Following smoke and remembering fire
by Te
July 10, 2004

Disclaimers: All is DC's.

Spoilers: No real spoilers, per se, but includes
vague references to various storylines in
Batman, Gotham Knights, and Robin.

Summary: The direction of a push does not
perfectly predict the path of a fall.

Ratings Note/Warnings: NC-17. Content some
readers may find disturbing.

Author's Note: I meant this as a sequel to "A mean
arithmetic," but it isn't... quite. Still, it might help
to read that first.

Title from "Paths of Desire" by October Project.

Acknowledgments: Thanks to Jack, LC, and Livia for
audiencing. Liv also gave me a title.


Bruce doesn't like to think about it.

About... it isn't the sex, per se. It's the relationship.
The tangled vagaries of it, the thrilling transgression
of it. He's breaking a rule that doesn't have
anything whatsoever to do with Tim's age, or even
with the relationship the two of them are,
theoretically, supposed to have.

He's never been entirely sure what *that* was,
anyway. And the more he thinks about it, the more
suspicion he has that Tim didn't, either.

They've been a good team when they've worked
together. Tim had been balm to his worst
excesses -- to Batman's -- and he had been...

There had always been a few small things Bruce
could provide for Tim no one else could. Once or
twice, he'd even managed to provide them without
causing further damage.

Once or twice.

And now...

They don't work together any more often than they
did, or any less. Tim had been carving out portions
of the city for his own for years now. He had his
own allies, his own routines, his own fears and

With a little effort -- *focus* -- he could probably
make an educated guess about which of the above
is occupying Tim's time right now.

What's keeping him *away*, a small, loathsome
(even to those parts of himself capable of
forgiveness) voice suggests. Insists.

It's loathsome because it isn't true, and never has
been. Tim...

Tim has never been like the others. Sometimes the
illusion of familiarity and permanence, the *hope*
of it, slips away to reveal them as nothing more
than a disparate group of needs and training, his
own touch on them -- all of them -- easily brushed
away. Forgotten.

He's never thought of himself as especially
possessive -- shouldn't he be better at *keeping*
them, if so? The hurt and anger of the realization
is absolutely meaningless next to the terror of it.

The end of every nightmare Bruce has can be
defined by one word: Alone. This is his weakness,
obvious to any who cares to look.

And there are times when he wonders if that,
more than anything else, was the basis of Tim's
reasoning. Why he'd done this -- *started* this.

The urge to blame himself entirely, to cover
himself in the ashes of his own old, familiar
self-loathing is... not insignificant, especially
when combined with the hateful and terrifying
possibility of coming to believe Tim deserves...

Whatever terrible thing his mind could come up
with to finish that sentence. Tim has not made this
easy, even for Bruce. He's never expected anything
to be *easy*, after all. Only... he shakes it off.

If he was entirely ignorant of himself, he would've
been a dead man long before. Long before he'd
ever known the name 'Drake' as anything more
than that of another one of Gotham's 'favorite
sons,' somewhat less afflicted by the dilettante's
disease than most. Tim is not Jason.

Left to his own devices, nothing could've made
Bruce cross that very real -- if always difficult to
define -- boundary between partners and... this.

Bruce frowns to himself and lifts his forehead
from the glass of Jason's case, wiping the imprint
away with a clean edge of the chamois he'd used
on the car. The terrible truth is that there is
never just one slippery slope. One need
provokes another. One memory...

Cutting himself off from putting most of this into
clear, definitive language is another sort of
transgression entirely, or feels like it should be.
He doesn't *think* he's allowing himself some
sort of willful blindness about his relationship
with Tim -- the other terrible truth of the moment
is the fact that he has far, far more questions
than answers.

At the same time, however, the existence of
those questions should *provoke* him into the
search for answers. All he has to do is think
about it.

("Man, you *talk* a good game, but you're really
fucking superstitious, aren't you?")

Language, Jason, Bruce thinks, and feels his mouth
try to smile while something inside him
simultaneously tries to tear. The Cave echoes with
silence and the memory of laughter. There's a
perverse sort of pleasure to the nights like these,
when Alfred shifts the combination on the
compartment holding Batman's spare uniforms,
and does a remarkably good job at hiding
everything else before Bruce wakes up.

When Bruce has been told, in various ways, that
it's time for him to take a night off. He itches to
refuse, of course, but Alfred always picks just the
right time. The night after the latest major project
is complete, and/or the night after some
spectacularly inconvenient injury. A combination
of events, coincidences, and... conspiracy.

