A way so familiar
by Te
September 11, 2008

Disclaimers: No one and nothing here is mine.

Spoilers/Timeline: A lot of references to older storylines, the newest being "War Games" and "Identity Crisis." AU all over the place -- and much won't make sense without first reading "The Lesson," which is available here.

Summary: In many ways, it's the role of a lifetime.

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

Author's Note/Acknowledgments: I've wanted to write this story for years, but I couldn't have done it without the constant help and input of Petra, Mildred, and especially Jack as they helped me research, picked me up when I was feeling overwhelmed, gave me countless brilliant ideas, and, overall, kept me flying high as I wrote. This... it's the story of my heart, and I think it shows. I hope it works for y'all, too.


There are times, now, when Bruce's sense of place seems almost heightened, as if the world -- or some part of it -- is waiting impatiently for Bruce's attention, for Bruce to *see*.

Sometimes, it's a simple thing -- the way shadows become fluttery and strange on a windy moonlit night, and how that will help with the mission --

And sometimes, he wonders if that shouldn't be capitalized --

Sometimes it's something much larger and more frightening than that, as when he'd been placed perfectly to watch Adrienne Huttersmith's friendship with Erin Bailey shatter into something with far too many sharp edges when the former spoke mockingly -- visibly heedless of the danger -- of the boy the latter had recently decided to marry.

They were older, and not truly his friends --

(Friendship has many dangers.)

There was nothing Bruce could do, not after he'd watched the moment pass from possibility to inevitability. A part of him is only curious as to why the world had stopped, had seemed to *demand* that he witness that argument -- it had nothing to do with *him* -- but the rest...

(Everything is important. You must know as much as you can.)

And so he is careful today, watchful as he moves through a manor that seems too silent, even for the way it's only inhabited by Alfred and himself. There's a *quality* to the silence that speaks of a danger Bruce knows he might not be strong enough to face --

(Patience. Patience.)

A sound -- a breath?

Bruce moves more quickly, noting that he's near to the West library, the solarium, the study --

It will be the study. He knows this the way he knows the many different qualities of silence in this, his home --

"I say again. Who are you, and why are you here."

Alfred, and he sounds angry. An intruder?

(Think. Observe.)

The door is slightly ajar, but it's dim enough in this part of the manor that it's difficult to be sure of the shadows and how they're moving. He can't see the intruder, but he can see.

Alfred has a gun. It's --

It's a shotgun, and Bruce had known Alfred had it, he remembers his father --

("Security? Don't be ridiculous, Earl. We have *Alfred*.")

If Alfred had been there that night --

Alfred has many skills, and a deeper, stranger history than what Bruce had imagined when he was younger, and --

It's only a gun. It's not even a thirty-eight. It's -- Alfred sounds neither frightened nor anxious, and while Alfred has always been circumspect about his emotions, Bruce thinks he would know if Alfred felt threatened, as opposed to simply angry at their home being invaded --

"Answer me."

"I'm -- Alfred, you *know* me."

A boy's voice. Bruce's age by the sound, though the voice has a much higher pitch --

(Patience --)

Bruce pushes in, noting that the shotgun doesn't waver, that --

"Master Bruce. Do you know this boy?"

The boy looks at him, eyes wide and a blue Bruce finds familiar -- no, it's not the color. It's something *about* the eyes which seem familiar, something about secrets and --

He doesn't know. The boy's eyes seem to shutter themselves *quickly*, and Bruce is left with only what he can learn by looking at everything else. The boy is lean and somewhat shorter than he is, and is either Bruce's age or looks younger than he is.

There's something about him which makes Bruce think he *could* be older, but Bruce knows that he's not very good at making that sort of judgment. He's at an age when most of the world seems impossibly old or impossibly young, and --

He doesn't know. He would guess that the boy hasn't had much sleep lately, but the pinched look to his features could be something as simple as hunger.

His *hands* look very old, and as though they've been worked hard, but the boy certainly doesn't seem --

"Master Bruce." Alfred, and his brand of patience often feels like something that has nothing to do with *actual* patience.

"I... I don't know him," Bruce says, and -- "why are you here?"

"An *excellent* question, boy," and Alfred doesn't *really* tighten his hold on the trigger, but he does a very good job of making it look like he has --

Except that the boy doesn't seem any more frightened than... he doesn't seem frightened, at all. Or -- not of *Alfred*. Bruce *looks* at him, knowing that he's being too obvious, that --

(The shadows will be your partner, for I am always in them.)

There's something almost practiced about his stance --


Something that looks... dangerous?

"Alfred, I don't think --"

"My name is Thomas Wayne, Jr. I go by Tom," the boy says. "And I think something is very wrong, Alfred."

If anything, Alfred seems even *angrier* --

"Master Bruce. Call the authorities."

"Wait, I --" The boy looks back and forth between them, and *now* he seems anxious, though his eyes are still...

There's something *there* --

"Look, you -- you can ask me questions. About Bruce, about the manor," the boy says.

Tom says?

"*Alfred*. You've known me since -- since you came back from England. You knew me as an infant --"

"Master Bruce --"

"And me? Do you know me?"

The boy closes his eyes for a moment before turning to face Bruce. There is... there's a *plea* in his eyes, but that's not the only thing, and it seems as though, if Bruce could just look *long* enough, he'd understand something more important than everything else --

"Bruce, you're my *brother*," Tom says, and a part of Bruce is insisting that he could've seen that coming, that really he *had* seen that coming, and thus that there's no reason for Bruce to feel as though the world is shifting beneath his feet.

The rest is just trying to stay *still*, and -- "I don't. I don't *have* a brother," Bruce says, and knows that his voice is all wrong by the way Alfred cuts his eyes at him.

"Master *Bruce*, this is utterly ridiculous --"

"*Ask* me," Tom says. "Ask me anything. I don't -- I don't know why you don't know me, and I don't know why *Bruce* doesn't know me, but I'm *me*, and I -- please, Alfred."

Alfred narrows his eyes, and this time he *does* tighten his finger on the trigger.

"Alfred --"

"Be *quiet*, Master Bruce. All right, 'Thomas --'"

"You always -- you call me 'Master Tom,'" Tom says, and smiles ruefully. "Thomas is our *father*."

Alfred's eyes get harder for a moment, and -- "Where do I keep Bruce's mother's things?"

Tom swallows, and for a moment Bruce thinks he won't know, that it's not *true* --

"You decided it was better for them to be out of sight, Alfred. You... her clothes are in the East attic, except for the furs, which are in storage. I don't know where. Her favorite books are still in the library next door. They're out of order from the other books. She -- she always said..." And Tom looks at Bruce again.

Bruce can't read his expression, but he thinks... he thinks Tom might be able to read his own.

"She said that books shouldn't *be* kept in rigid order, because that meant you might not ever pick up something new."

That --

("Oh, honey, I *know* you find it frustrating -- you're *just* like your father that way. But reading is an *adventure*.")

Alfred's expression hasn't changed, at all, and Tom looks down.

"Her jewels are all in safe deposit boxes. Except --" Tom looks at Bruce again -- shakes his head and turns back to Alfred. "Except for her pearls."


("We know this is hard, Mr. Pennyworth, but we need you to keep quiet about Mrs. Wayne's pearls. We're not releasing that detail to the -- oh, hell, kid, you're still here?")

Bruce swallows and turns to Alfred. "Alfred --"

"One. One moment, Master Bruce. Tom."

"Yes," Tom says, and looks at Alfred again.

"Why did... your father leave the Caduceus Club?"

Tom blinks and steps back. "We didn't -- we didn't talk about that."

Alfred firms his grip on the shotgun. "If you are who you say you are --"

And Tom looks at Bruce again, frowning as if he wants to *protect*, or --

Bruce doesn't know, but he wants to -- he wants to make sure Tom knows it's *okay*, so he nods. Tom bites his lip and turns back to Alfred.

"It was a disagreement over medical ethics --"

"More. Detail," Alfred says, and he looks and sounds almost shaken --

"It. Our father -- he was working out of a clinic in Manhattan about once a week. He was performing abortions for women who couldn't afford to go to the larger clinics, and he didn't *leave* the Caduceus Club. He was thrown out. He didn't stop giving abortions until he was murdered, and it was an argument he never stopped having with Leslie."

Bruce only remembers overhearing them once, but he has to admit that it hadn't seemed like the first time they had the argument --

("The system as it stands is *classist*, Les. If we're going to try to provide an equal standard of care -- don't walk *out* on me --")

Bruce had had to look up the word abortion, and then go through his father's books until he knew *exactly* what it was, and why it was so terrible that Leslie refused to talk about it. He'd never asked his father. Maybe --

Maybe Tom had.

Alfred lowers the shotgun and looks at both of them. He doesn't seem shaken or angry anymore, but he does seem tired. "Well. Why are you *here*, Tom? How did you get here?"

Tom shakes his head. "I think... I don't know what I think. It's all kind of science-fiction in my head, Alfred," he says, and glances at Bruce again. "You don't know me, even though I'm... I guess I don't exist here? Did our mother -- um. Did Bruce's mother *not* have twins?"

Bruce reaches out -- stops. "Fraternal twins?"

Tom's smile is light and small and quick. "You got all the *size*. But... you did always say that I took the brains."

Bruce smiles because -- it *happens*. "You... always?"

"All right, *I* say that I took the brains," and Tom crosses his arms over his chest and looks down at the floor. "You should know all of this."

Alfred frowns at both of them, but it seems to have less to do with any negative emotion, than...

Well, sometimes Alfred frowns like that when he thinks Bruce is being strange and secretive, and he's trying -- again -- to figure out how to *stop* it.

"Alfred, I..." Tom hugs himself a little tighter. "I was just -- here, in the study. And everything is the same, except..." He laughs and turns to the clock, brushing a spot on the side of it that doesn't look any different from the rest. "I suppose this... universe was saved my brief experimentation with woodcarving."


Tom smiles at Bruce again, still small, still quick. "We were three. You preferred finger-painting."

Bruce smiles again and walks closer, just a little. He wants --

He has a brother.

"Master Tom. I... was not privy to the circumstances of... your mother's pregnancy. She was in your father's care." Alfred frowns. "Perhaps Dr. Thompkins knows more."

Tom nods. "I -- I need to get back home. But I'm not sure how, exactly, that will work."

"You're home now," Bruce says, and that was too quick and maybe too loud --

Tom looks at him, searching Bruce's face -- his eyes. "Bruce..."

"For now," Alfred says, "we will find you a place to sleep. Have you eaten?"

"Ah... I had lunch a few hours ago. I'm not hungry."

"Then you will have dinner with Master Bruce in one and a half hours. It shouldn't be challenging to make enough for... three."

"I -- thank you, Alfred. I don't know what I'd do... thank you," Tom says.

Alfred nods to him, and then to Bruce. When he looks up, *he* searches Bruce for a moment, but he doesn't say anything before he walks out, gun at his side.

Tom stares after Alfred for a moment, and Bruce stares at him. There *is* a resemblance. Their hair is almost the same, and Tom's eyes...

No, they're a little larger. Wider. And his mouth isn't the same, and his nose isn't the same, and --

"We haven't looked the same since we were babies," Tom says, and smiles ruefully. "This has to be... very weird for you."

"Not for you?"

Tom's smile gets sharp and oddly familiar even as it's distant. "I... I think I'm going to try not to..." He laughs softly and shakes his head like a dog, then stretches up onto his toes --

He's really very muscular for someone his size. Is he an athlete? "Try not to...?"

"Think about it. For now, at least. I --" Tom reaches out -- and doesn't quite touch Bruce's arm. "Sorry."

Bruce shakes his head and steps closer, until Tom's hand is on his arm.

"I'm -- okay," Tom says, and smiles again. "I'm glad you're here."

He has a brother. "We're... close?"

"We... ah. Fight, sometimes. Mostly when we do, we just don't get in each other's way for a while. It's... a big manor."

Bruce nods and... his eyes hurt. He's not blinking enough, again, and that must... he doesn't want Tom to think he's weird. He --

(You must always be careful around others. They may not know your secrets.)

"Bruce? Are you... okay?"

"That's... that's what you call me? No nicknames?" Some brothers have nicknames for each other, some *families* --

"Sorry. You're Bruce, I'm Tom. We... we might be a little boring," Tom says, and this time when his smile fades, Bruce realizes that it's still in his eyes.

It's... warm.


If there's a Hell, Tim is going to it. It's --

All right, so he's had some experience with -- this. That *incident* with Klarion, and those few days when suddenly he'd had to deal with an adulthood that fit rather better than he ever would've guessed possible -- given his *life* -- and a Bruce who was both himself *and* a teenaged boy.

Except that this is different, because this Bruce...

He must have *found* the Cave, by now, and it's not like he looks like -- or moves like -- the typical gawky teenager --

Had he ever?

What... there are *limits* to what a lifetime devoted to benevolent -- and thorough -- stalking can achieve in terms of the *depth* of knowledge one can call one's own.

He'd been thinking -- as quickly as he *could* -- that Alfred would be the tough sell, but in a world without DNA tests --

In a world with no *Batman* --

All right, so he's allowed to freak out a little bit. He may have won over Alfred -- *and* Bruce, and really, he'd *known* Bruce must've been lonely --

He's been *using* that, and yes, he's freaking out. No Batman. No *League*.

And no *idea* how the hell he'd wound up *here*, instead of the study that actually led to the Cave.

A world where the Cave doesn't *exist*, save for its raw, geological form -- or.

Does it exist? Is Bruce just a -- large -- teenager with dead parents and no Mission? *That's* something he's going to have to find out *quickly*. Bruce is clearly at least sixteen, he had to have started training already, in one way or another...

Tim knows more than he does. He's going to have to be *careful* about letting Bruce see him, careful about the way he moves --

He'd stretched in front of Bruce -- an attempt to look both casual and a little flustered by a *very* odd situation -- and. If Bruce has *any* of the observational skills here that he does in Tim's universe, *that* particular game is already up.

All right. If he asks -- Tim's a runner. Cross-country, amateur. That would be a decent-enough explanation for his musculature, and wouldn't have to involve Tim knowing too many esoteric details.

As ever, adding a detail to his cover has its own quiet satisfaction, but -- *should* he be treating this as just another undercover assignment?

The *second* he'd seen Alfred with barely any grey at *all* in his hair, he'd known. And -- let's be honest -- freaked out beyond all repair.

