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the pact of our youth

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Bernard didn’t realize that Tim was dead until three weeks after it happened.

He found out about Blackbird first. There were a few users on one of his superhero forums posting about it, giving wildly conflicting accounts of Blackbird’s death. One blamed The Riddler. One claimed that it was suicide. One insisted that it was at the hands of Batman himself.

Bernard himself thought that it was all bullshit until the next night. He had meticulously mapped out the Bats’ patrol routes years ago, guided by social media sightings and push pins and yarn strung up against a map taped to his bedroom door. Most importantly, he knew just when Batman and Blackbird’s patrol route went right past his window, their shadows streaking across the rooftops on the other side of the street. He remembered a sleepless night when he was fourteen, two in the morning on the hottest day of summer. He was wide awake, staring out his window, when he caught a glimpse of a silhouette peering down at him from a building across the road. In the dim glow of the streetlights, he could just barely make out the grin stretching across Blackbird’s face as he waved at him. Bernard had been too shocked to wave back – it had been months since Blackbird had been seen in Gotham, and before, he had never waved at him, not even when Bernard was sure that he knew that he had seen him.

A car passed by, its headlights lighting up the street, and Bernard realized that the Blackbird in front of him was shorter than he had been before. Paler, too, with a different uniform – the hood and the sword were missing, and there was much more red than black. This wasn’t the same Blackbird that there had been before. This was something different, something entirely new.

Blackbird and Batman passed by every ten days between 1:58 and 2:17, excluding certain circumstances, of course. Blackbird didn’t notice Bernard every night, but Bernard always saw Blackbird.

Until the night Batman passed by alone.

At first, Bernard thought that his eyes were playing tricks on him, that Blackbird had passed by unnoticed in the shadows. But the rumors from the forums were hovering in the back of his mind, making the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He stood at the window for a while longer, wondering if Blackbird had just fallen behind, but gave up hope once an hour had passed, curling up in his bed and staring wide-eyed and wide-awake at the closed curtains.

He was so exhausted the next morning that he considered skipping class, but he forced himself out of bed at the thought of seeing Tim. But when he arrived at school Tim wasn’t there, the usual place in front of his locker where Bernard always met him empty. Bernard texted him immediately: everything okay? miss you. 

Tim missing school wasn’t strange. It wasn’t even too weird of him to not respond to Bernard’s texts. Ever since his father had died a few months ago, Tim had been acting different. He was quieter, his appearances in class sporadic. He hadn’t even told Bernard at first, not until it ran in the newspapers and Bernard had turned up at the funeral. Tim hadn’t said anything, just slipped his hand into Bernard’s and held onto him like a lifeline. 

In the days that followed, Gotham got bloodier, and people began to notice. Not just people like Bernard, constantly searching for questions and for answers, but the ones that either avoided vigilantes like the plague or saw them as just another part of life. Batman had gotten violent, and criminals had gotten scared. Rumors were flying, and Bernard had no idea what was true. Tim would have been able to figure it out, but Bernard still wasn’t getting anything but radio silence from him.

Bernard knew, of course. Somewhere deep down, he had already put it all together, had known the moment that Tim hadn’t shown up at school that morning. The mysterious bruises and cuts, the missed dates that just happened to coincide with Blackbird’s appearances, the days when he would show up with dark circles under his eyes and fall asleep on Bernard’s shoulder at lunch. Tim Drake and Blackbird had disappeared at the exact same moment. There was only one explanation for it all, no matter how much Bernard’s brain tried to shy away from the possibility.

There was no real tipping point, no concrete information that forced Bernard to confront what he had known all along. He was spaced out in history class, his thoughts revolving around Tim, as they usually were. And it hit him. Smashed into him like a bullet to the chest, making him gasp for breath. There could only be one reason for the empty desk beside him.

He raised his hand, calmly asking if he could use the bathroom. Then he locked himself in the stall and screamed until it felt like his throat was being ripped out.

 From there, it wasn’t hard to figure out the rest of them. He’d met most of Tim’s family at Bruce Wayne’s annual New Years’ Eve party, and it was simple to match them up. Bruce Wayne was Batman. Duke Thomas was The Signal. Damian Wayne was Nightwing. Cassandra Cain was Batgirl. 

Tim Drake was Blackbird, and he was dead.

Blackbird’s death hadn’t been officially announced, but by then, everyone knew about it anyway. Tim, on the other hand, was a complete mystery. Bruce Wayne had gone silent, hadn’t been seen in public in weeks. Bernard wondered if anyone would have ever told him that his boyfriend was dead, or if they just planned to make it seem like Tim had taken an extended vacation and decided to ghost him.

It began as anger, a deep-set fury in Bernard’s bones that rushed through him every time he heard Batman’s name. It slipped into depression whenever he was alone, when his phone vibrated with a notification that wasn’t a text from Tim, when he shoved every reminder of Tim that he had deep into his closet so that he couldn’t see it.

And then, it became something familiar. A need for answers.

Which was what brought Bernard to a Bludhaven rooftop on a freezing February night, his arms wrapped around himself as he shivered on a metal fire escape. It had been harder than he thought to climb it, especially in this weather, but for Tim, there was nothing he wouldn’t do.

It took him a week to figure out Nightwing and Flamebird’s patrol routes, mostly based on Snapchat maps. There was more room for error than Bernard would have liked, but his information proved to be correct when Nightwing grappled onto the roof, Flamebird lightly touching down beside him. 

The first thing that Bernard thought was that he was incredibly oblivious to not have noticed before that Damian Wayne was Nightwing. He had only met Damian a few times, but there was something so familiar about the way that he held himself, the way that his eyes pierced Flamebird’s.

Flamebird was fairly obvious as well – he must have been the dark-haired boy that had stuck by Damian’s side at the New Years’ party. There was something about their back-and-forth that transcended their masks, Flamebird’s white and gold and Nightwing’s black and silver. For a moment, Bernard got lost watching them. He couldn’t hear what they were saying, but he didn’t need to. They were perfectly in sync with each other. For a moment, he thought that he couldn’t wait to tell Tim about it – and then it all came crashing down on him. The cold. The metal beneath his feet. The empty space in his chest.

He blinked, pulling himself up onto the roof. He heard Flamebird stop speaking and knew that, even though he was partially hidden behind an electric box, he had been caught. Good. That was what he had wanted.

He got to his feet before either of them could say anything. He knew before he even met their eyes that they were staring at him, but he didn’t realize how close he was to them, just feet away. It didn’t quite feel real when he stepped out from behind the box. “Hey,” he said awkwardly.

“It’s late, kid,” Flamebird said. “You shouldn’t be in this part of town.” Nightwing was silent, studying him. Bernard shifted his weight.

“I was looking for you,” he said. “I need…” He took a deep breath. “I need to know about Blackbird.”

Bernard heard Flamebird's sharp inhale, but his eyes didn’t leave Nightwing's. Nightwing was a statue. He didn’t blink. His lips didn’t twitch. His hands didn’t shake. "There's nothing to know," he said, his voice clipped. "He's dead, and that's that."

"Bullshit," Bernard snapped. Flamebird raised his eyebrows, but otherwise, neither of them moved. "I know that you know who I am," he said to Nightwing. "Your entire family has been lying to me for weeks. You owe me the truth –"

"I owe you nothing !" Nightwing's hand closed over the hilt of his sword, but Bernard couldn’t find it in himself to feel afraid. "This, all of this, is beyond your understanding."

"Then explain it to me, you coward!” Bernard took a step closer to him. The air between them felt electric, as though a single spark could set the entire roof ablaze. "Make me understand why you were just going to let me believe –"

" Shh ." 

Bernard slammed his mouth shut. He looked up at Flamebird, whose head was tilted to the side, his hearing tuned in to something only he could hear. "Where?" Nightwing said, so softly that Bernard could barely understand him over the wind.

"Just below us," Flamebird said. "I can…" He trailed off, but from the way that he and Nightwing locked eyes, Bernard could tell that there was no need for him to finish his sentence. Watching the two of them communicate was like nothing he had ever seen before. It was beyond finishing each other's sentences. It was as though they were finishing each other's thoughts, an entire plan spoken in what was barely a glance.

Bernard didn't realize that their nonverbal conversation was over until Flamebird disappeared faster than he could blink. Bernard frowned. "What –"

Arms wrapped around him from behind. He barely had time to think before they were moving, crashing down in a dimly-lit alley. He turned to face Flamebird. “What the hell is wrong with you?” he said. “Fucking – warn a guy before you do that.”

“I’m sorry,” Flamebird said. Bernard was surprised to find that he actually believed him. “I needed to get you out of there fast. Those guys that were below us, they’ve been giving us a lot of trouble lately. We can’t afford any distractions.”

“So that’s what I am?” Bernard said. “A distraction?”

“You showed up out of nowhere and demanded that Nightwing answer your questions about his dead brother,” Flamebird told him. “I’d say that that’s pretty distracting.”

Bernard glared at him. “If he hadn’t kept dodging me, it wouldn’t have been a problem. His entire family, none of them will speak to me, none of them will even look at me. It’s like he never existed, or I never existed to him, like he wasn’t important to me –“

“Who?” Flamebird’s hands found Bernard’s shoulders, forcing him to look at him. “Blackbird? How did you know Blackbird?”

Bernard burst into tears.

“Oh, kid,” he heard Flamebird murmur. His grip on Bernard’s shoulders tightened, and then he was pulling him into a hug, Bernard’s head resting against his shoulder. “I remember now. You were his boyfriend, weren’t you?” 

Bernard only sobbed harder at his use of the past tense. There was a small part of him that wanted to pull away, that knew that breaking down in one of his heroes’ arms was without a doubt the most embarrassing thing that he had ever done. But the last person to touch him had been Tim, weeks ago, and he had no idea when anyone would ever hug him again. And so he stayed put, focusing on Flamebird’s hand moving in slow circles on his back. 

Bernard wasn’t sure how much time passed before Flamebird spoke again. “We’re going to go back to my place. Is that okay with you?”

Bernard let out a shuddering breath. “What about Nightwing?”

Flamebird scoffed. “Nightwing will be fine,” he said. “He’s already dealt with it and moved on to the next problem.” 

Problem seemed too small a word to describe some of the things that Bernard heard went down in Bludhaven. But he nodded, holding on tighter to Flamebird as he felt his feet leave the ground. 

He didn’t feel truly real again until he was curled up against the arm of a threadbare deep blue couch in an apartment that seemed too small for the son of Bruce Wayne. Flamebird was sitting down next to him, pressing a warm mug into his hands. “Hot chocolate always makes me feel better,” he said. “Especially when it’s cold out like this.”

“Thank you.” Bernard glanced up at Flamebird. Behind him, he could just barely see that it was starting to snow through the glare on the window, but that was second to the fact that Flamebird had removed his mask. “I was right,” he said. “You’re the guy from the New Years’ party.”

A smile ghosted across Flamebird’s face. “Guilty as charged,” he said. “I’m Jon. You’re…Bernard, right?” Bernard nodded. The smile came back, and this time it stuck. “I remember you. I remember Damian complaining about how Tim wouldn’t shut up about you.”

Bernard laughed, and it was almost real. “So Damian Wayne is Nightwing?” 

“You figured him out, too?” Jon said. 

Bernard nodded. “It wasn’t that hard once I put all the pieces together.”

“I can see why Tim liked you so much,” Jon said. “He realized it just like you did. Showed up at Bruce Wayne’s door and told him point-blank that Batman needed Blackbird.”

Bernard could see it clear as day. Tim, with his limitless brains and confidence.  To his horror, he felt another tear slide down his cheek. He set his mug down on the coffee table and put his head in his hands. “Fuck. I’m sorry.”

“Hey, no. Don’t be sorry.” Jon put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. Bernard felt like it was the only thing connecting him to reality. “Did they really not tell you?” Jon said, so softly that Bernard barely heard him.

