Sport us while we may
by Te
January 24, 2008

Disclaimers: No one and nothing here is mine.

Spoilers/Timeline: Plays fast and loose with the last two and a half years or so of canon. Some things are used, others are not. Takes place in a nebulous sort of now.

Summary: Tim vs. A Habit of Circumspection.

Ratings Note/Warnings: Sexual content which does and does not dovetail with the content some readers may find to be disturbing.

Author's Note: Betty wondered aloud what would happen if comics!Tim were dosed with the no-fear gas from Gotham Knights/TNBA. ALL her fault.

Acknowledgments: Much love and sincere gratitude to Pixie, Jack, and Mildred, all of whom went above and beyond the call of audiencing duty, held my hand, listened to me whine, and generally helped make this story much better than it otherwise would've been. All must hail.


Perhaps it's petty, but Tim uses his first batarang to take out Scarecrow's voice synthesizer -- he's really just not in anything *like* the mood for Eldritch Tones.

Scarecrow had afflicted the inhabitants of three local firehouses with pyrophobia, and then had proceeded to torch several old warehouses and one school. Batgirl has his back, and, to the best of his knowledge, they've gotten the civilians clear. This --

Is just the endgame.

And Crane clutching his throat and hacking like a smoker is an excellent start, as far as Tim is concerned. The trick, as ever, is to move quickly and carefully, leading -- or fighting -- the man away from his stash of chemicals and into some nice, quiet, safe-for-residual-pummeling area.

The second batarang cuts Crane's bag of tricks right off his shoulder -- and, if Tim is *any* sort of judge -- damages that shoulder nicely.

Crane's stumbling in the wrong direction, but the third batarang puts a stop to that, and Tim considers, idly, just doing it *this* way. He's not the sort of Robin who can just beat down evil-doers at will, after all, and there's a satisfying sort of *cleanliness* to doing this from a distance --

No. Crane is far more of a runner than a fighter, and there's no good reason to prolong the inevitable -- especially since they're a little too close to the second civilian gathering area he and Batgirl had designated. Tim closes fast, allowing himself just a *little* room to relish having an opponent for whom Tim's relatively weak body blows are as effective as nerve-strikes.

Crane coughs, staggers, curses --

And Tim's kick sends him flying a little too far. He's grabbing at his own abdomen and trying to kick himself backwards, and this is, perhaps, where Tim can say something clever, something funny and more than a little mean, just to put a Robin-style cap on things...

Better to kick the man onto his stomach and pull a zip-strip. Tim drops into a crouch --

There's something in his left hand, and it's simple reflex to jab for the wrist to make him drop it --

Gas. And -- hell. He should've been masked even though there were no sign of gas canisters, just vials -- No, get the job done, ignore the prickle in his sinuses, ignore the feel, zip those wrists tight and keep moving, keep going, he can't let Crane take him out of the game. Tim zips the man's ankles, too, and bounces his face -- lightly -- off the floor. He pockets the small black canister, triggers the macro that will -- eventually -- get the MCU to this location, and stands.

Breathes. He feels -- no, not yet. Better to get himself up and out. He gives Batgirl the high-sign and the signal that he'll be heading back to base and moves. So far, so good. He's not afraid of heights, or jump-lines, or pigeons, or gargoyles.

Cars don't make him want to urinate on himself, and neither does his motorcycle. Gotham's darkness is no more full of potential terror than it ever is -- less, perhaps. It's always good to take down one of the big guys. Always -- freeing, in some way, he thinks.

It's what he's *here* for, really, what makes him necessary and right for the tasks he's been given, and the responsibilities he's taken for himself. He feels exactly as good as he should, especially considering the fact that the firefighters will recover with a lot of rest and liquids.

He feels --

The intersection of Aparo and Forty-Fifth is one of the worst in the city, and Tim has exactly enough time to think that before he has to swerve, leap up onto the seat, and then ditch for the nearest car roof. Someone ran a red light, someone else is having a very bad night. Tim smells gas in the seconds before fire -- *more* fire blooms and billows up into the night.

The screams seem to come too slowly, too off-handedly for the caliber of the disaster which is currently unfolding. The little sub-compact that had taken the brunt of the accident's force is burning like a torch, and Tim can make out at least three children through the flickering light.

At least some of the sirens he hears have to be heading right here, but they're not going to be fast enough.

Tim takes a breath and pulls on the flame hood, seating the rebreather as comfortably as possible, leaps off the roof of the station wagon, and moves in. Some of the screams are of 'Robin,' now, and Tim has a fleeting desire to straighten his cape. No time for that sort of thing.

The passenger door is crumpled so badly there's no point even trying it, the driver's side door is merely jammed. Tim pulls the jimmy from the back of his belt and works it in, noting the heightened smell of plastic which always comes when the uniform's materials get overheated.

He can feel himself starting to sweat.

He can feel --

There, he's in. He convinces the couple in the front seat to stop trying to get their children out first by the simple expedient of slicing their seat-belts and yanking them free -- through the fire he's standing in. Once they're out, he gets the driver seat folded forward. The children don't hesitate, and they'd gotten their young sibling -- impossible to tell the gender -- free of his or her car seat.

"Good. *Go*."

They do, and Tim can wrap the infant in a fold of his cape and move -- the driver of the other car.

As it happens, the young man seems to have swum in something distilled, and is thus as much of a fire hazard as everything else. Tim cuts *him* free of the safety belt --

And dodges two surprisingly quick and effective-seeming punches. And then the man -- tries to light a cigarette. Tim snorts and nerve-strikes him, crouches enough to get him into a fireman's carry, and jogs for the...

It's probably not right to think of the ring of onlookers as 'the sidelines,' but, well, le mot juste has no care for what lesser beings think of as 'appropriate.'

And the explosion makes everyone back up nicely.

Tim pulls his cape from around a small child with a very expensive-looking camera phone, grins, salutes, and shoots his grapple. He still has to get back to the Cave and figure out what, exactly, he'd been dosed with.

He feels fine. He feels *great*, adrenaline humming through him like liquid flame -- just enough to make his jock interesting.

So far, *whatever* he's on is letting him do what he needs to do without difficulty, but -- but.


He's not afraid, at all.

He *wasn't* afraid, and he isn't, now, and --


Tim cups the pocket with the canister in it and just -- catches his breath. It won't, actually, be any easier to do without the hood and the rebreather, but he pulls them back and off, anyway. He needs the air, smoke-tinged and all. He needs to...

Oh, there's just no question. And *that*, in and of itself...

Tim laughs and tosses the canister right into the midtown inferno.

"Didn't anybody tell you not to litter, birdboy?"

Jason. Interesting. Tim cocks his head. There's no way for Jason to see the scar he'd given Tim with the cape and tunic in the way, but sometimes it's the thought that counts. "Following me or just headed for the weenie roast?"

"I don't like it when parts of my city go boom," he says, and steps out of the shadows.

"Some people don't have *any* consideration," Tim says, and tilts his head to catch more of the breeze. The sweat drying on his face doesn't -- quite -- itch. "There's nothing here for you." Even Tim's bike is a dead loss. Pity.

"*That's* funny. I just don't seem to recall asking for your opinion."

The swagger, the growl... Tim knows, deep in his bones, that it's at least partially for show. Jason Todd has an image to maintain -- and pound into Gotham's streets until everyone knows it. It's just that Tim also knows that it could very well be the prelude to a beating. Tim smiles and lets his cape hide a little of the way he's shifting his legs. "My mistake. I'm feeling gregarious."

"Daddy spike your Zesti-Ade?"

"Something like that," and Tim smiles a little wider. "Listen, I was planning to head back to base --"

"And I care *why*?"

"-- and I was just wondering if you'd like to accompany me. We could play subway tag on the way, you could leave some of my bodily fluids on the mats --"

Jason snorts, and there's a hint -- tantalizing, small, *there* -- of surprise. He crouches on the balustrade, and it looks like the wind has had plenty of time and opportunity to play hell with his hair, thicker than Tim's own, and --

"You could use my hair to buff your memorial. It could be a thing," Tim says, and moves his hand into position to pull his staff.

"Right. Take it easy, kid. I'm not out for *your* ass, tonight --"

"Maybe some other time."

And Jason's back on his feet *just* that fast, and it probably says something importantly problematic about Tim that he tends to respond so *well* to being loomed over.

Tim raises an eyebrow behind the mask and watches a frown that had *looked* mostly reflexive get a little darker. Memories, perhaps. "Really, I could just pencil you in --"

The armor catches most of Jason's first punch, the staff most of the second, and then it's a matter of -- education, really. The differences between having learned from a world-class assassin to having spent -- by all reports -- a fair amount of time with the *League* of Assassins.

Jason's moves are almost nothing like what Tim has seen in training videos and those few times when he'd managed to get close *enough*. This is the mistake Tim made the first time he'd gotten an opportunity like this one.

He won't make it again.

The trick -- such as it is -- is to simply tell himself that he's facing an older, stronger, bigger, and more experienced opponent who has no great urges toward Tim's well-being. As such, it should be no different than what has become reasonably *usual* --

It's different.

It's -- *better*.

Hours, years -- seconds trading blocks and strikes, and then they're on the balustrade proper, and Tim flips back out of range, ignores the feel of one foot slipping, extends his staff, and gives Jason a come-on.

"I *had* been planning on just letting you know there was something going on with Ivy and going my way, but..." Jason rolls his shoulders like a boxer and slips into a ready position that would tempt Shiva.

"Noted, Jason. Thank you." Tim slips his dangling foot into a better position, spins his staff, waits --

Not long. Jason, of course, has the edge on strength, but Tim has a minuscule edge on speed -- and the staff can and has stood up to bomb blasts. Tim spins, twists, blocks, strikes, aiming for Jason's legs whenever he gets a chance. Jason, for his part, is pushing Tim's balance to the limits, *making* him twist further, spin *harder* than he really wants to.

They *could* take this to the rooftop proper, but that would be...

It would take something *away* from this, and there's really no reason not to push this as far as he can --

Tim leaps over a sweep and strikes down with the staff -- and the power behind Jason's block gives him a choice between holding on to the staff and teetering just that little bit more. He'll remember that for the next time. For now, he flips again, gets his leg caught --

He kicks, and connects just enough to give him the momentum for a two-point landing --

Jason's kick takes him in the shoulder, knocks him back --

Tim sweeps back with the staff, bracing himself on one hand and one knee, leaning back under Jason's next kick and *punching* up -- contact --

"Somebody ate their *Wheaties* --"

"It's part of a complete -- ah -- breakfast," Tim says, somersaulting back -- and off the corner of the building. Tim moves to pull his grapple -- and Jason's hand is wrapped around Tim's forearm. Tim tucks in enough to hit the side of the building with the balls of his feet.

"Jesus fucking *amateur* --"

"And here I thought we were done," Tim says, and lets Jason haul him back. "You *do* realize I only had to fall about ten feet before I would've had a perfectly acceptable angle for my shot...?"

They're close now. Jason's breath smells like mint, and Jason's expression...

Jason looks like he's trying very hard not to just knock Tim unconscious and *then* shove him back off the roof.

It's not an effort Tim would've expected him to expend.

"Of course, if you wanted to continue our conversation, Jason, my offer is still open."

Jason starts to turn away -- and spins back around, grabs Tim by the throat, and lifts.

The gorget will protect him from being choked to a certain extent, but that doesn't seem to be what Jason wants --

"Tell me something, pretender."

"If I -- can," Tim says, and relaxes in Jason's grip.

"What -- do you get out of saying my name?"

That wasn't the first question that came to Jason's mind. Interesting. Still... "The pleasure of knowing you'll hear me," and he wants to smile, again -- he feels so *free* inside -- but he knows that it would probably be taken the wrong way. He settles for raising his eyebrow again and, after a moment, Jason lets him drop.

"The next time you get an urge to play, call your big brother," he says, and walks away. Jason's grapple-gun has a slightly more hollow pop than the ones they use and... and.

What to make of that little encounter? Jason had, apparently, come looking for him -- or, perhaps, the nearest likely Bat -- solely to provide information. If Tim is honest with himself, he'd precipitated their fight and --

Enjoyed it immensely.

And Jason had tried to *save* him. He'd clearly thought it was serious enough, or perhaps Tim simply hasn't yet given him enough reason to respect his abilities. Really, Tim has had much too long to get used to the way the other heroes trust him without question, simply because *Batman* does.


Jason knows better than anyone how easy it is for Bruce to make mistakes. Hm.

Tim folds his staff and tucks it away. The *next* time he gets to see Jason -- and there will be one -- he can, perhaps, continue his efforts to rectify the entire situation.

Until such time, he has a patrol to finish.


He should be heading back to the Cave. He has reports to write, small deceptions to enact, sleep to catch up on -- all of the usual, with a little twist for his current status. It's just that he'd lost his bike, and it is, actually, much easier to get to Bludhaven from his section of Gotham than it is to get out to Bristol.

And --

He hasn't seen Dick in some few weeks, and he really needs to experiment with this a little. Fear has been a part of his life for as long as he can remember. *Dick* has been a part of his life for *nearly* as long as he can remember. He needs to know he can function like this, for more than just the parts of the mission which require him to be suited up.

He needs to know how this is going to work.

How to *make* it work.

All in all, train-surfing is much more pleasurable with company, but it gets him where he needs to be. Nice of the 'haven to give them all a nice, thorny, hostage situation this close to the J line.

Thorny enough that Dick doesn't acknowledge his presence with more than just a pat to the ledge next to him. Tim is, at least, some variety of welcome.

"Looks like some poor guy lost his job and most of his marbles at the same time," Dick says, and hands Tim his scope.

One guy, two very exciting-looking machine guns, four hostages in casual wear, lots of computer equipment... "Software firm?"

"Got it in one."

The line of sight is almost too perfect. "How long before SWAT wants our spot."

"They're at least half an hour out -- they had to pull in people who were off. This is the 'haven's *second* hostage sitch tonight." Dick frowns. "I think our guy is deteriorating."

He's either sweating, crying, or both. Shaking. Tim frowns slightly and hands back the scope. "How do you want us to do this?"

Dick drums his fingers on the ledge, tenses -- relaxes. He wants to move. "No roof access without the kind of loud, heavy equipment we're not carrying. The doors are surrounded by cops who really don't want to know from me, right now, so..."

"The windows. I'm still kitted up on everything but zip-strips from my patrol, Nightwing --"

"Then let's do this," he says, and there's a moment when they're both standing against the sky, grapple-guns ready --

And then they're in flight, air singing past them, blowing back his cape -- the tinkling crash of the windows makes Tim bare his teeth, and --

The nice thing about amateur hostage takers is that they *always* swing their weapons away from the civilians and *toward* the vigilantes, and then it's only a matter of directing the firepower as safely as possible, tumbling, flipping, throwing --

They'd both tossed two batarangs, and they'd all hit. Their guy is bleeding lightly from his arms and -- he'd dropped *one* of the guns. Dick's kick gets the other down on the floor, Tim kicks it aside, and it's only a moment before their target is subdued and trussed for the police --

An extremely hairy man -- stinking with fear-sweat -- throws himself at Tim, but he's neither armed nor moving with particular purpose. Tim accepts the hug and pats the man on the back.

Dick instructs the rest of the hostages on how best to exit the building without getting themselves shot, and Tim takes a moment to familiarize himself with the weapons.

Nothing special, beyond the usual brand of wonder at civilians managing to get their hands on this sort of thing in *this* state -- it will almost certainly turn out that the man had bought them on some road trip or another. There ought to be a way to make the gun control laws *count* for something, some way to scan for this sort of weapon, to narrow down opportunity for use, if not access --

Dick whistles, low and casual, and -- he's waiting for Tim at the window, smiling and quite obviously less tense than he was a bare few minutes ago. Tim leaves the guns for evidence, scans the hostage taker one last time to make sure he'll stay put, and follows.

The rooftop Dick leads him to isn't especially familiar to Tim. If it wasn't for the tinges of yellow in the Bludhaven sky, it could be a roof that they simply hadn't tagged as a r-point in Gotham. There are plenty of shadows, brickwork that isn't crumbling too much, and, when Tim checks, an excellent view of the eastern docks.

Dick crouches and pats a particularly deep patch of shadow -- he always tends to save the darkest areas for him. Tim smiles and settles in. Dick is going to want --

"Not that I don't appreciate the help -- and the visit, full stop -- but what's going on?"

-- to talk. "I saw Jason tonight."

"Jesus, that's -- are you all right? Christ, I -- I hate that that has to be my first question. I don't think you can *know* how much I hate it --"

Tim holds up a hand, noting that Dick has flipped his lenses up. No one is ever more conscious of the need to *connect* while in uniform -- no one could be. "We mixed it up a little -- nothing serious. I think he mainly just wanted to share intel."

"Nothing serious. Right, I --" Dick touches Tim's throat and frowns, and Tim... doesn't want that.

"To be honest, it's entirely possible that we *wouldn't* have mixed it up if I hadn't... pushed him, a little."

The frown gets a little deeper. "Pushed how?"

Tim smiles ruefully and spreads his hands. "I invited him back to the Cave. Joked around a little, tried to -- connect. It's possible I should leave that sort of thing to the people who actually -- knew him."

"It shouldn't matter. It just..." Dick slips his hand from Tim's throat to his shoulder, squeezes, pats, squeezes again. "Really shouldn't. But -- I guess I get that it does. I know Br -- B has a soft spot for Talia, but I'd *really* like to spend a little time with her over the whole 'keep Jason bottled up for *years*' thing."

Hm. "You think she changed more than his fighting style."

"Don't get me wrong, little brother -- Jason was always really *solid* within himself, and it's not like I'd ever put him up as a candidate for brainwashing, but... it really couldn't have helped, and -- you should know. It's not a small thing to change your whole fighting style."

Dick wouldn't think so and -- it's not that Tim can't see it. It's just that there have always been, for him, moves -- styles -- that he simply doesn't use unless he has to, moves that he learned with all of himself, because the alternative was painful death in France. "It must seem like he's lying to you. With his body, I mean."

"I hadn't really thought of it that way, but... you definitely have a point." Dick sighs and lets go of Tim's shoulder, rolling his head on his neck. "You said he had intel?"

"Apparently, there's something going on with Ivy. I'm hoping that our, to date, reasonably positive hero-villain relationship will -- ease things," Tim says, and -- moves closer.

"Hm, yeah, she always did kind of not want to feed you to her plants a lot," Dick says and -- yes. Throws an arm around Tim's shoulders. "Listen, I was going to patrol a little more, check out the areas where they had to pull units from for the hostage situations --"

Tim smiles. "Nightwing needs a Robin...?"

Dick laughs and gives him a squeeze -- and a handful of zip-strips from his boot.

Working with Dick is the same thrill as it ever was, the same *gift* to the young boy inside him still diligently editing his fantasies of crime-fighting to make sure Batman is somewhere within them.

Where Dick flies, Tim runs. Where Dick kicks high, Tim strikes low. Once -- just once -- they wind up back to back, and Tim feels himself loving it, *owning* it.

Every brush of uniform to uniform, every brief and coded direction --

"Seventeen," Dick says, and Tim runs himself up to speed, reaches back with his left arm --

And then Tim is flying, too, momentum and the steel in his boots ruining the evening of several gang members until Dick lets go and Tim can tumble through the air, stick his landing, turn --

Just in time to see Dick leap into a split-kick that takes two of the last three 'bangers right out of the game --

And the last one dropped his left just in time for Dick to strike out hard *as* he lands, and everyone's down but them.

Tim whistles and claps, Dick grins back over his shoulder -- gun, and Tim rips the shuriken off his chest and nails the man's hand to a handy rotting crate. The gun clatters to the ground --

"Ooh, *that* looks painful," Dick says, and backhands the would-be gunman to silence. "Any *particular* reason why you didn't aim for the *gun*, little brother...?"

Damn. He hadn't... he really hadn't been thinking about the potential to maim, the *fear* of doing it --

And Dick is looking at him very, very closely.

He has to be careful, here, and -- Tim shakes his head. "I really should've gone for the batarang," he says, wincing. "How bad is it?"

Dick sighs. "The birdarangs *look* cool, but they're really only right for close-work..." He jabs the man in the ribs.

"Hey, fuck, I'm down, I'm *down* --"

"Waggle. Your. Fingers," Dick says, making it sound like a threat to the man's entire ancestry.

Tim bites his tongue against a laugh which really wouldn't suit the moment at *all* --

"He'll be fine," and Dick leaves him there and shakes a finger at Tim. "*You* be careful next time, mister."

Tim blows out a breath and smiles ruefully. "I -- noted."

They use up Dick's supply of zip-strips and... it's getting light enough, now, that Tim isn't really surprised when their jump-line route gets to be familiar. They're headed back to Dick's new place. It's a loft in the 'haven version of the middle of nowhere, and Dick owns the entire building.

It's the first time Tim has been there. The warehouse proper is clean and empty save for some athletic equipment. Tim looks around -- one of the mats is slightly askew. "Hidden basement?"

Dick looks at him from under his lashes. "You could've pretended that it took you longer to find."

Tim throws up his hands. "What can I say? I'm a naturally suspicious soul."

"What you *are*," Dick says, cupping the back of Tim's head and pulling him close, "is about three seconds from stripping off and heading to my nice, clean shower."

Oh -- yes. "I should --"

"Nope. You're crashing here tonight."

There are freedoms Tim doesn't like to think about. Opportunities and *freedoms* that are all about the fact that he has a profound lack where his parents used to be. His father would want him to be happy, but his father hadn't much cared for the things which *make* Tim happy, and --

"Hey, are you okay?"

Dick has paused, peeled out of the top of his suit and very clearly picking up on at least most of the signals Tim is sending. That's -- he wants that, and if that means Dick picks up on this, too... Tim shrugs. "I was thinking about my father," Tim says, and accepts the hug with all of himself.

"You know, I... I know you don't always get on that well with Bruce, and *you* know I hate that like crime, but you always have a space here, okay?"

Tim squeezes Dick. "I know."

"Good," Dick says, and kisses the top of Tim's ear.

It's just Dick being affectionate -- he knows that with a clarity that usually, at times like these, is so buried under Tim's fear of being *noticed* that he can't touch it. It *is* just Dick being Dick, and so there's really no good reason why Tim has -- decided.

It's just that awareness of that fact is, ultimately, rather meaningless. Tim squeezes Dick a little harder and turns his head enough to rest against Dick's shoulder and chest --

"Mm. I'm not gonna get tired of *this* anytime soon," Dick says, and -- relaxes. It's just a small shift -- he wasn't *very* tense -- but it's noticeable.

Dick, he knows, has never been entirely sure of his welcome when it comes to this sort of thing. When he's not being playful, he's being a very Dickish variety of *careful*, and... yes, Tim would like, very much, to ease Dick away from that habit, even if it's only for tonight.

To that end, Tim bites back the urge to say something about how they both need to get clean -- *he* is never going to get tired of the scent of Dick's sweat mingling with armor -- and thinks, thinks -- yes.

"Sometimes," Tim says, and rubs his cheek against Dick's shoulder, "I miss this. I miss you."

"Hey, you -- you should never miss me. Anytime you need, anytime you *want* --"

"I know. It's still good to hear. And feel," and Dick strokes up under Tim's cape. The sound of his hands on the tunic is --

Deeply, incredibly frustrating.

"Okay, I definitely need to get out of this suit for the night --"

Dick laughs and pushes away. "Yeah, you do. It felt like I was petting a *rock* --"

"I've had some very deep, personal relationships with rocks." Just as an example, the one Steph had socked him with the first time they'd met. He's not sure if the one in his closet is the very same one -- it had been some time before he went back to that rooftop to look -- but...

"So, am I still going to get cuddle once you're out of there? I'm willing to beg -- that was..." Dick's smile is soft and somewhat paradoxically distant. "That was really nice."

Who was he thinking of? Oracle, maybe...? Something to ask another time, perhaps. Tim releases the catch on his cape and smiles back. "Oh, I don't think you'll have to beg. I'm a primate, Dick. I go a little funny in the head without regular physical contact."

"See, and if I *hadn't* been trying and failing to get that lesson to sink in for *years*," and Dick's hand is in his hair. Not quite ruffling, not quite petting.

Tim opens his tunic. "Sometimes I'm a slow learner...?"

Dick touches Jason's scar and frowns -- no, no, no.

"You know it's a lot uglier than it was serious, at the time --"

"I just wondered how you explained it to..." Dick's frown gets deeper, harder. "Shit, I'm sorry."

The truth is that Tim had worn turtlenecks for a few days, hypoallergenic concealer for a week, and after that... after that neither his father nor Dana had noticed. Whether or not this is a truth which has any place *here* tonight... Tim shakes his head. "It's okay. Just... pretend we had a long, heartfelt talk about everything and now is the part where we hug it out." Tim drops his tunic and strips out of the undershirt, more heavily armored than the one he used to wear to complement the *less* armored tunic --

"You're really... you didn't even put up a fight about staying here and -- you missed me."

Tim works on the belt and looks up from under his lashes. "Technically, I *also* wanted to borrow one of your bikes, but... yes, Dick. It feels like years since we just... spent time together."

Dick's smile is broad enough that it's hard to believe he was frowning just a moment ago. "That settles it. One of these days I'm rolling up into Bristol and just taking you for a day or five."

Tim raises an eyebrow and drops the belt -- carefully. "I'll keep a bag packed by the door."

Dick brings a hand to his face and strokes his own chin. "Hmm, I... no, I don't think so. Alfred will just hide it."

Alfred hadn't been unseemly about Tim moving back into the manor -- Alfred may not be capable of that -- but... but. Something to think about, perhaps beyond the way that Robins just sort of *belong* in certain distinct parts of the world. Tim lifts his foot and tugs off his boot. "I suppose I shouldn't rig it with booby traps."

Dick snorts and takes the boot, and the other one. "No. And you definitely shouldn't smear it with blood and scatter clues to recent cases around it, no matter *how* much Bruce is annoying you."

Tim slips his thumbs under the waistbands of his shorts and tights --

"Hey, I haven't even shown you where the shower is."

Tim pauses. Dick is...

Dick is, most probably, waiting for Tim's blush. It's fair -- he'd found ways to maintain his privacy during No Man's Land before it got too cold to ever strip off entirely. The fact that he wants to reach out, take Dick's hand, and place it firmly on his hip is a fact whose time has not yet come. Still. "I figured I'd just leave my things in your hidden basement and *then* head upstairs."

Dick -- is that a blush? "Okay, yeah, that *is* more efficient. Don't mind me, kiddo, I'm clearly running my sleep debt tab a little high."

Tim grins -- "Noted," and pushes the rest of his uniform off. All that's left are briefs and a jock, and there's no good reason not to wait until he's about to get in the shower to take those off, more's the pity. They take his suit downstairs, fix the mats into something that looks both casual and permanent, and then Tim starts for the stairs to the loft --

"There's something you're not telling me," Dick says, softly. Curiously. Invitingly --

It's not a touch, and Tim refuses to blame himself for loving that it *is* one, anyway. Tim curls his fingers around the banister and looks back over his shoulder. Dick is paused at the foot of the stairs, waiting and watchful.


"It's -- one of the reasons why I'm here, Dick."

"To... tell me."

Tim takes a breath and doesn't bother to close his mouth all of the way before saying, "Or show you."

The fascinating thing about the feeling inside him, the spare, empty feeling which makes every breath feel like a deep one, every moment feel like flight, *freedom* --

The fascinating thing is that all the old, useless messages are still right there. To close his mouth, to turn around, to hide the flush on his face by any means necessary, including a sudden, random decision to take the stairs at a brisk *jog*.

It's just that he doesn't have to do any of the above, and *not* doing them means being right there for Dick's slow advance, holding Dick's gaze and letting him see the way Tim's breathing, the way he's doing nothing at all which even vaguely resembles --


-- running away. Tim turns around. "Dick."

The stairs flip the height difference enough to make the kiss a little -- he's never kissed anyone from this angle, and the feel is just strange enough to make Tim hum into it --

It could very well be just the fact of it. It could...

It could be Dick's hands on his hips, strong but hiding that behind a touch so gentle -- Tim hums again and uses his mouth to open Dick's a little wider, and Dick squeezes, licks Tim's lips, coaxes --

Tim slips his tongue in and Dick jerks him forward, making Tim need to step down with one foot, grab the banister and the wall to keep his momentum from knocking them both down the stairs --

"Sorry, I, Jesus --"

The angle has shifted enough to make *this* kiss a little more familiar, a little closer to -- no, he doesn't want to make any comparisons and there's no reason to do anything of the kind. Dick wasn't expecting this kiss with anything but his body -- that's clear enough by the way Dick's hands spread and splay against his rear, the way Dick's frowning even as he *sucks* Tim's tongue --

Tim moans and cups the back of Dick's head. His hair is cool and sleek against Tim's fingers, his scalp warm and a little sweat-damp -- Dick pulls back.

"Tim, are you --"

"I'm sure. I'm -- heh..." Tim takes his other hand off the banister and grips one of Dick's wrists, squeezing until Dick eases his own grip and Tim can drag his hand over his groin --

Dick's moan makes the world a much, much warmer place.

"Or we could... our options are pretty open, Dick. I... wow, that feels --"

A squeeze, and not even a hard one. Is it that it's Dick's hand? Is it the look in Dick's eyes, and the way they're narrowing? The way there's a little color --

It's something, and it's worth investigation and a large amount of experimentation, and it's making Tim feel a little unsteady in the knees --

And a lot more than that when Dick licks his lips and starts to rub through the briefs -- Tim grabs the banister, again, pants --

"I just want you to know. I -- am not averse to doing this right *here*," Tim says, and decides to give himself credit for getting that out against the feel of Dick *riding* him with his palm --

And kissing him again, harder this time, and Tim's hand feels irrelevant and potentially dangerous in Dick's hair -- he might accidentally tug and give Dick the notion that he means *stop* -- and taking that hand away might *also* send the wrong message.

He can feel -- "I need to get out of this jock --"

"Yes," Dick says, and licks Tim's jaw. "Yes, you really, really do," and Dick pulls back a little more, stops *touching* -- raises an eyebrow.

And that's more than enough of a warning to prepare Tim for the shove that leaves him sprawled on the stairs, one leg dangling over a *drop* -- Tim laughs, braces himself, lifts his hips --

And Dick pulls down his briefs and -- *frees* him, and maybe freedom was never something which could be known in one moment -- even one as perfect as Dick lowering himself over Tim and *taking* another kiss --

Maybe that's the point of freedom, that it just keeps growing, expanding, pushing --

Dick's kiss has a lot in common with the less problematic aspects of being *stabbed* --

Dick's *grind* is too sleek, too gentle even with the edges of the steps digging in -- he's still wearing the tights for his uniform, and *that's* a problem. Tim bites Dick lip gently --

"Probably... probably we should go *up* the stairs, little brother --"

"Certainly at some point. But ah -- you're not naked enough."

Dick blinks, pants -- "You're absolutely right, and I want you to know that I plan to listen closely to all further ideas you have along those lines."

"Oh, good -- mm --"

Dick's bracing himself with one hand and using the other to push and shove and pull and generally make it seem as though his uniform is both too tight and -- considering all the good things Dick's motion against Tim's body is causing to happen -- absolutely wonderful, even though this kiss is an awkward thing, messy and too open, open enough that Tim's moan is too loud --

And Dick's still *wriggling* even when he ducks his head to Tim's throat -- licks the scar, bites -- "Oh -- *fuck* --"

Dick pulls *back* --

"Hey, don't --"

"I was just --" Dick stops shoving at his tights and cups Tim's cheek. "We still okay?"

Tim smiles. "If you're worried about freaking me out..."

Dick raises his eyebrows and pointedly looks down between their bodies. "I *might* be having a few thoughts along those lines, yes --"

"You shouldn't."

"Tim --"

"I trust you," Tim says, and curls his fingers in against Dick's scalp, scratching a little before he tugs. "I've always trusted you."

Dick closes his eyes and blows out a breath -- he looks dangerously close to *thinking* --

"Dick --"

"Then keep trusting me," he says, standing up and offering his hand.

Tim takes it, wondering if frowning would damage the moment any more than it had already *been* damaged -- oh. This kiss comes complete with both of Dick's hands on his face, holding Tim still and just -- licking, sucking, biting, *licking* --

"You taste... heh, I don't know yet. Let me get back to you," and Dick kisses him again, and again, soft and quick -- and pushes until Tim starts walking backwards up the stairs.

All right, it *would* be safer and more comfortable -- does he want comfortable? Tim has imagined this in beds, of course, but he's also imagined it on floors, rooftops, against walls, doors --

Not against *this* door, though, really, Dick had only just moved in a little while ago. He would've found the time -- eventually --

"Ah, God, Dick --"

"*Right* here," he says, twining his fingers between Tim's own and pressing them against the door, kicking the tights off entirely and pressing *Tim* against the door and -- thrusting pushing grinding --

"Dick, please, Dick -- you feel -- so good --"

"The feeling is about as mutual as it can get, here, up on your toes --"

Up on his toes means Dick's erection is sliding against his own, rhythmic, desperate -- no, that's him, that's -- "Dick, you're going to make me -- make me come --"

And Dick drops to his knees --

"Oh -- oh God --"

"Say *yes*."

"Absolutely. I mean 'yes.' I mean -- ah --"

Lightning, need -- *need*, and the heat is blinding and perfect, wonderful -- should it be terrifying?

Should he care?

Tim feels himself grinning, feels himself *thrusting*, and Dick's groan slices right through him, vibrates into him, makes him shake, shudder all over --

"*Dick* --"

And then Dick cups his sac and squeezes, and every light in the world blasts Tim to ash.

Awareness comes in pulses. His own scent, high and obvious in the air. The feel of Dick's shoulders under his hands. The sound of his pants. The knowledge that he's curled in on himself and *gripping* Dick's shoulders --

The feel of Dick nuzzling his mound, pushing the hair up against the grain -- Tim shivers, breathes, and stands up.


Tim smiles. "When I thought about doing this with someone..."

Dick's hands shake a little on Tim's hips. How hard is *he*? "I'm listening, little brother." His voice is so gentle...

"I always wondered if it was correct to apologize for not lasting for *this*. I mean --"

"Oh, I..." Dick laughs and kisses the bowls of Tim's hips, once and once. "Yeah, that was a terrible hardship. I'm going to need at least another thirty seconds before I want to do it again."

Tim grins. "Noted, but -- come up here?"

Dick does, and the smile on his face looks even better close up. Tim leans in -- "Looking to taste yourself...?"

He hadn't even *thought* -- "*Yes*."

Dick laughs again and presses his open mouth against Tim's own, just -- leaving himself open, available, *willing* for Tim to lick his mouth clean, taste the salt of himself on the backs of Dick's teeth, breathe himself in with every exhale --

Tim hears the sound of a door opening, but it doesn't really register as anything important until Dick pushes and Tim notes that they're moving backwards. Ah. *Inside* the loft.

That's good, too, but -- "Dick, I love kissing you. I love *you* -- oh, don't pull away --"

"You've never said that, but you've also never done *this* --" Dick shivers and pushes Tim toward the -- yes, that's the bed pushing on the backs of Tim's knees.

Tim lets himself fall, bracing himself on his elbows and scooting further back onto the bed. "Is my timing off...?"

"Maybe you should consider giving the elderly ex-Robin a few minutes to get used to the fact that you -- *you* -- came here to seduce me."

Would it be better or worse to point out that he hadn't fully decided until after he was already here? Tim does his best to make his smile look rueful -- difficult, considering the fact that Dick's standing there naked and *hard* -- He has to make a choice. "I've been thinking about it for a long time. I've -- always been attracted."

Dick crawls onto the bed and kisses him. "You just wanted to wait until it felt right?"

Sure. Tim nods and touches Dick's cheek. The stubble is light at the moment, meaning that Dick hadn't shaved until not long before he started his long patrol. "You're not trying for daylight hours anymore, are you?"

Dick shrugs, shifts --

They both groan a little at the contact --

"The classes I teach are in the afternoons and -- you need to tell me what you want."

Everything, all at once. But, for a *start*... "I liked it when you were moving against me. The frottage --"

"Oh, God, just call it rubbing off or something before I feel like I need to put on a *lab* coat."

Tim laughs, softly, and wraps his hands around Dick's neck. "Noted, and -- mmm."

"Oh, yeah, I *believe* in that 'mmm' and also let me just --" Dick gasps and almost croons, a little, moving slow --

"Don't hold yourself back --"

"Don't let me hurt you," Dick says, and reaches back with one hand to pull Tim's knee up in a stretch he *hadn't* taught Tim himself, but --

He's the one Tim learned it *for*. Tim brings his other knee up, locks them around Dick's chest --

"God, you feel good. Hard and sleek -- I'm gonna make you harder."

Tim feels himself flushing again -- "*Yes* --"

"You -- oh, it's possible that you won't get much *sleep* here, little -- little brother --"

"You can wear me out, make me take it, Dick, make me --"

"Oh, fuck and *hell*, keep talking like that, keep --"

"You can *fuck* me, Dick..."

He's moving faster now, rolling against Tim like a wave of warm muscle and flesh. It's not enough to just have his arms around Dick's neck, and it's still not enough when Tim starts stroking his back, his obliques, everywhere he can reach --

"I just want to touch you, I've always wanted -- you're so beautiful, Dick --"

"Jesus. Jesus, Tim, I --"

"You feel amazing under my hands, your sweat, your -- I change my mind, I want to taste you, too --"

This kiss is bruisingly hard, hard enough that Tim knows his lips will be swollen for at least a while after -- and then Dick flips them over, and Tim grinds down -- gets pushed, on his shoulders --

"Oh -- *fuck*, yes, Dick," and Tim kisses his way *down*. Part of him wants to take it slow, but Dick had *pushed*, and so he doesn't try to get fancy until he's below Dick's navel, and he can scrape his teeth a little, feel Dick *buck*, go down slow and take Dick as deep as he can.

"Tim, I -- oh fuck, fuck, I didn't mean to *push*, I --"

Tim wraps his hand around the base, sucks hard, and Dick *shouts*, pushes his hands into Tim's hair and tries to pull Tim back --

"Jesus fucking -- little brother, God, I don't want --"

The *taste*, but -- Tim pulls off. "Sorry, I must've misunderstood --"

"No, you didn't, but --" Dick bangs his head against the pillows and groans. "Okay. Okay. How much of this is you talking dirty and how much is it you actually doing what you *want*?" And Dick lets go of Tim's hair with one hand and sits up on his elbow.

"It's both. It really --" Tim licks his teeth. "*Both*, Dick."

Dick exhales sharply and squeezes his eyes shut for a moment. "I can't believe -- God, I can't *think* --"

"Then trust *me*," Tim says, and strokes Dick's hips -- the *scent*, and he's leaning in again, wanting again -- He has to keep Dick on *target* --

"God, do it, do *me* -- *Tim* --"

Down again, and maybe this is a little too much for him, for them -- he should *pretend* fear, at least a little bit...

Tim looks up at Dick from under his lashes, lets his eyes widen, forces himself to try not to think about how *beautiful* Dick looks, how heavy and wonderful he is on Tim's tongue --

And Dick reaches out and strokes Tim's cheek.

"It's okay. It's -- oh, you feel so damned *good* --"

He wants to tell Dick that he *does* feel good, feels right and perfect inside for the first time in his *life*. He wants Dick to understand that, and accept -- Tim's not stupid. He *knows* Dick will want to fix him, cure him of this wonderful *thing* --

It's enough that he can have *this*, that he can make Dick moan and thrust up into Tim's fist, into Tim's *mouth*, make Dick tease the head of his penis against Tim's palate, make Dick *moan*.

Tim sucks as hard as he can and flutters his tongue, trying to remember any one thing Dick had done to him and failing -- it was just too good, too solid and unbreachable an act to compartmentalize --

"Look -- oh please look at me, Tim --"

This time, the moan cracks in Dick's throat, gets high and breathy, sharp and *sweet*. Tim honestly isn't sure *what* look is on his face, but he hopes he'll be able to remember the feel of it for further use --

"You... God, how much you *want* me --"

For this, he can be greedy. For this act and for this feeling, kissing his own fist and beating back his gag reflex by sheer force of will.

"I don't want you to pull off, I -- God, I need this, need you, Timmy --"

Dick, Tim thinks, and feels it all, everything it means, everything he's *taking*. He closes his eyes and hums, deliberately hard and loud --

"*Tim* --"

And Dick's coming in his mouth, pulse after pulse, salt and sweet, *hot*. Tim swallows and licks, sucks -- coughs and coughs harder, pulls back. Dick gets him on the cheek -- And Dick is hauling him up onto his knees by main force, kissing him, licking his face when Tim turns aside to cough a little more --

"Shh, you're okay, you're --" Dick's laugh is soft and a little wild. "*Are* you okay?"

Tim nods and works on catching his breath -- a bit more difficult a task than usual with Dick still kissing all over his face.

"That was *fantastic*. Where the *hell* did you learn how to do that?"

Tim takes a deep breath and grins. "The internet is for porn...?"

Dick snorts, hugs him, and pulls them down onto the bed, pushing and folding and manipulating until Tim's on his back and Dick is half on top of him. "And you've just been saving this up, because you're *you*, and you probably had to get it exactly right in your head before you could even..." Dick laughs again and shakes his head.

"Planning is an important part of a satisfying life, Dick."