The pleasure is there. Gotham never has more
approved operatives working in tandem or alone
than when he himself has been... benched. If he
goes to the console, the mask and other cams
will show him Gotham through the eyes of
everyone, anyone. The entirety of his family,
and his family's families.

In the Clocktower, Oracle is undoubtedly waiting
for him to pester her unnecessarily for the
reports that will be sent to him anyway -- when
*she's* done with them. Nightwing is on the
Northeastern outskirts of the city, as close to
Bludhaven as he can get without leaving Gotham
itself. The others are working through their
own territories, unless something has gone
wrong and --

No. Nothing would keep Oracle from relaying
that call to him. He isn't injured, he's only...

Making a pretense of rest and recuperation,
enough of one to keep Alfred from (leaving)
reprimanding him. Enough of one for all of them
but himself. Tim didn't take the bike tonight. It
is, of course, as immaculate as the rest of the
vehicles. The tank is full and it would take a
well-trained eye to know that it's been driven at all.

Bruce crouches and runs a finger over the back tire.
The tread is more than adequate, but it would still
probably be a good idea to replace it soon. A week,
perhaps. Less if Tim decides to take it out more
than once before then.

Tim is as careful with it as he is with all of the
equipment -- he knows he is as likely to forget the
faint hint of dismay on the boy's face the first time
he'd returned from a solo patrol with an
unsalvageable uniform as he is to forget Jason's
habit of carrying shreds of his own destroyed
uniforms on his person -- but before he records
his mileage and wipes the odometer, Bruce makes

Tim puts just as many not-strictly-necessary miles
on the bike as Bruce had hoped he would. He
loves the bike. It isn't the freedom -- Bruce has
always held on to Tim very, very lightly -- it's...
something more visceral. Simple, the way very
few things are for Tim. Either of them. Bruce
loves the car, too.

It makes him want to come up with any excuse
possible to give Tim more of them, other
vehicles. He would've *given* Tim a car of his
own to take to San Francisco, if he hadn't been
so very determined to take one.

That, perhaps, had been about freedom, though
Bruce thinks it still isn't likely. His relationship
with Tim -- *his* -- has been...

Bruce scrubs a hand over his face, smelling
rubber and the faintly alkali scent of the grounds
by Robinson Park. Tim hadn't mentioned
patrolling there, which means it was one of the
places he'd driven through for the joy of it. His
heart pounds a little, seizes at the imagery. He
would've been wearing his helmet, since he
only took it off for emergencies.

He would've been... the image isn't the best. It's
been a long time since Bruce has been especially
familiar with a Tim at play for nothing serious, or
necessarily cruel. His relationship with the boy
has been damaged far too deeply, and far too
often by Bruce's own confused need for *more*
from him. Confused because he was never sure
what form that 'more' would take.

He still isn't.

The others...

He has thought, more than once, that his life
would've been more comfortable if he'd gotten
less from Dick. Easier, in that weak, shrinking way
that he'd tried to take *anyway*. That he still
does, because looking at Dick is very much like
trying not to grasp for the sun that will burn you
to nothing. Because Bruce was never, *could*
never be the man Dick wanted, and perhaps
even needed.

And Jason... if Bruce ordered the lights up, the
shadow of the Case would fall over Tim's bike,
and over himself. ("Christ, *I* don't care, Bruce.
They can hang all over you all they want. Heh.
It's kinda hot when you come home smelling
like perfume.")

He's tried to put it into words more than once,
tried to organize his thoughts into coherence.
Five years since Jason came into his life, three
since he was killed. Temptations and madness
and pain and loneliness. Jason had been so
much. Jason had been absolutely everything.

Intellectually, he's long since come to realize
that he'd drowned himself in Jason, that it was
unfair and dangerous for both of them. That
his obsession was... just that. Utterly
unmediated by the love. Beyond that, there's
very little intellect at all.

Bruce checks the time mentally, then
actually -- off by three minutes. Ten minutes until
he can pester Oracle without causing undue
annoyance. The others' patrols are staggered by
both necessity and design, but it would be very
strange if any of them had been out for more
than two hours.

Orpheus almost certainly first, because his
half-reformed gangs worked early, Batgirl soon
after because she hungered for the night as
much as Bruce ever has. The irrational,
mindless part of him reaches for a sense of
them, heedless of the fact that no ordinary
human *could*.

The irrational part of him demands the search,
the *reaching*, because there is nothing else
to sate it. Not really. ("I know you do, I know,
oh *fuck*, Bruce --") He leans in just enough
to smell the leather of the bike's seat, sharp
and aging quickly from hard use. He doesn't
plan to replace it until (Tim asks, or does it
himself) he absolutely must.

