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The Babysitting Job

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Life wasn’t fair, and that wasn’t news to Tim. For as long as he could remember his life had felt lacking, since he’d been a small boy and felt a loneliness growing inside him he couldn’t even put a name to. That first inkling had only grown as he’d watched another boy, one who’d shown Tim more kindness in a single moment than most had in his whole life, lose everything right before his eyes.

If he hadn’t learned his lesson then, he’d picked it up fast enough when his mother died. Life, or fate, destiny, chance, whichever it was, had stripped Tim of his loved ones one at a time. A sad house of cards that he kept building up only to have them knocked back down time and again. The sheer unrelenting tragedy of it all had been nearly more than he could bear. Looking back on it Tim wasn’t entirely sure that he had. Certainly he had not come through unscathed.

So, he knew about the scarcity of fairness in life, but that in no way precluded his right to complain, which was important. Complaining was an essential human behavior, despite what Bruce tried to communicate with his meaningful glances.

And this? This was injustice, plain and simple.

“No,” Tim snapped, glowering at Steph. He meant it; wholeheartedly too. He had a feeling it wouldn’t matter one whit in the end—as this wasn’t his territory and he was arguing from a position of weakness—but he would hold firm until then. She held the home court advantage, literally.

“I don’t ask for a lot of favors, Tim, and this is really important,” Steph said imploringly, her eyes wide and wobbling like something out of a Japanese cartoon. They stood in her kitchen making Tim feel out of place wearing his armor though his cowl was pulled back. It was a civilian kitchen, despite the mess of Steph’s gear scattered about. One of these things was not like the others, and he was one of those things.

“Steph, Conner and I have had to put off our plans for the last three weeks. Can’t you get someone else to baby-sit?” Why did people seem to think that he knew what to do with children anyway? Just because he was responsible didn’t mean he was good with kids. He didn’t mind them, particularly, but he also couldn’t say he cared much for them.

“No, it’s last minute, and Kate needs someone we can trust.” Steph looked uncomfortable and Tim remembered how tense she’d been since she’d called him over. “Tim, her cover might be compromised.”

“Ah.” It appeared his earlier suspicions would be born out, as this argument had clearly just been lost. When the mission called he answered. Steph, however, didn’t seem to be aware of that fact just yet as she kept talking.

“Ramsey needs to be somewhere safe. If he’s with you and Superboy that's about as safe as it gets without putting him on the moon.”

“All right,” Tim agreed.

“Thattaboy,” Steph cheered as her face lit up like Christmas (Tim could have gone without the condescending pat on the head.) “I know you and your boyfriend have been looking for some quality time, but think of this as practice for when you settle down and make little science babies.”

“Very funny,” Tim said stiffly.

“Wait, were you going to finally… Oh, Tim,” Steph said, looking concerned. “I’m really sorry.” She grabbed the outside of his arms and squeezed in a comforting manner. It did not quite do the trick of comforting him.

“Like you said, it’s important,” Tim tried his hand at reassurance. She still looked distressed and he didn’t deal well with that. Causing anxiety for his friends and family was something he tried to avoid these days. Comforting people had never been his strong suit, certainly not when he was irritated with them, but he didn’t want Steph looking at him like that. He turned his face away.

“You know he adores you right? Worst he’ll do is sulk or ignore you for a week or two.” Somehow, he doubted that. Steph rolled her eyes. “Okay, I know you don’t believe me, but it’s so true.”

“We’ve had this discussion before,” he stated and hoped his tone implied that he how very tired he was of said discussion.

“Yeah, but Batboys are stubborn and need things hammered in,” Steph tossed her hair back over her shoulder as she buckled up her utility belt.

“I still don’t see why you couldn’t leave the kid with Alfred,” Tim muttered, although he knew it wasn’t fair to Alfred or Kate’s son. Alfred had more than enough work to do without adding a child to look after, and Ramsey wouldn’t have as much fun. Normally, Tim would have been happy to aid the mission in any capacity, but alone-time with Conner currently listed as a very high priority in his mind.

“Fine, you want it spelled out for you?” Steph said, turning back to Tim. “Because Damian’s not feeling well, and he deserves some undivided attention for once.” She had gone from fond affection and sympathy to anger like the flick of a light switch. “At least he has an excuse for being a prick to you, he’s ten and doesn’t know any better.”

Part of Tim wisely refrained from opening his mouth and mentioning that Damian had tried to kill him on more than one occasion. Steph jabbed him in the chest to punctuate her point, even though he could barely feel it through the armor.

“You’re turning eighteen soon. Grow. Up.”

“You grow up,” Tim muttered under his breath. Seriously, though, it would be one thing to lecture him about this if Damian were a normal pre-adolescent boy. However when you were dealing with a primadonna assassin prodigy, Tim felt the usual rules should probably no longer apply. Even if the little homunculus had come down with some really wretched stomach bug that could almost wrench sympathy from him.

“But, Tim, you have to promise me something.” He looked up because Steph sounded serious. “You’ll still tell Conner you have feelings for him. Don’t let this derail you.”

“I won’t.”

“Because,” she went on, “if you do wuss out? I’ll be talking to Tam.”

Tim blanched. “You wouldn’t.”

“You know me better than that.”

Unfortunately, he did indeed know better, and Steph wouldn’t hesitate. The thing about Tam was that she already thought he and Conner were dating, and had for a while now. Of course, she only thought that because Tim had told her so when Tam had been the one who had seen what the world’s greatest detective minds had missed when it was sitting in front of their faces. Fortunately she didn’t know Tim well enough to see through him when he started lying outrageously to her. She was good, but he’d learned how to lie to Batman. If Tim wanted to he could lie to anyone, even himself.

You may be my first superhero,” she’d said to him, “but you’re not my first gay boy.” Somehow, that had actually made him feel better at the time that she’d been casually turning his world upside down. Even if he wasn’t entirely gay, maybe, because girls were still attractive and kissing them was really nice. Tim was aware that an entire sexual spectrum existed and people spanned it in all sorts of interesting ways, but he’d never imagined himself as anything other than plain vanilla.

Perhaps that bore further analysis, or maybe it was just indicative of the persona he’d maintained most of his life. He’d spent so much of his civilian time trying to be the perfect son and then the perfectly normal son, bland and inoffensive, unremarkable and yet successful, worthy of praise but not worthy of notice. Feelings for men didn’t factor into that equation, in fact they practically sabotaged it.

Tam wound up turning that idea on its head. It seemed Tim’s entire life was rotating about its axis. Robin’s mantle didn’t belong to him anymore, he was in love with his best friend and he had a family again. Maybe his family was a bit banged up and didn’t look like most but it was his and things finally seemed to be going well for him.

Frankly, part of Tim was waiting for the other shoe to drop. The rest of him figured that a redefinition of his sexual orientation was a large enough shoe. At least Tam had been fantastic about it, although he still felt that in telling Steph she had overstepped her boundaries significantly. On the other hand she was his fiancée and Steph had been nothing but supportive after her initial… reaction. On the other-other hand he hadn’t exactly proposed to Tam and now their engagement was even more of a sham than before.

Silver lining, our break up will throw Vicki even further off the scent, right?” And ruin his privacy for years. There was no reason for him to come out as a result of breaking off their engagement. Then again, it would be an opportune time, and surely there was some endeavor that would benefit from the media firestorm it would create. At the very least he felt sure Bruce could spin it into a worthy cause. Good would come from it, but that wasn’t the issue. He had to—PAIN flared in his shoulder as Steph jabbed him with a nerve strike.

“Ow!” Tim flinched away and rubbed the afflicted area, massaging feeling back into the muscle.

“Stop that,” she told him mock sternly as he glared at her.

“What? Breathing?” he snapped.

“No,” Steph said patiently as she turned around, looking for something. “Thinking. You were starting to stress yourself out. Last thing you need right now, honestly. Did you see where I put my grapple?”

“By the fridge,” Tim said to the back of her head. “What makes you so sure he won’t freak out?”

“Besides the passion of your bromance?” she asked in all seriousness as she walked. “I’ve met him and he’s a good guy. I mean he’s freaking Superboy. And if he does anything stupid you’ll have people lined up around the block to beat some sense into him.” Oh god, he’d have to tell Bruce, wouldn’t he? The thought was paralyzing and Tim didn’t even realize that Steph had moved until she was tipping his head over to look her in the eyes.

“Seriously, Tim, don’t worry. Anyone who spends even a few minutes with you two can see that he’s crazy about you.” Okay, she’d never said it quite like that before. It was like a block had been removed and words just started pouring out before Tim could scoop them back up into his mouth.

“You think so?” He couldn’t keep the hope out.

“Yuh-duh, you even already act like a couple. Don’t you guys, like, talk every night?”

“Not every night,” Tim demurred. Just nearly every night, and he talked almost as much with Bart, although an emphasis should be placed on the almost. Besides, most of their age group communicated constantly through one medium or another, it wasn’t that unusual.

“And! According to Kara when he doesn’t see you for a while he mopes like no other,” Steph said with the air of a scientist sharing great secrets. “Drives their aunt Martha crazy.” Okay, so that at least meant something. Conner missed him when he wasn’t around, but it didn’t denote anything about why or how.

“Even worse than you, apparently,” Steph continued and Tim narrowed his eyes because that was just unnecessary. “And you raise sulking to high art.”

“Please, tell me how you really feel,” Tim said dryly.

“Gladly, sweetums,” Steph said as she finished loading up her explosive capsules. “Okay, I’m good to go, and I’ve got some time before rendezvous…”

“Yes?” Tim asked when she didn’t say anything else, just stared out the window. It took an embarrassingly long moment before he realized she was listening to her earpiece. Why Barbara wasn’t talking to him as well he didn’t know, but he had no high ground to call others out on compartmentalization.

“Right,” Steph said. “Ramsey’s at the Nest with Helena, so you can meet him there. We’ve gotta head over there, nowish, since my mom’s coming back in, like, an hour.”

“Everything all right with the op?”

“It’s under control.” Tim sighed and hoped the day came soon when the latest battle of the sexes in Gotham’s cape community would cool off again. Conflict and tension along gender lines occurred in perfectly regular intervals, or so it seemed to Tim. Maybe he’d even graph it out one day, if he were feeling whimsical.

“C’mon, Tim, put your face on. I have places to be and crotches to boot.” Tim snorted as he slipped his cowl on. Everyone had told him, repeatedly and at great volume, that a mask would be an improvement over the cowl, but in truth he liked how the cowl felt. It kept him contained, although at the end of a long night it left his hair looking like something Selina’s cats might cough up.

The drive to the Bird’s spare Nest was a nice change of scenery since Tim wasn’t familiar with this particular safe house. It was a rare pleasant evening in Gotham and riding on his bike with Steph by his side on hers felt good. It felt right, and he was so thankful again that he was able to be her friend, that she was alive and well. Besides, who even knew how bad Damian’s anti-social personality disorder traits would be if she weren’t around to ply him with waffles and her feminine wiles. Between her and Dick they’d nearly given the little Grinch a heart.

They had been driving downtown for near twenty minutes, heading southward, clear across Gotham before Tim gave in to the need to know where exactly they were aiming.

“Where are we going?” he asked into his helmet’s communicator. To his mild surprise it wasn’t Steph who answered him.

“Branson Park, 23rd and Cathedral, number 3953,” Barbara’s bland Oracle voice crackled in his ear.

“You’re talking to me now?” Tim teased her with the question as if it were a mild observation.

Barbara and Dick got along well for the most part, but every now and again they’d fight like cats trapped in a sack. The intense squabbling would last for a week, or three, and then return to an easy camaraderie that made for a marked difference from Bruce’s Gotham. Until the whole mess cleared up Tim would be getting the cold shoulder by virtue of being Dick’s little brother, whether he shared fault or not.

“Hush, you.” Filtered voice modulators had never sounded so fond.

“Anyway,” Steph cut in, “we’re done, right?” Tim assumed she wasn’t talking to him.

“H will see you in five. Oracle out.” The little click to let them know she was off the line was a courtesy.

“Right, so before we get tangled up with a bunch of other people, let me just say this,” Steph prompted as they wove through traffic. “Putting aside the bromance, the constant communication and the whole really intense friendship thing--all that good stuff--even if we totally ignore that, he’s still just all over you.”

“What?” Tim had to backtrack a bit to reconnect with Steph’s line of thinking.

“I mean, you’re more free with the hugs these days, but he’s always bumping you, poking you, prodding you. Just… putting his hands on you, and I can’t even fool myself into thinking I see even a thimbleful of what you two are like when no one’s around. He’s always the one who carries you, I definitely noticed that, and lately hasn’t he been carrying you a bit more… intimately?”