"So is *spontaneity*, kiddo, and no, I am *not* complaining. I feel like I could take off into the sky and give Clark a run for his money."

Clark. Hmm. "What's he like? Sexually, I mean?"

Dick stiffens, looks at him --

Hell --

"Are you seriously asking me that question? You *never* let me talk about my sex life --"

"Because I was afraid you'd notice my *erection*, Dick." That's even mostly true --

"And you, of course, weren't *ready* for me to notice it and think anything more serious than 'adolescent hormones.'" Dick squeezes Tim with his leg. "Though there is method in it, this is *madness*, little brother. You -- you've gotta realize that."

Saved. Tim breathes, and thinks about what Dick had actually *said*. "Well, I... even if we could've done this before --"

"We really," kiss, "really," lick, "really," kiss -- "could have."

"I wouldn't have been ready. I --" Bring up how he hasn't been able to really give Steph what she wants? Yes? No? No -- "I wouldn't have been ready," he says, again, and shifts until he can rest his neck against Dick's arm -- and be in position to get a few of those kisses on the mouth.

Dick frowns and strokes Tim's ear with his thumb. "I get that. I mean, I think I can get that..."


"Sex just kind of *happened* for me. One minute I'm not thinking about it, the next minute I can't *stop* thinking about it, and -- well, it wasn't too long after that that Clark kissed me for the first time. I guess I just never put much planning *into* it -- heh. Maybe I should have."

How powerful was Clark at the time? How much did he *notice* Dick's new... focus? They and Bruce worked together a lot at the time... it's *possible* Clark hadn't had to do it from a distance...

"Hey, where'd you go?"

Tim smiles -- makes it rueful. "I think I probably would've had a stroke if I'd ever gotten a picture of you and Clark."

Dick licks Tim's cheek again. "I -- heh. He's pretty gosh-darned Super, little brother. And he can hear every single word we're saying, so you might just want to --"

"Speak up? And -- well, he might not be *listening*, Dick."

"True, true, and -- just to be sure we're on the same page, here -- when you said you were ready for sex, what you *meant* was that you were *ready* for *sex*. Right?"

There's nothing to *fear* -- "Ah -- got it in one."

"And..." Dick's expression shifts to something a little darker. "And Steph?"

Oh -- Steph. Mm. "We have a date tomorrow night. Late. I'm reasonably sure she knows about it."

"God, I --" Dick laughs, softly at first and then louder, shaking them both and the bed -- a little.

Tim smiles. "Yes...?"

"I -- really can't fault your taste. And. You can shower in the morning. I'm taking my cuddles while the cuddlin' is good."

The length of that patrol, added to 'playtime' with Dick... morning is going to be more like afternoon.

Tim can live with that -- if Bruce doesn't know where he is, he can just check the tracers.

"Noted," he says, and rubs the back of his neck against Dick's arm.

And closes his eyes.


Dick "just happens" to have a Robin-red bike in his exceedingly detached -- three blocks away -- garage. They spend an hour playing with it, and another solid fifteen minutes convincing themselves to leave the 'R' stencil alone -- for now. The civvies Dick had in his size are nondescript enough to be their own disguise, but there are limits.

Somewhat surprisingly, Dick discourages Tim's attempts for, well, *more*, but he does it gently and easily, and -- Tim thinks he understands. The kiss he gives Tim just before Tim puts the helmet on is somewhat on the epic side -- and not really a *goodbye* kiss -- but...

Whatever other messages Tim has been sending, he'd obviously managed to get the one about not being ready to settle *down* out loud and clear. Dick has his own way of doing things and that's okay.

Especially since he's reasonably sure they *will* be able to do this again, sometime.

It's after three when Tim hits the road to Gotham, and, as ever at this time of day, there's a *pull*. A sense that he's missing something, late for something, in some variety of trouble...

He isn't, of course, and acknowledging that feels worse than the pull. Times like these, the only real *relief* is putting on speed and making his course as direct as possible for the Cave.

And once he's there... shorts, t-shirt, trainers, tape for his hands and wrists, more for his ankles. He shadow-spars with Jason Todd until the blood is singing in his ears, a little, until long after Bruce has come back -- from WE, judging by the clothes -- until he feels a little more like Robin, as opposed to somebody's definition of Tim Drake.

Somebody not here.

After, he wants something harder, something solid -- he heads for the pommel horse. Up on his hands, moving, and --

This makes him smile. He remembers being barely strong enough to push himself up onto the thing, barely *anything* enough to balance on it, much less able to swing and twist himself around, around --

Faster, and he's starting to feel clean inside, something like his soul starting to *match* that wonderful, beautiful, *empty* space inside. There is no reason whatsoever not to try out some of the moves he'd seen Dick use the last time he'd been able to watch. It's not his night off, but he'd been planning on keeping things light, watching more than doing --

The danger -- and the thrill -- of this is all about encroaching momentum. He has built up enough that he could fly off the horse, twisting and tumbling into something spectacular. He *wants* to stay on, however, and now he's fighting himself a little bit, resisting the pull of his own muscular force -- no, he has to ride it.

He's lighter, faster, more *able* and he can do this, he can *move*, fly --

Miss. Tim spins reflexively into a dismount, tucks and tumbles -- lands in a crouch, fingers splayed against the mats and heart pounding with excitement. Well --

Exertion, too, he supposes, but it's not like he can actually feel it beyond the humming promise in his muscles. Tim smiles and stands, stretching -- Bruce had left the console at some point and moved near enough to watch *closely*, arms crossed over his chest. His expression is thoughtful and a little distant.

Tim grabs a towel and wipes the back of his neck. "Suggestions?"

The briefest possible head-shake. "You were working from memory. Dick never showed you that, specifically."

Tim shrugs. The weights next, perhaps? It's been a few days -- and there's a terrible luxury to living here, to nearly *always* having the freedom to improve, hone himself, *work* -- "I really should've taken the opportunity to ask him," he says, and shakes out his arms -- not the weights. He wants to stay this loose.

"I imagine you found other things to do."

And that -- is a very particular smile in Bruce's voice, dry and 'teasing' in the same way getting shot can be likened to being 'punctured.' It's a very particular kind of reflex to *flush* for it, even though his breathing hasn't changed and his pulse rate isn't up. Tim looks back at Bruce from over his shoulder. "Imagine, Bruce?"

Bruce raises an eyebrow. He might as well be screaming something along the lines of asking Tim if he's *sure* he doesn't just want to concede the match to Bruce and have done with it. And --

Certainly, there's something to be *said* for that approach, a certain sort of comfort involved in just *letting* Bruce tease him the way he -- in retrospect -- *always* has about Dick. But. "I might've just decided it was time for a nice, brotherly sleepover."

"Is *that* what the kids are calling it these days."

He probably should be blushing -- "should" be terrified about how Bruce is going to react to what he had done with Bruce's -- first. He's not. He *won't* be, and it feels so very good. "Certainly, we took advantage of the chance to bond," he says, and checks the tape on his hands. "Hold the bag for me?"

Bruce's eyebrow goes up just a little bit higher, but -- he nods, after a moment, and follows Tim to the bag, holding it much, much stiller than Jason ever stands -- possibly he should've asked for a spar.

Tim shakes his head. The beauty of the bag is that it gives one the opportunity to test oneself against an opponent who can absolutely take everything you dish out without much in the way of self-endangerment. Tim has never been anything but cautious with the force of his blows -- Bruce had had to -- quite literally -- beat that out of him --

A spar would be suspicious, right now, if only because of how much it would demand from Tim on a day when he has to *work* --

"I want to see more of your kicks," Bruce says, abruptly.

Tim halts his punch before it touches and immediately swings himself into a side-kick, another, faster --

"And from the back --"

Spin and there's no steel to protect him, but he's known the way to angle oneself, to keep himself loose and some version of safe -- heh, and what if the bag *was* an opponent? Tim flips, comes in from the front, uses every last bit of his balance --


Less than no reason to *only* use his legs, but he defers to Bruce's desires and only uses his upper body between kicks, finding and re-finding his balance, his *core* while his hands dish out punishment, block against blows that never come -- what were those foot blocks Batgirl had used against him the last time?

Bruce hums -- and deliberately *moves* the bag. Just a little, just enough to make this kick hit off-center -- Tim shows his teeth and opens up his perception to take in the tension in Bruce's hands, the careful blank of his eyes --

The next time Bruce moves the bag, Tim turns his strike into a leaping kick, spins, kicks from the side, again, again --


Tim halts himself with his heel half an inch from the bag, balances, resumes a ready-stance, waits.

"Tell me what you plan to do about Jason's information."

Bruce *was* listening -- it's anything but a surprise. "Move -- carefully -- into Grant Park and see if she's willing to talk to me about it. She hasn't been... intemperate, lately."

"Back-up, Tim...?"

Tim smiles and moves out of the ready-stance. "Might send the wrong message. To both Ivy and Jason. Both, in their own ways, seem to respond best to some measure of -- carefully applied -- trust."

Bruce moves from around the bag and -- there's no other way to put it -- looms. "Tell me about this... confidence, Tim."

"Well, I..." Good -- needful, even -- to hesitate, if not necessarily stammer. The flush on his cheeks has more to do with exertion than anything else, but perhaps, combined with the way he's looking down at their feet... "He saved me. Reflexively -- but that's a blade that cuts both ways."

Bruce grunts, softly -- he *hadn't* been monitoring the conversation with Jason, as opposed to the one with Dick, and... perhaps the camera angles weren't good enough when he went back to check...?

"And I don't think any of us should stop pushing him, stop *trying* --"

"I wouldn't have expected you --" Bruce cuts himself off and starts to turn away -- the Case is never far.

"Bruce --"

"I *don't* expect you to -- understand."

There's a space, here. An opportunity to cloak himself in Bruce's... "Distraction" is far too small a word. It would be the safest way to protect himself from what would be Bruce's entirely *rational* urge to cure him...

He doesn't have to take the safest way, at all. Tim reaches up and presses a hand to the tension at Bruce's shoulder, feels it stiffen, increase --

"He's one of us, Bruce."

The sound Bruce makes... it's a laugh, but it has far more in common with breath and *hurt* than anything else. Tim moves around to face him, squeezes his shoulder --

"I won't give him up," Tim says, considers and rejects saying something cold and dismissive about Talia --

Bruce looks at him, and there's something... Bruce's eyes were, perhaps, never meant to *burn* the way they do. Tim can't --

Impossible to hold back this gasp, this *thrill*. Tim squeezes Bruce's shoulder again -- "Bruce, I feel --"

"Tell me something, Tim."

Bruce's voice is sharp, full, hard with the Bat and rife with a million other things, *full* -- "Certainly, I'll try very hard not to avoid telling --"

"When he told you to seek out your... to seek out Dick..."

Ah. Well... "It didn't seem like the time to point out that he was my brother, too. I wanted to," he says, and it's not a lie, not really. It's a perfectly acceptable label for the feelings he'd had upon watching Jason walk away --

"You, all of you..." Bruce breathes, deeply, then reaches up to move Tim's hand away from himself -- no. He covers Tim's hand, and there's the faintest *pressure* --

Tim is not going to do *anything* to endanger this moment. Bruce is showing him so much, trusting him with so *much* -- "I'm listening, Bruce."

"The family I never deserved," Bruce says, quiet and low, and --

Perhaps a little endangerment is called for. "Really, Bruce, don't even -- don't try that. Not with *me*. I watched you from the outside --"

"And you never stopped, Tim," Bruce says, and meets his eyes again. That burn, that -- God, *penetration* --

"No, I never did. I never will. I..." Tim smiles, ruefully. "Perhaps we wouldn't be who we are if we ever *truly* believed we deserved what we have."

"Everything we have, Tim...?"

Everything. Everything -- "I -- attraction," Tim says, and it's out before he can wonder whether he should phrase it as a question for the bonus points -- Tim laughs, just a little --

"Yes. That," and both of Bruce's eyebrows are up -- the game/spar has begun, once more, and *why* wasn't Tim ready?

Of course he should've been ready. Of course he should feel this *particular* thrill that he wasn't, that Bruce would use *this* to distract Tim from all the raw, Jason-shaped places inside of himself -- "I'm not sure I can speak to what we *deserve* in terms of that -- little detail, Bruce."

"No?" Bruce curls his fingers around Tim's wrist -- lightly.

Tim has every chance to escape the hold, and that, too, is part of this. Every moment he is aware of the chance, every moment he doesn't take it... Tim raises his own eyebrow. "I'd been going with the assumption that we were to approach the... problem from the *outside*."

"And you no longer feel qualified to do so?"

Attraction is -- thorny. Certainly, that particular observation is anything but new. He's had years to consider his own with regards to Bruce -- though, of course, far less time than he'd had to do so with regards to Dick. And far more time to do so from *his* direction, as opposed to  -- Tim turns his free hand palm up -- and presses against Bruce with the other. "The question of mutuality..."

"Is it a question? Even now?"

Tim looks down between them and considers, as deeply as he can manage, the *feel* of Bruce's fingertip against his pulse point. He is being measured -- yes, *even now*, and there is danger there. Here.

But it would be even more incorrect for Tim *not* to meet Bruce's eyes. Tim swallows the smile -- he knows, with all of himself, that Bruce will find its remnant behind Tim's eyes --

"The *question*... is whether or not we should do anything about it," Tim says, and thinking about that -- that *anything* -- should certainly speed his pulse to where Bruce is expecting it to be. Just -- Bruce's *hands* --

Bruce's free hand is on Tim's face, now, touching with that very specific sort of gentleness which is all about potential -- "Certainly it's a question worth deep consideration," he says --

Potential to harm, potential to *inflame* -- now is not the time for Tim to turn his head and take Bruce's fingers in his mouth. It's too soon, too -- much. But if he *just* turns his head, breathes in the scent of those fingers, makes himself flush, harder --


"A warning, Bruce? The first time you looked at me with... oh, let's say *intent* --"

"You had immersed yourself in fine-tuning the mechanism in one of your explosive pellets," Bruce says, and the smile on his *face* doesn't widen or shift, but that, of course, is a meaningless distinction.

That -- the pellets -- that would've been a year and a half ago. Well before Tim had noticed, or even suspected -- there is no need to fake his reaction to *that*. "My mistake," and it's still not time to even *lick* Bruce's fingers, but breathing on them --

Makes Bruce close his fingers around Tim's wrist.

Impossible not to flash on the image, sense-memory, *feel* of dragging Dick's hand to his groin -- and it's still not time to just take what he wants, but the frustration there -- the sound he makes --

Bruce slides his thumb over Tim's lips, presses against them, makes it obvious -- *meaningful* -- that Tim's lips had been parted, open. Tim lets his eyes slip half-closed and smiles for the feel of it, the drag of his lips against Bruce's hard, perfect thumb --

"Have you answered your own questions...?"

Bruce's tone is playful, teasing, and heavy with everything between them, the raw and lingering moment -- Years before you ever looked, Tim doesn't say, and *Batman*, and Tim slips his tongue out to taste salt, the faint hint of old leather from the bag --

Bruce pushes his thumb *in*, and Tim sucks, slowly -- and slowly brings his free hand up to grip Bruce's wrist. He can't hold Bruce there, but there's something to be said for intent --

Just as, perhaps, there is something to be said for however he looks, right now, however he feels with his heart pounding, his body heating all over --

He can see Bruce's lips part in his peripheral vision, see the *scope* of the man extending beyond that which he can, at the moment, take *in*...

Bruce. Batman. Everything, he thinks, absolutely everything, even though he'd always been too *frightened* to imagine anything beyond darkness, the flash of teeth, the sensation of drowning -- Tim *bites* the pad of Bruce's thumb and pulls back --

"You have my utmost attention," Bruce says, and --

Should Tim have trouble meeting his eyes at the moment? The color in his cheeks -- is it enough? Tim pants a little, looking for the scent of *sex* in the air, for the possibilities and brashly physical wealth -- "How *much* attention did you give to my... play date, last night?"

"Hmmm. With Jason or with Dick...?"

Heh. That -- that's a very, very good point. But. Tim drags his own -- wet, slick -- lips against Bruce's thumb. "I'm not looking for a spar, at the moment."

"Tim," Bruce says, and that --

That's a gentle *scold* --

Bruce is *smiling*, a little -- "You can't possibly be trying to tell me you haven't found... similarities, between the two."

Heh. Really -- "Most of my sexual fantasies about Jason don't include him pummeling me first, Bruce."

And Bruce's nostrils flare, his fist *tightens* around Tim's wrist -- oh, dear --

"That -- shouldn't have been out loud --"

"Shouldn't it have been?"

"I --"

And then Bruce is yanking Tim's hand down to his side, freeing his other hand, and hauling him *in*, and Tim has just enough time to gasp before the kiss is making his knees -- the fact that he's standing -- seem entirely optional.

Bruce is holding Tim's wrist still and cupping his face, kissing him, licking deep into Tim's mouth --

His eyes are closed, and Tim *does* still have a free hand -- it's shaking. It's --

Bruce's *mouth*, and the kiss is a hard, demanding thing, seemingly endless -- it feels as though it's been going on for hours, it feels -- Tim's mouth is still recovering from last *night*, and --

Tim knows, all over his skin and deep inside himself, all *over*, that this is how Bruce had kissed Jason. Maybe not every time, maybe not even often -- Tim grabs Bruce's shoulder with the hand he still has the power to move and goes with it, opens for it, licking Bruce's tongue because it's too mobile to suck, moaning because he *wants* to suck -- break, and the end of Tim's moan echoes in the Cave --

Possibly it's just his heartbeat --

"Tim," Bruce says, and it sounds like 'wait,' or maybe like another warning --

An apology? Tim shakes his head and touches his tongue to his lower lip. "Do that again. Make me feel like --"

"No. I -- I'm here with *you*," and Bruce doesn't *quite* take a step back, but... it's all in the feel of Bruce easing his grip on Tim's wrist --

No. Tim twists his hand until he can push his fingers between Bruce's own, *grip* -- "We're never alone, Bruce. We can't be."

Bruce exhales, squeezes Tim's hand -- not hard enough to be painful, or even promising --

"Dick let me taste him last night --"

"Don't --"

"Do you -- you know how long I'd waited. You know how good it felt to finally take him *inside* myself, finally show him how much he made me *feel* --" The leg sweep is fast, dirty -- effective.

Better than that when Tim uses his own momentum -- and *exactly* as much force as he can muster -- to *yank* Bruce down to his knees, down into a straddle of Tim's legs --

"Come *here*," Tim says, sitting up to pull on Bruce's shoulders, instead --

And Bruce knocks Tim's hands aside and pushes his own up under Tim's t-shirt. Warmth, touch -- Tim's nipples are hard, obvious --

He wants to be more obvious, more everything that will get him more of *this*. He curls himself up, noting the feel of Bruce's fingertips on his abs, and yanks the shirt off --

Almost off -- Bruce had caught it, and him, and wrapped the thing around Tim's wrists. Oh. Well --

"I can't help noticing that there isn't a knot," Tim says and pushes -- gently -- against the material.

"Pretend," Bruce says, low and promising just... every little *thing*.

"Well, *damn*, B --" A finger, long and hard, on his mouth.

"Not that much," and Bruce pushes Tim's bound wrists against the mats, strokes Tim's bare arms lightly, back over his chest, his nipples -- *twist*, and Tim feels himself buck for the contact, for the fact of it -- does he like this? And he hadn't left himself enough air to moan, as opposed to gasping high and sharp --

"Bruce --"

*Twist*, and Tim jerks his arms before he thinks about it -- stops. Much better to let himself stay like this, stay *still* for whatever Bruce wants -- there is, in this, so much to *learn*. He's had years to revel in the curious security of being surrounded by people who know his body far better than he does, but he's done it so *shallowly*.

This --

Bruce's big, hard hands on him, Bruce's knowledge of every sensitive place -- so *careful* not to tickle --

Tim's skin prickles with fresh sweat, Tim's penis is making the shorts he's wearing feel obscene -- he looks, and the obscenity is a very solid sort of thing. Tim lets himself laugh --

*Twist*, and this time something whites out behind his eyes, coils itself around and around the base of his spine, and this --

*This* is what he'd been missing? What he'd been *denying* himself? Tim rolls his head on his neck, shakes his head -- Bruce's fingers are beneath the waistband of his shorts.

Bruce's fingers *stop* -- "Tim..."

Hnn. Jesus, God, why does he have to *hide* -- "Dick wanted to know if I was sure. He wanted to be so *careful* with me --"

*Grip*, and those are Bruce's knuckles pressed against his abdomen, scarred and hard --

Tim opens his eyes -- when had he closed them? -- and Bruce looks... hungry. It's probably way too obvious to lick his lips -- obvious *enough*. "Dick is a good man," he says.

"Better... than I," and Bruce strips Tim's shorts *down* --

"Oh -- *yes* --"

And more than that, so much *more* when Bruce skips past Tim's penis and takes hold of Tim's sac, rolling it in his palm, touching, teasing, squeezing --

Not as gently as it could be -- "*Bruce* --"

"I think, sometimes, that I've been waiting for you to lose control --"

"*Don't* wait --"

"Tim," Bruce says, and it sounds like an answer, like shock and gratitude and fire, pleasure -- Bruce pushes Tim's knees up and leans *in*, licking Tim's sac until every breath is oven-heat followed by ice --

It's making Tim twist, try to curl into himself -- bang his hands back against the mats. "I want --" Should he stutter? How much of Bruce's shock can he simply *take* for himself? "Oh -- I want --"

And Bruce takes Tim's sac into his mouth, sucks and *teases* with his tongue --

Resting the backs of his knees against Bruce's shoulders feels like admitting something far too true, and the thrill of it may kill him. It almost doesn't matter *what* he wants -- the wanting is pleasure in and of itself, the freedom to want, to need -- yes, *that* -- "I *need*, Bruce --"

Bruce *groans* around him, and Tim can keep himself from drumming his feet against Bruce's back, but it's a near thing, a small thing, a -- God, he can feel himself leaking pre-come, feel his penis trying to get harder even though he already aches with it --

And Tim shouts when Bruce lets him go, possibly curses -- if Bruce can translate that sound better than Tim can, then he damned well *deserves* the curses --

Tongue. There --

Just --

*There* -- and banging his hands against the floor isn't enough. Banging his head means that the liquid feel, the slipping, sliding *insinuation* has a counterpoint, a staccato flare --

"No, don't stop --"

Bruce is more than fast *enough* to grab Tim's jaw and hold it *still* before he can bang his head again, but it still makes Tim want to struggle, fight, get *more* --

"Okay. Okay. I can -- I don't have to -- give myself a c-concussion, oh *fuck*, Bruce --" Bruce's hand around his penis, squeezing, stroking just a *little*, and Tim has to see what Bruce *looks* like when he does this to him, when he *takes* this --

Bruce looks like he's studying Tim, like there might be a test on just how many ways Tim can go crazy with -- lust is too small a *word* for it --

And when Bruce lets go of Tim's penis, Tim *does* kick, and grind in with his heel, and possibly kick two or three more times before he realizes that Bruce is just undoing his pants -- "Oh -- I'm. Almost sorry. I want --"

"I do, as well," Bruce says, shifting to cover Tim, push Tim into a harder, better stretch -- contact.

*Slide* -- "Every time I saw you in the showers, Bruce --"

"You were *not* thinking about this."

No argument, no *chance* with that tone. "N-no. Okay. But -- the possibility --"

*Grind*. "Possibility is a seduction."

A tease, a thrust -- "Oh yes. Oh -- yes. I. I'm *small* --"

"Compact --"

"You're a *challenge*," Tim says, and the laugh turns into a gasping moan before it leaves his mouth -- or possibly that's just the sudden motion, being turned, *lifted* -- And now he's straddling Bruce, arms bound in front of him -- balance *shouldn't* be this difficult --

"Every *day* is a new challenge, Tim --"

Ah, that was out *loud*. Tim bites his lip and tries a grind, something like the way Dick was moving on *him*, something -- "Or you could just grab my hips like -- oh, just like -- wait --"

Bruce still has one hand on his hip. The other -- now that Tim can *think* about it -- was on its way *back*.

"By which. I mean. *Don't* wait --"

And Bruce hums, deep in his chest. It sounds like laughter, pleasure -- mm. Tim tucks his hands back against his chest and just *looks*. Their penises together, hard together --

It would be easier if he could --  He reaches down and twists his hands enough to grip both of them, squeeze them against each other --

"Hmm. You were always fond of cheating," Bruce says, and pushes his fingers between Tim's cheeks, into the cleft that's slick with Tim's sweat and Bruce's *saliva* --

"It's not -- mm, I -- it's not cheating if I *win*," Tim says, and Bruce rubs, and Tim strokes, and Bruce *pushes*, slow and so steady, so -- "Bruce, your *hands*..."

Bruce squeezes Tim's hip and keeps pushing, opening him, fucking -- not fucking him *yet*, but yes, seduction, possibility, challenge --

"I *want*," Tim says, and Bruce *shoves* in --

And, apparently, Tim had enough air to yell for it, to -- oh, he's just *holding* them, working his hips in sharp little jerks -- his own penis is a distraction, right now. He'd like to just *feel* Bruce, his penis and his finger, the touch --

He can't make himself let *go* for it, or stop moving, or --

And when he looks in Bruce's eyes --

The *heat* --

Tim feels himself shuddering and gives up, gives *in* to the rhythm of Bruce's thrusts and his own strokes. It's pushing him, driving him -- there are no *brakes*. Just the empty place inside him that wants him to know that all he has to do is feel, give, want, *need*.

Pleasure --

Tim lets his head fall back and works his hips faster, urging them both *on*. Bruce -- probably -- won't fuck him *today*, but --

Someone will, one day. Someone *can*, just as he can, perhaps, drive them to it with everything *he* can do. The smile won't stay hidden behind his eyes, anymore --


*Oh* -- "You sound so *close*, Bruce --"

Bruce grunts, low and *hard*. "Should I be... flattered by your shock?"

Tim wants -- he wants to nod forward again, *look* at Bruce, see his face and everything behind it. That play, that *desire* --

"Or should I simply. Not. Stop."

The sound that falls out of his mouth -- something between a groan and a *croon*, and Bruce is twisting his finger with every thrust, *fucking* him -- one day, one *day* -- "One day -- this will just be a *tease* -- ah --"

Bruce sits up, pulls Tim close with his other hand, crushes Tim's hands between them -- "Not. Today," and the angle shift, the *force* --

The kiss makes Tim gasp, sob, take, *shake* --

The orgasm makes him shout into Bruce's mouth, shake his head, lunge for another kiss, another -- Tim bites the hard, perfect line of Bruce's jaw and sobs through it. He can't make himself stroke anymore, and he can't --

"Tim," Bruce says, and it sounds like 'easy,' and 'I'm proud of you,' and perhaps it glances at possession, assesses, shifts --

Oh, he feels so *good*. The burn and friction of Bruce pulling out is just a part of it, the feel of himself being moved, lowered against the floor, cool against his sweaty chest, his knees --


And this time it's an order, and Tim's penis twitches, Tim moans, struggles, pushes his arms out in front of him -- the shirt's gone, and he has no *idea* where. He locks his hands together, braces himself on his elbows -- The kiss lands between his shoulder blades like a strike --

"Someday, perhaps, you'll tell me where you developed these instincts..."

"Heh, well, I -- blame the... endorphins, oh, Jesus, *Bruce* --"

Bruce's hands on his hips again -- and then down to his thighs, pushing them together in the seconds before he slips his penis *between*, moans --

Oh, he wishes he had Jason's thighs. He wishes -- flexes and just -- "Tell me. Tell me how to make this *good* --"

Bruce sighs and strokes the outsides of Tim's thighs, strokes the insides with his *penis*, pushes, thrusts -- "Enjoy it."

Tim's laugh sounds like a *bark* to his own ears, and it doesn't get any better when Bruce starts thrusting in earnest. Everything before this point was just tease, just *hinting* at the power, the force --

Bruce's hands are anything but still on him, stroking him everywhere, pinching Tim's nipples again, squeezing his obliques, pressing hard on the back of his neck as his other hand slides through the semen on Tim's chest and abdomen --

"Bruce. Oh fucking *God*, Bruce --"

*This* is what he could be doing, this -- Bruce could be *inside* him, holding him down and taking everything, everything --

And now every thrust comes with a *sound*, growling and low, growling and *rough* --

Slick against Tim's sac, fast and so *sweet* --

Bruce's hips *slam* against him once, moving him, twice and Tim has to shift his hands to brace himself, hold himself still -- "Don't stop, Bruce, don't -- I want you to *come* --"

And Bruce jerks Tim's hips back so hard that his hands leave the ground --

He clenches them back together, kneels up, looks down --

And Bruce is coming between his thighs, spilling hot, marking him -- *yes*. Tim spreads his thighs, reaches down and *grips*, just to feel the twitch, the jerk and *spill* --

Bruce groans against his shoulder and squeezes Tim's hips hard enough --

Is he going to bruise? Oh, just -- he's never going to let this go. Not ever. Not --

"Tim," Bruce says, breathes against the side of Tim's throat -- kisses hard.

Tim closes his eyes and just feels it for a moment. And then he reaches up with one hand and back until he can cup Bruce's shoulder and squeeze.

"Hm. You could consider letting go."

No. He'd just -- ah. Bruce's penis. Interestingly *difficult* to think of any part of Bruce's body ever getting too sensitive, but... all right. Tim lets go.

"Thank you," Bruce says, and kisses his neck again -- slowly this time, *wetly*...

Tim shivers and Bruce strokes his arms, warming and soothing the goose flesh and continuing to kiss. Just kiss -- hm. "You'd rather bite."

Bruce -- nuzzles. "I'd rather not mark you... here."

"Hm. Promising," Tim says, and twists his arms until Bruce moves his hands to his sides and Tim can cover them with his own.

"I'm glad you feel that way," and Bruce squeezes Tim's sides and -- pulls away.

Tim doesn't bother to do anything about the frown until he remembers who he's supposed to be. Training, work, their actual lives -- right. Tim stands up and stretches, giving himself leave to enjoy the undeniable feel of Bruce's gaze on him before he turns around.

Bruce is studying him again, looking for... something. But Bruce has no baseline for the Tim Drake who just had sex with him. Tim smiles. "I'm not feeling any great need to run screaming."

Bruce raises an eyebrow, but it's distant. He's still *looking* -- and Tim should be questioning it at least as much as he is internally.


"I must confess that I never imagined you'd be... happy."

And that -- says a lot of ultimately unsurprising things. About both of them. Tim offers his hand and Bruce takes it, standing up and -- not moving close enough to loom. Cautious. "I could ask you to enjoy it."

"Tim. Tell me what's changed --"

"Explain myself?" Tim cocks his head to one side and slides his hand away from Bruce's own. "All right. Last night Jason didn't try to kill me, or even beat me unconscious. After that, I made love to the man I've been more than half in love with since I was a toddler. *Today*, that man gave me the sweetest ride since the Redbird so that I could get *here* --"

"With me," Bruce says, and now -- *now* -- there's a bit of a loom.

"With you, yes." Tim smiles. "If we've ruined our working relationship, I'm going to be very upset with us. But I don't think we have, and I've discovered that I like sex nearly as much as it frightened me." Whoops. Tim looks down between them. "Frightens me. I..."

Bruce cups his face and makes Tim look up, *searches* him --

"You're my partner, Batman. I trust you. And I feel... very, very good, right now." Would it be too much to bite his lip? It's certainly a mannerism he'd failed repeatedly to rid himself of. He opens his teeth behind his lips --

And Bruce brushes Tim's mouth with his thumb.

Perfect. Tim raises his eyebrows and kisses it, softly.

Showering is, perhaps, a little disappointingly efficient, but they *do* have work to do. After, Bruce spots him for a light session on the weights, and then it's time to get suited up for patrol. Bruce fastens Tim's cape for him, gauntleted fingertips lingering on his jaw, cool and anything but blameless. Bruce leaves first, Tim deciding to take a few extra minutes to check his belt-stock for sufficient herbicides and anti-toxins above the ones they all keep in their bloodstreams as a matter of course.

Would any of the others affect the gas in his system? Crane's a genius, the drugs he formulates known for the way they tend to stay in the system right up until those systems are forcibly flushed, one way or another.

If they hadn't already had the formula for Crane's pyrophobia drug... hm.

In the rough draft of his report on the incident, Tim had ended with something about their being no sign of a larger plan -- beyond the relatively small mayhem. Crane isn't *immune* to the temptation of smaller goals -- he's been known to go after single targets, sometimes -- but there's nothing in their records about a drug to *eliminate* fear.

He has some measure of guilt about not adding that to their knowledge base -- it could be dangerous if used against individuals without the control which has been beaten into him over the years --

And perhaps that's it. The pyrophobia, the fires -- a distraction to get the fearless drug out into the world -- or into the nearest Bat? He should've taken the time to interrogate Crane -- forcibly, if necessary -- but it had seemed so important to get back to the safety of the Cave and then, of course, he'd been distracted...

He could get at the man in Arkham. He could even couch it, for Bruce, as the desire to get a better understanding of his motivations. He *wants* the formula -- just in case. It would be impossible to sample and test his own blood without Bruce knowing about it. What he *needs* is to find the man's stashes and notes.

And if he stays here too long there will be questions.

Tim puts on his helmet and takes one of his back-up bikes, sparing a lingering stroke for the bike Dick had given him and for the memory --

Dick. And Bruce.

None of the cameras can pick up the way he's smiling with the helmet on. And that's --

Just fine.


There are, of course, any number of things to do on the way to his eventual destination. Sometimes it seems as though there may be more criminals in Gotham than, say, Chinese immigrants. Homosexuals. Late-model Chrysolets. Bruce would task him to offer statistics of individual arrest subjects vs. census numbers.

Dick would probably tell him some mind-boggling story about what it had been like when he was Robin, and there hadn't been a murder practically every other day.

Jason, he thinks, would punch him in the face for the crime of stating the obvious.

None of them are here now, though. A mini-mart with 'fresh' hot dogs Tim can smell from outside and two young men with two big guns. It's easier to use his belt-laser to cut a hole through the window than it is to disable the tone on the door. After that, it's a matter of moving quickly and quietly until he's close enough to --

Damn, he'd broken the wrist of the one on the left. He'd chosen to do this by hand to *avoid* accidental excessive violence. Why had he struck so hard? He doesn't think he really *had* a reason, as opposed to a desire to take care of this quickly. He doesn't really... hmm.

He kicks the guns away --

And has to discourage the woman at the counter from -- somewhat belatedly -- pulling her shotgun. He sends her to bring him a ruler from their small school-supplies section, splints his... victim, and continues on his way. He does better with the middle-school-aged taggers, and with the countless drug-dealers he encounters just before reaching the outskirts of the park.

Grant Park...

There are parts of Grant Park that are simply unknown to the vast majority of Gothamites these days. Once, before the earthquake, there had been a five-star restaurant at the heart of the park, world famous and ever popular. Now...

Well, that's the point. Tim's honestly not sure *what's* there now, because *he* hasn't been that far into the park since before he was Robin. It was never -- precisely -- his territory. It isn't supposed to be Ivy's. Periodically, some local politician talks very loudly about taking the park back for taxpaying citizens, until some other politician explains to them just how much it would cost to safely remove all of Ivy's... additions.

Even when Ivy herself isn't there, her plants thrive, grow, and probably keep the local squirrel, chipmunk, mouse, rat, and stray dog and cat population way down. Civilians still *use* the park, but only around the edges, and mostly during the day. Even the dealers stay out.

In truth, Grant Park had simply never been as *safe* as it is now, and perhaps that's why Bruce has never taken them on anything like a serious raid. For now, Tim parks his bike outside the fences and moves in on foot, taking it at a slow, careful lope until the smell of *green* begins to overpower the smell of the city.

After that, he simply walks. It won't be long --

Two slim trees on either side of the path stand up and move in front of him, resolving themselves into Feraks. The sound of soil breaking and shifting behind him... yes, two more.

Their 'skins' are too woody to make the herbicides effective. Tim *does* have a small flamethrower and several firebombs, but now is not the time to use them. "Ivy," he says, in a normal tone of voice, and the two Feraks in front of him shudder, stiffen -- crack themselves pairs of legs which bleed sap as they walk. Tim follows them deeper into the park.

The canopy is thicker, here, far more like a forest than a city park. Tim has been explicitly designed for city life, inside and out. It's a little strange to be here in uniform, and perhaps a little ridiculous. There *are* people here -- children, knowing Ivy. Assuming he gets to see any of them in more than glimpses, he knows that they'll look nothing like the urban refugees they are. Robin is out of his element.

Tim -- can adapt.

After a time, the Feraks come to a stop, reaching for each other and growing together into a very effective -- if roomy -- prison. Tim drops into an easy crouch and waits, listening to a quality of night many Gothamites could never imagine. Perhaps this would be frightening him without Crane's gaseous little gift. Perhaps he wouldn't be able to appreciate this gift of nature, this quiet, vital beauty...

Tim smiles and presses one hand against the springy and faintly damp loam. Would Clark appreciate a place like this?

"Robin. To what do I owe the pleasure?"

Ivy's voice comes from above and to the east. There's a faint cracking noise, a very *green* creak... Ivy's being lowered on a thick branch. The way she's lounging makes it seem more like a chaise. Tim nods to her. "I thought we could talk."

When Ivy purses her lips, when she stiffens -- she is a part of everything around her, natural and still. "You and yours... too often you speak with poison. Fire."

Tim spreads his hands. "I won't deny that I'm armed."

"You have always been... respectful," she says, shifting almost painfully slowly. She's merely moving into a different sort of lounge, a flirtation which is, perhaps, reflexive.

Made strange by the lack of normal speed -- it had been a long, sunny day, and she is, perhaps, some variety of replete. If Tim has a choice, he never tries to go against Ivy at the end of the night. Tim lowers his head in a nod. And it would be a terrible mistake to assume her languor makes her any variety of safe. Every plant around them is a potential weapon --

"What... do you want?"

"I'd like to know what *you* want," Tim says, shifting a bit further away from the tendrils curling and growing up near his feet. "I enjoy being at peace with you."

"Peace." Her laughter is the soft rush of wind through leaves. Her body... she seems to almost unroll herself from the branch, a particularly thick and curvy vine. She lands on her feet, and Tim stands with her. "This is my place now, Robin."

Tim makes a non-committal sound --

Ivy laughs again, more humanoid this time. "Yes. I know that one day they will come with their fires, their bulldozers, their human *garbage*. Perhaps they will even ask your partner for his assistance."

"If Gotham were a wealthier city..." Tim shrugs.

"I live on sufferance." Ivy's smile is a soft thing, half-private and directed, seemingly, at the ground. It looks very, very old. "I am not discontent, Robin. I've done nothing worthy of your -- attentions."

The thing is, that *sounds* perfectly true -- Ivy is happier when she's lying. But Jason had been very, very sure... Unless he's being distracted for some play of Jason's?

"Are you troubled, Robin...?"

"Forgive me, Ivy, but I seem to be faced with a -- thorny -- problem."

Her face twists into one of those oddly *stiff* frowns -- "You sound like your predecessors. I didn't like them very much."

"Occupational hazard," Tim says, and the shoots at his feet are forming themselves into vines. "I -- really can't stay long."

Ivy waves a hand -- and the vines start growing in another direction. "They only want to know you. And consume. The nature of life."

Certainly of this *sort* of life. But... "I did have another question. About Scarecrow."

Ivy is silent for a time, stroking and examining the surrounding trees before settling her back against one which doesn't seem very special to Tim's eyes. She rubs against it like she has an itch and strokes her own body, pushing and teasing at the small, sharp looking leaves which may or may not be detachable.

She's an attractive woman. He's known that, to a certain extent -- certainly, Ivy has rarely had trouble attracting willing victims, whether or not she had to help that will along. Still, there are any number of men and women who would *be* willing, and it's anything but difficult to see.

Tim's not quite ready to say something along the lines of 'it's a shame she's crazy, *but* --'


Looking at her this way, with nothing but space inside himself, nothing to guide or warn -- there is pleasure.

"Why... why should I aid you against one of my... fellows?"

"Two reasons," Tim says, and steps slightly away from the trees behind him. They haven't precisely moved, but they seem to be a very potential-full kind of still. "One, nothing you can tell me will get him into any more trouble than he's already in --"

She waves a hand, brushing the other along one of the lower branches of the tree she's currently... favoring. The branch sprouts immediately, filling the small clearing with a strange, musky perfume...

Tim puts on a mask.

"It's *not* harmful to most humans," she says, and almost seems to pout.

"My apologies if I've offended, Ivy. I'm... on medication," Tim says, and raises his eyebrows so she can see him smiling by the motion of his mask.

"Hmph. What's your other reason, Robin? I'm busy."

"He firebombed an elementary school. *After* afflicting the local firefighters with pyrophobia."

This time, when she stiffens, she doesn't look like just another plant, at all. It's -- they've used this against her, this fondness for children and tendency to take in the ones who would otherwise slip through the cracks in the system.

For years, Tim has been exposed to all the ways that system can fail the children it doesn't miss, entirely. The children who drift to Ivy could do much worse -- especially since she's taught herself a lot more about how to protect them from her own toxins. Tim wonders, idly, if she can still produce children of her own --

"I don't know much," she says, hard and cold. The tree she's nearest flinches away, shaking leaves down to the ground. She has turned away from him.

