Blood Isn't Everything

April 30, 2018:

Bart confides in Red Robin, seeking advice on how to handle having a new family member.

Titan's Tower


NPCs: Clawminator Destrucat Mk. II

Mentions: Bucky Barnes, Cassie, Connor, Iso, Max Mercury, Owen Mercer, Spider-Man, Spoiler, Tony Stark, Zatanna Zatara


Mood Music: None.

Fade In…

To the untrained eye and those not as close to the resident Speedster of the Titans' current roster, Bart Allen, a.k.a. Impulse is as restless as ever. He has no set routine, given that running home for school things or hanging out here or taking a jog two cities over is a simple matter of putting his shoes on and whatever he feels in the mood for. Except for school things. Max is always adamant in that.

Today he's parked himself in front of the TV and played through a stack of games to ensure he's kept his high scores. It seems he's given up on trying to keep all professional with the secret identities, at least when within the Tower, wearing a red hoodie with the Flash insignia on its front, and a pair of jeans and sneakers. A couple of pizza boxes sit beside him although only one and a third have actually been consumed. His thumbs move at a blur, and occasionally he shifts as though the extended movement will transfer through the controller.

Sprawled across his lap is the other reason Bart hasn't moved too much where he sits on the floor, back to the couch, Clawminator Destrucat Mk. II half asleep, tail curling back and forth lazily despite the random shifting of her bed.

Max Mercury has at least one other ally in Bart's life: Red Robin has a strange talent for straddling both being a part of the youthful mischief of his friends, and also being a kind of moderating force on it. He knew that none of them would ever really be 'normal', and that they all needed different things than a regular person did, but there was still an importance to seeing some of life the way everybody else did. He couldn't let them become completely disconnected from the world of mortals… Who knows what they might become, if that happened?

And Bart was, frankly, the biggest danger there. There was so little to ground him in the world, living a thousand years before he'd be born. Somehow, this translated to the vigilante helping to make sure that Bart did all his 'school things'.

"Haven't you beaten this one a hundred times?" wonders the Red Knight; in contrast to Bart, Tim was of course in his Titans costume, not letting that slip even inside the Tower. Yes, most of the current crew knew exactly who he was… But 'most' was a different animal entirely than 'all', and so the secret had to be maintained. It was sort of bizarre, the sight of him sitting on the couch in that getup, but with him it seemed perfectly normal. That air of confidence that said everyone else was strange for wearing civvies.

It's become normal enough in regards to Tim Drake that Bart has ceased to question it. If ever Red Robin hangs around off duty in the Tower in sweats, he's decided that to be an official sign that the world was going to end.

"One hundred twentyyyy…six." Bart relinquishes the controller, slumping back a bit as the credits come up on the screen. His hands freed, the oversized pink cat lifts her head and immediately shoves it in his direction for a petting. As Bart does so with one hand, he reaches over to pick up one of the remaining slices of pizza, nibbling on it mechanically and at normal speed as he applies scritches to Clawmy's head.

By now he'd usually be moving to swap over to a new game or impatiently tapping buttons to get past the credits that so casually continue to claim the screen. His thoughts are elsewhere, circling so many times in his head that he would have worn out an inverse donut were the motion transferred to his feet.

Maybe that was another key difference between them: Once Tim beat a video game, he usually never touched it again. Focused, goal-oriented. Onto the next project.

With his eyes hidden behind the featureless white lenses of his domino mask, Red Robin watched Bart silently for a long moment. Of course, he used the augmented reality HUD in his mask to observe the speedster in other ways, checking his heartrate, electromagnetic activity… Searching for any sign there might be something physiologically wrong with the Fastest Teen Alive. There's no immediate signs, but…

"Bart, are you okay?" he wonders. It doesn't take the detective protege of the World's Greatest to figure out there's something bothering the other young man, but it doesn't hurt any either. "You didn't eat those leftover croissandwiches from Wonder Waffle Wednesday, did you? I'm pretty sure a lot of them weren't actually edible…"

Seriously, what Cassie did that day was a crime against bacon and sausage.