Bernard shook his head. “I figured it out last week,” he said. “I should have known earlier, but I just…I couldn’t make myself believe it.” He sat up, tilting his head to look up at the ceiling. “Last year, there was…there was a shooting at our school. My friend was shot. Tim, he really took charge. I’d never seen him like that before. That was when I should have gotten it.”

“Was your friend okay?” Jon asked.

Bernard shook his head. “She didn’t make it.” First Darla, then Tim. And now Bernard was completely alone. He felt something hot pricking at the backs of his eyes, but he doubted that he had any tears left in him. “Does it ever get any better?”

He wasn’t expecting an answer, not really. He heard Jon take a deep breath. “My brother died last month,” he said. 

“Superboy?” Bernard said. “I’m sorry, I didn’t –“

“It’s okay,” Jon said. “And…yeah, it hurt. It still hurts, a lot. I’m always thinking of things that I want to tell him or show him. But it’s not as bad as it was. I smile when I think about him instead of crying. All those things you’re feeling right now…they’re just love that doesn’t have anywhere to go. But you’ll find a place for it. I have my mom and dad, I have Damian. And I still have Kon, even if he’s not here. You’ll find your people, too.” 

I don’t have anyone anymore, Bernard thought. “Thank you,” he said instead.

They were silent for a moment, the snow falling quietly outside. “I have to ask,” Jon said eventually. “Where do your parents think you are right now?”

“They think I’m at a friend’s house,” Bernard said.

“And…where are you actually going to be?”

Bernard shrugged. “I’m just going to take the bus back to Gotham and sneak back in.”

Jon shook his head. “The bus stops running at two.”

“And…what time is it?”

“Nearly three.” 

Bernard’s heart dropped into his stomach. “Okay,” he said, trying to sound calm. “I’ll get a hotel room.” His parents let him have a credit card for emergencies. He just had to hope that they would think the extra charge was fraud or something. 

Jon frowned. “You’re what, fifteen?”

“Sixteen,” Bernard said, not sure whether he should be offended or not. 

“Every hotel I know about here requires you to be eighteen to check in,” Jon said. “I’ll tell you what – you can stay in our guest room tonight.”

Bernard shook his head. “What about Nightwing?”

“He won’t care.” Bernard raised his eyebrows. “I promise, he won’t care,” Jon repeated. “I can’t just send you out into the streets, and he knows that. He would do the same thing. Besides, you look exhausted.”

Bernard wanted to deny it, but as soon as the words left Jon’s lips, he felt a wave of tiredness sweep over him. “I guess that would be okay,” he said.

-

The next thing Bernard knew, he was blinking himself awake from the deepest sleep he’d had in weeks. The room was still mostly dark, with a sliver of light peeking through the curtains and 7:10 blinking bright red on the alarm clock beside the bed.

Bernard forced himself to sit up. He had borrowed some of Jon’s pajamas for the night. They were much too big on him, and he had to roll up the pants several times for them to fit. He changed back into his own clothes, leaving the borrowed ones folded up on the foot of the bed. 

He didn’t think that either of them would be awake so early, having been out until God-knows-when, but as soon as he turned the corner into the kitchen, he came face-to-face with Damian Wayne leaning against the counter. He stopped dead in his tracks, instantly tongue-tied.

“Leaving so soon?” Damian said.

“Um,” Bernard said. “I need to get home.”

Damian set the mug that he was holding down on the counter. “Do you want to know how he died?” he asked.

Bernard stared at him. “What?”

“Last night, you demanded that I tell you about Blackbird,” Damian said. “Do you still want to know?”

Part of Bernard wanted to say no, knew that there was no way to forget what Damian was about to say. But there was nothing that drove Bernard more than the need for answers. “Please,” he said.

Damian fixed him with that piercing stare. Bernard wondered how it had taken him so long to figure out that Damian was Nightwing – there was only one man who could glare at you like that. “He was already making rash decisions,” he said. “His father died. His best friend died. And when the Joker shot Spoiler, it drove him over the edge.”

Bernard remembered what Tim had been like in the months before it happened. He had been abnormally cagey, closed-off. His injuries had been more obvious – a deep gash slicing across his cheek, blue and purple bruises mottled against his ribs. Bernard had known about his father. He hadn’t known about his best friend, didn’t even know his identity, let alone that he had died. He had suspected that something had happened to Spoiler, but had had no idea about Tim’s relationship with her, whatever it was. Tim had been drowning right in front of him and Bernard hadn’t even noticed. He swallowed hard. “What did he do?”

“He tracked down the Joker himself.”

“And the Joker killed him?” Bernard said. His voice sounded strangely flat, but it was better than the alternative of breaking down again.

Damian shook his head. “Tortured him,” he said. “And brainwashed him. He wanted to turn him into his own sidekick. A child, of sorts. And when Batman finally tracked him down, the Joker handed Drake a gun and told him to kill him.”

“To kill…Batman?” Bernard said after a moment.

Damian nodded. “That was the goal. But it didn’t exactly turn out that way. The real Drake, he was at war with himself. He was still fighting back against what the Joker had done. And when it became clear that he couldn’t win…”

Bernard looked down at the floor, unable to bear meeting Damian’s eyes. “He killed himself,” he said, finishing the other man’s sentence. 

“Yes,” Damian said.

“And…the Joker?”

“Batman put him in Arkham Asylum,” Damian said. “Although if it were up to me, he would be six feet under.” Bernard glanced back up at him, startled. “My father and I don’t agree on everything.” 

Bernard managed to find his voice. “I would help you,” he said, sounding almost strangled. 

Damian barely reacted, just picked his mug up again and took a drink. “Is there anything else that you wanted to know?”

Bernard shook his head. His mind was racing. It wasn’t the moment of Tim’s death that he was stuck on – it was all the moments before it. Everything that he had missed. “If I had figured it out,” he said slowly, navigating around the lump in his throat. “If I had realized what he was going through, maybe I could have talked him out of –“

Don’t ,” Damian interrupted. Bernard snapped his mouth shut. “It isn’t worth dwelling on. You and I both know that there was no talking Tim Drake out of anything once his heart was set on it.”

Bernard nodded. “You’re right,” he said. “Um…thank you for telling me what happened. And I’m sorry about what I said last night.”

“There was some truth to it,” Damian said. “Never call me a coward again.”

“I won’t.” He couldn’t even imagine it. 

“Then we’re settled.” Damian’s shrewd gaze turned into a studying one. “I can see why Drake liked you so much.”

Bernard wasn’t sure whether that was a compliment or an insult. “Thank you,” he said anyway, because he couldn’t imagine anything worse than not being loved by Tim Drake and loving him in return.

The bus back to Gotham was cold and near-empty. Bernard huddled by the window in the back corner, trying desperately not to fall asleep. When he checked his phone, he noticed that Jon and Damian had both somehow ended up  in his contacts.

So that was something.

-

Tim Drake died three weeks and five days after Blackbird. Not that Bernard was counting. At least, not on purpose.

It ran on the front page of the Gotham Gazette – “Adopted Son of Bruce Wayne Dies.” When Bernard first saw it, it took all of his willpower not to tear it into pieces. Instead, he tossed it onto the kitchen counter, crumbled from where his hands had dug into it. 

His father picked it up with a frown. “That was your friend,” he said. 

He wasn’t asking, not really, but Bernard could still hear the question in his voice. As always, he ignored it. “Yeah,” he said. After a moment, he added, “I’m going to his funeral. On Saturday.” He shouldn’t have even said it, but he couldn’t help himself from trying to, in a way, test his father. Maybe he would gently try to dissuade him from attending. Maybe he would forbid him from going outright. Maybe, just maybe, he would go with him, actually support him. 

In the end, all that Bernard’s father did was unfold the newspaper. “As long as you’re home by ten,” he said, looking at the sports section instead of his son. 

So here he was in a cemetery, surrounded by people and yet feeling more alone than ever. There were a few people that he recognized from school, but no one that he was close enough to call a friend. It shouldn’t have surprised him that they were there. Tim had always been such a naturally likable person. It didn’t matter that he didn’t easily slide into any of the already-established cliques. If anything, that just made him more intriguing.

The first time that he had met Tim, Bernard had called him an enigma. He had no idea how right he was.

Outside of his classmates, he knew – or at least knew of – Tim’s family. Cassandra Cain and Duke Thomas were seated at the front of the crowd. Bernard couldn’t look at them without thinking about Batgirl and The Signal, and how they had been right in front of his face the entire time. Next to them was a blonde girl in a wheelchair who Bernard couldn’t recognize. Damian and Jon were around – Jon had waved at him earlier, and Bernard had almost managed to smile. 

And of course, there was the goddamn Batman himself. He was standing next to the gravestone (Bernard couldn’t think of it as Tim’s, not yet), addressing the crowd, yet Bernard couldn’t hear a word that he was saying. He was too busy thinking about Tim in the ground below him. There was no coffin that Bernard had seen, and the ground looked smooth and undisturbed. The gravestone looked as though it had been there for weeks. Maybe it had. Maybe Bruce had buried Tim the night he died in this unburied plot and not told a soul. Or maybe he had been cremated, scattered somewhere on the Gotham City rooftops. It was better than thinking about his body somewhere under Bernard’s feet, a hole going right through his head from where he had aimed the gun when he shot himself.

Bernard’s stomach twisted, and he forced himself back into reality. 

He didn’t realize how long he had spaced out. Nearly everyone else present had already stood up to leave. Some remained scattered around the cemetery in small groups, but most were walking away, their backs to the graves. Bernard couldn’t help but wonder how they all knew Tim, how they would remember him.

He forced himself to stand. He knew that he should leave, but he moved as if through muscle memory towards the grave. He didn’t know what he was looking for. All he was sure of was that he couldn’t leave Tim behind, not yet.

“He would have hated that inscription,” someone said. 

It took Bernard a moment to realize that whoever it was was talking to him. Somehow he hadn’t even noticed the girl that he had seen before with the Waynes coming up next to him. He should probably have been more worried about how much time he had been losing lately. 

He nodded. “It’s…I don’t want to say it’s boring.”

“No, it is,” she said. “He’d want a song lyric from one of his emo bands. Or a joke that he thought was witty.”

“Nothing is set in stone, maybe,” Bernard said. “It’s ironic, and kind of a threat.”

The girl smiled. “I like the way you think,” she said. “I’m Steph.”

Bernard’s eyes widened. “Holy shit, you’re Steph? I thought I would never actually get to meet you. I honestly thought he was lying about you existing for a while.” 

Steph laughed, actually managed to laugh while she was right beside Tim’s gravestone. “Well, I promise I’m real,” she said.  

“I’m glad that I finally got some closure on that,” he said. “I’m Bernard.”

She stared at him. “No fucking way.”

Bernard raised his eyebrows. “Do I have a reputation?”

“He never shut up about you,” Steph said. “Pretty much every conversation he had, he would find a way to bring you up. He said there was a time that you threatened to sell his organs…?”

Now Bernard was laughing. “Yeah,” he said. “That happened.” He thought back to it – that day at the diner, his attempt at a crush on Darla when Tim was in front of him all along, being so Tim Drake about everything. “Thank you for telling me about that,” he added. 

“No, thank you for being here,” Steph said. “I’m so glad that I got to see you. It feels weird that we’ve never met before. Tim kept some parts of his life so separate from each other, do you know what I mean?”

Bernard nodded. He glanced over his shoulder – the only people still there were the other Bats, and he doubted that they could hear him from where they were standing. Still, he dropped his voice to just above a whisper. “It’s because you’re Spoiler, isn’t it?”

Steph’s jaw dropped slightly, her brows furrowing. For a moment, Bernard thought that he had gotten it all wrong, that she was about to realize how much of an idiot he was. Vintage Bernard idiocy. But when their eyes locked, she didn’t even have to speak for Bernard to realize that he had gotten it right. “He didn’t tell you, did he?” she asked.

