Too Deep To Breathe
by Rea

Kon closed his eyes and for a moment, enjoyed the feeling of being alive. Of being free. The wind currents of Gotham city propelled him up then pulled him into a downward gust towards the Gotham Harbor that had him skirting the tips of waves ebbing to and fro across the water.

One with the world, he allowed his momentum to slow as he came to rest on the salty boards of an abandoned harbor to the rear of the docks. He leaned his head against the rotting board, enjoying the sleek smoothness of wood long sanded down by wind, sleet and water.

He didn't know precisely why he came here. No, he did. This was where he and Rob used to meet. It was the one place the Bat wouldn't be and where the two could talk. Robin's favourite spot was at the very end of the dilapidated dock. Feet dangling over the edge he'd tilt his head and just stare at the sky. Kon, for his part, had been afraid to sit down. The warped boards and slime-covered planks were a far cry from his usual haunts of burger joints and park benches.

When the Boy Wonder had first brought him to this sad, little oasis, Kon had curtailed his witty repartee to a few lame jokes about the decor. Somehow, even then, he'd known this place was somehow special for Robin.

Of course, getting the Boy Wonder to speak of such personal accounts was a waste of time. Robin never did say and Kon learned not to ask.

Kicking the water with his foot, he displaced a pooling school of water life from their haven around a submerged plank. He watched water beetles scurry for cover and minnows disappear into the murky recesses of the water.

So many had disappeared from his life. Tana, Guardian, Roxy, Robin... the list went on and on. Cripes, he was too young to have lost so many. He'd only been alive for the last two years. While he may not be as worldly as Robin or Guardian, he did know that two years was not a life time and to have lost so many in such a short period of time was not something he could contribute as a consequence of his immortality. He wondered though, if this was to be his lot, always losing those closest to him. If so, then what did the future hold? The real future, twenty, thirty even seventy years from now? Would those he lost compile to fill a entire book? He hoped not. God, did he not want that.

But that was likely the way it was going to be. Cassie, Cassandra, Cissie, Bart, and god forbid, Slo-bo would one day be gone. And with all the weirdness that was his life, he figured it wouldn't be too long before all those names joined the others on his list.

Sighing, he watched the stars glimmer in the sky. It was rare a night that one could see the stars in Gotham. A wry smile curved over his lips. He'd finally figured it out. A derisive chuckle swelled in his throat before being released in a robust breath of air. Damn, but he understood now!

"I got your number, Rob." he whispered, wiping a tear from his eye. "You think no one can figure you out, Boy Wonder? Sorry man, but you ain't the only detective in the bunch. I get it now. Took me awhile, but I get it."

Content, he sprawled out, enjoying the natural lightshow above him. After a while, he became aware of the cold from the dock seeping through his clothing into his skin. Moving to a sitting position, he propped his chin on his knees. His elation faded into a sort of melancholy that moved his thoughts.

He wished he'd handled the dilemma with Cass better. After her confession at the restaurant, he realized he should have tried to humor her. At least a little. By putting on a half-assed investigation, she might have been content to let the matter rest. Once she saw once and for all there was nothing she could do. Hell, he'd almost convinced her until Marty had shown up.


It was eery, how the kid always seemed to turn up wherever he was. It was like, he just had to think about the kid and there he was. Never mind that Marty always seemed to know what was on his mind, catering to his insecurities with all the precision of a shrink. Sometimes, it felt like he was talking to... nah. Kon ran a sheepish hand through his hair. He wasn't even going to go down that road. No way.

"Fancy meeting you here."

"What a coincidence." Kon didn't need to turn to know who was standing behind. The hairs on his neck told the story. How did he do that? This was one hell of a coincidence. Of course, if Rob were here he'd say...

"There are no coincidences Kon." With the hairs on the back of his neck frozen, Kon watched the younger teen walk towards him. "We were meant to be here."

"What can I do for you, Marty?"

"Not much." Marty gazed out over the water, closing his eyes as the salty sea breeze wafted over him. "I just felt like being alone. This is my favourite spot."

"Funny, it's Robin's favourite spot too."

"He must be a smart guy."

"He's moody and a know-it-all." Kon grumbled, trying to mask his unease as deja vu ricocheted through his skull. "Personally, I think this place is kinda a dump."

"I like it."

"Then you have more in common with Rob than me."

"Touche." Marty zipped up his blazer and shivered. "Wind's kinda cold tonight."

"Maybe you should go home."

"You really are in a mood, aren't you? Did the rest of your date with Cassandra go that badly?"

"Maybe it did and maybe it didn't. Either way, it ain't none of your business."