That point Tim had to concede. It wasn’t that Conner had started cradling Tim romantically to his chest or anything, but more often instead of the wrist clasp Tim found himself tucked up against Conner’s side. The situation had its merits but wasn’t without downsides. It was more comfortable for Tim, although his preference would always be to ride under his own power being carried by Conner was his second favorite option. On the other hand the more time Tim spent pressed up against that supernaturally hard body the more his feelings stewed inside him like hot and sour soup. Even the memory of the last time he’d been in Conner’s grasp, hot after battle and the smell of smoke with the muscle of Conner’s arm around him—Tim swerved and lined up behind Steph. Some thoughts deserved a bit of privacy, even in front of ex-girlfriends who couldn’t see any physical reactions that might or might not be occurring.

“I see you agree with me.” Man, did she sound smug. He’d have to take her down a peg later, maybe offer to spar with her. “But, seriously, even if you don’t, you’ve committed to telling him, right?”

“Yes, Steph, I will, but not tonight.” Just because he could lie to everyone around him didn’t mean he necessarily was. He would tell Conner something, eventually.

“Good,” Steph said firmly. “As long as you tell him.”

Allowing himself to just feel content could be hard for Tim. In that moment, driving with Steph, on a warm autumn’s eve while his cape stretched out in the wind and his bike thrummed between his legs, he felt vital and alive. Also, he had half an erection, and now he could wait until it went down without being in Steph’s visual range.

They pulled into a parking garage under one of the extremely foreboding rebuilt Neo-Gothic skyscrapers that could only be found in this particular city. It was one that, of course, happened to be owned by Wayne industries, albeit indirect ownership in the extreme. They parked in a secret partition of the garage’s wall and then road a secret express elevator up to the fortified penthouse.

Steph hummed Secret Agent Man the entire time, and it made him smile.

They stepped out of the elevator and Tim took a good look at the apartment he’d be spending the night in. Actually, the hideout was more of a loft. It was oriented around the elevator, with the kitchen just off to the side and then sloping down slightly to a wide open area that ranged around with a few tables, some couches and a massive flat screen embedded in the wall with large windows overlooking Grant park. On the other side of the kitchen was a bank of monitors and hard drives propped up against the windows looking down onto the Cathedral district. From the right angle you could even get a good look out across Miller Harbor. Walking forward from the kitchen to the windows and looking back revealed the loft set above the kitchen.

Barbara had better decorating taste than Bruce, if not his budget, and a more modern sensibility than Alfred, so the place looked like it belonged to a young software mogul with a serious adrenaline addiction considering the grappling hooks and acid pellets littering the Italian off-yellow marble top counters and the very serious body armor collection that was currently draped over the couches in front of the gigantic television. The sword and grapple collection by the monitors didn’t help.

“There you guys are,” Helena called as she approached. Tim took a moment to appreciate the fact that she looked as lovely as ever. Beside her was a boy about Damian’s size but without his wiry musculature or body language that belied his deadly upbringing. Ramsey was just a normal nine-year-old boy, or at least looked like one, considering he was also a fifth generation metahuman with tanned skin, a mop of black-brown hair, blue eyes, and his face open with worry in a way Damian’s probably never would be.

Maybe Steph was right and he was being too harsh on his new stepbrother. On the other hand, Damian had never tried to kill her. That Tim knew of, at any rate.

“Hey, Red Robin,” Helena said as she breezed by him brushing a kiss against his cheek. “Long time, no see. Like the look, glad we had this talk.” Steph watched him shrewdly before she seemed to catch her self and give him a rueful grin. She turned to Ramsey.

“Ramsey, what’s up?”

“Hi, Steph,” Ramsey said with a slow grin.

“Come meet my friend, Red Robin.” Ramsey walked up to Tim and looked at him a bit warily. Tim knew the Red Robin identity was one that had little branding, so to speak, and what there was of it tended to be bad, so he wasn’t terribly surprised.

“Hey, Ramsey, I’m Tim,” he said, extending his hand and ignoring the shock on Steph’s face. Handing out his name was against protocol, but for a few reasons he saw little harm in it in this particular instance. Ramsey took it and shook gently, his hand small and delicate looking. So different from Damian’s, and yet also deceptive; his grip felt more like Conner’s. Tim’s scientific interest piqued and he marveled at Ramsey’s metagenetic maturity for a moment.

“Nice to meet you, Tim,” Ramsey said dutifully and Tim grinned at him. Ramsey grinned weakly back at him and then turned to Steph. “You should probably get going, shouldn’t you?”

“Yeah, kiddo.” She opened her arms and Ramsey all but flew into them, hugging her tightly.

“Take care of each other,” he said and crushed himself to her stomach. Steph wheezed comically and tapped him on the shoulder. Ramsey flushed and let go. “Sorry.”

“You’re going to be a regular lady-killer when you get older, Ram,” she said and Ramsey scuffed his shoe on the floor awkwardly. “And your mom is going to be fine. We’ve got this.”

Tim frowned; Steph should know better than to make promises like that. Ramsey was looking a little less green about the gills now, so he didn’t protest.

“Ramsey, why don’t you go get your stuff out so you can decide what you want to do with Tim, okay?”

“Sure,” he agreed and took off for the massive couch and coffee table where there was a sizable duffle bag while Steph stepped into Tim’s line of sight.

“Babs left the number of an amazing pizza place nearby and Ramsey’s not allergic to anything, so you can send Superboy to pick it up. He’s supposed to be in bed by 9 but there’s no way we’ll be done before midnight.” Whatever it was they were doing… breaking into somewhere, breaking someone out of somewhere, Tim could only guess.

“Thanks again for doing this.”

“Because I had a choice?”

“Don’t be shitty,” she chastised him. “And even if you don’t tell him tonight he loves you. He may not be in love with you, but he definitely loves you. It’ll be okay, I promise.”

Yeah, she definitely shouldn’t be making promises she couldn’t necessarily keep. Still, it made him feel better. She kissed him on the cheek, said good-bye to Ramsey, who was standing just a couple feet away with his backpack clutched in his arms, and left them alone. Tim turned to the boy and tried to smile at him reassuringly.

“So, Ramsey, what do you have for us to do?”

Ramsey was a sweet kid and pretty much Damian’s polar opposite in every conceivable fashion. For instance: after a few minutes of awkward standing around, Tim suggested that Ramsey might like to look at his suit. Ramsey had agreed.

Within minutes he had blunted shuriken and tasers spread out across a table as Ramsey watched in awe. Tim showed him the proper way to hold and throw a razorang and how to operate a zip-strip.

“This is so cool! Mom says I can’t fight crime until I graduate college,” Ramsey said forlornly. Tim’s hand stilled in the midst of disassembling one of Helena’s crossbows. “But I have powers, and I’ll only get stronger.”

“Then it makes sense to wait until your powers mature fully,” Tim returned. Speaking those words was easy for how hypocritical they were. Who was he to be advocating patience and responsibility to keep away from super-heroics? Still, Kate had the right idea and the prerogative as a parent. Now that he was older he looked back on his own choices with a curious sort of horror born from hindsight.

“You were Robin, right?”

“Yes.”

“The Robin right now, he’s a kid, right? Like my age.”

“He’s a special case.”

“I’m special,” Ramsey said indignantly. “I can stop a truck with my hands!”

“… That is very special,” Tim conceded. He’d need a moment alone with a computer to confirm what Ramsey’s powers were, but according to his family line they’d be strength or energy related. “But Robin’s situation is complicated.”

“How old were you when you started?” Tim looked up to meet fearless blue eyes. There were a lot of blue eyes in the community. There was the alien blue of the Kryptonians, a burning cobalt that could make your knees weak and your heart quake if you weren’t careful. Then there were the eyes of Tim's own family, all the shades from steel-gray to poetic cerulean. Ramsey’s eyes were clear, pure, and insistent.

Tim wondered what the hell he’d done to deserve this.

“Everyone’s different.” Ramsey looked disappointed, and Tim sighed. “I was 13, but it was a long time before I got to go out on my own. Here, let me show you a freezing capsule. When you get to high school you’ll actually start learning the chemistry behind the reactions that power this.”

Science had always fascinated Tim, but it didn’t so much for Ramsey, although he liked it well enough when Tim actually demonstrated the effects of some of his tools.

“You and my uncle Dylan would probably get along well,” Ramsey said as he watched Tim avidly.

“Uncle Dylan?”

“Yeah, he helps my mom out with her gear and stuff. He’s pretty funny and really hairy,” he said seriously, using his hands to great story-telling effect. “I have lots of aunts and uncles. My aunt Cameron works for the government and my uncles Damon’s boyfriend Todd is in the Justice Society!” Rapid calculations went down in Tim’s mind and it was only his training that kept him from accidentally squeezing the capsules and turning both of them into life-size popsicles. Manhunter was a lawyer, and he’d heard that Obsidian was dating her assistant but it had been distant information. Now it was real and right in front of him, a little boy talking about his gay uncles with perfect matter of fact acceptance. Not just acceptance, but pleasure; it was obvious Ramsey was proud of his uncle and his superhero boyfriend, and Tim’s heart ached.

“What’s this do?” Ramsey asked, pointing at a laser. Tim found a bag of microwave popcorn in the kitchen and they used the laser to pop kernels for a fun-filled few minutes.

Tim didn’t mind kids in the abstract. He did prefer interacting with children who’d reached the age of reason, so at least he was watching a bright nine-year-old rather than a baby or toddler.

After popping corn got boring Tim suggested Ramsey get out one of his games or something. He seemed reluctant so Tim wound up turning on the TV and letting the kid channel surf while he debated what to say when he called Conner. Should he just cancel entirely? No, he really had missed seeing Conner, and they’d have time to themselves to talk when Ramsey went to bed.

Conner had gotten stronger since he’d come back to Tim, but he still took an hour or two to crisscross the country, depending on wind conditions and how tired he was. Since weekends were the only point at which their free time overlapped, it made hanging out difficult with the commute from San Francisco. They managed because--their own travel arrangements aside--Bart was perfectly happy to cart them wherever, so long as he could grab something to eat. Of course, that also meant Bart spent time with them, and Tim loved spending time with Bart, but…

Things had been building to a head between him and Conner for a while now. Tim couldn’t say what had gone through Conner’s mind while he was in the coma, or the future for that matter, but for Tim, the sheer intensity of his depression had been… revelatory. Calling it a silver lining or even looking at his losses as having some positive edge to them hurt, but in losing Conner he’d had to admit what Conner meant to him. In losing Bart and Steph the distinction had become all the more clear.

What had haunted him since Conner’s return—really, the only thing still haunting him aside from his father’s murder--was whether Conner returned his feelings. Sometimes it seemed as if he did, that there could be no other interpretation for his behavior… but then Tim would look at their history. Tightly formed bonds between people in high stress situations, like soldiers or superheroes, could be as intimate as any romantic relationship. Sometimes, they were the most intimate relationships people like them had, despite being completely platonic.

“Platonic” no longer encapsulated Tim’s feelings for Conner, “sexual” didn’t do them justice and “romantic” could barely capture them. Before this, he could never have imagined having such mixed feelings, like the way that his arousal could be deep and heavy as the sea and his heart could sink into its depths when Conner wasn’t there. Every weekend that he couldn’t spare a few hours away from the Titans, every night that Tim had to keep up his charades and his causes and still do his job, every little obstacle that stood in between them stabbed at him like a knife.

He told himself it was just his overworked mind making too much of an attachment to his best friend who had only recently returned from the dead. It was enough to make anyone unstable. It had happened to Tim, effectively, four fold in the last year with some of the most important people in his life. While most had come back, his father was still dead, leaving him all kinds of screwed up. It made sense that he was unstable in his relationships.

It didn’t make experience that instability any easier. It also didn’t explain why he wasn’t pining like the heroine of a tacky romance novel when, for example, Bart couldn’t hang out. Actually, that was a terrible example. Bart almost always had time to hang out; it was Tim who typically had trouble making time for his friends.

He tapped the communicator in his mask.

“Call: Superboy.” The earpiece rang four times before going to Conner’s voicemail.

“It’s Tim. When you come over tonight just follow the sound of my voice. There’s been a slight change of plans.”

“Hey, Tim?” He looked up to see that Ramsey had moved some of the cushions of the couch around with some body armor and a bit of line from a grapple to make a fort. On the massive television the evening news played, telling the usual Gotham horror stories. Tim strode over quickly to turn it off.

“Yeah, Ramsey?”

“Who were you talking to?”

“One of my friends is coming over to visit.”

“A super friend? Like from the Teen Titans?” Ramsey looked like his eyes would pop right out of his head.

“Exactly.”

“Wow!” he exclaimed. “This is going to be so cool!” Ramsey’s face abruptly fell. “It totally sucks I can’t tell anyone, though. Must be nice have friends who’re like you.”

“It is,” Tim said because he didn’t see any sense in beating around the bush or telling stupid lies.

“School sucks, I have, like, no friends,” Ramsey sighed and Tim felt a bit of a protective impulse.