Bernard shook his head. “No. But I knew.” 

“He wanted to tell you,” Steph said. “He argued with Bruce about it all the time. He had an ultimatum – one month, and he’d tell you the truth no matter what Bruce had to say about it.”

One month . That was all that they’d needed. One month to change everything. Bernard looked away from Steph, stared at the gravestone. Timothy Jackson Drake . Beloved son, brother, and friend. 

“He loved so intensely,” Steph murmured, so quietly that Bernard could barely hear her. He glanced over at her to see that she had followed his gaze to the gravestone. “You, me, Kon.”

“Kon?” Bernard echoed.

“Superboy,” Steph said. “He was one of his best friends. They were really close until…”

Bernard nodded. “Yeah.” He had definitely talked about Superboy with Tim before. He’d told him all the theories that he’d read about him, from the mundane to the bizarre. He couldn’t remember, no matter how hard he tried, what Tim’s response had been. He couldn’t think of any obvious change in his expression, any remarks that he had made that had pointed towards anything out of the ordinary about his relationship with Superboy. “I should have been paying so much more attention,” Bernard said softly.

Steph sighed. “You have no idea how many times I’ve told myself that.”

“No. I think I do.” 

“Hey.” 

Bernard turned to see Jon approaching, Damian by his side as always. “Hi,” he said. “Good to see you again.”

Steph frowned. “You guys know each other? How?”

I stalked them and demanded that Damian tell me all the gory details of his brother’s death, Bernard thought. He was grateful when Jon changed the subject. “We just wanted to see how you two were doing,” he said. “It’s been…”

Bernard nodded. “I’m okay,” he said. “Thank you.”

“You know me,” Steph said. “I’m always okay.” Damian raised his eyebrows, and Steph made a face at him. 

“Well, if you ever feel like you aren’t okay, then our place is always open,” Jon said. He glanced at Bernard. “That goes for both of you.”

“And Damian is cool with you offering that?” Steph said. “Because I’ll be at your apartment annoying you twenty-four seven. Don’t test me.”

“I’ve come to terms with it,” Damian said. “Tentatively. Don’t make me regret it.”

Steph smiled in a way that made Bernard sure that Damian would come to regret it. 

“We’re going to head out,” Jon said. “Are you guys…”

Steph nodded. “Yeah, I’m on my way.” She glanced over at Bernard. “Are you coming?”

Bernard thought about it. “I think I’m going to stay here for a little bit.”

“Okay,” Steph said. “See you around?”

“Of course,” Bernard said. That was something that he didn’t even need to think about.

She left with Jon and Damian, and Bernard was alone by the grave. He stared down at it, reading the inscription over and over again. He cleared his throat. “I should say goodbye to you,” he said.

He didn’t. 

-

There were days when Bernard couldn’t go home. 

Sometimes it was for a reason. Something his mother said to him. A certain way that his father looked at him. All of it building up until he couldn’t take it anymore. But some days he found himself rooted to the sidewalk outside of his front door, and couldn’t bring himself to cross the threshold. He used to text Tim when it happened, and they would meet up at the skatepark or somewhere. After Tim, he would wander around Gotham alone until the sun started to set and the streets started to look a little too unfamiliar.

More recently, he had gathered up the courage to text his parents that he was staying at a friend’s house, and then take the bus to Bludhaven. 

It took him a while to realize that Jon and Damian were serious about their offer. He always half-expected them to respond to his texts asking if it was okay if he came over with an instant rejection, but they always seemed happy to invite him in. (Well, Jon did. Bernard didn’t think that he would ever learn how to read Damian’s emotions.) Most of the time, they let him spend the night in their guest room, barely even asking any questions. They didn’t really need to. Both of them had a way of looking at him as though they were staring right through him down to his core.

The best was when Steph was there. Bernard wasn’t lying when he said that he understood what Tim liked about her. There was something about her that felt so alive, so much that Bernard could forget the circumstances that had led him to Bludhaven in the first place. Her, Jon, Damian. It was surprisingly easy being around them.

If he wasn’t in Bludhaven, he was with Tim. He found himself visiting Tim’s grave once, twice, three times a week. Usually he was completely alone, just him and the stones and the silence, but sometimes there would be other people, other shadows cast over the gravestones. Bernard always averted his eyes, but he could feel them staring at him, wondering about him. Privately, he wondered too about what had happened to them, about how much they were united by the common thread of their grief.

When he was alone, he would talk. Sometimes to himself, but mostly to Tim. It wasn’t anything special, no huge revelations. Just school, classmates, parents, superheroes. The kind of things that they would talk about when Tim was still here.

On the worst days, Bernard imagined what it would be like if Tim responded. If he heard his voice from above or below. If he dug himself out of the ground and sat down next to Bernard with a smile and asked him to tell him more of his theories about Superman’s origins. He thought he’d be okay with a zombie boyfriend. He also thought that he might be slowly losing his mind.

Bernard and Tim’s anniversary was in early spring, when the trees were just starting to truly look green again. On a whim, Bernard stopped on his way to the cemetery and bought a bouquet of flowers. They were from Aldi, because that was all that he could afford, and were already halfway to wilting. He felt like he should choose something with some actual symbolism, but he barely knew which flowers were which, let alone what they meant. 

He wasn’t doing this right, he knew that. But there was no guide to what to do when your boyfriend died and you couldn’t get over him. Bernard wasn’t sure what he was even still trying for. It wasn’t as if Tim was there to say anything about it. It wasn’t as if anyone noticed that Bernard still hadn’t let go of him.

It started to rain on his walk to the cemetery. He pulled up the hood of his hoodie and tucked the flowers closer to his body, but couldn’t protect them entirely from the downpour. What a fucking cliche, he thought. 

He hoped that the rain might deter any other visitors to the cemetery,  but when he arrived, there was a single dark figure crouched among the rows of gravestones. Sometimes the sheer amount of them made Bernard go cross-eyed, the tall ones and the short ones and the new ones and the ones that had faded with time. It took him until he had nearly arrived there that he realized that the figure was in front of Tim’s grave.

He stopped in his tracks, his Converse squelching in the mud. The person got to their feet, glancing over at Bernard. It was hard to see through the rain, but there was something oddly familiar about him, lurking just out of reach at the back of Bernard’s mind. Bernard opened his mouth, wanting to say something, anything. Before he could speak, the other boy turned away, stalking off in the opposite direction.

Fine. Whatever.

Bernard approached Tim, propping the flowers up against the stone so that they didn’t fall into the mud. “Happy anniversary,” he said.

No response. No zombie boyfriend crawling out of the earth. No anything except rain and empty space. Bernard sighed. “I don’t feel like I’m dying when I think about you anymore,” he said. “That’s progress, right?”

The only answer he got was the sound of the water against the leaves and the too-long grass rustling around him. He saw movement out of the corner of his eye and glanced over. It took his eyes a moment to adjust to what he was seeing, as the small dark figure took off into the sky. At first, he couldn’t put it all together, the image and his thoughts repelling each other like magnets with opposite poles. He glanced towards Tim. “That was Superboy, wasn’t it?”

Tim, predictably, said nothing.

-

Jon opened the door before Bernard could even knock. He’d done it multiple times before. Bernard wasn’t sure whether it was because of the super-hearing or the x-ray vision. “Oh, hey!”

“Hi,” Bernard said. “Sorry, I should have texted.”

“It’s no big deal,” Jon said. “I’m really glad you’re here, actually. There’s someone I want you to meet.”

Bernard raised his eyebrows. “Okay.” 

He followed Jon to the living room. He shouldn’t have been surprised to see Superboy – Kon, Steph had called him Kon – sitting on the couch, his feet up on the coffee table, but stopped in his tracks regardless. “Um,” Bernard said, always eloquent. “Hi.”

Kon glanced at him. “Hey.” 

A suffocating silence fell between them. Jon cleared his throat. “Um, this is Bernard.”

Kon stood, holding out his hand. Bernard shook it, noticing how large Kon’s hand was in comparison to his own. “I’m Kon,” he said. “I’ve heard a lot about you.” 

“Good things, I hope,” Bernard said, but Kon didn’t smile. Bernard swallowed and withdrew his hand. “Where’s Damian?” he asked Jon.

“He’s in the kitchen,” Jon said. “Bernard –“

“Great, thanks.” 

Bernard turned, heading down the hallway to the kitchen. He could still hear Jon and Kon speaking, but only one thing that Kon said was clear – “So that’s the boyfriend?” Bernard couldn’t help the rage that sparked in the pit of his stomach.

He turned the corner to see Damian perched on one of the stools at the kitchen counter, typing away on his laptop. “Why are you hiding out in here?” Bernard asked.

Damian scowled at him. “I don’t hide.”

“He says, while hiding.” Bernard sat down next to him. “Why aren’t you in the living room with Jon and Kon?”

He honestly didn’t think that Damian was going to respond, but then – “Kon doesn’t think very highly of me.”

Bernard raised his eyebrows. “Really? What’d you do to him?”

“I did nothing to him,” Damian said. “You should hate me as much as he does. You know how I treated Drake.”

Bernard didn’t, not really. Tim kept that part of his life frustratingly quiet. Even when he was living with the Waynes, he rarely spoke about them. On the few occasions where Damian’s name came up, Tim would go completely silent, still and cold, and Bernard would change the subject. 

He shook his head. “I don’t know everything,” he said. “I don’t think I ever will. That ship’s sailed already. I know how shitty Tim felt around you, though. And yeah, based on that, I probably should hate you.”

“But?” Damian prompted when Bernard trailed off. Bernard sighed.

“But…you helped me when you didn’t have to,” he said. “You let me stay here and don’t ask me why I won’t go home. The way you talk about Tim…I can tell that you cared about him. I can tell that there’s a lot of things that you regret. I can’t hate you because I’m almost positive that you’re a good person.”

Damian had turned away from him while he was speaking, getting a glass out of a cabinet above the sink. “Almost?” he said.

“Yeah. Always have to leave a little room for skepticism.”

“Hm.” 

When Damian turned back around, Bernard was sure that it was the closest that he had ever come to seeing him truly smiling.

Bernard heard footsteps, then Jon and Kon entered the kitchen. He wasn’t surprised to see Kon avoiding looking in his and Damian’s direction. “The pizza’s almost done, right, D?”

Damian nodded. “Are you staying for dinner?” he asked Bernard, even though he already knew the answer. 

“Yeah, if that’s okay,” Bernard said.

“It’s always okay,” Jon said. “Kon, what about you?”

Kon’s eyes met Bernard’s, then he looked away as quickly as if he had been burned. “Sure,” he said.

Damian slid off of the stool. “I’ll set the table, then.” 

Bernard angled his body away from Kon, resting his head against his hand. He heard Damian and Jon talking – “Are you seriously getting forks for pizza?”

“We need them.”

“It’s pizza, we don’t need forks .”

“Well, you’re getting forks.” Jon and Damian weren’t a couple – Jon had a boyfriend, and Damian was incredibly tight-lipped about his own love life – but they fought like a married couple more than any of the actual married couples Bernard knew. 

“Bernard.” 

Bernard sat up. Jon was beside him, looking concerned. “Is everything okay?” 

“Um. Yeah. Why?”

“You were spaced out for a while,” Jon said. “We’re about to eat.”

Bernard frowned. He didn’t realize that he had been out for that long. “Yeah, sorry. I’m okay. Just kind of tired.” 

“Are you sure?”

“Yes,” Bernard said, as firmly as he possibly could. He stood up. “Let’s go eat.” He just had to get through sitting across from Kon during dinner and then he wouldn’t have to think about him again.

-

Kon knocked on the guest room window when Bernard was about to go to sleep later that night, scaring the shit out of him. “Why are you still here?” he asked when Bernard slid open the window.

“That’s none of your business,” Bernard said. “Why are you here?” 

