows up and says I have to be the Sandman until the Simple Plan concert gets done."
"I love those guys!" Tim enthused, before looking around to see if Bruce was coming at him with a rolled-up newspaper.
"Don't I know you from somewhere?" Death asked.
Steph looked around Dream's throne room, where she'd been adding flowers and cardboard cut-outs of Harrison Ford characters, just happening to note all the things one could hide behind. "Uh… did we go see The Crow together?"
"No. And you say my brother put you in charge?"
"Yeah. He was very mysterious. Said something about an island and some black smoke and these machine-people who had a plan and, um, Sylar."
"He went to a concert, didn't he?"
"Whatever. You have to watch Delirium."
Delirium was using a pogo stick that turned everything it bounced on into neckties.
"Can I order pizza?"
"Yes, but you can't have any boys over."
Tim was in bed, racing the Batmobile against Bart and Kon. He was winning, and his parents were cheering from the sidelines. Suddenly, Steph was sitting next to him.
"Hey, guess where I am? In your dream!"
"Uh, hey Steph," Tim said, discombobulated. He took a closer look at Steph, his eyes blinking rapidly until he sat back with an accepting smile. "Are you dead in this dream?"
"Nah, I'm with Leslie in Africa. I'll make this a good dream, promise." And then they were in the backseat. "Wanna make some nocturnal emissions?"
Delirium looked back from the front seat. "Hey, is this a fast car or should I make it a jet? It thinks it would've been a great jet, but no one ever asked. It is a trifle scared of heights, though."
"That's Dee," Steph said, getting off Tim's lap. "We just got back from switching all the psychoses around at Arkham. Now the Joker has OCD and Harley Quinn is aroused by grass."
"I'm still waiting for her to notice that second one," Delirium said, before asking the car if it would like wings without feathers or the other kind.
"We're about to go visit Cass and eat dream-Oreos. Then we're gonna see if we can make Jason wet the bed. Wanna come?"
"No thanks," Tim said, wiping at something in his eye. "I need to reach a higher state of meditation so my body can refresh itself as soon as possible."
"Sleep is about rest, Tim. Didn't you know?"
"You should kiss Cassie Girl," Delirium said. "Your lips would make nice sounds. And if you grow your own Kon, you could water him with lemonade and see if he turns blonde. That would be special."
Tim was frowning, like he'd suddenly been stricken with déjà vu. He shook it off. "Did you happen to ask Death if she had any plans for Bruce?"
Steph bit her lip. For a moment she'd given Tim a fierce look, like she gave thugs when she was about to hit them with something involving regurgitants or swarms of bats, but then her lip began to wibble. "Oh, Tim!" She hugged him.
"Steph, you're gonna wrinkle my Hot Topic shirt!"
"I just realized that if this is what you're going through without Bruce… God, you must've been inconsolable when I faked my death!"
"Yeah." Tim lowered his head. "It was bad."
"Bad? I'm just glad you didn't commit suicide! You must've been living in your filth, starving yourself, putting my costume on a pedestal."
"Did you grow an elaborate garden, just to have flowers to put on my grave? Tell me you didn't try to clone me. I would understand if you did, but you didn't, did you? It would mostly suck having an evil twin. Which reminds me of that time I took over for Bizarro."
"Me am Bizarro forever more! You am old Bizarro!"
"Wait," Steph cried, grabbing Bizarro's cape. She knew you weren't supposed to tug on Superman's cape, but if it were Bizarro Superman's cape, didn't that mean you should? "Wait! Doesn't your face need to be all craggy and ugly to be a Bizarro?"
"Is that a no-no or a Bizarro-yes?"
Bizarro flew off.
"I'm just having a bad hair day!"
Being Bizarro was pretty easy. All you had to do was run around doing the opposite of what rational people did, like walking on your hands or listening to Glenn Beck. Steph managed to turn it into a street performance, and she even made more money that street-Supergirl jumping on a trampoline. That is, until the real thing showed up.
"How many times do I have to tell you people?" Kara demanded. "My panties, which I do wear, are very conservative. I don't even wear thongs at the beach. Wait, who the Rao are you?"
"I am not Bizarro."
"No, uh, not Bizarro not give up not being Bizarro, so I didn't not become the new not Bizarro."
"So after I got out of the Phantom Zone…"
Tim watched the cab's meter go up and up. "So, in your capacity as Batgirl, do you ever fight crime or is it just trying to get into my pants?"
"I prefer to think of them as manties. But I guess that means you don't want to hear about the time I went to the aptly-named Paradise Island as Wonder Woman?"
"Good, because the reason they call it Paradise Island is because their fresh-baked bread is to die for."
Tim knocked on the privacy window. The cabbie pulled to the curb and let him out. Steph followed.
"What do you really want?" Tim asked, leaning across a newspaper machine to her. "You could've talked to Barbara or Dinah or Damian."
"Yeah, I make it a rule not to talk to people named Damian."
"The point is, why are you talking to me?"
"I like you." Steph pinched his cheek. "There's a rumor going around that you're sweet And!" she added before he could say anything, "I've been thinking." She propped herself up on the newspaper machine he was leaning on. "I think Cass quit because she was tired of being the same person all the time. You, you used to be Tim Drake, high school student, and Tim Drake, devoted son, and Tim Drake, sweet boyfriend—"
"Is this going anywhere? You sound like my obituary."
"And Robin the Boy Wonder. Now, all you have is Robin. And you're looking for Bruce like he's the only thing that gives your life meaning. You've struck out on your own and you're still calling yourself Robin. But even if you're not Robin, you'd still be Tim Drake. I'm a little fond of that boy. There's a rumor going around about him…"
Tim shook his head. "Bruce is out there."
"Hey, if there's anyone who'd believe someone isn't as dead as they say, it's me. I was Deadman once."
"So if you don't want me to give up on him, what do you want?"
"Just don't give up on yourself either." She kissed him softly, but only for a moment before pulling away. "And if you ever get tired of being the strong one, I'll be there to take over for you."
When he got back to his apartment, Tim found a Spoiler action figure on his pillow. He didn't cuddle with it or anything, but he didn't throw it out either. He set it on his map of brooding spots, where he could keep an eye on it, and she could keep an eye on him.