He can barely smell the nomex and kevlar of
Tim's uniform, much less Tim himself.

Tim had left nothing behind when he'd moved
back in with his father, and the fact that it
had been less a message than the boy's
simple, ruthless practicality only made the
lack more palpable. Now... now, perhaps,
there would've been more a message to the

Even before Tim had... seduced him?

There are any number of reasons why the word
feels irritatingly incorrect, from his own worries
about control to the fact that seduction would
imply that Bruce hadn't thought about it. Feared
and hoped and *wondered*.

Jason had opened a universe of possibility,
undeniable even in the face of Tim's own mix
of professional opacity and passions directed
seemingly everywhere but at himself. Even to
the Bat.

If he thinks about it, he gains the naggingly plausible
sense that none of this would've happened if he
hadn't pushed the boy quite so hard, pushed so
much *personally*. He's forced to wonder if
Batman's gift for Tim's sixteenth birthday had
been the point of decision, some sort of last straw
beyond which Tim could no longer treat Bruce
with precise, distant care.

As though his declaration of intent toward Tim's
future had been more of a transgression than
anything else he'd ever done, or failed to do. It
makes more sense than he wants it to, but the
evidence is there. He was never supposed to
make Tim question his role as Robin. Not after
he'd given him the suit, and certainly not after

He was never supposed to strike at the heart of
the one thing he could be *sure* Tim believed
in, or at least, *wanted* to believe in. Perhaps
the only thing Tim had *ever* believed in.

That he'd done it out of pride and the need to
*praise* Tim as much as out of necessity doesn't
matter in the least. He had trespassed.

Bruce closes his eyes and fights against the wave
of pleasure, of *rightness*. He knows more about
what he wants from Tim, what some grasping,
greedy part of himself *needs*, than he wants to
admit, even to himself. Tim is a promise.

He stands and stretches, slightly, and trails his
hand over the bike's controls before moving to
the console.


"Here. Now go away."

If she was truly involved in more things than she
could handle while also dealing with him, she
would've said she was busy. "Report."

The sigh is brief, but impressively gusty. "Nothing
new from Orpheus. Batgirl just went in to give
Canary some back-up. Robin's headed in,
because --"


A moment's pause, and Bruce bites the inside of
his cheek. Intellectually, he knows that if Tim
were injured, Oracle would mention that first.
And Oracle knows that *he* knows that.

Bruce is reasonably sure that only the fact that
Oracle knows he'd just track her down keeps
her in the Clocktower. She could work from
anywhere. He can feel her deciding how much
he needs to know, versus how much he wants
to, versus how badly she'd undoubtedly like
to --

"Minor injuries only," she says, as clipped and
blank as she can manage without switching on
the scrambler. "He was caught in a blast. The
uniform took the brunt of the damage."


"Currently being processed at the one-nine.
Anything else?"

If he asks about Nightwing without her mentioning
him first, at this point, it's entirely possible that
Oracle will decide they need to talk about... any
number of the things neither of them actually
wish to. Oracle has many weapons. "No."

"I'll call if I need you. Oracle out."

Minor injuries only, which means that the only
reason Tim's coming in is that the suit's irreparably
damaged. He should be pulling out a spare.

Almost certainly, it will be the first thing Tim wants
when he comes in. He hates interrupting a patrol
nearly as he hates damaging his uniforms. Tim's

Bruce traces the console with his un-gauntleted
fingers and checks to see if Alfred's awake.
There's nothing moving in the manor, which
suggests not. One of the reasons Bruce doesn't
fight his periodic 'groundings' as much as he
could is because Alfred seems to treasure the
chance to sleep at night whenever possible.

Bruce had long since surrendered the fight to
keep Alfred from staying awake while he was
on patrol.

He makes a mental note to mention whatever
Tim says or does about the damaged uniform
to Alfred in the morning. Alfred has always
been fond of that particular quirk. Of Tim in
general. There was a time when he'd assumed
Alfred's near-immediate acceptance of Tim
had been the result of the fact that Alfred had
become accustomed to the mostly wordless
need Bruce has for partnership, but frankly
there's so much more to it than that.

There are any number of things about Tim which
demand... attention.

The first unnecessarily loud footfall makes Bruce
tense, despite the familiarity. However, since
Tim immediately shifts to a quieter pace, it's clear
that the first had more to do with courtesy than

Bruce can feel Oracle glaring at him.

He still has time to get Tim's spare suit before...