"Isn't." Marty chided absently, as he gazed at the stars. "It's a clear night."


"Come on Kon, spill. What's got you so down?"

Kon sighed. "Nothing. I was just pondering my mortality."

"I thought you couldn't age."

"Fine," he snapped, "then I was pondering others mortality."

"Oh." Marty paused. "How come?"

"I was wondering why everyone I ever get close to has to die." Kon wondered how he'd managed to turn this conversation into another counselling session. "Not that its really a big deal. I mean, everyone dies, you know?"

"You don't. You stay the same." Marty kicked a scuffed sneaker against the rotting wood planks barely holding the dock together. "I think it is a big deal. Especially for you. It's scary when the people you love leave. It sorta makes you wonder, if all your friends are dead, who is left to stay with you?"

"I don't need to be looked after."

"But you still need to feel loved. You still need to belong somewhere that will give you a sense of security. You feel you need someone to validate your existence. That the path you've chosen is correct. That you're not the screw-up people may think you are."

Kon shifted uneasily. The kid's observations were hitting too damn close to home. "I don't need anyone to pass judgement on me."

"But you want their support." Marty countered. "There's no shame in that Kon. We all need a little support and understanding from time to time. At least, I know that I do. Unfortunately, I rarely get told that I'm doing a good job. Mostly, I get criticised a lot. For not being more aggressive, for being secretive or for simply not being there. When it comes down to it, I guess I'm just not a good person."

"You're a good person."

Marty favoured Kon with a wry grin. "Heh. Believe me when I say you're in the minority. Lately, it seems like everyone is down on me. The sad part is that I don't feel I deserve the rap. Not that you'd know how I feel. You're Superboy. Everyone thinks you're great."

"Not everyone."

"Well sure they do. You get tons of fan mail. You have girls who swoon over you. You save the planet on a regular basis. What's not super about that?"

"I don't always make the smartest decisions." Kon scratched the back of his neck sheepishly. "Sometimes, my decisions are pretty bad. At least, that's what others say. Me, I don't think I was wrong, but everyone else does, sooo..."

"So you apologize, even if don't feel you've done anything wrong."

"Something like that. But lately, I've been thinking that maybe they're right. I mean, I'm a black and white kinda guy. There's right and there's wrong."

"What's the harm in that?"

"Sometimes things aren't always black and white. Sometimes things are gray. Like with Robin. I overrode his command on Apokolips. I still think it was right to save Steel, but it was wrong of me to undermine his authority, because then we crashed and I got two members of the team killed. If I had listened to Rob instead of being such a hotshot, they would both be in one piece and Robin would still be on the team."

"Well, then we're both screw-ups, because for me, things are always gray. I don't have a cut and dry sense of right and wrong. When things are really bad, I find myself unable to see beyond the gray, and that's a problem too."

"Not like mine. Your decisions revolve around school and what color socks to wear." Kon grumbled. "Mine are of the life and death type."

"What makes you think mine aren't like that too?"

"You're just an ordinary kid."

"Hmph. Not that ordinary." Marty muttered, but let the matter rest. "So basically, you doubt yourself because of the Apokolips incident?"

"Not just that. There were other instances. Remember the Demarti mess? That's another one for the books."

"You aren't a screw up." Marty stopped his aimless thrashing of the dock plank to peer down at Kon. "What you did on Apokolips was wrong. There's no arguing that. However, you've also done a lot of good. You've helped a lot of people. You do your best to do the right thing. That makes you super in my book."

"That's the problem." Kon sighed and pulled his knees up to his chin. "I try. I don't succeed. At least not usually. For every one thing I do right I screw a million other things up."

"You're wrong." Marty laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. "You do make a difference. As for your troubles with Robin, if he were here now, I know he'd forgive you. No, really." Marty said over Kon's derisive snort. "He would. I mean, he's the partner to the Batman. He's probably had his nose rubbed in enough mistakes to know how bad it feels."

Kon chuckled. "Then you don't know Rob. I've been balled out more times than I care to remember by him."

"Then you probably deserved it." Marty humphed. "Robin would forgive you, I'm sure of it."


"No maybe." Marty said firmly. "It's a given. You're a good person Kon-el. Don't ever forget that."

He didn't know why, but he felt better. The painful knot that had taken root in his chest suddenly loosened. For the first time since the accident, he felt better. "Thanks, man."

"No problem. That's what friends are for." Marty shimmied to the edge of the dock. Swinging his feet over the edge, he sprawled out, using his arms for pillows. "It's a nice night."