“Do you get picked on?”

“A little. I mean, not a lot, or not to my face. Bullies are scared of me cuz I stand up to them, but even the kids they bullied don’t like me.” Ramsey’s face twisted and he muttered something Tim couldn’t quite understand. He took a seat on the couch near Ramsey.

“You want to talk about it?”

“Um,” Ramsey hummed uncertainly and then stared at feet as he tapped the tips of his shoes together. “They just call me names. I can hear them. I can hear pretty good.”

Tim did a little mental math, and his estimation of Ramsey’s intelligence went up a notch.

“And what do they make fun of you for?” he asked gently. Coaxing answers from reticent speakers, like children, was one of Robin’s chief duties.

“They call me gay,” Ramsey said in a heavy voice. How much of his conversation with Steph had Ramsey overheard? Tim nearly panicked for a moment before his training took over and his flight instinct subsided. This conversation was about Ramsey, not Tim. He glanced back at Ramsey, who was picking at his thumbnail almost angrily. “I think they’re right.”

“Well, you can’t be sure,” Tim hedged while looking for something to say that didn’t further incriminate him. Ramsey was a sweet kid but loose lips sunk ships, and Tim was feeling out of control, his own feelings were too close to the surface for him to stay objective and collected in the face of Ramsey’s open emotions.

“I think I know,” Ramsey said quietly. Tim opened his mouth to say he was too young to know that for certain, but then his mind flashed back to another little boy, one Ramsey’s age and then younger, who had gone to the circus and the connection that had been forged, how intense it had been and--oh God, he’d had a crush on Dick; that’s why he’d recognized him.

While Tim’s world crashed down around him Ramsey looked at him worriedly.

“Are you okay, Tim?”

“I was just remembering,” Tim told him. “I think my first crush might have been when I was even younger than you. If you say you know, maybe you do.”

“Girls are just—I mean, guys say they’re icky but I don’t think they’re icky, I just don’t really care about them.” Ramsey started talking a mile a minute, “And boys make fun of you if you don’t sit right or talk right and I can’t even give a hug or hold hands and it sucks! It sucks, Tim, and I hate it and I want to be a superhero and I can’t until I’m 20 and that’s not until forever from now.”

“It’s not just for your safety that you wait until you’re older; it’s so you know enough to properly help people,” Tim said gently and Ramsey made a frustrated sound.

“Robin helps people. You did, and you were only a few years older than me.”

“Robin’s story isn’t mine to tell, just like yours isn’t either.” Tim sighed, although he was relieved they weren’t talking anymore about subjects he wasn’t… It was easier to talk about this. “I became Robin because someone had to be.”

“Why?”

“Because Batman needs a Robin.”

“Oh. Well that makes sense.” Tim had to laugh just a little because the whole conversation had been entirely too much for him; the way that Ramsey just accepted his logic the way that Tim had concocted it when he was younger… the parallel was too much.

“What’s so funny?” Ramsey asked with the deep suspicion of a child who didn’t get the joke all the adults were laughing at.

“Nothing,” Tim said and Ramsey scowled at him. “Listen, it’s getting to be close to dinner time; what do you like on your pizza?”

“I like extra cheese, please,” Ramsey said decisively. Tim could appreciate that, being a fan of vanilla himself. One irritating phone call later (the line was answered and Tim placed on hold three times before his order was taken) and within a promised hour they would have hot food ready for pick up. Ramsey was busy fussing with something from his bag so Tim checked his messages to see if Conner had called him.

There was a text that read: alrdy omw. eta 45. He’d gotten the message shortly after he’d called Conner so he should be getting close, definitely within hearing range by now.

Tim walked over to a window and opened it up.

“Kon. Superboy. If you can hear me, I’m standing at an open window—” a distant crack echoed through the sky, muffled, but Tim’s ears were trained to pick it out. Person sized objects didn’t make as much noise breaking the sound barrier as, say, planes, though they were still loud. Conner wasn’t new to the game so he could cut the sound down, especially with his aura. Something Bart had taught him; at Tim’s suggestion because god forbid the two of them brainstorm in their spare time.

A few seconds after the crack Conner appeared in the window with a great big smirk, looking wind-swept and generally edible. Tim decided that everything was a terrible idea and how was he supposed to tolerate being within arm’s reach of all of that Superboy? It made his hands itch and his jock tighten. He felt like nothing more than an uneasy collection of hormones and badly concealed emotional impulses that were only seconds away from exploding everywhere. The mess would be horrific, the sort that would prompt even Alfred to comment, maybe make a droll observation about bottling things up.

He was over thinking. Without combat and a life or death situation to distract him it was a bad habit he indulged. Luckily, Conner stayed happily oblivious as he shook the wind out of his hair, before looking up with a cheery grin.

“Dude, what’s up?” And then it was time for hugs, which was maybe Tim’s favorite time these days. Quick and comforting or lingering and warming, having Conner back in his arms felt more heartening than anything else. It was why he checked in on Bruce’s whereabouts with the Bat Cave’s computers and satellites and occasionally left tracers on Steph’s bike and bag. Why he let Bart drop in unexpectedly and never told him off (which wasn’t the same as telling him to leave) and the reason why he was even considering actually telling Conner that he wanted to be with him as more than just a friend. He’d lost these people and now he had them back. Reassuring himself of that was perfectly natural.

Bruce hadn’t said anything, but Tim had discovered a few discrete tracers in his own equipment that clearly belonged to him (and one that Tim didn’t think he was meant to find). For Bruce that was pretty much the same thing as saying: “I love you, too.”

Sooner than he would have liked but longer than he could ignore the hug was over. A prime example of the mixed signals Steph was talking about; most guys their age didn’t hug so long, so tight, so intimately. Then again, they weren’t normal teenagers; they were superheroes and they’d been saving each other’s lives for years. At the same, time the hugging was new--for Tim at least--and certainly new for the two of them outside of grief. At the same time he knew that affection between him and Conner was different than between him and Bart or even Conner and Bart, and that was also an important distinction.

Mixed signals and atypical paradigms made prediction models hard to construct. A complete refusal to risk one of the most important relationships in his life made clarification of their potential romantic compatibility… difficult. Gradually, he’d been pushed to the singular conclusion that he had to just come out and tell Conner that he was attracted to men in addition to women, at least certain select group of men. That, and at present he had feelings for Conner.

In his fantasies all the signals pointed to Conner returning his feelings, but his dreams Conner always flew out of reach. In his mind he doubted Conner liked him back, given past evidence and experience, rational thought dictated that the possibility was slim. He never managed to stop hoping, though.

It was almost amusing. Tim had been trained to read fear and anger; to find weakness and motive in crime and violence and he was good at it. Not Cassandra-good, but he wasn’t considered Bruce’s primary detective protégé for nothing. Part of that legacy was reading people. Unfortunately, reading those closest to him had always been harder for Tim, especially when their emotions erred on the positive or more feel-good end of the spectrum.

He could tell when someone was about to lie to him, attack him or try and kill him, but he’d never been very good at telling if someone was about to kiss him.

“Something came up,” Tim said and Conner’s face fell.

“But, dude,” Conner drew the word out plaintively as he hung in mid air like a mournful note. “We were supposed to hang out.”

When Conner set his mind to it he whined even worse than Krypto. Tim glanced behind him to see if his young charge had noticed, but Ramsey was happily playing ninja with a pair of blunted shuriken in the body armor fort. With any luck he wouldn’t break something while Tim’s back was turned.

“I’m doing a favor for Batgirl, and Manhunter.” And Oracle, technically speaking. Babysitters capable of dealing with metahumans were in short supply, and shipping Ramsey back to his father was not an option. Tim had little experience with so-called normal households, but he knew enough about divorce and workaholics to know that Kate couldn’t just send Ramsey back to Los Angeles without all hell breaking loose. No marriage separation, especially one with children in the middle, was that amicable.

By all rights, Tim should have been out there helping, but he hadn’t been briefed. Fact of the matter was he would have just been in the way. On top of all that, now Conner was pouting, which looked ridiculous on an invulnerable alien hybrid his age.

“Stop that,” Tim told him sternly. “And come inside.”

“What’s the favor, though?” Conner asked as he floated in, looking like a boy whose favorite toy had just been stolen.

“Manhunter is… out, so we’re hanging with her son.” Ramsey didn’t need to be patronized within range of his somewhat superior hearing, but of course Conner didn’t know that.

“What, like babysitting?” Conner asked, his voice going up in bemused surprise.

“Huh?” Ramsey noticed that someone had joined Tim at the window and his eyes went wide. His mouth opened and a shriek split the air.

“OH MY GOD IT’S SUPERBOY!”

By the time Ramsey was done shouting Conner wasn’t sulking anymore; he was positively preening. He floated over to the suddenly frozen boy who stared at him with wide trembling eyes. The fort Ramsey had started before Conner arrived wavered and collapsed in the wake of his departure as he shot off the couch like a rocket to land at Conner’s feet in worshipful silence. Tim rolled his own eyes safely under his cowl, as Ramsey just gazed up in awe while Conner posed heroically for him.

“Hey, little dude, what’s your name?” Tim almost choked as Conner put on his best Superboy face. If his hair were longer his spit curl would bounce in time with the sparkle of his blinding smile. Ramsey ate up the act like candy-crack.

“I’m Ramsey Spencer-Robinson and you’re one of Tim’s friends aren’t you?”

Watching Ramsey’s casual use of Tim’s real name utterly boggle Conner satisfied Tim on a deeply visceral level. The way his eyes nearly bugged out of his skull was particularly grin-worthy. Ramsey kept up a rapid-fire barrage of questions.

“You’re on the Teen Titans with Kid Flash and Wonder Girl and you know Superman don’t you? Have you been to space? Have you fought dinosaurs? Pirates? Aliens? Alien pirates?”

“Uh, yes to all of them. And Tim has, too.” Ramsey looked at Tim, his eyes wide and comically betrayed.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” he asked desperately, throwing his arms out wide.

“You knew I was Robin,” Tim said with amusement. “I don’t know why you would assume my adventures weren’t as cool as my team’s were.”

“Cuz my mom has worked with Batman and that was supposed to be cool but instead it was just boring,” Ramsey said as the situation reasserted itself in his mind. “Or really scary.”

“That’s… pretty spot on, actually,” Conner said. Then he looked up and his eyes were dancing. “So, Ramsey, since we’re doing names, you can call me Conner; or Kon for short.”

‘Cool,” Ramsey gushed and began peppering Conner with questions again.

Tim walked over to the wall of monitors and opened up a remote access point into a duplicate of his less sensitive personal files. Now that he had a moment he could check on his projects. He trusted Barbara’s security implicitly but he was taking no chances these days, and his most vital intelligence never left the actual hardware it was stored on. He had his own independent network of proxies and secure servers that he could bounce data off of now, and he relished his hard won independence. While the connection established, Tim turned his attention back to the two by the television. Conner was currently regaling Ramsey about something or other.

“—called tactile telekinesis and,” he was saying and Tim decided to tune him out. He did a quick scan of a few of his current projects, checked in on Lonnie and Bruce, authorized the dissolution of a small mutual fund and started pulling up files on Kate’s latest cases and Oracle’s files on Ramsey.

A hand closed around his shoulder and spun him around just as Tim hit a failsafe command that closed everything down.

“No,” Conner said sternly, shaking his finger in Tim’s face. “Bad Tim. No work on time off.”

“Why are you talking to me as though I’m your dog?” Tim asked tightly. Just because he had… impure thoughts about Conner didn’t mean his best friend wasn’t an irritant at times. Tim had never taken being talked down to well, nor being interrupted. Not even Conner’s blue eyes and disarming smirk almost looming over him could quite ease the immediate burn of his irritation.

“Tim? Kon? How do I turn the DVD player on?” Ramsey shouted from the other end of the loft making Tim aware of how close he stood to Conner, and how it might seem to him as well.

“There is no DVD player, Ramsey,” Tim said. He took a step toward the boy but his eyes were still locked on Conner, who returned the gaze impassively. Tim felt challenged and he wasn’t sure why. “What?”

“Nothing,” Conner said after a minute.

“How are we going to watch my movie then?” Ramsey asked sounding a little panicked and Tim remembered that his mother was out tonight doing something that for some reason was more dangerous than usual.

“We’re going to stream it.”

“Oh. Cool! This is like uncle Dylan’s set up.” Suddenly, Ramsey flushed. “But I bet without the skin flicks.” Conner snickered and Tim wavered between playing the role of indignant adult and just waving the comment off.

“Yes. Oracle doesn’t keep much pornography on her mainframe,” was what he went with. Ramsey giggled at the word ‘pornography’ while Conner shot him a sour look.

“Man, Tim, you’re such a… fun vampire.”

“A what?”