There's a hard twist to Tim's mouth, cynical
annoyance. The cape is impressively shredded
along its lower right side, nearly perfect on the left.
He hadn't had time to cover himself entirely, which
is obvious by the damage to the left leg of his
tights and the charring along that side of the tunic.

Bruce stands and takes a closer look. His shin is
bruised, and there are a few scrapes. The vast
majority of the damage is to the boots.

A deep breath and Bruce can smell smoke, melted
plastic, and melted rubber. The uniform must have
been actively burning at some point. Bruce looks
closer still and gets a raised eyebrow for his

"No burns. The suit is a wash, though." Another
twist to his mouth, and a brief, telling hesitation
before Tim heads toward where he keeps his

The hesitation is more about the fact that Bruce
didn't have one ready for him than anything

"The perp is a new player," Tim says, walking
easily. "Correction -- a wannabe. Homemade suit,
more damaged by his own bomb than mine. Hm.
I think the gauntlets are still fine."

There's an unspoken question. As always, there is
no obligation to answer it. "Oracle didn't offer
many details."

Tim drops his cape into the acid bath and pauses
before looking back over his shoulder. There's a
blankness to his expression that almost certainly
belies whatever is behind his mask. "I didn't finish
my patrol," he says, and sits down on the bench
to pull off his boots. One of them falls apart when
he tugs.

"Oracle has it covered." It would be unlike her
*not* to divert someone else to Tim's territory.
Which Tim knows as well as he does.

He watches Tim strip with steady care. The fact
that he isn't moving faster is another several
answers to unspoken questions, though Bruce
isn't entirely sure which. It doesn't stop him
from moving closer, from crouching in front of
Tim and setting his hand over the catches of the

Tim's belt is heavily charred, but otherwise
undamaged. Bruce spares a moment to wonder
whether Tim will attempt to scrub off the damage
and restock or simply take a new belt. But then
Tim's hand is over his own, and it becomes

This close, he can smell the smoke in Tim's hair.
He'll have to shampoo more vigorously than
usual before going home.

"I should've guessed you'd be... restless," Tim
says. He doesn't try to move Bruce's hand, but
he also doesn't apply any pressure. The gauntlet
is rough, hard, and cool on his knuckles.


A beat. "How restless?"

Bruce smiles, unable to keep it behind his face.
Not when it makes Tim's breath catch, just a
little. "I'd rather be on patrol," he says, honestly,
and slips the first catch.

"So would I," Tim says, dryly. His hand is still
over Bruce's own.

Another catch. "There'll be other nights."

"I find your sudden development of a
philosophical attitude moderately disturbing."

Tim's t-shirt is, as usual, faintly damp with sweat.
He'd have to get closer to smell it over the smoke,
however. "Less sudden than you might guess," he
says, and slips the rest of the catches.

Tim pauses, again, and then slips the tunic off
entirely. Less of a pause, and then he pulls the
gauntlets off and sets them down -- on top of
the belt, rather than the tunic. Bruce cups Tim's
sides and strokes, pressing hard enough to feel
muscle, bone.

And leans in to nuzzle and breathe against Tim's

"Bruce..." Tim's tone is faintly hesitant.


Tim doesn't say anything for a long moment. It's
tempting to just keep going, and his hands
haven't waited for permission --

Tim's skin is damp, sleek, and Bruce's fingers find
the few scars easily, reflexively. He forces himself
to look up. There's a tightness to Tim's mouth that
usually suggests pain, and Bruce narrows his eyes.
"Are you --"

"I'm fine. Just..."

("Hunh? No, it isn't anything. I'm just... distracted.")
Bruce narrows his eyes a little more. "Tell me."

Tim smiles ruefully and covers Bruce's hands again,
pressing hard, dragging them up over his skin.

"Tim --"

"It's not about you," he says, and the pressure on
Tim's hands speaks volumes about the amount of
effort the boy has put in to strengthening them.

Bruce grunts, and listens to Tim's breathing hitch
again. He still isn't accustomed to the fact that
Bruce is willing to make noise for this. That he
needs to. As usual, the thought brings a flood of
images. "Take off your mask."

Almost a gasp, this time, and Tim squeezes
Bruce's hands again before doing it. And then
strips off the t-shirt before opening his eyes. By
the time it's off, Tim's expression is steady, mild.

Bruce feels himself offering his own rueful smile
and slides one hand over Tim's sternum. Over
his heart. Tim eyes are watchful, then calculating.
"What do you want?" Tim's tone is low, teasing.

The question is entirely honest. Bruce presses
his palm harder over Tim's chest. There are a lot
of equally honest ways he could answer. He
presses his tongue to the backs of his teeth and
decides to go with the most... pertinent. "I want
your passion."