"I'm looking for his lab -- the one he kept hidden. All we found of his materials was finished product, and... he's not that good." Even Ivy has works in progress... somewhere.

Maybe where that restaurant used to be.

"Anything you can tell me would be vastly appreciated. And you know I'm not just saying that."

She curls her hands into fists -- releases them. "Will you stand with me when they come to burn me out, Robin? You don't wear green, anymore..."

"It's a different city."

"And you're a different young man," she says, and looks back over her shoulder. Narrowly. "All right, I'll answer your question --"

"Thank you --"

"If you answer one of my own."

"If I can --" Motion, fast and snapping, reaching --

The clearing is much smaller than it had been, darker, warmer, and Ivy is touching -- his staff. It would be polite to tuck the firebomb he's holding in his other hand behind a fold of his cape, but there is, as ever, a time for that sort of thing.

"Ivy --"

"You're not a boy any longer," she says, and, if there was *any* doubt as to her meaning, she removes it with the way she strokes the end of the staff. "I can smell it."

Some hormonal shift...? Perhaps. "I might just be happy to see you."

"Hmm. Tell me, was it Batman? Did he finally reward you for all of those years of hard, *hard* work...?"

A casual observer would never think that they'd been having a simple conversation a moment ago. Everything now is violence, sex, and potentially violent -- certainly deadly -- sex. He might as well be just another male victim. "Ivy," he says, frowning, "don't you think that's personal?"

She blinks at him, lashes long and, at this distance, distinctly reminiscent of fragile deep green stems. And then she laughs, rearing back, hair flying -- the trees and plants echo her, utterly defiant of the lack of wind.

Tim smiles back --

"Tell me anyway," she says, hard again, and some variety of hungry.

All right. "No, Ivy. Batman didn't take my virginity."

She searches him for a moment, vines ripping themselves out of the earth to wave and reach, wave and taunt -- "Tchah, fine, *be* that way," and she starts to walk away. "The last time our cells shared a wall and they gave him a little too much happy juice, he said something about an alias -- Owen T. Em. That's all I care to share, little man. Now go before I feed you to something more cooperative."

Behind him, two of the trees lift and creak and resolve themselves into Feraks, once more, and a path opens into darkness. He can barely make out Ivy's form among the other trees. "Stay quiet, Ivy," he says, not knowing if she can hear him or not. "For both our sakes."

He goes.

Outside the park, the night is no darker than any other Gotham night at this time of year, and almost painfully loud after his time in the green. And there's a body -- lightly twitching -- beside his bike.

Irritating more than anything else -- the bike doesn't put out that kind of voltage unless someone makes a concerted effort to jack it -- but he still has to check the man out. Tim crouches beside him. "That was rather stupid, you know."

"B -- b -- buh. Buzz. Buzz."

"Yeah, pretty much. You don't have any medical appliances I should know about, do you?"

"Nuh -- n -- n --"

"Good to know. Here's what's going to happen, guy -- I'm going to drag you into that alley so that hopefully no one mugs you, or breaks a leg tripping over you, or anything fun like that. Then I'm going to call 911."

"Duh -- doctor. Buzz. Fuck you."

"Right back at you," Tim says, and gets a hold of the man by his armpits. "You're going to think twice about touching property that doesn't belong to you, if you've got any brains whatsoever."

"F -- fuh --"

"Noted," Tim says, and tugs him into a handy shadow -- then goes back and tugs one sneakered foot out into the wash from the streetlight. It wouldn't be very heroic for anyone concerned if the EMTs just left him there, and Tim's getting a little tired of hurting people more than he wants them to hurt.

If nothing else, it's really getting in the way of his -- buzz.

Tim smiles to himself, makes the call, and takes a look around. The streets here are a lot quieter than they were before he moved in, and Tim wonders how much Ivy's mood swings had spread. Certainly, property values in this neighborhood had taken a nosedive after the 'quake -- and there has been a somewhat attendant racial shift -- and never bounced back, even though all the new homes are just as view-intensive and sturdy as they should be. Hm.

Tim moves the bike into a parking garage with a perfectly friendly operator -- he dissuades the man from giving it a buff -- and finds himself a rooftop. It doesn't take long to find the entrepreneurs -- quieter and generally better-dressed in this part of town, despite the fact that he'd taken out nearly a dozen on his way *in*.

Other cities aren't like this. Cities with superheroes have entirely different problems. That time his father tried to move them to Keystone --

Gotham is his, and he, perhaps, belongs to Gotham. And he finds his mark: Young, a little nervous -- judging by the way he keeps putting his hands in his pockets and taking them out again. And he keeps looking back toward the park.

Tim flies down and in, watching for the sound of his cape to notify the man that he's about to have a visitor -- nothing until he touches down --

"Shit, hey, I'm just small fry, you don't have to --"

This time, the shuriken go precisely where they're supposed to -- pinning the man's baggy jacket to the wall. The interesting thing about this sort of thing is that, something like ninety-five percent of the time, it makes the targets freeze, as opposed to simply ripping their clothes on their way *away*.

Psychological warfare at its clean, neat best, really.

Tim drives his fist into the man's stomach and then uses a -- light -- uppercut to get him to stand straight again.

"Fucking *Christ*, what did I do to you --"

"You're a dealer, and you caught my attention."

"Hey, I don't have *nothing* on me, and you can't fake it up for the cops -- agh --"

The spikes on his gauntlet cut the man *beneath* the eye, and -- perhaps he's being too aggressive? He hasn't broken any bones, and the man probably won't scar -- unless he has terrible skin. The feel is different, though. Exhilarating. *Different*. "This isn't about your compatriots sitting on your stash, and this isn't about getting you arrested."

"What -- Jesus, what *is* it about?"

Tim shows his teeth -- smiles. Normally it would be the former. He knows -- he *knows* that, but -- focus. "Information."

He gets what he wants, for certain definitions of 'want.' The runners and look-outs are coming up missing -- his target turns out to be quite vehement about the fact that Tim will be able to check missing persons reports -- usually after being last seen in or near the park.

Runners and look-outs are generally very, very young.

And kids who have families who are ready and willing to report them missing...

("Will you stand with me when they come to burn me out, Robin?")

Kids who have families who let them run drugs.


Tim leaves his target tied up for his fellows to find and moves, retrieving the bike and managing a distracted smile for the attendant. He should take this straight to Bruce -- the MCU nearly always calls Batman in when kids go missing with even the hint of the 'freaks' behind it. It's entirely possible that they *will* call Batman in -- as soon as whatever poor, overworked bastard in Missing Persons starts putting all the names together.

They could...

They could burn Ivy out, take the park back once and for all -- or, hell. They could, together, probably find a way to do it without too much destruction --

The children will fight for their home, and for the new family they've undoubtedly created in Ivy's... idyll. He can't afford to let the police go in with flamethrowers and construction -- *destruction* equipment. None of them can afford that.

The most practical thing to do would be to let Gordon know about this as quietly as possible, and to work with Bruce to find a peaceful way, if not an entirely legal one. No one would let Pamela Isley adopt *one* child, much less however many she's currently sheltering.

Caring for.

Who are they to judge, exactly...?

The practical way just doesn't feel like the *best* way. Ivy... Ivy responds *well* to him, and even though he knows that will stop as soon as he becomes more threatening than he is simply by existing...

Right now, on this bike heading not very near to Bruce's current location, he knows himself. He *can* know himself. He could be afraid that Bruce will find out that *he'd* needed to brace a dealer before figuring out what was going on. He could be afraid that the parents of those children will figure it out on their own and storm the proverbial castle with higher-tech pitchforks and torches. He could be afraid of the way Gordon would look at them -- all of them -- if they suggested letting it lie.

All of those things would help him toward the practical solution, but he hadn't needed them to formulate the thing, himself.

There has to be a better *way*.

Ivy has never taken a child against their will, and she hadn't seemed likely to start. He knows -- he *knows* -- what it's like to be that age and making decisions. He knows those decisions should still *count*.

He *owes* her for the information on Crane -- which he'll access just as soon as he gets to a computer safe from everyone but himself -- 

And if he keeps this to himself, he's either incompetent, on the wrong side, or both -- gang fight.

The old-fashioned kind: knives, chains, various punch-enhancers, and a lot of testosterone. Perfect.

It's in full-swing once he lets the bike swerve to a halt and gets off, and -- yes, perfect. More so when once he starts moving in and taking people down, the attention turns to him.

Blue vs. Brown vs. Robin. If he were Dick, he'd be making jokes, right now, maybe whooping a little. If he were Bruce, about half of the people currently trying very hard to beat him to death would've run away.

He doesn't know about Jason. He --

Batgirl probably wouldn't be having as much fun as he's having, right now. Or she'd be doing it differently. Batgirl -- oh, he's going to have to stay *far* away from her. He's too close to her territory as it is -- no help for that, now. No help for *him*, and Tim manages to get in exactly one leaping split-kick before he's surrounded and has practically no room to move.

Yes, perfect.

Tim has an image of how this would look from the air, one distinct spot of red in a sea of flailing bodies -- good of them to keep beating on each other while they come for him.

The protocol for this is the same as it ever was, striking and blocking as fast as he can from one position, because none of these men will ever work him as hard as a Bruce who had backed him into a corner.

He takes a few shots to the back as he turns, strikes, moves in place, but the bodies are piling up around him nicely -- tripping up the people coming for him until --

*Break*, and Tim shoots his grapple and moves *up*, taking a chain that some lucky individual had managed to wrap around his ankle. He bends his knee up enough to catch it in his hand, wrap it around his fist, tumbles back down.

It's warming that some of the 'bangers hesitate before moving in, again, but he'd really like to take *all* of them down, at least this once. He recognizes within himself a dangerous drive toward greater violence -- he is not blind.

It's just that, right now, he needs the distraction.

He needs the tinkle-*thud* of the chain taking a man in the ribs, and the more familiar sounds of every kick landing, every bone breaking -- no. He pulls himself back with an effort, drops the chain, and takes the last two down with a sweep, a leap -- double-strike *down*.

Everyone's down, groaning, moving weakly. No one is dead, or even close to dead. A technical success, despite his... slip.

He doesn't like this. He doesn't...

Had it really only been fear that kept him from being too brutal? He remembers, all too well, the way Bruce had been in the months after Jason's 'death.' The way the broken bodies had seemed to pile up, the way the newspapers had started muttering darkly about Gotham's 'other' sorts of crime --

He *remembers* that, and he'd always promised that he'd find a way to keep Bruce from going that way again, and --

He'd never thought to promise the same for himself. And --

He's not a program with a bug, and he's not going to think of himself that way. Fear is not the only path to control. He's better than that.

Tim gathers the weapons for the sewers, carefully meting out a nerve-strike here and there as seems... necessary. He doesn't remove his shuriken and stab anyone. He doesn't kick where he remembers already dealing pain. And --

It's after one.

"R to B."

"B here. You're not needed at this time."

We have a serious problem with Ivy. We have to -- "Noted," Tim says, "R out."

His time is his own. He... Bruce would probably prefer to devote a whole night to the Isley situation, anyway. He could use... a trip to the suburbs.

Tim spares one last glance for the gang members, calls 911 about the large fight that isn't, technically, in any danger of continuing, and heads for his bike.


Spoiler has been entirely retired for the better part of a year. As such, it would probably be better for Tim to use Steph's front door rather than her window, but --

("Mmm, vigilante-musk. Come here and get it *all* over me...")

-- and it *is* the middle of the night. There's no car in the driveway -- Mrs. Brown has been on the late shift for the last month -- and Tim's already smiling before he's close enough to tap.

Steph is working with her back to the window, and Tim has an excellent vantage point to see her stiffen before relaxing, all over. She doesn't turn around. Tim can *feel* her smile, just the same, and --

Yes. He taps again, Morse code for 'spider.'

She turns enough that he can see the edge of her small frown --

And then she *jumps*, waves her hand over her head --

Stops and flips him off.

Tim taps 'love' and 'y' and *then* Steph turns all the way around, giggling soundlessly. Tim had funneled money through a bank friendly to the Wayne name, and Mrs. Brown had gotten an excellent rate for a homeowner loan to do repairs and upgrades.

He is not above doing everything in his power to make sure they never want to move.

Steph gestures at him to open the window and Tim frowns and does it. "You really should lock this more often."

Steph sighs and rocks her desk chair back and forth. "For some *strange* reason, I keep getting all tense at the thought of waking up in the middle of the night to the scrape-scrape-scraaaaaaape of the lock-picks you keep in your damned *finger*, boyfriend."

Tim kisses her forehead when she rocks close. "You know I do that silently. And carefully -- I *like* those locks."

"Mm, details," she says, and turns back to her -- calculus, by the look.

She's doing fine, but... Tim drops into a crouch by her chair. "I don't suppose I could convince you to slack a bit...?"

Steph taps her pencil on the desk, spins it... "You know... I know it's stupid, but it always feels a little ominous when you actually want to *interrupt* my grand plans to take over the world one problem set at a time."

One day, Steph is going to be a very good doctor. Or -- whatever she wants. Tim leans in and kisses her hand, softly. Pencil-lead and lemon hand cream. "Nothing ominous. I just... needed to see you. Be with you."

The expression on Steph's face is a complicated blend of affection and trouble. "By which you mean, 'I had a rough night, girlfriend, but we're not actually going to talk about why because we're both afraid you'll catch the vigilante bug again.'"

Tim smiles ruefully. "Something like that." But I think I've already lost that part of you, and I've done my mourning.

She reaches down to stroke Tim's hair. Her hands are already softer than they were when they first started dating -- her program of skin care and repair has been ruthless and successful -- but still quite large and strong.

Tim tilts his head up so she'll touch his cheek, instead, and closes his eyes behind the mask.

She sighs again. "You *can* tell me, you know. I promise I won't lose my shit. I know I can't really... I know I can't help you with this stuff."

"You can. You do -- in your own way."

"Tim --"

"Steph," he says, and lets his voice be just a little hard. "Perhaps, someday I'll find a way to express what it means to me to have you here --" Safe. "Until then, I'd like for you to trust me."

"So there?" Her eyebrows are up and her smile is having a quiet, beautiful war between smug and simply, deeply amused.

Tim smiles ruefully and covers the hand on his cheek with his own --

She shivers. The gauntlet.

"Sorry, I'll take it off --"

"Ah, so you *are* planning to stay a while. Don't think I don't see your clever plan. I've been *warned* about boys like you."

How long has Steph been comfortable enough with their truncated physical romantic life to joke about it with him? How long has he denied her -- both of them? "Steph, I'd like to..." How to say it?

"Yeah, boyfriend?"

Tim shakes his head -- kisses her hand, again. And then he pulls off the gloves, and his cape -- thinks about it --

He pulls off his belt and mask, too. Everything about her, now, is *questioning*, but Tim just needs -- a moment.

Here, in this house, with Steph, this is a very specific kind of naked. Sweat cools and dries beneath his eyes and along his hands and wrists, the quality of light is slightly different, and -- Steph knows that he *wants*.

Even if she isn't sure what he wants, or why.

Tim lays everything on the floor beside him and gestures until Steph turns sideways in her chair and leans in, just a little. "I'm listening, honey."

"It's true that I had a... difficult evening. Things are changing for me, a little, in ways I can't talk about --"

She waves a hand. It hurts, a little, to just *use* her assumption of secrets she can never know, or acknowledge if she ever takes the time to figure them out on her own...

He has to. "I just want you to know that those difficulties have, ultimately, nothing to do with why I'm here... or with what I want from you. With you."

She leans back, frowning again... "What... what are you asking me?"

And it occurs to him -- deeply belatedly -- that she probably thinks he wants her back on the *street*. He does. Some nights he thinks he would do terrible things to have that -- and that's just it. He would *have* to do a terrible thing. "No, I... Steph. I'd like us to make love."

Her eyes widen and she stiffens, all over. Shock? He really, really hopes it's shock. Dick had...

Something about the way he'd said her name had made it all real, all true and perfect and *possible*. There is nothing, here, to fear. He smiles -- carefully -- and rests his hand on her knee. "I've been thinking about it for --" Hours and hours. "-- quite some time."

She opens her mouth, closes it -- opens it again -- "You could've *shared* some of those thoughts."

It says something about him that he doesn't really want to think about that, for Steph, it was entirely in character for Tim *not* to share any of those thoughts. But if it gets him what he wants, what they can both *have*... Tim looks at Steph's knees. "I wanted to be sure," he says, and Steph's knees... part. Just a little. Something about the feel of his hand moving because she's spreading...

"Boyfriend, I..."

Tim squeezes her knee. "You have to know I'd never pressure you."

"Pressure. I -- *pressure*. We've been dating for *three years*!"

Tim looks up and smiles ruefully. "Point, but --"

"What the hell got into your damned Wheaties?"

"-- still." Jason. Steph. Jason --

"I mean..." She taps her hand against the desk, rapid and tense. "Aren't you... you *told* me you were attracted to guys. That you were *more* attracted to guys. I mean, if I had to spend hours around Nightwing all half-naked..."

He's not afraid to be honest, either. He squeezes a little harder. "I'm not a virgin, anymore. I've been with... men."

"You --" Pain in her eyes, anger -- not shock. "I. God, I always. I always knew you would, one day. I." Steph covers her face with her hands.

"Steph --"

"*Wait*. Just -- wait."

Tim nods -- she can't see him. He waits. She hasn't told him to stop touching her, but now isn't the time to stroke his way up to her thigh, always so much bigger than his, stronger...

"God, you. So you let -- somebodies, plural -- do what I've wanted -- *shit*," she says, and *grinds* her hands against her face.

"Steph, don't --"

"*You* shut up, because just when I think I know you, when I think I know what to expect --"

Tim moves closer, holds on to both of her legs -- "You *do* know me, you always have. And you always knew what I was like. And -- God, Steph, I love you, and I finally know what sex is *like*, and I want to show you how much I've *learned*."

She sobs -- no, it's a laugh. Just not a very good one. She does it again, again -- and drops her hands onto her own thighs. He can feel the heat of them, different from the diffuse warmth through her jeans -- "Are you trying to tell me that you were just *practicing*, Tim? Because I call fucking *bullshit*."

Well. He'd set himself up for that. "No. I wasn't practicing. I was making love to people I care about, because I... God, I'm ready for that, I'm finally --" Tim shakes his head. "No, it's not about me. It's about you, and what you want. *Whatever* you want."

"God, you. Don't you know when to *lie*?"

"I never..." Tim rolls down onto his knees. "I never want to lie to you. You deserve better --"

"Than a gay boyfriend who'll put out right and fucking *left*? Yeah, I do. I really do, Tim, shit --" Steph pounds her fists on her own thighs once, twice -- "Maybe you should just --"

"Do you love me?"

"You're asking me that *now*?"

Tim moves his hands -- slowly. She doesn't stop him from covering her hands with them, or from curling his fingers around. "Yes. I'm asking."

"God -- *fuck* you. Yes, I love you. *Yes*, I always knew you'd run out on me one day --"

"No. I never will."

"You --" Steph sucks in a breath, narrowing her eyes in a frown and flexing her fists within Tim's hands. "Tell me what you mean. Tell me how this is supposed to *work* --"

"I have a life with you, and I have a life apart from you --"

"Oh, *fuck* you --"

"-- and it has nothing to do with the fact that you aren't Spoiler, anymore, and that you never will be, again. It just is, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't like it that way. And I will never lie to you. You're special to me, different from everyone and everything else. And if you let me --"

Tim dodges the first punch, and the one after that. She's slower than she used to be, but there's nothing wrong with the power and follow-through. She lunges, falling to her knees --

And Tim scoots back, reaches for her -- blocked, and she's crying now --

Never wants her to cry, never never --

She keeps punching, and the blows get both faster and wilder. He keeps his blocks careful, *gentle* -- he'll never hurt her this way, he'll never --

"You fucking *jerk*," she says, and this time when she lunges it's a kiss, brutal and wet, hungry -- *yes*.

He pushes his hands into her hair and rides it, sucking her tongue when she stabs him with it and curling his fingers against her scalp. Technically, this is nothing they haven't done before, but that's using the truth to tell a bald, awful lie.

It's everything they haven't had, all the passion he'd been afraid to allow, all the *fire* he feared would make her want things he couldn't give, and didn't know how to *take*.

He tugs her hair hard and she moans, lets him change the angle of the kiss until he can lick his way into her mouth, in and in and *in* -- he doesn't need both hands in her hair. He needs --

He moves his right down to her side, to the swell of her breast beneath her normal-girl sweater. He cups, squeezes -- she bites his lip --

"Dammit, you -- why do you *want* this all of a sudden?"

"Because I *can*, Steph. There's nothing to stop me, to stop *us*," he says, and kisses her again, giving it to her hard like Bruce, *wet* like Dick. And when he pulls his other hand out of her hair and pushes both arms beneath her own, she lets him lift her, lift them both until they're standing, moving --

She hits the bed with a soft cry, shocked and a little *hurt* -- "Steph --"

"If you stop now I will never fucking speak to you *again*."

"Noted," Tim says, and starts to strip, working on his tunic while he toes off his boots.

Steph tears off her sweater -- but leaves her bra.

"Take it off --"

"*You* don't get to make the decisions --"

"I want to do it with my *teeth*, Steph --"

Steph grunts and her hands slip on her fly, fumble -- "Oh -- Jesus, just get *over* here --"

Tim leaves his tunic on the floor and obeys orders, pushing Steph down onto her back and sucking her nipple through the bra. Scratchy lace and cotton, lots of support because Steph is *big*, rounded, beautiful -- and he can feel her nipple stiffen between his lips, test it between his teeth --

Get choked, a little, when Steph shoves her hand down the back of Tim's undershirt through the head-hole, shiver at the scratch of her manicured nails -- a luxury she enjoys far more than Tim can understand -- *more*. And --

"*More*," he says, and kisses her again, grinds down against her, braces himself over her and licks her lips, her cheek, the spot under her eyes which has never been any more tender and vulnerable than it is, now. He wants to be touched there, everywhere --

"Tim, Tim, oh God, I can come like this, I can -- *fuck*," she says, breathy and loud when Tim flips her over onto her stomach.

It's a challenge to open the bra with his teeth, but it's not that complicated a mechanism, and the sounds she makes when she feels him trying, the way she pushes *up* against him --

Open, and Tim licks a stripe up the center of her spine, scoots back until he can straddle her legs, get his hands under her waist and urge her up onto her knees --

She's gotten her fly open, but these jeans are tight enough that it takes a little effort to get them down around her thighs. He pauses with his fingers in the waistband of her panties --

"Don't *stop* --"

He yanks them down and her buttocks are round, pale, dimpled -- he licks those, too -- and... thinks. What does he want, beyond to make Steph come? What does he need?

What does *she* need?

He cups her mound from the back and presses hard -- she's already wet for him, already soft-warm-*slick* -- he knows. He pushes until she rolls onto her back --

"You can make up your mind *any* fucking time now, boy -- f -- *fuck* --"

The taste --

The *taste*. Musky and salt, and faint hints of sweetness he finds himself chasing, tracing lines over and around her sex with his tongue, following her when she bucks and writhes until it starts getting difficult to lick where he wants to. He grabs her hips -- "No, I will *not* -- fucking -- hold -- *still*, Jesus, that's -- oh right there --"

Tim pauses and sucks, and the sound she makes is a low, rolling sort of thing, a wave like the undertow in his jock, like the motion of her hips --

She's leaking more, and the taste gets interestingly milder, more difficult to quantify beyond the unmistakable undertone of *sex*.

He slips his tongue inside her and she shudders, groans, *bucks* --

"Th -- that. *That*. Oh -- I never thought you -- oh god fucking dammit *please* --"

Tim locks his arms around the backs of her thighs and *fucks* her with his tongue, fast and steady, flicking his tongue as he slips out -- no, he wants *more*. He lets go of her thigh and lets his hand splay over her mound, reaching back with his thumb to *press* against her clit.

And now the sounds are rhythmic, desperate things, not very different from the sort of sound she would make if he punched her in the stomach. Never hurt her, never --

He always wants to make her *happy*. He needs her to be happy, and there's no excuse for not giving her this before, for not *doing* this when it's so good, so *right* --

She stiffens, yells -- And she's *flexing* around his tongue, trying to grip him with her internal muscles... oh, what would it be like to be *inside* her? And then he realizes that she's *coming*, and the only possible response to that is to lick faster, try to lick *harder* --

She yells again, reaches for him -- she's trying to get a grip on his hair, trying to communicate somehow, but she's shaking for him --

"Oh fuck. Oh *fuck* fuck *fuck* --"

Tim presses his face in and *kisses* her hole, rubs a circle with his thumb --

And she yells *again* -- and shoves him away, covering herself with one hand. Her eyes are squeezed shut, her hair is a mess, she's flushed all over and she's beautiful.

Some variety of *his*, if only for this moment -- "Please, Steph, I -- I need to take off --"

"Jesus, *do* it --"

He slips off the bed and strips as fast as he can, leaving everything in a damning, wonderful, *carefree* pile --  He laughs and she opens her eyes and stares at him, still covering herself... Tim takes himself in hand and raises an eyebrow.

Steph's eyes widen and she shakes her head, rubs herself, closes her eyes and moans -- and Tim has to stroke himself, *has* to. He's hard, aching with it, needing -- "I'm on the pill," she says, and, "you know that, and I -- I trust you to be safe with your... your... "

"Partners. You... Always you, Steph --"

"God, I -- come here," she says, and her voice is quiet and a little hoarse -- from more than just the shouting.

He covers her slowly, hissing at the feel of his penis sliding against her abdomen, teasing his sac with her hair -- "You feel so good --"

"Tell me. Tell me who they were --"

"Nightwing. Batman."

"Oh, *Jesus*, I take it back, I really --" Her laugh sounds shocked, but it's a *laugh*.

"Steph," he says, and kisses her softly until she shakes her head --

"Did you fuck them? Did -- did they fuck you?"

Tim rolls his hips and sighs, *wants* -- "Batman. Used his finger."

She shudders under him and, after a moment, wraps her arms around him. "You liked that. I -- it's not a question. I know you did."

"I'd let you do it. I love you. I'd love it --"

"I want --" She laughs again, and strokes his back, squeezes him. "I want you to never love anyone but me."

"I. Steph --"

"But I'll settle for having you inside me, even if it's just for tonight."

Tim groans, has to *grind* -- "Steph, I'll never -- I'll always --"

Steph digs her nails in against the skin of Tim's back. "Don't talk anymore. Please."

Tim pants and kisses her, rocking his hips against her. He wonders if he could be a different person if he put his mind to it, if Steph would want him to try. Somewhere in this world is a drug which could help, and he could...

He could do anything.

When he breaks the kiss, she moves her hands until she can push at his shoulders, urging him to brace himself above her... he rests on his elbow and reaches down to take himself in hand again, and nearly needs to wince at the pain, the pleasure --

She pulls her knees up and grinds up -- "Please, boyfriend. Please, Tim -- *oh* --"

He's fumbling, but even that feels wonderful. At some point he wants to take this slow, tease them both with the slide of the head of his penis against her clitoris, against her swollen lips --

"Don't *tease* me --"

Or maybe not. He wants to laugh again, he wants to yell and he wants to just -- *push*. She's so tight, so *hot* inside he can't even make a sound --

"Oh -- Tim --"

And once he's inside he wants to just *stay* there, warm and safe, held -- *Steph*. But there's something building at the base of his spine, coiling and squeezing him from the inside out, *turning* him inside out -- "Steph, I --"

"It's okay, God, it's -- you feel --"

Maybe he can just thrust once and wait again, just to ease the itch beneath his skin, the need -- he's lying to himself and he knows it, he can *feel* it -- He has to do it, anyway --

"Yes, Tim, it's always yes, always --"

And Tim -- for a moment he's feeling himself from a distance, the pressure and pleasure, the need and the *heat* -- and then he *thrusts*, and there's no distance anymore, nothing but the sound of Steph moaning, the feel of her scratching at him, clutching --

Again and Steph's thighs are shaking against Tim's sides, Steph's hands are sliding down, cupping his hips --

Again and he's inside, he's so deep, it's so perfect --

Again and the sound his sac makes against her is the perfect thing, the *obscene* thing, as if suddenly they're no more than just their flesh, slick and hungry, made for *this* -- Steph sobs and he can't --

He can't stop. He can't.

He can't separate the motions from themselves, can't detangle any one feeling --

"Oh, open your *eyes* --"

He does, but he can't focus, can't see anything but the blue of Steph's eyes, the golden flood of her hair, the high color in her cheeks --

Blood beneath her skin, blood filling them both, driving them --

"I want you to ride me, Steph, I want -- oh God --"

"Flip us *over* --"

He has enough of a mind to pull out before doing it -- he's not Bruce *or* Dick, he -- he's cold, *bereft* --

He's flat on his back and Steph is straddling him, panting and touching Tim's face -- squeezing him *hard*, and maybe Tim's the one sobbing --

Or maybe he's just begging, because she kneels up, guides him in -- they groan together, and Tim still can't focus, but it seems like everything is right with the world again, and Steph --

Moves --

He thinks, maybe, that this is how he'll feel when somebody finally fucks him, ridden down and used, a perfect tool for this, for *Steph* -- he's not going to last. He's not --

She's moving fast, and her eyes are squeezed shut, her breasts are bouncing -- Tim reaches and the brush of her nipples against his palms feels like being *cut*. He can -- he finds the rhythm and tries to keep it, tries to do more than just thrust up jaggedly, helplessly --

"Oh, Steph, I *can't* --"

"I know, oh, I know, baby, it's okay --"

She knows. She always -- it's all right -- he grabs her hips and fucks the rhythm, fucks *her*, hard and fast and desperate --

"*Oh* --"

And she falls over him, grabbing the pillow to either side of Tim's head, curtaining them with her hair --

"*Do* it, Tim --"

She wants -- she wants, and Tim knows he's thrusting too hard, now, that he's taking too much, but she *wants* --

And the orgasm rips a yell out of him, hollows him and scours that sweet and perfect empty place inside him -- Tim feels himself hitting the pillow, and then all he can feel is himself spilling inside Steph, *inside* --

After a time, he's aware that he's panting, and that he has his eyes squeezed shut, and that Steph is laying on him, naked and sweaty. Soft. It takes some effort to convince his arms to move, but once activation energy is achieved he can wrap them around her and hold on.

She's breathing a little hard -- she kisses his shoulder, softly.


"I can't believe it. I'm going to be sore tomorrow --"

Tim winces. "Sorry, I --"

"Because of *you*. *You* fucked me raw. *You* made my pussy sit up and take notice."

Tim pauses, thinks about it... "I'm... not sorry?"

Steph snickers and twists out of Tim's grip, kneeling up -- "*God* --" and making Tim slip out.

Tim winces again. "Wow, I... don't think I was ready for that to happen."

"Too bad, punk. My pussy, my rules," and Steph shifts until she's lying beside him, curled on her side and humming.

"Noted." He thinks again -- for *some* reason, it's a little difficult at the moment -- and decides that it's entirely all right to reach for her hand and place it on his chest, especially if he raises an eyebrow while doing it.

Steph blows out a breath. "Yes, dammit, you can have your tiny little Tim-portion of cuddle."

Tim smiles -- and remembers to keep it a little small. He may not be remotely *good* at this, but he knows this moment could be... fragile. "I wouldn't mind more."

Steph hums again and taps her fingers against Tim's sternum. "No, I... I guess I trained you up pretty good."

"Yes --"

"*I* need a little space," she says and presses down with her palm. "Just a little."

Hm. "Ah. Should I --"

"What you're going to do is stay right there while we do the afterglow thing, and then you'll stay right there while I finish my homework and not think about the fact that you don't plan on going to college even though you're the smartest guy I *know* --"

"Steph --"

"You'll *stay* here," she says, getting up on her elbow, "so I can get used to the feel of you being near me again without going crazy from either thinking about your sex life or thinking about *our* sex life, and then we'll kiss a little, and *then* you'll go... do whatever it is you do before going home to Bruce fucking Wayne, aka la la la I'm not thinking about it. Much."

He hadn't been planning on *much*, and... all right. Tim covers Steph's hand with his own. "Sounds good to me."

She searches him a little, pressing hard for a moment -- she closes her eyes and slumps back down to the bed.

"I love you, Steph."

"I know, honey. I love you, too."


In the end, she eventually lets Tim help her with her homework, but not for very long. She tells him she needs to think, and Tim has had years to get used to the fact that that means she needs him to not be there. He takes himself back to Gotham proper and moves to one of his favorite r-points. It's not very exciting, and it has excellent views. And --

The desire for distance --

It's one of the things which makes her who she is, and Tim wouldn't change it, even though he's left feeling a little... contact-hungry. *Wanting*.

Of course, what it really boils down to is an intense desire to avoid having to look at Bruce -- or their home -- until he has some idea what he's going to do about *Ivy*, but his body is making it easy to pretend that it's something else, something -- easier, in its way.

And the fact that he's considering how best to distract Bruce with more sex instead of concentrating on his surroundings is, perhaps, the best way to explain why Jason was able to creep up on him and -- smack the back of his head. Tim reaches for his staff --

And there's a gun pressed to his temple. Right.

"Ah, I forgot. We're not supposed to play."

"*You're* not supposed to act like a damned amateur."

That's twice he's been called that. It's better than some of the other things, but still. "You realize I'm packing enough explosive to blow us both sky high, right? *One* of us isn't very well armored."

"You think you can trigger anything before I take you out?"

"You're assuming I didn't as soon as you touched me?" It really wouldn't be so bad, so long as they threw themselves off the roof. Both of them are prepared *enough* for that sort of thing --

Jason snorts and taps Tim's forehead with the gun barrel before he holsters it. "Funnily enough, I can see you doing it, peewee."

*That* sounded like a compliment. Very interesting. Tim hums and shifts to make space for Jason within his shadow. "What can I do for you this evening, Jason?"

Jason crowds him. A little. He doesn't smell like cordite, tonight, and Tim wonders if he's allowed to consider that a victory. If he has any right --

"I mean, assuming you *did* want to just get right down to business. Your wants and needs are very important to me --"

"You can tell me what's in the suburbs that required you to break off patrol -- *without* your civilian clothes. Timmy."

I only let people call me that when it looks like I might get a fuck out of it -- no, probably not appropriate, however tempting. "You were following me. Flattering --"

"Not --"

"Be honest. Does my ass look big in these tights?"

"Nuh-uh, kid. You left a trail like a gunshot victim with explosive diarrhea --"

"Colorful --"

"And right now you're not giving me any reason not to take a little time out of my busy schedule and *follow* it."

Steph. Jason -- no. No, he can't do that. *Allow* that. Steph doesn't need Red *fucking* Hood in her life. Tim stares out over the city and focuses, for a moment, on the wind in his hair. The scent of car exhaust, masses of *people* -- Gotham.

Jason is crouched beside him, and they both know exactly how much *promise* is in the smile on his face. Tim takes a breath --

And dips his head, just a little. "My girlfriend used to be an operative. Emphasis on the past tense. She has no part in -- any of this."

"That sounded like a request, birdboy. Gonna say pretty please?"

Tim turns to face Jason, considers... and flips the lenses on his mask up. "Ultimately, I'm not the one with an inconveniently troubling emotional history with you. I will not hesitate."

"Mm. I already knew you had blood in your veins, but I have to say it's kinda soothing to get a reminder, now and then. I'll take your request under -- heh -- advisement."

And that's about as good as he's going to get. Tim rolls his head on his neck and puts the lenses back down. "You do that. About your needs?"

"You saw Ivy."

That's it, that's all. No tonal shifts, no detail -- "Careful, Jason. If you keep acting like B --"

"You'll get all weak in the knees for me, baby? I know I've caught your attention, little boy, but *please* -- try not to embarrass yourself."

Heh. Tim smiles, and -- there's absolutely no reason not to let all of it onto his face. "I rarely do, Jason..."

Jason snorts --

"When I'm on my knees."

Hit. It's Jason's *turn* to be damningly quiet, and the feeling is... oh, very sweet. Tim hums, a little and turns so they can face each other in their crouches.

And rests his hand on Jason's knee. "Of course, I could understand if you wanted me to put my money where my mouth is -- ooh. I was wondering where you've been keeping that kris of yours." Currently, he's keeping it close enough to Tim's cheek -- "I won't need a shave for at least another day or two --"

"Kid." Warning in Jason's voice, low and -- yes, full of promise.

"Oh, Jason. Don't 'nut up' on me, now. We were just starting to *get* somewhere -- ah --" The knife moved too fast to see, and the wind takes a lock of Tim's hair. It could've been skin. Tim smiles a little wider. "But you were saying something, earlier...?"


"Yes, sir, Bat Junior, sir. We talked. She gave me some information that's for me to know and you to... not."

The knife is beneath his eye. Moonlight makes the blade seem like the blue of some fantasy-world lake. Very pretty. Far more importantly... Jason *isn't* going to go to Bruce unless things get very, very bad.

Worse than they are now. "She's... poaching personnel from local drug dealers."

Jason shifts, breathes -- "Building an army."

"No," Tim says, and moves his head minutely -- he has an itch on his cheek, and the blade is right there --


"Making a home. The same thing she's been doing for years. The only difference is that now she's calling in kids with actual families. Though I'm not at all sure the word shouldn't have ironic single quotes."

"Ma Gunn," Jason says, low and not really directed at anything but the air. Tim knows that story, and -- hm.

"There is, to date, no sign she's using the children to commit crimes, as opposed to simply offering... sanctuary."

Jason frowns -- and makes the knife dance in front of Tim's eyes. "Got a soft spot for the plant lady?"

"I *got* a healthy mistrust of the foster care system in this city," he says, and drums his fingers on Jason's knee. Just to do it. "And for parents who let their children run with drug dealers."

"As opposed to vigilantes."

"Oh, that's perfectly healthy. Builds *character*," Tim says, and tilts his head to the side just enough that the knife-tip scrapes his mask. "It seems to have done wonders for our poor, wayward lives. Jason."

Jason laughs, rich and *honest* -- and brief. He stands up, keeping the knife at his side. "Do you even know what you're asking for?"

"Spankings only for the second date?"

"We're not friends, pretender, and we're not brothers, and no amount of you fucking around with me --"

"Jason. There's something you need to know. It's not too late. It can never *be* too late, even though you and *I* might think differently. We're not the ones who make the rules, and maybe we never will be --"

"Shut. The fuck. Up," and the knife is aimed at him again -- 

"No," Tim says, and stands, too. The shadows aren't deep enough for this -- he doesn't care. "No, I won't, because you need to hear this. You're not Robin, anymore. You've murdered people. You've got one of the worst cases of testosterone poisoning I've ever seen in my *life* --" Tim blocks the strike, the next, the next --

And knows, in his bones, that if he leaps back enough to pull his staff he'll lose Jason. Again. He'll pay for the pain in his wrists and forearms *later* --

"It's not too late, and we *need* you, in one way or another. Gotham gets worse every day --"

Jason slashes the spikes off Tim's left gauntlet --

"-- and, Jason? We *both* know that the only way you can make us stop trying is by doing things you still don't want to do --"

"You don't *know* me," Jason says, and the punch takes Tim's right forearm out --

It drops without his consent and Tim shakes it, tries --

And the next punch hits him square in the jaw, knocking him back -- he *has* to flip now --

Jason catches him by the cape and hauls him in, panting, glaring --

They're both panting, staring at each other -- Tim works his jaw until the shocked numbness becomes the kind of pain he can work with. He's going to bruise spectacularly. He --

"Drake," Jason says, *grits*.

"Jason, I... I love saying your name. I love it. I love --"

Could he love this kiss? Certainly, it has its good points, not least of which is the fact that he's being kissed by Jason *Todd*, one-third of his pre-adolescent *Trinity* --

It's just that he's pretty sure Jason just gave him an *ear* piercing with the knife, and they're backlit on a rooftop, and --

Jason's kissing him like he really, really wants to discourage Tim from asking for another. There's blood in his mouth, Jason is holding him up on his toes -- he's using both hands, and that means there's room for Tim to *shove* --

Jason doesn't so much as stumble, he laughs, and Tim lunges for him, using his battered forearms to knock past Jason's instinctive block --

It's his turn to offer a teaching kiss, leaving his arms trapped between them, leaving himself more vulnerable than Jason had, leaving himself *room*. Room to be a little gentle and a lot *dirty* about it, doing his best to go *down* on Jason's tongue, his whole wet, swollen mouth.

The *taste* --

And something stutters inside him at the feel of Jason's hands settling on his shoulders -- not *yet* -- something thrills, expands, *wants*.

More when Jason squeezes instead of shoving him away, *more* when Jason starts kissing him back in earnest, using the kiss to move Tim, push him back --

Shadows, *yes*, and Tim grabs Jason's hips and yanks until they're pressed together, upright and wavering a little -- Jason sucks Tim's split lip and *thrusts* against him, once, again, *again*, *hard* --

Tim gives up on *complicated* physical messages and locks one leg around Jason's hip --

"Fucking *slut* --"

"Nonsense. I'm keeping it in the *family*. For now," Tim says, and scrapes his sore cheek over Jason's own, against the grain of stubble which proves Jason wakes up at least long enough in the *mornings* to shave, all data is important, he needs to know everything about Jason, everything --

And Jason pushes his hands into Tim's hair and tugs Tim's head back before just... oh, it's like being *fed* on, like somehow Tim has *something* Jason's been missing, been *needing*.