Bart used to be that way with games, if only because playing through them tended to damage some of them for the speed he'd go through them. With digital copies and DLC, it's been enough for him to poke curiously through with another playthrough just to see what might be different.

Blinking, Bart tilts his head back against the couch so he can glance at Red Robin. Clawmy takes the distraction as an opportunity to bite at the pizza hanging limp in the Speedster's hand.

"Mm, yeah, I guess. I just…" Pause. "-they weren't? But…I brought Max some the other day…." he starts, trailing off as it occurs to him just why the older Speedster might have had a stomachache the other night. Which in turn is why Bart had decided not to broach the subject of his most latest discovery with his mentor just yet.

Oh, right. Clearing his throat, Bart lifts his head again, giving Clawmy a look as the cat has a paw holding his hand in place so she can finish the rest of his pizza without his interrupting. He sighs.

"Um. Anyway. I was just thinking— shut up- about…family stuff."

The admission that he'd taken some of the leftovers back to Alabama to give to Max makes Red Robin wince a little bit… But those speedsters have crazy metabolic rates, no doubt old Max Mercury recovered quickly enough despite his age. Maybe with a whole lot of Pepto Bismol.

But it's clear that Bart isn't at all his usual self. It's a testament to how weird his life is that the Red Knight is trying to figure out the safest way to determine if the young speedster has been mind controlled or something similar: Really, most people wouldn't even think of something like that under normal circumstances. But there's been no such thing as 'normal circumstances' for him ever since he first started wearing a costume and throwing himself off of rooftops at themed gangsters.

Fortunately, though, it seems like what's bothering Bart is something much more mundane. 'Family stuff', the younger man says, and Red Robin puts up his hands briefly at the 'shut up', because he would never say anything about Bart and thinking. Superboy might, sure, but he's not here, is he?

"Family stuff, huh," the detective repeats. "This isn't about Flash and Spoiler, is it?" Because if it is he really doesn't want to hear about it, for a whole host of reasons. Besides, there'd been no sign of the elder Allen in at least a year. So, probably not that.

What that leaves, Tim couldn't begin to imagine.

Bart actually winces at that reminder. The supposed relationship between his grandfather and Robin's ex is still kind of mind-shattering. Funny how that is and time travel things are not, but then that's part of the norm in his family.

"Ugh, no! I almost forgot about that! Thanks," he mutters, letting himself slouch down against the couch so he's more lying than sitting in place. The cat doesn't seem to mind as she shifts onto his stomach, licking a pizza paw.

"No, it's… New stuff." New stuff? But surely Tim Drake's got a handle on the Flash lineage.

But now that Bart's said it, he seems suddenly hesitant to go into detail.

It's not like Tim likes to think about that either, but that's the only family drama among the Allens he's aware of!

So he just shrugs and splays his hands when Bart is less than appreciative of the reminder of that whole situation, because as he sees it that reminder wasn't his fault. Also, he never really forgets anything, so if he has to live with that information so does everyone else.


"New stuff like what?" Red Robin wonders, brow furrowing above his domino mask. It's sort of strange, given how usually one would hardly be able to keep Bart from talking about something interesting he'd just learned… Which means it's probably something he isn't sure what to think about. A more introspective Impulse is… Kind of strange, honestly, but isn't this the sort of thing cooler heads have tried to foster in him? To get Bart Allen to slow down and think about things?

"Look, if you don't want to talk about it, that's fine. But bottling it up isn't gonna help anything."

Says one of the world's foremost experts on bottling things up, hypocritically.

Bart does think things through…on occasion. The tension between Red Robin and Owen Mercer hasn't gotten past him, especially not when they'd last all been together at Tony Stark's. He knows that Robin's always warned him about- Okay, he warns him about a lot of things. S.H.I.E.L.D.'s been a popular one. Being around Owen Mercer's been another.

The guy had been a jerk, so it had been easy to be wary of him once Bart had found out he'd be working in the same bar as him. But Owen had showed a different side to him, proof that he wasn't always a jerk even though he still didn't seem to know how to keep it out of his words at times. But Bart had come to consider him a friend. Which makes it difficult when his other friend whom he's known for much longer obviously doesn't like the guy.