The calculating look doesn't so much as shift.
"To own?"

"To *feel*."

Tim's heartbeat thuds beneath his palm, and
Bruce curls his fingers helplessly. The expression
on Tim's face holds for a moment, another, and
then crumbles into something almost scared
before settling into...

There's a terrible sort of inevitability to the fact
that Bruce finds Tim's expressions most
unreadable when they're most open.


Tim's mouth is unyielding beneath Bruce's own
until he traces the scar over Tim's ribs with his
thumb. And then it falls open and soft, perfect
for Bruce's tongue. Just as if the only thing that
had stopped him before was surprise.

Bruce moans quietly into Tim's mouth and does
a mediocre job at best at not clutching the boy
too hard.

You wanted this, he doesn't say. You *demanded*
this, and Tim's cheek is soft, smooth and heating
quickly beneath his palm. He slides his other hand
up to Tim's nipple and pinches before he can
remind himself to use at least a little control. But
it makes Tim whimper into his mouth.

("*Harder*, just -- God, fuck, don't stop --")

There aren't many similarities between Tim and
Jason, but there are a few.

He pulls out of the kiss solely to look at the flush
on Tim's face, and the way his lashes move on
his cheeks before Tim opens his eyes again.

And then he leans in and bites Tim's lip hard,
watching Tim's eyes widen and narrow again. He
licks it, and --


More of a breath than a word. "Yes," he says,
and tilts Tim's chin up so he can press his tongue
against Tim's pulse-point. And bite him there.

Tim groans and Bruce bites harder, brushing his
thumb over Tim's nipple in something that could
be construed as a warning before twisting it
again. "*Bruce* --"

Bruce sucks on Tim's throat, but Tim's gasps are
too tempting, too *close* to what he needs. He
pulls back and slides his hands down to Tim's
hips, yanking him up and pulling the shorts and
tights down. Tim steps out of them and reaches
for his own jock, fumbling when Bruce strokes
his thighs.

He looks up, but Tim's eyes are hidden by the
fall of his hair and shadow.

A grunt, and Bruce looks down again in time
to see Tim's erection springing free. More than
half-hard, but not entirely. Yet.

He drags off the jock, sweeps Tim's uniform off the
bench and onto the floor --

"Oh --"

And pulls Tim down again, shoving onto his back.

"Oh God, Bruce..."

His legs are already spread, but Bruce pushes them
further apart, anyway, and drags until Tim is
hanging off the edge.

The sound Tim makes is sharp, brief. Louder when
Bruce bites him high on the thigh. He switches to
the other and bites harder, too hard, and Tim's
hand snakes down into his hair, shoving for an
instant before he just grabs a lock of it and holds

Bruce licks at the flesh between his teeth and feels
Tim jerk, and holds on with his teeth until Tim
whimpers again. And then he leans in further and
shoves his tongue into Tim's cleft. Another jerk
and a surprised yelp, this time, and Bruce
considers flipping Tim over and taking him this

Later, he promises himself, and licks back up to
Tim's sac, indulging himself with several slow,
wet sucking kisses before pulling back again.
The flush has spilled halfway down Tim's chest,
and, while he watches, the tendons of Tim's
throat tighten with something else unspoken.

And relax.

Bruce licks the edges of his teeth and strokes
Tim's thighs again, pressing his thumbs against
the bite marks. He could wait, hold there.
Eventually Tim would look up, his expression
faintly, sweetly dazed for a moment before
snapping back into question, calculation.

He releases one of Tim's thighs, instead, sucking
two fingers into his mouth and watching Tim's
throat tense again. The sound. Tim shivers,
once, at the feel of those fingers in his cleft
before planting his feet and pushing up.


Bruce wants, very badly, to push in slow, or at
least start with one.

But he wants Tim's pleasure more. He shoves
in hard, just on the right (wrong?) side of
ruthless, and feels his heart thud at Tim's brief,
shocked scream.

"Oh --"


Bruce crooks his fingers and pulls out nearly
all the way. Slowly. And then shoves in again.

Tim gasps and stiffens, tightening around him.
He does it again, and again. Some part of his
mind is almost entirely sure that Tim will
adjust enough to meet his rhythm in three or
four more thrusts.

And he knows Tim doesn't want to.


The groan is strangled, and lasts longer than
every other sound Tim has made. He stiffens
again and Bruce adds a twist to the next thrust.

"Look up."