Just the *possibility* --

Seduction, yes. Electricity, and all the fire he's coming to crave. He strokes Jason's glutes, squeezes and gets his lip bitten, and then his other lip, and then the tip of his tongue. Tim groans much too loud and laughs when Jason jerks back --

"In for a penny. Jason."

"What -- what the hell do you *want*?"

"What I can have, and more when I think about it -- ah --" That's his cape, puddling around his legs, and that's Jason's *teeth*, sinking in against the throat part of the tunic. "Right over the scar. Oh, *good* form --"

"Shut *up*," Jason says, and for a moment Tim can't tell exactly what Jason is doing with his hands -- and then Tim's belt falls and he realizes that he's been *deactivated*. How did Jason know...?

*When* did Jason know? Tim squeezes Jason's rear again, goes for his fly, gets slapped away -- and now he *really* needs to know exactly how hard Jason is. It's imperative, *vital*, and Jason absolutely wasn't expecting Tim to drop to his knees --

"*Jesus*, what --"

Tim goes for the fly again, gets slapped *away* -- one more time and one more strike -- "Look, I don't know how *you* go about this, Jason, but --"

"Stop. You should really -- stop saying my fucking *name* --"

Heh. "Make me. Jason." Tim rests his hands down on his thighs --

And blinks, slowly, when Jason's punch stops just before breaking his nose. Jason blows out a breath and for just one, small, perfect moment his hand *shakes*.

Tim reaches up and carefully catches hold of Jason's glove before starting to pull it off. His fist is still clenched, and this won't work if Jason doesn't *cooperate* --

Jason opens his fist, splaying his fingers like a small and particular selection of weapons. Tim pulls the glove free and leans in, licking Jason's knuckles. If he was a bare-handed fighter, some of the salt Tim's tasting would be his own, residual from the last punch which had actually landed. As it is, it's only Jason, and the simple human vulnerability of sweat.

Tim looks up through his lashes before taking two of Jason's fingers in and -- his lenses are down, but Jason's expression isn't that difficult to read. He's strained, unsure, angry -- aroused.

And this time, when Tim reaches for his fly, Jason doesn't stop him. Simple boxer briefs and a jock beneath his pants, tight and he's so warm through them, hard and *hot* --

It would fit -- in some ways Tim doesn't quite have words for -- to tease. But. "Will you hit me again if I say some part of me has been dreaming of this since the first time I saw you beat the hell out of a mugger, Jason --"

Hands back in his hair, pulling *hard* --"Stalker. Freak. Slut. Psycho --"

"I know you are, but --"

Laughing around a penis may or may not be better than gagging on it, but Tim kind of has to go with it. A smaller imperative, a grace note to the overpowering scent of hungry *male* and the feel of Jason making a space for himself inside Tim, *taking* a place -- mm.

Tim stops laughing and sucks, surprised and more touched than he wants to think about when Jason doesn't stop him from wrapping a hand around the base. Probably he just doesn't want to stop pulling Tim's hair. Either way, it gives this a kind of safety he thinks even the Tim he *used* to be would've been able to appreciate.

It's a comfort built of deep shadows and the knowledge of himself as something both small and useful, needful if only by moments and increments. It's --

It's everything for this brand of *now*, and it's a space he knows -- very well, now -- how to live in. Tim smiles inside and keeps his eyes on Jason as he sucks. Jason is quiet, or keeping himself that way, and would it be too much to hope for a different sort of now? A more private rooftop, if not anything like a bed. It's --

He wants this, *too*, and resting his free hand on Jason's hip makes his palm ache inside the gauntlet, pain that thrums in time with the throb in his jaw, his arms --

Tim grinds his own knees against the faintly gritty surface of the rooftop and yes, there, *too*. He's hard enough that his jock is adding to the chorus, and --

There's a guilt for this, too. He's always *used* pain to push himself farther, to let himself deny his own limits until he's too drunk on sensation to *want* to stop. He shouldn't be using this here, he shouldn't be blunting that edge with sexuality, no matter how much --

Jason grunts, low and quiet, and Tim squeezes hard with both hands to stop them from shaking --

"Too late, birdboy. I *felt* that -- nn --"

He wants to say -- he doesn't know what he wants to say, other than needing it to be both true and purely responsive. Moaning around Jason's penis isn't enough --

"Jesus. You..."

Except that Jason sounds winded -- *wounded*. Tim's hands are shaking again and he can't squeeze any harder, can't -- he wants -- he moans again and tries not to focus too much on the act. He wants the moment surrounding it, he wants to keep feeling the wind cooling the sweat on his face and not just get *lost* when Jason pushes, thrusts so *tentatively* --

How long has it been for him? How much has *he* been holding back?

This time the moan seems to vibrate itself back down inside him, filling that empty space, rocking him on his knees -- Tim shakes it off as much as he can --

"Fuck -- fucking *take* me --"

He tries to, tries to just work his head up and down -- Jason's holding him too still for that even though he's still not really thrusting. Tim *claws* at Jason's hip and Jason's gasp is louder than every other sound he's made tonight, harder than every hit --


Tim groans and closes his eyes. He's *tugging* on Jason's hip, now, and he can't make himself stop and he can't seem to convince Jason to let him work his head --

Please, he thinks, and he's punishing his mouth with his own fist, licking up as much as he can --

*Please* --

And maybe Jason can feel it, *know* it with some sense Tim hasn't dallied enough with assassins to possess -- he doesn't know. It's enough that Jason eases the grip on Tim's hair and he can finally use Jason to fuck his own mouth.

Hard and fast, hard and slick -- slicker when the cut on his lip opens a little more --

"Ah -- *fuck* --"

*Thrust*, and Tim thinks he might lose his balance -- he's already lost -- no. It's perfect. It's *right*, and Tim works and groans until he can catch Jason's ragged rhythm, until he can give back exactly what he's taking, more --

The sounds Jason's making aren't words anymore, or anything even close to words. They're growling things, rough and desperate -- gone when Jason shuts his teeth with an audible *click* --

And Tim feels himself flushing all over, leaking into his jock -- the *taste*, yes, of Jason coming in his mouth, the feel of him twitching between Tim's lips, on his tongue -- Tim swallows and swallows, willing himself past the need to cough until Jason pulls out and shoves Tim *back*.

Tim catches himself on his hands and has enough time to register profound regret for not protecting the hand that had been wrapped around Jason from roof grit he has no desire whatsoever to *lick* -- before he looks up and sees Jason staggering on his feet with his hands covering his face. It's too much, it's --

Tim feels himself *flexing* -- "Jason --"

And the gun is in Jason's hand, aimed and steady before the rest of him has anything resembling physical *focus*. He still has his other hand on his face. 

"I suppose I could just call you 'Red,' but frankly I always thought of that as *my* color."

"Get up off your -- get *up*."

Tim does, and wonders if there's any way he'll be able to express his gratitude to Bruce for training him to work and move *despite* massive sexual arousal. Jason wouldn't have to do *much* to make this jock a dead loss --

Stalking toward him like an angry predator certainly isn't helping matters --

"Jason --" Shit, he hadn't meant to --

As pistol-whippings go, this one was pretty perfunctory, save for the way it landed *right* where that punch had, and -- it's definitely the first time he's been kissed so *immediately* after a blow --

The first time in several minutes --

God, he's swaying like a *drunk*, and wrapping his hand around Jason's wrist -- the gun hand -- doesn't make him feel any steadier, and the feel of Jason licking himself out of Tim's mouth doesn't -- isn't --

Tim moans and braces his legs -- his knees were trying to give out -- and Jason wraps his free arm around Tim's back, holding him upright and licking, kissing --

*More* --

"You -- you're going to make me come in my jock. Just as -- mm -- an aside --"

"You don't know me," Jason says, again, but this time it's quiet, low... some variety of convincing, even if that's only because it's a breath they're both breathing.

"Let me fix that. *Help* me --"

"Oh -- oh, I'll *help* you," and Jason pushes back -- pauses. Frowns. "Can you stand?"

"What's my incentive, exactly...?"

Jason snorts and twists his arm free, aiming the gun at Tim *again* -- and reaching in to Tim's shorts and tights with his other hand--

"Ah -- I can -- fuck --" Emphasis on the *tight*. Jason can barely move his hand in there, but every brush --

Every *touch* --

"Okay, let *me* help," Tim says, and pushes everything down just as Jason gets his fingers between the jock and where Tim -- fucking *needs* him -- "Jesus, I -- I think I look really ridiculous right now, but --"

"Oh, you -- really fucking do --" And Jason is *grinning* --

"Don't *stop*." Not any of it, not that -- that *smile*.

Smiling and aiming a *gun* at his head -- and let's not forget the jerking *off*, rough and expert, sweeter than it has any right to be because it's Jason's *bare* hand --

"Jesus, I -- I would've taken the *glove* --"

"You're not *supposed* to fetishize what I'm wearing, kid. That's kind of the fucking *point* --"

"Oh. Ah -- sorry? I -- oh, fuck, that *squeeze* --"

"This one?"

It's possible that Jason's never sounded quite that evil before. It's also possible -- probable -- that Tim is a little bit --

A lot --


A kiss instead of another hit. Perhaps Jason is trying. Different --

White-out, flare, *pleasure*, rough and deadly --

Incandescent and he has no *bones* --

And then there's a blank that lasts until he realizes it's gone, and that it was there, and that Jason is actually holding him up with the arm which has a gun at the end of it. Heh. "I know, I know," Tim says, steadying himself on his feet and reaching for his clothes. "Amateur."

"Damn right," Jason says, and lets him go. It's the work of a moment to get himself situated in his other skin again, but it feels a little bit...

A little bit like throwing a tablecloth over broken crockery and calling it good. Or -- something like that. He's not sure of anything beyond it probably not being a good idea to ask Jason, who is, in fact still standing there.


Looking like he has his own broken dishes. Mission accomplished? Yes? No? What mission was that, exactly...?

Tim shakes his head and retrieves his belt and cape, arming himself again just in case he gets overrun by ten thousand rats or something on his way back home. And then...

Something. Jason still hasn't *left* -- "Am I allowed to use your name again, yet?"

"Only if you don't enjoy it," he says, and there is, in fact, a smile in his voice. It's just a little buried.

Tim takes a breath. And a step closer. "I meant what I said --"


"-- red is *my* color. Is how I was planning to end that sentence. If you choose to believe me, there's a shiny nickel in it for you."

"What --" Jason laughs and holsters the gun again. "I was actually tempted to ask you what you're getting out of... this."

"But then you remembered I'm the psycho slut freak of a stalker, yes," Tim says, and moves another step closer.

"Ivy," Jason says, and he doesn't cross his arms over his chest and start grimming. It just *seems* like he does.

Perhaps there's something of an overarching theme to his own extracurricular activities. Perhaps -- Tim sighs. "I haven't decided how to handle it."

"And you haven't told your partner, either. You play too many different dangerous games at once and they *will* come back to bite you."

"It's practically inevitable, yes," Tim says, and smoothes down the tunic -- ah, that would be where Jason had wiped his hand. Tim frowns at his gauntlet, feels something --

When he glances up, Jason is looking at him. Searching him, and -- this is starting to feel familiar. Whatever else he's doing, he's clearly getting the afterglow wrong *every* time.

Tim smiles ruefully. "Jason."

Jason nods, once --

And leaves.

Well... maybe he didn't get it wrong. Or maybe he got it *very* wrong. If Jason kisses him after the next time he hits Tim, then... there'll be six more weeks of the winter of their discontent. Or not.

"R to B."

"Go home."

But I miss you so terribly, Bruce. "Acknowledged."


As it happens, Bruce is already there when he arrives, which means... Tim considers as he does the post-patrol check of his bike.

He's still suited up with the cowl pushed back, he's at the console, he's all but expressionless...

No, he could've been there minutes or hours. He could've been monitoring the mask-feeds and bugs, or leaving Tim to his own devices. There's really no way to be sure of anything beyond the fact that he probably should be feeling at least a trifle apprehensive on top of feeling well and truly marinated in sex. Hm.

Tim pulls his palm-top, checks -- Steph hasn't left him any messages beyond "still love you," which would be fine -- more than -- if Tim wasn't absolutely sure there was more she wanted to say to him.

Tim starts stripping and moves into the Cave proper, depositing his suit in the hamper and making a command decision to not think about how Alfred will respond to the stains. *He* --

Is not the first.

When he's naked -- inside, it's more like 'naked *enough*' -- he crosses to Bruce's chair, rests his hands on the back of the thing, and leans in to press his lips to Bruce's temple. It's not that he's expecting that to help, in any way --

Bruce grunts, low and -- obvious. Hm.

Tim decides not to straighten up, right away. "I'm conflicted about the Ivy situation."

"Conflicted enough to try to keep it a secret."

"Conflicted enough to *consider* keeping it a secret, Bruce. There's a difference, as you well know."

Bruce hums and goes back to scanning the screen -- missing persons reports.

Tim sighs. "Bruce --"

"It can't continue, Tim."

"And if they're there by choice? If they're in a better situation now than the one they were in before -- no. They *are* in a better situation. As of right now, I haven't had to chase them, or hurt them, or even frighten them. We *know* how children respond to Ivy. And Ivy -- all she wants is to be left *alone*."

"For now. But the next time some corporation tears up the wetlands, or dumps hazardous materials in a river --"

"She isn't --" Tim catches himself squeezing the back of the chair hard enough to make his knuckles white and -- stops. "She isn't the only caregiver."

"You're speaking of the Feraks. We don't even know if they're *sentient*, Tim --"

Tim slams his palms against the chair, balls his hands into fists -- breathes. "This is my case, Bruce."

"Tim --"

"It's. My. Case. And I will handle it as I see fit," Tim says, and waits.

Silence. Just --

It hasn't already lasted for an hour. It has only been seconds, and -- Tim is not afraid. And --

Bruce turns the monitor off.

The silence is different after that, darker in ways which, if Tim allows himself to think about it, he understands perfectly well. They have changed in ways it's possible that Jason wouldn't understand. And Dick... he doesn't know. He and Bruce haven't tested it farther than the space they share, and they won't tonight.

"Tell me about Jason," Bruce says. It doesn't affect the silence at all, really.

"I... don't know how much I can say which you don't already know, Bruce." In one way or another. As these things go. All of the above.


And Bruce's voice underlines everything Tim will never be to him, *can* never be. It's the spaces he doesn't fill and the echoes of those spaces within himself. It is -- an excellent distraction, for Tim's purposes. Tim doesn't reach out, and he doesn't ask Bruce to look at him. "There are... cracks in his facade."

Bruce's sigh --

Tim doesn't *reach out* --

"You think... some portion of *it* is a facade."

"He gave me reason to believe so," Tim says. "And... he was Robin."



Bruce turns around -- his eyes are closed and his hands are resting on his thighs. "I've done very little to encourage your faith."

"In Robin? There's very little you *could've* done about that, Bruce. At a certain point it stops being about you."

A fascinating effect -- with his eyes closed, Bruce's smile seems almost warm. Welcoming, appreciative -- and Tim has balled his hands into fists again.

He relaxes them, deliberately, and tries to keep himself from thinking about the distance between them as an explicit challenge. "Bruce."

"Tell me more. Please."

"He tried very hard to keep me at a distance, but I could tell... no. I was about to tell you a lie. I *had* to keep trying. I couldn't stop. He was so..." Tim laughs, quietly. "He was Jason Todd, and I was myself."

Bruce opens his eyes -- his smile is still warm. It's an open thing, sharp and *branding*. "Did you set out to have sex with him?"

Smiling ruefully suits the moment, he thinks -- no, it's another truth he can tell. "Not even remotely. I was... enervated after my time with Steph, the teasing with Jason seemed to keep moving in that direction -- he's beautiful."

"And you... have decided to allow yourself certain freedoms."

The smile doesn't *have* to be rueful. "I suspected that you'd notice, given enough clues."

Bruce offers a non-committal sound and steeples his fingers. "Do you think you can convince Jason to..." Bruce frowns and stares down at his hands --

"You didn't expect to find it difficult to finish the sentence."

"I never dreamed he could ever be a stranger to me," Bruce says, and pushes himself to his feet. He seems exhausted, half-beaten -- and never mind that Tim's the one who's going to look like he'd 'walked into a door being held by two vicious ironic single quotation marks.'

"I don't think he *is* entirely --"

Bruce stops him with a -- gentle -- hand on his face. "You reached him."

"I think so, yes. Bruce --"

"I have a favor to ask of you, Tim."

Tim presses his face -- his *bruise* -- against Bruce's palm. It is, perhaps, the closest thing he can manage to the 'anything' he will never, ever say. And Bruce tells Tim he knows it with the brief increase in pressure.

"When you do continue your efforts to reach him... do it for yourself. Not..." Bruce frowns again, and --

Seems dangerously close to pulling away. Tim catches his wrist. "I'm not -- when I think about him, I'm usually thinking about *all* of us, Bruce." For some reason, that makes Bruce's expression twist into something rather deeply *amused* --

"You've proven yourself to be deeply family-minded, yes."

Ah. Well. Heh. Tim touches his tongue to the hurt place on his lip. "I think of that as being part of my Robin-ly duties. There's really no need to praise me for it at this late date."

"Hmm," Bruce says, and raises an eyebrow.

Mm. Tim wraps his arms around Bruce's neck. "Please, Bruce. I've been sorely hurt. Be gentle with me."

Which is, perhaps, something of an explanation as to why Bruce would feel the need to gather Tim in his arms and *lift*, but only if one were feeling generous. The last time he'd tolerated being in this position with Bruce he'd been technically unconscious.

Still, Bruce is *Bruce*, so they're nearly a quarter of the way up the stairs before Tim manages to get enough leverage to free himself without injuring either of them very much, and by then...

Tim smiles to himself. He *had* wanted to get a good night's sleep. He jogs the rest of the way up the stairs, and then up the *other* stairs.

It doesn't take very long, at all, to encourage Bruce to learn several other definitions of the word 'gentle.'


Breakfast in the manor is one of those things Tim has no plans whatsoever to actually get used to, as opposed to simply experiencing it as it comes.

Alfred has always tended to feed him as though he had a more refined palate than he actually has, and while it never stops being wonderful -- the man is wasted on Bruce, and they have *all* always known that -- it tends to be a little surreal for the first meal of the day.

Having Bruce right there next to him grimly providing his body with the minimum required amount of nutritional fuel -- oatmeal, today -- while Tim attempts not to *zone* on his crepes doesn't help. The coffee *does*, but Tim has always done his best to treat Alfred's coffee like the helpful drug it is, and not abuse it overmuch.

This leaves the morning papers, and the usual struggle between Tim Drake's continuing *interest* in Gotham and Robin's need for intel --

Breakfast is hard, if accessorized with crème fraiche and berries.

"You're preoccupied."

"Mm." He needs access to a seriously jacked-in computer system -- not Bruce's -- if he's going to make any inroads into running down Scarecrow's alias and whatever properties may or may not be in his possession.

He needs to spend time with the missing persons reports -- and the families who had made them -- until he really knows the children whose future now has a lot to do with *him*.

He needs -- "I think I'm heading over to the Clocktower, today," he says, and turns his attention to the orange juice -- chances are, Alfred had provided *both* of them with the fresh-squeezed variety. He's seen Bruce drink eight-year-old canned pineapple juice with the same -- lack of -- expression.

Tim shakes his head and goes back to scanning the Metro section for points of interest. So far, the most useful information is that a very large section of property near the docks has been purchased for -- tentative, to date -- plans for a new luxury hotel and casino. This is an act of optimism and unrivalled vision, as far as Tim is concerned, since every time *he's* been at or near that address, he's been beating up pimps and attempting to convince young men and women to visit Leslie's clinics.

Of course, if it all goes through then the area will just attract a different *sort* of criminal, but the results of attempted gentrification in Gotham are always interesting in one way or another. Maybe there'll be a new shopping district, and thus a new place to foil armed robberies and the like -- Bruce has stopped eating.

Tim looks up, raises an eyebrow, and pops a raspberry into his mouth.

"The Clocktower," Bruce says, and it sounds distinctly like '*really*.'

"Well, I *had* been planning to just walk the city a little bit, get a feel for its various shifts as well as for the living, beating heart of our grand metropolis -- you'll pardon the phrase -- but Tim Drake has too high a profile, now, to be wandering around looking like a victim," he says, and takes a moment to enjoy the raw, blatant disingenuousness before --

"Tim." That sounds like '*really*,' too, when he thinks about it.

Tim smiles and finishes off his juice. "It's been a while since I've been to visit Barbara," he says. "You should consider it."

Bruce, surprisingly, breaks eye contact first, staring down at his bowl much like it contains clues to something grander than either their definition of a family breakfast or to... the vagaries of Tim's sexuality? Perhaps.

It occurs to Tim that it's been many hours since he's given any thought to what he should be afraid of in Bruce's presence, and while he'd spent several of those hours asleep, it would be dangerous to keep playing fast and loose.

No matter how good it feels. And that --

There remains no sign of the drug wearing off, no strange new symptoms popping up, and, of course, he isn't *afraid* of it working itself out of his bloodstream --

Detaching itself from his amygdala? Eating it away until it's gone entirely before attacking other portions of his brain?

Nasty images, nasty *possibilities* -- it's not as though Crane had had access to the sort of labs which could perform safe, lengthy human trials... Tim hums to himself and wonders what he'll have to do to convince Barbara to give him *private* access to her systems. He wants his own supply. But --


Almost certainly, he should at least have some variety of *concern* for the man's opinions, even if he remains defiantly independent of them. Tim reaches out -- slowly -- and covers Bruce's near hand with his own. "Not to chance derailing our digestive processes, but... we could talk about... it."

"Whatever 'it' is, Tim?"

Oh, that's a warning. Tim curls his fingers and drums them on the back of Bruce's hand. "I don't make that kind of promise."

Bruce acknowledges the point with a nod, and -- "Your father."

Dead, on the floor. Blood on Tim's knees, his shins, his feet. The roaring silence of their home, stains on the floor. But *you're* my father now, Bruce. Tim watches his hand ball into a fist which could, with proper direction and force, break several small bones in Bruce's hand. "I'm not acting out because of grief. At least... it doesn't feel that way."

"Would you tell me what it does feel like?"

Tim moves his hand and leans back in his chair, balancing with his foot -- he knows what his body language is saying. A blend of 'I'm available' and 'but possibly not to *you*.' Tim takes a breath and stares up at the ceiling. "Freedom, pleasure... those are part of it. Contact -- comfort..." Tim smiles. "I've spent a long time denying myself, Bruce. It occurred to me that I don't have to."

The sound Bruce makes is non-committal -- he's convinced the man that it would be acceptable to table the discussion, not to simply let it lie.

It says *something* that Bruce is more likely to trust Tim with Ivy than with his own life -- no. He doesn't need to become resentful of this. Bruce is the world's greatest detective, and Tim had never once thought he'd be able to get *past* the man without any friction.

It's possible that there will always *be* moments like this one, and while it's not particularly pleasant to imagine never being wholly trusted...

Trust is a luxury.

And Tim is going to give himself *lots* of practice at this whole 'convince people that everything is just fine' thing.

Tim finishes his breakfast and heads back upstairs. He's already dressed, but he'd chosen his clothes with the idea of spending much of the day in and around the manor, as opposed to... going visiting.


A part of him is tempted -- deeply so -- toward formal wear. He has the pedigree, now, to do something along the lines of showing up at her door and whisking her off to some place *other* people would need to have made reservations for months in the past.

It would be ridiculous, random, and a large amount of fun -- it's just that it would also assume that Barbara had nothing else to do with her day, and that she'd even want that sort of behavior from *him*.

They're friends, but he's hardly a confidant.

Additionally -- Bruce's beliefs to the contrary -- he's not going there to *seduce*, as opposed to work, and have fun with a lovely, fascinating, powerful, brilliant, beautiful --

Tim puts on one of the new suits they'd used to play up his adoption to the press and brushes his hair forward into a half-assed Caesar until he looks expensive and as innocuous as the spectacular bruises on the left side of his face will allow.

His mouth is swollen from --

His mouth is swollen, but not, ultimately, that much.

The final effect is a look which has, in the past, made Steph give him very particular sorts of smiles, but she hasn't left him any further messages --

And Alfred is waiting for him in the garage, but... Tim detours through the study. Bruce is staring out at the grounds, but turns the moment Tim steps inside.

"For some reason, I had expected concealer."

"I considered it, but the idea made me somewhat uncomfortable," Tim says, and rests his hands on the back of one of the wing chairs. "I'm pretty sure Jason isn't my abusive boyfriend, yet."

Bruce sighs and pulls a book from the shelves. "You're actively trying to goad me into saying something which would, perhaps, allow you to end our... conversation on a note you approve of."

"I've never enjoyed your... discomfort, Bruce," Tim says, and looks down at the chair. Considers -- hm. Tim sighs and very carefully doesn't look up again before saying, "I know you're hiding something from me, Bruce. It's an interesting technique to treat me as though you think I'm hiding something from *you*, but..." *Now* he looks up, and meets Bruce's eyes. "We've known each other a long time."

"Tim --"

"It's all right if you don't want to say it -- whatever it is. We're partners, not spouses. Just... I'd like it to be easier, between us."

Bruce puts the book back on the shelf. "Yes, you've made that... clear," he says, and turns away. For a moment it seems as though they'll have to leave it at that --

And Tim is not dissatisfied with his gambit --

"I think there's something wrong. I think you've told me at least one outright lie."

The thrill, the *rush* -- "Bruce --"

"I am not unaware of my tendencies toward paranoia, Tim. I..." Bruce rests his hand against the bookshelf so lightly, so *slowly* that Tim can't help feeling it as a touch.

Tim shivers, and marvels, a little, at his body's urge to flush. It's just so *timely*. "Bruce, I... I do understand --"

"It has been a very long time since I've taken a lover," Bruce says, and the smile on his face is wintry, distant, and some very specific variety of perfect.

Tim smiles, ruefully, and knows Bruce can see it out of the corner of his eye. "Well. I didn't expect it to be *easy*. To be easy, that is."

"Hmm. Achieving simplicity often requires tireless effort, Tim."

Tim dips his head. "I bow to your superior experience." And -- lover. Lover.

It doesn't say more about the two of them than Tim already knew, but it says those things in a different way. Headier, perhaps.

And when Tim looks up through his lashes, Bruce is watching him. It's a warm, possessive, *promising* look -- Tim moves around the chair and gets close to Bruce, reaching up --

And taking the kiss which belongs to him.

Alfred is waiting almost at attention when Tim gets to the garage, the light glancing perfectly off his driving gloves and hat, his expression a study in blank professionalism save for the light behind his eyes.


"Master Timothy. Will we be going directly to Miss Barbara's, or did you have other destinations in mind...?"

Tim touches his left cheek and smiles. "I rather think it would be best to keep something of a low profile today."

"As you say, young sir," Alfred says, and moves to open the door of the Rolls. Tim slips inside and closes his eyes, just for a moment. His father had wanted them to have this, and had worked all of his life for just that. He'd never really recovered from his financial losses. There had always been *guilt* within the man, a raw place neither Tim nor Dana had been able to truly touch, much less soothe...

Dana. The last time Tim had visited, she'd been too drugged for... anything, really. He never would've expected her to be that...

'Weak' isn't the word for it. 'Susceptible' is closer. The pedigree Bruce had conferred upon him makes her doctors friendlier and more likely to provide useful information than they might have otherwise been, but they've had nothing to tell him beyond their *assumption* that there had already been cracks in her psyche, places within her that could've been exploited by grief and shock...

He'd never really known her. He'd never really *tried* to know her, and there is guilt for that. He doesn't know what to do with it beyond the need he has, now, to make sure he won't be blindsided that way by anyone else he cares about.

He has to *know* them all, in every way he can. Without knowledge, there is no...

'Safety' isn't the right word, either -- but he can make himself ready. He can make himself *prepared*. And that attitude makes it all the more shameful that he hadn't been doing more along those lines *before*. Fear of rejection, fear of embarrassment, fear of the dangers of intimacy --

He'd let all of those things *stop* him, before, when he could've been making the world of interpersonal relationships into a friendlier place for himself, shoring up the little cracks and moments of misunderstanding...

He won't make those mistakes again.

"Alfred, I meant to say -- breakfast was exquisite."

"It was my pleasure to prepare," he says, and sounds like he means it so much that Tim really doesn't have the heart to say anything -- at all -- about his fondness for cold cereal in the mornings. Still...

He doesn't have to just sit here. "How have you been?"

"Quite well, young sir. Yourself?"

Better than ever. So much -- "Happy, I think, Alfred. I feel like my life is what it's supposed to be."

Alfred makes a small sound, something related to surprise, pleasure and that uniquely Alfred brand of being non-committal about anything which may force him to have an opinion about any matter he feels is not his own business -- a rather protean category Tim will never feel entirely comfortable trying to define.

Tim smiles. "Perhaps if I take a moment to knock on some of this mahogany paneling I'll be able to stave off the disaster lurking in that last comment."

"I'm sure I cannot say," Alfred says, and Tim can see him lifting his chin just so.

A polite request to allow him to concentrate on driving the car, and a dismissal with no dangerous ambiguities. Alfred either continues to trust him as much as he ever has, or has chosen to keep his own counsel.

Either way... it works.

Barbara doesn't make him announce himself before the outer door unlocks with four distinct clicks, which means that she'd either expected him or that she's some variety of eager to see him. Tim smiles for the cameras and moves directly for the elevator, adjusting his tie --

"It's already perfect," she says through the speaker -- her voice, neither adorned nor disguised.

"One must strive to recall the smallest details."

"Mm," she says, and the elevator door opens on her -- sanctum.

She's not waiting for him there, so Tim has the opportunity to examine his surroundings a little. She tends to be amused in uncomfortable ways by his habits of reflexive detection --

No. It wouldn't be uncomfortable today. Tim pauses by the robe hanging on the bathroom door. It smells strongly of the soap she's been favoring for, by his calculations, at least the past four months. There are hints of both orange blossom and bergamot -- the bathroom isn't *quite* steamy. She'd showered in the past hour.

Her hair will still be wet.

Tim straightens the robe on the low, convenient hook and moves to her bedside table and her books. Dashiell Hammett -- likely a gift from her father -- and something thick and interesting from Hudson's most famous Astronomy professor.

The bookmark says she's halfway through it. He'll have to ask her how she's enjoying it.

The work -- and play -- areas are filled with their usual faintly green-lit hum. She has her back to him, and she appears to be going over footage from the mask-cams -- Batgirl's, judging by the angles and the almost staggeringly smooth pans.

"She's never going to trust that you don't need her... help, is she?"

"Mm," she says, and leans back. "I hate to admit it, but I do get fewer headaches from her contributions."

It isn't an invitation to touch, rub her temples, perhaps the back of her neck -- but. Tim walks over and crouches beside the wheel of her chair. "I could try harder not to be so -- jerky."

"You could. But I'd fear you'd lose some of that wonderful immediacy," she says, and rests one hand on Tim's head, toying with his hair. "It's a shame to do that to that lovely suit."

"If it can't move with me..." Tim shrugs and turns up to face her. The smile on her face isn't one he would've predicted she'd ever use for him. He's seen her give it to Bruce, though.

"Mm. Perhaps I'll take it as an attempt on your part to not make me feel underdressed."

Tim raises an eyebrow and takes the invitation to look her over with a nod. She's wearing a simple grey sports bra, loose workout shorts, and a pair of thick, soft socks. Tim slips a finger between her ankle and the sock, tugs, and lets it snap back. "I'm not sure you could be... underdressed."

Barbara hums -- and laughs, soft and low and just a little fervent.

Tim smiles back politely and raises an eyebrow. "Yes...?"

"I didn't think you'd do it. I really didn't think --" Barbara laughs more and pinches the bridge of her nose before bending down to tug Tim's hand up... and onto a small, fading bruise on her thigh. "I can feel you there."

"Good to know," Tim says, and the bruise is a telling thing. As telling as she means for it to be. She knew he was coming -- he *knows* that now -- and she'd chosen to leave it exposed. "Barbara, I... I definitely don't want you to be uncomfortable."

"I'll keep you posted," and she turns back to the feed. They watch Batgirl punishing what looks to be a group of enforcers --


"Graziano," she says, typing something -- the monitor closest to Tim's head is a pyramid of names, aliases, and faces. Everything they know about them.

"Hm. I haven't been doing much mob work, lately..." Helena is Barbara's operative on the ground for this sort of thing, and Bruce hasn't encouraged Tim to interfere --

"And you won't be," she says, typing something else with one hand while she uses the other to push Tim's fingers into a splay *around* the bruise. "Diffuse contact can be quite welcome."

"Ah." Tim strokes a slow, rough circle with his fingertips, then crosses it, back and forth.

Her left foot twitches independent of either her attention or volition, and Tim is hard -- warm.

He's flushing. "I did have other reasons for coming here," he says, and crosses the circle again. Presses.

"Now what sort of computer work could you want to do away from the warmth and comfort of your new home...?"

"A private project," Tim says, leaning in to exhale against the bruise. "And the furtherance of a case of my own."

"Neither of which you want Bruce anywhere near, of course," and when she shifts the scent of orange blossom is briefly overpowering... and tantalizingly underlain by her own scent, sweet and full.

"Robin should always strive to free Batman of unnecessary distractions," he says; and, "where else?"

She rolls her chair back a few inches and -- there. Another bruise, this one on her right knee.

Tim moves under the desk --

"You really shouldn't try to bullshit me, you know -- hnn."

A muscle in her calf, terribly weakened but carefully kept from atrophy, flexes under Tim's hand when he touches his tongue to her knee. Tim licks it until the shine of his own saliva is blatant -- "You'll be able to see everything I do. I trust you to make your own decisions about what to do with the information. Oracle," he breathes, and watches the short hairs prickle and rise.

He resists the urge to tighten his grip and lunge for her, kissing the bruise, instead. The image of her touching herself here -- *gripping* herself hard enough to bruise --

Tim scrapes his teeth over the bruise, slow and hard. And -- at some point, this weekend, Cyborg will be busy with something else. Or someone, given his friendship with Beast Boy. Tim probably won't have to be the one to provide distraction. His systems are nowhere near as hardcore as Oracle's, but it would perhaps be... prudent to save his raid on the Owen T. Em alias --

Auntie Em. Really, that's --

Tim disguises his laughter as breath --

"Tell me," she says, and her voice is both rough and hard.

Tim looks up through his lashes. "My life is amusing me. There's so much I could've been... doing," Tim says, kissing her again --

"That's *not* why you were laughing," Barbara says, and -- wheels out of range.

The tableau is an interesting one. Tim's down on one knee and half under the desk. Barbara is holding herself like a queen on her throne... "It would've been... interesting, to be a Bird," Tim says, and wipes his lower lip with his thumb.

She raises an eyebrow. "I don't normally demand acts of fealty, Tim."

Tim ducks his head and -- they're smiling at each other, being *with* each other, again, but Barbara is still suspicious. He doesn't want that. What he *wants*... is more of the peculiar obscenity that is the shine of his saliva on her skin.

The move which leads to Barbara's hand covering her knee is a smooth one, but telling -- and Tim realizes that he isn't the only one who had ever been afflicted with a certain degree of self-consciousness.

"Ah," Tim says, and watches the corners of Barbara's smile tighten fractionally. "The private matter I mentioned... has a very terrible play on words at its heart. To the point where I'm almost tempted to let Dick play with it."


Tim spreads his hands. "It's mine, and I plan to keep it that way." Barbara's hum is a far more welcoming sound than would seem to fit her expression and body language. Not *quite* Oracle, but...

"Tim. Why?"

"Because I love you," he says, and means it with all of himself, everything he is -- "And because I -- *we* -- can."

"Can we?"

'Why not' is probably not the best way to answer the question, and 'let's find out' is almost certainly worse. Tim stands up for exactly long enough to get close to her again and then drops back down into a crouch --

"That *doesn't* make you look vulnerable, Tim," she says, and the smile is a bit more casual on her face even as it gains a certain degree of... Batgirls should, perhaps, always look at their admiring Robins in *just* that way.

"No, but it feels rather more comfortable than alternatives, and..."

Barbara rests her cheek on one scarred, strongly-knuckled fist. The picture of dubious patience. "I'm listening."

"I'm not Dick. I don't expect to change either of our lives with the act of... sharing physical affection."


"I'm not Jason, either. I'm looking for neither conquest nor absolution --"

"Is *that* what you think he was looking for last night, Tim...?"

Tim spreads his hands, again. "I'm reasonably sure he wasn't precisely looking for *me*, but... I think you're intrigued. I can't help but find that... intriguing."

Barbara drums the fingers of her free hand on her thigh, and uses the short nail on her index finger to scratch over the bruise.

Tim watches her watching him --

"Go play with my tertiary system," she says, wheeling past him and back into the living areas of her apartment.

Well... it was worth a try. More than.

The missing persons reports speak of eight missing children between the ages of eight and fourteen. Six boys, two girls. All but one of them are from single guardian households, and all of those households receive some sort of public assistance. There's no real question as to why the disappearances have received no publicity, especially considering both the races of the children in question and the fact that the disappearances are spaced over the last three months.

The earliest disappearance -- Rakeem Washington -- is also the oldest child. He would've started his freshman year two months ago -- assuming his grandmother was able to keep him in school. Rakeem already has a rap sheet for drug possession and stolen cars.

The youngest child is also the most recent disappearance, and the school photo in the file shows a little girl so angelic that Robin might have been tempted to look past her, one of these nights or another. There's a *vague* trend toward younger and younger kids, but nothing which might not also be coincidence, or the Peter Pan effect.

Perhaps he means Pied Piper. None of the children had seemed to pack a bag to take with them, four of them may or may not have taken a favorite toy or doll.

Or maybe the others had nothing special to take. Or maybe their parents hadn't noticed.

The cases are split between the few detectives who make up Gotham's frighteningly overworked missing persons unit, all of whom have hundreds of open cases. Rakeem has already been placed in the probable runaway file, and chances are every one of them over the age of twelve will be, too, soon enough.

He uses one of Oracle's more *vastly* illegal programs to track down medical records. Ashandra Green has a non-serious heart murmur and too many old broken bones, including one spiral fracture of her left arm.

Jeremy Wilson's records tell a similar story, but the others...

Tim bites back a frown. He already knew the answers to this wouldn't be simple ones. He's going to have to speak to at least a few of the families. Tim shuts down the programs and reflexively wipes his history --

"Now why, I wonder, weren't you able to do that back in the Cave."

"And miss out on the pleasure of your company...? Bruce and I are having a difference of opinion about how to handle this case. My case."

"And judging by what you've been up to -- professionally -- recently... you think Ivy has at least some of them."

He doesn't want to talk about it now. "I suppose it could be a serial kidnapper or worse --"

"Location, location, location," Barbara says, and turns her monitors over to the pictures of the missing children.

He's already memorized them. "Barbara --"

"You think they're better off."

Tim sighs and stands up, moving to crouch at Barbara's feet again. "You saw the same records I did."

"And you have a profound lack of faith in the superiority of families connected only by blood."

"Did you want to ask me about my father today, too...?" And that came out... far too sharply --

"I suppose we could talk about mine," she says, and reaches down to stroke Tim's hair.

"Or we could skip it, entirely," Tim says, and deliberately releases the tension he's holding.

"There's something I always wondered, Tim."

Tim rolls his head on his neck just enough to let her fingers brush the tip of his ear. "Yes?"

"Do you think your father ever suspected...?"

"I know he didn't. He was... disappointed in my lack of a social life within school, my seeming lack of focus. He'd begun to worry about whether I'd 'make it' in college. My father was not yours."

"But he was still your father," she says, and scratches, lightly, behind Tim's ear. "And going home to the manor isn't the same thing as going home."

"There are times when I wonder about the definition of home, Barbara," he says, catching her hand in his own and bringing it to his mouth. "I always thought it had something to do with not having to lie."

She grunts, but it's possible that it has something to do with the feel of his tongue on her knuckles. Her hands are no different from any of theirs, showing every minute, hour, *year* of the work...

"I assure you -- I'm not a trauma case..."

"What is it that you *need*, Tim? Do you know?"

And Barbara is nice enough to give him the time to think about his answer by pressing two long, scarred fingers against his lips and holding them there. It's only polite *to* think about it, and, perhaps, only natural to be a little shocked by the realization that he hasn't thought about it, at all -- beyond the need to encourage trust in him, of course.

By rights, he shouldn't be doing this -- any of it. It would be safer if he'd simply continued acting like the Tim they've all come to know in one way or another. Blushing and hiding from Dick's touches, encouraging every wintry bit of distance he could attract from Bruce... all of it, none of it. But.

He wants to be touched, to be held and enjoyed. It's a drug in and of itself, powerful and addictive. He wants *home*, and the simple truth is that the only method he *hadn't* tried in the attempt to find it... well. "The only thing I *need* from you, Barbara is your continued friendship, your... regard," Tim says, and licks between the fingers on his mouth. "But I've discovered that there are differences between life and survival."

"Mm. I'd had my suspicions..." And she curls one finger and strokes the underside of Tim's tongue.

"And your opportunities to... sample the wares of the living, it's true."

"Sample the..." When she laughs, this time, it's low, rich, and eminently -- bracing.

Tim shifts in his crouch. The monitors flicker, Tim looks up -- Graysoncam. Tim smiles.