“Forgot my phone.” Kon climbed in through the window, somehow making it look more graceful than cumbersome. “Now you answer.” 

Bernard rolled his eyes. “You know, Jon and Damian have never asked.”

“Yeah, because it’s obvious,” Kon said. “Jon always has to help anyone who shows even the smallest bit of distress, and Damian does whatever Jon tells him to.”

“I’m not distressed .” 

“Could’ve fooled me.” 

Bernard took a deep breath. “Look,” he said. “Can you just get your phone and leave me alone?”

“That rhymes,” Kon said and sat down on the bed. “What the hell is your problem with me?”

“My problem with you?” Bernard said. “You’re the one that’s been being a jerk to me. You wouldn’t even look at me.”

Kon just stared at him for a moment. “I didn’t…” He started, then dropped his head into his hands. “Fuck. I don’t know how to say this.”

“It’s about Tim, isn’t it?”

Everyone always reacted a little differently when Bernard brought up Tim. Steph smiled. Damian froze. But Kon, something inside of him seemed to snap. His shoulder slumped like a puppet with its strings cut. “Am I that obvious?”

“Kind of, yeah,” Bernard said. “So, what is it? You’re jealous? Because I knew a side of Tim that you didn’t?”

Kon looked up, a dent between his brows. “What?”

Bernard sighed. He found himself sitting down next to Kon. “I think I might be projecting my insecurities onto you,” he confessed. 

Kon still looked confused. “So you’re jealous of me?” he said slowly. 

“I wanted…” Bernard said. “I want to know him the way you did. I didn’t know that he was Blackbird until after…I didn’t know. That’s a whole part of him that I never got to meet. And you did. And I can’t help but feel…you know.”

Kon exhaled. “I used to wish that I was you,” he said, his voice lower than before.

Bernard frowned. “But you’re Superboy!” he blurted out. 

Kon let out a quiet laugh. “Yeah, and you were Tim Drake’s boyfriend,” he said. “That’s what I really wanted.”

“You…” Bernard said. And then it clicked. “Oh.”

“Yeah,” Kon said. “I was in love with him. Like, the cheesy, head-over-heels kind of love where I would, I don’t know, get the moon and stars for him if he asked. And I guess you were half-right, because I was so jealous of you that I couldn’t stand it.”

“That’s more right than I usually am.”

“Does it feel good?”

“No.”

Kon laughed again, and there was something real behind it, something that made Bernard want to laugh along with him. “So you really had no idea that he was Blackbird?”

Bernard shook his head. “No,” he said. “And it was so obvious, too. Like, do you want to know what my theory was? I thought that there had been more than two Blackbirds, and Batman was getting them all from these secret orphanages he’d established around the world – I tried to map it all out, too. There were timelines, charts, tables, everything. And I literally told Tim about it. I told him everything. He saw all of the maps –“ He cut himself off. “Sorry. I’m talking too much. I always do it.”

Kon shook his head. “No way, dude. It’s cool.”

Bernard frowned. “Really?”

“Yeah,” Kon said. “Keep talking.”

And Bernard kept talking, and Kon kept listening, and Bernard felt as though a part of him that had been asleep for months was waking up again. 

-

Kon was always around after that. Not just at Jon and Damian’s place, either. He would appear in Gotham when Bernard least expected it, hovering outside of his window or waiting for him outside of his school at the end of the day. It didn’t take him as long as he expected to get used to it. The statement was clear as day – Kon was there, and that was how it was going to be from now on. 

Usually, Kon was the one that came to him, but one day Kon sent him a text instead, telling Bernard to meet him and Steph at Jon and Damian’s place. Bernard obeyed, because there was nothing else interesting happening in his life. 

Jon swung open the door as Bernard arrived. “Hey! Wow, your hair.”

“Yeah…” Bernard ran a hand through his newly-short haircut. He’d been avoiding mirrors all day because of it. “Weird, right?”

“Nah, it looks good.” Jon opened the door wider. “Come on in. There’s something I wanted to show you.”

Bernard nodded and stepped into the apartment. “Where?”

“It’s just in the living room,” Jon said. “I’ll follow you.”

Bernard headed down the hallway to the living room. The lights were strangely dim throughout the apartment. “Why’s it so dark in here?” he asked Jon. “Just because you can see in the dark…you can see in the dark, can’t you –“

Surprise! ” 

Bernard barely managed to suppress his scream. Unfortunately, he couldn’t save himself from the embarrassment of stumbling backwards, a laughing Jon steadying him. “You okay?” he asked, flicking the lights on. Kon looked as though he had just jumped up from the couch. Next to him, Steph was aiming a party popper at Bernard. She fired it, the confetti falling down to his feet.

“We agreed that you weren’t going to use those,” Damian called from the kitchen.

“I didn’t agree to anything,” Steph said. 

Damian walked in, leaning against the wall. “Happy birthday,” he said to Bernard.

“How did you even know?” Bernard said.

“Did you really think that I wouldn’t find out?” Steph said. 

It wasn’t that he didn’t think that she would find out – he had figured out by now that Steph knew everything. He just thought that she wouldn’t care. 

“You’re seventeen, right?” Jon asked him. “Pretty big year.”

Bernard shook his head. “Not really. Just another stop on the way to eighteen.” 

“That’s something,” Jon said. “Being eighteen isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, anyway.” 

Kon waved to get his attention. “Come sit down,” he said. “I got you something. And Jon made a cake.”

“Is it any good?” Bernard asked, skeptical.

“Jon made it,” Damian said. “Take what you will from that information.”

Jon scowled. “You’re both cruel.” 

Bernard settled in next to Kon on the couch as Jon and Damian disappeared into the kitchen. “The haircut’s interesting,” Steph said.

“Oh, thanks,” Bernard said. “What a ringing endorsement.”

Steph grinned. “You don’t sound like you like it very much, either.”

“I don’t. My dad thought that my hair was getting too long and made me cut it off.” Bernard had hoped that the change might make his annual birthday dinner with his parents a little less tense, but it was still just as awkward as ever – the conversations dying off and the silences filled with strained glances. 

Kon rolled his eyes. “Screw him,” he said. “You look good either way, though.” 

Bernard hoped that no one would notice the way his cheeks flushed at that, but he could tell from Steph’s raised eyebrows that he wasn’t subtle at all. Thankfully, Kon had already turned around, rooting around for something beside the couch. “Here,” he said, plunking a gift bag into Bernard’s lap. “Happy birthday.”

“You didn’t have to get me anything –“

“Yes, I absolutely did.” Kon nudged him. “Open it.” 

Bernard looked down at the bag. “Did you seriously use a Superman gift bag?” He lifted it up, looking at the shining red symbol printed on it. “I bet you use these for everything. Just have a giant stack of them in your room waiting for your next opportunity.”

Kon sighed, overdramatic, and Bernard couldn’t help but smile. “Just open it.”

Bernard removed some of the bright blue tissue paper and threw it at him. Kon probably could have caught it if he wanted to, but he let it smack him in the chest. Bernard withdrew a box from the bag, his smile growing even wider. “You got me the moon,” he said.

“Yeah, of course I did.” Kon scooted closer to Bernard. “Look, it’s got a Bat-Signal.” 

“It has what?” Steph said. “Let me see that.” Bernard rotated the box so Steph could see the back of it, showing the Bat-Signal emblazoned proudly against the glowing lamp. “Kon, this was made for seven-year-olds.”

“Yeah, but it reminded me of him,” Kon said. “That’s not weird, right?”

“I like it,” Bernard said. “I don’t know what that says about me, but I like it.”

Honestly, the thing that he liked the most was that he existed in Kon’s head enough for Kon to see something and think of him.

-

Later that day, Damian quietly told Bernard that he’d left something for him in the guest room. Bernard hadn’t known what he expected to find, but it certainly wasn’t a folder filled with photos. He recognized them almost instantly – they were Tim’s, lining the walls of his bedroom at his old house (and he assumed Wayne Manor, although Bernard had never gotten the chance to visit). There were some that he knew. The picture of Tim as a toddler with his parents, the selfie that he and Bernard had taken together last Halloween. He had to stop for a moment when he saw the strip of photos that he, Tim, and Darla had taken in the photo booth at the movie theater. He barely remembered the actual movie that they had watched, some action flick starring whatever actor everyone was obsessing over at the time. What he remembered was Tim and Darla on either side of him, making faces at the camera and arguing over which frame they should get on the strip.

Beneath all the familiar photos were ones that Bernard had never seen, never been allowed to see. Kon featured in most of them, along with two heroes that Bernard had never met, but recognized nonetheless – Wonder Girl and Impulse. He paused at a photo taken from a distance at night, Batman’s dark frame visible across a backdrop of stars. Blackbird was with him as always, clad in the typical black and red, but it wasn’t Tim. The hood, the tunic, all of it pointed towards Damian.

“Good birthday?” Kon said from the window.

Bernard glanced over. Kon was floating outside, resting his arms against the windowsill. “Did you forget something again?” Bernard asked, setting the folder on the nightstand between the stuffed sloth Steph had gotten him and Kon’s moon.

Kon shrugged. “You didn’t answer my question,” he said. “Was it a good birthday?”

“Probably the best I’ve had in years.” Bernard raised the lamp’s remote and clicked it. The moon lit up, vibrant against the darkness of the rest of the room. It looked incredibly realistic despite its small size. 

Bernard could hear Kon climbing in through the window, coming to stand next to him. “It’s pretty cool,” Kon said.

“Yeah.” Bernard pressed another button on the remote, and a shadow came to life on the face of the moon, the Bat-Signal unfurling its wings. The crater in Bernard’s stomach that he had felt all day grew wider, until he felt like he was going to split in two. “Kon?” he said softly before he could stop himself.

Kon met his eyes. “Yeah?”

“What was it like being dead?”

Pain, unmistakable pain, flashed behind Kon’s eyes, and Bernard immediately regretted speaking at all. “I’m –“

“No, don’t,” Kon said quickly. “Don’t be sorry. I just…I can’t answer that. Not really. It just felt like nothing, nothing and then something , and I can’t…I can’t imagine Tim like that.”

Hearing his name said out loud made Bernard feel like he had been punched. Everything that he wanted to say was stuck in his throat. He should be here right now. He should be with us. It isn’t fair, none of this is fair. But he didn’t need to say them out loud. Not when Kon was here, and the exact same things were going through his head. 

“I miss him.” The words felt like they were ripped out of him, like a torn-off scab that left even more pain where it had once been. It was such an obvious thing to say, such a simple statement, but Bernard couldn’t hold it in, not now.

Kon’s eyes were still locked with his. Bernard hadn’t realized how close they were to each other until that moment, their hands just millimeters away from brushing against each other. “Yeah,” he said, his voice hoarse, choked. “Me too.” 

Bernard couldn’t quite read the look on his face. There was something faraway about it, in his parted lips, in his furrowed brow. He stared at Bernard as though was truly seeing him – not just the outside, but right through him, his every thought and feeling and move, now and then and what would be. “Kon,”Bernard said. It was all that he could say.

He wasn’t sure who moved first. All he knew was Kon’s lips on his, his hands against Kon’s sides pulling him closer. He shut his eyes as he felt Kon running his fingers through his hair. He didn’t kiss the same way that Tim did. There was more pressure, more of a push and pull, a give and take. Kon’s fingernails scraped the back of his neck as he pulled away, and Bernard gasped. Kon’s hands came to cup Bernard’s face, gently brushing his thumbs against his cheekbones. They were still so close. Bernard could feel Kon’s breath against his lips when he spoke. “Happy birthday, Bernard.”

And then he was stepping back, Bernard’s hands falling to his sides as he moved. He watched as Kon climbed out of the window, leaving the way he came.

For a moment, all Bernard could do was stand there. He reached up and ran a finger across his lips. His mind was somehow both racing and completely blank. He didn’t know what to latch onto – Kon kissing him, or, further back, the memory of Tim’s lips on his. 