Tim gasps once, twice, and does it, curling
halfway up and bracing his hands beneath his
back. His eyes are wide, his mouth swollen.
Bruce drinks it in for as long as he can, wordless
warnings firing in his mind about just how long
Tim might allow him to see it. He can't look away.


Tim closes his eyes and bites his lip. Bruce stops
thrusting, and he hadn't meant ("Didn't you?") for
it to be a *message*, but Tim takes it as one just
the same, tensing all over before opening his
eyes again, fixing Bruce with a look somewhere
between hunger and irritation.

Bruce's heart thuds again, and...

He's tempted to review the Cave's security tapes
sometime after Tim has gone home, because he
desperately needs to know what look is on his
own face right now. He wants to know what it
is that makes Tim's expression soften and shift.

He wants more than he has words for, and
Bruce remembers when the terror of that had
been familiar.

Now it feels almost precisely like slipping into
something that had gone unworn for three long

Bruce swallows back the groan that doesn't
belong to Tim and twists his fingers again,
seating them comfortably before leaning up
and in, kissing Tim as hard as he can make
himself do it, and shoving his other hand into
Tim's hair because it isn't very hard at all.


It feels beneath him, for this. It feels...

Tim moans into Bruce's mouth and sucks his
tongue, pulling against the hand in his hair and
bucking against the other.

He can't wait any longer, and he isn't entirely
sure why he was trying. Tim *wants* this, and
it's the same wild hunger as it always is. When
Tim had asked, the amount of time during which
it had felt like permission had been fractional,

Permission is far too weak a word. *Imperative*
is closer to the truth.

And the part of him that wants to know if Tim
had realized *that* is the same part which Bruce
had trained to ask every question he's never
especially *wanted* the answer to.

The suction on his tongue lessens, and Tim
pants into his mouth. Again. Again and Bruce
swallows the small, high sound nearly before
he's heard it. But not the next one, or the one
after that.

A sharp little moan for every thrust, rhythmic
and beautiful, beautifully ragged. Tim kisses
him again, but it's messy and clumsily gentle.

And the sounds get louder.

If he took over the kiss now, the relief would
be palpable. Bruce wants to, and does so
helplessly before forcing himself to pull back
again, tightening his hand in Tim's hair and
fucking him faster. Harder.


Tim's head is tilted back, his eyes heavy-lidded
and -- "You want this."

"*Please* --"

Open. So open. And... "You want to be...
overwhelmed by this. I feel it, Tim."

The moan is long and low, cut off only by the
next. Tim squeezes his eyes shut again and
twists, bucks. He tosses his head almost hard
enough to make Bruce release his hair on
reflex, but then his eyes are open, burning
with a dazed determination. He's keeping his eyes
open because Bruce had asked him -- *told* him to
do it. And he's going to come only partially because
of what Bruce is doing to him.

His pleasure -- his *hunger* -- has as much to do
with the fact that Bruce is making love to him this
way because *Tim* wants it as it does with anything

"For you," Bruce says, and Tim flexes, twists and
bucks like Bruce is hitting him with live current.

Every moan ends on a growl, and the flush on
Tim's skin gets deeper, darker, the bruise on his
throat fading into it, the pattern of muscle tension
and release growing closer and closer to randomness.

"Beautiful," Bruce says, and watches Tim squeeze
his eyes shut one more time, and bites his own lip.
There's a sudden, vicious writhe --

"Nn --"

And Tim comes all over himself, shuddering.
Gasping and moaning and Bruce stills his fingers
and loosens his grip on Tim's hair.

And watches.

Come slides slick and warm down over his hand,
and Bruce licks his lips and waits a little longer,
listening to Tim's breathing steady and slow. And
then Tim twists out of Bruce's grip on his hair
and shoves himself back off Bruce's other hand.
A moment's pause, and then Tim's standing on
legs that would seem steady to most observers.
Another pause and Tim steps over to one side
of the bench and crouches to collect the most
damaged parts of his uniform.

After he's discarded them, he shoves a hand
back through his hair.

"What are you thinking?"

Tim stiffens and laughs, quietly. "About whether I
ever would've thought you'd ask a question like

Bruce raises an eyebrow, and watches Tim feel it,
notice it. Something about the tension between
his shoulderblades.

"I know," Tim says after a moment. "Our
relationship has... changed."

Bruce stands and moves closer, until he can
smell the smoke and sex again. And then closer
still. "It's usually a bad idea to make predictions
about someone else's emotional reactions to
*you* based on... how you've seen them
behave with others."

Tim cocks his head to the side. "Mm."

"How many of the people in your life have you

Tim looks back over his shoulder, and his smile
is small and deeply sardonic. "How many have
*you*, Bruce?"

