Tim Drake stood, transfixed on the scene in front of him. To his left was his stepmother, Dana Drake. On his right was his ex-girlfriend Ariana Dzerchenko. And they were talking and laughing...in the middle of his home's living room.
"Ariana stopped by to see you, and I insisted she stay until you came home," Dana said, all smiles. "How was the library?"
The library. A weak excuse, but feasible. "It was fine, I got a lot of things accomplished," he replied. Scratching his head he looked about. "Is dad still up?"
"You know your father has long since been in bed. Why don't you sit down with us, we could all..." Dana patted the couch until she was interrupted.
"Actually Mrs. Drake, do you think it would be alright if Tim and I were alone? We need to talk," Ariana interjected. "I won't keep him up long, I still have a bus to catch back home before my uncle kills me."
Dana stood and shrugged her shoulders. "I don't see what the harm is." She headed up the stairs. "But no funny business!"
Tim rolled his eyes. This is such a set up that Plastic Man could figure it out. He turned back to Ari who patted the couch like Dana had done before. He sat down a cushion away from her and started to speak.
"Not a word," Ariana said with a finger pointed at him. "I speak, you listen."
Tim was taken aback by her brashness. I don't know whether to disregard it or be turned on.
"Tim, I still have feelings for you, feelings that never left. I know my uncle caught us in that compromising position when we were together, * but we both know what really happened. I was never happy with Glenn, all I could think about was you and all the good times we had together. Sure, you like to break dates and disappear at certain times, but I'm sure that now we've both grown up in a lot of ways we can get past all of that and have a mature relationship." She stared into his eyes and put her hand on top of his. "I love you, Tim. I love you."
There was silence; not even breathing was heard as Ariana waited for Tim's response. He finally took a deep breath.
"Ari, what we had in the past is gone now. I held on to my feelings for you for a long time after we broke up, but then something happened. I met someone else and..."
"Someone else! Who is she?" Ariana yelled.
"Shhh! Let me finish. And even though it didn't work out between me and her, I know it's not the right time for me to be in another relationship. I have to get my head screwed on first, get readjusted to being back in Gotham. But even then...I don't see us together again, Ari. I'm sorry, but I can't." He felt Ariana move her hand from his.
She stood up. "What a fool I was, huh? Here I am thinking I'd come in here, put it all out and we'd end up kissing the night away. A big fool!" She began to cry and Tim went to say something again. "No, Tim, that's quite alright, because I believe you've said enough for one night." She opened the door. "See you in school tomorrow."
Tim watched her go as he closed the front door. I did the right thing, didn't I? What am I saying, I know I did the right thing. But why do I feel so bad? He looked at the grandfather clock and decided it was time to get some sleep. If I can sleep...
"Mike! Mike!" Lydia Smith came screaming into her editor's office. She slammed the door and stopped herself with two hands on his desk.
"Lydia, what the fuck is it?" he asked groggily. "I've only been here 20 minutes. Let my coffee circulate before you start yelling."
"I got a story!" she said excitedly. "It came to me last night when I was sitting on my roof, literally!"
Mike looked at her like she was crazy, but finally sighed. "What's the story?
"Robin! The guy one that just came back in town. I can get an exclusive with him! What do you think?"
"Again?" Mike asked. "Didn't you learn your lesson with the first one? Oh wait, you did disappear for two week doing that story but I don't like to pry. * You really think you can get this story don't you?"
*Robin #10 & #11 when Lydia was held in jail after being found at the crime scene of the Steph-Robin/Fake Spoiler fight in #10. -KC
"Yes, I do, Mike. This story will sell papers," she answered unflinchingly.
Mike sighed again and gulped down more coffee. "24 hours to prove it. You show me something that came straight from his mouth, I'm all for it. If not forget it."
"Thanks Mike!" Lydia yelled as she went back out the door. "You won't regret it!"
"I sure hope not...."
Thomas Jacobs had also arrived early back into his lush office, not even noticing the new desk that replaced the one he demolished yesterday. He stood at his window, watching as the sun began to peek above the skyscrapers of Gotham City. He took a sip of his latte and smiled to himself. I wonder how well little Robin slept last night.