Currently, Dick is doing chin-ups from the high bar. He's wearing tape on his ankles and wrists and a pair of Flash boxer shorts. And Barbara is watching for his reaction, or -- perhaps his commentary.

"They really aren't his color," Tim says against her wet fingertips. And raises an eyebrow.

She raises one back at him. "You know, one of my little fantasies about you revolves around just letting this thing run while you watch."

"And *you* watch."

"Of course," she says, and takes her hand back, settling it over -- the bruise on her thigh. Mm.

Tim looks up again in time to see her eyes widen out of a brief narrowing. "Is the sensation there normal...?"

"I'd like to say no, but, to be honest... I don't remember," she says, and glances at the monitor...

Dick is hanging from his knees and doing crunches, arms crossed over his chest and expression blank. Bruce would make that look easy. Dick makes it look like rough poetry. Something modern, but not especially dissonant. Tim knows how he makes love, now. One of the ways.

He knows the feel, the scent, the taste... and so does Barbara. Tim reaches down and cups himself through his trousers, careful to keep his eyes only on the monitor -- which changes to an image of Dick shoving him back against the stairs, yanking down Tim's briefs, and lowering himself down, graceful and hungry --

Had he looked that hungry at the time? Something about the flex of his thighs, the angle of his knees...

"Squeeze yourself, Tim."

Her voice is so *even*... Tim does it, letting his mouth fall open on something which doesn't quite have the power of a gasp --

"Did any part of you secretly prefer it on the stairs...?"

Really. Very. *Even*. "You did mention something, earlier, about *immediacy*," Tim says, and relaxes the squeeze --

"Do it again."

This time the sound is absolutely a gasp, not least because the Dick on the screen almost seems to be fighting with himself as he struggles to get out of his tights. The way his shoulders are moving... "Oh, I think I'm going to have to film every sexual encounter I have from now on."

"There is a certain appeal," she says, and Tim can see her shifting out of the corner of her eye... she's moving the chair back and away --

"Barbara --"

"Shh. Stand up."

Hm. Oracle Says. Tim lets all of the smile onto his face and stands, keeping his hand right where it is --

"It's a shame the way you treat that suit, To-The-Manor-Born Wonder."

Onscreen, Dick is kicking the uniform from around his ankles, pressing Tim to the door with his body, *thrusting*, muscles flexing and hips twisting, just a little -- he hadn't remembered that little *twist* -- "I probably should be viciously punished," Tim says, and starts to turn --

"No," Barbara says, and the smile in her voice is something Tim could live in.

"Sorry," he says, and relaxes his grip on himself, waits --

Watches himself banging his fists against the door as Dick drops to his knees, takes him inside --

The *heat* -- is making his skin prickle under the suit, making him sweat, just a little -- he's still waiting.

"Walk to the wall, and lean back against it, legs spread," she says, and hits the button that moves the monitor -- of course she's going to make sure he can still see it.

Tim follows orders, feeling fleetingly like Jason as he walks with his hand on his crotch. Not that Jason *has* -- where he could see it -- but it wouldn't be wholly out of character. Tim swaggers the last few steps, spins and falls a little against the wall, knees bent and eyebrows up --

Barbara is backlit, shadows of himself and Dick painting themselves against her and the chair --

"Point to the lady of the house," he says, and rubs himself with his palm, slow and hard.

"Open your pants," she says, and steeples her fingers.

Onscreen, Tim is hunched over on himself, shoulders flexing as he grips *Dick's* shoulders -- he's watching himself come, and it's making him *need*. Tim opens his pants and lets them fall down around his bent knees before pressing his palms to either side of his erection and stroking up, down... "I wish I could still smell you," he says --

And Barbara's shoulders shift -- stop. "Noted," she says. "Push down your briefs."

Burgundy boxer-briefs -- one of the many clothing purchases he'd found had simply been made for him sometime during those first several days after he'd moved into the manor... again. He's wearing someone else's skin, except for how it fits perfectly. "Do you like them?"

"Silk boxers may have completed the look in a more pleasing manner."

"I'll remember that," he promises. A little inefficiency in the service of a worthy goal is, of course, its own sort of pleasure -- as is baring himself for Barbara. For Oracle. For -- himself, if not the one onscreen, currently locked against Dick, urging Dick on with little pushes of his foot... of course Barbara has a camera in the man's bedroom, too, and --

Had he even been able to feel that scar on Dick's back with his toe? He needs to try *again*. He needs -- he's rubbing his own thighs steadily now, up and down, letting his thumbs get closer and closer to his shaft --

"When you make me masturbate --"

"If I let you," she says, and presses a button on her chair console --

"You can *fuck* me, Dick," says onscreen Tim, and -- oh. He's always hated the sound of his own voice in recordings, but... he'd sounded so *honest*, there, and of course he had been, but...

"Why the agitation *now*, Tim?"

Someday, Barbara is going to build a full-sized maze in her basement complete with traps for the unwary and wary alike. Perhaps instead of cheese, she'll leave monitors with footage of Dick working out. "I never thought to hear myself in extremis without, again, that soothing immediacy."

"Hmm. It gets easier with practice, I assure you," she says, and pauses the tape just as Tim is taking Dick into his mouth. Onscreen, his eyes are closed, his cheeks are flushed, and Dick looks almost angry with shock, hunger...

"That is... wow," he says, and now his palms are sweating, autonomic systems running on full power -- "Please let me stroke myself, Barbara."

"Please? Already...?"

"I like to think of myself as polite," and... maybe if he just scoots down the wall a little more, strokes his own inner thighs --

"Very. Pretty."

"I was hoping Jason... hadn't spoiled my adolescent beauty," Tim says, and it's getting harder to catch his breath.

"Bruises," she says, and rolls far enough away from the monitor that the light can catch her features once more, "add character."

"And spice?"

"Bite your lip. Right where... yes. Like that."

It's possible he shouldn't have had to be *told* to do it, but so long as Barbara appreciates the effect... oh. He really should've thought -- "Would you put on the tape of *this*...?"

"Right now? *That's* kinky," she says, humming under her breath and -- there he is, trying to get just the right level of pull on his lower lip, clawing at his own inner thighs -- leaking pre-ejaculate.

Tim closes his eyes -- and opens them immediately. He wants to *see* himself with his eyes closed, but he's really just going to have to wait for that. "I think I'm getting... stupider."

"I'll let you know when you start to bore me."

"Ah -- thank you," he says, and watches himself flush harder. Would it be spilling down his chest the way it had been with Dick? He reaches up to loosen his tie and thinks he looks a little savage about it, a little desperate --

"Just three buttons," she says, and Tim realizes that he'd already been watching himself start unbuttoning. That was -- two.

One more, and -- yes. His skin seems almost stained, even in the uncertain and uneven light -- Barbara adjusts the contrast. "Ooh. Better."

"I'm glad you approve. Lick your hand. Your *right* hand."

The trick is to do it without obscuring too much of his face at once -- and not to zone out, too much, on the sight of himself sticking out his tongue as far as it will go just to do it, see it --


Absolutely obscene to watch himself working up *saliva* in his mouth -- too much and it's rolling down his chin as he licks, sucks the taste of salt off his fingertips --


Tim licks his lips, his teeth, his fingers, sucks --

"Touch yourself."

And something in him seizes, *hesitates* --

The Tim onscreen looks *helpless* --

Tim watches his hand shake on the way down, watches him curl his fingers around -- it feels unfamiliar, alien --

It *looks* unfamiliar, or --

Tim groans and watches his head tilting back, and now he can't see anything but the black behind his eyelids, can't *know* anything but the slight coolness of his slick palm, the heat of his slick penis.

The first sliding stroke is so -- so --

"*Watch* yourself," she says, and Tim hears himself whimpering, feels himself start to shake his head -- *jerks* his head forward. Onscreen, Tim is panting and almost glaring, eyes narrowed in something which could be rage were it not for the rhythmic stroke of his hand.

He's -- it feels like he's stripping himself, paring himself down to the thin humming wire of lust -- "I think I've just. Developed -- ah -- narcissism."

"At the moment, it suits you. *Harder*."

He's glad he'd braced himself. He -- his knees are shaking with this, and the boy onscreen looks like he's in pain, now, like every stroke is killing him a little --

Every stroke is sweet, a gift, Barbara loves him, Barbara wants him to feel *just* this good, just --

So -- "Ah -- *Oracle* --"

"You kinky, kinky boy. Somebody really ought to spank you."

And that -- is he seeing it? Is that why the boy onscreen looks so lost, so loved?

Barbara's hands --

"*Fuck*," he says, shouts -- he's coming all over his fist, hears it smack on the floor so *wet*, and it's instinct to squeeze himself, stretch it out, torture himself a little --

Are his eyes closed? He can't -- God, is he *saying* something else? Something --

"Barbara," and he hears himself saying it, and thus knows that he's going to survive this -- even though he's sliding down to the floor and can't seem to do anything about that.

Tim bangs his head against the wall and laughs, hoarse and low. The boy onscreen looks rather more like the aftermath of someone *else's* orgasm, left to recover with a hand loosely cradling his penis.

"God -- okay, I think -- turn that off."

"Hmm. All right." Barbara does it, and allows the monitor to slide back into place. "*That* looked fun."

Tim smiles at her and desecrates a perfectly innocent handkerchief. And decides to stay on his hands and knees. "Thank you, ma'am, may I have another...?"

"Oh, you've been a *good* boy, Tim. I think you can have... something," she says, and after a moment to look *directly* into his eyes... she reaches down between her knees and pushes them apart.

Oh... yes.

If there were just a few more feet between them, this sort of thing would get difficult -- what with the pants and briefs currently inching down his legs.

But --

She laughs. And gasps -- just once -- when Tim looks up at her mid-crawl. Perhaps, someday, she'll let him see exactly what was in his eyes at that moment.

Once he's there, he takes a moment to lick the bruise on her knee and *suck* the one on her thigh, flicking his tongue against it until she pushes her hands into his hair and forces his head up.

"I have work to do, Robin."

"Noted," Tim says, and reaches for her shorts. Barbara uses the arms of the chair to lift herself, Tim yanks down and -- the *scent*.

Here, for some reason, the bergamot seems stronger than the orange blossom, but both of them are just bare hints compared to *her*. Salt, yes, but something tangier, sharper than Steph, curiously more *dangerous*-seeming --

Tim breathes deep, cups her thigh and her knee --

"Almost," she says, and adjusts his hands.

"Thank you," he says, using his tongue to stab it into her vagina in something resembling Morse code and then just using it.

"I -- you --" And another one of those gasping laughs. "I did say -- something. Mm," she says, and pushes her hands back into Tim's hair. "My clit, please, young sir."

"As you wish," and he tries licking long, slow stripes with the flat of his tongue --

"Good, *but* --"

He kisses her there, wet and serious, nuzzling a little --

"Not unless... mm. You'd like me to call you Dick?"

Tim moans and loses his *place* -- and Barbara digs her short nails in against his scalp --

"You... shouldn't think of that as... complaint..."

He turns his head enough to catch her clit between his lips --

She grunts and digs her nails in *hard* --

Tim flicks his tongue fast, pressing and releasing with his lips. This would possibly drive him to some fervent variety of homicide if it was the head of his penis, but Barbara is scratching him rhythmically now, breath hitching --

Does she want to close her thighs around him?

Would she ever want him inside her?

Barbara, he thinks. Batgirl. Oracle -- all of the above, and when she strokes down over his ears, he can feel her fingers shaking. He hums, and the sound she makes is high and *bladed*.

There's a power to this above and beyond the feel of having a penis in his mouth, or perhaps it's merely the difference in *control*. He presses down with both hands, teases them both with the sweat on his palms... what else?

He can't make eye contact from this position, and it's debatable what sort of effect that would have on the woman who has been helping to define the sexuality of Robins for longer than he's been pubescent, but...

He strokes over and over her knee and thigh until he can feel the bruises, moves his fingers into strike position, presses down --


-- and hums until she makes a low, grating sort of sound. It sounds painful to make --

And then Barbara slides her hand down and *presses* against the bruise on his face.

Tim gasps, losing his *hold* on her --

"Lick. Just -- lick," she says, and the pain in his cheek is starting to make Tim's penis take a decided interest and -- yes, *lick*. She's wetter now, the taste of her rising, coiling around his tongue as he licks, swallows, pushes closer --

Grinds on her bruises --

"Faster than -- that, oh --"

He would've thought that this sort of sensation would be *too* diffuse for this moment, but... hmm. He eases up on her bruises and just rubs them with the flat of his palm, lighter and faster until he's barely touching them at all --

And then Barbara pushes up on her hands and *swings* herself against him, powerful and strange, and Tim has to leave her knee alone to take her forearm in hand, to *feel* the power there, ruthless and undeniable.

He licks as fast as he can, catching the rhythm of her swings --

"Oh -- Robin --"

*Yes*, he thinks, and *grips* her forearm, bracing her and grounding himself, taking this moment, stealing it and keeping it for himself --

It's just so *right*, and more than that when she cries out sharp and loud, shaking --

And dropping back down into the chair. Tim keeps licking --

And then settles for licking his lips when she shoves him away. This is something else he can take for himself:

Barbara has her eyes closed and her head tilted back, hair falling down past her shoulders, lips parted, glasses askew, cheeks flushed... her nipples look painfully hard through the sports bra, but Barbara had neither said nor done anything which would even imply that he could touch her there. And --

"Would I sound too much like Dick if I said anything about how beautiful you are...?"

Barbara tilts her head forward again, fixes her glasses, and fixes *him* with a look.

"I promise not to try to marry you," Tim says, and leans in to kiss what's going to be a much bigger bruise on her knee. Lightly.

"How about I take it as read?"

"That's fair," and Tim moves to the bruise on her thigh and kisses *that*. Lightly. And gets his head pushed back. "Work?"

"Always. But first..." She lifts herself up and raises an eyebrow.

She wants him to help her pull the shorts back up. She wants him to *help* her. She --

It's so staggering that he nearly freezes, but he manages not to fumble the task too badly. And -- he's definitely blushing.

"Sorry about that. I --"

"Didn't expect it. I know," she says, and...

It isn't that she cups his face. It's that the smile on her face makes it *feel* like she's doing it. Mm. "You remind me of Bruce in several distinct -- and pleasant -- ways."

She smiles a little wider. "The feeling is mutual. Now go home. Unless there's something else I can do for you...?"

Tim stands up and fixes his clothes, leaving the tie a bit crooked --

"I note that you failed to do any research on your 'private matter,' Tim."

"I got distracted," he says, leaning in to kiss her cheek. Warm, faintly downy. Her shampoo smells faintly of lemons. "The perils of the adolescent mind."

"Hmm," she says, and pulls him down for her own kiss -- on the mouth. It's soft, close-mouthed, and anything but chaste. It *lasts*, and Tim would like to brace himself on her chair...

He cups her shoulders, instead, and kisses back --

She parts her lips -- and pulls back. "You'll keep me posted," she says, and gestures to her bank of monitors. "One way or another."

Tim brings his palms together before his chest and bows his head.

And leaves to the sound of her laughter.


When he gets back to the manor, he changes into workout clothes and takes a run on the grounds. By the time he's reached his fifth mile, there's a light rain falling and he's started to feel like someone who could be, with effort, Robin once more.

It's a problem, but it doesn't feel like anything... he knows, of course, that it would've frightened him, before, but Tim is clear within himself: the Robin he has made himself to be is a *closed* thing, built from a control based on a lack of extraneous emotion.


Neither Dick nor Jason had done it that way -- that much has always been clear. They had allowed themselves to revel in the Mission's highs and, by doing so, had been left vulnerable to its many lows. Hidden within Bruce's carefully objective reports has always been more than a few hints that those lows had affected their performance, in one way or another. The Jason *he* has come to know -- however shallowly -- would not have had any difficulty murdering the abusive gangster Garzonas, and while there have been changes in the man from the boy he used to be...

Tim would be vastly surprised if one of the things which has been distracting Bruce so conveniently *wasn't* the idea that his -- damningly tentative -- conclusion that Garzonas' death had been an accident was incorrect. Still, the idea that emotion in all of its forms was simply too dangerous for the work is dangerous in and of itself.

The fact that his years of detachment had served him well...

Tim *isn't* a machine, no matter how much he'd enjoyed styling himself as such over the years, and no matter how tempting the idea remains. He'd been *too* cautious over the years -- if not on the streets, then definitely in his personal life. He'd allowed himself virtually none of the pleasures inherent to a life filled with connection to some of the world's most intelligent, driven, beautiful, *singular* people, holding himself always apart out of the fear that he would lose his edge.

It was more than that, of course. *Deeper* than that, and it would be a mistake to make it seem so shallow in his mind --

It's just that it would also be a mistake to assume there's a problem with his new, deeper knowledge of his family just because it takes a little effort to remind his body of its less selfish uses. If anything, he can *use* this -- hadn't the loss of his fear been making him slip, a little, out there?

He'd been going with the idea that the Robin in him would simply always be there, allowing himself to rely on reflexes honed over the years, as opposed to on critical thought. If he has to think *too* much it would be a problem, of course, but...

Tim stops in the stand of trees with the best sightline to the entrance of one of the tunnels which leads into the Cave. From this distance, he can see nothing but a slight, natural-seeming hummock which he, personally, had spent hours crafting with fresh sod and a -- too date, much abused -- azalea bush.

Possibly he should pick a new entrance to be his favorite. He doesn't want to kill the azalea, though it's possible that his skin would welcome the chance for him to work outside with another... yes, he's given enough trauma to the thing's root system. There are other entrances, including one 'new' one created by the 'quake, and currently disguised with nothing more fragile than an innocent-seeming fall of rock.

New things, *yes*, and... he doesn't have to be the same sort of Robin he always has been. He has a new uniform, he's marginally taller... Tim smiles to himself and moves into the last mile of his run.

At the very least, it's worth some degree of experimentation.


He's decided he wants his investigation targets to have some time to relax in their homes -- a full five of them have jobs which require them to be at work until at least ten -- before Robin comes to see them, so he hits one of the more industrial areas. Most of the factories had been converted to other things during the economic boom which ended before he was born, but the area still *looks* industrial in casual glances.

Up close, it's a seriously depressed commercial district with more than its fair share of clubs, drug labs, and crackhouses. In the past, he's occasionally allowed himself to pretend that the clubs are providing him with soundtracks, but tonight there's a shooting actually *inside* one of the hot-spots, and he gets to work his way through a crush of screaming people to the musical stylings of a man who gleefully raps about his years as a drug dealer and his run-ins with vigilantes.

*He* doesn't remember giving anyone like that such a picturesque scar across his features, but he supposes that anything is possible.

The trick to work like this is finding ways to soothe and direct masses of people without injuring more than a few of them on his way to the source of the hysteria. He would have better luck with back-up, someone to stay at the -- thankfully quite large -- doors and keep people from freezing and milling as soon as they step into the night, but there's no fire or anything like that, and so it's not protocol to call in any help.

Even if that help *wouldn't* most likely be Batgirl --

More gunshots, and *that* makes the crowd move faster, makes the sound of screams cover the music --

The music stops with a crash --

And for a moment it's silent save for the sound of hundreds of people breathing too fast and shifting too slowly. There's an undeniable similarity to the little Tim actually knows about cattle stampedes, and Tim has to give up, a little, on the protocol.

He climbs the nearest heavily-muscled giant, uses the seconds of the man's shock to get a read of the place -- two still bodies on the floor and what looks to be *four* people with guns, three behind the bar and one behind the remains of the DJ's little nook.

Time and past time to move.

He taps a thank-you onto his vantage point's head with his staff and runs *across* the crush, ruining hair-styles and tearing party clothes as he goes. It's not optimal, but --

"Shit, it's one of *them*!"

Three of the four guns are aimed at him -- and by extension the *crowd*. Tim zigs toward the fire exit which will almost certainly turn out to be illegally locked, uses the shoulders of another muscle-bound patron to give himself spring, flares his cape into the best possible target --

Leaps --

He has to trust that the screams are more fear than hurt. There's no time for anything else, just as there's *only* time in this mid-air tumble for him to toss one batarang --

He gets two of the guns behind the bar, but now he's too far away to make sure they don't get them back. He moves, thinks --

Laying down a wall of smoke and flipping his infrared would take visibility from the gunmen. It would also turn the relatively calm crush of fleeing patrons into a *real* stampede which would almost certainly take more lives.

The only option is to keep moving, directing and re-directing the cross-fire until he hears a few lovely *clicks* --

Pull, *toss*, and the last two guns are on the ground -- and so is he, in a crouch he makes into a run for the bar, for the bright spark going for one of the guns he'd gotten earlier --

"Don't do that," he says, and uses their shared momentum to make the kick a little spectacular, spins, strikes --

Two of them are down to stay, the third is running for the chaos of the crowd -- until Tim takes him with a batarang to the back of the head.

Now there's just the gunman near the DJ's equipment, and Tim can --

Stop dead, because he has a hostage who may very well be the DJ herself. Damn. The woman must've been hiding instead of running. Infrared would've picked her out easily --

Tim steps off the bar and raises his hands, holding the batarang between two fingers. "You don't want to do this."

"*Fuck* you. I'm getting out of here with this bitch and you're gonna stay right where you fucking are --"

"It doesn't work that way," Tim says, and spares a peripheral glance for the crowd -- still moving the right way.

"*I* have the gun. *I* decide how it works," the man says, and starts moving back, glancing around -- his eyes are almost rolling in their sockets, he's covered with sweat, and he may or may not be going into shock *himself*.

Whatever situation he'd gotten himself into --

"Please! Please help me!"

In a moment, he thinks --

And the man looks behind himself, checking to make sure he won't trip --

Tim runs forward --

"No, you -- *stop*," and the gunman instinctively moves the gun off the hostage and aims at *him* --

Yes --

Perfect, he thinks, leaping left and tossing the batarang --

The bullet takes a chunk of Tim's cape --

And Tim tucks and rolls to the sweet sound of the hostage elbowing the gunman in the abdomen.

By the time he gets to them, the man is sucking on his stung fingers and getting a rather vicious looking kicking from the erstwhile hostage. "If you could just give me a moment, ma'am...?"

"What? Oh -- sure," she says, and smiles a few thousand dollars worth of 'grill' at him while he zip-strips the man.

"As you were," Tim says, and moves to take care of the others. The bodies on the floor... are bodies. There's nothing he can do for them beyond making sure that their killers will still be there for the police to arrest.

After that, it's just a matter of taking out the lock on the fire door and guiding the stragglers to it before the panic gets any worse than it already is, and gently dissuading the DJ from actually killing the last gunman.

It's tempting to stay and try to get a story out of her as to what happened and why...

But Tim can already hear the sirens.

He heads for one of the r-points a few blocks away and watches for another job for Robin, thinks...

Had he had fun with that situation? There wasn't really much room for that sort of thing until the very end, and this certainly wasn't the first time he'd taken the opportunity to let a crime victim get a little of his or her own back. More to the point, he'd followed protocol exactly, and there hadn't been any unexpected slips in his technique.

More data needed. Tim flies.

There are no children around this particular crackhouse -- a blessing he's learned to appreciate over the years. The dealers around it are lazy. Their particular gang has had rigid control of this neighborhood for long enough that they don't even seem to be on the lookout for business rivals, much less for the police who almost never get called in to help.

There are supposed to be street patrols of this area, and there probably are -- during the day. Hm. Tim checks his palm-top, and... the data supports the assumption that there's only one gang working this area.

There haven't been any murders or even reports of gun-shots within a five block radius, and the smaller horrors of a crackhouse are... smaller. Junkies don't tend to report crimes against themselves. There are plans for a state-funded rehab and recovery center to be built *somewhere* in the area, but those plans have been in budget-related limbo for at least two years.

The protocol...

The protocol is the same as it has always been, and so Tim proceeds to ruin the night of the handful of dealers he can find, picking the one who'd looked laziest for interrogation.

The man confirms what Tim already knew about the neighborhood, and, after Tim threatens his testicles with something worse than just a kick, even gives up the stash house -- a block away. Lazy, *undisciplined* gang, and thus one which won't last in Gotham. And --

There are times when Tim wants to do *just* this for about a week. One raid after another after another, hitting the gangs in their wallets until a few of them maybe -- maybe -- decide to try other lines of work.

It's not realistic -- and the thought of ignoring all of the other crimes for it makes Tim more queasy than the stink from the crackhouse -- but... but. Economic theory has to be worth *something*.

Tim tips the Narcotics division about thugs and drugs directly, and one of the detectives who shows up actually takes a moment to scan the rooftops before moving in to their find. This will make the news, and if any of the reporters decide to take a larger view of the neighborhood...


More likely if someone torches the crackhouse and there's a death or two -- there, a chance. Tim allows himself a moment of sardonic laughter. The abyss doesn't open beneath his feet and swallow him whole. Bruce doesn't show up to look disappointed in him.


Robin decides to take a walk into hell.

Technically, this is also protocol. A chance to hand out cards with Leslie's number on them, to check for overdoses which haven't already taken out their victims. There's rarely time for it, though, and Tim has to admit that he's *giving* himself the time, now.

He has usually patrolled a much larger portion of the city by now, but... but.

Inside, it's smoky and dim, and there are a few obvious adolescents. Obvious runaways, who may have purchased their drugs from people they went to kindergarten with. Tim thinks about sending them to Grant Park. Robin hands out cards that fall, ignored, to the floor.

Tim is masked against the acrid smoke, but the sharp scent of disinfectant is nothing against the smell of human decay. There's sickness here, at least some of it deep and deadly.

There are no actual corpses -- that, at least, would allow him to call in the local precinct and get *some* of the -- slower -- inhabitants a chance at help, even if it's only a painful, hellish detox in prison --

Will he start going through withdrawal soon?


He's heard heroin withdrawal described as feeling worse than the Clench, and he hadn't exactly covered himself in glory with *that* --


Tim drops his cards on the chest of a young man with burns around his lips and moves -- against a crowd. Far fewer than there were in the club, of course, but they're clumsier, and their panic is fueled with something far stronger than either alcohol or X. Tim is forced to use nerve-strikes on some of them just to get them out of the way, and --

There. A room which might've once been some happily married couple's bedroom, a nursery...

Pipes crunch beneath his boots, the haze makes it difficult to see, difficult to *believe* what he's seeing --

A nursery, perhaps. The woman on the floor is hugely pregnant and clearly in labor. The hand she's clutching her belly with has a cheap lighter between the fingers. Her other hand...

She's holding a pipe, and screaming, and she's having a *child*.

Tim drops to his knees and flips up the dress -- too light for the weather, filthy -- she's wearing --

"No, no, no, oh God please don't --"

"I'm just seeing... how far along you are," Tim says, and uses his free hand to toggle the switch which will allow him to be traced, hits the 911 macro --

"The pains started... oh *God* oh God -- the pains started this morning and I thought I could take it, I thought..."

The light's not good enough. Tim puts his penlight between his teeth and moves her panties aside --

No time to get her anywhere else, no time to --

"I'm almost *clean*, it's just -- it just hurt so *bad* --"

Of course she didn't think to go to a hospital. Of course she didn't --

"Please don't be mad at me, please help, oh God, oh it *hurts* --"

She's close. She --

When he looks, she's trying to get the pipe to her mouth, even though it isn't even *lit*. Tim growls and knocks it out of her hand --

"I'm sorry, I'm so -- s-sorry," and she's crying now, racked with it and rolling with the pain --

He has to be gentle. "Are you strong enough to stand up? To walk?"

And she screams, body jack-knifing --

Blood. A lot -- too much, and no sound of sirens, no sound of *anything*. The place is empty save for the two of them and the people too far gone to notice trouble. "It's all right," he says, "you're going to be --"

This time she *shrieks*, and there's blood all over his gauntlets, blood flowing across the floor to his knees --

His father -- *no*.

There's too much blood for him to see much of anything, and he can't tell if the baby is coming -- protocol.

He pushes her dress up farther, streaking her skin with blood. When he touches her abdomen, she shrieks again, and -- he can feel the muscles working inside, feel everything trying to happen at *once* inside of her. He can't tell *anything* about the baby --

Another shriek, and this one ends on something close to a *yowl* -- where are the sirens?

"Try to breathe," he says, and he knows it's too late for that. Too -- he toggles his comm.

"R to B, I've got a female in labor with heavy complications. No sign of the EMTs and she's bleeding out --"

"I'm too far out. Get *help*," he says, and the emphasis --

Is clear. "Superman, *help*," Tim says, and keeps stroking the woman's abdomen with one hand, keeps -- was that a kick?

The positioning is all wrong, and the woman isn't screaming anymore, isn't moving anywhere but inside --

Her hand twitches once --

Wind knocks Tim back on his heels, cool and buffeting --

The woman is gone. And Tim has just enough time to stand up out of the mess and consider which of *their* stashes is close enough for him to be able to get cleaned up and into a new uniform in a timely manner --

He's not done considering before Superman is back. There's only a little blood on his uniform. "Superman --"

"These *places*," he says, and, "excuse me," before Tim is being caught, lifted, flown -- and set down on an overlooking rooftop.

Tim frowns --

"I'm sorry. The odor," and he gestures like -- Clark.

Tim nods. "Understandable. Which hospital...?"

"Gotham General seemed least... chaotic," he says, and very obviously looks Tim over. "You're not injured..."

It's something like half a question, designed to allow Clark to politely pretend not to have scanned him thoroughly. Something like conversation. Tim smiles ruefully. "No, but I'm going to have to get changed."

"I could take you back to the Cave?"

A tempting offer, especially since he has no great desire to clean the blood of a (dying...?) junkie off his bike, but. "I think I might have more spare uniforms than you do...?"

"But you lack an artificial intelligence which has already been trained to make more of yours," Clark says, and offers his hand.

And -- yes. Tim takes it.

He's reasonably sure that Clark uses gentler speed to get them back to the Cave than he'd used to get to Gotham from wherever he'd been, but they're still there before Tim has time to consider anything like a plan beyond being in the man's company for a little while.

"I was hoping we could speak," Clark says, and unwraps him from the cape before folding the thing at speed and tucking it -- somewhere.

Neither of them can risk contaminating the people they help *or* the people they hurt. But... still yes. "I had hopes of the sort, myself," Tim says, and starts to strip.

"Oh -- if you're that busy --"

"I can multitask," Tim says, smiling at Clark and thinking -- just a little -- about Dick.

Clark raises his eyebrows. "If you're sure, Tim."

Eschewing body-consciousness has its rewards. "Oh, I'm definitely sure." The suit has to go into the hazmat container rather than the hamper. The materials are as easy to clean as Bruce could make them without losing any of their strength and flexibility, but covered in blood is covered in blood. He can feel it drying on his face -- he needs to shower, too. Tim glances at Clark as he unfastens the tunic, and...

There's a quiet sort of smile on his face, private and almost redolent of reminiscence. Hmm.

"Share the joke, Clark...?"

"I was thinking about your predecessors, and the times we've worked together," he says, and begins to move through the Cave, very obviously not touching anything, very obviously taking everything *in*, just as if he'd only been here a *few* times.

"I've always regretted that we've never had the chance," Tim says, and dumps the tunic on top of the cape.

"I have, as well," and Clark pauses at the console, resting one hand on the back of Bruce's chair and curling his fingers in.

It's a statement of sorts, and another brand of question... more of one when Clark looks at him again, watchful and patient. Just -- yes, he's going to stick with 'hmm.'

"I think our skills could... complement each other." Tim lays the belt down on his work-table. When he has the time, he'll go at it with gloves on to salvage the things inside.

"I can't help but feel that you're right," Clark says, and there's a soft, *pleased* laugh just under the words.

Tim smiles a little wider. "Perhaps I could come to Metropolis, sometime."

"Oh... you're always welcome."

"That's very, very good to know, Clark," and Tim skins out of the tights and shorts. "And... you should always feel welcome to... contact me when I'm not working."

"Always, Tim? I would never want to interfere in the time you give to your family," he says, and the laugh is absolutely still there.

It's just that it doesn't sound especially dissimilar to one of Bruce's. Tim pauses with his fingertips resting on his jock. "My schedule isn't always... rigid."

Clark folds his hands in front of himself and smiles. "Then I'll just have to make sure my own can accommodate your generous flexibility."

And really, that... Tim laughs and removes his jock. "Do you ever find yourself thinking that shameless flirtation is part of the fun, Clark? I mean, on the one hand it seems like it would be obvious, but on the other..."

"Yes, Tim...?"

"On the other hand, I always thought it would seem, ultimately, both frustrating and juvenile," Tim says, and moves toward the showers -- pauses. "I should still be able to hear you if you move closer."

"I had only been hoping for --"

Wind, rush --

"Invitation," Clark says, and now he's close enough to touch.

If Tim had the time.

"As to your question..." Clark rests one hand on the tile outside the showers. The impressive thing...

There are any number of impressive things, really, but the one at the forefront of Tim's mind is the way Clark is managing to lean over him without looming. Something about the expression on his face, perhaps -- that particularly *Clark* blend of unassailably optimistic friendliness and simple good humor. All is, perhaps, *right* with some definition of the world. "Yes?"

"There should be no shame between friends," Clark says, serious and perfectly sure. "And certainly not for something as natural as desire."

"Mm." Tim takes a moment to smile at the shield before aiming it rather further up. "I've been working on a similar theory of my own," he says, and steps backward into the showers.

"Oh, have you?" Clark curls his fingers against the tile, and raises his eyebrows in an expression that leaves innocence so far behind that it creeps up on it from the other side. "I'd be greatly interested in learning your conclusions."

Tim reaches behind himself to turn on the water --

Clark winces at the initial blast of cold. "Is that really..."

Tim tilts his head back into the spray for a moment before facing forward again. "It's something I grew accustomed to rather early on. I'm reasonably sure Bruce doesn't feel warm water is actively *sinful*, but, at this point, it doesn't quite feel like a shower without that initial rush."

"Perhaps I should fly you through a cloud, sometime."

Tim smiles and reaches back for the soap. "I'll consider it a date, Clark..."

"Oh, please do," he says, and Tim can't see his hand, anymore, but he would be rather surprised if it wasn't moving, somehow. Perhaps not *stroking* the tile, but...

"As to my conclusions... I don't really have any, as of yet, beyond being quite sure that I don't want to go... back."

"I have found that it's nearly always preferable to move forward, yes... Tim, if I may ask..." Clark frowns, a little.

Tim raises an eyebrow. "Yes, Clark?"

"It's only -- not that I've been, hem, paying undue attention --"

"Never that," Tim says, and soaps his chest. He's already gotten the blood off his cheek and ear. Technically, he's more than clean enough to go back out on patrol...

And Clark looks dangerously close to putting on a tie just to be able to tug at it.

"Clark. I *was* fully aware of the consequences of using your name so blatantly while sharing a bed with Dick."

"Consequences. That's a terrible word for it, really, and I'd never --"

Tim soaps his genitals. Not *very* slowly, but...

"Ah. It's just that I'm wondering if you really -- *really* -- want to step outside the bounds -- and bonds -- of family."

And is it really his turn? Batgirl... no, she can't see him until he's *sure* he can pull this off, entirely. Sometime after Bruce stops worrying, perhaps. Tim laughs and soaps his chest and arms --


"There are so many wonderful people in my life, and now I can show you all exactly how much..." Tim sluices off. "I appreciate every last one of you."

"Every -- oh, my."

Tim smiles into the spray and steps out again. "Of course, it's entirely probable that I won't be able to appreciate everyone physically, but..." Tim shrugs.

"My father always said that there was no success without -- trying. Tim."

Tim shoves his hair back off his forehead and reaches back to turn the water off. "I'd ask you to scrub my back, but I really need to get back out on patrol."

"Patrol. Yes, of course, I..."

"Pass me a towel?"

Clark does him one better, wrapping Tim in one of the bath sheets, and -- kissing the back of his neck *just* firmly enough that Tim can feel it before moving back out of range.

"Hmm," Tim says, and moves out of the showers to dry off, heading for his spare uniforms. He can feel Clark watching him, and... hmm.

What would it be like to always know that Clark *could* be watching you -- in more than just the abstract, of course? Something to ask the men who have been very, very good friends with Clark since Tim was in pre-school. For now, Tim has very clearly put himself on the *radar*, and that's just something he's going to have to live with.

Tim smiles at his domino. The hardship may kill him. Certainly, it's going to give simply being in his own skin -- whether or not he's naked at the time -- an entirely new sort of *focus*. For now, though...

Tim suits up at speed, toweling his hair down to simple dampness before reaching for the product --

"There are other brands," Clark says, pretty much exactly out of nowhere.

Hm. Tim looks back over his shoulder. "You don't like the scent of this one?"

"Well, I..." Clark floats up several inches and seems about to rub his nose before he crosses his arms over his chest. "I mean, it's not my --"

"I'll keep that in mind," Tim says, and tosses the tube back down to the bench.

"Oh. That's -- you certainly don't have to --"

"Clark, when I think about all the odors you have to *endure* on a day to day basis, I get a little queasy. There are, as you said, other brands," Tim says, and gums down his domino.

The light shift takes the usual moment to become used to, and then he's... ready to go. He's not precisely sure *why* Robin was so close to him, so easy to slip back into, but he is anything but displeased.

Tim closes the distance between himself and Clark and tilts his head to the side. "Fly me back to where I was?"

For a moment, Clark is still and watchful -- no, that's not the right word for the expression on Clark's face. It's far closer to something like hunger, something like the *thrill* Tim has become addicted to -- and the fact that Clark hadn't managed to erase it from his features before now, the fact that he's willing to *show* it to Tim -- *yes*, Tim thinks --

But not *now*. "Clark --"

"Of course," he says, and lifts Tim with absolute ease, urging Tim's arms around his neck -- "I won't be able to use the cape to keep you safe, so we'll be moving somewhat slower."

"Noted," Tim says, and turns his head against Clark's chest.

The brush of a hand over the back of his head, the press of fingers just between his hairline and the top of his cape -- so light, and so very, very present. Robin doesn't shiver for that sort of thing, but Tim *wants* to --

And they're moving.

It takes a little less than a minute to get back to the rooftop overlooking the crackhouse, and Clark puts up no barriers to Tim disentangling himself and dropping into a crouch. In fact, he seems a little distracted...


"Oh, I'm afraid the young woman... she didn't make it. They don't seem to be sure about the little boy."

And whoever sold her the drugs she was taking in labor... whoever got her hooked in the *first* place. Tim narrows his eyes and balls his hands into fists.

"I'm very sorry. If I had been faster --"

Tim throws up a hand. "It was almost certainly too late by the time I found her... it doesn't make any of it okay."

"No, it doesn't," Clark says. "I'm sorry, Robin."

Tim nods and scans the block. It might as well be part of a ghost town, now, but Tim knows that it will only be a matter of time before the dealers move back in, junkies in ragged tow.

The best thing this neighborhood can hope for is that none of the other gangs will decide they want the territory. For now... it's time for the *other* part of his patrol.

Tim stands up and pulls his grapple. "Thanks for your help tonight, Superman."

"Any time, Robin," he says, grave and openly sympathetic.

That's all of the goodbye Robin needs. The Robin he *used* to be... Tim reaches back and clasps Clark's forearm, squeezes it once, and *then* shoots his grapple.

Clark's fingertips drag along the smooth side of Tim's gauntlet when Tim leaps, and then there's a blur -- Clark's gone.

Tim flies.


There's a very specific sort of guilt to a patrol like this one -- not that he moves from one quiet area directly to another one all that often, but every time this kind of thing *does* happen...

It feels like cheating, like slacking off and letting the side down. The side, in this case, is made up of his family *and* himself, or perhaps the boy he used to be. The one who would've given anything to have a life *just* like this one, and who'd wound up giving...

And, perhaps, he had to be thinking of his father at a time like this. His father, his mother, his stepmother... he only has one family, now, and sometimes it seems as though the only thing he ever *should* do is make them proud, and treasure those moments when they look at him like he's exactly the person he should be.

Has he been getting that confused? Is he asking too much of them, now...?

He doesn't think so, but it will certainly bear watching. He has no right to cause his family difficulty solely because he wants more of their pleasure, their touch...

And there are lights on in Ashandra Green's apartment. Tim flies to the wide and handy ledge and starts moving around to the darkened side --

"Took you long enough," Jason says, and makes a show of checking the watch he isn't, actually wearing.

And it isn't that it isn't nice to see the man, but -- "I'm only planning to do family interviews, tonight."

"Now *that's* one heck of a ka-wink-y-dink," and Jason swings himself around easily before opening the window.

He must've already picked the lock --

"Coming, birdboy?"

Well -- at the very least, this should be interesting. The bedroom they enter is most probably Ashandra's own. There's a great deal of pink, and a nightlight shaped like a fairy. There's a bookshelf with a healthy selection of slim, colorful volumes, and there's a fair amount of dolls and stuffed animals, all neatly set in their places.

"No immediate signs of abuse or neglect," he mutters, half to himself --

"Some parents are subtle," Jason says, and opens the closet.

He doesn't have access to the medical records. Interesting. "Ashandra has too many old breaks. Some of the wrong kind."

Jason pauses, hand so still on the door of the closet that he might as well be splintering the cheap wood between his fingers. After a moment -- "How many of the others."

"Just one. Just one who'd received medical care for his injuries, that is. Jeremy Wilson."

Jason nods and shuts the closet again, moving to the door. Tim follows silently, willing -- at least for the moment -- to back the man's play.

The woman smoking in the kitchen is either Ashandra's mother or her twin. She looks at least ten years older than the birth date on record, and, when she sees them, she freezes in either shock or fear.