Tim had, of course, read the files. "All of them,"
Bruce says, and wishes he'd asked at least one
question about Tim's reactions to them.

"My point."

Bruce smiles. "I'm often wrong."

"Hence the need for a... complementary partner."

"That's one reason."

Tim frowns, and it only deepens when Bruce rests
his hands on his shoulders.

"There are others," Bruce tries, and Tim's look is
narrowly opaque.

Bruce has come to know it better than he'd like.
("Am I your partner or your fucking *student*?")
And... not with Tim. Not *now*.

Bruce squeezes Tim's shoulders gently and
deliberately. "There's as much to be said for
the... familiar as there is for the complementary."

"Not if we make the *same* mistakes --" The
last word ends in a hiss when Bruce digs in with
his thumbs, and then Tim is silent as Bruce
massages his way down the boy's spine.

"Tim. You need to tell me if you're...

The slightest increase in tension, no more. "I
haven't decided if I'm reconsidering or not," he
says, and turns, reaching up to unbutton Bruce's
shirt and frowning in a concentration that --
probably -- has very little to do with Bruce's

"Tim --"

"Tell me about Jason," and he pauses with only
the first four buttons undone and looks up into
Bruce's eyes.

Another question with too many honest answers.
("Then you *lie*.") Or pick the hardest. He
knows which one Tim would choose... and
which one he'd choose with *him*, now.

Tim narrows his eyes, and Bruce knows he's
smiling again.

"I seduced him," he says. "At the time, it felt...

Tim's mouth tightens, evens.

"It still does."

The blink is almost painfully slow, but when it's
done, Tim's look is just as hard and searching as
it was before. He wants more.

"I fell in love with the ghost of Dick I'd overlaid
on Jason's image," he says, and Tim's fingers


"And then I came to know him."

"He was... reckless," Tim says, and his tone is

It takes a moment for Bruce to figure out why,
but when he does, he has to exhale a little too
sharply, a little too obviously. Tim sounds like a
child repeating a lesson heard, but never learned.

Tim's eyes are focused on his own and painfully

"You thought I loved Jason *despite* himself."

Tim doesn't answer right away, stroking Bruce's
shirt lightly. *Only* the shirt. His eyes narrow
even more, and it's abundantly clear that Tim is
forcing himself not to break eye contact.

"Tim --"

"You realize that makes... this all the more

"Because he's your predecessor?"

Tim's expression is abruptly withering, bordering
on something very like contempt. Bruce thinks
about Tim's birthday and bites the inside of his
cheek very hard.

Some kinds of laughter aren't especially healthy.
"Because you're wondering why I love *you*."

Tim doesn't answer, merely stands there. Watchful
and perfect.

And Bruce can see it with a kind of brutally brilliant
clarity. Every careful conversation Tim must've had
with Dick, Barbara, and Alfred. Every unspoken
question. Tim has spent much of the past three
years doing everything he could to be something
*other* than what he'd heard about Jason.

There was so little he'd ever managed to actually
say out loud about him, the life Bruce had
drowned in and the death that had -- he can think
about it now -- all but strangled him.

And all of it must have added into something to
avoid for Tim, something to shape himself away

To survive -- for Bruce's own sake.

To thrive in some reasonable approximation and
assumption of what Robin should be.

How much of it *Tim* sees... how much of it
Bruce is still *missing*...

Bruce cocks his own head and strokes Tim's
cheekbone with his thumb. "Love is fear."

Tim frowns, but it doesn't look like disagreement.
"I didn't expect this."

"You *were* expecting a shift in our relationship."

"Not *this* one," and the irritation is back again.

"Love is also terribly inconvenient," Bruce says,
and smiles.

"*Stop* that. You just... you..."

("You never freaking *stop*.") "No."

Tim glares at him, and slides his hands down to
Bruce's fly, opening it with quick, jerky motions
and cupping him through his boxer-briefs. For a
moment, the expression on his face softens
again, opens again.


"If I asked you what you wanted from me, you'd
just say something like 'you.'"

"Probably." It takes some effort to keep his voice

"But you don't. Because the whole *fucking*
point of me is..." Tim trails off, biting his lip until
Bruce strokes it, and then he twists his head
away again.

*Glares* again.

"I didn't ask for this, Bruce."

"I'd never make you -- Tim." Tim's hand is hard
on him, squeezing. Riding him with ruthless

"Yes," he says.

"It... gets easier, you know." His voice isn't even
at all.

"So does breaking your arm --"

"-- once you've done it, once or twice."