He moved his hand, letting his fingers brush against the Bat-Signal shadowed against the moon. 

-

Nothing changed after that. Kon still kept showing up with no warning. They kept going places, the skatepark, the arcade, and it didn’t feel any differently than it had before. At first, Bernard could have almost made himself believe that the kiss had never even happened, that it had just been a dream conjured up by an unholy combination of grief and sexual frustration. It wasn’t as though Kon was acting strangely. He was still just as cool as ever. It was hard not to feel a little envious of him, especially when Bernard’s brain felt scrambled whenever Kon got close enough to him. 

Kon kissed him again on a Friday night. There was nothing particularly special about it. They were in Bernard’s bedroom, Bernard’s parents out doing something that he didn’t care about, and Kon was giving him that faraway look again, that piercing stare that made him feel as though he was scoping out everything he had ever felt. And then Kon’s lips were on his, and Bernard wasn’t thinking about anything at all anymore.

Nothing changed after that, except for one thing – Kon kept kissing him. And Bernard kept kissing Kon. He wondered if he got that same look on his face as Kon did. He wondered if Kon kissed him for the same reason he kissed Kon. The reason wasn’t something he could easily put into words. It was really because he couldn’t help himself. That sometimes every feeling just hit him at once, with no warning or impetus at all, and Kon was the only thing that made him feel normal again. He’d be lying to himself if he said that he didn’t think about Tim every time he did it. 

He continued to lie to himself. 

There were good days, like when Kon kissed Bernard goodbye so casually that it seemed like muscle memory. And there were bad days, like when they ended up shirtless in Bernard’s bed, Kon sucking bruises into Bernard’s neck. Kon had gotten the hell out of there once he realized how far they had gotten, and Bernard had stared at the pictures that Damian had gotten him for the rest of the night as guilt ate him alive from the inside out.

So really, nothing had changed at all. 

Bernard tried to pretend that everything was normal that day in January. He very nearly succeeded. If his mother and father had ignored him like they usually did, then he would have been able to push down every feeling bubbling under his skin and just move forward the same way he had been trying to for the past year. But his father called his name as he was headed for the door, and he had to respond. “What’s up?”

His father was in the kitchen, a pile of newspapers on the counter in front of him. “Can you help me take these out to the recycling bin?” he asked him.

“Yeah, of course.” Bernard moved to grab the pile, but the issue on the very top of it distracted him: Adopted Son of Bruce Wayne Dies. He picked up the issue, reading the date at the top of it. “It’s been a year,” he said softly. 

He didn’t even realize that he’d said it out loud until his father glanced over at him. “A year?” he echoed. He looked over Bernard’s shoulder at the newspaper article clutched in his fists. “Ah.”

Bernard took a step away from him, turning to face him. He had that look on his face again, the one that Bernard hadn’t seen in ages, as though he’d heard someone insulting him behind his back. Bernard felt something inside of himself snap. “Just say it.”

His father frowned. “Say what?”

“Whatever it is that you’re thinking,” Bernard said. “It’s obvious anyway. Just say it.”

He sighed. “I just think that it’s time for you to get over it.”

“Get over it?” Bernard snapped. “He was - He was a person! He was the best friend I’ve ever had, and he died ! How am I supposed to get over that?”

His mother walked in from the living room, her lips tilted downwards just slightly enough for it to feel condescending. “What’s all this noise about?”

Bernard’s father gestured towards him. “Bernie’s…friend.”

“His what?” She finally caught sight of the newspaper Bernard was holding. “Oh. Tim Drake?”

His father nodded. “Yeah. Bruce Wayne’s kid.”

They were talking as though Bernard wasn’t even there. Whenever they looked at him, it was like they were looking around him. It was the complete opposite of the way that Kon looked at him, really looked at him, and saw everything. 

“Does it even matter anymore?” his mother said.

Bernard wasn’t sure who she was talking to. He didn’t care. “Does it matter ?” he said. “Of course it matters, he matters! I…” I loved him , he thought. “He was my best friend. He mattered to so many people. And you’re just acting like I should pretend like he never even existed?”

“No one is saying that, Bernie,” his father said. “We just think that you…you latched onto this boy a little bit too much, if you know what I mean.”

Bernard dropped the newspaper onto the floor. “Yeah,” he snarled. “Yeah, I know exactly what you mean.”

He turned around and headed for the door. They didn’t call after him, try to get him to come back. He pretended like it didn’t sting.

Kon texted him when he was about halfway to the bus stop – what are u doing today

Bernard thought about not responding, but in the end he couldn’t help himself – going to jon and damian’s place

theyre not home, Kon replied. theyre at wayne manor

Bernard froze in the middle of the sidewalk. He had only just started wondering where the hell he could go when he got another text from Kon – u should come over

He said, from Kansas. how, Bernard typed out, when suddenly Kon appeared next to him in a whoosh of air. “I can get you there,” he said, as casually as if he had always been there. He looked more closely at Bernard. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Bernard said before he could think any more about it. “Let’s just go.”

There was no way that Kon believed him, but he wrapped his arms around his waist anyway. Bernard closed his eyes as their feet left the ground, and didn’t open them again until they stopped moving. 

Kon’s bedroom was small, the walls and floors wood-paneled. The window was open, the sun shining through in a way that Bernard never saw in Gotham. “Is anyone else home?” Bernard asked. 

Kon shook his head. “Ma and Pa are visiting Lois and Clark in Metropolis.” He sat down on the bed, Bernard copying him. “So do you –“

Bernard kissed him. Kissed him hard, both hands cupping his face, pulling him impossibly closer. Kon let out a soft, startled noise and grabbed Bernard’s waist, his hands brushing his skin underneath his shirt. Bernard leaned backwards, pulling Kon on top of him. 

Time slowed down. Kon tugged so hard at Bernard’s shirt that he thought he might tear it, so Bernard took it off, tossing it to the floor. Kon took his shirt off as well, and then they were skin-to-skin, Kon’s chest against Bernard’s as he pressed him down into the bed. The kiss was all tongue and teeth, Bernard’s hands in Kon’s hair and Kon’s hands on Bernard’s hips, holding him down. 

Tim Drake died one year ago today. He was tortured, brainwashed, and shot himself in the head. He was dead before he even hit the floor. 

Kon leaned down to kiss Bernard’s neck, right at his pulse point.

Bernard had seen Tim for the last time four days before he died. There was a bruise on his cheek. Tim had said that he had fallen off of his skateboard. Bernard hadn’t believed him, but he hadn’t pushed the issue, and planted a soft kiss on the bruise instead. 

Bernard closed his eyes, and felt it. 

Kon’s skin against his.

Tim’s voice in his head.

Kon’s lips on his neck.

A bullet through Tim’s brain. 

“Hey,” he heard Kon say. It took Bernard a moment to realize that he had stopped kissing him. He opened his eyes – he didn’t even remember closing them. Kon was staring down at him, one of his hands cupping Bernard’s face. “I’m going to ask again. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Bernard gasped out. “I’m fine, just…please. Keep going. Please.”

Kon looked at him for another moment, a few seconds that felt more like a few hours. Then he was moving off of Bernard, lying down at his side. “I really think that we need to talk about this,” he said. 

Bernard didn’t turn around. “I can’t,” he whispered. 

“Okay,” Kon said. “Then can I talk?” Bernard shrugged. Kon seemed to take that as a yes. “I…I don’t think that I’m okay. Especially not today. I woke up thinking about Tim and I haven’t stopped. And don’t tell me that you feel any differently, because I know that it isn’t true.”

Bernard shifted, turning onto his side. He met Kon’s eyes. Kon was silent for a moment, then finally whispered, “Why did you kiss me that first time?”

Bernard frowned. “I thought that you kissed me.” 

“I don’t know,” Kon said. “We kissed each other. You kissed me back.”

“It was because…” Bernard sighed. “It was because I thought that it would make me feel better. And it did. Just not in the way that I was expecting.” Kon scooted closer to him, close enough that Bernard could feel the heat radiating off of his skin. “Now tell me why you kissed me.”

“At first it was…yeah. It was because there was…because there still is someone else that I want to be kissing, and I thought you were the closest thing possible to him,” Kon said. “But I don’t really think that’s true. Not anymore.”

“You don’t kiss like he did, either,” Bernard said. “But I like it?”

A smile briefly flashed across Kon’s face. “Yeah?”

Bernard nodded. “Yeah.”

Kon’s hand came to cover his. “And after that I just kept kissing you. I couldn’t help it. Sometimes it was just because you were there…but usually just because you’re you.”

Bernard just stared at him for a moment, trying to put his thoughts into words that made something resembling sense. “You make me remember what being in love felt like,” he said. 

He could see Kon swallow. “Oh,” he said, his voice hoarse. 

“I don’t mean…” Bernard said. “I don’t really know what I mean. But I do like you. I really like you. I like being with you. I like kissing you. And it’s not because of Tim. It’s because of you.”

Kon’s lips parted. “Can I kiss you?” he said. 

“Yes,” Bernard said. “Yes, always –“

He had barely finished the sentence before Kon’s lips were on his. The kiss wasn’t hurried or heated like it had been earlier. This was slow and sweet, more about contact than anything – just the two of them together. Bernard didn’t stop thinking about Tim. He suspected that he never would. But he didn’t feel guilty for being with Kon. He didn’t feel like he was pushing anything away. He was just there, existing alongside the boy he liked so much that it almost made him forget about everything else.

-

College decisions started coming in two months later. Bernard got into a few different schools, but Gotham University offered him the largest scholarship. He told his parents about it, and then he told them about something else.

He moved into his dorm alone. He’d been lucky enough to have been assigned a single room. It wasn’t the nicest place, but it was his, and that was enough for him. 

He met a few people, teetering on the line between friend and acquaintance. Kyle and Sadie, both of whom lived down the hall from him. Zac from his chemistry class. Emerson from his freshman seminar. Kon would come in through his window at least once a week and Bernard would pray that no one had noticed Superboy hovering outside of his room. It was a new normal, but at least it was normal.

The semester went by quickly, almost too quickly. Bernard spent most of it hunched over his desk working on lab reports and papers. He had thought that he might regret majoring in neuroscience, but the heavy workload kept his mind off of other things, and he was grateful for that. What he hated was when winter break came and the work ran out, and he was the only one left in a seven-story dorm building. 

He was curled up on his bed trying and failing not to think when a familiar knock on his window startled him. He stood, opening the curtains to see Kon floating there, a frown on his face. He yanked open the window. “What’s up?” he said. 

“What the hell are you doing here?” Kon asked.

“Hello to you too.” Bernard stepped back, letting Kon in so that he could close the window. The temperatures were strange enough in the dorms without letting more cold air in. 

“Hi,” Kon said. “Now are you going to answer my question?”

Bernard shrugged. “I don’t know what you mean.” He sat back down on the bed, and Kon situated himself next to him. Bernard hoped that Kon didn’t notice that he was keeping a few inches of space between them, but Kon always noticed everything.

“Didn’t winter break start a week ago?” Over a week, Bernard thought. “It’s literally Christmas Eve, and you’re still here.”

“So?”

So? ” Kon echoed. “You didn’t even tell me that you were staying here over the break. I looked in your bedroom at home and you weren’t there. I was worried.”

“How did you find me?”

“I followed your heartbeat,” Kon said. 

It was absolutely embarrassing how Bernard’s heart skipped a beat hearing that, especially knowing that Kon could hear it. “You have it memorized?”

“Of course I do,” said Kon. “You’re still avoiding the question. It’s Christmas. Why the hell are you all alone here?” 

Bernard shrugged. “I’ve got nowhere better to be,” he said. “I mean, look at this place. Where else would you rather spend the holidays?”