“Trying to work, talking about skin flicks and Oracle,” Conner drawled and drifted into the air. Ramsey watched in rapt delight as Superboy demonstrated his Super by floating around upside down, his eyes level with Tim’s. “All this no play is making you a seriously dull boy. We should do something about that, Ramsey.”

“Okay?” Ramsey sounded willing to commit but also unsure what exactly Conner was talking about. Tim was having a hard time keeping his eyes from drifting up to the hem of Conner’s shirt where it slipped just a touch, revealing a sliver of smooth, tanned skin. Especially since little dark hairs would draw his eyes up to Conner’s too tight jeans and seriously, how was that bulge not illegal or at least a decency violation? It was utterly inappropriate in front of the children—the child—Tim couldn’t think straight.

Really couldn’t think straight on any level.

“So why don’t you take off your cape and armor and stay a while?” Tim realized he hadn’t changed out of his work clothes, so to speak, and then repressed a flush as he processed Conner’s words and thought about taking off his clothes and…

“I’ll go get changed,” Tim said as he stepped back. Taking a moment to breathe free from the rapidly evolving complication that he and Conner had become would be more than welcome. And if Tim felt badly about the sexual tension, he could always remember that he just wouldn’t let things get to the point that Barbara and Dick had.

“Don’t go too far, now. I’ll have my eye on you,” Conner said and was that a bit of a leer on his face? Tim tried not to flush, and didn’t know how successful he was because the thrill that went up his spine certainly hadn’t helped his efforts.

Time for a tactical retreat, rally the troops and maybe call for reinforcements, or at least for strategic advice.

The monitors beeped and Tim checked the time.

“Conner, can you go pick up the pizza?”

“I don’t think it’s specifically one of my super powers but I bet I can manage,” he said and suddenly he was standing right behind Tim’s shoulder, breath hot and gusting down Tim’s neck. A slight tremor traveled through Tim that he neatly covered by turning and pulling out a money clip, shelling out his last few twenties into Conner’s waiting hand.

“I’ll give you my GPS, and you can just bring me back the change.”

“Dude, how much money do you have?” Conner said, eyeing the rest of the clip, which was all fifties and hundreds. Tim Wayne had an image to maintain, and the smallest bill he carried was Andrew Jackson’s.

“Didn’t you hear, Kon? I’m quite the catch these days.”

“Really?” Were Conner’s eyes actually lit with low heat or was that just his wishful imagination? “So, if you were my sugar daddy you’d keep me in the manner to which I dearly wish to become accustomed to?”

“Depends on how fine a trophy husband you’d make,” Tim said dryly.

“What’s a ‘sugar daddy’?” Ramsey piped up and Conner choked as Tim’s was forcibly reminded that whatever weirdness he had with his best friend currently included a possibly-gay prepubescent audience.

Ramsey would be lucky to make it out of the evening without lasting psychological trauma at this rate. So would Tim. So would Conner. If Tim weren’t used to, say, bleeding to death or being suspended over boiling vats of acid, he might be having a panic attack.

“Something that will upset your mother if I explain it to you,” Tim said with perfectly manufactured calm. “Conner, why don’t you go pick up dinner before you get us in any more trouble?”

“I wouldn’t tell her,” Ramsey said indignantly. Conner hopped and floated over to the window, opened it up and dropped out, which distracted Ramsey enough for Tim to dart up to the second level of the loft. He didn’t need the distraction, but it was instinct to make a Mysterious Exit. The upper level was comprised of three bedrooms and two bathrooms, and was where they’d be spending the night if the operation went that long.

“Tim? Where’d you go?” Ramsey asked, when he realized that Tim wasn’t downstairs anymore.

“I’m up here, getting changed. Why don’t you clean up the couch for dinner?”

“Okay,” Ramsey called out from somewhere beyond and below.

Maybe he shouldn’t have vanished on the kid without saying anything. He quickly stripped out of the more cumbersome and uncomfortable aspects of his armor as he walked into one of the rooms in the upstairs dorm area. He shut the door tightly to make sure Ramsey wouldn’t overhear him while he made a quick phone call.

He should tell Conner. Everything was… Despite Ramsey’s being there, the situation felt oddly opportune. This thing that he had with Conner fairly crackled with energy tonight. He could sense it burning between them already and Conner had only just arrived. He wasn’t deluding himself, he thought--and hoped--that there was real tension between them; actual flirting. It meant something, he was sure of it.

But just in case, he would call Tam.

His fingers didn’t shake as he dialed her number, but it was a near thing. She picked up quickly since it was Sunday evening and she didn’t do much but homework on Sunday nights.

“Hey, Tim! How’s Boys’ Night? Conner not there yet?”

“Uh, he’s actually,” Tim said, or started to say, and then the words caught in his throat. “He actually—he’s out getting pizza.”

“Oh. Okay. So what’s up?” Tam sounded pleasantly curious.

“Uhm,” Tim said, worrying his lip with his teeth. He loathed sounding indecisive; having his thoughts and words so disordered was incredibly aggravating. “Nothing. Just saying ‘hi.’” How did he tell the girl he had poured his heart out to that he’d been lying to her for weeks on end?

“Tim, I have a macroeconomics paper due on heavy metal commodities in eastern European markets tomorrow at 8:00 so I do not have time for you to be playing your little Tim Drake games. Out with it.” Pause. “Are you and Conner having problems?”

“That’s one way of putting it,” Tim said delicately.

“What’s another way to put it? Say, one that actually tells me why you called?”

“Tam—I’m not really dating Conner I never actually came out to him I was going to do it today and tell him I really like him and I think I’m in love with him but I’m totally freaking out right now and I don’t know if I can do this.” Words caught in his throat, Tim choked.

“I—what? What? Tim—oh my god. Tim. Jesus.” She sounded torn between shocked exasperation and cloying concern. Did he also detect a hint of resignation? It wouldn’t surprise him. Tam wasn’t a dumb girl and she knew he kept secrets. She also wasn’t talking anymore.

“Tam?”

“Tim, you—okay, here’s what you do. You don’t tell him anything, you have some pizza, you do whatever it is you’d normally do and then you make some excuse and go home. Then you call me and we have a little talk.”

“What?” That was not he was expecting. He heard Tam take a couple deep breaths.

“Tim, are you sitting down?” Tim sat down.

“I am now.”

“Telling Conner that you have feelings for him is a terrible idea.”

“But…” That wasn’t what he wanted to hear.

“Remember what I told you about how you’re not my first gay boyfriend? I’ve seen guys go down this road before. If you don’t already know he’s gay, or bi, then he’s probably not. If you’re coming out to him, that’s great, but I’ve seen attraction like this ruin friendships.” Tim felt his heart go cold.

“How so?” he asked, keeping his voice steady.

“They just… shift.” Tam paused and he could hear her moved on the other end of the line. “Listen to me; it’s not a good idea. He’s your friend. Let him be your friend, okay? I’ve seen guys push for more and everyone winds up hurt.”

“And what if he’s not like that? Steph thinks I should tell him.” Tam sighed.

“You know him best, Tim, but I think you should at least have an honest conversation with me about this before you do anything you can’t undo. And you absolutely CANNOT come on to him! Come out to him, that’s fine, but do not tell him you like him, understand me?”

“Yeah, you’re right.” His throat was dry and he had trouble swallowing. He didn’t know why he’d gotten his hopes up. He hadn’t seriously thought about doing it tonight but at some point, maybe, he’d wanted… He just wanted Conner. He wanted him so badly.

“Shit,” he whispered, quietly enough Tam couldn’t quite hear.

“Tim?” he heard the muffled call through the door.

“Yeah, I’m okay. Listen, I gotta go.”

“All right. Promise me you’ll call if you need to.”

“I will.” He clicked the phone off and stared at his hands.

“Deep breaths, Tim,” he told himself in a soft voice so as not to alert Ramsey. The kid’s hearing in all likelihood was nowhere near sensitive enough, but Tim wasn’t taking a chance. Neither he, nor Kon, needed to know how nervous Tim was feeling.

“Tim?”

Right, he was supposed to be changing. He’d brought a bag up in case he had to spend the night and after spending some time disengaging his armor he slipped on a pair of soft athletic pants and a thick long sleeved t-shirt he’d packed earlier. Everything hung a little looser around him than most of his clothes did, part of Tam’s plot to force some lounging into his life. Comfortable clothing was apparently essential to quality relaxation.

Tim had to admit the sweatpants she’d gotten him were awesome. That said he would never sink to actually using the abominable blanket snuggling infomercial monstrosity she liked to wrap herself up in. His armor took much less time to stow away in the bag than it did to remove. Once he was done he opened the door, loped over to the edge of the upstairs dormitory and flipped himself off the edge down into the kitchen.

“Oh wow!” Ramsey exclaimed and clapped his hands. “That was amazing!” Tim grinned and took a bow. He’d swapped out his cowl for a more modest domino, closer to the ones he’d worn in the Unternet, just enough to obscure himself so that Ramsey wouldn’t easily make the connection between Tim as Red Robin and Tim Wayne.

He wasn’t overly concerned. Ramsey had been born into the community; he’d know everyone eventually. Tim just didn’t make it a habit to give away his secrets, especially to children.

“Can you show me how to TV works, now?” Ramsey asked. “I cleaned everything up.”

“In a moment; let me get some plates for us to eat off,” Tim said and walked up to the kitchen to rustle around in the drawers. Ramsey bounced alongside him and Tim wondered what was taking Conner so long.

“Superboy’s so cool,” Ramsey said, apropos of nothing, even if Tim agreed that Conner was pretty great. The island oriented at the center of the kitchen was shaped like a teardrop flattened on one side, with stools rounding the curved outer edge. Ramsey hopped up onto a seat as Tim turned his back and rummaged through the cabinetry. “Do you like him?”

Tim hadn’t done anything truly spastic in ages, so maybe he was due to almost slam a drawer shut on his hand when he jumped at Ramsey’s words.

“What?” he said, turning around slightly, rubbing his hand even though he’d barely whacked it.

“Nothing,” Ramsey said quickly, too quickly. Tim frowned and went back to investigating the layout of Barbara’s kitchen. Ramsey began swinging his legs back and forth, kicking out an off-rhythm beat against the counter. Tim had to remind himself that not every child was a genius manipulator laying in wait; Ramsey was just a normal, bright kid. It was typical of children to have good insight because their minds weren’t limited or set in the same way that adults’ were. He had probably had meant nothing by it.

For such a great liar that one was pretty piss-poor, even if it was just to soothe his frazzled mind.

“Do you think we could go flying after dinner?” Tim considered the idea as he opened another cupboard. He’d found spare computer hard drives, sheets, first aid equipment, but nothing that actually belonged in a kitchen.

“I don’t know about going out but Kon can definitely fly you around inside,” Tim said and Ramsey almost bounced right off the marble countertop.

“That’d be so cool,” Ramsey said. “I mean, I want to go flying but also I want to do that swinging thing you guys do too; but if we can’t go out I understand.”

“Maybe another time,” Tim said. Another time when Ramsey’s mother wasn’t in the middle of something dangerous and Tim was supposed to be keeping Ramsey safe and secure. Dangling him a hundred feet above ground didn’t quite meld with that agenda.

Finally, he found plates, napkins and flatware, all of it still neatly boxed up and under the sink for some reason. Apparently, when Alfred wasn’t around the last things to be unpacked were those unrelated to The Mission. Barbara wasn’t as different from Bruce and Dick as she might like to think.

Tim had few illusions about his own shortcomings in those arenas. After all, his first plan to come out to Conner had involved: a long-term surveillance plan to gather data over the course of a year, and gradually escalating homoerotic tension. He’d even worked up a few undercover scenarios that he was sure Conner would have bought hook, line, and sinker, and he was glad that no one else had found those because they were about as morally sound as the cloning project.

“Oh my god,” Conner groaned as he dropped in through the window, a pizza box balanced in one hand that also holding a large brown bag. With his free hand he closed the window and glowered at Tim. “You didn’t tell me that place was a freaking madhouse. I got mobbed the second I walked in!”

“My heart bleeds for you,” Tim said as he popped out three paper plates. “I didn’t tell you because I didn’t know. Ramsey, you want some ice with your Soder?”

“Yes, please,” Ramsey chirped. Conner hovered around, clearly showing off, and served Ramsey a slice of pizza without using his hands. Tim smiled as Ramsey clapped and Conner took a bow like Zatanna after she closed an act.

“Kon, Tim says we can go flying,” Ramsey said in the tones of one who had discovered the secrets beyond the Source Wall. “Will you?”

“Not outside,” Tim said as he brought over cups, napkins and some plastic utensils. “And after you’ve let your dinner settle.”

“Well, that’s no fun,” Conner complained and Tim shot him a dark look because Superboy should be helpful. Ramsey seemed to agree with Conner but he didn’t disagree with Tim.