And yet the only reason Bart had even considered mentioning it now is because Tim's been a good friend. A little overboard in the secret identities and heroing department, but still, one of his best friends.

He grumbles under his breath, partly in the decision he needs to make, and partly at Tim's words. He takes a deep breath.

"…I have a brother."

…I have a brother.

Red Robin's brow furrows harder. It's not completely visible, with the domino mask, but it's definitely clearer than when he's wearing his full cowl costume. That thing just makes him inscrutable. Which is the point. Already, of course, he's trying to figure this out. Did Bart have a visitor from the future? But, weren't his parents…

"So… What, like… In the future? Sometime in the 31st century or whatever you will have had a brother?" It's weird, but time travel is pretty weird. He has job of work wrapping his head around it sometimes, since he's a person who generally just lives in one timeframe, but fortunately he's also an extremely intelligent person who lives in that one timeframe.

He kind of gets the feeling that it's weirder than that, though, or Bart wouldn't be so reluctant to talk about it.

"Yes? No? I don't know!" You know it's bad when even the time traveler's confused. Bart's sudden movement has his cat leaping off of him, looking slightly annoyed before padding off, probably to go and nap in front of someone's door.

"I mean, mom never told me about any such thing, the last time I saw her. You think that might be something she'd mention, right?" He hates that it's made him start to wonder if she's not told him everything. True, they hadn't been together all that long, but still.

"I guess it's something in the future. I dunno anymore," he mutters, hands running over his face. He really, really doesn't want to say, but he's already gone this far about it. Shoving himself up again, Bart draws up his knees as he scoots to rest his back against the couch again, folding his arms over his legs.

"…you've already met, though. 'cuz he's here. -not here here, but this time, here. City, even."

Hopefully the cat doesn't make any more attempts on Iso's feet.

It's… Strange to watch Bart like this. It's easy to think of him as unchanging, as someone who nothing really affects because of his speed, because of his unique psychology. Someone who always views life as a game, because that's quite literally how he was raised. Tim has always seen himself - perhaps arrogantly - as the one to bridge the gap between the worldly concerns of normal mortals and his friends who were, quite frankly, gods. Bart, Conner, Cassie, even Zatanna… So many things that are essential to everyone else just aren't to them, for one reason or another. Their physical invulnerability, or their ability to outrun or phase through things that would kill anyone else, or their awareness of the world beyond mundane ken.

But deep down, they were just people. They needed connections with others, they needed family, whether found or biological. And Bart's family in particular…

"Maybe it hadn't happened for her yet," Tim suggests gently, carefully. "So you've got a younger brother out there. At least, from one frame of reference." It seems like Bart doesn't actually want to tell him, perhaps doesn't even want to face up to it. But it's someone Tim has met. Someone who's in New York.

The vigilante frowns.

"…It's not Tony Stark, is it?"

When it comes to family, Bart's is as far from normal as they come. The question of his parents hadn't even been a thing to register in his mind for the longest. For as long as he'd known, things just simply were, and Iris was the only real family that he got to know, the only one who cared for him and risked so much to get him away from where he was literally racing away his life.

And then there was Max Mercury. It had been a rocky start, Bart would admit that, but despite the constant headaches and clashes regarding things as mundane as chores or complex as training, somewhere along the way pretend Uncle Max Crandall had become as close to the real thing as anyone could measure.

Bart hadn't even recognized his mom when she'd first found them. He didn't know her, having been stolen away by the alien Dominators when he was a baby. But for the longest time even Meloni Thawne wasn't aware that her son was still alive. They'd clicked easily, and yet when he'd gone back with her… He would have stayed. He would have liked to. But the future is crazy, and with Thawne as President of Earth, there wouldn't have been a moment's peace for him.

"Oh grife," Bart sputters, for all of Max's scolding he's never been able to break the teenager's habit of using that future expletive. "I almost wish! Then this wouldn't be so hard. …and I'd have a cool rich brother who could make a floating island and giant robots—"

Oh look what you've done, Tim.

On the upside, at least when he starts using future expletives nobody knows what he's talking about. Tim had a similar experience when he first met Peter Quill while the 'Guardians of the Galaxy' were crashing at Shadowcrest, and mostly it just left him tempted to start using made-up curse words from tv shows to see if he could get the alleged space rogue to play along.