His office door was opened and a still sleepy Mr. Anderson poked his head through. "Mr. Jacobs, he's..."
Jacobs didn't even turn around. "Send him in," he said cutting the smaller man off. "And please do try to wake up."
Anderson nodded and exited, only to be replaced by a much larger man. He walked to the front of Thomas' desk and started to speak.
"Don't worry you don't have to say a thing," Thomas said as he continued to gaze out his window. "You my friend are my secret weapon. The one who will help me recover the funds Robin took from my bank account yesterday. As the originator of this betting ring, nobody said I couldn't change the rules. You will be my second and best franchise player, and as such if you defeat my other franchise player, I can only reap the benefits. I trust that you've adjusted to your new 'stature'?"
"That I have, Mr. Jacobs, and I swear I'll do everything in my power to pay you back, I owe you so much and..." the man rambled excitedly until Jacobs waved his hand.
"Then you know what you have to do then. Tonight, want you to take down the Boy Wonder as painfully and as quickly as possible. But do not kill him. Once he is unconscious, leave him. Then return here."
"You can leave now my friend, it is time I get to work," Jacobs finished. He watched as the sun completely rose above the city then finally turned. The room was empty as he had asked. It is a new dawn my young hero. A dawn that you surely will not like.
Tim and Ives rode in silence to school. Tim had just finished telling his best friend about he and Ariana's encounter last night. And Ives still hadn't said anything.
"Well," Tim asked as he stopped at a red light. "What do you think?" He looked over at Ives who looked very annoyed with him.
"You're an idiot Tim!" he exploded. "A beautiful girl practically lays naked in your bed, well at least figuratively, and you tell her to go away! I don't understand that!"
"What's there to understand, I told you the same reasons I told her!" Tim responded as he turned left into the high school parking lot.
"I would kill for someone like Ariana to pay attention to me Tim, and you act like it's nothing. Nothing like that ever happens to me and I just can't understand how you could push her away." Tim parked in his designated spot and the two hopped out the vehicle still arguing. "Maybe it's just me, Tim, maybe I just will never understand." With that he stormed ahead, leaving his friend behind.
Tim stood helpless at the end of the hallway. Yeah, I guess you never will Ives. But Gotham likes to keep her secrets close. He started to head for his locker when Ariana walked by. "Hi, Ari," he greeted her.
The icy stare he got in reply was colder than anything Mr. Freeze could ever produce. She said nothing and kept walking.
Tim sighed and continued ahead. It's now official. I now know what Bruce feels like whenever he gets involved with somebody. He quickly twisted his combination into his lock, opening it and the door. A complete ass.
He felt numb for the rest of the day, barely acknowledging Ives' apology at lunch or registering anything his teachers were saying. He did manage to take note of his homework assignments and toss the needed books into his bookbag. He saw Ariana once more after their first class and she didn't even notice him. Or at least pretended she didn't. He and Ives kept the conversation light on the way home and Tim was soon pulling the Redbird into his parking spot at home. He came in as quietly as possible, hoping Dana wouldn't hear.
"Tim!" she called from the kitchen. "How was school today?" She met him at the steps, drying her hands off on a dishtowel.
"Okay. I'm going upstairs to do this homework, it's been a really long day," he replied as he started up the steps.
"So, how did it go with you and Ariana last night?" she asked with a small smile.
At least she wasn't listening. "I told her I didn't want to date her, she walked out and she hates me. Pretty simple, huh?"
"If you want to talk..." Dana began, feeling bad for putting Tim in that position.
"I'll be okay," he answered as he closed his bedroom door. He dug out one of his books and fell onto his bed. Hoping required reading would ease his mind for awhile; he opened the book and let his eyes do the rest.