“No, but Tim’s supposed to be keeping me safe. Maybe we could go flying some other time?” he asked hopefully and Conner promised him they would. Tim pulled out a giant bottle of Soder, a can of diet grape Zesti for himself along with his chopped salad, and then set them aside so he could go about serving pizza.

Barbara had been right; Alberto’s did good food, although the chop was a little heavy on the salami for his taste. The pizza looked good too, almost good enough for Tim to consider taking a slice. Ramsey hummed happily as the cheese slid off his slice and Tim smiled at him. He grinned widely back at Tim who took note of which teeth Ramsey had already lost.

“What is that?” Tim looked up. Conner’s tone was flat enough water wouldn’t roll off it and he was staring at Tim’s plate.

“It’s a chopped salad,” Tim said warily. Conner had the same look about him Bart got just before he embarked on a righteous crusade, all narrowed eyes and bushy-tailed.

“And why is it not delicious extra cheese pizza?” Ramsey’s head bounced back and forth like a tennis ball between the two of them. Tim sighed, he didn’t exactly enjoy constantly defending his eating habits to all and sundry.

“Because not everyone has a superhuman metabolism.”

“Bullshit,” Conner said and Tim kicked him, hard. It didn’t hurt him but Conner glanced guiltily at Ramsey who rolled his eyes with all the worldly savvy a nine-year old could muster.

“My mom’s a criminal prosecutor and a superhero, I know all the curse words,” he said, twirling cheese around his finger.

“That doesn’t excuse Kon from setting a good example,” Tim said and Ramsey shrugged. Tim could tell he was very happy to be included and satisfied no damaged had been done, turned back to Conner. “And how exactly is it that?”

“Look at you, dude,” Conner said, gesturing at Tim. “You’re in awesome shape! You can afford to pig out a little. In fact, you probably should.” Whatever that meant, Tim didn’t know.

“I eat a diet formulated to my body type that supplies me with all the appropriate nutrition and calories I require,” Tim informed him but Conner didn’t look convinced Exactly what grievous insult mixed greens might have done to Conner was unclear, but he clearly had something against green salads as a medium for nutrition.

“Yeah. I bet you do,” Conner leered and Tim kept his heartbeat steady and regular to prevent flushing. He wouldn’t let Conner get to him.

“Uncle Damon is always complaining that uncle Todd and my mom can eat whatever they want because they’re superheroes,” Ramsey put in.

“Uncle Damon and Todd?” Conner asked.

“My Uncle Todd and Damon are boyfriends,” Ramsey said, holding up another great big string of cheese with his fingers. Tim let the feeling of panic wash over him as Conner did a double take.

“Yeah? That’s cool, dude.” Tim closed his eyes and took one of the shallower breaths of his life. His chest nearly seized and it felt as though his lungs were trying to force their way up his throat for a second. It appeared he was going to be dragged out of the closet kicking and screaming if he weren’t careful with his reactions. It was difficult to discern which caused him more discomfort: the feeling of lacking control, or anxiety about jeopardizing the status quo, and the familiar, safe stability it represented.

Of course what to him felt like the earth shaking apart appeared on the outside to be calm chewing. Silver lining to constant conflict with super-villains, he had tools to keep calm in stressful situations, and to be frank he’d faced far worse than dinner with his best friend and a young boy. He just had to keep that thought in mind. Conner was paying attention to Ramsey so if he kept his eyes cast downward it was almost like privacy, and gave him space to order his thoughts.

“Kids at school don’t really think so,” Ramsey said, picking at his pizza, looking glum.

“Kids can be crap,” Conner told him sagely. “I mean, kids at my school don’t like me, and I’m Superboy, so, you know, they can be pretty dumb. Being gay is no big deal.”

“You have to acknowledge there’s more to it than that,” Tim said despite himself and Conner rolled his eyes.

“You know what I mean, Tim. Our headquarters is in freaking San Francisco, I used to roll with the Ravers, and have you ever been to West Uptown in Metropolis?”

“I’ve fought above it,” Tim hedged, since technically speaking that was true. The helicopter had been very high up, however, and he hadn’t really seen much of the district or its reputably colorful inhabitants.

“Well, it’s awesome. The point is, Ramsey, some people are stupid. Love is love and it totally rocks. Like this pizza,” Conner said and tried to fold an entire slice into his mouth at once to Ramsey’s unreserved amusement. Tim took this time to take some inventory. He was used to intellectualizing his problems and his emotions. Labeling and listing his feelings allowed for order to be created out of chaos, so that Tim could contain and compartmentalize. It had been so important when he had been Robin and his identity kept fracturing like a mirror that wouldn’t stop cracking. Ever since his father’s death that practice had begun to unravel. With the return of Bruce, Conner, Steph, and Bart it was coming completely apart.

The intensity of his brush with Conner and homosexuality being in the same airspace now past, he could enjoy himself. Conner didn’t care about sexuality. Tim had known that, intellectually, but having it reaffirmed before his eyes and ears was comforting, and left him flush with hope.

He ate his salad on autopilot. Conner, who had really been turning on the Superboy this evening, was telling Ramsey a fairly funny story about Supergirl and Krypto. It was adorable how charming he was with Ramsey, and Tim found himself relaxing without having to work at it.

Listening to Tam and Steph was all well and good (He would have given Tam more credence on this issue but Steph had higher clearance, so to speak. Also, he’d screwed up), but he should really have been cherry picking from their advice like he did with Dick. Whatever he decided to do about his attraction to Conner, it was clear that his best friend would not… Conner wouldn’t have a problem.

Neither would Bart, but it was Conner that Tim had the dreams and fantasized about, for the most part. Dreams about Bart were few and far between, though they were always interesting. Tim might be a virgin but he had a fertile imagination, and speedsters…

Wrenching his mind back on target took a little effort. Bart had always been cute, but as Impulse he’d been mostly pre-sexual. Now he was practically brimming with hormonal intent that made Tim warm under the table just thinking about it. Being in close proximity to Kon didn’t help, but focusing on his problems did. The only real barrier to confessing his sexuality at this point was his leftover reluctance, which was not inconsiderable.

It would be very easy to let this slide. Steph should be simple enough to mislead since he knew her well enough to make her think he had just been confused. He was confident he could play on her attraction to him and smooth the matter over as grief driven or experimentation. Tam would be harder to fool; she was savvier than Steph when she wasn’t under pressure (of course, under pressure she did things like get engaged to Tim). So maybe it wasn’t very easy, but doable to be sure. Certainly he’d accomplished more difficult tasks.

He’d also invented much more convincing lies.

“Tim?” Tim blinked in the middle of chewing, his eyes refocusing on Ramsey and Conner, both of whom looked hopeful. “Can we have ice cream for dessert?”

“Do you mind going out to get it, Kon?”

“Nope!” he said with a grin. “Vanilla, right?”

Tim nodded sharply. Conner knowing his favorite ice cream flavor shouldn’t be dangerously close to giving him an erection, yet there it was. He blamed Bart.

“But maybe we should let dinner settle first,” Tim suggested. “I was thinking we could watch a movie, and maybe during intermission we could have the ice cream.”

“Intermission?” Conner asked, clearly amused. Tim glowered at him.

“I think that sounds great,” Ramsey said beaming at Tim and Tim smiled back at him. For some reason that didn’t sit well with Conner who looked like he’d bitten into something sour but then he shook his head and grinned too.

“Then let’s get to it,” he said clapping his hands together. “What movie’d you choose Ramsey?”

“Well,” Ramsey said, sitting up straighter, “I was thinking maybe we could watch Inception because it’s my favorite movie, buuut…”

Inception? Conner mouthed to Tim with an incredulous look on his face. Tim agreed but then again at Ramsey’s age he’d been busy deducing Batman’s identity.

“Yes?” Tim asked Ramsey without betraying any of his amusement at Conner.

“Can we watch the new Harry Potter movie?”

“Oh yeah, dude, that’d be awesome!” Conner added. “You can totally do that right?” Well, Tim thought, with both of them staring at him like that what were a few property laws and firewalls? Tim could hack his way to a quality copy of the movie given a couple minutes, especially with Barbara’s setup and its remote access to the Batcave’s supercomputers. He hadn’t seen any of the movies nor read the books, he didn’t exactly have time for such things and hadn’t in years, but he was aware of the movies and their plots. He kept tabs on pop culture and usually read synopses of series he didn’t have time to absorb firsthand. Bruce had taught him to treat entertainment as another field of study, one that played an important if indirect role in crime fighting. With Batman it always came back to crime fighting.

“Okay, while Ramsey and I find the movie you go out and get ice cream,” Tim said, standing up. Conner grinned at him and Ramsey bounced on his feet excitedly.

“And maybe Kon can take me flying later?”

“At least let us go on the roof, dude,” Conner said and Tim weighed the merits of it for a split second just because he was stupid and in love; then common sense reasserted itself. Ramsey wouldn’t leave the safe house until the all clear was given.

“Maybe. I’ll run some perimeter checks first.” He narrowed his eyes at Conner just enough to communicate that this line of conversation was to be closed post haste. Tim didn’t know what the details were of Kate’s particular brand of trouble were, but if it was a compromised identity there was a shortlist of candidates. He wasn’t taking any risks with Ramsey’s life, even if the kid would literally be in the arms of a Superman.

Those arms made a person feel pretty safe, Tim knew from experience.

After dinner Tim offered to show Ramsey how someone hacked a film-pirating server while Conner was out running errands. Ramsey declined, claiming that his uncle Dylan had shown him hacking before and that it was “incredibly boring.” Tim couldn’t quite disagree. Even with supercomputers, advanced algorithms and programming shortcuts, scripting took time.

If he were hacking a government black ops server with intelligent firewalls and multiple redundancies then it would be a serious time sink. For some kid’s personal computer who lived in Germany, it took Tim longer to trace and download the movie than to actually break into his hard drive.

“Superboy’s really cool,” Ramsey gushed from an upside down position on the couch.

“Mm,” Tim hummed as he tapped away on the keyboard. With Conner gone he could at least pull up a few nondescript projects on the screen. Graphs and charts flashed on the large screen as Ramsey hung with his mouth open and his eyes crossed.

“I met Wonder Woman, once, when I was, like, six; that was awesome and Steph is cool, but you and Kon are the best.”

“Oh yeah?” Tim asked. Ramsey grinned at him and rotated up to a sitting position before bouncing next to him.

“Definitely.”

“You know, next time you’re visiting your mom we could hang out,” Tim suggested.

“That’d be so awesome.” Tim had been listening with half his attention so he heard the rustle of plastic bags that heralded the ice cream’s arrival.

“And what is this? Are you two-timing me, Timothy?” It was almost like Conner was deliberately trying to drive him crazy. At least it was a better crazy than he’d gotten used to the last couple years. Or when Conner had gone through that phase where he started making uncomfortable comments about hand-holding bordering on homophobic, which had been irritating in the extreme for reasons unknown at the time.

Retrospective analysis yielded much clearer insight into his earlier actions and emotions. It also gave him a headache.

“What did you get?” Tim asked, because Conner was carrying two big bags and wearing a cunning expression.

“Well I figured the Birds would appreciate the leftovers so I bought stuff for sundaes.” In curiously slow motion, almost like a horror movie, Tim watched as Conner fished out a can of whipped cream, popped off the cap and proceeded to spray cream directly down the back of his throat.

And then lick his fingers clean. Tim stared indirectly, one of the perks of being trained by Batman was he could do things like that. After Conner finished putting everything away he flew over to the couch and plopped down by the arm, just a few inches away from Tim.

Close enough, not nearly close enough, Conner was going to be the death of him.

“Can we start it now?” Ramsey asked sounding more than a little impatient.

“Yeah, Tim, stop taking so long,” Conner whined and pushed at Tim’s shoulder. Well, Steph had been right about the increased frequency of needless touching. Tim had been too busy enjoying it to do any objective study, just the sort of thing Bruce warned against.

Then he ran off to gallivant about the world while having sex with Catwoman (like they didn’t all know.)

“Conner, if you want to keep that finger you’ll stop poking me with it.”

“I will poke you as I please,” he said but the offending digit was removed before Tim’s arm became bruised. Tim keyed in the combination to lower the lights, activate the surround sound and stream the movie.

He didn’t especially care for the movie at first because Tim preferred proper high fantasy and Harry Potter definitely did not fit his definition of authentic article. The other two ate it up and gave Tim plenty of time and opportunity to study his best friend unnoticed. Sitting on the couch without a care in the world, Conner was gorgeous. Massive across his shoulders with arms and legs that claimed space on the couch like a cat; even though his biceps and thighs didn’t quite dwarf Tim’s they still seemed to take up more space than they should. Or maybe they were more akin to aggressive land barons, because as time went by Tim realized Conner was gradually slouching onto the couch, drifting closer and encroaching on Tim’s real estate.