Kon flicked his gaze towards the water damage on the ceiling, the mysterious green stain on the floor that had been there since before Bernard moved in. “Not here,” he said. He met Bernard’s eyes again. “You know what I’m asking.” 

Bernard shook his head. “No, I really don’t.” He shouldn’t even bothered with trying to lie. His heartbeat was so loud and so quick that Kon would be able to detect it even without the super-hearing. But he wanted to live in the silence for just a few moments more, before he had to toss his truth out into the empty space between them and witness the way that Kon would look at him when he found out. 

“Babe,” Kon said, and took his head. Part of Bernard wanted to pull away, but he couldn’t stop himself from lacing their fingers together, holding onto him. “Why aren’t you at home with your parents?”

“Because they don’t want me there.”

And there it was. Laid right out in the open for Kon to absorb.

Kon blinked once, twice. “Did…did they tell you that?” he said. 

Bernard couldn’t look at him anymore. He turned towards the window instead. Snow, again. It wasn’t even the pretty kind that reminded him of snow globes and better nights. No, it was the kind that promised having to trek through slush and slipping on ice in the morning. “It’s really more about what I told them.”

Kon squeezed his hand again. “What did you tell them?”

“Only what they already knew.”

Dead silence, for so long that Bernard couldn’t even stand it. “I know that you know what I’m talking about,” he said. Please don’t make me say it out loud. 

“So you’re just here alone all winter?” Kon said. “What about summer break? How are you even paying for this, weren’t your parents going to –“

“I’m fine,” Bernard said. “I have a scholarship. Great financial aid, too, since I have zero expected family contribution. I’m going to get a job on campus so I have an excuse to stay over the summer, and I can save up and rent an apartment off-campus. Really, this couldn’t have come at a better time. Especially when you think about how they’ve definitely known for years that I’m gay.” He choked out a laugh. “It’s pretty fucking funny, actually. Like, if I was that obvious when I was with Tim, why didn’t they bring it up then? What were they waiting for? Did they think I was going to change my mind and bring home a girl one day? They were thrilled when he died. I remember the exact face that my dad made when he found out. It was like he thought that that would end it, that now that Tim was dead they would get their son back and that was all that he was good for –“

Bernard ,” Kon said softly. “Please, look at me.”

Bernard shook his head. “I can’t,” he whispered. 

Kon’s hands moved up to rest on his shoulders, his touch gentler than anything that Bernard had ever felt, and Bernard became aware of the wetness on his cheeks. He leaned backwards against Kon, desperately trying to suppress his sobs. He knew that he failed when Kon shifted, wrapping his arms around Bernard’s waist and moving them so that they were lying down. Bernard pressed his face into Kon’s chest, shaking. “It’s okay,” Kon murmured, running a hand through his hair. “It’s okay.” 

Bernard shook his head. “It’s not,” he cried, and felt Kon’s hold on him tighten.

“You are going to be okay,” Kon said, more forcefully. “You’re not alone. I’m right here, okay? I’m here. I’ve got you.” 

He kept talking, the same things over and over again: I’m here, I’ve got you, I’m not going anywhere. Bernard got the feeling that Kon would keep saying them until he knew that Bernard believed him. 

-

Kon barely left him alone after that. Bernard pretended that it annoyed him, but he didn’t think he did a very good job of it. 

Bernard was at his desk working on a sheet of psychology questions, while Kon propped himself on his arms on his bed, facing him. “I think we should go out tomorrow,” Kon said.

“Is that so?” Bernard said. He flipped back a few pages in his textbook and attempted unsuccessfully to comprehend what he was reading.

Kon nodded. “You don’t still have a lot of work to do, do you?”

“After this I’m good,” Bernard said, then sighed. “Except for a paper I have due next week, fuck…”

Kon slid off of the bed, then wrapped his arms around Bernard from behind. “You deserve a break.”

“You smell like smoke,” Bernard said, but still leaned against him, reaching up to brush his thumb against the back of Kon’s hand. 

“Yeah, I destroyed a killer robot today,” Kon said. 

He began to trail kisses down Bernard’s jaw. “Cool,” Bernard breathed.  

“Yeah, it was pretty cool,” Kon said. He moved downwards, his teeth scraping against Bernard’s neck. “You’d have liked it, if you’d have seen it.”

“Are you trying to distract me, Kon-El?” Bernard asked. 

Kon hummed against his skin. “Is it working?”

Bernard sighed. “You have twenty minutes,” he said, “and then I’m going back to work.” 

“That’s all I need,” Kon said, and then he was lifting him, pressing him against the side of the bed.

Bernard laughed, hiding his face in Kon’s shoulder and wrapping his legs around his waist. “You’re…”

“What?” Kon said. “What am I?”

Bernard couldn’t find the words. He shook his head and kissed him, pulling him even closer. He could feel Kon smiling against his lips, his hands sneaking up underneath his shirt. His TTK pressed up against his back, holding him steady. Bernard could have stayed like that forever. Time seemed to slow down when he was with Kon, the rest of the world falling away. He was Kon’s, and Kon was his.

Kon’s hands were drifting towards the zipper of his jeans when a loud knock echoed throughout the room. Bernard barely had time to react before the window was sliding open and Blackbird was tumbling to the ground inside.

“What the fuck?” Bernard said. Kon had let go of him, rushing over to Blackbird’s side. Bernard followed him, kneeling down beside the kid. “What are you doing here?”

Blackbird let out a ragged breath. “Spoiler,” he said through gritted teeth. “She…said you could help.” 

It was then that Bernard realized that he had a hand clasped over his opposite arm, blood seeping out from between his fingers. “Shit,” he breathed. “What the hell happened?”

“Shot,” Blackbird said. 

The lenses were off in his mask, and Bernard could see his eyes beginning to glaze over. He glanced over at Kon. “There’s a first aid kid in the bottom desk drawer, can you –“ Bernard blinked and Kon was there and back, pushing the first aid kit into his hands. “Thanks. And can you text Steph and ask her what the hell Blackbird is doing in my room?”

Kon took out his phone. “It’s kind of hot when you order me around like this,” he mumbled. 

Bernard ignored him, taking out his own phone. “Hey,” he said, snapping his fingers in front of Blackbird’s face. “Don’t pass out. I have no idea how to treat this and I feel like you do.”

Kon looked at Bernard’s phone screen. “Are you actually Googling how to treat a bullet wound right now?” he asked. 

“Only a graze,” Blackbird murmured. 

“Oh, yeah. Only a bullet graze.” Bernard’s phone began to buzz, and he answered it. “What the hell is going on?”

“Sorry,” Steph said. “He was hurt, and he’s stubborn, and you were the closest…”

“It’s okay,” he said. “I just…what do I do?”

“I’ll walk you through it,” she said. “Keep applying pressure. Is Kon with you?”

Bernard looked up at Kon. “Yes.”

“Thought so. Okay, you have a first aid kit, right?”

Steph kept talking to him as he cleaned and dressed the wound, Blackbird slipping in and out of consciousness. Finally the bleeding stopped, and Kon gently lifted the sleeping kid up onto the bed. “What do I do with him now?” Bernard whispered, careful not to wake him up. A horrifying thought struck him. “Oh my god, do I have to call Batman to pick him up? I can’t do that. My dorm is a disaster. There’s laundry everywhere.” 

“You don’t have to call Batman,” Steph said, exasperated. “He should be feeling better when he wakes up. If not, I’ll come get him in the morning. You’re okay with him staying there?”

“Do I have a choice?” 

“No,” Steph said. “Good night. Thanks again.” 

“Good night.” Bernard hung up and turned to Kon, who was leaning against the wall next to the window. “I wish my life was normal.”

“Where’s the fun in that?” Kon stepped forwards, capturing his lips in a soft kiss. “I hate to do this, but I really need to get home,” he said when they separated.

“It’s okay,” Bernard said. “We’ll be fine. Me and the vigilante I’m keeping in my dorm. I didn’t even have him fill out an overnight visitor form.”

“How rebellious of you,” said Kon, who had never filled out a visitor form in his life. He kissed him again, and then climbed out of the window. There was blood on the windowsill. Bernard would have to scrub that off before someone saw it and put him on some kind of watchlist. 

He returned to his desk, his textbook and his psychology problems. It was the most ordinary thing that he could possibly be doing, yet Blackbird’s presence made it feel completely nonsensical.

Bernard wasn’t quite sure what to make of the new Blackbird. He knew who he was, of course – Bruce Wayne was Batman, so of course Jason Todd, the teenager who he’d adopted off of the streets, had to be Blackbird. Another boy in Tim’s place. Another kid facing death every night and waking up to go to school in the morning. Bernard wondered who Jason was keeping his secret from, if he had anyone who he was hiding part of himself away from. 

Jason slept on. Bernard finished the psych problems and started working on the paper. He wasn’t sure how much time passed before Jason finally stirred, the bed creaking as he slowly sat up. At first, neither of them said anything. “What happened?” Jason said finally.

“You tell me,” Bernard said. “You crashed through my window with a bullet wound –“

“A graze,” Jason said.

“A wound is a wound. Apparently Spoiler put my dorm on the list of Bat-approved safehouses. So here you are.”

Jason frowned at him. Bernard could tell from the way that he held himself that his arm was killing him, but he knew that there was no way in hell that he would ever admit it. “Do you want painkillers?” he said anyway. “I have Tylenol.”

“I’m fine,” Jason said. “Was Superboy here, or did I hallucinate him?”

“Yeah, he was here,” Bernard said. “He’s my boyfriend.”

Jason nodded. “Is that how you know Ste - Spoiler?”

“Steph? No. I knew her first.” 

“Did she introduce you?”

“No,” Bernard said. “Why do you care so much?”

Jason let out a slow breath. “Because...I think that I know who you are, and I want to be wrong.”

Bernard’s stomach flipped. “I know who you are,” he said casually, trying to deflect from it. “Jason Todd, right?”

Jason nodded, unfazed. “And you’re Tim Drake’s ex,” he said. “Bernard.”

Bernard gripped the back of his chair, his knuckles white. “Yeah, maybe I am,” he managed to say. “What’s wrong with that?”

Jason hesitated, looking away. Bernard didn’t know what he expected him to say. He definitely didn’t think that Jason’s words would split his life into before and after. “Tim Drake is the one who shot me.”

-

Jason was gone the next morning. Bernard got an email from the package center, and discovered that Steph had sent him a giant box of Bat-grade medical supplies. i hope that this doesn’t mean that this is going to happen again, he texted her. She sent back a purple heart and a smiling emoji. 

That night, Bernard was on a random roof in the city, trying to remember how to breathe. He’d spent hours online, looking for every possible sighting of someone that matched the description that Jason had given him – a slight man dressed in dark colors, a dark mask covering his face and a red hood pulled over his head. Every sighting agreed on one thing: that he was ruthless. He wielded his gun like it was molded to him, and he wasn’t shy about using it. Bernard couldn’t help but hope that Jason was mistaken, that the man that called himself Red Hood had some other reason for wanting to take out Blackbird. 

But he couldn’t count on hope. He could only count on his own eyes, which is why he was sitting here, his legs dangling off of the roof. People seemed to think that Red Hood passed by here often. If he didn’t make an appearance tonight, Bernard would come back tomorrow. And the next night. And the next.

But he wouldn’t have to. It wasn’t long before there was a flash of red, and someone standing behind him on the roof. 

Bernard stood, putting his hands in his pockets to hide how they were shaking. He’d thought that he would recognize Red Hood on sight, that even with all the years apart, Tim would still look the same. But with his face covered, and the hood pulled over his head, Bernard couldn’t find anything familiar about him. Tim was taller than him now, he realized with a start. 

Red Hood said nothing, just stared at him, his hand hovering over the gun holstered at his side. “You’re not going to shoot me,” Bernard said. Red Hood’s hand fell away from the gun. “Take off the mask,” Bernard said. Red Hood was still for a long moment, so long that Bernard thought that he might turn back the way he came. But he reached up, pulling the mask and hood down with both hands. 