A few hours later, he slowly opened his eyes and saw nothing. Realizing he had laid his book on his face after finishing the last question, he lifted it and realized Dana hadn't even bothered him for dinner. Must feel guilty for last night. Standing and stretching, he saw that it was now 10 o' clock, and that he had successfully completed his assignments before he took a nap. Can't believe I'm letting Ariana get to me like this. I didn't want to date her, why should I feel guilty? He walked to the window and could barely see the moon behind the clouds. There is always that chance that I could catch up with my 'friend' who nearly killed me yesterday. * Could make me feel better. He reached into his closet and pulled out his costume.
*Last issue. -KC
No sooner had Robin left his room via the window, Dana finally came in to check on him. "Tim, your father and I were going to go get some pizza, did you..." her words died off as she found nothing.
"Does he want to come?" Jack Drake asked from downstairs.
"No..." Dana said slowly. "He's not here, must have went to get some air. He feels bad about Ariana.
"Oh," Jack said. "Well, we'll bring him some back." He headed for the front door with his keys jingling in hand.
Dana came back down the steps, worried as ever. Please be careful, Tim. And maybe I should make you start telling me when you want to disappear.
Swinging from one line to the next, Robin's head was actually beginning to clear. He narrowly avoided skyscrapers, dared to let go of his line and fall for a moment, only to shoot another line and swinging off in that direction. For now, he was above his troubles, above the world and, mostly, above the guilt. He somersaulted off his last line and landing in a crouching position on the nearest building.
He peered down, seeing Gotham City, busy with life as cars and people headed to their designated late night destinations. Robin pulled a small device out of his utility belt and pushed a button.
Finding the nearest fire escape, he made his way down to street level. Fifteen minutes later he dropped down into the alley where the escape ended. Walking out to the street, he stopped at the sidewalk and began counting. One, two, three, four...
The Redbird pulled up beside him, now in full mode as he called it. Half mode is the way it looked when he took it to school or had it at the house. Not bad at all, for something Bruce didn't create. He hopped into the driver's side and took the wheel, soon driving the bridge and towards Wayne Manor. Not that he's ever been any real help with girl problems, but he might be able to get a bead on that loser from yesterday. With another push of a button, the huge mountain that Tim was about to drive into opened, revealing a huge garage with every variation of Batmobile Bruce had ever designed, not to mention motorcycles. As for the planes and boats, he kept those harbored elsewhere.
Pulling into his parking spot, Robin hopped out and made his way towards the main section of the Batcave.
"Master Timothy, how nice to see you again. It has been awhile," Alfred said as he approached the Boy Wonder.
"Yeah, it's good to be back Alfred. With Dana finding out my secret and me starting school again, I haven't had much time. Is Bruce here?"
Alfred pointed to the computers where Bruce was sitting with his cowl off, rubbing his temples.
"I've heard you've been busy lately," Robin said as he removed his own mask. "Between catching the Cavalier and stopping the Russian invasion, * I'm surprised you haven't called."
*See recent issues of Batman-KC.
"Very funny," Bruce retorted as he turned to face his sidekick. "I did take time to notice you getting jumped in the park. I see we fight dirty now." He even smiled.
Wow. He's in a good mood. "He was gonna kill me! He had the advantage from the start." He sat next to Bruce and rubbed his neck. "How have things been?"
"Surprisingly good. Since you told me Dana learned your secret identity, it's been pretty quiet, aside from the Russians. Have you talked to Dick lately?" Tim shook his head. "He and Barbara are engaged now, I gave them my blessing."
Tim broke into a big grin. "That's great! I've been so busy I haven't even talked to Oracle. That really is great...I'm happy for them. They deserve it."
"I agree," Bruce said as he turned back to his computers. "I take it the Fear System was a success?"
"Yeah," Tim replied as he glanced at the screens. "Alfred set it up and we lead Riddler right into it. Stephanie and Cassie too, but it all worked out in the end. I was wary at first, but it really did make those woods appear as the Batcave, at least to those who didn't know they were in the program." *
"Speaking of Stephanie, have you heard from her?" Bruce inquired as he turned back around.
Tim shook his head again. "Not a word. We weren't on the best terms when Riddler kidnapped her." He lowered his head in thought momentarily. "Bruce, you ever wish you could just tell someone that's close to you, everything? I mean, not me or Alfred or Dick, I mean as in someone you love?"