Jason sits down across from her. Tim folds his arms beneath his cape and waits.

"Are you here..." She swallows, glances down at her cigarette -- stubs it out. Her hands are shaking. "Is it about my little girl?"

"Maybe," Jason says, showing his teeth and pulling a picture of Ashandra out of his jacket pocket. "Is she the one you've been beating on for all these years?"

Green brings a hand to her mouth and begins to cry, silently.

"Save. The fucking waterworks," and Jason bangs his fist on the table, making the ashtray flip over and spill its contents all over the table and floor --

"It wasn't *me*," she says, "I didn't -- I'd never hurt --"

"No? Then who'd you *let* beat the crap out of her?"

Green digs her nails in under her eye and starts to rake -- "It was -- I used to get high, and my boyfriend... he would. Both of us, and I -- I threw him out. He's *gone* now, and we're okay --"

"Where is he now?"

"In *prison*," she says, and, "please, I already checked around with his no-account friends, and they don't know anything, and the cops won't *do* anything -- do you know where my little girl is? She doesn't... she needs to get to school, and she -- I have this nice dress for her, she's never worn it, I'll show you --" The chair scrapes across the floor as she stands up, unsteady on her feet and still digging the nails of one hand into her own skin --

"Stop and breathe," Tim says, and she makes a sound not dissimilar to something he'd once heard from a gunshot victim. "Your daughter was involved in the drug trade."

"What? No, no, you don't understand, my daughter is too young for that, you're thinking of someone else's little girl --"

"We have confirmation. She was working as a lookout for the West 44s --"

"*No*," she says, and points at both of them. "You can't just let her disappear, you can't, she's a *good* girl, I can show you her grades --"

Jason stands up and Green can't seem to decide whether she wants to back away further or clutch at them. "Ms. Green --"

"You're supposed to be *better* than the cops," she says, pleading with every detail of her body language. "Look, I... I'll do anything, I'll say anything, I'll tell you everything I know about the criminals working these streets, just please, please, help me get my daughter *back*!"

There's a message in the way Jason shifts on his feet, but Tim isn't quite sure he can read it -- or if it's for him, at all.

Tim turns to face Green. "We're looking into it," he says, and Robin is probably supposed to sound friendlier, more sympathetic --

"Yeah," Jason says, and squeezes her shoulder.

She's covers Jason's hand with both of her own, squeezing and -- still pleading.

There's nothing more to say. Tim moves to the kitchen window and slips out onto the fire escape before heading to the roof. It doesn't take long before he hears the scuff of Jason's boot behind him.

"If you say anything about how I should've checked DYFS reports --"

Jason snort. "*DYFS* left me with the Todds. And then just left me," Jason says and moves to share the balustrade with him.

"Hm. I suppose that if I even consider offering some sort of sympathetic noise --"

"I'll make your cheeks match, yeah. Wilson next?"

Might as well find out if both of the abusive households are all better now. Tim pulls his grapple. "Just because the children are missed --"

"You've got a real bug up your ass about this, don't you? What *did* that civilian Daddy of yours do to you?"

Tim pauses. "We don't know each other that well, yet." He's not sure if he knows anyone that well...

Jason grunts a laugh. "Yeah, well, let me know when we do so I can high-tail it in the other direction. You already share too much as it is."

*You* were the one who asked -- no. Tim shakes his head and shoots, and focuses on being surprised that Jason lets him take point. He clearly has at least most of the information Tim does, which certainly includes addresses... maybe it's just his turn. And --

It probably shouldn't be gratifying that the Wilson residence turns out to be a pit. Drug paraphernalia, roaches gathering around piles of trash which may or may not have garbage cans within them...

It's one of the two parent households, and Tim gets nothing out of either of them -- until he applies force.

He watches Jason watching him use nerve-strikes and -- light -- punches on the pitiful excuse for a father, and learns that Jeremy had been working *for* his parents' habit, and perhaps a little food for all of them.

Last year, he'd made enough to pay for his mother to abort a pregnancy --

"Smart kid," Jason says, and Tim reminds himself that he is, technically, dealing with a victim.

Tim lets go of the man and lets him slide down the wall to the floor. His wife had taken the opportunity of her husband's mild beatdown to shoot up in the -- open -- bathroom.

They leave.

As it happens, they didn't quite wind up hitting the two extremes right out of the box -- the Rochester family could have easily petitioned for a spot on some warm-heartedly commercial sitcom, save for their wayward son -- but it's close. Good families, bad families, indifferent families. Small families, large families, hopelessly fucked-up families.

All of them missing their children in one way or another, whether or not they deserve them.

"We don't have to take them all back," Tim says, when Jason's silence beside him on the world-class gargoyle starts to grate. If he wanted to be working with Bruce --

"And when it gets out where little Ashandra, Cody, Marcus, and Asia were, no one will ever think to wonder about the others, of course."

"Hm. Good to know we picked the same families."

Jason shrugs. "No one ever said you were a dumbass."

"Has anyone ever told you that you give compliments like... B?"

A moment's stiffening -- a victory he doesn't actually *want*, at the moment.

"That -- came out exactly the way it was meant, actually, but I'm not spoiling for a fight over here."

The moonlight carves an edge on the look Jason gives him, glancing and glinting off the lenses of his mask. Hmm.

"Sometimes you look *precisely* as dangerous as you are," Tim says, lowering his hands -- and getting them into a position to do a little damage.

"Sometimes you do, too," and when Jason says it... it's absolutely a compliment. More than that -- it's a 'well done, keep it up,' with faint undertones of 'maybe I *do* want to play with you.'

Suggestive, that. Some degree of damning. Tempting beyond reason -- "You know, we've technically gone kind of overboard on the de rigueur initial violence of our meeting."

"You sayin' you're all done in, birdboy?" And Jason shifts just enough to call attention to his shoulders, his reach, and every last second of his training. "You're breakin' my heart, here."

Fighting -- he strongly suspects that thinking of it as 'sparring' even within the relative safety of his own mind would be just a little too much like asking for some nasty definition of 'it' -- with Jason would be an excellent distraction, filling minutes he could be using against Ivy, perhaps leaving him needing another trip back to the Cave...

Tim closes his eyes behind the mask for a moment and drops his hands entirely.

"I'm saying that I don't have either the time or the freedom to play, right now, and I wouldn't be fit for the suit if I pretended otherwise."

Jason grunts and settles, again, looking out on the night. "Lot of assumptions in there."

"I know, I know. I don't deserve the 'R' on my chest. I'm scrawny, weak-willed, and I probably enjoyed being breast-fed."

"Capital crimes, all of the above," Jason says, and turns his head up to the sky. "Which reminds me. Just *what* were you doing with Big Blue that you needed a shower afterward?"

Tim laughs. "I definitely didn't blow him in the Cave. Nor did I ask him, very politely, to come all over my uniform."

Jason snorts and -- punches Tim in the arm. It's quick, hard, and eminently companionable. Mm.

"I found a pregnant woman -- in labor -- in a crackhouse. It was bloody, and very bad on a number of levels."

Another grunt, this one somewhat surprised. "You're trained for that."

"She started hemorrhaging about a minute and a half after I found her. I'm not an obstetrician." And she didn't make --

"Did Supes save her?"

"No," Tim says, and thinks about dead and dying cells drying onto his uniform. "The baby might still make it."

"Drug-addicted, underweight, learning disabilities and emotional problems in his future, and, of course --"

"The system, yes," and Tim shifts in his crouch and curls his fingers around the balustrade. "Whoever's Robin in fifteen years will probably beat the hell out of him."

"If there's a Robin."

Calm, clear, and full of million different little things roiling just beneath the surface. "Some things," Tim says, "can never be allowed to die. No matter what."

For a long moment, Jason doesn't say anything. For some of the time, the tension in Jason's body is high and promising, but that fades, too, leaving the man just crouching there.

Perhaps he's using enhanced formerly-dead senses to sniff something out on the wind. Perhaps... Tim isn't sure.

Finally, Jason stands. "Come with me," and he doesn't wait before pulling his grapple-gun.

Tim raises an eyebrow.

"Call it an educational field-trip, kid, now come on," he says, and leaps.

Tim follows.

The route they take doesn't raise any particular flags or alarms in Tim's mind, beyond the fact that they're heading to a part of town which was mostly Puerto Rican when Tim was growing up, and which is now mostly Dominican. The gang violence here has more than a few racial undertones, and Tim's Iberian-accented Spanish is usually worth at least a few minutes' hilarity for the people Robin tries to communicate with.

They pause on a rooftop at the center of a few too many sightlines from local apartment projects to be entirely comfortable, though a water tower does provide some handy shadow.

Technically, they're in Batman's territory, though they're very close to the edges of what Batman has ceded to Orpheus and Onyx. Jason had had a run-in with her, the seriousness of which...

He doesn't like to think about how much doubt he has in Bruce's reports, right now. It's only the ones which involve Jason, at the moment, but that sort of thing can spread so *easily*. Bruce is susceptible. Tim is...

Tim is watching a pretty quiet street. There's a distinct lack of the sort of enterprising urban youth who should be here, going by the most recent information... Tim checks his palm-top, and yeah, this area was supposed to be heading directly for a vicious, small-scale gang war.

It's possible that he's looking at the eye of the storm, but people tend to sense that sort of thing -- and *not* sit out on their stoops listening to music and watching the world go by.

And then Tim thinks about the -- possible -- murders tagged after Jason Todd's name, and the neighborhoods of the missing thugs in question. Right. He can feel Jason looking at him. Tim nods to himself. "And when it doesn't last? When the next gang-leaders come in prepared for someone like you?"

"Well, it won't look all that good for *you* people," Jason says, and the smile on his face is cruel and -- not entirely true.

"Gotham doesn't need our help getting worse, Jason."

"Says the kid who wants to just turn over a great big section of the city -- and its inhabitants -- to a murdering psychopath who happens to be good with kids."

"I believe in increasing the *peace*," Tim says, and --

Jason's hand on his shoulder is a pressing invitation, a request made deeper and less deniable by the fact that it's Jason and that it *is* a request.

Tim turns. "Jason --"

"You think I haven't been watching you? You'll tune up a perp as fast as anyone else if you think it'll get you information. You *hurt* people, and at least some part of you enjoys it pretty damned much."

"It's a character flaw. *Not* something I plan to encourage within myself --"

"You ever stab somebody with that little shuriken on your chest? No -- I know you have. Whenever you've had to, and maybe, just maybe, once or twice when you didn't."

The trick to looking away is to do it *only* with your eyes, behind the mask --

"Don't do a fade on me, now, birdboy --"

-- and to accept, with all of yourself, that it still won't work with some people. "Are you seriously trying to *convince* me that your way is the better one? *Me*?"

Jason's smile slips for a second before getting harder. Colder and a lot more *real*. "Yeah," he says. "You, Timmy boy."

"Seriously, Jason, you -- the tree you're barking up isn't even in the right forest. It may actually be a streetlight."

Jason cocks his head to the side and squeezes Tim's shoulder. "You ever think about why you try so hard to get next to me? Why you're the only one -- why you're not *afraid*?"

And that would be very, very funny. That *should* be very funny. It's just that he's not laughing, because he hadn't really needed the gas to need to *try* with Jason, and that... no. No. "You're a member of my *family*, Jason Todd. The only one I have. The only one *any* of us have --"

"I'm a killer," he says, "and we both know that. Just like how we both know I'll do it again, and again, every time it's the better choice."

"It's *never* --"

"You're not Bruce, kid. And you're not going to grow into him. You all have *one* choice, here -- do your best to take me down or own up to the fact that someone has to make the hard choices."

No. *No*. "Jason, it doesn't have to be like that. It doesn't have to be -- we've all made mistakes. We've all *slipped*. I killed a woman with my bare hands, once, and if you *didn't* know that Dick had done the same with the Joker --"

"And then you bent over backwards to fix it, to take it back --" Jason shakes his head. "It's still in you, and maybe all over you, too. I wouldn't have thought it of Dick, but, well..."

Blockbuster, Tim thinks, and winces hard -- stops. Jason looks almost -- he looks *happy*, and sure, and it's the wrong thing, it's --

"I'm never going to be the sad little puppy sitting next to his own piss stain, kid, so you should really get a start on that whole dealing with it thing," he says, letting go and standing up against the night sky.

He kicks a stone out of the tread of one boot, and watches it fall. He --

"We made ourselves responsible for this city. We took -- heh -- an *oath*. I'm never going to let it down."

"Don't go."

"You're the one with places to go and people to beat down -- oh wait, I do, too. Heh. I'm not going to make it *easy* on you, Drake. Whichever way this all goes down."

And there's a moment where Jason is still, braced enough that Tim could reach out for his ankle, his leg -- Tim doesn't know what to say, but... "Ivy."

"Maybe I'll pay another visit to those Wilson fuckers, maybe I won't. The rest," Jason says, and pulls his grapple once more, "is on you."

Tim watches him fly, watches people point and -- some cheer. Whether or not they know it was Jason, they know that not very long after their neighborhood started getting personal vigilante attention, all of the worst problems had just... gone away.

Nothing in the news, nothing about arrests being made or cases going to trial. Nothing but the rumors, which are probably exactly as true as they are... gruesome.

Perhaps the Tim he used to be would mean 'terrifying.'

Tim flies in the opposite direction, determined to use the rest of his night and use it *hard*.

It's *not* always easy to restrain himself to the minimum required amount of violence, but it was never supposed to be easy. He's human, and he's Robin. He has to be perfect, not *feel* perfect. He has to...

A scream takes him to an alley situated just right to pick up the maximum number of shadows. He gets there just in time to see a woman with torn clothes being pistol-whipped --

He knows how that *feels*, he thinks, and moves. It's *not* protocol to take the gun by hand, even though the nerve-strike he uses will almost certainly wear off in less than an hour. It's not protocol to punch this way, or to kick *that* way, or to -- to.

The man -- mugger? rapist? -- is down, and there is, ultimately, no reason to break his nose all over his face.

And if Tim hates himself, a little, for having the control not to do it, anyway...

Tim hands the woman a card and forces himself to pause --

She can see his tension. She's probably hyperaware, right now, this close to being in shock -- "I'm fine," she says. "You -- you saved me. Thank you."

Tim nods. "Are you sure you'll be able to... I can show you the way to the nearest clinic. They'll help you with everything from getting yourself home to filing charges. Take a good look at his face."

"I -- I. I'm fine. I just need to --" She shudders, once, and tugs her torn sweater over her exposed stomach. She's tall and five, maybe seven years older than he is. She's dressed -- she *had* been dressed like a secretary for a moderately well-off firm -- "I'm okay --"

"Tell me something, if you can."

"I -- okay. Okay, Robin."

"Would you have preferred it if I'd just crippled this man? More? Worse?"

She blinks at him blankly for several moments, mouth open -- she shuts it and shakes her head hard. "I guess... I guess you could've done that. You... didn't have to?"

Tim nods.

"And you could've stopped him just as fast if you *had* done something... worse?"

Tim nods again.

She bites her lip -- stops. "Then I don't really know. I just... he was going to..." She kicks at the gun with her toe and shudders again. "You're... trained, and you know all of these things to do which I don't, and you... I don't know. Robin."

It's not the answer on which he's based his entire existence, and it's not the answer Jason would've wanted, and it is, ultimately, meaningless. "Thank you," he says, and raises his chin --

She goes, at a jog which can't be very easy in the heels she's wearing.

Tim zip-strips the man at his feet and keeps moving, pushing himself faster just to make sure he still has all the control he needs --

At some point, he's going to stop thinking about this *enough* that his own hyperawareness -- he has to *own* it -- will fade.

And then he'll go right back to slipping, here and there. If that woman had wanted to kick the hell out of her attacker who would he be to stop her? He's not a police officer, he's a *vigilante*, and yes, there have to be lines which can't be crossed, but...

Where, exactly, is he supposed to draw them? The Joker --

They *can't* start treating individuals differently. If the same rules don't stand for everyone, then they don't stand *period*. He already knows how it would work if one of them stopped *believing* --

Three-thirty finds him close enough to his bike, and close enough for a tour of the after-hour clubs. He's supposed to go off-duty in half an hour at the latest, and --

He hasn't done enough. There can't ever be *enough*.

"R to B."


"I'm heading into NYC for a little re-education."

Batman -- Bruce grunts into the comm. He wants more information, and --

"Not here," Tim says.

"Keep me posted. Batman out." 


The roads are clear enough at this time of night that he makes it in less than ninety minutes. He's not sure what, exactly, Dick is doing with the Outsiders right about now, but the tracers *do* put him in the city somewhere.

Tim considers just tracking the man down, but he doesn't really want to...

New York doesn't belong to Robin in any way, not anymore. He heads toward the Outsiders HQ, instead, carefully tripping non-meta-specific alarms as he goes until he reaches the nondescript entrance and a portion of wall opens up and presents him with a palm-pad.

Tim slips off his gauntlet and wonders, idly, how many different filters the information has to go through before something on the inside both labels him as a friendly and provides nothing more than his vigilante affiliation.

Do the other Outsiders resent that sort of thing? The door opens --

"Fucking *Christ*, you're short. How the fuck old are you?"

Grace Choi. In person, she seems even larger than she does in photos -- including the ones which show her next to more average-sized heroes. Tim offers his hand. "I'm afraid I can't tell you that, but it's a pleasure to make your acquaintance."

She snorts, takes his hand, and bows over it exaggeratedly. "My pleasure, your Batness. Before you ask, your big brother isn't around. Unless that's not what you're here for?"

The raw suspicion in her eyes suggests... hm. "I'm not here on Batman's orders, if that's what you mean, Ms. Choi."

"Ms. Choi. Oh -- right. O-kay, Mr. Robin, do you know where everything is or do you need a tour?"

Tim thinks about it. It's not that he *doesn't* have a rough idea where everything is. It's just that the Outsiders are almost entirely *new* to him, and, as such, he should be making connections. "I don't want to interrupt if you're busy," he says, and folds his arms under his cape.

"You can't possibly be this polite all the time. *Nobody* is this polite all the time," she says, and crosses her arms over her...

Where on earth does she *shop*...? "Ah, well. I've been known to be quite stern with criminals," Tim says, and lets himself smile.

"Right, so you're fucking with me a little, even though you don't know me from the big yellow bitch who can crush you to a pulp. Interesting, ballsy approach. I like it," and she turns her back. "Come on, have a look around. Nightwing's out on a training mission with Thunder."

She takes him on a carefully truncated tour, leaving out the sensitive areas he already knows from Dick's reports -- always with something of a questioning look. She *suspects* he already knows, but...

Well, *he* already knows that Dick has been doing his best to avoid making the Outsiders into another Titans, however much it goes against his grain. In the gym, Choi does a few curls with the entire weight machine.

In the kitchen, she tosses him a soda and pulls a pizza out of the refrigerator to eat on the rest of the tour.

She gestures at the Pequod with a slice of pepperoni, and introduces him to Shift and Indigo in much the same way. Jade is apparently out on a mission of her own, and Arsenal -- is in his bedroom, checking the balance on his arrows.

"You take care of the mini-vigi," she says, and dumps the mostly empty pizza box in his lap. "I need a nap before we go out tonight. Today. Whatever."

Arsenal nods at him and Tim nods back -- "Thank you for the tour, Ms. Choi."

"You're welcome, Jesus, call me when you can say a cuss word."

"I fucking well assure you I will," Tim says, and smiles for the laugh she barks on the way back out into the hall --

And a little for the shocked look on Arsenal's face. They've met a few times, and worked together once -- disastrously. The last time they'd seen each other... Tim shakes it off, internally, and pushes his cape back off his shoulders. "May I help?"

"Well, I don't know. How much do you know about arrows?"

Tim raises an eyebrow behind his mask. "I wouldn't say I knew as much as you do, but..."

"You were trained by *Batman*, yes, I get it. Have a seat, kiddo."

They work in silence for several minutes. There are no tricks to these arrows, just simple precision for the tools they are... hm. "Do you make them yourself?"

"Everybody needs a hobby."

"Mm," Tim says, and sets one with a bend aside. "I've considered macrame, but somehow it's not the same with de-cel lines."

"Heh, yeah, all those careful little knots -- I can see it."

Tim smiles at him -- and flips his lenses up.

"Ooh, I get eyes for this. Does that mean you want to call me Roy?"

Roy. *Roy* -- for some reason, he hadn't been thinking of Arsenal as being the same man who'd actually worked with Jason Todd a few times before... before a lot of difficult things. But... "How much time have you put into trying to work out my identity?"

Roy shrugs and looks him up and down almost casually. "There can't be too many small, wiry, black-haired, blue-eyed boys who *Bruce* would adopt," he says, and starts putting arrows back into his quiver.

Tim ducks his head in acknowledgment. "I'd prefer not to have my name tossed around randomly, but..." Tim shrugs. "The connections were made long before I was in this life. Roy."

"Okay, then. Tim," and Roy sets the quiver down and takes out... a gun-cleaning kit.

That -- really. Tim closes his eyes, forgetting that the lenses are up --

"I know. You guys really, *really* aren't comfortable. I promise I'm not doing this just to fuck with your head."

"No, I know, it's just -- ah. Has Dick spoken to you about the Red Hood?"

Roy pulls his guns and sets them on the table after unloading them. He doesn't, surprisingly, keep one in the chamber. "No. And he didn't have to. It's *really* him?"

Tim nods. "I spent... part of the evening with him."

"Which is why you came all the way up here to spend some time with Dick, even though -- those bruises are a little too old?"

Tim nods again. "I also spent time with him last night."

"Jesus, he... we connected, a little, I think -- those few times when he came to hang out with us, be a Titan on reserve..." Roy shakes his head and strips the guns with quick, economical motions. "How many of the rumors are true about him?"

"He admitted being a killer," Tim says, and looks at his hands. The new gauntlets... well, he's had them for months, now. They still *feel* new at times like these, sleek and black like something from his nightmares, his fantasies -- Tim clenches his hands into fists. "Have you ever...?"

Roy frowns and raises an eyebrow. "You expect me to believe you *don't* have the files on me memorized? Even though I work *closely* with Dick?"

How much should he reveal? Roy *isn't* family, but he still knows all of the secrets which matter except, perhaps, for Oracle's. It has to be both stressful and relieving for Dick to be around him. "There are... blind spots in the files. If you know where to look."

"But you *do* know where to look," Roy says, standing up and moving -- behind Tim, away from the table... It's something of a truncated pace, designed to make Tim do...

What? There's the usual discomfort if having someone facing his back, and of course the component parts of boogeymen sitting out on the table, but... Tim decides to stay seated, for now, turning the chair to face Roy again. "I know what to look for, and why it's so rarely there -- in the files of the heroes."

Roy smiles down at him, scratching idly at the stubble he almost certainly won't let become a beard. Green Arrow the elder...

"I've found those curious spaces in Oliver Queen's file, of course," Tim says, and waits --

"Of course. Heh. What do you want me to say? He doesn't take killing lightly, but it didn't break him when he had to do it. And it doesn't break *me* to know about it. We respect Bruce's beliefs, kid, but we cleave to our *own*."

And that's... nothing Tim hadn't already known. It's just that hearing it spoken so plainly is a little like being naked, or being faced with someone else's nudity -- "I'd never expect anything else --"

"Wouldn't you? Who exactly did Jason take out, anyway? Should I be inviting him to New York, Star City...?"

Certainly, his style wouldn't be... Tim feels himself frowning again and stands up to keep from tensing up too badly, moves to keep from -- "He's one of us."

"Not at the moment, he isn't. Hey, it's not like I'm trying to poach. It's just that *you* should know, by now, that life doesn't stop after Robin."

Tim crosses his arms under his cape to keep from *threatening* --

"Hey, don't do that. I -- this has really gotten under your skin, I know, but Dick would kill me if I got you all wound up before he got a chance to see you. How long has it been, anyway?"

A blatant and shameless attempt -- offer -- to change the subject. Tim smiles ruefully. "Only a few days, actually."

"Really? Wow. Don't tell me you actually gave each other phone numbers that worked or something, my heart couldn't take it," he says, leaning back against a wall and smiling.

"I left a coded message for him at a dead drop. We gazed meaningfully at each other over the heads of the criminals we beat up. It was all very moving, really."

Roy shakes his head and laughs, a little. "I think I like seeing you without any other bats flapping around, kid. You've got a rudimentary sense of humor in there. It needs some *help*, but..."

"You're just the gun-toting vigilante to provide it...?"

"Somebody's got to do it," and the invitation in his eyes is all about the fact that Tim has a choice between taking the statement at face value and letting himself hear everything lurking beneath it.

He's supposed to -- Robin is supposed to take the former, no matter how ultimately useless, no matter how frustrating, painful, harmful to relationship-building... disturbing is a little beyond him, at the moment, but the thoughts behind it are not. Tim blows out a breath and reaches up to the catches on his cape. "I'm off duty," he says, and pulls the thing off, letting it rest over the back of the chair. "And I'm willing to put a little time in on my... sense of humor."

Roy whistles. "Off-duty, hunh? Didn't know you guys still *did* that kind of thing."

Tim rolls his shoulders and gives his arms a good stretch before sitting back down and deliberately putting his feet up on the table next to the guns. "It's more of a secret than Oracle's identity. The fact that I've told you means you'll have to report to the Cave in no more than four point five hours for your new uniform and the implantation of the escrima stick. Try not to eat anything before then, you'll only regret it."

"Yeah, I'll keep that in mind, little 'mano," and Roy slaps Tim's boots companionably before sitting down. He uses the same tools Tim has used himself, in the Cave, but of course there's no air of the forbidden, no tang of taboo to mute the scent of the gun oil.

Tim leaves him to it. For all of Bruce's... prejudices, the guns he keeps for training purposes are in perfect condition. He'd taught Tim how to keep them that way, as, perhaps, Alfred had taught him.


For some reason, it's impossible not to pay attention to how well-made and fitted Roy's holsters are. They move with him easily enough that it's clear that there's never a moment when he *can't* pull a gun. Jason's...

Jason's are probably the same, though with his new and impressive flexibility, his *always* impressive reach... he could be using something much less fine and tailor-made. It would certainly suit the rest of his... look.

And Roy is looking at him *precisely* as though Tim had taken a side-step away from the companionability he's asking for -- "Sorry," Tim says. "I was admiring your... accessories."

Roy raises an eyebrow, and runs a thumb over the shoulder-strap. "I've never seen you this... distracted."

"I'm usually better at hiding it -- no, that's a lie with a large amount of truth for seasoning. Jason tried to... he tried to get me to see things his way, I suppose is how I'd put it." Tim crosses his ankles the other way.

"Ah... well..." Roy shines a small penlight into the bore of each gun, and, apparently, calls it good. He starts putting them back together. For a moment he seems wholly focused on what he's doing. They are, for him, more than just tools. "Maybe you shouldn't be thinking of it as an attempt to seduce you to the Dark Side."

"As opposed to the Arrow side?" Tim smiles. "I always did like Connor quite a lot."

"Heh. You two still e-mailing each other?"

About once a week, more if Connor has read something he thinks Tim would find interesting. "He's quite a faithful correspondent."

"He's a faithful *everything*, Robbie, so watch yourself," Roy says, rather *pointedly* reloading his guns.

Robbie. Really. Tim raises both eyebrows, tilting his head enough to be *sure* the motion doesn't get caught in the difficult shadows of his mask --

Roy's smile is faintly smug -- ah.

He was absolutely supposed to react to that nickname. "The people on my team -- my *first* team -- generally stuck with 'Rob.' I always thought 'Robbie' implied a certain... lack, in terms of pants."

"I don't know, you're not as scrawny as you used to be. You could maybe pull that look *off* now."

Tim strokes his own thigh. And bats his lashes. "I'm glad you think so, Roy," he says, lowering his voice. "I've always been eager to receive... your good opinion."

Roy snorts and slaps the heel of Tim's boot. "Okay, let's see, you've been doing this for... three years? Four?"

"About four, yes."

"That means you're *probably* old enough to make jokes like that. Okay," he says, and spins his chair around to face the fridge. "Beer?"

No. Yes. Does he *like* beer? "Sure," Tim says, and Roy pulls out two and opens both on the edge of the table before rolling Tim's own off his fingertips. Tim catches it. The brand is unfamiliar, and the label seems to be almost hand-printed. "A 'microbrew?'"

"Best in the city," Roy says, and takes a long swallow. "Let me know what you think."

"I'm afraid I can't exactly offer an *informed* review," Tim says, and tastes. The first impression is of cold and carbonation --

"Did I seriously just give Robin his first taste of alcohol? Jesus, give that *back*," Roy says, reaching --

Tim pushes his chair back from the table and swallows. "Hmm. Sort of... well, not chewy, per se, but --"

"Thick, a little creamy, not too bitter, come on, now, I *like* not being Dick's -- or Bruce's -- mortal enemy --"

"But not really sweet, either," Tim says, and stands -- Roy's coming for him, but *carefully* --

Tim ducks, dodges, spins --

Roy catches his shoulder --


"*Let* the teenager be a teenager," and it's only the work of a moment to switch the beer to his other hand and reach up to sort of pinch *that* spot on Roy's hand --

"Hey, *ow* --"

"The paralysis won't last," Tim says, and moves out of range. And takes another swallow.

"Oh, for the love of -- don't *chug* that, at least."

"Mm. Noted," Tim says, and makes his next sip smaller. "There's something almost a little like... hmm. The dark side of honey, or..." Tim waves a hand. "I'm not very good at English Lit."

"Oh, yeah, yeah," and Roy is shaking out his hand. "I think they also make *mead*, if you can believe it."

"That makes me want to look up my old D&D friends --" Are they all right? About to graduate -- Tim had passed his GED months ago, in an attempt to stave off boredom without ripping himself to shreds on the gymnastics equipment... Ives. He should...

Should he?

Tim catches himself about to take another swallow reflexively and frowns at the bottle. "Isn't it supposed to take longer before alcohol-fueled depression kicks in?"

"For a Bat?" Roy gives up and lets his arm hang at his side. "Not so much."

"Hmm. Noted," Tim says, and crosses back to the table. He puts the beer down, thinks about it, and jabs Roy in the shoulder --

"Jesus, *warn* a guy -- fuck, I *hate* pins and needles --"

-- and then sits back down. "They would've been worse if I'd waited," Tim says, and sits back down.

"I know, I know -- damn. I was *completely* justified in trying to take that beer away from you, you know," and Roy joins him, again.

Tim smiles. "Certainly, I'm sure you felt you were only doing what needed to be done."

Roy painstakingly lifts his undoubtedly still-buzzing hand, and then lifts the middle finger of that hand.

Tim smiles wider.

"All right, so you curse now, you drink now -- that's almost half the bottle missing, so it counts -- what *else* do I need to know about?" Roy takes a long swallow and sighs. "Gotta keep those files *current*."

"It's a sacred duty," Tim says, and draws idly in the bottle's condensation.

"And you, Robbie-the-third, are avoiding the question."

Is he? Well... well. Tim picks up the bottle once more and blows over the opening once, twice. "Do we know each other well enough to talk about our sex lives?"

"Heh, you... are something else. But, well, let's think about this *scientifically*," he says, raising his hand -- he lets it drop again. "Okay, wait, no, first show me how you did that to my damned hand. *Dick's* never done that."

"I didn't learn it from either Dick or Bruce," Tim says, and takes Roy's hand in his own. "Here," he says, and points to the spot in question. "Like I said, it doesn't last -- even without the little 'jump start' I gave you, so if you're close enough to *make* this strike, you probably should be using something else." Or, as Shiva had put it, 'Now that I've shown you how to do this, please don't insult me by trying to use it on someone trying to kill you. Like me.'

"Mm," Roy says, around the lip of the bottle. "Okay, but I've *still* got pins and needles --"

"If you had to, you'd work through them."

"Point, point. All right, back to science," he says, and raises his hand once more. "One, accidental meeting -- you were looking for *Dick*. Two, alcohol has been consumed --"

"My lips are virginal no longer."

"*Three*," and now Roy's shaking his fingers *at* Tim, "we've already had the obligatory violence."

Tim frowns, a little. "I always thought there had to be more than that."

"And that, my little friend, may be why your lips were virginal in the first place," Roy says, and Tim waits until he's drinking --

"Well. Not *that* virginal, Roy..."

No spew, but a respectable cough --

Tim smiles again.

"Okay, so we're *definitely* talking about your sex life. Mine, of course, is an open book."

"Well," Tim says, and folds his arms over his abdomen. "I used to do everything in my power to keep Dick from sharing anecdotes from his years as a Titan."

"*Why* would you do that? They're *educational*. You never know when your team of superpowered hormone factories are going to be hit with aphrodisiac gas, or alien pollen, or some damned thing. You've gotta learn how to *deal* with that, little 'mano."

The image -- Kon, stroking himself helplessly while Cassie hauls Bart close with her lasso...

"See, now you're *thinking* about it."

Hmm. "There are ways to *avoid* thinking about it? After someone helpfully brings it up, I mean."

Roy frowns and rolls the bottle back and forth between his hands. "I'm pretty sure *Bruce* doesn't think about it."

And that's just -- very, very funny. "Do you have any idea how many substances our rebreathers are checked-out against?" Why, if he'd been wearing his own just a few days ago...

"That's... pretty damned disturbing, now that you put it that way."

Tim shrugs. "I would think it would be better than the alternative."

Roy finishes off his beer and pulls another one out of the fridge. "Spoken like a young, young man who has never been in the middle of an orgy. They can really work the *kinks* out --"

Tim snorts.

"I -- oh, wow. Would you believe I didn't mean it that way? I mean, any other time, *sure*, but..."

"Not that time. All right," Tim says, and takes another small swallow of his own beer. "It's just that I would think one would prefer a sexual encounter where both -- or all -- parties were fully cognizant and capable of consenting."

Roy gestures expansively. "Sure, of course, that's totally what you *shoot* for. But don't disdain the little gifts this job will occasionally toss in your -- heh -- lap. Especially since the shyer members of your team just might relax a little if they've already -- ah. Had occasion to give up the goods...?"

The expression on Roy's face is another invitation. It's just that he *is* the shyer member of his team, and, at this point, it's only a matter of time before Roy --

"Oh, hell."

-- remembers that. Tim smiles ruefully. "Possibly I should make you give this talk to Superboy."

Roy laughs and sets his bottle down. "Why? Isn't he dating Wonder Girl, now? Was he trying and failing to get in your tights?"

"I think most of his flirting was... passive. I'd be surprised if he ever thought it would go anywhere," Tim says, and waves a hand.

"Uh, huh. You know, if you're attracted to him, and you let all that hitting on you go right over your pointy little head, I'm pretty much obligated to smack you around on behalf of every horndog in a cape."

Tim cocks his head to the side and shows his teeth. "I suppose you could try."

"Ohhh really."

Tim shifts --

Roy sets his bottle down *lightly* --

The staff is out --

But Roy has already drawn a bead with his... bow and arrow. Not the guns. Polite, that.

Tim nods in acknowledgment and folds his staff again. "All right. But it would be interesting to spar with you, sometime."

"Oh, indubitably," Roy says, and sets the bow aside. "You can show me some more of those moves which-aren't-from-Bruce-or-Dick... and so are thus, probably, from Shiva."

So Dick *did* share. Tim frowns. "I wasn't going to bring her up."

Roy waves a hand. "Don't ever be ashamed of where you pick up the tricks you use to survive in this life. It's *all* in how you use them."

And that... "It's not that I don't see the logic in that point of view -- it's entirely reasonable. It's just that much of the time I think of myself as having been, to at least some extent -- *made* by Batman."

"And I know nothing whatsoever about *that* way of thinking, of course -- no, don't frown at me, again. I *get* that it's different. Batman is the best at what he does, and everything he does -- damned near -- is also the best. It's your identity *and* your pride."

Tim nods.

"It's just that you're more than that. All of you are, all of you always have been -- and if you didn't know *that*, too, you wouldn't have just finished off that fantastic beer."

So he has. Tim rolls the bottle between his thumb and his palm before setting it down. "I party, therefore I am...?"

"It's a start. And I know you Bats always need the baby steps. So *about* your sex life. Anyone I know? Biblically?"

Tim laughs. "I probably should've started with my girlfriend, but -- I didn't."

Roy frowns. "Girlfriend, girlfriend... Spoiler. Isn't she out of the life?"

It's surprising that he remembers -- gratifying for the boy he used to be, and the girlfriend *that* boy had. "Very much so. She's happy about it."

"But you're not --"

"I trust her to make her own choices --"

"Remember that I'm actually a little older than *Dick*, here, all right? You miss the girl you used to run around on rooftops with, and that *might* have something to do with you stepping out on her."

Interesting. He doesn't really think of it that way -- he *does* miss Spoiler, and he probably always will. He loves her, and she... absolutely thinks about it that way, even though she loves *him*. Would he be so... would he want so much if she could still be his partner at least some of the time?

"Hey, don't throw me over for the Batcomputer in your brain, now..."

"Sorry," Tim says, and smiles ruefully. "I think you probably have a point, and I don't like it very much."

Roy gestures a come-on with his fingers. Tim raises an eyebrow and leans in -- and Roy leans in, too, and cups his shoulders. "Trust me when I say you're not alone, not the first -- not that any of that helps, but... we all have to make sacrifices for this life, and sometimes those sacrifices wind up hurting people other than ourselves."

Tim pulls back against the hold until Roy lets go -- "You think I should break up with her --"

"Hey, I barely know you, and I don't know her at all. Maybe it'll just turn out that you need to make a life with her as Tim Drake and let Robin do his own thing, maybe that'll be too hard, maybe it'll be something entirely different. I just want you to know that *lots* of people will understand, no matter how it all goes down." He raises his eyebrows in *loud* invitation. "Okay?"

Still love you -- and nothing else. Nothing... "One moment," Tim says, and pulls his palm-top -- still nothing. Tim bites back the sigh -- and then lets it out. "I'll think about what you've said. Thank you."

"You're welcome. Let's get back to the fun stuff, hunh?"

Smiling around Roy is even easier than he's gotten used to over the last few days... "Sure," he says, and, "Dick."

"Dick? What about -- oh, *hell*. Is *that* why you came here to see him?"

Not really... but. "I'd be lying if I said I didn't have... hopes," Tim says, and takes a moment to just watch Roy *react*. He's blinking, he keeps opening his mouth and shutting it again, and there's actually some color high in his cheeks.

"Good -- God. You know, Dick swore me to secrecy about this, but, you know, I kinda think you *have* to know now..."

"Dick has a secret from me he wanted *you* to keep?"

Roy flips him off again. "Oh, sure, say it like that and see if I tell you."

Tim raises his hands. "I'm just surprised, I promise. Tell me."

"Okay, I -- no, really, holy *fuck* -- see, kid, your big brother has a List. A capital-L *List* of people who are allowed -- *were* allowed -- to help you out of that binding, uncomfortable virginity."

"A list. You --"

"A *List*, I told you. I got him drunk one night and he told me *all* about it."

It's possible he's doing a little blinking, himself. "Dick never mentioned -- wow, okay, no, he wouldn't have mentioned it, I suppose. Ah -- was he *on* it?"

"No! That's the thing! He got all flustered and Robbie-is-a-*good*-boy on me when I asked."

"So... um. Who....?"

"Oh, I wish I'd written this down, I really do, because some of the choices -- heh. *Superman* was on it, I remember that much. Huntress wasn't. And -- hell. I can't remember if he said Bruce was on the list or if that part was a drunken nightmare. He *probably* said something about your old team, too, because that's just the way ex-Titans *think*."

*Would* Dick approve of the changes in his relationship with Bruce? Probably it's not the best time to think about it, but... but. He could see that conversation going several different ways, and none of them are precisely comfortable -- including the one where Dick tells him how happy he is that Tim and Bruce are *getting along*. But -- "A list. Excuse me -- a List. About me. And my sex life."

"We were right here, drinking *that* kind of beer," Roy says, and puts his foot up on the table. "Okay, which of you made the first move?"

"I... kind of stripped in front of him. And looked at him meaningfully."

"And that *worked*?"

"If it hadn't worked, I would've been ready, willing, and able to try other methods," Tim says, and wonders if he wants another beer.

"Wait, it's *you*, and part of me is still trying to get over the fact that you took off your cape."

Tim catches Roy's eye and reaches for the catches on his tunic --

Roy laughs, long and loud. "Okay, okay, I get it, it worked, you don't have to demonstrate. Jesus, little 'mano."

And if he wants to...? Hmm. Tim makes something of a point of looking Roy... over.

Immediately -- possibly reflexively -- the smile on Roy's face changes to something heavier, and he puts his right hand down flat on the table. It's a message, and a blatant one. Tim *can* ignore the hand, or he could cover it with one of his own, let his fingers slip between Roy's helpfully splayed ones...

If Tim takes off one of his gauntlets -- if he takes that time -- would the moment pass?

He's never really thought of Roy -- no, he absolutely *had* thought of Roy that way. Just not with *himself*. He should think about it, really put some time and energy into figuring out his feelings, interrogating his desires, putting it all into *context*.

The fact that he doesn't seem to be doing anything of the kind -- as opposed to pulling his gauntlet off with his teeth -- is just... one of those things.

Roy might even have a pithy bit of Arrow philosophy all about it.

Tim clenches his fist and releases it a couple of times, and then lays his hand on top of Roy's.