He's *stuck* with what he'd come up with to replace "I'm Robin" and he's just going to have to deal with that -- somehow.

Tom Wayne.


His name is Tom, and Bruce is his twin brother -- terrible detail-work, there, as there's no way either of them could've called foul if Tim had said he were a year younger or older -- he's stuck. Critique comes when he gets home, and --

And what if he's in his *own* universe? His parents are *high* school students living on opposite ends of the country. Drake Industries doesn't actually exist -- and what if he does something that wrecks the timeline?

What if he's already *done* it?

A Bruce with a brother, with family other than the inimitable Mr. Pennyworth. Tim shivers and looks around the room he's been given. Alfred *hadn't* given Tim the bedroom he'd had in the manor -- either of the times he's lived there -- and that's both terrifying and a vast relief.

Bruce is *right* next door, the way, perhaps, a brother should be.


Tim swallows. It's -- he needs a newspaper. And that would be a perfectly reasonable request to make. All right.

Tim opens the door --

"Oh," Bruce says. "I was going to knock."

Tim raises an eyebrow.

"I was standing outside your door," Bruce says, and his smile is sort of... ruefully pained.

Tim wonders when he'd learned to eliminate that expression from his repertoire, to, perhaps, replace it with blank -- something. "Did you want to... talk?"

"Not if. You were going somewhere?"

Lonely, and he hadn't really thought about that *deeply* -- trying to piece together Bruce's childhood had been more an act of obsession than any sort of casual *interest*. He would've *had* to be lonely, because no one in Bruce's life at the time would've *encouraged* the Mission. No one at all.

And this Bruce -- Tim still doesn't know if there *is* a Mission, and.

No time like the present. "Bruce, I wanted... I wanted to ask you something," Tim says, and makes a small show of making sure they're alone in the hallway -- Tom hasn't had years to train his peripheral vision.

Bruce stands up straighter -- relaxes in an obviously *conscious* way. "Alfred is in the kitchen."

"He usually is, this time of day," Tim says, and he hadn't *really* meant to cement things any further, but Bruce's eyes widen briefly, just the same. Tim is making this *real* for Bruce, and that's --

Good? Bad? Neutral? Tim's really *hoping* for neutral, and -- right. Out with it.

"Bruce, I..." Tom would lick his lips, be a little unsure.

"What is it, Tom?"

Tim closes Tom's eyes for a moment and takes a deep breath, squaring his *own* shoulders -- "Have you found... it?"

Bruce stares at him, and Tim is all set to think that it's over, that he's stuck with the multiverse's only non-obsessive Bruce Wayne... except that he's used to that stare.

*Too* used to it. It's sharp enough that Tim should be bleeding, and there's a depth to it... oh, hello. "You have," Tim says, and the relieved sigh isn't much of an act, at all.

"Tom. I -- I need to know that *you* know -- I."

Oh, don't lose it now, *Dad*. Tim smiles -- one of his own. Time to wing it, a little. "We found it not long after... after. They were still sending social workers around, and Alfred convinced us that it would be better if we at least pretended to be... well. We went outside. I said we could race, and you weren't very..." Tim sighs and pushes a hand back through his hair. "I fell *in* the Cave -- just far enough down to sprain my ankle. You came down after me, and we... explored."

"The... Cave." Bruce swallows. "It's -- is it. Is it more?"

Tim nods solemnly. "It's there. For *us*. For what we have to do."

"For who we have to *become*," Bruce says, and the smile on his face is impossible, bright and wide --

Bruce grips Tim's shoulders and -- just grips. He looks like he doesn't know whether he wants to shake Tim or... hug? Maybe? It's possible that -- no. Tom is used to his brother's emotional *force*. Tim reaches out and wraps his arms around Bruce --

And gets pulled in, hard and close. "You know. You *know*."

Tim strokes Bruce's back. "I know."

Timeline realigned? Never unaligned? It almost doesn't matter -- it's a piece of the puzzle Tim *needed*, proof that he hadn't skipped all *that* far down the multiversal primrose path. Tim laughs quietly to himself and pulls back.

After a moment, Bruce lets him, and... Bruce is *not* actually crying. It's just that it seems like he could, and that... "It's okay, Bruce. We... um."

"Together. We're *together*," and Bruce smiles again, looking like no one Tim could ever know and generally being... precisely as possessive as he should be?

Maybe. "I was going to go downstairs, check the newspaper to see *how* weird things are in this... world."

Bruce nods. "I'll show you where -- oh. You already know where the newspapers are kept."

Tim smiles ruefully. "I suppose they *might* not be in --" No recycling bin. Oops. "Well, we usually keep them in the small dining room until after lunch --"

"And then set them aside for bundling before they're carted away," Bruce says, and he *still* looks... exactly like someone who'd been living with a terrible, wonderful, frightening secret for. Hm.

"I wasn't here to fall in --"

"I fell in without you. And then... then I wasn't *truly* alone, anymore, but it still... of course I was still..." Bruce turns away, but squeezes Tim's shoulders. "But of course you know that, too."

"I was... I was lucky," Tim says. "I'm not sure how I would've made it -- even *knowing* what I had to do -- if I hadn't had... my Bruce."

"Your Bruce. He must be... *is* he like me?" And Bruce is looking at him again, searching and wondering...

Tim reaches up and squeezes Bruce's wrists before moving Bruce's hands from his shoulders --

"Oh, I'm sorry --"

"I was just going to say -- I don't know you that well, yet. I guess we'll have time to find out, though, while we figure out how I'm going to get back home."

"Home. Yes," and Bruce nods and steps back. "You should go get the newspapers. I -- I'll see you at dinner."

Tim smiles. "Okay."

He thinks about waving a little, but Tom would be used to walking away from his brother. They're twins, but they lead separate lives -- or, no. Not that separate. They're both more than a little grief-addled, and they *share* a rather world-shaking secret, even if the only trembling worlds are their own. It's too late, now, but perhaps a wave *wouldn't* have been amiss. Even a manly forearm clasp, if probably not so much as another hug...

What do they do when they have nightmares?

Something else to consider.

Alfred nods to Tim when he walks into the kitchen, and there are the day's papers by the door. He can feel Alfred's attention on him when he brings the papers back to the table, but of course the man doesn't actually turn away from what he's doing with their dinner.

Some things are true in all universes -- and *would* Tom have a fond-of-Alfred smile on his face for the wrong Alfred? Probably not -- it hasn't been that long since Tom's had a shotgun pointed at him.

Tim fixes his expression and starts to scan. The year isn't much of a surprise, but it helps to know that Tom Wayne won't be *seven*teen until next year. The date puts them a few days into Winter Break, which, given the time of day, means that if Tim *had* lost time in his little jaunt, it was negligible. But.


"Yes, young sir?"

Please be twenty-six years older and think of me as Tim Drake. "I... I was at Exeter with Bruce in my universe, and... ah."

"I have considered the question," Alfred says, and chops -- carrots. "While it would be better for all concerned if you were able to return to your... world, you *are* here, and an interruption in your schooling should be avoided."

And the longer he spends *outside* of Alfred's view, the safer his ever more complex lie will be. "I suppose I could be... a family friend? I could... um. Audit?"

"No, Master Tom, I'm afraid that would raise far too many questions about where you've come from and who your parents are," and this time Alfred turns. There's a deep groove in his forehead which will -- eventually -- become nearly lost in other lines. It speaks of the sort of concentration and deep thought Tim would rather have him eschew.

"I... I'm at a loss. I suppose I *could* just hide out here and not exist --"

"No," Alfred says, appearing to swallow Tim's feint whole, which... hm.

This Alfred has only had *one* insane teenager to deal with. "Then... I'm not sure?"

Alfred dries his hands on a towel. "What... what did *your* Alfred do after your parents died?"

"Ah... it was my understanding that you -- that he'd originally intended to only stay with us for a little while, while my parents were searching for a replacement. And then... then they died, and you decided to stay with us." And Tim had never been able to track down the paperwork which *had* to exist somewhere. "Ah... neither Bruce nor I ever looked very deeply at how you managed to keep us from being sent away --"

"With a great deal of help from friends of friends," Alfred says, and is clearly set on leaving it at that. "What you don't know is that while the damnable mess was going on, I was searching for relatives of Master Bruce. His paternal great-granduncle remained on the continent while his brother -- Bruce's great-grandfather -- moved here. That branch of the family died out in terms of blood relations," Alfred says, and raises an eyebrow.

Tim nods. He knows this part -- or he thinks he does.

"There is a -- distant, naturally -- adopted cousin who moved with his parents to San Francisco some years ago. They expressed no interest in becoming involved with Master Bruce," and Alfred pauses again.

Tim raises *his* eyebrow. "Even... ah. Not to be crass, but one would think the money would be a temptation, if nothing else."

The glitter in Alfred's eyes is inspiring, and makes Tim feel rather uselessly homesick -- and aware.

There's nothing Tim can do about the blush, but it's appropriate enough. "You must have been thinking... the worst about me."

"Quite so," and Alfred folds his hands together. "But you know too much too *well* to be the average sort of confidence man."

The follow-up comment about Tim possibly being an *above*-average confidence man is unspoken but *very* much present. Tim nods. "So I'm to masquerade as my own cousin. They... aren't much in the public life?"

Alfred inclines his head. "I developed an acquaintance with their chatelaine during the troubles. She assures me that, as the young man in question is currently traveling the Amazon for scholarly pursuits of his own, there will be no danger of inconvenient appearances."

"Unless, of course, someone kidnaps or kills him in a public manner."

"Cynicism in the young is wasteful and unbecoming, Master Tom," Alfred says, and the expression on his face is *all* about quelling the rambunctious spirit. Tim feels himself becoming more conservative with every moment it lasts.

Alfred, now and forever -- apparently. "I -- noted. What will my name be?"

"Thomas Wayne," Alfred says, and now there's amusement under the rest of what's in his eyes. "A fine, old family name -- though the chatelaine suggests you allow the occasional 'Tommy.'"

Tim makes the face expected -- oh. "Accent?"

"A thoughtful question," Alfred says, and *means* something along the lines of 'I'm watching you.'

Is he being paranoid? Yes, but Alfred is also out to *get* him. "I just meant --" Tim smiles ruefully. "I'm not -- well. Perhaps I'm well-bred enough to not *have* a California accent."

"Mm. While your manner of speaking is not entirely execrable, I certainly have no desire to encourage you to make it worse."

*Execrable*. Tim smiles. "If you keep this up, Al, I'll forget I'm not home."

The smile on Alfred's face looks deeply surprised to be anywhere of the kind, which -- point to the lying, lying liar in the room.

Tim gathers the newspapers together once more and takes them to the stack. "I should really get --" On the 'net. Except *no* -- Tim doesn't shiver. "Ah. I should probably head to the library to get a more in-depth sense of what's going on in this world, to see *how* different things are."

Alfred inclines his head again, watchful and entirely aware of Tim's near-slip.

Tim laughs quietly. "Is it wrong that I'm hoping there are *major* differences? I suppose, in the grand scheme of things, a missing Wayne child isn't so large a thing."

Alfred lifts his chin slightly. "Perhaps not, young sir," he says, and turns back to his dinner preparations. "Dinner will be served in approximately forty-five minutes. I would greatly appreciate your endeavoring to remind Master Bruce that I do not mean one hour and certainly not two."

Tim sketches a casual salute. "For someone so big, he hasn't really been much for food as something other than fuel since... since. Our Alfred always tries to prepare his favorites."

Alfred pauses with the knife in his hand. "And not yours?"

A single-serving mousse for his birthday, a *feast* not long after Tim had mentioned, aloud, a curiosity about the taste of pheasant. Moussaka at least once every two months, because Dick had mentioned it was his favorite, because Tim knows it tastes like kisses he'll never have.

... beefy, eggplant-y kisses.

Tim lets the smile do what it wants on his face. "I don't think you've ever made anything I *didn't* like, Alfred, though you've always -- my Alfred always says I don't eat *enough*."

Alfred hums under his breath, and there's something about the flex and release of tension of his shoulders that enjoins Tim to keep going. *Alfred*, and he's known for years that Bruce wouldn't have been Bruce without him.

"Well... moussaka? Bruce might not appreciate it, but I would."

Another hum, slightly louder. "Very good, Master Tom," Alfred says, and that couldn't be more of a dismissal without a shepherd's crook appearing from stage left to tug Tim away.


Meditation would be a *good* idea on a number of levels, but --

Could he risk Bruce catching him at it? He could *tell* Bruce that they'd read about it in a book --

What book? Tom would remember, and *this* Bruce would definitely want to know. All right -- another thing to research for his eventual trip to the library. Possibly Alfred would take him tomorrow... assuming Tim came up with a way for Bruce to not want to go with him.

Perhaps he should be more distant? Act more freaked out? Treat Bruce... treat Bruce the way he used to treat his father in the days and months after he'd gotten out of his coma. After.

And *before*, and there's nothing Tim can do about the mistakes he'd made with his father -- whether or not they were necessary ones -- other than apologize to a gravestone.

Which doesn't exist now. He could find his father, meet the teenager whose existence had never seemed quite possible given what Tim had known about the adult. They could talk about the world of business -- Tim could fake a passion in the same way he'd faked an apathy.

And maybe he could turn his father utterly against short, thin, dark-haired people, and --

All right, so ultimately Tim is glad he showed up *this* early, and in *this* place. He might screw things up for himself, anyway, but --

No, even blue-skying about the damage he doesn't *think* he'll cause to the timeline should really be filed under Asking For It, which Tim has always striven not to do.

He heads back to Tom's room, notes the lack of Bruce -- and Bruce's *closed* door --

He sucks it up and knocks.

This time, Bruce isn't right on the other side of the door, though Tim has just enough time to wonder whether Bruce is the sort of teenager to *pretend* to not have been waiting before Bruce opens the door.

Bruce has a shy smile on his face, and his body language speaks -- screams -- of hesitant invitation.

"I just wanted to tell you that Alfred said dinner's in forty-five."

Bruce nods. "I won't be late, today."

And other days... what *does* Bruce do with his time? Hm. "Maybe we can hike the grounds a little after dinner? Certain *parts* of the grounds?"

Bruce's eyes flare. "I would like that very much," he says, and he's gripping the door -- though not hard enough to make his knuckles show white.

Tim smiles. "You can... show me."

"And you can show *me*. I... would you like to come in?"