How far should he allow Conner to penetrate his territory? Thinking the thought, the flavor of the words in his mind, sent a wild thrill down his spine. Conner gave a small grunt and shifted, moving another inch closer as the music went quiet; too quiet.

Screams erupted from the TV and Ramsey latched onto Tim fast as lightning. Even Conner spazzed, a massive full body twitch as if his attention had been focused somewhere else entirely.

“Are you okay?” Tim asked Ramsey.

“Yeah,” he breathed, still grabbing Tim’s arm but his eyes never leaving the television as chaos erupted on screen. The visual effects were very impressive, just as good as the real thing, and kept his attention until Conner, lying on his side head propped up on one arm, bumped him. When Tim turned and looked into Conner’s eyes the hairs on the back of his neck always stood on end. The irises were so unnaturally blue, the electric cobalt that he, Kara and Clark all shared. Not all Kryptonian’s had the same eyes, and Tim theorized (or rather, he agreed with Bruce’s theory) that one of the indicators of yellow solar exposure in Kryptonian’s was the iridescence and luminous quality of the iris. Conner had really blue eyes, and in the low light the very slight glow was visible at close range. If they were in the field it could be a potential liability.

Tim’s staring was noticeable, and he jerked away to focus on the movie. Conner snickered and did the same. Over the course of watching Harry, Ron and Hermione on the run from the evil wizard Voldemort, Ramsey’s head drifted until it rested on Tim’s shoulder. He sighed happily and snuggled against Tim’s arm. A thought occurred to Tim about children and hero-worship; it distracted him from Conner, who took advantage by propping himself up and sliding an arm along the back of the couch.

“I think Ramsey’s got the right idea,” Conner whispered. Tim tensed slightly as the hot breath ghosted over his ear and he glanced down at Ramsey. He was avidly watching the movie but still had above average hearing. “How about some manly cuddling?”

Plausible deniability, one of the many mixed signals that drove Tim to distraction. Cuddling, however manly, reeked of ulterior motive but did he actually dare question it? Conner had not only had girlfriends, he’d had sex. Sex with Cassie, no less, so decidedly heterosexual sex at that. Conner was… Conner was probably straight.

Conner had his arm around Tim’s shoulders, their bodies aligned from torso to toe tip, and was whispering into Tim’s ear with tender concern.

“Is this movie okay? You’re stiff as a rod, dude.” True, but not for the reasons Conner thought.

“I’m fine,” Tim eked out through gritted teeth.

“Guys, I’m trying to watch,” Ramsey shushed them, tugging on Tim’s arm insistently. Tim felt a momentary relief that Ramsey wasn’t paying attention to their discussion, then irritation that Ramsey was acting like a child and being completely self-centered and demanding Tim’s attention. Then he felt a different sort of relief, like an elation, because how normal was that? Even his problem with Conner was normal.

Agonizing, heart wrenching, stomach curdling and irritating to be sure, but it was normal. Small consolations against his impending psychological break, but Tim had learned long ago he had to take his comfort and victories where he could. Life had a cruel habit of plucking the things he loved from his grasp no matter how tightly he squeezed.

Tim closed his eyes rather than face the three teenagers on the screen, running scared and alone, without a home to return to, trying to find impossible artifacts. The parallels to his recent adventures were a little too powerful. This was ridiculous.

Conner clasped his hand, gripping him around the thumb and wrist, they way they always did. With his other arm he shifted so the crook of his arm cupped the back of Tim’s neck. Like always Conner’s skin was warmer than a normal person’s, just enough to suggest a fever or too much yang energy. After a moment the warmth bled into Tim, blanketing him; he couldn’t decide whether he felt smothered or comforted. Part of him was panicking and calling for him to run before he opened up entirely and actually displayed some emotion, the rest of him wanted nothing but to sink all of his weight to his right.

“I’m right here,” Conner said and squeezed Tim’s hand. He was completely misinterpreting the situation. It was all a bit much for Tim, but Conner wasn’t doing anything beyond sitting there, essentially holding Tim.

Was this normal behavior for boys their age? Well, maybe for some, but for most heterosexual males in their age group? This sort of closeness would meet with rejection and ridicule if not outright violence in certain areas; it was considered abnormal even if that particular notion was utterly ludicrous. Except Tim kept coming back to the facts: they weren’t normal, and their experiences set their friendship on another level of intimacy more akin to soldiers in arms than their teenaged peers.

Running over data he’d already gathered and coming to conclusions he’d already examined would only increase his emotional instability. He had to focus on his breathing and just enjoy letting Conner hold him, which was pretty nice. Ramsey was possibly drooling on his sleeve, which wasn’t as nice, but if he forgot about everything else and concentrated on Conner… well at least a potential erection was easier to manage than the urge to leave or impossible-to-conceal tension. By the time he’d fully relaxed he’d even gotten into the movie, enjoying it despite himself. It was a well-put-together film and Tim admired the craftsmanship in it.

“That’s better, buddy,” Conner said after Tim’s muscles released the last lingering bits of stress. Then to Tim’s dismay he moved away, not far but enough that there was space between them and they weren’t holding—clasping hands anymore. Tim tried not to display his disapproval. Ramsey had wrapped himself even further around Tim’s left arm and his eyes were suspiciously lowered; not entirely closed but Tim wouldn’t wager any money against Ramsey falling asleep before the movie ended.

Sure enough, despite the dramatic on-screen antics of Ron, Hermione and Harry, Ramsey dropped off Tim’s arm and onto his lap with a little plop. Conner glanced down at him in amusement.

“Little dude’s conked out?” he whispered. Tim nodded and gently brushed Ramsey’s hair out of his face. Ramsey curled up closer to his thigh.

“I was worried he’d be more freaked out that his mom’s in danger, or whatever,” Conner went on, watching them carefully.

“At this point I think he’s used to it,” Tim murmured. Conner was still watching them. “What?”

“Nothing! You just,” Conner’s face scrunched up. “This isn’t weird, okay?”

“Okay…”

“You’ll make a good dad. Someday.” Oh god. Not now. He’d made it this far and that was the comment that was going to undo him? Tim could feel a prickling at the corner of his eyes and he knew that if he used any of his Robin techniques to slam the brakes on his feelings Conner would perk up like a bloodhound that had just caught a good whiff of something dead.

The alternative was just as dramatic. Better to err on the side of known reactions. Tim let the walls come down and dropped into a completely compartmentalized mental state. It did the trick; he could feel his body calm and his mind cool. All the detritus and clutter occupying valuable space and driving him to distraction cleared.

Conner did not react predictably. He just rolled his eyes and shifted closer again, this time nearly pulling Tim up onto his lap. The move caught him by surprise enough that he just let it happen, and found his face being pressed against Conner’s shoulder. His walls couldn’t withstand the warmth and smell, and they crumbled.

“Sorry, that was my bad.” Tim closed his eyes and buried his face in soft cotton. He couldn’t take Conner’s quiet sympathy on top of his affection. It was unbearable, just sitting there and feeling all of this.

“It’s not your fault,” Tim said, and his voice didn’t shake.

“Still,” Conner said softly and pressed his cheek to Tim’s hair. “Ramsey is passed out.”

“He’s probably had a long day.”

“He also totally has a crush on you.”

“You think?” Bruce would have been proud how innocent that sounded. Tim had actually surprised himself.

“Yeah. It’s cute. Way less creepy than watching Damian practically coo while Rose sharpens her swords.” Tim chuckled softly and Conner’s chest rumbled with echoed amusement. This was way better than panicky indecision and worrying about whether Conner might return his affections. Ramsey didn’t wake up until Ron returned to rescue Harry from drowning, so they wound up not taking a break for ice cream.

Tim had to admit the movie was definitely well made. Back when he’d had time for actually pursuing outside interests he hadn’t had much interest in Harry Potter. Tim had taken his fantasy role-playing far too seriously to enjoy such a childish fantasy narrative, Tolkien had been more his speed, but the movie was good, and the company was even better.

At the end (or rather, the middle) when Dobby the house elf died and Harry buried him, Tim’s eyes burned. He felt better, a bit lighter, and he had a moment to savor the feeling before Ramsey sat up and demanded the ice cream party that he had been promised.

“C’mon, Tim,” Ramsey said, grabbed him by the hand and pulled him to his feet with ease. “Let’s eat ice cream!”

“Yeah, Tim,” Conner joined in with a mischievous grin. He grabbed Tim up with one arm and Ramsey under the other and flew them both in a quick loop. Tim was used to much more strenuous aerial acrobatics, just under his own power, but Ramsey yelped gleefully.

“Oh my god, we’re flying!” Tim twisted out of Conner’s grip and landed in a crouch. As much as he liked Conner there wasn’t that much room in the loft and Tim wasn’t so small anymore that it was physically comfortable for the three of them to fly together in that tight a space. Besides, someone had to set out stuff for sundaes.

Conner had shopped like a stoner with the munchies. Aside from the chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream there was whipped cream, caramel sauce, chocolate sauce; marshmallow fluff… sauce and Tim had to admit he was morbidly curious about how food science had achieved that particular effect. He’d also bought nuts, cherries, M&M’s, coconut shavings and a small carton of organic strawberries that Tim assumed were for him. The warmth in his chest tightened like a compression bandage. Since when had Conner become so thoughtful?

“Wow, Kon, you got some of everything,” Ramsey said. Tim looked up to watch them drift above the kitchen. Conner had Ramsey slung over his shoulder upside down, his legs kicking lazily beside Conner’s face.

“I didn’t know what you liked, little buddy,” Conner told him and Ramsey smiled the grin of a young boy who was buddies with Superboy. “So yeah, I got a little bit of everything.”

Under Conner’s borderline coercive influence Tim found himself saddled with two scoops of vanilla, berries, nuts and whipped cream. The extra calories hadn’t been on his plan for the day, but the look in his best friend’s eyes had said that he would eat his dessert or suffer some vague yet horrific consequence.

Ramsey constructed a monstrous mound of two colors of ice cream and almost every confectionery condiment Conner had bought, making Tim certain Ramsey would wind up sick if he ate all of it. He refrained from saying that, however, he’d had enough “fun vampire” comments for one evening. Not only shouldn’t he be alienating the future president of his fan club, but Conner didn’t need any more ammunition with which to harass him, and neither did Bart by proxy. Between the two of them he’d never hear the end of it.

He’d love hating every minute of their teasing (he had them back, both of them) but the pleasure wasn’t precisely cost-effective.

“You guys are the best sitters ever!” Ramsey declared emphatically with chocolate sauce smeared around the corners of his lips already.

“Yeah, I’ve pretty much defined awesome since day one,” Conner said, twirling his spoon. “And I taught Tim all he knows on the subject.”

“Lies,” Tim said.

“You’re enjoying your ice cream aren’t you?” Conner asked, looking smug enough that Tim almost felt spiteful. “It’s okay to admit when I’m right.”

“I plead the fifth,” Tim responded dryly instead of making a cutting remark.

“I know what that means,” Ramsey chirped, eager to be a part of the conversation again.

“Very good, Ramsey,” Tim said. The kid had to have a crush on him because he blossomed under the approval the same way sunflowers followed the sun.

Conner snorted, looked as if he wanted to say something but went back to his own obscenely large sundae. Tim raised his spoon to his lips, slipping vanilla between them. He had to admit he savored the sweetness. He didn’t allow himself many creature comforts, more from habit than any sense of doing penance. Despite what others might think he didn’t beat himself up more than was necessary.

“Dude, you really loaded that up with chocolate sauce. Why no chocolate ice cream?” Conner was asking Ramsey while Tim ruminated.

“I like it that way. Besides, you put nuts on yours, and that’s gross.”

“You don’t like nuts?” The quality of amusement in Conner’s voice had Tim’s attention focused in on him faster than a targeting mechanism. Conner looked back at him just as locked on as he was. “I’m sure you’ll get a taste for them when you grow up.”

“I don’t think so,” Ramsey said, focused on getting the last of his ice cream out of the bowl. “I don’t like nuts in cookies or brownies or ice cream. I mean if you wanted to eat nuts you’d just eat them, right?”

“Yeah, but you might learn to… appreciate them when you’re older.” Heat pooled in Tim’s gut. He couldn’t ignore that, could he? Certain conclusions could not be avoided, right? Straight guys didn’t just flirt outrageously with their friends like that, right? Right?

Yeah, the younger brother of Dick Grayson and friend of Dick’s friends knew better than that. Some straight men derived a great deal of pleasure and confidence from homoerotic flirtations. Also, he was probably a terrible person for letting this go on in front of Ramsey all evening. The kid was not unobservant or stupid.

“Well I don’t,” Ramsey declared as he looked mournfully at his nearly empty bowl. All that was left was nearly soupy ice cream and chocolate sauce. “Can I have some more?”

“No,” Tim answered before Conner could say something to counter him. “You should at least let that settle. Why don’t you go upstairs and get ready for bed?”