Roy hums beneath his breath and moves their hands until they're clenched together, harder than Tim would've expected. He doesn't take his eyes off Tim's own.

"Sorry about the sweat," Tim says, and flexes his hand.

"Occupational hazard," and Roy flexes back. "You know, *I* wasn't on the list, either."

"I'm not a virgin, anymore."

"Heh, so you're not," Roy says, and glances down at their hands before looking up again. Roy's hand is significantly larger, with a lot of raw power.

Tim's hand... he can't help but notice all of his own scars, and wonder what they look like to Roy. Proof that he belongs in this life and in this moment? Time is told *differently* in their little community, and Tim has known that for a while. It was one thing to be looked at like this by members of his own family, and even by Clark.

It's another to have Roy do it, without hesitation or pause. He's not sure he's ever felt quite this much like *Robin*.

Tim leans in, over the table. "Kiss me...?"

Roy's other hand is no rougher on his cheek than Bruce's was, but the calluses are all different, discrete points of contact and scrape, building a sharp little web of feeling --

Which gets deeper and warmer when Roy kisses him, slow and deep. The beer tastes different in his mouth, which is a thought which should be incredibly inane, but somehow doesn't feel that way.

It's a different way to experience something which, perhaps, he was never supposed to have -- but always *could*. Tim hums into the kiss and stands up, moving until he can brace his hands on the back of Roy's chair and kiss him that way.

The positioning makes him think about kissing Dick on his stairs, makes him think about being pushed down and mauled a little --

Once, just *once* couldn't he have let Dick *tell* one of those stories? He wants to know -- hmm. He sucks Roy's tongue and pulls back --

"Okay, there?"

"Oh, yes. I was wondering... what sorts of things do you like?"

"Heh." Roy moves his free hand to Tim's back and pulls him a little closer. "Easier to ask what I *don't*, Tim. I feel pretty safe in saying that we can probably do anything you want, including just making out a little."

Good to know, certainly the right thing to say, but -- "Didn't that get a little frustrating when you were my age...?"

"Heh. Back when everything -- absolutely *everything* -- was new and exciting and wonderful, you mean?"

"Ah --"

"Absolutely," Roy says, and slides his hand down to Tim's buttocks, shifting his hand until he can push between Tim's legs from the back.

And then he squeezes *hard* -- "Roy."

"Uh, huh. Care to have a seat, Mr. Drake?"

On his lap. On *Arsenal's* lap. That -- Tim does it, slowly. It's not that he expects his weight to be any hardship, but --

The position --

The position makes *this* kiss feel dirtier, though Tim is willing to go with the idea that Roy's tongue has something to do with it. Roy kisses exactly like a man with a wide and varied experience with the act. There's a raw, messy confidence to it when he fucks Tim's mouth with it a few times, and a sense of undeniable play when he pulls back to *nip* Tim's lower lip before kissing him a little harder.

The mechanics are the same, but the *sense* is all different. He has taken Tim at his word, and perhaps everything leading up to this was all foreplay for Roy. Perhaps it would have to be for a man like him --

"Oh. I wasn't ready for that kiss to end," Tim says, and licks his lips.

"Good to know, but -- ah. You went away a little, there," Roy says, and taps Tim's mouth. "Sure you want to be doing this with *me*?"

"I assure you, Roy -- when I went away, I didn't go very far."


Tim cups Roy's shoulders again and strokes them, squeezes, strokes down his arms -- about the same size as Jason's, but, again, the configuration of muscle *feels* different -- "You're very... sensual."

"Touch is a gift," Roy says, and squeezes Tim again, pushing up against his jock --

"I like that --"

Roy nods and does it again, and uses his other hand to stroke Tim's face, his lips, his cheeks, back to his ear and down to Tim's throat above the tunic. "You wouldn't be doing this if you didn't get that, I don't think..."

And it takes Tim a moment to parse words from sensation -- ah. Touch is a gift. "Yes, I... I don't know how I went so long without it," he says, and catches Roy's fingers between his teeth on his next pass, licking the salt from his fingertips and biting down just a little hard, just to feel --

He really can't wait to do this with Clark. Tim laughs around Roy's fingers and sucks on three of them, pressing his tongue against the undersides and rubbing it back and forth --

"Oral, I get you," Roy says. "You should really let your mouth heal a little, first, though. Just to make sure it'll be up to whatever else you want to *do* with it, later..."

Good, sound advice. Tim pulls back and Roy comes back with two fingers, slipping them in and out slowly, not *quite* fucking him that way -- and Tim thinks about Bruce's finger inside him and heats up all over.

"Damn, you're looking fine. Got another kiss for me?"

Tim pulls back and licks the tips of Roy's fingers, leans in --

And Roy pushes his wet fingers into Tim's hair, drags them along Tim's scalp -- kisses Tim *hard*. It shocks a whimper out of Tim and makes him clutch a little at Roy's shoulders, makes him struggle to catch Roy's tongue long enough to suck on it again --

Roy hums again and moves his other hand, coming back at Tim's groin from the front and rubbing him through the tights, shorts, jock -- Tim grinds his hips against it and tries to hold on to each individual *moment* of the kiss, to the way Roy's teasing him with his tongue and holding Tim's head still, the way he's almost marking out his *territory* --

Tim gasps when it's over and grins. "Sure I can't convince you to fuck my mouth?"

Roy laughs and squeezes him. "I wouldn't say that, but I don't like my chances with Dick if I mess around with you *and* leave marks."

And that squeeze -- that. Roy isn't letting *go*, this time, and it hurts just enough, just the right *way* --

Tim brings his hand to his mouth and bites the heel of his palm, but it doesn't help anything, or maybe --

He gasps again when Roy lets go, opening his eyes and wondering when he'd closed them, and what he was thinking when he had. Roy's looking at him like a particularly interesting problem to solve, sharply avid smile behind his eyes and just a little flush -- "Roy..."

"Why don't you get some of this uniform off?"

He had, of course, already known the quickest way to get out of the lower part of his uniform, but it still feels like winning something very important -- if not, necessarily, Bruce-related -- that he can still manage it when he's this hard. Judging by recent experience, he won't remember how the motions had worked at all, later. What he *will* remember --

The sound/feel of Roy's tights against his own when Tim stands off to tug everything down and out of the way, the *immediate* stroke of Roy's hand on his penis, the way it makes him graceless as he sits right back down --

"God, *yes* --"

That sound, that *feel*, and Roy working him *exactly* like he's a teenager who's too hard to think, much less offer anything like critical thought. Tim doesn't know *how* he likes it beyond *just* like this, rough and quick --

"Your hand, I -- please don't stop."

"Not a chance, Tim. I know what it's *like*," he says, and uses his other hand to pull Tim in for another kiss.

He can't concentrate on this one, can't do much more than leave himself available for it, make himself willing -- more willing --

Roy's stroking him right out of his own head, driving him up and up -- Tim thinks he'd *scream* if he stopped, and for a paradoxical moment he wants just that, wants Roy to take his *time* with him and push him right over the edge to a place with no thought which isn't based in the body.

Just -- it's good, it's *right*, and there isn't even a gun to his head --

Maybe he should ask...?

Tim laughs, again, and the act -- or possibly the way it moves him -- reminds his hips that they could be -- *should* be -- pumping -- "You're going -- to make me come, Roy --"

The squeeze is a vicious little shock, knocking him back --

Tim yells, bucks, *claws* at Roy's shoulders --

And then Roy pulls Tim back in and licks Tim's neck -- "Seemed like a good idea, let me know --"

"Ah -- ah, *Roy* --"

"Shh, don't worry," and licks him --

Strokes him so *slowly* -- "Jesus, I -- oh, that feels --"

And then faster, *harder* than before, and Tim feels his body trying to jack-knife, feels himself throwing his head back --

Orgasm hits like a blast, something unshielded and blinding, burning -- he's nothing but feeling, perfect and raw, and the shouting is even better than that, the pain in his throat getting swept up with every other feeling -- "*Fuck*, yes," Tim says, and realizes that he's tensed absolutely everywhere in the seconds before he slumps forward.

His hands are shaking on Roy's shoulders, and... he's made a mess on -- the table. Roy is actually still pointing his penis in that direction. Gently.

"Perfect aim, perfect timing. Heh."

"You know it," Roy says, and gives Tim his hand back. It's slick with pre-ejaculate and smells like all the sex Tim has decided he's never, ever going to stop having.

Tim licks it clean and rubs his face on it a little. That was a fantastic bit of manipulation, but he wants -- more.

"Jesus, you are... yeah, okay, you want my dick in your mouth? You can have my dick in your mouth."

Tim smiles at Roy around the thumb between his teeth, stands up, and kneels between Roy's legs. The pants seem far too lace-intensive to be remotely comfortable or efficient, but chances are that his own uniform seems that way to other people.

Tim lets Roy take care of it and indulges himself with stroking Roy's thighs, instead. Strong, probably scarred under there -- not as much as Dick's legs, though. Perhaps as much as his own.

Some other time he can investigate. For now...

For now, Roy is watching his eyes and stroking himself. He smells nothing like any of the men he's been with, and the part of his brain which has been hopelessly stoned on endorphins for the last few days suggests that it's because Roy isn't *family*.

It's absurd -- he's at least a cousin. Tim smiles. "May I...?"

"Do me a favor and take it a *little*... mm. Easy on yourself."

"And you like it slow, anyway?"

"I guess I *am* just a dirty little sensualist," Roy says, stripping his cock fast and obviously hard three times, four -- "Show me what *you* like. "

Tim wraps his hand around the base and takes just the head in, getting to know it a little with the press of his lips before using his tongue. The taste is closer to the other penises in his acquaintance than the smell was -- is -- but it's still... unique. Chances are, he'll never have enough experience to be able to start categorizing by qualities of taste -- he'd have to be able to *concentrate* on more than just enjoying having a penis in his mouth, for one thing, but...

It's fun to make the little mental notes. He hasn't decided, yet, if he's going to try making anything more formal than that -- certainly, that's the sort of thing which almost inevitably leads to disaster and the thought 'why did I write that *down*?' --

He hasn't decided. If he keeps adding sex partners, he'll *have* to document things at least a little bit, but if he can't use the memory Bruce had trained him to have for *good* things, too, then he doesn't want to have it, at all. And --

Roy's hand is in his hair. Either he has good instincts, or it's just his experience that people who love performing fellatio also love to get their hair pulled a little bit. Though -- he isn't pulling so much as petting, stroking -- the touch seems almost too affectionate, and perhaps a little uncomfortable considering their relative lack of history -- no. He'd admitted to loving touch, and he's *with* someone who loves it, too.

Maybe lives for it, a little bit, and that's something Tim can absolutely understand. He can't *slip* here, and he doesn't need to be perfect. All he needs, right now, is the feel of himself going down, the pressure of his own fist against his mouth, the brush and slide of Roy's penis against his palate --

The sound of Roy's soft moan.

Slow, he can manage.

And perhaps he'll do it this way whenever Bruce actually *lets* Tim go down on him. He can't really imagine Bruce *not* enjoying it this way -- with the added taboo of using time better spent on other things. The sort of thing a lover would do, would ask for and need...?


Tim holds himself still for a moment, Roy's penis as deep as he can get it, this way, and *just* uses his tongue the way he'd done on Roy's fingers --

"Fuck, that's... God, Tim," and Roy cups the back of Tim's head and squeezes --

And Tim wants more than that. He's not even *pulling* -- of course he'd have the control, and of course he doesn't want Tim to damage himself any more than he already has --

"The first time I did this with Dick --" Roy laughs, then moans again -- "God, you're nothing like him. Don't change, little 'mano --"

How to communicate 'tell me more' without actually pulling off? Tim isn't sure, but it's possible that starting to work his head up and down again a little faster would help. Help *something* --

"Okay, that's more... he was pretty wild, though. Not like you," and Roy sighs, strokes Tim's cheek -- "You've got *everything* under control. I -- mm. I can tell..."

Is it a problem? Tim does his best to make an interrogatory noise --

"Jesus, I -- oh, that was a question. Keep doing that," and now Roy's laughing a little.

He sounds breathless, aroused in some way far beyond the plain fact of his erection. There are complexities to it, little moments of strange. Tim thinks of Barbara's precise little bruises and pushes his hands up to the join of Roy's abdomen to his thighs, digging his thumbs in and stroking --

"What -- do you want to know more about me and Dick?"

Tim hums *hard* --

"Okay, okay. I wanted him before I knew anything, and I wanted him when I had a clue, and I want him even when I'm touching him, even when I've got him the way you've got me..."

Tim shivers, swallows back saliva --

"That feels -- fuck, yes. And I know you know *exactly* how that want feels," Roy says, and this time he does pull Tim's hair a little bit, pushing into it further with his hands...

Should Tim grow his hair out? Not *long*, per se. Long enough would be more than sufficient, just as it's a little more than he *needs* to keep his hand in place. He moves it --

"Big brother been giving you lots of practice, R -- Robbie, oh, yeah, take me deep --"

Worth a try. Worth -- the initial shock is all about the discovery that there was still *that* much space in his mouth, followed immediately by his body's attempts to deny it -- Tim swallows --

Too soon, and Roy makes a sound like he's winded, hurt --

Tim swallows again, and this time it works. The trick is not to get too excited about it, or about the screaming messages he's getting about a lack of air. Not difficult -- this isn't going to kill him, and there's nothing to be afraid of.

Not even when the stroke of Roy's hands on him becomes purposeful, rough with all of those unfamiliar calluses -- "Tell me this is *okay* --"

Tim squeezes Roy's hip, *presses* with his tongue --

"Oh -- yeah, that works," Roy says and gives Tim some pressure to work with, to feel --

Warmth and contact, the currently nearly hallucinatory scents of guns and leather, broken down and pushed *away* by the fact that he's not, technically, breathing --

"Never knew Dick would -- you would --"

And then Roy groans, long and loud, and nothing matters but doing *this*, pushing down the feeling enough not to get too lost, not to lose his place, this pleasure he can *give*.

Roy's not making words, anymore, and it's something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the groans and gasps are -- beyond gratifying. On the other hand, Roy was saying very, very interesting -- fascinating -- things. Tim strokes Roy's thighs restlessly, pushes them as far apart as the pants around his knees will allow, *swallows* --

*Wants* --

"Here. I -- *here*," Roy says, rough and a little too loud for comfort --

And then he uses some of his actual strength to hold Tim's head close, and the thrill rockets right through Tim, reminds that bundle of nerves at the base of Tim's spine of other pleasures, other possibilities --

He'd like to tell Roy that he's making Tim's penis twitch, again, that he's going to be hard, that he likes it, wants so much *more*... but, perhaps, humming around him is enough, groaning and not thinking about how much oxygen he isn't getting --

Thinking about *exactly* how much oxygen he isn't getting, about the perfect obscenity of being choked with another man's penis --

He'd made Jason stagger *without* this. He'd -- it's not like he thinks he could solve all of the family problems through the judicious application of oral sex, but it can't be wrong to want to try --

Just as it can't be wrong to want to laugh for this, to be just this *happy* --

"*Robbie* -- ah --"

Oh, that sounded like -- mm.

Perhaps less a warning than a declaration of intent, Tim thinks, swallowing as much as he can --

And then not so much. There's something -- *something* -- about letting it spill past his lips, down his chin...

In this position, his uniform is in no danger, and -- no, he has to swallow to keep from coughing, has to --

Roy's hands are shaking on Tim's face, the back of his head --

Something large and painless explodes behind Tim's vision --

"*Fuck*," Roy says, pushing, "you Bats always need to go that extra *mile*..."

The trick is to keep himself from laughing until he has swallowed enough, re-taught himself how to *breathe* enough -- possibly he shouldn't be wiping his mouth with the back of his hand and *licking* it quite this soon, but it's not really something he can bring himself to help...

"Ohh, God. Wow," and Roy grabs Tim's shoulders and pushes him back, a little, before sliding off the chair and dropping onto his knees. "C'mere."

"Hm...? Oh, yes, I suppose I could stop licking myself for a few -- mm."

The kiss --

Roy doesn't seem to be tasting himself in Tim's mouth so much as he's taking the opportunity to reacquaint himself with it. He dominates a kiss almost exactly unlike the way Bruce tends to do it, humming and catching every nuance, every hint of what Tim seems to like and then going with it, apparently just because. It's a kiss *for* him, and Tim can't help but wonder if Oracle kisses in different ways than the Batgirl she used to be had...

Always, always more data needed, Tim thinks, and catches Roy's tongue -- lightly -- between his teeth.

Roy pulls back. "All done with me, Tim?"

He could say something about how he simply enjoys the feel of that particular aspect of kissing -- he does. It's just that it's not simple and it's not the point. "All done? No, I don't think so. But I do want to... clean up, a little."

Roy's smile is very, very wry. "Maybe put your cape back on...?"

Tim ducks his head and places his palms against his chest. "I feel so very *exposed*. If you would only allow me to cover myself, kind sir, I would surely be most grateful --"

Grateful, gratified -- Roy's snicker provides some -- heady -- mixture of those senses and sensations for Tim, and... yes, it's time to either get cleaned up and dressed or make a command decision to spend the night in the man's bed. And --

He has other beds he belongs in.

Tim smiles at the way Roy is laughing at him, for him... yes, this was right, too. Perhaps, at some point, he'll find sexuality that *isn't* right for him, but that's not going to happen tonight. Tim stands up and fixes his uniform, and, after a moment -- and a deeply theatrical sigh -- Roy does the same.

"Did you want to wait for Dick in his room, or...?"

Tim makes a face. "I got the impression that his room here was a little... sterile. Perhaps I mean depressing."

Roy pushes a hand back through his hair and relaces his pants. "Hey, little 'mano -- if you can convince Dick that the apocalypse won't happen if he spends a little time *being* with his team, I will personally buy you an ice cream cone."

Mm. "I prefer sorbet, and -- I'll do what I can," Tim says, and uses a wet-wipe on the mess he'd left on the table.

"Heh. Got an evidence bag for that?"

"Don't be ridiculous, Roy," Tim says, and places the thing in the trash. "The disinfectant degrades the sample far too much." And Tim pulls out one of the chairs at Roy's table and raises his eyebrow.

"You are absolutely welcome to wait *right* here," he says, and the leer in his voice is a familiar thing -- too familiar, given the brevity of their acquaintance at this level.

Tim can go with it.

"Let me just..." He moves to the wall console and types something in. "There, now Dick knows to come here once he gets back," and there's a shadow behind Roy's face...

Tim thinks about it, and -- yes, it definitely seems strange that Roy wouldn't just *expect* Dick to come see him, anyway, especially after a training mission for one of their team-mates... "Things became... very difficult, for him, in Bludhaven."

"*That* much I'd already figured," Roy says, sitting down and throwing his legs up on the table.

Tim does the same --

"Once upon a time he could *talk* about things like that." Roy nudges Tim's boots with his own. "Hey, I hope you don't mind me using you as a spy in his camp."

Tim gives Roy one of Robin's smiles. "So long as you don't mind me deciding how much information you can have when."

"I wouldn't have it *any* other way. Seriously, *did* Dick teach you that?"

Tim plays with the gauntlets still folded in his belt, considers --

"*Aha*. You totally threw out Dick's name first because you knew it would *stop* me from looking for more names outta you."

Tim smiles again, and then remembers that there's no reason not to let Roy see all of it. "Maybe."

"Heh. And *that* means that it's somebody -- some*bodies*? -- else I know," Roy says, pointing and waggling his eyebrows. "Give up the goods, Tim. It's *long* past time for Robin to be a major subject of conversation in the cape community's rumor mill again," and the fascinating thing is that Roy says this as if it's perfectly *reasonable*.

"Don't you think I'm more effective if I'm a little mysterious...?"

Roy's smile is both more of a smirk and quite dubious. Sarcastic -- "And how well did that work with your *first* team?"

Tim winces. "Touché. Still, do you really think rumors about my sex life will help *more* than just me acting like a different sort of Robin where it *counts*...?"

"As opposed to acting like a different sort of Robin with me, heh, yeah, I heard that." Roy shrugs and leans back a little farther in his chair. "Everything helps. You Bats -- and you know I love you guys -- treat everyone like they're *not* doing the same job you are, and you build up this inhuman mystique thing --"

"Which is *useful*," Tim says. "You can't tell me that it isn't."

"Humanity -- or the approximation of same -- is just as important, in some ways. Or did you think we *didn't* all feel better when Bruce kept getting Robins after Dick?"

Batman needs... heh. Tim smiles ruefully. "I can't, actually, share any more names with you. Your relationship with Dick changes things, but... you *don't* have that sort of relationship with anyone else I've... been with."

Roy makes a show of weighing the statement, waggling his head back and forth, a little -- "That's fair," he says. "So long as you know that *this* little encounter is absolutely going in the hopper. *I* won't say anything about it -- that's against the rules -- but the other Outsiders..."

"The two of us alone, a locked room, mysterious sounds..." Tim laughs, a little. "Got it. I'll make sure to give you a long, meaningful look the next time other people can see us."

"Good deal," and he nudges Tim's boot with his own again. "How about some music?"

Music. How long since he'd listened to music which didn't just happen to be playing while he was in the process of fighting crime...? It floors him, a little bit. He doesn't... he'd moved his stereo into the manor along with the rest of his things, but he hadn't really...

He doesn't spend much time in his bedroom, as opposed to the Cave and occasionally the library.

He --

"Whoa. What did I just say?"

Tim clenches his hands into fists and -- releases them. "Sorry, I... I just. It occurred to me that I hadn't really just relaxed and listened to music since --" His father had died. "It's been a while."

Roy's frown is deep enough that his face shows signs of how he'll look in ten or fifteen years...

If he lives that long. Tim pinches the bridge of his nose and just -- breathes, for a minute. "You should... yes. Go ahead and put something on. Maybe something... of your own?" Tim looks up, and Roy is searching him, looking for the things he's not saying... "Please."

"Hey, now, I only play my own music when the audience is good and drunk," he says, "but we can... here, I think you might like this," and he pulls a remote from the nightstand, hits a button...

The music is old-fashioned and a little dramatic, full of brass and rising emotion. After a moment, a woman with an incredibly deep voice starts singing about birds and sunshine, about feeling good. And it's... hm. The lyrics *should* be insipid, if not inane, but there's something about the woman's voice...

There's power in it, and an inescapable sense of raw *experience*. She sounds like someone who'd had to work for her happiness, and like someone who'd fight for it.

And, perhaps, fight dirty while she was at it. Tim -- approves. He smiles and nods along to it --


"Yes," Tim says. "It's really... it's nothing I would've chosen for myself, I don't think, but..."

"Nina Simone. That voice always gives me chills -- some of her music is pretty disturbing. Stuff about lynchings, obsession... but not on this mix," and Roy smiles and leans back, closing his eyes.

Tim folds his hands on his abdomen and closes his own eyes and just -- listens.

Which is why neither of them notice when Dick walks in and -- rests his hands on Tim's shoulders. Tim jumps on the *inside* --

"Is this the message, Roy...?" It's not *quite* the Nightwing voice, but --

"Jesus, 'mano, scuff your feet or something, it's *day*," Roy says, sitting up and pausing the music.

Tim can't sit up with Dick putting pressure on his shoulders and... he checks his internal clock. He's going to be heading back to Gotham in daylight if he stays too much longer --

"Sorry," Dick says, and his voice is still in that half-Nightwing growl. "Just got back, and..." He sighs, a little.

Tim hears Roy moving, but can't quite see what he's doing --

"Everything go all right?"

Dick squeezes a message into Tim's shoulders, but Tim's not quite sure what it is, or if it's even meant for him. He settles back to just listen.

"Turned out those 'bangers harrying the Village had Intergang support. No real time to call for backup before things got hairy," Dick says, and, after a moment, "Thunder was excellent."

Had Dick told her...?

"She comes from good and she *is* good, and I'm just going to tell myself that you were gone for long enough to ease back on the Bat throttle --"

"Roy," Dick says. "I'm tired. Little brother *is* the message, right?"

Tim can hear Roy sighing --

"Yeah, yeah. The two of us were just... hanging out for a while. I'm not ready to give him up *quite* yet, but I guess you can convince me to let you steal him for a little while," Roy says, and the leering invitation is all *over* his voice, and Tim wants, very badly, for Dick to *take* it --

"Noted," he says, and this time the squeeze means, 'let's go.'

Tim sits up, stands, spares a look for Roy -- Roy is looking away. The tension is obvious in his shoulders, and... Dick is already moving for the door. Right.

"Good night, Roy --"

"Night, kiddo," he says, to the *wall*.

"Thank you. For everything," he says, and he can *feel* Dick giving him one of those searching looks, but really -- "I'm going to be thinking about everything you've said."

Roy keeps looking at the wall for another moment, another, and Tim feels like he's breathing again when he finally looks around, rueful smile all over his face. "Good to know, little 'mano."

"'Little 'mano.' Oh, that's -- that's *terrible*, Roy," Dick says, and he actually sounds like himself for a moment --

Roy spins to catch it, and Tim does, too --

Dick is in the doorway, looking down at the floor. His hair is keeping his facial expression in shadow -- and Roy slumps, a little.

"What can I say, *big* 'mano, I was *inspired*."

"Heh, I..." Dick kicks the door jamb, lightly. "Noted," he says, again, and he doesn't look up, but it's...

Better. A little better.

Tim nods at Roy, Roy nods back, and Tim follows Dick down the hall to his room. And...

It's not that Roy had had all that many personal touches in his room. A nice stereo system, a rug, a collection of classic bows, a handful of pictures...

It's just that there's *nothing* in Dick's room. Hotel rooms have more warmth, and -- Tim shakes his head and checks the closet, punching in Dick's usual code --

"Hey, what --"

Nothing but Nightwing uniforms. Tim frowns and closes the door again, breathes... "You know what I'm going to say."

"God, little brother, can we just..." Dick sighs and grabs Tim's shoulder, spinning him -- into a hug. "Let's pretend that you came here because you *needed* me for something, and -- hey. You smell like sex. And *beer*."

Well, yes. "Ah -- I did need to talk to you about Jason," Tim says, and starts easing himself back --

Dick catches his wrists. "*What* were you doing with Roy?"

Tim looks at the hands wrapped around his wrists pointedly before working them back and forth. "Dick."

"Jesus. Fucking -- I'll kill him."

"I'll help him beat the crap out of you," Tim says, and pulls against Dick's hold until he lets go. "One beer, one entirely pleasurable sexual encounter after a nice long talk about different methods of modern vigilantism. And about *you*."

"You -- with *Roy*? Where the hell did that *come* from, Tim?"

For a moment, Tim can't help wondering what the sounds of argument coming from this room will mean for his reputation -- *their* reputation... it's probably not a good time to laugh. Tim reaches up slowly and puts his hands on Dick's shoulders, moving in close enough that Dick has to look down to keep meeting his eyes --

Tim flips the lenses up on his mask. Dick frowns --

But he flips his own lenses, too.

Tim nods. "Good. Remember we talked about me... spreading my wings, a little?"

Dick looks... absolutely incredulous. Which... well, that's expected.

"Dick --"

"Just how many places have you been spreading them, Tim?"

Heh -- still not the time to laugh. "Where I've wanted to," Tim says, and raises his eyebrows, and waits.

"Where you've... so what you're telling me is that you've been holding yourself back kind of a *terrifying* amount, and now it's time to... what? Let it all hang out?"

"Casually, carefully -- pleasantly," Tim says, and digs his fingers into Dick's shoulders a little bit. "I'm tired of shallow connections to people, of always pretending that I don't *need* anything --"

"Timmy --"

"*Please* don't call me that, Dick. I really -- oh," and Dick's hand is on the back of his neck, gauntlet cool and slick-sleek --

And Dick's mouth is pressed to Tim's forehead. "Sorry. Let me back up."

"We can do that..."

Dick sighs, pulls Tim closer -- "Beer? Really?"

"I'd never had one before," Tim says. "When Roy realized that, he did make an effort to make me give it back."

"But you pulled out a little Robin trick or two..." Dick sighs again and kisses Tim's forehead. "Okay, first and foremost, your sex life is your business."

"Yes, it is."

"But -- you're my little brother, and I'm absolutely allowed to go insane with worry every now and again, especially since *I* know you were a virgin a week ago."

"I -- all right..."

"And that you *seemed* perfectly happy to *stay* that way indefinitely, despite having a very sexy little girlfriend for the better part of three *years* --" Dick pulls back and tilts Tim's head up. "Have you... with her?"

"Yes," Tim says, and catches himself reaching for his palm-top... she's asleep. She's *been* asleep at this time of night for months now, and -- she's asleep. And Dick...

Dick is looking at him with a mix of ruefulness and shock.

"I don't know what you want me to say --"

"You know, for a *long* time I thought that you were *just* gay and not quite comfortable enough with it to do... anything," Dick says, and squeezes the back of Tim's neck. "I was willing to wait for you to talk to me about it, or..." Dick laughs, briefly. "Okay, I never expected the 'or.'"

Ah. "Well, I'd be lying if I said that the... hmm... *configuration* of my sexuality hadn't ever been an issue for me..."

Dick pulls him in for another hug, reaching up to move Tim's hands off his shoulders.

Tim wraps his arms around Dick's waist and squeezes --

"Now I wish I *had* just asked you about it when it first occurred to me, but... you're bisexual. And you're really, really okay with that."

Tim turns his head against Dick's chest and -- rubs his cheek against him a little bit. "That's about the size of it."

"I never really... well, it's like I told you. By the time I started really *thinking* about sex, it was all right there for me, and I never could imagine denying it just because of someone's *gender* -- and maybe I'm a little upset that you *don't* need me for this," Dick says, and squeezes Tim harder when he starts to pull back.

"Dick -- I wasn't planning to go very far --"

"Just give me a minute, here, okay?" Another squeeze for the back of Tim's neck --

Tim nods.

"You're incredibly important to me, and part of me -- when I saw you there, in Roy's room, I was thinking to myself -- hey, here's my chance to do-over that morning after, really *talk* to Tim about sex and sexuality, *connect*..."

"I -- I didn't really feel *disconnected* from you, Dick."

"Yeah, but..." Dick pulls back and tugs Tim to the bed, sitting down and pulling until Tim sits next to him. "I *know* you noticed that I wasn't exactly firing on all cylinders. God, I'd *talked* about you with Roy, and about sex... um. Hell," he says and covers his face with his hand. "Don't kill me, all right, but..."

Now is the time to laugh, at least a little. "When I mentioned to Roy that the two of us had taken care of my little problem --"

"*Jesus* --"

"He happened to mention a certain. List."

Dick balls his hand into a fist and bangs his head against it. "Okay, now I have to kill him because he won't ever let me live that *down*."

And if this makes Dick peel off Nightwing enough to actually argue with Roy, a little bit... hmmm. Tim catches Dick's wrist and holds on. "I'm not traumatized and you're an excellent big brother."

"'Big brother.' Hmm, I... you know, you almost never say that, Tim."

Really... not. Tim smiles ruefully and squeezes Dick's wrist. "You're right. Mostly because you're an excellent big brother even when I don't want anything of the kind."

Dick frowns, twists -- and twines his hand with Tim's own. "What does that mean, exactly?"

Would this conversation ever have happened without that wonderful gas? *Could* it have? Tim squeezes Dick's hand. "I mean that there have been times when I've thought about just being with you, loving you and being loved back --"

"I do love you --"

"Not that way," Tim says, and tries and fails to take his hand back. "I grew out of that to a certain extent. It's okay."

Dick blinks at him -- and hauls him close. On *top* of him close.

"Dick --"

"The *hell*, little brother --"

"Yes, Dick, *little brother*. It really turned me on when you called me that while we were having sex, but that's not exactly the basis for a *relationship*."

"I --"

"I'm right."

"Tim --"

"I'm *right*."

"Then *stop* being right for just a minute and let me be in shock, and, before you ask, yes that *does* involve us laying right here while I blink at the ceiling."

"I --"

"*Down*," Dick says, and --

It may be the best use of the Nightwing voice all night. Tim settles down over Dick and waits, listening to the whisper of Dick's uniform against his own, listening to Dick's heartbeat.

His breathing is a little off, but Tim supposes that's only to be expected...

And he feels as good as he always has, as perfect and beautiful and right. He'd never wanted to *be* Dick -- that was always too far and too impossible. But to be *with* Dick, held close and loved, appreciated... "For the record, I do really like this. I always have."

Dick strokes his hair and doesn't say anything, and doesn't say anything...

After a while, the silence changes to something warmer and friendlier, and Tim realizes that Dick is, actually, very close to falling asleep. He considers staying long enough to *let* Dick get there, but, ultimately, it's a non-starter. Dick *will* wake up as soon as he moves.

Tim rests his hand on Dick's chest and scratches a little with his nails.

"So... um." Dick stops stroking, but doesn't move his hand.

"I'm listening."

"What about Jason?"

Mention his own crisis of faith? Yes? No. "I saw him the past couple of nights. We... we managed to work together, a little, and we talked."

"Really? That's *good*," Dick says, and sits up on his elbows.

Tim sits up, too --

"I was a little worried that those bruises of yours were his fault --"

"Ah, well, they are. Sometimes he seems to like to talk with his fists," Tim says, and, "I wonder if maybe that isn't a little familiar...?"

Dick is frowning, but there's a light behind his eyes. "Kind of... always, actually. Real little brawler... not so little, anymore, I guess."

"Really not. I kind of just wanted to be with someone, tonight, who'd known him before..." Tim waves a hand. "All of this."

Dick pushes past a fold of the cape and strokes Tim's upper arm. The break. "Bruce isn't being that helpful about the issue, hunh."

It's not a question, and... Tim doesn't *have* to treat it as one, but. But. "I haven't really tried to broach the subject with him... in that way. It's a part of him I can't really touch, and I don't think I have the right to try, beyond keeping him informed about Jason's attempts to reach out."

"And *your* attempts to reach back," Dick says, and lets him go again. "I guess I can see how you might need to relax a little, but... how are *you*?"

Tim looks at his hands, and takes his gauntlets out from between the belt and the suit. "I like him a lot. And that doesn't surprise me."

"Don't... don't ever forget that he's dangerous. No matter how great it would be if he just came back to us."

I want him to touch me again. I want to watch his face when he does it -- "He's left me with reminders, Dick, but I appreciate what you're saying," Tim says, and puts his gauntlets back on.

"Hey, you... really don't have to go."

He does. He wants to be some variety of home, and --

Tim realizes, abruptly, that if, after *this*, he has to watch Dick pretend to be someone he's not around his own team... it would make him more than a little sick.

"You know, Dick, I really... I like the person I'm becoming, and I like being that person around people I love and respect," Tim says, and tries to *will* it -- all of it -- into Dick's brain --

"The Outsiders aren't the Titans."

"They're not everything they can be, either," Tim says, and flips his lenses back down. "And you know it."

Dick lets himself fall back down to the bed and covers his face again. "I think I would've preferred it if you and Roy had just spent time talking about *fucking* me."

It might be for the best that Dick can't see the smile on his face. "Maybe next time --"

"Oh, hell."

"-- we'll narrow our focus."

Dick coughs, snorts, and -- "Does this mean you're going to be getting a little friendlier with your own team?"

"Oh, as much as possible," Tim says --

Dick laughs, shocked again but also a little more *easily* --

"You -- used to -- set an excellent example," and Tim moves toward the door.

"Jesus -- *ouch*, little brother," Dick says, and sits up again. "Things *changed*. Nightwing had to change, too. You know that."

Tim pauses with his hand on the door. "It's your life."

"That, too. Tim --"

Tim looks back over his shoulder. "There's a middle ground. For everything. I'm still looking for it, and I know I'm going to keep *missing* it, but... at least I'm having a little fun while I'm about it, Dick. You taught me that, and you weren't wrong."

Dick moves off the bed and comes close. He doesn't hug Tim, again, but the potential's there. He looks -- beautiful, of course.

But conflicted, too. "Will you at least think about what I've said?"

"I'm not going to be able to *stop* thinking about some of the things you've said, Tim," and he strokes Tim's bruised cheek with his knuckles. "But I... I will, yeah. I already know I owe these guys a lot more than I'm giving them, but the habits were already there..." Dick laughs, softly, and moves his hand back down to his side. "It seemed like a good idea at the time?"

"Mm. Just remember that part of the reason why YJ wasn't able to be the support the Titans needed was that *I* was treating my team much the same way you're treating yours."

"And now that you're feeling frisky, you're going to start remaking the world one vigilante at a time, kiddo?"

"You can get a lot done during the afterglow if you manage your time properly."

"Heh, right, okay, *anything* you say," Dick says, cupping his shoulders and moving his face close to Tim's ear. "I love you, and if you keep growing up this fast I'm going to have Clark put you in stasis."

Tim smiles. "I suppose that's one way to keep Robins appropriately-aged. Old timer."

Dick laughs again and gives Tim a push toward the door. "Go. And try not to have sex with too many more members of *my* teams."

"No promises," Tim says, and walks out the door. There's --

Even letting himself think the words 'there's a lot I didn't say' is an understatement worthy of a beating, but... it's already too much that Barbara and Bruce know exactly what he's been doing. It's already too *suspicious*, and, while he doesn't want to stop living this way -- stop *living* -- he also doesn't want to force his family to start thinking too closely about him.

There's a line he has to walk, and part of it is giving himself to Dick one small piece at a time, and giving *Dick* time...

There's only so far he'll be able to take, 'I was sexually repressed, and now I'm all better. The relaxation comes from all of the orgasms. Mm, orgasms.' Tim laughs to himself and pauses outside Roy's door. It's open a crack, music is playing... and Roy is snoring.

Tim keeps moving. The door to the control room is also open a little bit, and Grace is there. She's working through a bowl of fruit and scanning the feeds from the security cameras, one of which is showing him.

"Had enough of us, Mr. Robin?"

"Hardly, but... it's time for me to go back to Gotham."

"Uh, *huh*," she says. "I don't suppose you infected Fearless Leader with a little of that polite...?"

"I did my best to give him my cooties, but only time will tell if it worked, Ms. Choi."

She snorts and tosses him a banana. "Eat something. *Grow*. And tell your team I said hey," she says, and turns back to the monitors.

Tim nods at her and goes, eating the banana on his way back to his bike and tucking the peel in an evidence bag.

The roads are disconcertingly full of people on their way to work, but the bike is as maneuverable as it can be, and most of the people who see him won't *believe* it. He still feels the wrong kind of exposed, and it still takes nearly two hours to get to the Bristol exit.

It's a breath-stealing relief to get back to the Cave, even though it's anything but the first time he's been this late. Home, of a sort, and Tim strips off immediately, sparing a glance to see that Bruce is working silently and unassailably -- and still suited up. 

Tim considers interrupting, but... he needs a shower, and he needs rest. He could *use* a conversation with Bruce, but they do live together. Perhaps Bruce will use Tim's inevitable breakfast distraction to interrogate him in that chill, familiar way.

Tim smiles to himself and scrubs himself down, checks -- Bruce is still at the console -- puts on a robe, and heads upstairs.

Once there... well, he has a choice. Undoubtedly, the sheets are turned down on both of their beds, and Alfred has even begun allowing Tim to sleep with the curtains drawn. Additionally, Tim's nice, comfortable pajamas are in his bedroom, and...

Rest is important, and a very useful thing.


He really doesn't want Bruce to get the wrong idea. It could be -- *would* be -- rather tragic. Tim pushes into Bruce's bedroom and takes off the robe, using it to dry his hair a little more before crawling into the side of the bed nearest the door.

Sleep hits him like a beautiful young woman with a well-padded brick.


Tim dreams of darkness and sleek, black hands clutching at him. He's falling from some great height, but the hands won't let him reach terminal velocity. So long as he doesn't try to twist very far away from them, he's safe, and --


Tim turns over and opens his eyes to the sight of Bruce standing over him. Bruce's hair is still damp from one shower or another, and he'd taken the time to put on a pair of pajama bottoms. A message.


"Should I ask you if you had a bad dream. Son."

Oh, that's... heh. "I suppose we *could* play it that way, but I have to say that I've already grown quite accustomed to the old, familiar nightmares I have about you. Dad."

There seem to be two different frowns on Bruce's face -- the one tugging on his mouth and the one behind his eyes. Both of them have very much to do with *Tim*, and... both of them need to go.


"Tim, you're not -- I don't know what you want."

He isn't what Bruce thought he'd be? He isn't playing fair? Tim sits up and plants his feet on the floor --

Bruce takes a step back and gives Tim *room*. But he doesn't resist when Tim grabs the belt on his robe and pulls.

"I was thinking about you earlier, Bruce."


Tim shakes his head and -- considers. If he stands up, he can be much closer to Bruce than he is at present. It's just that he'd also have left the bed, and that... messages are *important*. Tim lets go of the robe and grabs Bruce's hips, instead, and now there's some resistance. Some.

Bruce is watching him very, very closely, and... he wants an explanation? Maybe?

"Would you like to know what I was thinking?"

"Tim," Bruce says, low and rough -- his hands are at his sides, and are the kind of still which speaks far more of potential than of calm. Tim lets go of Bruce's hips and pushes the backs of his hands against Bruce's palms, instead --

He doesn't grip, not even when Tim slides his wrists between Bruce's thumbs and forefingers. "I was thinking," Tim says, "about the possibilities inherent to the two of us taking things more slowly --"

Bruce tenses, and Tim... realizes that there were other potential messages in what he had just said.