Tom has exactly *nothing* better to do, so Tim smiles a little wider. "Sure."


There's something about the way Tom moves when he's not thinking about it --

It's a grace, though it doesn't seem particularly *natural*. He doesn't remind Bruce of the dancers he's seen on the stage, or even of some of the incredible athletes he used to see in the days when Alfred would try taking him to sporting events.

When they were aboveground, Tom hadn't really seemed to be hiking so much as exploring, or... well, there was a moment when the less-disciplined parts of Bruce's mind had taken over and given him an image of Tom as a conquistador, impatiently but thoroughly marking out new territories for a distant queen. Ridiculous, *and* it really wasn't like that, either, except for the impatience.

Though it's possible that some of that had been for the way Bruce's extra coat had hung on him. It wasn't quite big enough to trip him --

(Observe *closely*.)

It wasn't quite big enough to trip *Tom*, but he'd still taken it off the moment they were in the cave, setting it down beyond where snow could fall on it. He'd reached out without looking, just as if he'd known that Bruce would bring a flashlight for him, too.

Placing it in his palm was like... something scary, or unnatural, or maybe just strange beyond Bruce's experience. This place belongs to *him*, and to the other, and Tom isn't.

He's not --

And Bruce is aware that he's only been following Tom, silent as a particularly obedient child or dog, and silent inside, as well --


But that doesn't seem like the right advice, not with Tom walking almost heedlessly toward the largest, most dangerous cliff. It's *treacherous* near the edge -- Bruce had nearly fallen twice when some of the rock had given way. He can't let -- "Tom --"

"It's dangerous here, I know," Tom says, and when he looks back over his shoulder, he's smiling, flushed with the cold and so *bright*.

The light from the flashlight should make him seem washed out, or at least a little creepy, but the way it gleams off his teeth, the way the shadows shift when he spreads his arms and turns, tilting his head back to bare his throat --

(The road you must travel to reach me is long, and fraught with pitfalls for the lone traveler. But you *will* be --)

"You'll do so *much* with this place, Bruce."

Bruce blinks and feels himself stagger on the inside, *shift* -- but he can focus. "Not both of us?"

Tom stops turning with his back to Bruce, and there is tension in him that can't --

*He* can't. "I mean. In your world."

Tom nods and turns again, and this time his smile is much smaller. "We talk about it when we're here. And sometimes... sometimes when we're other places. Alone."

Tom is never alone, and neither is his Bruce. Had the other come to them both, or just to his Bruce? To him? Can Bruce speak of the other? Truly? What if there is no other -- in that world? What if it's *just* the dreams of two brothers?


Bruce shakes his head and knows he's got *that* look on his face, the one Leslie always says makes him look like he has an impaction in an unfortunate place.

And Tom walks back from the edge, easily avoiding every unstable place, just as if --

He knows. He *knows*. "I'm sorry --"

"You really need to stop apologizing to me, Bruce," Tom says, and stops just --

Just within Bruce's reach. Bruce swallows.

"It's *okay*. I -- I know it must seem like there's no one you can talk to about this, that there's no one who won't think you're crazy, or try to take this away from you --"

"They can't. They *won't*."

And Bruce wants to take it back immediately, wants to not be this *emotional*, but instead of looking affronted or wary or disgusted, Tom just looks *excited*.

He's searching Bruce's eyes, and his lips are parted, just a little, and Bruce feels himself staring, *knows* he's staring, because it's almost like looking at Harvey when *he's* excited about something, all that *passion* coming out of hiding, all --

Bruce is *staring*, and he should stop, because soon Tom will notice that this is taking too long, this moment, and he'll laugh in a way that doesn't feel like humor at all, and he'll turn *away* --

"Bruce," Tom says, quiet and -- gentle.

"Tom, I." He should look *away* --

"I don't know how long I'll be here, but... but we should *help* each other while I *am* here. We should..." Tom's smile isn't soft at all, which means Bruce shouldn't find it comforting.

He does.

"You're Bruce, and that means you're my brother. I..." Tom reaches out and twines his fingers with Bruce's own --

"Oh. Tom."

"Heh. You should talk to me about it. About everything. Because... then I can talk to you, and we *both* get closer."

And it feels like losing to nod for that, like giving himself up to something greater, when he'd thought he could only ever do that once.

He has a brother.

"Tom. Do you ever... there's sometimes a kind of voice with no sound. There's. Sometimes, when I come here, I know exactly what I have to do, because there's... something. To guide me."

Tom blinks and searches him -- and shakes his head.

"Oh. I --"

"The Bat," Tom says, and looks up into the darkness, not bothering with his flashlight, and.

Bruce blows out a breath. "I... I wasn't really sure. Sometimes grief can make people --"

Tom squeezes his hand. "I've never heard it, or felt it. It was always Bruce."

And something seizes inside Bruce, something gets squeezed and -- and *crushed* --

"*Bruce*. Sometimes the Bat has really *good* ideas. And... I don't know. Maybe it *is* just Bruce, but we live in a world full of magic and strange powers --"

"I don't believe in magic."

Tom raises an eyebrow. "It seems to work pretty well for... Dr. Fate."

Well, and everyone seems to think he's great, and people *say* he's saved the world, but who really *knows*? "I prefer Green Lantern," Bruce says, and -- that was probably more of a mutter than anything else.

"*His* powers are magic --"

"They *might* just be a science we don't understand yet," Bruce says, and it's possible that he's being a little ridiculous, but --

"Fine," Tom says, and the light in his eyes makes the curtness of his tone into a lie. "So maybe there's something about your brain chemistry which makes it easier for you to see -- or hear -- things other people can't. Sensitivity, as we *both* know, varies wildly from person to person."

He's trying to make Bruce feel better. Usually when that happens, the words themselves are empty, for all that the feeling behind them doesn't have to be. Alfred and Leslie have always cared for him, and Harvey is a good friend. This time... Bruce frowns. "I don't usually lose arguments like this."

"You mean ones where you find some way to 'prove' that you're crazy and bad and depressive and also no fun at all? I *live* with you, Bruce --"

"You're my brother," Bruce says, and doesn't squeeze Tom's hand, even though it's right there, even though -- It's smaller than his own, and it's very hard, and there's a lot of strength in it. More than --

Tom's smiling at him, again. "Ever run through here in the dark...?"

Bruce squeezes Tom's hand. "It's always dark here."

Tom tugs on Bruce's hand, but doesn't try to make Bruce let go. "It's always dark *inside*. But sometimes that's okay."

And Bruce realizes that the feeling inside him is want, or maybe something closer to hunger. It isn't falling, or breaking, or losing, or any of those things. It's wanting something he's never had, something which is offered so freely, no, so *casually* and so --

"Come on, Bruce. I'm faster than my Bruce, but he works out with weights more than you... seem to do."

"I haven't... I haven't figured out how to tell Alfred what I mean to do."

The light in Tom's eyes fades a little, and he squeezes Bruce's hand again. "It's going to be hard. He *won't* understand, at first, I don't think. And... maybe he never *will* understand. But it's your life. And, more than that, it's what needs to be done."

"You. You're so *sure*."

Tom squeezes *hard*. "And you have to be, too."

(There can be no half-measures.)

"You sound. Like it."

And the light is back again, higher and almost *wilder* than before. "I told you. Sometimes the Bat has *good* ideas." And then Tom tugs his hand away from Bruce's and runs.

Bruce follows.


It's really a simple thing when Tim thinks about it: it's far, far easier to believe in the Bat*man* than it is to believe in the Bat.

Tim has *seen* the footage of Bruce arguing with the empty uniforms, and sometimes with the shadows. Bruce had decrypted the files *for* Tim to see, and perhaps to understand *exactly* what Tim's life would look like when Bruce was... retired, one way or another. They were terrible things, disturbing enough to make the short hairs stand up on Tim's *neck*, and Tim had watched every minute of them. Every sad and creepy *second*.

On the shallowest levels, they'd explained a great deal about *why* the Fairchild business had gone down the way it had, to the point where Tim had been tempted to drag Dick down to the Cave one day and make *him* watch them. If any of them deserved a little background on that particular aspect of Bruce's insanity --

And maybe if that had been the whole of his reasoning, he would've done it. But Tim has never been a saint, and has never tried to convince anyone that he *was* one, and the fact of the matter is that watching that footage had *vindicated* something inside him. It was proof -- if any of them still needed any -- that he'd been right not to trust Bruce with all of himself. Batman is an icon and a necessary axis on which the world -- not only Gotham -- turns.

Bruce *Wayne*... is a crazy man.

As in not sane.

As in *hears strange and tormenting voices that order him to do fucked-up things*.

As in *listens* to the voices.

As in -- well, both Tim and Tom -- his captive audience for the evening -- get the point. No need to *belabor* anything.

Right now, Bruce is a crazy *boy*, and while Tim may judge, there's nothing he can do now -- a good, solid eight years into the *foundation* of the craziness -- to fix him. Oh, he could be a *little* bit more manipulative. He's already made fine inroads into convincing Bruce of the intrinsic good in looking outside one's own brain for conversational partners, and the longer he spends here, the more ground he will gain in that respect.

Not too *much* ground -- it really wouldn't do to let just *anyone* see Bruce's freak flag flying before certain things are closer to being faits accomplis -- but *this* Bruce will be ready for Dick when he comes along.

He'll be ready for *Robin*, and if that eases things a little for Dick in the worst moments of his life...

No, he's being disingenuous. He is, in fact, in the process of telling himself a *whopper* of a lie.

Bruce Wayne is --

Bruce is an open wound, vulnerable to just about any contagion that could come blowing in. He's lonely and full of doubt, needy and -- and *lonely*, and there's nothing in Tim which can ignore that.

He's so *emotional*, so obviously training his mind more than his body, so --

No, he has to go back to open. Dick's been telling him for years that the Bruce Tim came to know was *not* the Bruce who'd raised him, but Dick is quite famous for being able to see the good in people, the positive and the beautiful. A twitch of the mouth becomes a smile, a hum becomes a full-throated laugh --

Well, all right, he's been guilty of that sort of 'rounding up,' too. The alternative would've been to take a break from his *own* sanity. Rose-colored glasses are good for avoiding spiritual migraines, and.


Right now, while Tim rests in the wrong bed at the wrong time in the right house...

Bruce is next door. At this point in his life, he's *used* to sleeping through the night -- or else has already developed the inhuman ability to hide signs of exhaustion. Considering how badly Bruce hides his emotions... Tim doubts it. So. He's asleep, or getting there.

He may be dreaming of his parents for the nth time, he may be dreamlessly exhausted after that run -- and the hike they'd actually taken *after* to get themselves covered with snow, just in case Alfred was (always) paying attention. Alfred *knows* about the Cave, but doesn't approve of Bruce spending time there.

It's possible that he'd feel better if Bruce had company...

... if the company were a little less suspiciously kismetic.

Right now, Bruce is sleeping when he could be training. Push-ups, chin-ups -- even *crunches*, for God's sake. He's a large and muscular boy, but the effort hasn't been put in, not yet, and --

What if that's why he's here? What if whatever force moved the multiverse had *noticed* that Bruce wasn't up to par, and had done something to try to correct the mistake?

He doesn't *know* enough about Bruce's early training. Bruce had sent Tim to exactly *one* of his teachers, and Tim had wound up learning from Lady Shiva, instead. The general impression given was that those roads were closed forevermore, and while he can understand Bruce's decision to do things that way for security reasons, it's incredibly inconvenient *now*.

Yes, he *would* have tracked down Bruce's teachers and knelt at their feet for knowledge -- who's to say he wouldn't have learned faster from the sources than he had from Bruce, himself? But -- still.

*Still*. He doesn't think Bruce has even begun searching these people *out*, and in a world without Google, that's kind of a serious failing.

*Before* the Fairchild business, Bruce had left files on *all* of them within Tim's keyboard-assisted reach, including himself. He's still not sure he's ever going to be *up* to thinking about the things Bruce had said about him without coming at it from the sides while also thinking deeply about completely different subjects, but Bruce certainly hadn't been easy on *himself*.

There wasn't much there that Tim hadn't guessed at one time or another, to some *degree* or another, but it was still satisfying to see his own thoughts on the screen, to know that one of the most brilliant men in the world agreed with his assessment that the man in question was practically made out of dangerous contradictions, flights of magical thinking...

The crushing doubt was there to be read *between* the lines -- and not very far between them, either. In the end, Tim was left with the realization that Bruce didn't believe he deserved the family he had, at all. At *that* time, it had made Tim struggle to get closer, to help Bruce understand all he meant, all he *was* to *Tim* --

Tim laughs quietly to himself. Somehow, Bruce had missed Tim's *own* contradictions, and, for the most part -- *after* the Fairchild business -- Tim had been more than willing to let that blind spot stand. *Let* Bruce believe that Tim had always been brave and willing, determined and focused on the *Mission* -- as opposed to on the beautiful, wonderful, brilliant people who embodied it.

*Absolutely* never let Bruce know that a part of Tim will always be thirteen and small in the Cave, surrounded by the proof of a larger, better, and more meaningful world, bursting inside with hope and joy, fear and so *much* love -- and all the want that went with it.

("The subject has always been most effective -- and comfortable -- when the professionalism of those who surround him is at its peak. He has little sympathy and less patience for those who fail in this respect, and so never allows for such failures in himself.")

And he can understand where that particular assessment had come from, but surely Bruce had seen the way his 'professionalism' got blown out of the water whenever Dick was around --

Tag at *Wayne Enterprises* for God's sake --

("The subject will never stand aside from a mission for emotional concerns, nor does he allow himself to waver once the mission is completed. In this way, he is perhaps more purely suited for the larger task than any of the Batman's other allies --")

There's never any *time* to waver, never --

("The subject is not passionless, but rather reserves his passions for those he measures and finds worthy of his attentions. For those people and things, his regard is both faithful and unflinching. As of this writing, the Batman has observed no true emotional weaknesses in the subject, save, perhaps, for a tendency to push himself farther physically than --")

No true emotional weaknesses, Bruce? Really?

Have you looked in a *mirror*?

Here's a hint -- try it *without* the cowl on for once.

Tim sucks in a deep breath and uses it to start the basic meditation which will allow him to sleep -- and which won't look too strange to either Bruce or Alfred, should they choose to walk into this bedroom.

