Telling Tales out of School

by Chicago

Follows Nightline

Tim Drake let "The Triumph of the American Nation" fall heavily against his chest and nearly winded himself. He scowled at the over- weight text book and sighed, staring miserably at a shadow under the paint of his ceiling that was thinking about becoming a crack but would be certainly be painted back into submission over the Thanksgiving holiday. He sighed again. Even the ravages of time were held prisoner in this place.

He wished Alfred was around. He wouldn't go along with Tim's desperate desire to go out as Robin tonight, but trying to talk him into it would at least break the monotony of the evening. But Alfred was back at the Manor as was increasingly the case since he and Bruce had mysteriously mended fences three weeks before. And Tim was stuck.

He lifted the offensive text book enough to close it and drop it to the floor, where it landed with a heavy thud. He winced, hoping he didn't wake his downstairs neighbors. Not that he particularly cared that much, but he didn't relish a retaliatory pounding on the ceiling at some future point. He'd seen that sort of thing escalate before.

He should probably go to sleep, but he wasn't tired. That was the problem - he was always more alive, more awake at night during patrol times. It was almost worse now that he was sans roommate, because the temptation to go flying was increased by the likelihood of getting away with it. He sat up and moved to the side of the bed. He could just go over his gear, anyway, just in case something came up.

The closet door opened soundlessly into a darkness untouched by the lamp at his bedside. Appropriate, he thought, sliding one arm along the clothes hanging in front of the false back of the closet and pushing them all to one side. He didn't expect the darkness to move.

"Suit up," came a familiar growl, and Tim barely muffled a surprised cry as he stumbled back from the sudden gleam of Starlite lenses rising with the motion of their owner standing straight from a crouch.

"Dude," Tim gasped. "How long have you been in that closet?"

He wasn't surprised when his question went unanswered. "Roof. Ten minutes."

Then Batman was - gone. Just not there anymore. Even knowing how he did it, Tim was left blinking. Not for long though. He donned the suit with alacrity, his heart singing for the reprieve. He was still less than happy with Batman, but on the roofs with his taciturn and out of favor mentor was still better than in his room with the "Triumph of the American Nation." By minute eight he had followed Batman's retreat through the ceiling and into the attic dormer, and from there it was less than two minutes to the most secure of the Brentwood rooftops.

"What's up?" Tim whispered as he dropped down beside the stone still shadow in the shadow of the air conditioning system. "Arkham escape? Big gang thing?"

The shadow shook its head once. Negative. Then one arm stretched out and a jump line deployed, leaving Tim once again blinking. "Okay. Nice to see you, too, Big Guy." But he followed, rapidly getting clear of the Brentwood complex to join Batman on the access road where the Batmobile was parked.

Still, Batman said nothing as he opened the car. Tim scowled. "What's wrong - your new partner get grounded or something?"

"Get in."

Tim stood at the open door. "Uh uhn. I appreciate you springing me, but we got issues to work out."

"Spoiler is not my partner."

"She seemed to be working out for you. Although I do notice you came by to do your own summoning this time."

Batman was silent for a moment, then opened his door and stepped out of the car. He tossed something at Tim. A "catch" toss - not a "duck" toss. Tim grabbed the flying object and blinked - again. The keys.

Batman walked around to the passenger side. "Wayne Towers," he ordered.

Tim stared for a moment. The Batmobile. Permission to drive the Batmobile. In not an emergency. Just to get from point A to point B. The internal battle was quickly resolved. He stepped around the passenger door, leapt across the hood of the car and got in. The engine roared to life, raw power thrumming from the engine to his hands on the steering wheel. He grinned and gunned it.

This was driving! He floored the accelerator with a glance at Batman. His mentor's face tightened, but he didn't protest. They were at the Towers in 20 minutes. "Now that's what I'm talking about!" Tim whooped, reluctantly shutting down the vehicle. Batman said nothing, just stepped out of the car and shot his jump line to the roof.

Tim sat behind the wheel for a moment longer, puzzling over Batman's behavior. Was this an apology? Was it enough? He sighed and got out, locking down the car and following Batman's lead.

The Dark Knight had already assumed his customary perch when Robin joined him.

"Keys," Robin said, tossing them toward the still figure. A gauntlet snaked out lightning fast and the keys were secreted back in the belt. Tim settled down into a crouch near him.

"I was pushing you away."

Huh? Tim turned to stare at Batman. The man was still unmoving, and for a second Tim thought he imagined that he had spoken.

"I thought if you thought you would be better off without me, then it would be true."

Tim continued to stare.

"I was wrong."

Now Tim glanced uneasily around the ledge. This was definitely not what he was expecting. Another guarded look at his mentor showed that Batman hadn't moved and didn't appear as if he would speak again. He settled down in confused silence, unaware that his face had taken on the same stony cast as his companion's. After a long - a very long - silence, he spoke. "It wasn't your secret to tell."

Did he imagine it, or did some tension suddenly bleed out of the figure beside him? "I know."

"I never told her because of you."

"I know. I'm sorry."

Tim turned, his face incredulous. "Did you just say you were sorry?"