"By which I mean -- we could take our *time*, with this."

Nothing -- no, not nothing. Bruce exhales, and if Tim didn't know the man he would say that it seemed perfectly calm, that Bruce was simply still waiting for Tim to say something worth responding to. But.

Tim strokes his way up Bruce's forearms, pushing against the natural grain of Bruce's hair, pausing and enumerating old scars until he reaches the insides of Bruce's elbows. Here, even on Bruce, the skin is softer, and some variety of blameless. "Would you like that? Because I... was thinking that you would."

Bruce's arms tense, flex -- slightly, and Tim strokes back down to acknowledge the motion, to -- *inform* Bruce, with his body, that it was something Tim appreciated.

There's a level of care necessary for this which Tim hadn't really expected from Bruce, but he realizes now that he really should have. It was never only *his* fears which stopped this from happening. Tim's fears were merely the ones easiest to *see*.

It has been a long time since Bruce has taken -- a lover.

Tim squeezes Bruce's forearms and shifts, enough that the shadows hide his face --

"Tim," Bruce says, a little louder this time, a little more -- sure. He doesn't want Robin here -- at least not Tim's kind of Robin.

Tim shifts back and stands up, careful to keep the backs of his legs touching the mattress, and then he strokes his way up Bruce's arms to his shoulders before wrapping his arms around Bruce's neck. "You could consider trusting my body --"

"You're being very -- conscious. Careful," Bruce says, and that means... what?

Is Tim being too careful, too *measured* to be trusted?

Bruce frowns again -- he didn't want to give up that particular piece of information, which means that he doesn't really want Tim to know how conscious *he* is, or how much he -- hopes.

Tim lets all of the smile surface -- behind his eyes. "Because I know exactly what I want to say," he says, and waits --

And Bruce closes his eyes and wraps his arms around Tim, stroking Tim's back and tugging just enough to make it necessary -- perhaps even imperative -- for Tim to press his body against Bruce's own.

"Feel me."

"I do. I *am*," Bruce says, blowing out a breath and squeezing Tim's hips -- very hard.

Tim shifts to get a more comfortable angle and presses his face against Bruce's chest --

"No. Let me --"

"See my face? All right," and Tim pulls back and looks up. Bruce's eyes are open once more, *intent* on the search. It seems impossible that he can't see the truth, know it by everything Tim's showing and everything he's not.

He sees *something*, that much is clear, but Tim knows -- with all of himself -- that he has done a very *good* job of confusing the issue. It's entirely possible that Bruce is wondering, right now, how many of his doubts would fade if Tim were merely more... constant.

"You're my partner, Bruce," Tim says, and shifts again to encourage Bruce to go back to stroking him, learning everything about him Tim's skin can teach.

"And your other lovers?"

"Friends. Allies. Family -- I'm not sure I would use the word 'lovers.'"

Bruce's hands pause on Tim's obliques, cupping him there for a moment --

And then Bruce shoves Tim back down onto the bed and gives Tim just enough time to get all of himself *on* before he's covering Tim, shrugging off his robe. Tim takes the opportunity to cup the back of Bruce's head --

"You're not sure."

"No, I'm not," Tim says, and teases his fingertips with the damp, cool feel of Bruce's scalp, with the warmth and massive *fact* of Bruce's shoulder --

"You could become... sure, at any time," he says, and cups Tim's bruised cheek, strokes it with his thumb --

At some point, perhaps, he'll be able to tell Jason just how helpful that pistol-whipping had ultimately been... "I'm sure about this," Tim says, arching up against Bruce's weight until he can spread his legs, pull his knees up a little --

Bruce rolls off, and to the side. Not *far*, but --

"Bruce --"

"Humor me," he says, wry and inner-directed. He leans in, and the kiss is quite gentle, if not, precisely, cautious.

They've crossed a line, and if Tim isn't entirely sure where that line *was*, or what he had done or said to encourage Bruce's decision...

There will be time to study that, to test and push and *know*, one moment at a time.

One kiss.

Tim nuzzles into it, warming inside at the feel of Bruce's fingers testing the edges of the bruise, teasing it, teasing *him* -- hmm.

"Would you have preferred it if I'd had sex with Jason again, tonight...?"

Bruce bites his lower lip and pulls *back* --

"Don't *do* that --"

"Then please stop stating the obvious," Bruce says, and touches Tim's mouth -- no, he's testing it. The level of swelling, the amount of healing.

"There's something to be said for simply enjoying the way certain words sound when spoken aloud, Bruce."

Bruce pauses, and then strokes down Tim's chest, his abdomen -- he skirts past Tim's penis to stroke the bowl of Tim's hip, instead, beyond and between. The feel of Bruce's fingers on his sac is absolutely a threat, but, when coupled with the expression on his face --

Still so *wry* --

"I believe we have a difference of opinion," Bruce says, and squeezes. Lightly.

"Ah -- oh?"

"I think it's clear, now, that you take far more pleasure in speaking certain varieties of the truth than I do, Tim."

Well. That... "It occurred to me, recently, that *not* saying them didn't make them any less true, Bruce. And I think I would rather enjoy you telling me *exactly* what you'd like me to do with Jason --"

"Make love to him," Bruce says, pushing back until his fingers are teasing Tim's cleft while he's still cupping Tim's sac --

"Bruce --"

"Never -- never lie to him, never hide the truth, never treat him as though this were all some *game*," and it's a *rough* tease of Tim's hole. Tim isn't sweating and Bruce's fingers are neither wet nor slick, and, abruptly, it's one of the world's tragedies that Tim can't wrap his legs around Bruce when they're in this position.

He shifts --


He *tries* to shift, and stops trying when Bruce kisses him again, still so softly and still so -- serious. And Tim gets it -- he'd be an idiot not to get it. This is...

He's asked for too much and demanded not *enough*, and while Bruce is, to some extent, willing to follow where he leads...

"Lover," Tim says when Bruce stops kissing him, and seizes inside at the way Bruce stiffens. He's hard for this, and he can feel that empty space inside of himself, that sweet empty *space* --

He can feel it, the lack where he should be filled with fear -- *terror* -- at the hunger in Bruce's eyes, at the way he can't seem to either stop touching him or stop touching him with *care*, even as he makes the sensitive skin around Tim's hole almost *burn*. 

He'd prefer it --

Tim *thinks* he would prefer it harder, to risk being bruised or cut or just *marked* again, but --

That's not what Bruce wants -- needs.

And, right now, he needs *Bruce*. Tim wraps one arm around the back of Bruce's neck and turns toward him --

"Show me," Tim says, and this time the kiss starts out hard and demanding, and stays that way until Tim makes a sound --

And then Bruce groans and rolls back onto him. Not all the way -- he's only pinning one of Tim's legs -- but... purposeful. *Warm*, and Tim feels his skin prickling, feels himself getting harder --

How long had it *been* since Bruce could do this? Had Jason ever *let* him? There's something of an identity *skip*, here, a sort of body music that's a little jagged, treacherous when Bruce starts licking the inside of his mouth thoroughly.

He's being tasted, yes, and that's not precisely *new*, anymore, but it's Bruce, and so it's much more... *more*. It's everything Batman *isn't*, and perhaps he should've thought of that *before* he got into *Bruce's* bed.

He *hadn't* asked for this in the Cave, and so part of Bruce's hesitation had to have been about the perceived *tease*. Messages are very, very important, if rapidly becoming less so with every time Bruce circles his hole and presses -- not in.

Tim's already working his hips for it, and Bruce's kisses slow down, become wetter, softer, less deniable --

Lover, Tim thinks, and gasps when those kisses move to the bruise on his cheek, when Bruce's tongue seems to find every place where Jason's knuckles had dug deep, if not the slash of the gun barrel -- dangerous.

Very -- he could say anything, right now, anything false or anything true, and there'd be no way to keep it in -- he *can't* make himself let go of Bruce and -- he's clutching the duvet. That, at least --

But when he moves that hand, Bruce catches it and pushes it back against the bed, gentle and *firm* --

"Let me," Bruce says, and it would be so much easier if it was an order. It's not. It's -- it's almost a *plea*, and Bruce licks his way to Tim's ear, breathes and kisses, nips the lobe --

It takes much, much too long to realize that Bruce is no longer teasing his hole, and Tim hears himself growl --

Bruce *bites* the lobe, and then licks into Tim's ear -- "A part of me is only curious."

Tim pants -- stops. "About -- what?"

"How long you'll tolerate this from me. How far you're willing to go."

I'm not afraid of you, Bruce -- no. I'm not afraid of this -- *no*. "A part of me is curious about how far you'll take this... with me."

Bruce sighs and kisses Tim's ear once, twice, squeezes the hand he's holding against the bed -- "It shouldn't be a relief that you still don't know me, Tim."

That -- Tim squeezes his eyes shut and *fights* against the urge to move, to push, to push *this* in an easier direction --

"Don't hold *back* from me --"

Tim can't classify the sound he makes. It's too raw for that, too sharp and much too high -- "Kiss me again. You --"

"Yes," Bruce says, and drags his lips over Tim's ear, Tim's cheek, and this time the kiss is so *sweet* that every arrhythmic stab of his tongue feels like a betrayal, or maybe just something more prosaic. Nothing is touching Tim's penis, right now, and it's possible he won't *need* to have it touched.

That would be another kind of betrayal, he thinks, he -- he *knows*, and so does Bruce. Tim would've *given* Bruce his control, but to have him just take it like this --

And take it like *this* --

Tim rears up and bites Bruce's tongue, holding it between his teeth until Bruce squeezes his hand again, and Tim can be sure he's gotten the message --

"Would you tell me --"

"You *know* what the -- the *problem* is, Bruce," Tim says, and tries to get a handle on his breathing, on his pulse, on anything --

Bruce hums and shifts, changing the pin on Tim's legs to something more -- comfortable.

And less escapable. Tim wants to laugh, but he's in no position to cover his *face* -- no. He doesn't have to. He lets the laugh out, a little, and bangs his head against the bed.

Bruce starts to roll away --

Tim tightens the hold he has on the back of his neck. "No. Not that."

Bruce shifts his hold to Tim's wrist. "Tell me."

How to say it when he isn't even sure he has the words for how he *feels*? "I -- I'm *here*."

"At the moment," Bruce says, and releases Tim's wrist entirely. For a moment his hand hovers over Tim's abdomen --

But Tim still has to push *up* to get the touch he wants. And -- all right. "I'm home."

"Are you." Bruce has, of course, found a handy shadow to hide his features.

"Not that, *either*, Bruce," and it's somewhat ridiculous to try to haul Bruce back -- certainly with this *profound* lack of leverage -- but it's still necessary.

"You've never been so... physical, with me."

"Or anyone," Tim says. "I've turned over a new leaf, and -- I'm as home as I'm ever likely to be."

For a moment, Bruce looks only at the hand he has splayed over Tim's abdomen, but when he does shift his gaze -- he moves out of the shadow. The expression on his face is both solemn and hungry, but the hunger aspects are muted under something...

Something Tim can't quite name. "Bruce --"

"I want more than that for you. And I want you to know me well enough to believe that."

He *does* know that, and believe it, but -- "You don't just want it for *me*," he says, and covers Bruce's hand, pushes on it --

"No, I don't," Bruce says, and allows himself to be pushed. "I want -- I need," he says, and the feel of his hand closing around Tim's penis is so good, so *much* --

Nothing else matters, and the urge to live in that feeling -- *revel* in that feeling -- is much, much stronger than is remotely practical, given... everything. "*I* need your pleasure," Tim says, and wonders if it sounds too easy, too casual -- "I don't know how to say it."

"Keep trying," Bruce says, and presses his thumb against the head --

"Ah. It's no good if you're not... if it's not what you want, if I can't just -- Bruce --"

"More," and Bruce shrugs free of Tim's other arm and uses his thigh to push Tim's legs further apart, strokes --

"That moment. That -- *moment*, when we're together, when we want the same things, feel the same --"


Tim nods, anything, anything -- he covers Bruce's hand with both of his own, strokes over the knuckles, tries -- not very hard -- to push his fingers between Bruce's own. "I just want -- I'm *tired* of being alone. Even -- oh God, Bruce, even in my own head --"

"We're all alone, Tim --"

"*Fuck* you. Kiss me again, and just -- don't stop kissing me. Teach me how to be alone if you want, let me show *you* why it doesn't have to be that way --"

And the kiss is still so soft, but Tim thinks he can take it, now -- even though he doesn't want to stop talking, stop being -- honest.

That's what Bruce wants, and maybe it *wasn't* enough that he was telling the truth with his body -- maybe it couldn't be for someone like Bruce. Like -- would he have tolerated his own behavior?

An excellent question, and a funny one, but there's no way in hell he's going to laugh again *now*. Bruce is stroking him so perfectly, just as if he'd oh, say, watched every *minute* of his afternoon with Barbara --

He doesn't want to *laugh*, and he fights it down, fights it *back*. This is still deadly serious for Bruce, even though Tim knows that the man *is* capable of playing. Not right now, not right here --

Not in *this* bed?

Bruce won't quite let Tim catch his tongue, and, again, there's no rhythm to the stab of it, the slide and insinuation. It feels wonderful to moan for that, better in some ways than it feels to thrust up into Bruce's fist. *This* is what he wants, this particular moment in which both of them are a part of the... love being made.

"Bruce," he says, and he meant it to be only another moan into Bruce's mouth, but Bruce is kissing all over Tim's face, now, licking the thin skin beneath Tim's eyes -- "A -- a new mask?"

"You are never without it," Bruce says, and there's some measure of actual anger there, but...

It's just that it isn't the only thing, and Tim wonders between gasps, between moments of raw *yes* --

Will 'lover' be under everything Bruce says to him now? Everything he does, everything he *thinks* loudly enough that Tim can't help but feel it --

"D-dangerous. Bruce --"

"It could never be anything else," he says, and this kiss seems designed to make Tim forget -- everything. The need to kiss back, to *take* back, to breathe --

He's breathing in sharp gasps now, through his nose. He's *bucking* his hips and groaning, needing --

"Show me, Tim."

Oh --

'Yes' isn't a thought, and it's nowhere near a word. It's the feeling, and the unique and wonderful pleasure -- the perfection of knowing that he's just that close, followed by the perfection of *being* there, arched and yelling, losing everything and spilling himself empty --


Pure? Tim laughs and beats his fist against the duvet, lightly. "Bruce, I..."

Bruce licks Tim's throat -- no.

Bruce presses the tip of his tongue into Tim's suprasternal notch, presses *hard*, and *then* licks Tim's throat. Very -- very good of him to do it several times, because it would've been amazingly difficult to parse -- "I was going to say... something."

"You taste nothing like Jason. Even your sweat..."

Commentary? Scold? Request? There are a dozen things Tim could *say* to that, but Tim can see the flush on Bruce's face, feel the slight tremor in his shoulders -- Tim squeezes Bruce's shoulders and tugs --

"I'm not. Done."

Just -- *thrill*, moreso because he *knows* that would've been a moment of fear, if not, necessarily terror. Bruce had been, to this point, nearly entirely in *control*. Now... "By all means, Bruce. *Finish*."

"Not that. Never that," he says, and kisses Tim over his carotid, and then over his jugular --

"Then I -- *oh* --"

The bite is as hard as anything Tim could ask for -- harder, perhaps. *More*. That's going to leave a mark anyone could ask about, tease him for, tease him *with* --

"God, Bruce --"

"You -- have the power to stop me."

"I *know* that, but -- ow, Jesus, don't *stop* -- fuck --"

Bruce growls and covers him, sliding his arms under Tim's shoulders and gripping before he bites his way down Tim's chest, avoiding his nipples --

*Not* avoiding -- "*Bruce* --"

"Wait," he says, and licks the bite, breathes on it --

"Oh, that's -- that's good --"

"You're more sensitive here than Jason. More... my apologies," he says, and *sucks* Tim's nipple, and it's a bolt to the spine, to the base of his penis, the base of the *erection* that's coming back much too fast, much too *hard*.

Tim kicks, shakes his head --

Bruce licks his way to Tim's other nipple and -- doesn't bite.

Doesn't --

Not anything, not... he's just waiting there, breathing hard. He's up on his knees, but it's more than that. He's holding his own erection *away* from Tim and he's --

Shaking again.

Tim takes his first deep breath in what feels like several months, and pushes his hands into Bruce's short hair. Just -- strokes Bruce, scratches his scalp a little. "Bruce," he says, and if they were different people he could say something about how it's okay, how it's all fine, but --

They are who they are, and the moment spools itself out like wire, something conductive and potentially deadly.

"Bruce," he says again. "Do it."

And Tim strokes down to the back of Bruce's neck just in time to feel the tension *release* before Bruce is moving on him again, licking his nipple with the flat of his tongue again, again --

Tim feels *himself* tensing --

And then Bruce is biting him again, scraping his teeth against Tim's skin, sucking, *holding* flesh between his teeth and licking almost -- almost --

There's nothing he can say to this, and nothing he can do beyond urging Bruce *on*. This is what he'd always expected of the *Bat*, and maybe that's what he's getting -- no.

It's not. It's Bruce, and the fact that he knows Tim can't take *enough* of his desire to be gentle, his urge to caress, hold on -- *damn* -- "I want it. I want -- I want *you* --"

"I'm here," Bruce says, pulling back, kneeling up --

And flipping Tim over onto his stomach.

He doesn't *quite* bounce --

The first bite on the back of his neck stops him *hard* and -- increases awareness. He'd already been pushing up onto his hands and knees, his mouth is open and his eyes are closed. Just... "It's not that it's painful. That's not -- ah. That's not the *whole* of the appeal --"

"You shouldn't think I'm not listening," Bruce says, and bites him *again*, same spot --

"Passion. I -- the word makes me *blush*, but --"

"You can feel me," he says, and breathes against the bite mark --

Tim tenses --

Bruce licks, wet and -- and *wet*, and Tim collapses down onto his elbows and decides to stay there. *Right* there, braced for the feel of Bruce's hands on his sides, for the feel of himself being held still for every bite, every scrape, every moment of realized desire, physical communication.

"Yes, Bruce -- *yes* --"

"Jason. Preferred this, too," Bruce says, and moves, pulls Tim's legs out straight --

"Oh fuck --"

Bites on his thighs now, the back and sides, inside moving up fast and *ruler* straight, he can feel it, he can --

Tim thrusts hard against the bed, and does it again before he can stop himself, before he can think about whether he *wants* to stop himself --

"*Your* pleasure," Bruce says, and, "your excitement --"

"I'm here, I'm *here* --"

"Lover," Bruce says, dark and sweet and so quiet, so low and so *sweet*, and Bruce pushes Tim up on his knees again, sucks on his sac, sucks it into his mouth and teases with his tongue --

Sucks *hard*, and for some strange reason the pain is in Tim's hands. He can't -- he can't figure it *out* --

And then he realizes that he's clenching his fists, and that he can't stop himself. Can't --

"Oh," and it comes out long. He can't stop making the sound until he's out of air. Bruce's tongue in his cleft again, doing *that* again, he doesn't have *air*.

Tim sobs, and does it again when Bruce *stops*. "*Please* --"

"*When* Clark makes love to you. When you *let* him..."

"Bruce, *please* --"

"I *need* you, Tim," and Bruce's hands are on his hips and Bruce's tongue is *inside* him, wetting him and fucking him. Tim needs to be open and he needs to feel every millimeter, needs to clench around this and just --

Please --

The warmth -- waves of it pulsing through him, moving everything around inside of him, shifting the definition of himself --

The pain in Tim's palms is his only touchstone, something harsh and real to hold onto against this fantasy of pleasure, this perfection which has no right to exist the way it does, the way Bruce is making it. He might be begging now, but he can't care, not even to approve of the message it sends.

Bruce wants him *this* way, and the only possible response to that is to be it. To live in it and cry out loud --

And shake, all over, when Bruce groans against him. *Into* him. He wants to be *fucked*, if only because it can't possibly be as good as this -- "*Please*," and he's wet, clenching, Bruce isn't *there* --

"Touch yourself, Tim."

"P -- please. Inside me. Inside -- *ah*." That has to be Bruce's thumb. The pressure is too much, too *specific* for a finger, and the burn heats every part of him which is still thrumming --

"Please. Stroke yourself, squeeze -- *show* me."

"I -- I --" Tim braces himself on one elbow and *wrenches* his arm back and down. He can't make his fist unclench. He -- "Help me --"

Bruce groans and lets go of Tim's hip, reaches between Tim's legs for his hand, and --

For a moment they're fumbling at each other, *with* each other -- "Bruce, get me open, make me -- ah *fuck*." The touch of his own hand is almost nightmarishly intense, his body having apparently decided to just *forget* that he'd just had an orgasm.

Tim strokes himself because he *has* to, and it feels like a cheat, something to apologize for -- white flare and he's blind with it, deaf to everything but the pound of his heart. Bruce is licking around his own thumb, slipping in beside it --

The rhythm catches him, making him move into it, snapping his hips because his body knows Bruce can take it, that Bruce wants it, that anything Bruce wants must be *good*. He thinks he'd do anything for this, including tell the truth, and so he's grateful for every scream which comes out wordless and desperate.

It's the honesty he can *have*, and the only power he can take over himself --

It's the feel of himself on his knees and one elbow, doing something which doesn't seem to need Barbara to make it great, vast with meaning and pleasure, pleasure --

It's Bruce, one hand on his cheek and the other *penetrating* him as Bruce holds him open. As he licks, teases, *fucks* --

"I want -- oh, I want, I want, please, don't -- I can't be *alone*."

And Bruce shoves in *hard* with his thumb, groans against Tim's hole --

Pulls back, and Tim hears himself sobbing again, and he can't stop even when he realizes Bruce is just moving them, getting Tim on his back again --

Tim can't stop stroking himself --

"Open your -- open your eyes. Tim," Bruce says, and --

He's stroking himself. He's rock hard, penis dark with blood and sac looking tight and almost painful  -- he's *stroking* himself, and Tim's hand shakes on his own penis, he shakes his head -- no. He can't look *away*.

"Beautiful boy. Beautiful -- don't stop, Tim --"

Fuck, fuck -- *yes*. "Come on me. Please."

Bruce pants, squeezes himself -- squeezes himself *hard*, and it's almost too much to watch. Impossible not to think of Bruce doing just this with Jason some time when he was too hard or too close to fuck him. Impossible not to think of him doing this when Dick was just too beautiful, just too perfect to even dream of touching.

"Bruce, you're..." Tim shakes his head again. "I don't -- I can't --"


Tim bites his lip for the feeling -- and does it again when Bruce groans and starts stroking himself faster. Tim pushes up on his free arm -- and falls right back down again when the shift in position sends a *shock* through him, a pulse. He's leaking pre-ejaculate steadily, and Bruce is, too.

They are --

They're *together*, even in this, and Tim can't stop himself from smiling up into Bruce's eyes --

And Bruce comes all over Tim's penis and working hand, warm and messy, *dirty* -- "Tim."

He'll be with Bruce in just -- just a *moment*, and now he's a little too slick for this, but it's the kind of frustrating he can *live* with. God, Bruce had even gotten his thighs, his abdomen -- "I haven't even -- I -- I haven't *had* this fantasy," Tim says, and laughing makes it worse, better --

He's close enough to *feel* the orgasm he's not having, only he's also miles *away*.

"God, Bruce, I don't -- I don't think I can --"

"*Down*," Bruce says, and Tim doesn't say Dick's name, doesn't *laugh* again --

Down is good, flat on his back --

And Bruce goes down on him, yanks Tim's hand away, *swallows* --

Tim's eyes roll back in his head --

Tim *shakes* --

Every swallow feels like an order, every --

Everything is dark and *hot*, everything he is -- he's *consumed*, and Bruce's tongue doesn't stop pushing against him, working against him. He's -- it's --

For an empty (it would be terrifying, it *would* --) moment, Tim's sure that his body will just keep him at *this* level, burning all over his skin, nerves screaming and lost in the black --

And then Bruce rakes his short nails down over Tim's hips and everything's gone *including* the black, lost in a white flaring rush that seems to go on and --

On --

That's him *yelling*, but he's still spilling, jerking --

*On* --

Tim feels a thump, and realizes that he's hitting the bed, again, that he'd curled in on himself at least a little -- he can't breathe. He knows how to breathe, he's capable of it, he just --

Tim gasps and shouts again, too *much* --

Bruce pulls off.

"Th -- thank you. Jesus. I. Jason used to make you stay on as long as possible?"

"Yes," Bruce says, and kisses Tim's navel. "I'm no longer remotely surprised that the two of you are sexually compatible."

Tim sighs around his own panting and smiles at the ceiling. "Sometimes gentle just means it's too... deniable."

"I will never deny you," Bruce says, flatly and evenly, before crawling up to lie beside him.

The words are several different varieties of staggeringly true, and the density of meaning is... Tim's not going to normalize his breathing anytime soon. "Noted," Tim says, and slides a hand through the semen on his abdomen --

Bruce catches it and sucks Tim's fingers clean.

"I had plans for that, you know."

"Take it," Bruce says, "from my mouth."

That's entirely acceptable, especially since Bruce lets Tim hold his head still for the... it's not really a kiss.

It's not quite a *sacrament*, but Tim would be lying to himself if he denied that there were some elements of that as he licked Bruce's tongue, his teeth --

Tim closes his eyes against the expression in Bruce's own, or perhaps he means *for* it. The *taste* --

It's a sticky, messy thing they're doing, something which probably couldn't happen in the Cave, in the skins they're supposed to wear a lot more often, perhaps, than they do. "Bruce," Tim says, and means it as an acknowledgment of this, of everything --

"Yes," Bruce says, and turns the act into a kiss. Relief and disappointment, hunger...

There's not enough of this, and perhaps there can't be. Tim checks his internal clock... he'd been asleep for about two hours, and he needs a lot more than that. Bruce hadn't spent the night in Tim's bed the night before -- Tim has a vague memory of a sense of loss, the feel of his back cooling in the seconds before Bruce had covered him.

Tim nuzzles into the kiss a few more times and pulls back --

Bruce squeezes his shoulder and looks a question into him.

"Can -- would you be able to sleep with me here?"

"I would enjoy the attempt," Bruce says, and rolls over and reaches for his drawer -- where there are wipes.

Tim smiles and takes one to clean himself off, a little. Bruce does the same -- and then uses a corner of his wipe on Tim's cheek. He's careful with the bruise, and... this is intimate, and not entirely comfortable for either of them, Tim thinks.

It's just that it's the sort of discomfort that feels very, very good. "We can..." Tim shakes his head.

"What is it?"

"I was about to say something both obvious and inane," Tim says, and shifts to leave a little distance between them. "The mood has... passed."

Bruce's laugh is a hum and an almost scolding look which gets perilously close to pulling a sort of relationship-intensive rank. Tim's honestly not sure which of them *does* have more -- successful -- relationship experience, and it's possible that BASE jumping would be a safer and more practical sort of activity.

"Fine," Tim says, and tucks his smile between the motions he's using to actually get *under* the covers, again. "I was going to say we could shower in the... later morning. Or afternoon. Possibly together in some hideously inefficient manner."

"Ah," Bruce says, and joins him under the covers. "I'm going to have to spend the day at WE. Quite possibly *all* day, considering how little time I've given it lately."

Which means... what? Tim was due to fly out to the Tower in the afternoon. Tim frowns at the ceiling and -- pauses, inside. They're lying side by side in Bruce's bed, shoulders not quite brushing. Cuddle experience with Steph isn't really going to get him where he needs to be for this, but it's not like he wants to take his offer back and slink to his own bedroom *now*.


No, that won't help, either. What happens when either or both of them have a nightmare? Well -- *he* won't. He's been sleeping better than he used to since the days when his only connection was a camera, and he'd honestly believed that was all he needed.

Tim folds his hands on his chest, under the covers --

"Are you thinking about asking Dick to fly you out?"

And there's so much more there than idle wondering, which is paradoxically... comforting. "I don't think I want to give him an excuse to leave his team for even a few hours."

"You don't approve of the way he's been... conducting himself," which is a rather chatty and inviting -- emphasis on the inviting -- way for Bruce to say 'interesting.'

"There are important differences between Nightwing and Batman -- *necessary* differences. The community knows it, the *team* knows it, and I -- I believe it's causing unnecessary friction."

"Mm. I'd had... thoughts along those lines."

Tim nods and turns over onto his stomach, taking for himself the feel of skin sliding against skin, the prickle of short hairs on their arms and legs. He slides his arms under the pillow and rests his head so he can face Bruce. "I'll come up with something."

"And if you expect me to believe that you haven't already done so... hmm," Bruce says, and rests his hand between Tim's shoulder blades. "Is that what you've planned for your next meeting with Clark...?"

He hadn't planned, really, beyond a general sense of 'oh yes,' and 'soon,' but... it's not a bad idea. "Having Kid Flash run me there would cause a little too much strain," Tim says, and closes his eyes. "Though I suppose it wouldn't be too much for... Superboy."

*Pressure* between his shoulder blades, and a very, very loud silence. Tim pushes up against Bruce's palm, rocks himself against it -- lays back down. After some exhaustion-fuzzed length of time during which Tim wonders what it would say about him if he could fall asleep under *this* level of Bruce regard...

Bruce lets up, and lays back down beside him. Tim lets out a sigh and slides one hand out from under the pillow to rest on Bruce's upper arm.

"Sleep well," Tim says, and lets himself drift on the sound of Bruce's distinctly non-committal grunt.


He eats breakfast -- lunch -- alone, and proves to himself that it's no less surreal for a lack of Bruce. For one thing, lunch is made up of four small courses. For another, it's served in the *main* dining room. This may or may not be a punishment -- Tim might have to lobotomize himself if he spends too much time wondering if it's a reward -- and Alfred drops no less than three subtle hints about how Tim might consider spending the rest of his day in the offices of a company which may -- may -- have the initials WE.

If he didn't *need* secrecy, he would be spending his time in the Cave running down absolutely everything there is to know about Owen T. Em. The fact that he's felt, thus far, no sign of the drug wearing off honestly just makes him a little bit more -- stressed.

If it wears off all at once, he would probably be nearly paralyzed, and unable to take care of all of the little things which would lead him to Crane's main supply. He needs to have a booster shot of the stuff in *reserve*, and he just can't trust either the Cave's computers or Oracle's. He can't leave *tracks*, not for this, and...

He'd never really considered the idea that he might need to hide any part of his systems from Oracle. Or -- well, that's not entirely true. It's just that he'd never found a way to do it which wouldn't immediately pique her *interest* in what he was doing, and thus defeat the whole purpose. Cyborg's systems are almost certainly less safe than his own --

But Cyborg is *under* Oracle's radar, or should be. Tim will just have to keep waiting -- and not do anything suspicious like trying to find a way to head out to San Francisco early.

Instead, he leaves a report about the families with missing children on Bruce's system, and then works out for a solid two hours. By the time he's showered and dressed again, Alfred is waiting for him with his driving cap in *hand*, and Tim gives up.

He winds up being right in time to sit in -- quietly -- on a meeting with Lucius Fox and a handful of the major stockholders about plans for WE's potential expansion, and... it all becomes clear.

Bruce -- really could've said something.

On the other hand, Bruce is undoubtedly the only one here -- including Tim himself -- who is expending any amount of thought about the fact that there may be emotional consequences to WE bailing out the foundering Drake Industries. Of course, Bruce can't really...

"Well, I just don't know, fellows," Bruce Wayne says, a frown creasing his forehead. "What do *you* think about this, Timmy?"

His father had managed -- barely -- to keep them all afloat *and* keep fifty-one percent of the stock. Along with the five percent which has been in Tim's name since his birth, it's not entirely bizarre that he's here to listen to this. It's just that the last quarterly report had been quite grim, and without *someone's* -- liquid -- assets to shore things up...

"It's my understanding," Tim says, and tries to decide exactly how competent he *should* look -- He takes a breath, and meets everyone's eyes in turn, holding back the inevitable flinch at the careful blankness in Bruce's own. "My father's primary concern would have been for his employees. At this rate, without help, there will have to be layoffs by next spring."

"Oh, I *hate* layoffs," Bruce says, and manages to shuffle the papers in front of him into a sprawling mess. "Lucius, surely there's something we can do?"

"Ah, actually Mr. Wayne..."

Bruce blinks at the man to his left -- Reed Winston Chapel, best known to *Tim* as one of the people who'd held WE stock for Luthor in that attempted takeover during No Man's Land.

"You had something to say, Reed?"

"Well -- ah. The plan was -- if you'd just look at those blue-bordered sheets we gave you earlier..."

Bruce immediately shuffles through the pile and picks up a sheet with an orange border. "Yes, I'm listening, Chappie."

"Er. Yes. If we *do* move forward with the plan to bring DI into the WE family, there'd have to be some streamlining. Getting rid of redundancies. You understand," Chapel says, nodding and smiling.

"Family. I *like* that word," Bruce says. "Tim and I are family now, you know, Chappie."

"Yes, yes of course. But we shouldn't be precipitous, Mr. Wayne. There's a lot of fat around the edges of DI, that's what got them in trouble," he says, and nods at Tim. "I think we can all agree that the best thing to do with fat is to *trim* it," he says, making a little pair of scissors out of his hand and smiling hopefully.

Bruce frowns again.

Chapel -- and the two men opposite him shift in their chairs. Lucius Fox appears to be studying the molding in the conference room. Tim presses his tongue against the backs of his teeth and crosses his legs.


That was -- almost -- the real Bruce. Tim raises an eyebrow and nods fractionally. "Of course, it's been some time since I've been able to tour the facilities, myself --"

"And *no* one would expect you to do more in your time of *grief*," Chapel says. "I mean, am I right?"

Chapel's friends nod vigorously. Bruce seems to be paying attention to nothing save... his adopted son.

"DI has been running with the bare minimum amount of resources -- human and otherwise -- for the past two years," Tim says, standing and taking a handful of the blue-bordered sheets from Bruce before pacing the room, a little.

He doesn't have to study them -- he knows what sort of plan *he'd* devise in Chapel's position -- but appearances, messages, etc.

And when Tim judges that it would be the right time to frown...

"Did you find something, Mr. Drake?"

Momentarily surprising that it's Lucius, but *only* momentarily. He had to have been playing games like this with Bruce since before there was a Batman. Tim looks up and taps the papers against his hand. "Well, Bruce is my legal guardian, and of course I trust him to take care of the day to day decisions until I'm of age..."

Everyone nods, though Chapel is starting to sweat. He's been on the other side of this game, too.

"It's just that if you go through with these plans to cut back the DI workforce --"

"Fat trimming! That's all! Some of these people have been pulling paychecks for fifteen years or more --"

"Reed. Chappie. Timmy's talking now," Bruce says, and pats his hand.

"There's no way the remaining staff would be able to meet their production goals -- which have already been scaled back much further than the markets could handle," Tim says, and decides to stand directly behind Chapel. Not *too* close, but. "DI would... is the technical term 'crash and burn?'"

Bruce frowns again, tapping one finger against his lips. "Well, that doesn't sound like much of a plan. The stock would wind up worthless."

"Ah. There would be... well, it would be quite a bargain. For us. That is," Chapel says, not quite hunching in on himself.

"Certainly," Tim says, "Wayne Enterprises could handle the expansion quite neatly. At my expense."

In the ensuing silence, Tim indulges himself in watching two distinct beads of sweat rolling down the back of Chapel's neck until they soak into his collar. Practically on cue, Lucius stands and gathers the blue-bordered reports from around the table and stacks them in front of Chapel. "Try again, Reed. Perhaps your next proposal will be somewhat closer to what WE actually stands for."

"Hm. Understood, Lucius," Chapel says, and stands. His minions stand with him, and Tim makes a note to learn their names. "Mr. Wayne," and Chapel nods at Bruce.

Bruce seems to be looking at pigeons on the window ledge.

Tim watches the others leave and wonders about what he had missed by not arriving earlier. He can understand Bruce's desire not to pressure him in any way into coming in with him, and he can even understand Alfred's curiously loud circumspection.

It's just...

It's possible -- even probable -- that the person he had been a week ago would've been made paranoid enough by Bruce mentioning WE business at all -- much less in bed -- that he would've thought it through to... something like this. It's an inexcusable slip, even though Bruce may very well assume that Tim had made a command decision not to think about any of it.

Those portions of the media currently touting him as *the* son and probable heir aren't privy to any more information than anyone else. It just looks good in print, right next to an old quote from his father about considering Tim his 'right-hand man.'

His father...

Lucius finishes gathering his papers and closes his briefcase with a brisk snap. Tim turns to look at him, and so does Bruce. The expression on his face is far too mild, but not entirely lacking in thought.

"I don't suppose we *are* leaving the DI matter to Chapel and his cronies, Lucius...?"

"Give me some credit, Bruce. I've had Janice and Graham hammering something out for us," Lucius says, and smiles. "But it'll keep him out of our hair for another week or two."

"Good man," and Bruce stands. "I don't think you've gotten to see Tim in quite some time...?"

Tim takes it as his cue to smile and turn his focus on Lucius --

"Not since the last time he and Dick came tearing through here like a couple of wild men," and Lucius offers his hand. "Is that how you got that nasty bruise? And how have you been holding up, son?"

Honest regard, honest concern. "Something like that. And... not everyone is lucky enough to have two families to lean on," Tim says, and shakes Lucius' hand.

Lucius nods and makes the shake a two-handed one. "Your father was a good man. Decent, brilliant... we won't see his like again. And we're not going to forget that when we pull DI out of the fire."

Tim nods and lets his smile get as tight as it wants to. "I can only tell you I'm grateful."

"Tim, I wouldn't have devoted my life to this company if Bruce didn't keep making sure that we remained a *part* of the community, as opposed to just another corporate leech."

Tim turns the smile on Bruce. "He rarely speaks about work at home, but your name is always foremost."

"I'd be lost without Lucius, and he knows it," Bruce says and claps one hand on Lucius' shoulder and one on Tim's own.

"Now, Bruce, if you just offered a *fraction* more of your concentration at any given time..."

"I know, I know..."

"And we both know," Lucius says, breaking off the handshake to waggle a finger, "that Chapel and friends would've never gotten that little abomination past you."

"Well..." Bruce folds his arms over his chest and curls a finger against his chin. "I probably would've made us break for lunch and then forgotten to call him back two or three times."

Lucius harrumphs and tugs his jacket straight. "There are *other* methods at your disposal, Bruce. As Tim helpfully demonstrated," and there's a certain degree of absent pride, a disconnected affection...

His *father* -- Tim clenches his jaw against all of it, ducking his head in something which will, hopefully, be taken as embarrassment. Out of the corner of his eye, Tim can see Bruce backing off a step, and --

"Well, I need to go make sure no one *else* is trying to rewrite the company charter while I stand here. Bruce, I'll call you tomorrow about that meeting we have with R&D --"

"I'll almost certainly pick up the phone."

Lucius snorts and waggles his finger again. "Tim, it was great seeing you again. I hope this means we'll be seeing you more often."

Tim hums in lieu of providing an answer...

And Lucius closes the door behind him when he goes.

Tim breathes.

Bruce lets him, turning to move back toward the windows and... giving Tim his back. Fine. Great. Just --

Tim pinches the bridge of his nose and dammit *breathes*. He's not thinking about his father, or about all the times the man had tried to bring Tim into the business, all the different ways he'd found to offer what he'd hoped would be *temptation*.

He's not thinking about any of that, and about how, in the end, *Jack* Drake's wishes for DI had been meaningless compared to his own, desperately *fucking* unworthy --

Tim breathes, and doesn't punch his own thigh, and doesn't punch the wall, and --

Tim breathes.

"Thank you, Bruce."

Bruce nods and turns, searching Tim and probably seeing all sorts of perfectly reasonable things. He raises a hand and Tim -- thinks about it. Not every non-sexual hug has to be traumatic with Bruce. Certainly, with practice they could probably knock the trauma out of at least forty percent of them.

Tim laughs, and the sound of it is exactly as cracked and hoarse as he's been asking for. He takes Bruce's hand in his own, squeezes it, and lets go. "I can't. Right now."

Bruce nods and lets his hands hang at his sides. "In the end, I couldn't come to a decision as to whether or not I wanted you to know that this was happening. Had begun to happen."

"It only took... thought." It *would* have only taken thought.

Bruce nods again and pulls on -- more of himself, if not quite Batman. "I *don't* need you to have this be a part of your life. Not now."

"But you will," Tim says, and rubs at the tension in his neck -- bite mark. Tension. Both. 


"Understood, Bruce. Any thoughts you might have on how to not make it feel like a... like a betrayal would be welcome."


"I blew all of it off, Bruce. I -- I blew him off. Politely, absently, off-handedly, repeatedly. And now, to do this for you, for the mission, *with* you, I..."

Bruce cups Tim's shoulders and squeezes them hard. "You know what he wanted for you, Tim, just as I know what my parents would've wanted for me. I give that -- *them* -- as much as I can."

Tim closes his eyes. "Yes, I -- yes, I understand."

"I know you do," Bruce says, and lets him go. "What I'm not sure you understand is the fact that you don't have to shoulder all of this alone --"

"Don't. I -- yes, I know that, too. And I -- appreciate. Everything you've done. And everything you've said. And now it's time for me to go to San Francisco," Tim says, and walks toward the door, and -- pauses. "I don't plan on ever being alone again, Bruce."

Bruce doesn't say a word.

Tim keeps walking.