Tom's bedroom. And Bruce --

Bruce is there, resting comfortably, and maybe this is the last time in his life when such things are truly possible -- assuming, of course, that they're possible even now. He can make things easier for this Bruce, if not necessarily better. He can serve the Mission and he can serve --

He can serve *himself*, because he knows -- *knows* -- that he doesn't have it in him to resist. A chance to be there near the beginning of it all, too late to have to worry about the morality of changing Bruce's path, but early enough to clear away some of the emotional underbrush *on* that path.

To make it easier for Bruce to be who he needs to be, and, so, one day, to make it easier for Tim Drake to be who *he* needs to be.

The only thing he's ever really believed in, the only thing he's ever truly *needed* --

And all he has to do is be a good -- brother.

He's had an excellent model for that.


"We've talked about building... oh, some sort of entryway from the manor proper down here," Tom says, gesturing at a vast and curving natural slope of rock. "We're under the west wing."

Bruce nods and watches Tom shine his flashlight up and around as he walks, clearly pacing distances and equally clearly just -- enjoying himself.

(This will be a place of trial, and of struggle. You will build it this way, and so it will always be.)

Bruce frowns. "Do you think we could... work out?"

Tom pauses and brings the flashlight to just beneath his chin. It brings his bone structure into fine relief, exposing the differences between it and Bruce's own. Tom has much finer features, and the light makes them look almost stark. He --

"You -- should eat more."

Tom raises an eyebrow. "I've always been pretty lean, Bruce. I used to try to bulk up, but it just made me feel slow and overstuffed -- and I never got much good out of it."

"But... for the mission," Bruce says, and a part of him cringes at saying it aloud --

But it makes Tom move closer, and smile wider. "It's a war, Bruce, and not one with carefully even sides and perfect organization --"

"Wars never are."

The smile on Tom's face curves on only one side, like there's a joke he's not telling Bruce, or --

Bruce doesn't know.

"This one," Tom says, "is even less so. There will *be* other soldiers one day. People who will see what we're doing and know we're in the right, that we're *needed*." And Tom taps Bruce's arm with his flashlight. "Not all the soldiers will look like *you*."

He's frowning again, because what Tom is saying -- Bruce shakes his head. "It's hard enough to get used to the idea that *you'll* be there, Tom. Other people? *Who*? How would they know how to find us? How will we know who we can *trust*?"

"We'll find *them* if we have to, Bruce. I -- you have to understand. What we feel isn't so *strange*. If it were, people wouldn't love the Justice Society as much as they do --"

"A *lot* of people don't trust them, and think they're just out to take over the world --"

"*They* don't speak for the average person, for the people who have to struggle and die when strange forces -- or 'just' average criminals -- come into their lives --"

"And cause chaos and pain," Bruce says, and nods. "I've thought... I haven't really wanted to let myself hope that people would *welcome*... well."

Tom nods and twines the fingers of his free hand into Bruce's own. "Some of them won't. And some of the people who won't will be *police* officers, which will be hard."

"The police can't always do what needs to be *done*, Tom --"

"I know that, *you* know that -- and I think, in the end, some of the police officers will know that, too. We'll have to make allies among the good ones, the ones who haven't been *corrupted* by Gotham..." Tom squeezes his hand and lets go. "In *any* event -- I can be small and still be a soldier. I'll just need to have *different* skills from the ones you'll have."

And Bruce thinks of the martial artists he's seen in the movies... most of them weren't very big, at all, but the things they could do with their bodies -- and that's when it hits him, when --

Bruce looks at Tom, stepping back enough that he can see the lines of Tom's body, the way he's holding himself almost *tautly* as he waits for Bruce, as he --

"Bruce...? Are you all right?"


"You. I saw a movie with martial artists once," Bruce says, and doesn't really know how to. Or...

Tom still only looks excited. Passionate --

"You move like that. Sometimes." But not when Alfred is there. Not *ever* when Alfred is there --

(You must use all your faculties. You must not ever *flinch*.)

"Tom... why don't you move like that all the time?"

And Tom doesn't look surprised or frightened or even wary, and a part of Bruce wants to see that as vindication, because Tom is his brother, and he wouldn't -- it's just that Tom looks *blank*, all his passion from a moment ago gone, and while Bruce *knows* that it's barely even been a couple of seconds --

"Tom. You have to *tell* me," Bruce says, and there's anger in his voice, but he can't --

(You are a child with a child's failings. That is not an excuse.)

"*Tom* --"

"I. I have a confession to make," Tom says, and steps back, looking down and pushing a hand through his hair.

He's wearing one of the few shirts Bruce has grown out of that was still in the manor, and it hangs loose on his body. His *lean* body, but Bruce had seen glimpses of muscle that seemed perfect and honed when he'd gone to wake Tom up, in the moments before Tom put on a robe -- *had* he seen scars? "Who --"

"Bruce and I... my Bruce and I are further along than you are. I didn't want to talk too much about it, because I didn't know... you're so *unsure*," Tom says, and when he looks up, his eyes are pleading and full.

*Who* -- but. "What... what do you mean 'further along?'"

"We've been taking karate and judo classes. For... for more than a year," Tom says, and when he laughs there doesn't seem to be much humor, as opposed to something... fond?

"You have to tell me, Tom. You --"

"I'm your brother, and I've never, ever been able to hide from you. Not for long, anyway," and he's looking down again, looking *away* --

And Bruce is moving before he can think about it, before he can make his mind *move* from the thought that Tom *was* hiding from him, lying to him --

Tom's jaw is hard against Bruce's hand, but he doesn't fight when Bruce tilts his head back to make Tom face him. It's a *wrong* touch, it doesn't belong between brothers --

Bruce snatches his hand back and curls it into a fist at his side --

(You will learn control, or you will never be of use to me.)

He uncurls his fist and shakes his head. "You could've *told* me," Bruce says, and winces inside, because the tone of his voice... he might as well have left his fist clenched.

Tom's eyes become sharp, almost *angry* -- "You didn't *believe*, Bruce. Not really. We *decided* that it would only be for people who believed, for people who *understood* --"

"I *do* understand --"

"But you still *doubt*," Tom says, and shakes his head. "The most important thing in my *life*, and you *doubt*."

Bruce steps back. "I was -- you were convincing me --"

"You hear the *Bat*. I *never* did, but I still knew that it was right, that this is what we *had* to be, and sometimes you *say* the right things, but I can see in your eyes that you..." Tom shakes his head again and crosses his arms over his chest. "I had to be *sure*. And I'm still not, but this isn't my home, and I *need* you, Bruce."

Need. He -- "You've never *been* alone --"

"We're *all* alone in our heads, Bruce. And yes, it's true that I had *my* Bruce, but I *know* that even though he must be worried about me -- maybe even scared to *death* -- he's still keeping his mind on the *Mission*, still working and *becoming*."

Bruce feels a little like he's being *hit*, and that doesn't belong between brothers, *either*, but Tom is so angry, and so. Oh. *He's* frightened, too. It's only behind his eyes, behind the heat of them in the pale beams of their flashlights, but it's there. It's. "You're scared, *too*, Tom --"

"Of *course* I am. I'm -- I'm frightened all the *time*, Bruce. What we plan, what we need is so huge, so much bigger than anything else we've ever done or thought of doing, but that just makes it more important."

"It makes it -- *crazy*, Tom. I hear a *voice*, and I've never seen a body to go with it. It tells me I can't have friends, that I can't feel the things I feel, can't do the things I *want* to do --"

And Tom's hand is on his shoulder, squeezing *hard*. "The Bat wants us to be more than human --"

"*Yes*, and that's not -- that's not *possible* --"

"No, it isn't," Tom says, and his voice is quiet and sure. "But all through history, humans have pushed the envelope, done *extraordinary* things with only their own *will*. We have health, essentially limitless resources, and even a place to begin, right under our home. How *can* we fail to use our will to do something great? Something right and *beautiful*?"

Bruce -- Bruce is holding his breath. He releases it an exhale, but it turns into a moan on the way out that makes Bruce want to *cringe*.

But he can't, because Tom is watching.

Because *it* is watching --

"Bruce --"

"I can't. I can't do this *alone*, Tom."

Tom's eyes go wide and searching as he squeezes Bruce's shoulder again. And then he closes his eyes and blows out a breath of his own. And opens his eyes again. "You won't be alone, Bruce."

"You'll go back to where you're *from* --"

"And even when I'm gone, you *won't* be alone. You'll remember me, and everything I've said, and everything we'll do, and even when you *can't* remember that -- you'll have the Bat."

And Bruce knows what Tom wants him to say, what he wants Bruce to *feel*, but -- "I don't. I don't know if that's *enough*."

"You'll *make* it enough. If not for yourself, then for every little boy --" Tom bites his lip and his hand almost seems to *spasm* on Bruce's shoulder.

"Tom --"

"*No*. We *can't* let what happened to us ever happen to anyone else, Bruce. You *know* that. I -- please tell me you *know* that."

The first vow, and the most important one, even though it gets lost --

Even though Bruce has *let* it get lost under his own greed and fear. Tom -- Tom was right to doubt him. Bruce reaches up and pulls Tom's hand from his shoulder --

And *aches* inside at the flash of *deep* fear in Tom's eyes, denial and *loss* --

"No, Tom, no -- I know. I do know. And I *remember*," Bruce says, and fumbles until he can hold Tom's hand in his own. "I'll do *better*."

Tom searches him for a moment and bites his lip again --

"*Please*, Tom. Don't --" Leave me. Don't ever, ever -- "Please," he says again, and squeezes Tom's hand.

And after a moment, Tom squeezes it back, searching Bruce more until whatever he sees makes him smile again, small and -- so wonderful.

Bruce smiles back, and knows it doesn't look as good as Tom's does, but he has to share this moment, to have it and every other until Tom has to. "He must miss you so much, Tom."

"I miss him, too, but." And Tom takes a deep breath and moves that last step closer, until they're touching and Bruce can feel everything he'd allowed himself to miss before.

Tom is lean muscle all over -- or at least everywhere Bruce can reach and remember. There is no part of him which isn't defined, isn't *honed*. Over a *year* of learning martial arts, and Tom must be so skilled by now, so --

Bruce strokes up and touches --

Even Tom's *neck* is strong, and it's more than Tom simply being well-made. He's --

He's allowing Bruce to touch, standing still for it just as if it's all right *for* Bruce to touch him this way, to stroke and press and feel every muscle. Oh --

Bruce is able to swallow back the moan before it gets out, and he's able to pull his hands away, one from Tom's neck and one from Tom's abdomen, perfect and so *hard* --

He doesn't clench his fists, not even when Tom smiles, sharp and almost *arch*. "I was wondering if you were going to strip me before you stopped."

Bruce winces and *still* doesn't clench his fists --

"It's okay. We -- Bruce and I examine each other a lot," Tom says, lifting his hands and making a gesture that seems to say both 'easy' and 'it's all right.' "We have to, to make sure we don't injure ourselves too badly when we're working out."

"I would like to -- I want to work out. With you."

Tom nods and reaches up to touch Bruce's shoulders. For a moment Bruce thinks Tom will hug him, and Bruce lifts his arms --  "Relax," and Tom's voice is curt and almost Leslie-like.

"Sorry --"

"It's all right. I'm just... testing," Tom says, and starts to squeeze and press -- it's almost like getting a massage, or... maybe it's exactly like getting a massage, between people who have a lot of work to do and little time to do it.

There's so much Bruce doesn't *know* --

"I have to teach you how to stretch," Tom says, and steps back, tugging his flashlight back out of the waistband of his jeans and running the beam over the floor near them.

They're the new jeans Tom had insisted on when Alfred had made arrangements for clothes in Tom's size to be delivered, and thus probably the new briefs, too...

"We need to bring a broom down here next time --"

"I'm used to exercising on the floor as it is --"

"We have to start making this place *right*," and Tom walks a little way -- "Here, get down on the ground."

"I do know how to stretch from gym class, Tom."

Tom flashes the beam over his face for long enough that Bruce can see his smile. "You haven't *begun* to learn how to stretch, Bruce. Trust me."

He -- "I do," Bruce says, and swallows against the way his breathing wants to become labored and difficult, against the *feeling*, so strong and so good --

Bruce moves and gets down until he's sitting on the floor with his legs out in front of himself --

"Spread your legs and bend down between them," Tom says, and as soon as Bruce does it, Tom is there, gripping Bruce's shoulders and twisting them just so, spreading Bruce's legs farther apart --

"Oh -- that far?"

"And farther yet, but not today. Hold your arms out straight and *don't* lock your elbows..." Tom runs the beam over him. "Yes, like that. Now hold it for a slow fifteen count."

Bruce hasn't made it to seven before he can *really* feel the stretch in his thighs and back, even though every time he's done this before it hasn't been that challenging, at all. It's -- he *hasn't* done this before, not this way, and he wonders if he would be better at this if he'd gone out for a sport the way Alfred had seemed to want him to.

He'd avoided that more to avoid having to deal with more *people* than for any lack of interest in athletics. From what he's observed, people take a great deal of pleasure in using their bodies for such things, no matter how painful and difficult the individual sports actually are. There's something so human about it, so -- perhaps he means classic? From humanity's earliest days, physical games have been a major part of --

"Now bend over your right leg," Tom says, and Bruce had definitely been woolgathering.

Perhaps to protect himself from the knowledge that he truly is helplessly *behind*. He *could* have asked Alfred to enroll him in karate classes -- it would've suited both his mission and Alfred's desire for him to do more physical things, to be more -- normal.

Tom digs his strong fingers in against Bruce's shoulders, hard enough to make Bruce gasp --

"Too much tension, Bruce."

"I'm --"

"Sorry. I know, but that doesn't matter. Remember, the point of this is to leave your muscles as warm and limber as they can be, so you can *move*."

Bruce nods, and isn't really surprised to discover that the slight relaxation Tom had forced out of him had increased the *depth* of this stretch significantly. "I'm beginning to see what you meant, Tom."

"Good," Tom says, and slips his hands from Bruce's shoulders -- massages quickly down Bruce's back --

"Oh. That feels -- did you learn *that* in your martial arts training, as well?"

"Ah... mainly just trial and error," Tom says. "And studying anatomy, of course."

Relief, *pleasure* -- "I've -- I *have* studied anatomy. I think I'm okay at it."

Tom hums and guides Bruce into a bend over his left leg, and it's cold enough down here that Tom's hands are wonderfully warm on top of being so strong and *good* at this.