“But, Tim,” Ramsey whined and Tim tilted his head to the side.

“Ramsey, I didn’t say you had to go to bed, just get ready. Okay? When your mom comes back I need to look responsible.”

“Oh. Okay.” Ramsey smiled at him and hopped up. He ran over and before Tim could react he threw his arms around Tim and squeezed.

“Thank you, Tim,” he whispered, and then took off at a sprint for the stairs around the back of the loft. Tim watched him disappear until Conner cleared his throat.

“He’s taken a shine to you.”

“I know.”

“I mean a real hardcore crush.”

“I know,” Tim said quietly.

“You’re really good with him.” And that was not that direction he’d anticipated the conversation taking.

“You thought I wouldn’t be?” Tim asked. The question was more teasing than in earnest.

“Please,” Conner said dismissively. “You’re good at everything.”

“Hardly.” Tim could think of more than enough ways in which he hadn’t been good enough.

“Okay, so that’s true, but nobody’s perfect,” Conner conceded. He paused. “It doesn’t bother you?”

“What?” Tim asked, honestly confused. Conner gestured upstairs.

“That he’s running around writing Mr. Ramsey Red Robin on pieces of paper decorated with little hearts?”

“Why would it?” Tim hadn’t meant the question to sound borderline dangerous, so he’d tried to remove any inflection. He wound up making it toneless and Conner frowned.

“Because I’m still used to you being super awkward about people finding you attractive or showing you affection. What did you think I meant, dude?” Was it Tim’s imagination or were they not talking about Ramsey anymore? Maybe they hadn’t been in the first place; at this point it was hard to tell.

“I don't know, Kon.” Tim crossed his arms. “That’s the problem.”

“What problem?” Conner cocked his head and for a moment Tim wanted nothing more than to break the détente and find out the truth.

“I don’t know,” he sighed

“Don’t know what?”

“It’s nothing.” They stared at each other and the secret hung between the two of them, suspended in thick, viscous liquid tension. A soup made of secrets years old with roots that stretched out past beyond them and to the people responsible for their lives. They were the products of their environments, which was all that prevented Tim from telling Conner everything. Everything that stopped him from leaping across the dividing line of the counter and clinging to Conner’s invulnerable body and never letting go until he felt whole again.

“It’s not nothing,” Conner said slowly, rising up with his shoulders back and his face set. “You’ve been getting jumpier all night and you look like you’re about to go critical.”

“Conner…”

“You can’t honestly tell me,” he started to say around the counter with an implacable air about him. Tim stood up and backed away but Conner moved fast enough to corner him. “That after everything we’ve told each other, been through together, that you can’t tell me whatever it is that’s bugging you so badly.”

He turned his head to the side and Conner grabbed him by the arms.

“Talk to me, Tim.”

Tim closed his eyes. He could do this. He wouldn’t lose anyone, the notion was irrational.

“Right.” Tim reached up and took Conner’s hands off his arms, holding them between them. “Conner, I have to tell you that I have—there’s something I need to tell you.”

“Okay. You can tell me anything, Tim, you know that. I’m here for you.”

“I.” Deep breath, he hadn’t managed it that time, he’d try again. “I.” Okay, another false start. He could do this, he would do it and he had to do it otherwise Conner would never know. “I.”

“Stop.” Tim looked up from his hands but couldn’t make it past Conner’s collar, couldn’t quite meet his eyes. “If you can’t, don’t force it. Do you—should I call someone?”

“NO!” Tim hadn’t meant to yell. He hoped Ramsey was busy brushing his teeth. “No. Please, no. I want to tell you. First. I just…”

“Tell me,” Conner said, his voice low and insistent. Like a key it unlocked him and Tim spoke without thinking.

“I’ve discovered that I’m attracted to,” was as far as Tim got.

“Yes!” Conner crowed and grabbed him up in a tight hug. “Oh, dude, I am so—Tim!”

“Conner?” He was being hugged. “I didn’t finish.”

“I’m not an idiot,” Conner said, leaning back with a huge grin. “I mean, not mostly. You like guys, right?”

Tim licked his lips and swallowed noisily.

“Yes.” Conner’s tactile telekinesis ghosted up over Tim’s shoulders, down his spine and he shivered against his will. Conner’s eyes went wide and Tim decided to hell with it, he had to kiss Conner then and there.

He grabbed the back of Conner’s head at the same time Conner grabbed his and they mashed their faces together. It would have been awesome except it hurt because they were both pulling too hard and Tim wound up with Conner’s nose in his mouth and Conner bit his chin. They spat and Tim cursed because Conner’s teeth hurt and dear god the attempted kiss had been mutual.

“Did you just,” Tim gasped and Conner laughed like a hiccoughing madman.

“We really screwed that up is what we just did.”

“You bit my chin,” Tim said indignantly as he rubbed it with one hand. Conner looked a little concerned but not by much. He cleared his throat meaningfully and Tim realized that they had almost kissed. Both of them. Each other. At the same time.

Steph was right. He hated that the thought “it was about time” lurked in the back of his head but on the other hand he would owe her for this forever and ever.

“I’m probably gay,” Tim said in a soft voice and Conner grinned.

“So I can try again?” Before Tim could give him the go-ahead he did.

Okay, so maybe Tim was more than just probably gay, because kissing Conner was more than just really nice the way kissing girls had been. He’d have to fill out a Klein orientation table and meditate on it, but later, because now there were teeth and tongue in his mouth. Kissing Conner was like eating the sun, if the sun tasted like sweet cream and Conner-smell. It was fire billowing in his stomach and the hammer of his heart was like thunder in his chest. His hands had lives of their own, wandering their way around tight cotton and denim over hot firm skin. Conner felt like a marble statue, something wrought in impossible living stone. He had to have been sculpted to be so perfect under Tim’s fingers.

Arousal made Tim senseless, any thought of calm conversation roughly driven out of him by kissing and Conner’s little noises made between them. Conner’s mouth moved off of his to breathe and their eyes met. Electric blue like no earthly color burned into him, and he realized they were both gasping for breath. He had an excuse, he was human, but Conner…

“You’re breathing hard,” Tim puffed in wonder.

“You’re an awesome kisser, sue me,” Conner said indignantly and Tim laughed, feeling light, so light he could fly. Or maybe that was because they were actually floating, honestly it could have been either, he felt so free from his earlier worry and self-doubt. All that confusion had just sloughed off like a rockslide down a cliff face; the weight was gone.

“And you’re okay?” Tim asked to make sure, because he had to know and he wanted to know.

“More than okay. You’re good, too, right?” Conner sounded almost timid and Tim squeezed him reassuringly.

“Yeah. I’m—I’m really happy.”

“Sweet,” Conner said, relaxing and kissed him again. “Me too.”

Over his life Tim had accumulated a fair number of kisses, but prolonged messy make-out sessions were few and far between. This was by far the best of them.

“So, are we…?” Conner asked. “You know, together?”

“We better be,” Tim said honestly and Conner grinned at him.

“That sounds awesome.” And just like that they were boyfriends, or something along those lines. There were logistics to figure out: who to tell in what order, discussions he needed to have with Conner, things that had to be said before they could—

“Stop that,” Conner commanded as his hand dipped down to Tim’s crotch and ghosted over his most sensitive places. Tim shivered and groaned, his hands coming around to grope Conner’s back and drift down to his firm buttocks and squeeze at his impossibly strong backend. When Conner wanted he could be strong enough to deflect just about anything, and when he didn’t want to he could be soft and yielding as a human.

Maybe it was his years of only having his tactile telekinesis, maybe it was natural talent, or maybe all solar-charged Kryptonians could willingly lower their powers to a certain extent. Tim didn’t care. It was wonderful to be able to grab Superboy’s ass and squeeze.

Conner squeaked, which was the funniest thing Tim had heard in ages. So he laughed until he caught Conner staring at him and stopped because he felt self-conscious.

“What?” Tim asked defensively.

“Nothing,” Conner said fast as he could, followed immediately by an affectionate nuzzle. “I just haven’t seen you laugh like that in a while.”

“I haven’t had a lot to laugh about,” Tim said. “Things are different now.”

“Awesome,” Conner repeated. He cocked his head to one side and began to disengage from Tim. “Ramsey’s on his way back down.”

“Oh.” They took a moment to tidy themselves up. The entire time Tim could barely keep his eyes off Conner’s, let alone stop smiling at each other. He felt giddy, like he could giggle incessantly. Half his mind wanted to check for Joker gas just in case, because he’d never acted like this before. Kissing had never been like this for him before.

“I’m ready!” Ramsey appeared on the edge of the upstairs loft. “Kon, come up here and get me.”

Conner crossed his arms and mock scowled. “Say please or something, I’m not your personal airline.”

“Please, Conner, fly me around some more?” Ramsey pleaded and batted his eyes at Conner. Tim snickered into his hand. Ramsey would probably break a few boys’ hearts when he was older, when he wasn’t breaking criminals.

“Well, I suppose so,” Conner said. He flew up to Ramsey and Tim half listened in as Conner made a production out of his reluctance, drawing greater and more dramatic reactions out of Ramsey until Tim cleared his throat meaningfully. With the matter quickly settled after that they started zipping around the place. Conner started going fast enough that Tim had to turn his attention elsewhere so he didn’t feel the compulsion to stop them for safety’s sake. He didn’t need Conner razzing him anymore than he already was. Ramsey was a metahuman, he could probably take a little punishment. And Manhunter probably couldn’t kill Conner.

While they played Tim put things away and cleaned up the mess the ice cream party had left. The entire time all he could think about was how wonderful kissing Conner had been. Months of indecision and angst and pain followed by this bliss that made everything seem wonderful, like the sponge Tim used to wipe down the table suddenly seeming so ingenious. Not even Alfred had ever found such sublime joy in washing bowls and plates or wiping down a counter.

Of course, now all that stood between him and currently making out with Conner as much as he wanted was Ramsey, and… Barbara’s surveillance system. His skin went cool and he glanced up. Ramsey was arm wrestling with Conner upside down in mid-air, so Tim slipped over to the monitor wall and called up the security cameras.

It took him a few minutes to excise the footage of him and Conner and a few more to cover up the gap in time and loop over Bab’s security measures. If it weren’t for the fact that she’d been one of his teachers and he worked with her network it would have taken much longer.

By the time he was done, Conner and Ramsey had settled onto the couch and were channel surfing, or trying to. They were stuck on one channel, having not figured out how to unlock the control pad.

“Tim, come fix this,” Conner called.

“Yeah, Tim, come make the TV work,” Ramsey added.

“No,” he said as he walked over and dropped into the spot between them clearly meant for him. Ramsey promptly glommed onto his arm and Conner slung his arm over Tim’s shoulders before slapping the touch-screen remote into Tim’s lap.

“Work your fiendish sorcery,” he said, his fingers lingering on Tim’s forearm. The gesture felt intimate and Tim smiled. Ramsey fidgeted and Tim suddenly wished that he could just send the kid to bed because what he really wanted to do was lie on top of Conner and make out until his mouth went numb.

Still, just the wild thrill of having Conner’s arm around the back of his neck and Conner’s hand rolling up his sleeve to stroke the bare skin of his arm was like a dream come true. He’d spent so much energy trying not to imagine just this scenario that actually being in the moment felt purely surreal.

Ramsey yawned and Tim decided to put on something that was just a little bit boring. He chose a nature program that took advantage of the massive high quality screen and quietly observed Ramsey’s slow and inevitable progress towards sleep. Conner picked up quickly enough on what he was doing and for the first time all evening just sat still and let Tim get the job done.

Mostly. He nearly gave the game away when he leaned in and kissed Tim on the ear. It had taken considerable effort on Tim’s part to resist gassing Ramsey and ravishing Conner on the floor of the loft like an animal in heat. One subtle nerve strike later and Conner had been the perfect gentleman until Ramsey’s eyes finally closed and his breathing evened out.

“He’s asleep,” Tim whispered. “Keep him steady and we’ll put him to bed.”

“Just tell me what room he’s in,” Conner said quietly as he half lifted half levitated Ramsey off Tim’s arm and the couch.

“The one with his stuff in it,” Tim said dryly. “There’s only a couple bedrooms up there, use your vision.” Conner stuck his tongue out at him but flew Ramsey up to the second floor. Tim hurriedly grabbed the touch-pad and activated the security buffer, creating a fuzzy blind spot around the couch. It wouldn’t afford them much room and Barbara would know they were up to something but there would be no hard evidence, no data recorded.

Nothing to get out before Tim was ready. Tonight had gone better than expected; it had in fact exceeded Tim’s expectations. It had—he’d spent so long dealing with how unfair life was that this had been utterly unexpected.

He didn’t have to expect, it was happening. It was really happening and he could hardly believe it. The sudden rush of displaced air was all the warning he got before Conner landed on the couch hard enough to knock Tim halfway into his lap.