Batman's expression was unreadable, but he nodded once, tightly.

Tim blew out a breath in a long sigh. "Okay. Just promise me you aren't going to morph into Martian Manhunter now, all right?"

Batman actually fumbled, turning his head fast enough that he had to adjust his balance to avoid pitching off the ledge. "What?"

Tim shrugged. "Dick mentioned something was up with you and Martian Manhunter. Just wanna be sure it's you apologizing and not a stand in."

"It's him," a third voice contributed, forcing Tim to catch his balance.

"Whoa!" he cried, turning to face the tall green alien standing only inches behind them. He thought he saw the tiniest of smiles on the Martian's face, although he realized he didn't know the Manhunter well enough to understand his expressions.

"J'onn," Batman protested quietly, his face turned back toward his city.

The Martian shrugged, a fluid gesture under his cape. "I heard my name."

"Umm," Tim began, still staring at the unexpected visitor, "do you always just pop up when someone mentions you?"

"No," Batman answered for him, "he doesn't."

Martian Manhunter shot a look at Batman's turned back and seemed to roll his eyes, almost coaxing a surprised giggle from Tim. The giggle became a laugh, which escaped, when he heard the Martian's voice in his head: Incorrigible.

The laugh got Batman's attention, prompting him to turn around. "J'onn," he warned.

Another fluid shrug. "It's true. But I fear I interrupted your tete a tete prematurely." The Martian executed a little bow and began to sink through the roof to the office below.

"Wait," Tim demanded, halting the Martian at waist level. J'onn J'onzz raised an eyebrow and waited.

"J'onn," Batman rumbled again, this time with a hint of exasperated fondness.

Tim turned to Batman, studying his face. Then he looked to Martian Manhunter, still half way through the roof and waiting with an expression of inexhaustable patience. He turned back to Batman.

"I accept your apology. It doesn't make things right between us, but it's a start."

Batman again nodded tersely, his eyes focused on Tim.

Tim took a deep breath and turned to the beetle-browed alien. "Umm, can you - like - get all the way back up here please?"

The Martian complied without comment.

"I don't know what's going on with you two," Tim began, "although I think I have a pretty good idea. And I never really know what's going in inside his head-" he gestured toward Batman - "but I think I might owe you a thank you. Or he might."

"Robin-" Batman began, but the alien held up a hand. The gesture turned into an offered handshake, which Tim accepted.

"Sometimes," the Martian commented, "incorrigible people realize their mistakes a long time before they can swallow their pride enough to apologize." This time a clear smile blossomed on the Martian's face. "He's missed you."

Tim cocked his head. "Really?" He turned back to Batman, who stood - uncertainly? - facing both of them.

Batman lifted one hand. "Partner?"

Robin grinned and reached out to grasp the proffered gauntlet. "Yeah," he agreed, then almost gasped as he was suddenly, briefly, enveloped in an expanse of black cloak - a quick, relieved embrace that ended with Batman once again crouched on the ledge, overlooking the city.

"Better," the Manhunter's voice remarked, and Tim saw that the Martian was regarding Batman with a gentle expression. A loving -

Tim sat heavily on the roof ledge. "Oh!"

Two pairs of eyes focused on him.

"I thought I knew what was going on," Tim explained. "Sorry, just - complete rearrangement of my world. That's just-" He looked from Batman to the Martian and back again. "When Dick said something was up - I didn't - oh, man." He settled a penetrating look on J'onn J'onzz. "Are you sure you know what you're getting into?"

In his wildest dreams, Tim Drake would not have anticipated the response he got. It was soft but unmistakable. The sound of laughter. Of two people laughing. He watched incredulously as the tall alien reached out and rested a hand on Batman's arm. "Yes, Robin," the Martian replied. "Pretty sure."

"Tim," Tim corrected almost reflexively, still staring in disbelief. The laughter had not lasted long, but still. In the cowl?

"Tim. Then you must call me J'onn and stop thinking of me as the Martian."

Tim felt himself flush and began to stammer an apology, but suddenly Bruce was at his side with a hand on his shoulder. A smile still graced his lips as he shot a look at J'onn. "Don't mind him, Tim," he said softly. "He's incorrigible."

J'onn made a face, and in spite of himself, Tim began to chuckle. No wonder Dick had been complaining of his life getting more surreal than usual. He shook his head, not sure how much stranger the night could get and not wanting to know. "Well, then," he finally said, "he'll fit right in."

"Yeah," Bruce agreed quietly, returning to his perch.

After a moment of silent regard, J'onn turned to Tim. "I'm afraid I have monitor duty, but it's definitely been a pleasure."

"Definitely," Tim nodded, watching as J'onn again began his descent through the roof of Wayne Towers. There was a teleporter on the subbasement level, Tim remembered belatedly as he turned back to the Gotham skyline.

Silence again enveloped the still figures on the roof ledge, until finally Batman shot off a jump line to begin the night's patrol. With scarcely a thought, Tim followed, a smile on his face as he whipped through the night air. Batman and Robin ride again! he thought, the joy of the moment obliterating any lingering anger.

In the echo of his thought, he heard a quiet voice add, And it is good.


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