This time, it's easy to relax himself, and to stay that way even as he pulls himself into a better stretch --

"Good, good. You're already learning, Bruce. I *know* you'll remember this."

"I -- yes," Bruce says, and in the darkness, Tom can't see him blush at the praise. He's done so little, but Tom is --

Maybe he's just that generous, or... maybe he thinks Bruce is still unsteady enough that he *needs* that sort of feedback?

"You don't have to -- I mean, I'll know I'm doing it right if you just don't tell me I'm doing it wrong --"

Tom taps Bruce's shoulder twice. "You should get upright again and pull your knee up."

"I -- all right, but --"

"You'll wrap your arm around your knee -- no, like this... perfect. Now twist to look behind yourself, and... heh. There's nothing wrong with praise when something is done properly, Bruce."

(When you are ready, you will know.)

Bruce opens his mouth -- and closes it again, shaking his head.

"What's that, Bruce?" Tom shines the beam at the lower half of Bruce's face. "Are you wondering if I'll make you *soft*?"

The laughter in Tom's voice is -- really, really obvious. "I just don't want you to think that I *am* ... soft," Bruce says, and tries to twist a little farther --

"No," Tom says, and squeezes Bruce's shoulder. "You're not going for the world record, here."

"But I *can* go farther --"

"Not without tensing up in too many places. You always did have to watch that. And there's nothing wrong with compliments and praise when they're honest and well-meant," and Tom crouches and rubs the tension out of Bruce's back again.

"That feels really -- um. You have good hands."

Tom hums again, and Bruce wants to see his face, to see if Tom looks as pleased as he sounds -- he's stretching, and that's what he's going to do.

"Okay --"

"Other side?"

"Yes," Tom says, and rests his palm against the center of Bruce's back. It's a warm, solid reminder to stay as loose as he can, and, once again, he gets both further than he thought and not as far as he wants to.

"I want -- will you show me how *you* stretch?"

"I'll show you -- everything I can," Tom says, and moves back, once more.

After a while, the bats screech with -- almost -- one voice.

Tom's breathing never even hitches.


The library is a strange and somewhat heady mix of the familiar and the strange. It's as silent and cathedral-like as it should be, but the hair and the clothes of everyone there...

There's a difference between living with Bruce and Alfred and living in the real world. Tim has known that for a long, long time, but this is a little ridiculous. He'd *thought* he'd gotten used to it enough during the drive into the city proper -- and Tom Wayne had plenty of reason to study Gotham like a tourist, and perhaps to be studied just as closely by his 'brother,' who really didn't stay as far to his side of the car as he *could* have -- but even having gotten used to the large and boat-like cars...

And really, he's allowed to be proud of himself for that. There were far fewer *colors* than he was used to, and far, *far* more *shapes*. He's in an America which hasn't had an energy crisis, and a world where people haven't yet come to terms with wanting their vehicles to be fluorescent lime. Both of these things are strange...

But not as strange as the preponderance of paisley, the color avocado, and lapels which could be used as glider wings. Exeter's suit jackets are rather more conservative than that, thankfully, but the clothes which had arrived for him -- and Tim is very, very grateful that *his* Alfred had only just measured him again, making it possible for Tim to rattle off his measurements so that this Alfred didn't have to see him in a state of undress --

The clothes are very, very seventies. The *real* Tom Wayne probably has much longer hair. As of now, he and Bruce both have the sort of hair which isn't *quite* long enough to be fashionable, and which thus makes them both look like geeks --

Has the term geek made it into the group consciousness, yet? He's living in a world where people say *groovy* without irony --

He's fine, and, in the end, the microfiche set-up is exactly like what he remembers from the days before the local newspapers had searchable online archives. He gathers what information he can about the Justice Society, fighting back the urge to berate himself over how little attention he'd given them instead of the League.

Much of the coverage has been about Captain Marvel -- he's not going to even *try* to do the math about Billy Batson -- and Green Lantern. He checks the society pages for anything he can find about Alan Scott, but there's very little to be had.

What he *really* needs is information on Dr. Fate, but he hasn't been searching for an hour before he has to deal with the fact that the man is just as private now as he is in Tim's time. If there's anyone on this end of the time-stream who can do something to get Tim back where he belongs, it's him, but how to even *approach* the man?

The headquarters are right there, but it's not like he can just walk *in*...

Alfred has government connections. He had never used them where Tim could be sure of what they actually entailed, and getting in touch with a super-team is something on a rather different order of magnitude than being allowed to act as guardian to a grieving boy -- and pulling strings to make sure a corporation holds itself in stewardship for said boy's majority -- but.


Tom *would* ask, and Tim needs to.

He leaves the microfiche and heads for the card catalog, noting and *coping* with the rather light selection of Eastern spiritualism and meditation. He skims the books as quickly as he can, and comes up with a few titles that have bits and pieces of what Bruce had actually taught him. It really would be too much to ask for *one* book to have what he needs, and so he still can't really... hm.

Could he get away with saying that the sensei at Tom's and Bruce's dojo had taught him these techniques?

Which dojo would that be, exactly? No, it would be all right if it didn't exist here, but he's going to have to *find* Bruce a dojo before he leaves, assuming Bruce doesn't feel the urge to do it, himself --

No, he *has* Bruce now. He'd felt it last night a dozen times if he'd felt it once. Bruce hadn't wanted to leave the Cave, at all -- not even when the cold had started to stiffen his movements.

He'd insisted on watching Tim do a -- very, very basic -- kata in Tom's room, and the way his eyes had looked...

The way he'd kept reaching out to *touch*, as if Tim had been doing something amazing, spectacular... Tim smiles to himself as he takes down the names of the books which will actually be useful for Bruce. It had been hard not to show Bruce what he could *really* do, and, in the end, he'd given up on the idea of not showing Bruce how flexible he is.

Maybe Tom *is* just naturally bendy. Tim swallows back a laugh and keeps looking.

Right now, Alfred is taking Bruce on the yearly pilgrimage out near the pine barrens to choose a tree for the manor, though thankfully he has, at this point, stopped insisting on there being a *party*. It's not that Tim doesn't think he could easily fake being a heretofore lost Wayne cousin, it's just that it would be a colossal waste of energy and resources, and...

And it would be hard on Bruce. Both the lies and the need to be social. Tim understands that, and...

The truth is that he's *always* understood it, though he has a lot of sympathy for what it must have been like for Dick to have no one his age around for so much of the time. But for now, *let* it be just the three of them, and after they spend a while acting like a family, he and Bruce can get back to what they *really* need to do.

When he's done taking down titles, he still has about an hour before Alfred had said he'd be back to pick Tim up, so he gives himself leave to do a quick perimeter of the library, to walk the city a little and get a *sense* of the time, if such a thing is possible.

He thinks he *will* find a dojo for Bruce. He'll make sure the sensei is reputable and skilled, and doesn't spout nonsense about 'kangaroo style' or something else ridiculously well-designed to gull the Western and ignorant.

Perhaps he'll pull on a ski mask and stalk the sensei in question, start a fight, and... all right, no, that's a little over the top. He'll be *able* to tell just by reading the man or woman's movements, and asking a few pointed questions. It'll be all right.

On the street, there's the usual clash of music from different cars, and Tim's usual lack of familiarity *with* that music. Of course, in his time there's a kind of fashion to being unfamiliar with popular music, but he's reasonably sure his indie cred won't get him very far here. Bruce didn't seem to have a stereo in his room, at all, though, and presumably *he* gets by without knowing about popular music.

Maybe all the Waynes are somewhat soulless in this regard.

The people... there are actually fewer afros than he would've expected on the Black people he sees, though a great many more bellbottoms. He notices several uses of the Black Power fist, and wonders, idly, what had caused that to pass out of popular existence.

There don't seem to be many Latinos in this neighborhood, at all, and Tim remembers that immigration from Latin America hadn't really started to pick up in Gotham until the eighties. His Spanish is a lot less useful than it would be in the real Tom Wayne's California... well, he won't exactly be patrolling here, and he *does* have other languages.

The White men and boys he sees generally have hair down to their shoulders, or at around that length. The business types have lapels -- and ties -- which make Tim hurt inside, the younger and less professional types wear jeans and what look like blouses under their coats. The jeans are all much darker than what Tim is used to, and he remembers that stone and acid-washing techniques haven't been commercially applied, yet, if they're even being used at all.

The jeans he'd been wearing when he got here might have helped to fuel Alfred's suspicions, now that he thinks about it, as they'd be more likely to be found on an -- older -- laborer. Tim keeps walking and filing things away as he goes, and tries not to let himself stress too much about school.

It's only a week before Alfred will be driving them both back up to Exeter, and that *will* make things both easier and harder. No Alfred to watch him like a hawk means no Alfred to hopefully ease Tim's way home. More teenagers around will almost certainly make Bruce cleave to him even more... and that means Bruce will be *there* more, close and wondering, open and --


And a part of Tim is making rather derisive comments about how that really shouldn't be a *question*, at this point, because he's *Bruce*.

And because Tim is Tim.

Tim stops at a street corner next to a man snapping his fingers to music -- that's only in his mind, because there won't even be *walkmans* for a while. Tim shudders internally and --

Gets lost, a little, in the memory of Bruce moving in the strange and mobile shadows of a flashlight beam, in the memory of the quiet sounds he made while doing pushups to Tim's specifications, to the feel of strong ankles in his hands when Bruce was doing crunches.

He'd been silent for those, save for his breathing -- and of *course* he had been quick to learn the breathing techniques Tim had given him.

His hair had fallen over his face, a little, and his eyes, when Tim checked, had been focused and *hard*... right up until Bruce had looked at *him*, and even though there was no way he could have been able to see Tim's face, the softening had been immediate and a little breathtaking, a little --

("Thank you, Tom. For everything.")

Traffic is moving again, and time is passing. Tim tries one of his more casual walks -- teenager with nothing better to do -- and the man snapping and bopping to the music in his head gives him a friendly nod.

Tim gives it right back and veers off down a street which will, in twenty-four years, survive a horrible earthquake mostly unscathed.

*That* building will hold a shelter for women with young children amid stacks of legal books being gradually used for fuel. That one there, will be an r-point and gathering place...

And that one has part of the earliest underground rail system running beneath it, and will become a satellite Cave. Tim doesn't stop and he doesn't stare.

He should, perhaps, insist on Bruce accompanying him on a tour of the city, on making Bruce start to feel the *heart* of it.

Has he started his pilgrimages to Crime Alley, yet? It wouldn't be amiss for Tim to mention it, assuming he's still here in -- God, *April*.

No, he'll be home by then, *somehow*. It won't ever come up.

He should --

There's so *much*, and while a part of Tim is only striving to quiet the panic of the rest -- he *is* already on the right track -- the rest *is* panicking again, a little.

Bruce knows so much more than Tim does, even now. Bruce had had *years* to travel the world on his road to becoming the Batman, and there's only so much Tim can do, and --

And now that it's begun, this Bruce will do what he has to. Just -- Tim *has* to believe that, or everything else falls apart. Tim shrugs his new coat on a little tighter -- Tim zips up, even though it's not that cold with his -- also new -- sweater and button down shirt.

Tim chooses not to think too deeply about the entirely decade-appropriate collar.

In some ways, it's entirely logical for Tim to always be on the edge of a panic attack. He's outside of his time, and he has taken responsibilities for himself which will, if all goes according to plan, change the *world*. Even to the way Bruce will eventually choose his *partners*.

Would the rest of the League have chosen teenagers to work with them if Bruce hadn't? Would there have *been* a Titans team?

So many people -- all over the *world* -- will live or die because of what Bruce does or doesn't choose to do with his free time. And Bruce is looking to *him* for that.

Tim sighs and closes his eyes for a moment, letting the sounds and the scents -- pretzels and hot dogs, mostly -- wash over him until he feels like a part of Gotham again, something more than simply an observer.

When he opens his eyes, he's being stared at by a girl with long, blonde, feathered hair and teal eye shadow. She doesn't look like Steph even a little bit, and so it's easy to smile at her and keep walking. He can feel her eyes on him as he goes, but the feeling passes.


And what if he helps create a Batman who never fires Dick, because he's sane enough to keep those urges under control? What happens to Jason?

What happens to him, and to Steph, and --

A Bruce who was, maybe, just crazy *enough* to fire Dick, but not crazy enough to hide things from Jason and then from Steph...

He doesn't know, and he can't let himself think about that, either. Bruce is sixteen, and a lot of things are going to happen to him after Tim gets back home, and --

What happens, exactly, when Tim tells Dick Grayson that Batman needs a Robin? When a thirty-eight year old Bruce looks at Tim Drake and sees his 'brother'?

No. No, whether he's in a different universe -- albeit one with no major timeline differences that he can see, no different countries or different borders on existing countries, at least from what he remembers of mid-seventies geography --

Whether he's in a different universe, or just at a point in his own universe's timeline where something Tim-specific needed to happen, he has to take the evidence he's been given and work with it. The world -- and possibly the multiverse, given the way events had proceeded *just* during his tenure as Robin -- needs Bruce, and Bruce needed, *needs* someone like Tim to help him be who he needs to be. If he starts trying to second-guess things beyond that --

Then at least he won't spend too much time thinking about the feel of Bruce's hand -- so soft and unscarred -- in his own.

And by the time Tim gets back to the front of the library, the Rolls is idling at the curb.

Bruce pushes the door open for him before Alfred can so much as open his *own* door -- and Tim's pretty sure he's easing into the car right after a *profound* '*really*, Master Bruce.'

"Were you successful in your studies, Master Tom?"

"To a certain extent," Tim says, and settles in next to Bruce -- who still isn't as far on his side as he could be.

He's not *looking* at Tim, but his hand is between them, and. Twins are closer than other kinds of siblings. Tim covers Bruce's hand with his own and curls his fingers under it.

*That* makes Bruce look at him, and his eyes seem bottomless and... tinged with hurt?

Tim squeezes lightly --

Bruce squeezes *hard*, but turns away again, and -- Tim gets it. Tom had been researching -- in part -- to find a way *home*, and Bruce...