He was older than Bernard remembered. His jaw sharper, his hair longer, pulled into a messy bun with a shock of white streaking through it. Both of his eyes had been blue the last time that Bernard had seen him, but now one of them was bright green, shining almost unnaturally through his vacant stare. His lips looked the same. His nose looked the same. He was the same, the Tim Drake that Bernard had loved when they were kids.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Bernard spat out. 

Tim’s face didn’t change. He was stone, he was ice. He was everything that Tim Drake wasn’t.

“It’s been two years,” Bernard said. “Two fucking years, Tim! You just let everyone believe that you were dead that whole time? I thought…I didn’t even know what I thought, I had no idea what happened! I had to find Nightwing and make him tell me that you were dead!” 

Tim’s expression finally flickered at the mention of Nightwing’s name, the corner of his lips twitching downward. A car passed by on the street below, illuminating both of them in the glow of its headlights. Bernard could just barely see the thin white scars curving up from either side of Tim’s mouth, a permanent smile carved into his face. Bernard’s stomach turned.

“And when you finally come back, the first thing you do is shoot Blackbird,” he continued. “He’s a kid. A kid just like you were. He’s already getting into enough danger without you attacking him. And there’s all these rumors flying about the Red Hood, about all the people he's killed, about how he has it out for Blackbird…I don’t get it. You aren’t the person that I knew, but you are , and…”

Bernard paused to take a breath. Below them, he could hear cars passing by, running footsteps, yelling and laughter from the brave souls that still dared to roam Gotham so late at night. The world felt tilted, everything moved just a few centimeters to the left. That was Tim Drake’s face in front of him. A gun at his side, blood on his hands, scars all over his body. 

“Aren’t you going to say something?” Bernard said, desperate.

Tim’s lips parted. “You’re…” He swallowed, then started again. “You’re still so beautiful,” he whispered.

For a moment, Bernard couldn’t speak. He felt a stinging at the backs of his eyes, a lump in his throat. He blinked. “I want you to leave Blackbird alone,” he said finally. “And I don’t want to see you, either.”

Tim nodded. “Why did you track me down?” he said.

“I didn’t think you were real,” Bernard said. “And I still…I still don’t really believe it, and I don’t know if I want to. So just…” He took a deep breath. “I don’t care what else you do. Kill whoever you want. Just don’t touch Blackbird. And don’t touch me.”

Tim’s hand was hovering over the gun again. Maybe he would kill him. Maybe he deserved it. “Fine,” Tim said. Bernard couldn’t read his expression, couldn’t understand his tone. Not anymore.

Bernard turned around, sitting down with his legs dangling off of the roof again. He heard footsteps, and when he turned around, Tim was gone again. A ghost among the living. 

-

Bernard called Kon the next night. He should have done it sooner, but he couldn’t bring himself to tell him without seeing Tim with his own eyes. He couldn’t give him that false hope. And after that, it had taken him a full twenty-four hours to make himself believe that the events of the previous night hadn’t been a particularly vivid nightmare.

The phone rang twice, and then Kon was there, climbing in through his window. “Is everything okay?” he asked.

Bernard hesitated. Somehow, that was the most difficult question to answer right now. “There’s something I need to tell you,” he said.

“Okay, that sounds bad,” Kon said. He sat down next to Bernard on the bed. Bernard couldn’t meet his eyes, even when he took his hand. “You didn’t answer my question.”

“I don’t know how to,” Bernard said. He forced himself to look up. Kon was there. Kon was always there. He let out a shaky breath. “It’s about Tim,” he said. 

He hadn’t seen that look in Kon’s eyes in over a year. It was like part of him had been sent back in time, was seeing something that Bernard couldn’t. “What about him?” he said, his voice deceptively steady. 

It was three simple words: Tim is alive . But they got stuck in his mouth, lodging in his throat like they were choking him. Bernard shook his head. “I –“

There was a thumping sound against his window. Bernard turned around just in time to see it sliding open and Red Hood crashing into his room.

“Are you kidding me?” Bernard said. He jumped down off of the bed, rushing to Red Hood’s side as he slid to the ground. His hood fell off as he hit the floor, leaving only the mask. 

“This was the only place I could go,” Tim gasped. His hand splayed out over his abdomen, blood coating his fingers. Bernard was instantly reminded of Jason. They had the same hands, the same long fingers and calloused palms. “I’m…”

“Were you stabbed ?” Bernard interrupted.

Tim nodded. “Lightly stabbed.”

“Lightly stabbed,” Bernard repeated. “That’s great. How do you even know where I live?”

“I watched you,” Tim said through gritted teeth. “Sometimes.”

“You watched me?”

“Are you just going to repeat everything I say, or are you going to let me bleed out?”

Bernard had half a mind to do the latter. “Take off your mask,” he said instead. 

Tim removed it without hesitation. Kon made a sound as if he had been punched. Bernard looked up at him. He had gone completely still, frozen solid on the bed. It reminded Bernard of how Tim had looked at him last night. A statue. 

Tim didn’t even glance at Kon. “Hey,” he said softly, reaching out with his opposite hand. His fingers brushed against Bernard’s chest, and he gasped out in pain as he moved. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Bernard said, although he wasn’t sure if Tim was apologizing for breaking into his room or for something else entirely. He turned his attention to the stab wound. It didn’t look shallow, but it didn’t look terribly deep either. Bernard was no expert, but it didn’t look as though it had hit anything vital. “Will it need stitches?” he said. “Kon, do you think –“

Tim’s eyes widened. “You can see him?”

Kon froze as he was standing up. Bernard frowned. “What do you mean?” he asked. “Yes, I can see him. He’s been here the whole time.”

Tim didn’t take his eyes off of Kon as he knelt down beside him. “I’ve been seeing you,” he whispered. “But you’ve never been real.”

Kon swallowed. “Like, hallucinating?” he said slowly.

“I don’t know,” Tim said. “It’s been happening since I crawled out of that damn pit.”

“The pit?” Kon repeated. After a moment, his eyes widened. “Tim, were you in a Lazarus Pit ?” 

“Mmm,” Tim said, which sounded like a yes. 

Bernard searched through the box that Steph had sent him. “I don’t really know how to –“

“I got it,” Kon said, withdrawing a kit from the box. “I had to learn how to stitch him up years ago.”

“Bet you never thought you’d have to do it again,” Tim said. Kon almost dropped the sutures. 

Kon lifted Tim up onto the bed with his TTK. Bernard had to look away while he was stitching Tim up. He had never expected to be in the same room as the two of them. Even seeing old pictures of them together made him feel strange. Seeing them actually touch seemed like the universe was imploding. 

“That should be good,” Kon said. Bernard turned around. Tim looked half-asleep, his shirt off and his wound bandaged. 

“Will the blood loss be a problem?” Bernard asked. He eyed the blood on his sheets. He hoped that no one would look too closely at him when he was doing his laundry. 

“Just dunk me in another Lazarus Pit and I’ll be fine,” Tim slurred.

“That’s not funny,” Kon said. “The blood loss wasn’t anything too severe. He’ll be okay.”

Good, Bernard thought, but he wasn’t sure if he meant it. 

Tim attempted to prop himself up on one elbow. “You’re dating, right?” he said.

It felt like an electric shock went down Bernard’s spine. “What?”

“I knew it.” Bernard couldn’t tell whether Tim was actually smiling or if the scars just made it look like he was. “Wish I could tell my fifteen year old self about that.”

His eyes slid closed. For a long moment, Bernard couldn’t bring himself to speak. “Is he actually sleeping or is he faking it?” 

“He’s sleeping,” Kon said. His voice was completely monotone, his eyes downcast. “Come on.” He reached out, grabbing Bernard’s hand. Bernard let him   pull him closer, wrapping his arms around his waist as he maneuvered them out of the window. He knew that Kon would never drop him, his hands tight on him and his TTK stabilizing him.

They ended up on the roof, sitting side by side. Bernard remembered being in the same position the previous night, not sure whether or not he wanted Tim to show up. “Is that what you were going to tell me?” Kon said.

Bernard nodded. “Yes,” he said. “Jason told me when he was here.”

“He shot Jason, didn’t he?”

Bernard nodded. He couldn’t bring himself to say yes, not out loud. “Had you heard about Red Hood?” he said out loud.

“Yeah,” Kon said. “Didn’t realize that it was Tim, though.”

“Neither did I.” 

Kon met his eyes. “Have you heard of the Lazarus Pit?”

“I didn’t think that it was real,” Bernard said. “But I feel like I should know by now not to doubt anything.”

“I heard his heart stop,” Kon said. His level tone was betrayed by the faraway look in his eyes, the quick-paced rise and fall of his chest. “The first thing I did when I came back was to listen for him and – and there was nothing. Just this huge void of silence. I had never heard anything like it before. And I didn’t know what had happened to him. It was like he was there one second and gone the next.” He turned to look at Bernard, but his eyes were so glazed over that Bernard doubted that he saw anything but the past. “And I still listened for him,” he murmured. “I still tried to hear him even though I knew that I wouldn’t. And I still didn’t know when he came back. I couldn’t save him, I couldn’t hear him. Fuck, why couldn’t I hear him?” 

He was hunched over by then, and he dropped his head into his hands. Bernard reached out, resting a hand on his back. “You couldn’t have known.”

“I should have –“

“You couldn’t have,” Bernard repeated. “How could you have? You didn’t know where to listen, or what to listen for. The Lazarus Pit probably messed up his heartbeat. He was in a place that you’ve never been before. It could have been blocked, for all we know – he could have been somewhere lined with lead or white noise machines or something. It isn’t your fault.”

Kon looked up, his eyes rimmed with red. He didn’t get a chance to say anything before Bernard was pulling him into a hug. Kon let out a breath, wrapping his arms around Bernard’s waist. “Listen to me,” Bernard said softly. “ This isn’t your fault .” 

Kon shuddered, moving so that his ear was nearly pressed against Bernard’s chest. Bernard tried to keep his breathing as steady as possible, letting him hear his heartbeat. He wasn’t sure how long they stayed like that, each of them pretending like they weren’t crying. All he knew was that when they finally returned to Bernard’s dorm room, Tim had already left. 

-

Bernard didn’t see Tim again for weeks after that. He heard about him, of course. His name kept appearing on all of the forums – Red Hood spotted by the docks, Red Hood murders another crime lord. Bernard couldn’t help but notice that he never got too close to Gotham University. There was a particular feeling that it sparked in him, the smallest kernel of emptiness in his chest. 

He knew that Kon understood. Kon always did. But they rarely spoke about it, didn’t need to when the spectre of it was constantly hanging over them. Bernard couldn’t pretend that it hadn’t always been there, as if Tim hadn’t always been the invisible third party in their relationship, but now that Tim was more than a ghost or a figment of their imagination, it was impossible to ignore.

Tim was hovering in Bernard’s mind again as he hurried across the quad. He had about thirty seconds to get to Winters Hall before he was late for his psych class. It was unlike him, and he knew it, but he had spaced out, and before he knew it it was 5:58 and he had two minutes to spare. 

He had just stepped foot in the psychology wing when the floor seemed to rock beneath him. Bernard barely had time to think before the world went white.

His senses came back in pieces. First was sound – the ringing in his ears, the distant screaming. His back must have hit the wall, judging from the pain radiating up his body. He attempted to sit up and winced. He didn’t even want to know what the bruises would look like tomorrow.

If there even was a tomorrow. His vision began to clear and he saw the shattered windows, the glass and bricks scattered across the hallway. It was a miracle that none of the debris had hit him, other than where the glass was digging into his hands.