Bruce smiled at the young boy. "Plenty of times, Tim. But then my burdens wouldn't be just mine and Gotham's, they would be hers as well. And I just couldn't live with myself for that." He pulled his cowl back on. "I'm about to go out again, care to join me?"
I can't believe how nice he's being. Maybe he accidentally got into Impulse's brownies. "No, that's okay. I mean, I would love to but I need to get home so Dana doesn't worry too much..."
"See what I mean?" Batman said as he entered the Batmobile. "By the way, I have Oracle trying to find out who attacked you yesterday. We'll find him." And with that, he was gone.
"Yeah...I guess I do understand..."
Meanwhile, throughout the Gotham underground, word had quickly spread about Thomas Jacobs' new franchise player. The one who supposedly was going to bring down Robin. Bets were going every direction, some to Robin, some to the new player; some were even crazy enough to bet on the 'guy who kicked Robin's ass yesterday'. Hey, it could happen again!
And Jacobs was sitting comfortably in his office, finishing off his umpteenth martini of the day, and leaving him with quite the alcoholic buzz. "It's almost time, Robin," he said as he watched Sportscenter for the fourth time that night. "Soon the little birdie will get his wings broken, making me all the richer." He smiled again as he clicked off his TV and nodded off to sleep.
Others were scrambling to take their own second franchise player, but most couldn't afford the price.
"A five hundred thousand dollar charge for a second franchise player!?" one screamed. "Jacobs is out of his bloody mind!"
Some paid the price, only to realize there were no other decent franchise players. Thus, this left them on the short end of the stick and Jacobs with more money.
Robin had sent the Redbird back home shortly after leaving the Cave, wanting to swing around a little longer before he called it a night. He was already mentally exhausted; he didn't think making his body the same would hurt.
Landing on a rooftop, he realized he was closer to home than he thought. Must have gotten caught up in thinking. Just wish I could do something to make things right with Ariana, but it's her fault she's taking it so badly. Why should I be beating myself up about her! He picked up a stray rock and hurled it into the air. "I have enough problems without this!" he screamed.
"Hey," someone called from across the street. "People are trying to sleep."
Robin immediately felt regret for his outburst and was about to swing away. "Sorry, won't happen again."
"Well, now that you went through the trouble of waking me up, I think I need some company over here," the voice called again. The Boy Wonder stopped and realized who lived across the street. He shot his jumpline and soon landed soundlessly in front of Lydia Smith.
"It's you again," Robin said. "Thinking deep thoughts?"
"Actually," Lydia said as she clutched her robe tightly in the early fall weather. "I was waiting for you."
"Oh really," Tim responded. Interesting. "And what if I hadn't come through this way at all?"
Lydia moved closer to him. "I knew you would. But it's really cold out here. How about some coffee?"
Robin took a step back. "I...I can't...have to get home soon, I do have a normal life..." he couldn't even talk straight. I feel like an idiot. I have to get home but every part of my being is screaming for me to go inside with her.
"Oh, come on Robin; let's just call it me helping the war against crime. I know you've got to be cold," she smiled. She took his hand and started leading him downstairs into her apartment.
"What is your name anyway?" Robin finally muttered.
"Lydia. Lydia Smith. Now you sit down right here and don't move." Her look told him he better listen for now. She disappeared into the kitchen. "So, did you break a lot of bones tonight?"
Robin laughed. "Not quite. I'm really out just to be out, but I haven't seen or heard anything. Kind of weird actually." Lydia reappeared with his hot chocolate. "Thanks. I've just been so stressed lately."
Lydia sat on the couch next to him, instinctively letting the reporter in her kick in. "About what?" she probed.
Tim sighed then took a sip out of his cup. I can trust her with some of this, she seems like she could use a good story. "My stepmother knows I'm Robin. I mean, I kept it from her of course, just because parent's worry, but I got a little careless. Now she worries about me all the time when I'm out like...this," he gestured to his costume. "And then I turned down my ex-girlfriend when she wanted to date again, and now she's mad and my best friend was mad and my stepmom feels bad because she let my ex-girlfriend in last night while I was 'out'. And my dad is clueless to all this; not that he's dumb, just that he couldn't handle the truth about this, and he'd give me the birds and bees talk if I told him anything else..." he took another sip "...life's just crazy right now."