Tim resists the urge to lick his lips and quiets, as best he can, the part of him which will always be thirteen and in love, thirteen and desperate to do or say something -- *anything* -- which would make Bruce look at him for something more than the Mission, speak to him or even *touch* --

"I... I still couldn't see any major differences between this world and my own, though looking at the maps started to make me extremely paranoid about my knowledge of geography." And nobody knows where Themyscira is, yet. "I really think my best bet might be to try to contact the Justice Society, but figuring out how to do that and not come off like a crazy person is a little beyond me, at the moment," Tim says, speaking to the back of Alfred's head and... rubbing Bruce's hand, a little.

Just for the contact, the reassurance --

"I will consider how best such an endeavor might be undertaken," Alfred says, after a moment. "For the moment, I have informed the admissions staff at Exeter that you will be joining Master Bruce at the beginning of the spring term. They were understandably vexed by the suddenness of my news, but, in the end, you are a Wayne."

And sometimes, that means more than even the money behind it. "Ah... thank you, Alfred," and Tim turns to look at Bruce. If one were to ignore the tension visible in his neck and shoulders -- and in the hand Tim is holding -- Bruce would almost seem to be dreamily staring out the window.

As it is, Tim can *feel* Bruce's brain working overtime, or... who knows? Maybe the Bat is giving him more instructions on how to better himself. Tom has, to date, been quite careful about always saying that only *some* of the Bat's advice is good, but it's possible he should be more clear about how listening to it *all* the time will just get Bruce in trouble, emotionally.

How much more efficient might Bruce have been in that year between firing Dick and when Jason was ready to go out on the street?

Tim strokes Bruce's hand a little more firmly. "Alfred, I was wondering if you might drop Bruce and me in the city tomorrow? I had the chance to take a short walk today, but... well, in my world, we try to stay a little more connected to the city."

"An outing, Master Tom? That sounds like a capital idea. The two of you spend far too much time in that *cave* as it is."

"It's a fascinating place," Bruce says, and his voice seems almost rusty with disuse. He clears his throat. "It exists in the other world, as well."

"Does it?" And Alfred's tone is one of polite interest, but it's Alfred, and so it manages to also be infused with the deepest possible disapproval.

Bruce frowns and looks down at his lap, very clearly used to having some version of this argument with Alfred.

Tim squeezes Bruce's hand again and then goes back to stroking it. "There's a certain comfort to the place, Alfred --"

"It is a vast and dangerous hole in the ground, and I have no great desire to have either of you fall to your deaths in the dark --"

"It *could* be lighted," Tim says, taking an interruption for his own. "Alfred insisted on it in my world."

And Bruce is looking at Tim, searching him, really, and Tim can tell that there's a great deal of confusion there -- possibly even *betrayal* -- but. The Cave is not yet what it *needs* to be.

"We've been talking about clearing away some of the smaller debris and making the space more... welcoming."

Alfred sniffs. "Were you planning to hold *parties* down there?"

Bruce squeezes Tim's hand *hard* --

"Hardly, Alfred. It's *our* space, and no one else's," Tim says. "But there's no reason for it to be forever shrouded in the proverbial inky black."

Alfred is silent, and there's a sense of him gathering force for his arguments, but there are no options, here. The Cave will be theirs, and that's all there is to it --

"I want." Bruce shifts and moves his hand away from Tim's, resting it on his thigh instead as he leans forward. "I want a gymnasium. Down there."

"Master Bruce --"

"It wouldn't fit -- it doesn't belong in the manor, itself, and I. I'll do the work, myself. I'll have to learn wiring, but I don't think that will take very long. The mats and equipment can be ordered easily."

"What sort of *equipment*?" And Tim can see that Alfred *wants* to turn around, wants to give Bruce the full force of his *presence* -- but it surely wasn't Bruce who insisted that he always ride in the *back* of the car.

Tim smiles to himself and sits back.

"Weights, mats, and whatever else I decide I want. I'll install all of it, myself. It's... time for me to start exercising more regularly."

"I have *nothing* against you taking up some healthful activity, Master Bruce, but the *cave* --"

"Is where I want to do it," Bruce says, and *also* leans back. "And I plan to start taking karate classes in the summer, after school lets out."

Alfred sighs. "Will you tell me *why* you have this sudden interest?"

And Tim braces himself -- much of this could become *problematic* if Bruce looks at him too obviously --

But Bruce never looks at him, at all. "It's time," he says, and there's something in his voice that's more right than anything Tim has heard in days, more *perfect*.

The tension leaves Alfred in an exhale that speaks broadly of *all* victories won by adolescents over adults. "And you'll wish to be secretive about all of this, of course."


"Because of the *project* that has been bringing you down to that accursed *place* --" Alfred cuts himself off and sighs again. "The lighting will come first, and there will be barricades erected around the more dangerous areas."

"Yes," Bruce says again, and Tim cuts his eyes to the left enough to see Bruce grip his own knee, watches him relax his hand again and *not* reach for Tim's again very loudly.

Tim closes his eyes and lets all of the smile out.


It's ridiculous -- and shameful -- to want Tom to stay here.

Bruce has been telling himself that repeatedly for hours, ever since Tom had brought up going to the Justice Society and Bruce had felt something inside him *tear*.

That something -- it's just not *old* enough to affect him as much as it does. It should be a little loss, something more akin to what Bruce had felt when the children's librarian who always seemed to have a *special* smile for him had taken her maternity leave.

Or -- all right, maybe not that small. Tom is his brother, and that means (so much) more than most other things. It's been so long since Bruce has *had* a family, and to discover one like this, to have someone so smart and passionate and dedicated --

They're eating together in the small dining room. When he was younger, Alfred would join Bruce there to eat his own meal, but that hasn't been the case for quite some time.

Tom doesn't seem to see anything strange about the two of them being together here, and... maybe he should?

Maybe Bruce just wants to hear his voice speaking of anything but going home.

Bruce fixes his eyes on his plate and tries to focus on tasting the food. It's nothing Alfred had ever cooked before, but it's not all that strange. There's beef, eggplant, fresh tomatoes... it's a little spicy, too, and --

Tom laughs, quiet and soft, and maybe Bruce won't *have* to start a conversation, won't have to be that demanding --

He looks up, and Tom is watching him with a smile on his face that's both amused and fond. It makes Bruce need to smile back, a little, and --

"Do you like it?"

And Bruce is about to say yes, that he likes this very much, that he wants to eat all of his meals with Tom, and to watch him smile -- he means the food. Bruce swallows. "I -- I'm honestly unsure. Do you know what it is?"

Tom takes a sip of his wine and looks at Bruce from under his lashes. His eyes are dancing, a little.

Bruce wants to hold him. Just -- hold.

"It's called moussaka," Tom says, and spears a piece of Bruce's eggplant on his fork, even though he still has a quarter of his own portion left. "I asked Alfred to make it for me."

"Oh. That's a relief. I was worried that Alfred was starting to experiment again to try to find foods I liked. Did... did he do that with your Bruce?"

Tom nods and returns to his own plate. "Mostly he cooks to my tastes now, since you refuse to develop any."

"I like food," Bruce says, and tries not to look too defensive. "Alfred is a wonderful cook. He doesn't make anything that's *bad*."

Tom raises and eyebrow and swallows another small bite. "Not even when he's experimenting...?"

"Not even then," Bruce says, and shifts on his seat a little. His napkin is placed correctly, and there's only a little of the 'moussaka' left on his plate. And -- "There were some really *weird* things, though."

"Neither of us were especially fond of Alfred's efforts with ah... Ecuadoran cuisine."

"That cheese seemed to be in *everything*," Bruce says, and Tom snorts, covering his mouth.

His shoulders are shaking a little, and his eyes are closed, and Bruce doesn't think he'd said anything *that* funny, but he's willing to go with the idea that maybe something *very* amusing had happened with that cheese in Tom's own universe. It really doesn't matter. It's *nice* to watch Tom laugh, just as it's nice to watch Tom to just about everything he does.

Even like this, with the laughter threatening to make Tom make a *mess*, the motions are contained. *Controlled*.

It makes Bruce wonder what it would be like to see Tom *lose* control, somehow, but he doesn't really know how that would work. Even now, Tom is ruthlessly bringing his breathing back to normal and looking up. *Searching* Bruce with shining eyes.

"You could tell me what *that* was about."

Tom shakes his head and waves a hand, wiping away all possible relevance. "You -- ah. There was this expression my Bruce made when he tasted the sixth dish with that particular cheese in it. Just -- a little pained."

"And that's funny?"

"The way you do it? *Yes*," Tom says, and pushes his plate away even though there's still food on it. He's done that *every* time they've eaten together.

Maybe Tom's Alfred knows his limits better.

"I want to take a jog around the grounds in a bit," and Tom leans back in his chair and crosses his legs before lifting the wine glass to his lips.

"The ground beneath the snow will be pretty boggy," Bruce says. "We had that melt."

Tom's eyes practically *flare*. "More of a challenge, that way."

And that... Bruce finishes his own food and thinks about how to phrase his question. Or... really, what he's doing is searching for the Bat, which had been answering his questions for a long, long time. Bruce doesn't really know if the Bat has true wisdom -- and never mind the question of where the Bat is *coming* from -- but the Bat was there when all of the adults weren't.

The Bat was in all the dark places Bruce could see, and at least some of the ones he wasn't aware of until he found himself in them --

("It's always dark *inside*. But sometimes that's okay.")

-- *of* them, and should he be worried that Tom answers some of his questions, now? Shouldn't he be more independent? The Bat had been so *clear* about Bruce being alone for this...

And that had made Bruce hesitant and slow. No, he needs -- and maybe even deserves -- answers from wherever he can get them. There is wisdom all around, if you're willing to look for it.


Yes, that. Bruce sets down his fork and turns to Tom, watching him swirl the wine in the bottom of his glass -- hmm. "Do you enjoy wine?"

"Some of them," Tom says, and cocks his head to, perhaps, look at the way the light flows through the liquid. "Mostly, with wine, my concern is how well it goes with the meal."

"Alfred has been teaching me a lot about that."

Tom smiles. "Alfred is the *master* at that. He really could be an accredited sommelier if he wanted to be. Assuming he *isn't* already and we just don't know about it. Anyway, *this* wine went so perfectly with the moussaka that I can almost ignore the fact that I find it to be a little too dry," and Tom sets the glass down and looks at Bruce. "What did you *really* want to ask me?"

Is there anything I can do to make you *need* to stay with me? Bruce bites the inside of his lip. "I was wondering about the training. You say the boggy ground will be a challenge..."

Tom nods. "We'll have to keep our form *very* assiduously."

"Where do you draw the line between useful challenge and pointless risk? We obviously have to be careful to avoid hurting ourselves, and yet we must also push ourselves to the limit -- and beyond."

Another nod. "There's no hard and fast rule -- that Bruce and I have found. In terms of the training... there's *going* to be pain, but common sense has to kick in, as well. Both Bruce and I have given ourselves sprains and pulled muscles because we got so lost in the *joy* of what we were learning... well. So far, I think, it gets to be something like an instinct."

Bruce frowns. "That seems... nebulous. And." I've seen your body. I've *seen* you --


"You. You have scars. On your hands and... elsewhere."

Tom looks down. "The first day my Bruce perfected judo throws... I made him do it to me over and over again, down in the Cave. I was bleeding and bruised all over when he was done, and I felt -- incredible. Fantastic." He looks up again and smiles. "I have a little more control, now. We both do."

"Bleeding and -- what did you tell *Alfred*? And -- what about your other scars?"

"We told Alfred I fell. I don't think he believed us all that much -- but that's when we got the Cave lighted. And..." Tom reaches across and covers Bruce's hand with his own.

There's the usual thrill of warmth, of the kind of heat which makes Bruce feel like he's waking up all over, like he's *been* asleep --

"I can be reckless, sometimes. Heedless, especially when it seemed like Bruce was learning things so much faster... well." Tom's smile is rueful and self-deprecating. "I'm getting better, I swear," he says, leaning back --

Just as Alfred walks into the room.

Bruce feels his hand *twitch* under Tom's, but Tom never moves his hand -- this touch is all right, even though it makes him feel --

Even though it makes him feel.

Alfred nods to Bruce and kind of *tuts* at Tom. "Was it not prepared in the correct manner, young sir?"

Tom smiles. "It was *perfect*, Alfred, and you know it. I should've known you'd add some hot peppers, as well."

Alfred raises an eyebrow. "Perhaps something of a constant. Still, you cannot expect to keep growing if you'll insist on eating as though it were a sin."

Tom takes his hand from Bruce's -- Tom spreads his hands. "What can I say? I've just never been a big eater."

"If you *lose* weight while you are with us, I would not be surprised to see another -- *vastly* displeased -- Alfred appear."

Tom smiles even wider. "We can compromise -- I'll stuff myself with those cookies I smelled you baking when Bruce and I get back from our run."

Alfred's hum seems to promise dire consequences should Tom fail to do just that, and Bruce wonders how many of the cookies Tom takes *he'll* be eating to protect Tom from Alfred's wrath. Somehow, the idea of there being a price to pay for having more of Tom's company -- however minuscule and delicious -- is satisfying to a part of Bruce's mind which doesn't really have the words to express itself.

There's a warmth to the concept, or...

Perhaps someone like him should always pay *some* sort of price for such things.

For this, he's more than willing.

The run turns out to be uneventful, save for Bruce coming close to losing his boot halfway into the second mile. Tom had jogged in place while offering advice on how Bruce could free himself, not even a little breathless.

After that, Bruce had worked harder to copy Tom's form, even though it made his thighs and calves ache, a little. Muscle he needs to earn. He wonders how *much* he's holding Tom back -- there's no question that he is -- and after they're done with the third mile, Bruce insists that Tom keeps going without him.

It makes Tom smile ruefully again, makes him reach out, and even with their gloves on, Bruce still feels that *thrill*.

It makes him want to run more, to *follow*, but he has to admit that he's out of breath.

He decides to wait for Tom in the Cave, out of the wind, careful to keep his coat zipped until the sweat starts to dry on its own. At the very least, he knows how not to give himself a chill.

He walks through the darkness on paths his body has known for years, carrying one of the larger rocks so he can at least work his upper body, a little.

Weights will change everything. *Lights* --

Will they chase the Bat away?

From everything Tom has said about his Bruce, *nothing* seems to chase it away, and Bruce doesn't really know how he feels about that.

He has cried in the dark for the things the Bat has said to him, for the efforts the Bat has made him make. He has been...