"For cryn' out loud, will you look at that?" Marty used his foot to point excitedly at a shooting star. "Make a wish Kon! Hurry, before it's gone!"

Kon watched the star rocket over the horizon before disappearing into the dark landscape of Gotham. A whisper formed in his mind, so quiet he was barely aware of what his mind had wished.

"Didja make a wish?"

"Yeah." Then "You?"

"Nah. I already got my wish." Marty's eyes met Kon's. "I decided to leave this one all to you."


He didn't know how long they stayed there. The night bore on as they sat, each lost in their own little world. He was almost asleep when the rustle of movement caused him to open his eyes.


"Yeah." Marty sighed. "Curfew. If I want to make it home before my parents I've gotta get to the bus stop before last call."

"Okay." Content for the first time in ages, Kon extended his hand to the boy. "Hey Marty,"


"Thanks." Grabbing the boy's startled hand, Kon shook it. "For everything."

Marty looked surprised, but nodded. "Ditto." Releasing Kon's hand, he brushed his bangs from his face a gesture that seemed to spell relief. "So, we're cool then?"

"Yeah man, we're cool."

"Okay then." Burrowing his hands in his pockets, Marty cast one last smile over his shoulder before leaving the dock.

Kon watched him go. Just as Marty was almost out of sight, Kon stood. "Hey Marty!" The teen turned. "I'll see you around okay?" Marty waved once before disappearing into the darkness.

Alone, Kon shivered. Abruptly, he wondered why it felt that this was good-bye.

He'd been driving for the better part of the night. The insistent chirp of the comlines had subsided to a dull glare of red on the dash as the persistent members of the Clan resigned themselves to the car's pager. He supposed he should answer their calls; explain his actions, his reasoning in the kidnapping of the Clan's most precious commodity. He didn't answer.

Time whisked by as he pressed forward, blending into the inky realm of the night that was his domain. Unforgiving towers of cement, concrete and brick boasted their stature to the sky, blotting out the stars with grey masses of smoke billowing from ventilation shafts, offering rigid gargoyles a safe haven from prying eyes. Deadened street lights told no tales as he cruised past, their spindly bodies beseeching absent city maintenance workers their willing hands for the chance to shine bright again.

Steering the car onto a particularly torn road, he found himself entering Deadman's End. So many things ended here. Car crashes, gunfights with the police over botched robberies, over-doses in the alleys and gang initiations gone bad. Too many lives suffered a tragic demise on these unpatrolled streets. Glancing to the limp figure resting in the passenger seat, he found it ironic he would be adding to the tragedy instead of diverting it.

Slowing the car, he came to a full stop in front of the alley. The alley of eery sounds, shapes and supernatural mishap. Though he had dreaded entertaining such a notion with Alfred, he was certain it was at this very alley he had attracted an otherworldly presence. The child who cried had not given him a moment's respite. Always, he could hear the tears and muffled sobs whether it be in the pitch of night, at the office or in the shower. It didn't matter, the elusive weeper was never to be found. At times he'd been close to discovering the identity of the child but always at the last moment to be thwarted.

He wondered what the child wanted, for he was certain the spectre was a child. In his lifetime he had suffered a great many losses; not only to himself but to others. Try as he might not all situations ran smoothly, and sometimes in his crusade the innocent would die. Maybe, just maybe, this was to be his penance for past failures. To be forever haunted by the terrified cries of a child he could never help.

It was odd, but he felt that leaving his youngest charge in Deadman's End would be safe. That somehow, his spectre would realize the vulnerability of the boy and watch over him, offering protection from the vermin that routinely haunted the streets.

Opening the passenger side of the car, he gathered Timothy's limp body in his arms. Slowly, with a gait that seemed too aged for a man of his years he entered the alley, blending with the dark silhouettes rising around him. Silently he moved to the rear of the alley to a large stack of unclaimed garbage bags where he carefully laid the unmoving boy upon the pile.

Gazing upon the boy, he felt a pang of guilt that time would not allow him to forget. Or forgive. But he wasn't about forgiveness. The Batman did what needed to be done and emotional repercussions be damned. Alfred would not understand his actions. For certain the butler would never offer forgiveness for this transgression. The old man loved Timothy like a son. So much so, that he'd followed him to boarding school. Would Alfred leave for good now? He didn't know.

"I'm sorry buddy," he whispered to the unresponsive form pillowed against a pile of forgotten bags of garbage. "I really am. But you understand why I did this, right? You're a smart kid. You held the most intelligence of all my Robins. I don't need to explain my actions. You understand." Retracting his hand to his belt, he pulled a small syringe from his pocket. "You understand." He repeated in an aside meant to ease his torn soul more than his parnter's. Taking Tim's limp hand in his, he carefully placed the syringe into the unprotesting palm. "It's better this way."