"Yeah, no, Bart. No. Stark isn't going to make any flying islands or giant robots." He hopes. At least for certain values of 'giant' robot, anyway… Wasn't there some enormous Iron Man suit during the attack on Stark Tower?


"So, okay, worse than Tony Stark. Are you going to make me guess? There's about seven and a half million people in New York City, probably about half of them are male… Though I guess you narrowed it down a bit more by saying that I've met them. Spider-Man? Bucky Barnes? The guy at that pizza shop on the other side of the river who always gives us extra pepperoni?"

Always there to steer him back on track. Bart stops, frowning although perhaps not quite believing that Tony Stark wouldn't try doing such things. And the island thing had been the guy's idea to begin with, hadn't it?


"Agh, no, no, no!" Bart flails, shaking his head as he drops his hands down at either side of him. That's a sure-fire way to get a Speedster to cut to the chase when he's beating around the bush. He is not sitting around for hours while Red Robin lists names of acquaintances in New York City. Craning himself around, he fixes the masked Titan with a look. Such a serious expression while not terribly rare is still hardly as common as the carefree smiles or clueless blank face of confusion.

"It's Owen," he blurts, his brow furrowing slightly, his reluctance to have said it clear enough even if all his hemming and hawing beforehand hadn't already been. He waits a beat before continuing, amber eyes drifting back towards the floor. "…we met up the other day 'cuz he wanted to talk. That's when he told me what he found out."

It's Owen.

That is not the response he'd expected. If it were anyone other than Bart, Red Robin might think it was a prank. A funny joke to wind him up about his obvious discomfort with the Son of Boomerang. Few people, after all, knew exactly why the former Boy Wonder felt that way… Which is one of the few things he's grateful to Owen Mercer for, keeping the secrets that he knows. It's not even the man himself that bothers him, not really: It's the memories that come, inevitably, drawn in the wake of that man's existence. Bare feet finding the pool of half-dried blood, sticky and black in the darkness. A room that smelled of gunpowder and blood and death. Three corpses.

The night he and Owen both became orphans.

"It makes sense," Red Robin says, clinically, trying to keep a mental distance from it. Owen was Bart's brother. Half-brother. "His speed… From his mother's side of the family." Why couldn't Mercer have stayed in whatever hole he'd crawled out of? Shacked up with Harley Quinn, and now this. But the truth is - the truth, as Tim tries to convince himself, anyway - that what he feels about it doesn't matter. Just like it didn't matter with Zatanna. What matters is: "So… What are you going to do? Having this sprung on you… Do you want him to be your brother, a part of your life?"

When Red Robin speaks, Bart turns his head back towards him. Sure, it does make sense put in that light, but it really hadn't been anything Bart had considered. After all, there are lots of other Speedsters around, and not everyone was related.

"I get a choice?" He blinks as though the thought hadn't really come to him. All in all, he's still reeling from the news, like he's still in the process of soaking it in. Either that or it's like he's just stuck on repeat as he keeps rewinding the conversation in his head.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," Bart sighs, sagging back against the couch again now that the hard part's out and overwith. "I mean…I'm not even sure Owen knows what to do. And it's not like I can ignore it now that I know…" He doubts Owen can either, otherwise he wouldn't have bothered to tell him. "…I don't…mind having a brother, I guess?" he admits, scratching his head. "I dunno, it's…it's all really weird."

"Blood isn't everything, Bart," Red Robin says. The temptation to focus on how this affects him, how this upsets him is powerful… But he pushes it away. Forces it back into the deep dark recesses of his own mind, into that little box where he puts inconvenient things when he can't deal with them. Bart is one of his best friends, as well as just generally his responsibility as a teammate. "Family is more than just blood. If somebody related to you just comes careening back into your life after never having been a part of it before… You're not obligated to them. It's up to you to decide if they're part of your life or not."

His own family wasn't one of blood, after all. He had no real relations, maybe a few distant cousins… His family was the others who bore the legacy of the Bat, and Conner, and Cassie, and Bart.