A part of Bruce has hoped, as quietly as it could, that the Bat would fade away as he got older, that maybe it was one of those 'things of childhood' that must be left behind. What will it be like to be an *adult* with the Bat in his head?

Will it interrupt Wayne Enterprises board meetings? Will it say nasty things about Lucius?

Tom is convinced that Bruce isn't at all schizophrenic -- or any of the other terrible things he could be -- but Tom is just a --

Tom isn't just a kid. *That* much he knows with all of himself. Tom could probably make *Leslie* pause, and maybe even does in his own world. Had she been the ones to treat the wounds that had become scars? Alfred, among other things, has the training of a military medic -- he'd heard Leslie and his father talking about it, once -- but some of those scars...

He has one on his throat that he tries to keep covered under his collars that looks horrible. If he asks, Tom will probably tell him about some amazing thing he'd learned to do with *his* Bruce, but surely no Bruce would ever try to hurt Tom that way?

Bruised and *bleeding*, he'd said, and when Bruce thinks about throwing Tom like that, he cringes inside. It's just that he also wonders, a little, because even learning the small things about breathing and stretching has made Bruce feel powerful and *right* inside.

Could he ever get so excited that he'd hurt Tom by accident? He fears that it's possible, and *that* shouldn't be between brothers, at all. Or... he's heard other kids talking about their siblings, about terrible fights over inconsequential things like toys and television programs. Siblings apparently fight all the *time*, but -- this is different.

They're *training*, not fighting, and they have to take care of each other. Bruce promises himself that he'll do everything in his power to avoid hurting Tom, no matter *how* much fun all the moves he learns will be.

(This is not about fun.)

It *can* be. In part.

(Do you think I'm here to *entertain* you?)

You don't. It's *Tom*, and he agrees with you.

(There is no ease to this Mission, and no room for those who do not understand.)

Tom understands. More than I do.

(You must not become distracted --)

"I'm not distracted!"

"No? You seemed a little lost to *me*."

*Tom*, and -- Bruce doesn't drop the stone, but it's a near thing. "Tom, I --"

"The Bat. I know," Tom says, and rests a hand on Bruce's shoulder, tugging until Bruce turns to face him.

It's too dark down here for them to see each other, but Tom sighs as if he can see everything he needs to. "How... how much farther did you run?"

"Another two miles," and his tone is dismissive and almost casual. He's *still* not out of breath.

"You..." Bruce shakes his head.


"Do you run with your Bruce every day?"

"Sometimes we run separately, depending on our schedules, but we both try to do it at least four times a week."

Bruce nods and remembers Tom can't see him -- Tom slides his hand to Bruce's neck, fingertips brushing Bruce's face. Bruce nods again --

"There you are." There's a laugh in Tom's voice that Bruce really likes, and.

"Here I am. Um. Are we going to work out tonight?"

"Inside. I want you to be able to see how my body moves."

"I -- oh." He wants that, too. "I just... assumed we'd be in the Cave."

Tom sighs, and touches Bruce's hand -- "A rock?"

"Er. A heavy one."

Another sigh. "I can't wait until you have real weights. You're going to be amazed by how much stronger you'll get all over. Put it down?"

Bruce turns and does it, and Tom never takes his hand away. Bruce can feel it stroking over his shoulders, down his back --

And back up to his face when Bruce turns again. And then Tom takes one of Bruce's hands in his other and brings it to *his* face.

"Oh. You're smiling."

And Bruce can feel Tom's smile get a little wider. "It's always good to be here with you, Bruce."


Tom strokes over Bruce's face lightly, moving to his forehead -- Tom can feel him frowning. "What's wrong?"

"You said -- when you fight with your Bruce, what is it about?"

Tom squeezes Bruce's hand. "Sometimes it's about the Bat."

"Oh -- I. Really?"

"Well... maybe it's more about what the Bat wants, and how *I* think it doesn't always know the right way to get where we need to be. I... the Bat didn't want me, Bruce."

(The path is for you, and no other.)

"No. *No* --"


(You are not yet prepared. The smallest mistake --)

Bruce growls and steps back, but that isn't -- he steps *forward*, and immediately knocks into Tom, nearly causing him to stumble. He wraps his arms around Tom and holds on, yelling wordlessly inside himself until he can't hear anything at all, including the sound of his own thoughts.

He's aware, though, and Tom is holding him, Tom is close and warm and *here*, and Bruce won't give him up. Not for --

Not for the Bat and not for anything. He *needs* --

"-- okay. It's *okay*, Bruce. I -- I should've known that you would start to hear it when I said that. Just remember that the Bat doesn't know *everything*."

"It seems to. So much. The warnings and the orders -- you have to know I *hate* it, Tom --"

"I know, I know --"

(You must not *waver*!)

And the sound Bruce hears himself make is terrible and loud, desperate --

Tom hugs him harder, strokes him through the coat, through his gloves, and Bruce wants skin for this, wants to press his body against Tom's own and feel every muscle and every scar, wants to know with his *body* that Tom is real, that Tom is *here* --

"Let's go. Back to the manor."

"Good call," Tom says, and starts to pull back. He does it slowly enough that Bruce has the power to let him, and -- he takes Bruce's hand in his own, again. Bruce lets Tom lead him out of the dark --

(Only I will never leave you.)

Bruce grits his teeth and walks.

In the strong moonlight, their shadows are clear on the churned and slow-melting snow. Bruce watches the path of their linked hands, and tries to move as easily as Tom does.

When they get back to the manor, Alfred has left the usual two racks for their outerwear, with newspaper beneath them for their boots. They have to stop holding hands in order to strip down, and Bruce deals with it, and deals with the way Tom only *strokes* his hand when he's done.

Tom leads them to the kitchen and grabs ten of the chocolate chip cookies waiting for them, placing them in one of the napkins Alfred had left nearby.

"Are you going to eat all of them?"

"Half for you, half for me," Tom says, and starts to tie the napkin in a loose knot.

"You did tell Alfred that you would stuff yourself with them."

"Five *is* stuffing. It's -- that's more than a standard serving."

Bruce frowns. "Standard serving?"

Tom blinks. "I just meant... three is generally *enough*. Isn't it?" And there's something like a plea in Tom's eyes, and it makes Bruce want to eat all the food there is, or... something.

Bruce shakes his head.

Tom sighs and tucks two more cookies into the napkin, and raises an eyebrow.

"I think that counts. If we tell Alfred I didn't eat any."

"Oh -- God. Then he'll *really* try to... anyway. We'll work it out, later. My room?"

After his parents had died, Bruce had asked Alfred to move their armoires into his room, and every day he'd open them just a crack and be able to smell them. The scent faded years ago -- and Alfred had taken the clothes in them and put them in storage -- but his room is still a little overfull. Bruce nods.

They pass by Alfred's suite before they reach the stairs, but the lights are out and the door is closed. They do nothing to disturb him.

Once in Tom's room, they start with the stretches Tom had shown him, and when they're done Tom adds two more, and tells Bruce that they must be done every day. He nods his understanding and watches Tom do them, while he does his own.

It *is* better to have light, because Tom is *very* flexible, and watching him move takes Bruce's mind off the discomfort.

It seems to only take a few minutes, and then Tom is up and into a 'ready stance' that manages to make him look both impossibly small and very, very dangerous.

He moves through the 'kata' slowly and carefully, so much so that it looks... well, some of the angles he reaches with his legs...

It looks like faster would be a lot *easier*, but Tom doesn't show even a little bit of strain --

"Come here and feel the angle of my shoulders."

Bruce can *see* how he's holding them, the way it seems like his body was made to twist *just* like that, but --

It's better when Bruce can touch, when he can feel the places where Tom seems to almost be *holding* his tension, as well as the places where he's entirely relaxed. Tom is breathing the way he'd taught Bruce, even and slow almost to the point of sleep -- but not quite there, and --

"You have so much control. I don't see how you could have ever been reckless."

"Just wait until we start learning the *fun* stuff, Bruce. Then you'll see," he says, but he's blushing.

Bruce squeezes Tom's shoulders and steps back. "I think I see."

"Good. Your turn."

And the next hour is all about how memorizing the motions and positions is completely meaningless when it comes to *doing* them.

"No, you're -- thinking too much with your brain, as opposed to your body."

"I don't think my body *can* think, Tom."

"Oh, it can. You just haven't figured out how to *let* it, yet," Tom says, moving around to face Bruce --

And Bruce doesn't realize that the punch wouldn't have hit him at all until he has already caught Tom's fist.

"See? You're a *natural* at this -- better than I am, by far. I would've been so busy wondering why you were throwing a punch that the best I would've managed would be to stumble back and probably fall on my ass."

"You... that was a lesson?"

"One -- our teacher had to show me again and again. Your body knows what it can and can't do. All you have to do is listen to it."

And that sounds... "You always seem to want me to listen to things other than my own brain, Tom."

Tom's smile is quirked and almost lazy. "That's because your *brain* can only take you so far... and it's nothing but vulnerable meat without your body."

"Meat? That's a little... disgusting, actually."

Tom laughs. "Mmm, braaaaaiins. Fresh, steaming braaaiiiiiins -- tell me you've seen at least one zombie movie."

"I'm... aware of their existence."

"Oh, that's it, we're having a movie night before school starts. We'll get some -- we'll find a decent theater when we're out, tomorrow."

Bruce lets go of Tom's fist and gets back into a normal stance. "We're... sightseeing, tomorrow? Not training?"

Tom reaches up and rubs the back of his neck. "I always thought of it as a different *kind* of training. We have to know everything about this city if we're going to be of any use to it. And part of that? Is *living* in the city."

Bruce nods slowly. It makes perfect sense, really -- so perfect that a part of him expects the Bat to say something about it... or to say something against it. Bruce closes his eyes for a moment and holds on to the silence for the gift that it is. He knows Tom is watching him do it, and that Tom might think he's listening to the Bat again, but --

Tom understands, the way that people like Harvey never would. Neither Tom nor Harvey have voices in their heads, but Harvey also hasn't... Harvey has a father, a *family*, while Tom has only had Bruce for his family. Harvey is going to be a brilliant lawyer one day, and get married, and have children, and all of this...

None of this is a part of his life, nor should it be. Usually he's at school when he has to start reminding himself of things like that, but having Tom here...

It opens the part of him which has never wanted to be alone, the part even the Bat couldn't touch, and Bruce wants... oh, he wants Tom and Harvey to get along with one and other. He wants to listen to them talk and be there while they do it, and --

And Tom is holding his hand again, and when Bruce opens his eyes, Tom looks worried.

"It's not... it's not the Bat."

"Will you tell me what it is?"

I need you, so much. Bruce opens his eyes and tries a smile. It gets easier when the expression on Tom's face turns to one of pure skepticism. He is -- known. "There's so much I don't understand, Tom. When I think about everything that has to be done before I can be *useful* --"

"When you think about everything, you get *nothing* done. Just... make goals. Learn *these* stretches, and *this* kata. And then there'll be the next one, and the next --"

Bruce squeezes his hand. "I feel like I should make you write these things down. Just -- you know so *much*."

"I've had -- good teachers," Tom says, and searches Bruce's eyes for a moment.

"What is it?"

"I -- just thinking about all the times my Bruce has... helped me learn," Tom says, and shakes his head. "It's... odd to be in this position."

Bruce frowns. "It's odd to think of you in the *other* position."

Tom laughs and squeezes Bruce's hand before pulling back. "Just wait. You're already learning *lightning* fast. You'll pull ahead soon enough."

And that makes it sound like Tom will *be* there for it, and Bruce knows that Tom probably -- that he *didn't* mean it that way, but it still *fills* him, makes something swell and warm inside him until it's a little hard to breathe.

And when Tom's eyes widen, Bruce knows that it was all over his face. He turns away and works on getting control --

(Only I --)

He yells in his head and yells *more* --

" -- do more, tonight?"

*Yes*, but -- but he won't be able to stop from begging Tom, tonight. It's -- he knows that. "I should probably sleep," he says to Tom's carpet.

He can see Tom reaching for him out of the corner of his eye -- but he can't keep himself from tensing, and Tom doesn't touch him. "I -- all right, Bruce. Tomorrow."

"Yes. Good night," he says and doesn't manage to look up until he's at the door. He can feel Tom watching him, but he doesn't turn around.

His room feels both overly crowded and cold -- he knows he means *empty*, and so he undresses quickly and moves to the shower. He has a partial erection, and he knows he should feel grateful that it wasn't more obvious while they were working out. It just wasn't that long ago when Bruce seemed to get *powerful* erections all the time, and it would be just too embarrassing for words to have to make Tom stop teaching him because he had to masturbate.

He *hasn't* masturbated since Tom has been here, and maybe he should, just to keep his body calm. It's the sort of message his body is fairly clear about, anyway, and...


He does it while his hand is still soapy from his chest, exactly the way which makes it go fastest, and he wonders what Tom does about this sort of thing, if he'd maybe talked to *his* Bruce about it --

And the image of Tom and that other Bruce standing side by side in the Cave comes unbidden, comes clear and *vivid*. Tom would sigh with pleasure, and Bruce would stroke himself faster, because the sound meant so much, meant that his brother was happy.

And maybe Tom would laugh and stroke *him*self faster, or maybe... he could slow *down*, and tease (both of them) himself with it, and his breathing would hitch the way Bruce has never heard it do, and he would make a sound --

Some sound Bruce can't *hear* --

And the Bruce at his side would touch his shoulder, just to ground him, because sexual pleasure can be so intense, so *powerful* --

*Yes*, Bruce, Tom would say, and yes again as Bruce reached across to touch --

To wrap his hand around Tom's moving hand --

To guide, to squeeze --

The orgasm makes Bruce grunt helplessly, even as he feels himself blushing, as he watches his semen spatter the tile --

Oh. Oh, no. Bruce lets go of himself and scrubs at the tile with his hand, smearing the mess around --

Tom's scent. He knows Tom's *scent* --

Bruce swallows back the noise that wants to come out -- he doesn't want to know what it *is* and keeps -- no.

He grabs a washcloth from the rack outside the shower and moistens it, then uses it on the wall until the water runs down it smoothly.

He does it again.