Abruptly, the screaming stopped. He was completely alone in the hallway, with his ringing ears and cut-up palms. He braced himself, then stood up despite the pain. “Hello?” he called as loudly as he dared. “Can anyone hear –“

He cut himself off at the sound of hissing. The sound wasn’t familiar, but it didn’t need to be for every instinct in his body to tell him to run. He had only just turned around when the hallway filled with a green vapor, the gas filling his lungs within seconds. He choked, falling on his knees to the cold floor beneath him. He couldn’t see anything, feel anything. He’d been in this building nearly every day for months, but now he was completely lost. 

He wasn’t sure how long he sat there, surrounded by the swirling mists. Eventually, they thinned out, leaving Bernard completely alone in the dark hallway. It felt longer than it had before, the shadows stretching over him. His heart was hammering against his ribcage, his breath coming in short bursts. “Hello?” he called out again. “Is there anyone out there?”

Silence, complete, dead, silence. Bernard squeezed his eyes shut. “Please,” he whispered, not sure who he was talking to. Anyone who was listening , he thought. Not that there was likely to be anyone. There never was anyone. He was always, always alone.

“Get up.”

Bernard opened his eyes, jerking his head upwards. “Who’s there?”

“Get up!” 

They never showed their face. Bernard couldn’t even tell which direction the voice was coming from – the voices , now, with another joining in on the calls. They grew louder the more they continued. “There’s a reason why everyone leaves you.” “You’re meant to be alone. That’s all that you’re good for.” “You’re a coward. You’re a fake. You’re not worth anyone’s time. You’re not worth anything at all.”

They were familiar, Bernard realized. Too familiar. He knew those voices almost as well as he knew his own. He clapped his hands over his ears, but the insults just kept coming. “This is how it’s supposed to be. This is what happens to boys like you.” “If you were smarter it would be different.” “If you were braver.” “If you were normal .”

“Mom,” he whispered. “Dad. Please. Please. Please.”

There was a sudden movement in the shadows, a flash of red, and he shrank back from it until his back hit the wall. He winced, drawing his legs up to his chest. “Get away from me!” 

The figure kept advancing on him. He reached up, removing his helmet, and there was Tim, the green eyes and the white-streaked hair and the tightly drawn expression. Bernard shook his head. “No,” he breathed. “No, I can’t. Not you.”

Tim said nothing at first, just crouched down in front of him. Bernard wished that he would put the helmet back on. He couldn’t stand seeing his face, especially not now. He blinked and Tim was recoiling away from him. He swore, the first sound that he had made. “Get away from me,” Bernard choked out.

“So we’re going to have to do this the hard way,” Tim said. Bernard tried to move away from him, but he was already backed up against the wall. Tim was taking something out of his belt, something too small for Bernard to see. A knife, maybe. A gun. Something that he could torture him with, or something that he could use to finally put an end to all of it. Bernard tried to stand, but his aching back screamed out in protest, and he slid back down to the ground against the wall. He became aware of the tears streaming down his face, the raw pain in his throat. Had he been screaming? He didn’t remember screaming. 

There was something cold pressed against his forehead. He didn’t have to open his eyes to know that it was the barrel of a gun. He sucked in a breath. Let it be quick. Please, let it be quick. 

The gun was gone as suddenly as it had appeared. Bernard opened his eyes tentatively to see Tim raising it to his own forehead. “No!” he cried out, lurching forwards, but he wasn’t fast enough. He was never fast enough. Tim’s body crashed down to the floor, the white tiles stained red. His skin had already gone gray, the edges of the hole in his head beginning to decay. He heard screaming, felt an almost tearing in his throat. And then a pinprick in his arm, a stabbing feeling that cut through the rest of the haze.

He turned to see Tim, alive, focused, sitting next to him, holding a syringe. “I’m sorry,” Tim said, and he actually sounded genuine about it. “It was the only way I could…”

The rest of his sentence faded out as the world went black.

-

Bernard wasn’t sure where he was when he woke up. All that he knew was that wherever it was, it felt safe. He felt safe in this room, with the walls bathed in golden light from the lamp on the nightstand next to him and weighed down by thick blankets. 

There was movement somewhere in front of him. His vision was still hazy from sleep, but he would know the person in front of him anywhere. He knew the way he moved, would recognize him from the slightest glance. “Tim?” he whispered.

Tim turned around to face him. It was the closest that he had ever looked to the boy that Bernard once knew. His hair was tied up in a messy bun, and the sleeves of his shirt nearly covered his hands entirely. “Go back to sleep,” he said.

“What…what happened?”

Tim took a step closer to the bed. “Scarecrow got some of his goons to plant a bomb in that building,” he said. “You got caught in the middle of it. You got fear gassed and I had to sedate you.”

Bernard tried to move closer to Tim, but winced as pain shot up his back. “It hurts.”

“Yeah, you were thrown right into the wall. I bet it hurts.”

“Did you kill them?”

Tim’s expression darkened. “Go back to sleep,” he said again. “You need rest. The toxin’s probably still in your system.” 

Bernard reached out as Tim moved away. “I’m sorry,” he blurted out.

Tim frowned. “About what?”

“What I said on the roof,” Bernard mumbled. “You actually died.”

“Mmhmm,” Tim said. “Flatlined and everything. You were right about the rest of it, though.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m not the Tim Drake that you knew.”

“That’s okay,” Bernard whispered. He moved his hand closer to Tim’s. “Stay,” he said. 

Tim froze as Bernard’s hand brushed against his. “You want me to stay?” he asked. Even halfway between asleep and awake, Bernard could hear the incredulity in his voice.

“Please?” Bernard whispered. “I can’t…” It flashed through his mind again – Tim’s corpse bleeding out in front of him, the gun still in his hand – and Bernard flinched, curling up even tighter. “Please don’t leave me.”

Tim was silent and still for a moment more, then climbed into bed, lying on his side to face Bernard. Bernard still hadn’t let go of his hand. With his other hand, Bernard reached up, running his fingers against Tim’s forehead. There was nothing there, not even a scar.

His eyes fluttered shut as Tim spoke – “I’m not going to leave you. Never again.”

-

The next time that he woke up, there was sun streaming through the window and the smell of pancakes wafting through the air. Bernard felt a little more human – the bruises on his back made sure of that.

He sat up slowly, reaching out beside him. The bed was empty where Tim had been last night, although it may have been a dream. He stretched out his hands, staring at the bandages wrapped around them. 

He forced himself to stand. As he got closer to the bedroom door, he could hear muffled voices. “…rather I just left him there?” Tim was saying. 

“You should have called someone. Even if you don’t have anyone’s numbers, you could have used his phone, I know you could have gotten into it –“ Kon.

Bernard opened the door, wincing at the pressure on his hand as he clutched the doorknob. The apartment was tiny, the kitchen right outside of the bedroom door. Tim was standing at the stove, refusing to look at Kon. Kon was behind him, both of their backs to Bernard. “You wanted to be the hero, didn’t you?” Kon said.

“It’s not about being the hero,” Tim said. “I couldn’t leave him. He’s…special.” 

Bernard could see the tension leaving Kon’s shoulders. “Yeah. He is. And you are too.”

Tim went rigid, bracing himself against the counter. “Hey,” Bernard said quietly. 

Both of them turned around so quickly that Bernard worried for their safety. “Oh my god,” Kon said. 

Bernard came closer to him, Kon meeting him in the middle to pull him into a hug. “Ow,” Bernard said. “Watch my back, it’s…” 

“Sorry,” Kon said. His grip loosened. “Sorry, just…shit, Bernard, I was so scared.”

“I’m okay,” Bernard said. He kissed Kon’s shoulder. When he opened his eyes, he saw Tim leaning against the counter, staring at them. He looked away when Bernard met his eyes. Bernard felt something tugging at his chest, and he pulled away from Kon. “Tim?” he said. 

Tim glanced up, looking startled. Here in the kitchen, he looked the closest that he had ever been to the Tim Drake that Bernard had known before. His shirt was just slightly too big for him, the sleeves covering his hands. His hair hung down around his shoulders. Bernard couldn’t help himself from wanting to touch it. “What?”

“Thank you,” Bernard said. Beside him, Kon turned to face Tim, keeping a hand on his shoulder. “I don’t know what would have happened if you didn’t…”

“You don’t need to thank me,” Tim said. “There was nothing else that I could have done.” 

“You could have left me there,” Bernard said. “But you didn’t.”

“No, I couldn’t,” Tim said fiercely. “There is no way in hell that I could have done that, and you know it. I would never let anything happen to you as long as I’m there.”

“That’s something we can agree on,” Kon said. 

“Thanks,” Bernard said. “But I can handle myself.”

“Yeah, you were doing a great job of that at Gotham U.” 

Bernard rolled his eyes. “I’ve been living completely alone with no money for the last year. In Gotham . I can handle myself.” 

He didn’t quite realize what he had said until he saw Tim’s expression, his mouth drawn into a tight line and his eyes blazing. “Why haven’t you been living at home?” he said, his voice deceptively calm.

“Why do you think?” Bernard said. “It’s pretty obvious.”

Tim closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. “How are your parents now?” he said. “I hope they’re dead.”

“Um,” Bernard said. “No. They’re not.” 

“Do you want them to be?” Tim asked, completely sincere.

No, Bernard should have said. Instead, what came out of his mouth was, “Let me think about it.”

Tim nodded. “Just let me know.” 

“And you know you’re not alone, right?” Kon said, taking his hand gently.

“Yeah, I know,” Bernard said. He couldn’t help but smile. “You never let me forget it.” 

He glanced at Tim. The scars were barely visible in the fluorescent lights, but they were more prominent when Tim frowned, at odds with the rest of his face.

Kon followed his gaze. “Okay,” he said. “Okay, I think we should talk about this.”

“Talk about what?” said Tim, who definitely knew exactly what they needed to talk about. 

Kon gestured to both of them. “You’re still in love with him. He’s still in love with you – don’t even try to deny it,” he added to Bernard, who knew better than to argue. “And…fuck it, I’m still in love with you. Are we all just going to keep pretending like none of that happened?” 

Tim blinked. “You’re…you’re in love with me?”

“Tim,” Kon said. “I’ve been in love with you for as long as I’ve known you. You really never knew that?”

Tim shook his head. “I never thought that you would…”

“Of course I would.” Kon stepped closer to Tim. “Tim, of course I would.” 

Tim’s lips parted. He glanced over at Bernard at exactly the same moment that Kon did. Bernard knew what they were asking. He nodded. “Go for it.”

Kon surged forwards and kissed Tim. Tim wrapped his hands around Kon’s waist, pulling him even closer. Bernard still hadn’t let go of Kon’s hand, and he moved it upwards, holding onto Tim’s shoulder. Blood roared in his ears, his heart pumping. He couldn’t help but wonder if his heartbeat was in sync with Tim and Kon’s. 

Bernard didn’t know whether it was seconds or hours before Tim and Kon separated. He barely had time to blink before Tim was wrapping a hand around the back of his neck and pulling him in to kiss him. Fireworks went off behind his eyelids. He had been dreaming about this for years, the opportunity to have Tim’s lips on his just one more time. It was familiar and entirely new all at once, the sensations together nearly making him dizzy. He reached up, finally getting his hand in Tim’s long hair. It was perfect. He was perfect. He was everything.

When they separated, Tim touched his forehead to Bernard’s. He was smiling. Bernard hadn’t seen him smile in years. “You’re still so beautiful,” Bernard whispered.

Kon had wrapped his arms around both of them. They were all so close together. Bernard could feel the heat radiating off of both of them, could see every scar on Tim’s skin no matter how faint and every freckle on Kon’s. “I never thought that I would have this,” he said. 

“Have what?” Kon said. 

“You,” Bernard said. “Either of you. Anyone, really.”

Tim cupped his face with one hand. “Well, you have us,” Tim said. “And I’m never letting you go again.”

There he was, in some tiny run-down apartment in the worst part of Gotham, with the two boys he loved. And for the first time in as long as he could remember, not a single part of him felt like he was alone.