Besides, Mercer could be lying, Tim nearly says, out of his own distrust for the other man… But how much of that was tied up in the rest of that mess, and how much was because he didn't see Boomerang as in any way trustworthy? Who knows what the guy could hope to gain by lying to Bart like that, though.

I dunno, it's…it's all really weird.

"Yeah, it is," Tim agrees. "Look… In the end, it's your choice. I can't tell you what to do," although he really wants to, "but this is obviously a lot to process. So you should think about it, maybe talk to Max. He's your family too, right? And so are we. So don't, like… Don't start thinking that Mercer is the only family you have. Don't think that you have to go against your better judgment because you don't have anyone else."

There's a lot of little implications that bother Bart in this. Did mom move on? Didn't she care about Owen? Why didn't she tell me? How come she didn't tell Owen? He knows his family's far from perfect and his mom… well, he probably got a bit of his impulsiveness from her. But he'd felt bad after Owen's reaction when Bart had mentioned to him that Meloni had come to find him. And maybe it was a little strange to feel jealous about someone's alternate reality experience, but he'd felt so when Owen had mentioned being able to actually get to know his father and his— their mother, as a real family.

Family is more than just blood. Robin's words pull him from his thoughts. Bart smiles thinly, appreciative of his friend's thoughts and wisdom. Tim's always been like that. Sometimes Bart can be a little jealous of him too because of how much he seems to have things together, and how people are willing to trust him with responsibilities. But that jealousy never lasts very long. Tim still proves himself to be human, and for all that half the time it seems he's a glorified babysitter, he's still easier to relate to than Max.

"Heh." A faint chuckle. "Mom literally did that, you know? Careened back into my life." Jumped him in his bedroom, really. No, wait, he tackled her. But then to be fair, she had a gun. But for a day or two, he'd had a mom again. It was… Well, the experience was anything but normal, but for Bart Allen, his normal has never been aligned with the world's.

"I'll talk to Max about it," Bart agrees. "But…I thought I should at least tell you too." He smiles crookedly over at Robin, then moves to pick himself up off the floor before gathering up the pizza boxes. "It took me a long time to work that out though. That I had family more than Aunt Iris, here. That…people can be family even if they're not related directly to you." This will take some time to work out too, although Bart hopes it won't take nearly as long. But he kind of knows what he needs to do.

When Bart mentions his mother careening back into his life in a literal sense, it's Tim's turn to feel a pang of envy.

Janet Drake was long dead, after all.

Sometimes, he wonders if it's his fault somehow - if choosing to walk the path he did meant that he had to lose his family, like some kind of payment. Some blood sacrifice to be able to follow a course previously walked only by orphans. Maybe if he hadn't become Robin years ago, they'd still be alive. Certainly, there would've been no reason for Digger Harkness to go after Jack Drake…

"Max probably has better advice than me anyway, he's very old," Red Robin suggests, only half-seriously, though he can't really share much genuine mirth at the moment. Though really, he should be more disturbed by the fact that Bart is cleaning up after himself than anything else. The speedster must be really out of sorts. Or maybe this revelation has accidentally caused him to mature, by turning him into the big brother.

Rising from the couch, the vigilante frowns faintly to himself. He should do more, he thinks, but then he always thinks that. He needs to…

"Just take your time, Bart. Maybe in the end this will be a good thing for you." He doubts it, but maybe he can at least try to believe it, for Bart's sake. But with Mercer the way he is now… "But either way, we're here for you. Me, and everybody else. RIght now though, I'm gonna…" He gestures towards one of the dorm wings, where his own room is, before starting to head in that direction.

Now Bart isn't the only one who has to get his head together.

Nodding, Bart eyes the top pizza box under his arm in consideration. There are a few slices left, after all. The conversation's kind of made him lose his appetite for the moment though.

Take his time, huh? He snorts a little in a laugh. It's kind of amusing advice to be told a Speedster, after all, but once again Bart nods. He straightens up, and while he can't read Tim's mind, he has a feeling he's not the only one who's got some things to sort out.

"Hey Tim?" he says as Red Robin heads towards the dorms. "Thanks."

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