Lydia slid closer to Robin and began rubbing his back with one hand, her chocolate in the other. "What about your real mom? What does she think?"
The Boy Wonder took one last drink and set his cup down. Standing, he stretched. "She's dead..."
Lydia's mouth fell open in shock as she too stood. They looked at each other for a moment, then she hugged him. And Tim hugged her back. "I'm so sorry...you can't be more than...seventeen?"
She got no answer. Instead, Robin locked eyes with her again and then pulled her to him and kissed her. It was only a few seconds but neither had any sense of time. Then, just as soon as it happened, the kiss was broken and Robin was gone.
Lydia rushed out her apartment and to the roof to see if there were any signs of him, but he was gone. He had easily slipped out her window before she could regain her balance after the kiss.
And what a kiss. She ran a finger along her lip. "Wow..." She then remembered what was in her hand. Analyzing it, it looked like a remote control for something of his, but she wasn't quite sure what. Hopefully this will be what Mike needs for his proof. But I can't even think about that now ...wow...
What in the hell was that?! Tim screamed at himself as he soared above the streets again. All these girl problems I have and I go and kiss the first one I see. Smooth move, Tim. Let's start another relationship when you risk your neck every five seconds. Wait, it's not a relationship, just a kiss. What could one kiss hurt? He launched another line and realized his body had caught up with his mind. "It's time to go home..."
"Oh no it's not!" someone screamed from behind Robin. He twisted to see who it was but instead he was tackled in mid-air. The force was enough for him to lose his grip on his line, and the two fell helplessly to the alley below.
Robin scrambled to his feet. Thank God I was closer to the street that time. He surveyed his foe, who stood at least seven feet and weighed 300 hundred pounds of pure muscle. "Not the same guy as yesterday, but you'll do!" He whipped out his bo-staff and used it to launch himself at his attacker. He didn't move and Robin felt as if he had plowed into a brick wall. "Owwww!"
"Aww, did I hurt the birdie?" he asked. Robin pulled himself back to his feet. "Good!" He lashed out with his right arm, smacking Robin into the wall at the back of the alley, where he landed with a hard thud. "I'm not that chump who beat you up yesterday, but I am someone you will fear!" He jumped from the opposite end of the alley at the Boy Wonder. Tim barely had time to put his hands up in his defense, but his opponent quickly hand him by the neck. "Look at you, you can't even fight back. Mr. Jacobs didn't say it would be this easy!"
Jacobs? "Who are you?" He was reaching for his removable 'R' symbol. Just need a couple more seconds.
"Reaching for that fucking symbol of yours mate? Nice try." He gripped Robin's shoulders and slammed him into the wall, making his arms fall to his sides. "The name is Expo, boy, and if I didn't have specific orders I'd kill you now." He dropped Tim back to the concrete. "Alas, you get to live...for now!" He delivered a left that slammed Robin's head against the brick, which was enough to send him into unconsciousness. "Horrible dreams, bitch." Then Expo was gone.
A few minutes later, Tim woke up slightly. He couldn't move and saw that his vision was severely blurred. Got to get home...just gotta, Dana will worry... He began to pass out again, but he activated his comm-link as he did.
"Long time no see, Robin," Oracle announced into his ear. "What's up?"
"Oracle," Robin said weakly. "Call Batman, tell him I have a concussion and I need help..." The shroud had once again closed in.
"What? Robin I couldn't hear you. Robin! Where are you? Tim!? Answer me..."
NEXT ISSUE: Tim fell down and bumped his head! Well not quite, but it looks bad for the Boy Wonder! Also who is Expo? We'll soon know as the origins of he and Thomas Jacobs revealed! And just to top everything off, we have a very special return by a female this book has been missing since Annual #1! Part 4 of For The Love Of Money is next!