Tim's mouth twitches and he drops to his knees.
Bruce gasps on his own laughter and wraps his
hand around the base of his erection as soon as
Tim pulls his shorts down to his knees. And
Tim's mouth is hot and wet, sweet even with
the light scrape of his teeth that feels accidental
until Bruce can refocus on Tim's watchful, harsh

Bruce shoves his hands into Tim's hair again and
pulls, watching Tim's eyes flutter closed and
*feeling* the low, pleased moan.

The flush is gone, save for the lingering stain on
his cheeks, the memory of a burning that
could've been disastrous, but wasn't.

Not tonight.

Tim's lips are even darker than that, redder and
swollen. Tempting far beyond the undeniable
fact of Bruce's erection sliding between them.
Thrusting --


He pushes back against Bruce's hands,
demanding again, heedless of whatever Bruce
might do or feel or need. Or perhaps just
incorrect. ("Does it matter?")

It never did.

He rocks in deeper, gasping when Tim swallows
him, moaning at the fact that he has to pull out
before he can thrust again. The sharp, strangled
noise Tim makes feels like a gift, and Bruce pulls
his hair, moving faster. The next gasp brings
him the scent of burning tires, and then the dry,
cool air of the Cave.

And then himself, sweating and needy, locked
into this so deeply, lost to it and buried.
Drowning in another pair of blue eyes.

"*Tim*," he says, and thrusts much too hard,
every part of him thrumming at the feel of
Tim's moan, at the way he's choking it off and
the way Tim's eyes are narrowing against
everything he's feeling.

Or everything *Bruce* is.

He comes with a moan, and Tim swallows
convulsively, and then with steady rhythm. And
presses his tongue up hard before sliding off.

The glimpse of it -- pink and bright between
Tim's lips -- is enough to turn the weakness in
Bruce's knees into a buckle. Tim steadies him
reflexively, and then strokes the outsides of
Bruce's thighs, lips tightening on themselves,
against the expression of... what?

And there's something about the new/old
question -- or perhaps just this moment -- that
feels like too much. Bruce drops into a
crouch, still holding Tim's head tight enough
that the boy can't jerk away, and leans in,
breathing against Tim's mouth.

Smelling himself.

Bruce presses his tongue against the roof of
his mouth and gets just a little closer, until
their mouths are touching. "I'm thinking of
a certain cliché -- "

Tim stiffens and relaxes. "I don't make

The wave of feeling is tidal, impossible.
Familiar. "Everyone does, whether they...
plan to, or don't."

This close, Bruce can feel Tim's smile against
his mouth. "I wouldn't *be* me if I accepted
just anything. Not anymore, Bruce."

"You wouldn't be you if you could." Because
you make yourself every day. Adaptive and
brilliant, ruthless with the world no more
than you are with yourself. Flexible beyond
the definition of sanity. Terrifying and beautiful.

Tim pushes back against Bruce's hand until he
loosens his grip again, leaning back just far
enough to take in the whole of Bruce's face.

And to show Bruce the bald, sharp skepticism
on his own. He had heard everything unspoken.
None of them had ever been as good at that as

"No?" Tim asks, and he doesn't have to say the
word 'naive.'

("You really *believe* all of that, don't you?") "No,"
Bruce says, and takes a soft kiss, deliberately
closing his eyes for it.

When he opens them again, Tim's are, of course,
open as well. And then Tim frowns, and stares
down at the floor between them. "I can't be...

Bruce could ask for specifics, and he could ask
how Tim could be so sure. He could ask what
had happened to make Tim believe he ever
had to be someone so ruthlessly attuned to the
needs of others. Bruce's own.

The fact that it would be criminally disingenuous
is only slightly more awful than the fact that it
dovetails terribly neatly with everything Bruce
had never said or done about the boy's parents.

He settles for tugging on Tim's hair again until
he meets Bruce's eyes again. "I find myself
thinking similar things very often, Tim."

Tim gives him a narrow-eyed smile. "A lie or the
endurance of ignorance?"

"Why don't you decide?"

Tim tilts his head back and watches him through
his lashes for a long moment before twisting
free and standing. Bruce watches him stretch,
watches him take in the Cave. Watches his gaze
linger on the Case.

"You would've liked him," Bruce says before it
gets swallowed back under everything else he should've
said far too long ago.

Tim nods slowly, and Bruce knows Tim believes him.
And that it will increase the weight the boy feels, the
nagging sense of something unfinished.

He isn't sure which part of him that serves a purpose
for, and he doesn't want to think about it. He watches
Tim walk toward the showers, instead.

And follows.