“So,” Conner said slowly. “I’m pretty sure it’s traditional when babysitting to make out when the kid goes to bed.”

“And you’re nothing if not a traditionalist, right?” Tim asked, arching an eyebrow. A slow glowing smirk spread across Conner’s face in time with the heat pooling in Tim’s belly. They leaned in to kiss, rising up onto their knees to feel each other. Tim had kissed a fair number of girls and this was so different as to be entirely alien. Even Cassie, who had been so much stronger than he was couldn’t compare to Conner’s sheer size; there was a raw feeling of power in the arms and body that he both explored and explored him.

Apparently there was exhilarating (taking down bad guys, running over roof tops, flying through the night sky with his heroes) and then there was exhilarating (the boy he’d almost sold his soul for wanted him too). Conner reached down and squeezed his ass and Tim had dreamed about what Conner might do to him down there. Filthy hot dreams that made him ache with want but he’d never had the courage to do more than touch himself a few times in the shower.

Now, Conner was here. His fantasies were coming terribly close to reality. Conner’s hands were on Tim and they could actually some day soon--maybe even some hour soon--be inside of him. The knowledge provoked a whimper from Tim into their kissing. Suddenly Conner’s weight fell against him as the other boy’s knees apparently gave out. Tim grunted in a very un-sexy fashion as Conner half-collapsed on top of him, looking wild-eyed.

“Do you have any idea what you sound like?” he groaned as Tim tried to lever himself up.

“No?” Tim ventured. Conner huffed and kissed him on the forehead.

“You’re so open right now.” It was easier to be intimate in the confined space set by their bodies, familiar to be beneath someone because Tim had never really been the aggressor in any of his relationships. Weighed down under Conner, pressed against the cushions he was concealed, hot and aroused. Sweat dampened his shirt and if he kept this up much longer his boxer briefs would get positively wet.

“Do you have a condom?” Tim blurted out and Conner’s eyes went wide with wonder and awe.

“You want to have sex?” he whispered the same way true believers did in their holy places of worship.

“No,” Tim protested, and then amended. “I mean yes. Just—I was just checking. Not here.” Not now or for a while yet if Tim had his druthers either.

“Definitely.” Conner buried his head in Tim’s neck and Tim took the opportunity to smell Conner’s hair. It smelled like hair, but it was Conner’s hair so it was still special. “But uh, no, not on me. I’ll buy some though. I will buy a freaking box of them. Tonight, if you want.”

“… If you want to,” Tim said because he didn’t want to go that far this fast but Conner wasn’t a virgin and maybe he expected sex in a relationship. Now that Tim had Conner, he’d do whatever he had to in order to keep him. Besides, he’d always thought if by some miracle they got together, it wouldn’t be a question of if he’d have sex with Conner, only a matter of when.

He still wished he had more time. Tim felt out of control, but he’d be damned if he’d lose a part of Conner again.

“Well, yeah, I want to,” Conner said as though it were obvious. “But we’ve got some stuff to deal with first and I’m not going anywhere. We’ve got time.”

They did. They had time, and Tim had Kon, but Tim knew about lying to himself and he wouldn’t risk this for anything. They kissed again, the soft noises of their lips and bodies barely there over the low narration of documentary. Something about birds and God, Tim had so many fantasies that he’d barely allowed himself to explore.

“Whoa,” Conner was whispering to him and Tim realized he had gripped Conner so tightly that if he were just human he’d be hurt. “Easy, Tim. I’m right here.”

“I know.” Tim buried his face, his body in Conner’s. “I know.” He licked Conner’s neck and sucked at the skin, tasting it because he could. He was allowed to taste and touch as he liked and that was the best thing to happen to him in years.

“Yeah, that’s good,” Conner said, moving his hips gently back and forth. Each thrust sent sparks through Tim’s mind until he was gasping against Conner’s cheek, clutching at his shirt, legs twining around between their bodies stretching out down to his toes. Conner shifted back, pinning Tim as he sat on his haunches and stripped his shirt off. Over the years he’d seen Conner shirtless countless times--hell, he’d seen Conner naked--but this, here in the low light with Conner illuminated by the blue light from the screen making odd shadows over his chest, felt different. More intense and potent than anything that had been between them before.

“I’ve wanted this,” Tim confessed as he reached out to touch Conner’s stomach. He flexed under Tim’s fingers, warm skin moving in time with his breath as Conner slid forward. “You.”

Conner didn’t say anything, just dipped his head and met Tim’s lips with a burning intensity, a forward pressure that made Tim melt. If Conner wanted him then Tim would give himself up. He took one of Conner’s hands and drew it down between their bodies. Anxiety mounted in him as he did but he steeled himself. It would feel good, it was what he wanted and he reminded himself of that until Conner stopped moving and that was the last thing he wanted, right?

“No one’s ever touched you before.” It wasn’t a question. Tim still nodded slightly and hoped Conner didn’t disapprove. “Look at me.”

Conner’s voice was louder and insistent. Tim hadn’t realized he’d closed his eyes and opened them. Above him, Conner’s blue eyes bore down on him. Then he took both of his hands and slowly ran them up Tim’s stomach and chest, under the soft cotton of his shirt. Tim’s breath hitched as Conner flicked his nipples; his hands were smooth and powerful, slightly rough but not callused. Their downward journey was more intense than Tim thought it would be and he wanted to look away but Conner directed him back.

“Look at me.” Tim couldn’t catch his breath; there was no air between them. He grabbed Conner’s arms, whose hands rested on Tim’s hips, thumbs massaging around his groin. His pants were slipping down and he felt dizzy and overwhelmed, like he was drugged. In all his fantasies he’d never imagined that it would be so intense, and he wished they could just take a second to stop…

Conner wasn’t moving.

Tim opened his eyes (he wasn’t clear on when he’d actually closed them) as Conner lay back down, half on top and half beside him.

“Yeah, this can at least wait until we’re on our own,” he said, stroking Tim’s arms, bringing him back down gently until he could breath again.

“I’m sorry.”

“You’re sorry? What do you have to be sorry for?”

“I—nothing. Just, you know, being jittery. Stereotypical virgin, I guess,” Tim demurred. If Conner wasn’t picking up on how very screwed up he was he didn’t need to highlight his mental fault lines.

“Tim, you’re just being you,” Conner said with a gentle squeeze. “And it’s you that I like. Stuff like this has never been easy for you.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” Tim protested mildly.

“You wouldn’t?” Conner sounded amused. Tim wanted to take offence but he had to admit that Conner had a certain amount of empirical evidence backing up his statement. Tim wasn’t very good with intimacy; he didn’t deal well with events he hadn’t planned contingencies for or had experience dealing with, and physical intimacy was in the sweet spot intersecting those two. And that intersection was landing squarely on Conner, already one of his major weak spots.

Batman would not approve.

“What’s bothering you, buddy? Or should I say, boyfriend?” Conner’s grin turned silly. “Or perhaps mine paramour.” Tim chuckled weakly and turned his head away.

“Hey, you kind of have to tell me if we’re gonna do this right,” Conner continued and Tim sighed because that had a certain value of truth. He plucked at the fabric of the cushions until he gathered his thoughts in something resembling order.

“I’m a mess, Kon,” he confessed after he finished. “And I’m worried that if I don’t manage that right it might… scare you off.”

“Tim,” Conner said very, very slowly. “I want you to think about something, because I know how you like to think about things. Okay?”

“If using that patronizing tone to offend me out of depression and into anger is your plan, it’s working.”

“Good. Now, I want you to remember that time when we found out that I was part evil Lex Luthor. Did you stop being my friend?”

“No.”

“Or how about that time when he took control of my mind and made me hurt you?” Conner’s voice wasn’t joking anymore; instead it sounded heavy and tired. Because he could, Tim leaned in and kissed him chastely on the lips.

“No. Of course not.” Conner nodded approvingly.

“So you’re pretty smart. If you’re not afraid that I’ll break you in half, then why would I be afraid of your neuroses?” Conner asked in a tone that brooked no argument. “Do I gotta say more?”

“No, you don’t,” Tim admitted. “Thank you.”

“That’s me, the Superboy-friend,” Conner said in a smug voice that reminded Tim of a different time.

“Faster than Kid Flash on a first date?”

“Definitely more powerful than a locomotive,” Conner said rolling his hips. Maybe they weren’t touching directly but Tim gasped as they moved together indirectly. “Get it?”

“Got it.” Tim decided he was never moving from this spot on the couch, he didn’t care who came back to the Nest.

“Good.” Conner tucked Tim’s head just under his chin. “How long before they’re back you think?”

“Don’t know,” Tim said, nuzzling Conner’s bare chest with his cheek. Idly he flicked his tongue out and lapped at his pectoral muscle. “Don’t really care.”

“Best night in Gotham ever,” Conner sighed happily one hand resting possessively on Tim’s lower back as he turned his face to nuzzle Tim’s hair. “Maybe now Kara will get off my case.”

“About what?”

“She makes fun of me when I don’t see you, says I mope,” Conner said. “Which I so do not.”

“Steph says the same about me,” Tim told him.

“Well, maybe I do a little,” Conner confessed. Tim hummed and sighed happily. “Does your—does anyone know?”

“Steph and Tam.”

“Your fiancée knows you like guys?”

“Faux-fiancée,” Tim corrected him. “And she was the one who figured me out.”

“Remind me to send her flowers. Or a gift basket. I dunno what the proper etiquette is.”

“I’m sure Alfred does,” Tim said dryly. “If anyone would.”

“Oh, I just realized,” Conner said in a slow and horrified tone, his eyes looking into the distance. “Batman is going to geld me.”

“Not unless he fancies being a castrato himself,” Tim muttered. “You leave Bruce to me. You make me happy and if he has a problem with that he should be here, at home, instead of halfway around the world. You’re here, with me, and you’re here for me so screw him.” He was nearly snarling by the time he finished and Conner’s eyes were glittering in the dark. Tim hadn’t realized he was so angry on top of being so happy to have Bruce back.

“Yeah, screw Batman,” he said with a growing smirk. “You rock.” Their lips met again and Tim would never get tired of kissing Conner not in a million, million years when Conner suddenly stiffened in his arms and jerked up.

“What?”

“I just heard a scream, be right back,” he said and flew at top speed out the window. Tim was surprised it taken this long for Conner to hear a crime in Gotham, although the Cathedral district was never especially active unless an operator was acting there directly. He took a moment to straighten himself out, even if Conner was clearly going to rumple him up as soon as he got back. At least the cushions could be repositioned and the pillow shifted back in place.

A gust of air and the clack of the window drew Tim’s attention up to a red-faced Superboy who floated hesitantly in the air. He hadn’t been gone long enough to do much of anything, even with his super-speed.

“Are you okay? What was it?” Tim asked. Conner hemmed and hawed for a moment.

“Uh, Tim, please don’t get upset but… did you disable the security in here?”

“Yes,” he said slowly.

“Right, well, you—uh—must have been overridden because the Birds are a block over and the scream was your friend, Steph, because….” Conner trailed off as Tim glowered at him.

“Barbara?” he snapped to the room at large.

“Sorry, Tim,” she said, overriding the sound of the television. “I thought she might discretely call you, not trick your—Conner into thinking he had a damsel to rescue. On the other hand, congratulations! No one else is here and I won’t tell anyone. Promise.”

This was what happened when you explored your sexuality in safe houses in Gotham.

“Please tell me she didn’t watch,” Conner whispered anxiously and Tim sighed. A little white lie never hurt anyone.

“I’m sure she turned it off once she realized what she was watching.” As one surveillance aficionado to another he knew Barbara had done no such thing. Conner didn’t need to know that. “Since you’re close and Ramsey’s in bed, can we head out?”

“Oh, please, feel free,” Barbara’s modulated voice continued. “Just so you know Dick and Damian are crashing at the apartment tonight so the Manor is empty. Have fun.” Tim bit his tongue, but at least his room at the manor had no cameras inside of it.

“Uh,” Conner said standing still with his jaw slack and open.

“Let me get my costume,” Tim told him as the anger faded, because how angry could he be when he was about to spend the night with his newly minted boyfriend doing whatever they wanted? Okay, so they’d probably wind up playing video games and making out (maybe a little more than that), but it was somehow everything he’d ever wanted and more than he’d ever dared to dream he might have. His life had seemed like it would only keep sliding down, but now? Things were looking up.

“Then maybe you can give me a ride home and spend the night?” Tim asked and Conner’s eyes lit up. “If that’s all right?”

“Hell yes, it is!” Conner told him, and Tim grinned and ran to grab his things. He was in love with his best friend and now the night was theirs for the taking. Life wasn’t fair, but maybe it wasn’t entirely unfair either. For the first time in what felt like forever he was eager for the future to find out.