"For who?" The quivering voice rang from the abyss of the alley, both questioning and condemning between teary sniffles and whimpers. "Why is this better?"

"Who are you?" Willing his pounding heart calm, he scanned the shadows, searching with sharp eyes for the outline of a body. "How long have you been there?"

"From the beginning." Said the voice in a shrill octave held by most small children. "I've been with you from the start."

"The start of what?" Even as he said it, he was making the connection. The elusive child, always crying. Always sad. "Why?"

"To make you understand. To make you see. To not be afraid anymore. To be loved."

"Why me?"

"Because you're the begining and the end. Because you're eternal. Because you guard the helpless." The voice hitched and fresh tears began anew. "You make me sad. You're supposed to care but you don't. You take and take and when you can't take anymore, you toss aside those who depend and care for you. You hurt when you should protect. You're sworn to protect yet you continuously harm those most important to you."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Then what are you doing?"

A wave of shame swept over him as he dared a glance at the limp body beside him. "I have no choice."

"There is always a choice."

"Not this time."

"There is." The child voice cried. "There always is! In every situation there is a choice. Always there is a fork in the road. I think you are afraid."

"What do I have to fear?"

"The road less travelled." The voice paused. "Sometimes, the hardest road is the right one."

"How do I know this path is the wrong one?"

"Because it leads you from love instead of towards it. I saw your soul, Bruce Wayne. Once, long ago."

His breath caught in his throat. Who was this entity that knew him by name? Instinct told him to confront the source, to coax it into the light if only to subdue it, yet he found himself enthralled by its sordid tale. "How do you know me? Who are you to judge my decisions without knowing my reasons?"

"I know your reasons." The voice said curtly, all trace of sadness gone. Instead, the voice spoke candidly, as if baring a man's soul were an everyday occurrence made over tea and biscuits. "If you deny it, then you deny yourself the gift of truth. When you offered me comfort, once a upon a time, you took my pain as your own. As our souls exchanged the pain I caught a glimpse, no matter how brief, of your soul."

Suddenly fearful, but needing to know, he cast his inquiry to the waiting shadows, both exhilarated and terrified of the answer. "What did you see?"

"Darkness. You dwell in its darkest depths."

"My life has not been easy.

"As have the lives of others. Those closest to you have suffered hardship yet emerged from the torrent of anger, pain and hurt with soul in tact. What makes you so different?"

"I am what I am."

"You deny what you are."

Silence descended over the alley as neither side spoke. Fighting the urge to flee, he bent over the body of his former partner as if seeing him for the first time. The rakish form of a once jubilant boy lay haphazardly over long-forgotten trash; pale skin nearly translucent against the harsh backdrop of the alley. The syringe held in limp fingers dared to breath the dismal fate of yet another youth claimed by the toxic mixture of promised pleasure. Purple and brown bruises smudged the bony arms, daring anyone who might say that Timothy Drake was of better stock than a back-alley drug addict to disagree. And disagree no one would. Not with such blatant evidence. Only a select few would ever know the truth. The truth that Timothy Drake was not an addict, but rather, a gallant young man upholding a long-passed down tradition of protecting the innocent. A young man in the wrong place at the wrong time. A young man who deserved better than he was receiving.

"Is this fair?" The child voice inquired. "Is this how one is paid for sacrifice and loyalty?"

"No." For the first time, Bruce Wayne allowed himself to emerge from the shadow of the bat. The ugliness of what he was about to do infiltrated every orifice of his mind, screaming obscenities and pointing fingers at the callous intellect who had directed the entire horrid affair. "No, it isn't fair."

"Then change what is." A fresh set of sobs emanated from the darkness. "Please don't let it end like this. Please Bruce. Don't do this. Don't sully the memory. Please."

"I--" He looked helplessly at the body then to the shadows. "I can't--"

Whimpers and choked sobs filled the alley as the child's voice pleaded with his better side. "Please, please. It's not too late. You change this... please?"

Just as he was about to cave, a new voice entered the fray. "Stop! What you do?" Before he could blink Batgirl was beside him, her shock at the scene barely contained by her mask. "NO!" Pushing his unresisting form aside, she leaned over, gathering Tim into her arms. "This wrong! All wrong!"


"I take Timothy home!"

Before he could stop her, she was gone. As he slowly rose to his feet, he realized the child voice was gone. Feeling a chill, he retreated to his car and continued his patrol.

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