And again. And then he turns the water up to as hot as he can stand it --

Cold would be better, but the burning -- maybe he needs it? Something -- something *pure* --

And Tom is laughing in his mind, smiling at him fondly and holding Bruce's hand, the same hand he'd used to touch himself, to bring himself to orgasm for that -- that *fantasy* --

It's so clear. It's all so clear, now. All of his want and how much it hurt to think of Tom going *anywhere*, even if it's only back to where he *belongs*. All --

Even the Bat had known, always urging him to watch, to observe -- he was supposed to observe *himself* --

Oh, the feel of Tom's body against his own for a hug, so innocently *meant*, so --

Tom's his *brother*, and what he wants is so wrong. Alfred would be disgusted. Leslie would -- Leslie wouldn't even be able to *look* at him. He's a *homosexual*, and even though Leslie said it was natural, he's *read* all the literature. Homosexuality is a disease, a psychiatric *disorder*.

He's *sick*, and a part of him is only laughing derisively -- hasn't he known that for years?

And what *about* Harvey? Harvey who has always been so handsome, so tall and athletic with movie-star features, a soft mouth --

Bruce groans and beats his fist against the tile once, again --

He wants Harvey, too. He isn't just a deviant, he's -- he's sluttish, promiscuous the way male homosexuals were always said to be.

He wants Tom so *much*. Just the thought of touching his penis, even now that he knows, that he understands --

Bruce sobs on a breath and turns the shower off. There's no need to waste water, *too*. There's.

Why couldn't he want *women*? There have been so *many* girls who seem to have been attracted to him, despite Bruce being silent and strange at the various parties. Two have even tried to *kiss* him, and he'd felt nothing, no stirring, no thrill and no heat --

His parents would have been so -- they'd *told* Bruce they wanted him to give them grandchildren, and he's just --

He's heard the whispers at school about some of the other boys, like Lex. About what they get up to in their rooms after lights-out, or even out in the woods. And Bruce never knew if those whispers were true or not, or what they had to do with anything --


Tom can't know. He just -- he *can't*. Tom is helping him so much, and he sees Bruce as his brother, cares about him --

Touches him so *much*, more than anyone else Bruce has ever known, if he doesn't count those girls who flirt the way other people seem to breathe. No, counting them wouldn't be right, because their touches didn't *mean* --

Should they have meant something? Was the fact that they didn't *proof* that he was -- was --

He doesn't need proof, anymore. He hadn't just thought about Tom that way, he'd *masturbated* to those thoughts. It feels invasive, presumptuous in the worst possible way. It *is* invasive and presumptuous. It -- he feels like he's stolen something from Tom, some portion of the trust between them, or.

No, he's *misused* the trust between them, dirtied the touches and the warmth --

Bruce groans and shuts the water off, shivering in a way that has nothing to do with cold. When he dries himself, it's almost a shock not to see filth on the towel. He is --

What is he going to *do*?

Tom is right next door, resting in his bed or maybe still in the shower -- wet. Naked and sleek, lean and --

If he punches the wall, he'll hurt himself, and *both* Alfred and Tom will wonder why, and then he'll have to -- have to. Bruce finishes drying off and puts the towel in the hamper, careful not to look at himself in the mirror too closely.

The pajamas seem too light -- dangerously so. They could come off so easily, leaving him bare and exposed. Bruce wraps his arms around himself and rocks on his heels, trying to think, trying to find a way *out* of this, this body that --

Oh, Tom would never want Bruce to listen to his body *this* way. His *body* knows that Tom is *near*, and that he could be nearer still. He could say that he was feeling lonely, that the Bat was bothering him and Tom would be there for him, hold him while wearing his own too-light pajamas --

"Oh, God --"

Bruce slaps a hand over his mouth and rocks harder -- doesn't stagger. Just. He's not hard again, but he knows that he *could* be. *Easily*. All he would have to do is let himself think about Tom, his body, his *hands* --

And what would they feel like on him? Tom can be gentle, but he doesn't *have* to be --

Bruce squeezes his eyes shut, but that just brings the images back. The Cave could be their *place* for this, they'd never have to sully the manor, his father's house --

There's no *freedom* from this, no way to escape that fact that he wants to have sex with. He wants to make *love* to his brother, to find everything that gives him pleasure --

To take that pleasure for his own and give it back again, and again. He could make Tom lose control *that* way, make Tom show him what 'reckless' and 'heedless' mean --

Does Tom's Bruce want him this way? Tom says he's *like* his Bruce in so many ways --

How does that Bruce *control* it? Would it be easier because they'd lived together their whole lives? It would have to be. There...

Maybe it's just the strangeness, that they could be so *close* even though Bruce has only known him for a few *days*. Maybe this is something Bruce could grow *out* of with time and effort --

And where *is* the Bat?

The *one* time when he could really use that sort of distraction -- *invasion* --

Bruce hears himself laughing, and there's nothing he can do about the laugh's *existence*, much less about how awful it sounds, low and rough and *close* to tears.

Why can't he just love Tom the way a brother would?

Why does he have to be so --

Bruce gives up and sits on the side of the bed, resting his elbows on his thighs and letting his face fall into his hands. Hands.

His hands are bigger than Tom's, but not stronger. Tom's hands are as scarred as the rest of his body, are hard and almost *old*-seeming. Tom -- has to be experienced with things like this, with being wanted, hungered for --

Bruce has never even asked if Tom has a girlfriend, and someone like him *must*. Someone so smart and brave, so funny and charming, in a completely different way from how Harvey's charming --

He keeps going around and around in his *head* -- and now he's hard, again. Just a little, but --

No, he won't masturbate again. He won't *steal* from Tom again, not this. Bruce lies down in the bed and pulls the covers over himself, ignoring the slide of his penis against the silk of his pajamas, the cool sweetness of the touch --

Touch --

Breathe. Tom had said that some of the breathing techniques he'd taught Bruce helped for putting oneself to sleep, and Bruce can guess which ones those are fairly easily. He *makes* himself breathe that way, as evenly and perfectly as he can.

He focuses on the movement of his chest and the feel of himself releasing and taking in air, oxygenating his body with slow care, and then slower, yet.

He gives himself over to it as much as he can, wanting only to be outside of himself for a time, *away* --

Bruce focuses, and he breathes, and when the black starts to crowd his vision, he feels gratitude for it for the first time since his parents were killed.


He'd heard... *something* while he was in the shower, and something else while he was stretching before bed -- and yes, all right, speed-working through katas he has no intention of letting this Bruce see *ever*, because he'll be *gone* --

He'd heard things, and noted them, but in the end, he can't have Bruce's arguments with the Bat *for* him. Not all of them, anyway, and -- Bruce had wanted to be away from him.

Maybe he'd felt it building up and hadn't wanted 'Tom' to see his 'weakness,' or maybe this is just one of the things that happens when you're sleeping in the room next to a teenaged Bruce Wayne. Either way, he was in his bedroom and Bruce was in his, and that's the way it would stay until the morning.

Except that he's awake now, and there are other sounds -- no, there's neither need nor room to be coy now. Bruce is having a nightmare, and while the pitch of the screams is rather higher than what Tim had become used to when he was thirteen --

Tim is already moving, and he'll just have to berate himself for it another time. He --

Tim's Alfred had specifically *warned* him against interfering with Bruce's nightmares, pointing out that there had been times when Bruce had become violent, that it would hurt Bruce badly to be responsible for injuring Tim --

Bruce *can't* hurt him, now, and if he *needs* another reason (he doesn't), then the fact of the matter is that Tom Wayne is Bruce's brother, and would never, ever let him suffer like this.

Tim pushes in to Bruce's bedroom, not bothering to move silently, and Bruce is writhing and twisting himself into a sheet-shroud in the light from the hall. He's stopped screaming, but he's sweating and tossing his head --

Tim rests a hand on his shoulder. "Bruce."

No sign of waking, just -- a whimper Tim really hopes he can forget. He tightens his grip on Bruce's shoulder and shakes it a little --

"Bruce, it's me, wake up --"

Bruce gasps and rears back, pulling Tim off-balance a little and -- opening his eyes.

"It's all right, Bruce --"

"It's not. It won't be -- I." And all the fear -- all the *everything* leaves Bruce's expression just that fast, leaving a blank mask.

"Bruce --"

"I'm sorry I disturbed you. I -- I'm all right now," Bruce says, quiet and more formal than Tim has heard him since --

Before he'd fallen down the rabbit hole. Tim frowns and squeezes Bruce's shoulder again. "We all -- we both have nightmares --"

"I know. And I'm all right. When they're that intense I usually only have one --"

"Or sometimes two, or three..." Tim shakes his head. "Let me help you fix the covers, at least?"

And for a moment he thinks Bruce will just repeat that he's 'all right' again -- or send Tim away in more certain terms, but Bruce nods, eventually, and pushes the sheets down from his chest with an expression of distaste that seems almost helpless.


"I -- yes."

"We could always change the sheets," Tim says, and helps Bruce gets disentangled. "I could go get fresh ones --"

"No -- I. These will be fine as soon as they're not actively in the process of cocooning me."

Tim smiles. "I don't know, Bruce. Are you *ready* to be a beautiful butterfly?"

And for some reason, that makes Bruce flinch and almost *recoil*, shrinking back against the pillows and shaking his head.

Tim pauses with the edge of the sheet in his hand. "You... have a problem with butterflies?"

Bruce has gone silent again, staring... somewhere over Tim's shoulder. The tension in his jaw is *epic*, and makes Tim's face ache in sympathy --

He's clenching his own jaw. "Bruce, whatever it is -- you have to know that it's *okay* --"

"You don't know, Tom. I -- please go."

And perhaps it was just his turn to flinch. It's -- it isn't like he hadn't seen that *coming*, but -- hell. No. *Fuck* this. "I -- my Bruce doesn't send me away unless there's something I've said or done that was... please, Bruce, *tell* me," Tim says, dropping the sheet and looking into Bruce's eyes, *holding* the look until Bruce opens his mouth --

Tim holds his breath --

Bruce *closes* his mouth and shakes his head, going back to kicking the sheets into shape and -- hello.

Just for a moment, the sheets were tight against him, and what Tim had seen had *maybe* been a trick of the shadows. "Bruce... are you sending me away just because you have an erection?"

Bruce *freezes*, and a part of Tim is honestly satisfied for the score... but the satisfaction doesn't last -- *can't* last -- under Bruce's look of abject *misery*.

"Oh... Jesus, Bruce," Tim says, and sits on the edge of the bed --

Bruce *shudders*, and Tim grips his shoulder again, squeezing hard enough to cause pain.

"It really is all *right*, Bruce. I mean..." And really, *every* chance Tim gets to be honest feels like a victory, or perhaps an icy spring in the desert. "We've talked a fair amount about sex and sexuality, studied..." Wait, *which* studies are available now, exactly? "Um, we've studied all kinds of things. Sexuality is weird and kind of *terrifying*, and... ah. Hasn't Alfred talked to you about it, at all?"

"He... told me about being wary of people seeming to be interested in me but who had ulterior motives. And -- about condoms. And that masturbation was a normal thing to do, so long as it was handled discreetly," Bruce says, swallowing and looking at Tim --

And scooting further onto the bed, and into a sitting position against the headboard. Engraved invitation with an RSVP in 72-point print. Tim edges further onto the bed until their arms are touching. He's not quite under the sheet with Bruce -- and a part of him is urging he *correct* that mistake -- but.

It has to be enough to cover Bruce's hand with his own, to feel him again and know that Bruce wants him here a little, and *needs* him here more.

Tim takes a breath. "Sometimes... I. All right, first things first -- it doesn't happen *all* the time, or even most, but I've had some pretty horrible nightmares and still woken up with erections. That's natural for boys our age. It doesn't mean you're sick or twisted or... anything like that. Okay?"

Bruce nods silently, and the shadows are catching his face too *thoroughly*.

"I -- wait a minute," Tim says, rolling out of the bed and going to close the door. He moves through the darkness --

Bruce turns on the lamp before he gets there, looking up at him, *searching* -- he still seems so *sad*. Or... maybe he means lost? Something awful, anyway.

Tim gets back on the bed and covers Bruce's hand again. "*Do* you understand that it's natural? I mean, yes, it's *horrible*, but --"

"It's not that. It's not... Tom, I know you just want to help, but. I don't think you can," Bruce says, and he's looking down at their hands and frowning.

"Bruce and I -- Bruce is the one who helped *me* see the objective truths in the muddle of all the confusion and emotion, Bruce. Sexuality is a powerful thing, something that moves the *world*, and if you let it, it can distract you from the important things --"

"How. How do you keep it from being... a distraction."

Tim bites his lip and takes another deep breath, stroking Bruce's hand --

Bruce shudders, all over, and Tim wonders if even this contact is too much for Bruce in the state he's in, now... Tim looks, and the way Bruce is sitting... that's a hell of a bulge. That's.

He's been *around* Bruce when he was aroused before. A moment in the showers here, a spar there --

Bruce had never taken Tim to task for his attention -- as opposed to guiding him toward the things which *needed* Tim's attention, leaving Tim to work it out on his own with the medical grade lube and his good, good right hand. A blessing, a *comfort*, and -- God, is he pushing too much? *Asking* too much? Bruce has never been --

They don't *do* this, except that when he looks, *this* Bruce is staring down and generally looking *awful*. And -- someone has to. Tim squeezes Bruce's hand one more time and lifts it, bringing it to his own thigh. Just -- he has to know he's not *disgusting*, or whatever horrible thing he's thinking --

Bruce shudders again and *clutches* Tim's thigh for a moment -- and then holds his hand splayed and stiff, only touching Tim with the center of his palm.

"Oh, Bruce..."

"Yes. I'm. I'm listening."

("Then *relax*, little brother. No one's going to arrest you for a little cuddle!")

No, that probably won't work. At all. So -- Tim forces Bruce's hand down until it's more or less resting -- 'resting' -- on Tim's thigh, then he starts stroking it again, firm touches designed to soothe, to say that it's okay.

"I... Bruce. Correct me if I'm way off base here, but..."

Bruce swallows audibly.

"There's something -- or maybe *someone* -- that you're thinking about, and it doesn't seem... right."

"It's not," Bruce says, hollow and just *final*.

Who *is* it? Could it be... oh. God. Bruce and *Harvey Dent* are *roommates* at Exeter. He's going to have to -- deal. Okay. "Okay. Well. Like I've said, I've talked about this stuff a lot with..." Dick, and he did most of the talking while I sat there horrified that he'd put two and two together and come up with 'raging erection for *him* --' "... with my Bruce, and... well, an example. Might not be amiss?"

Bruce nods, and looks so *defeated*. He should *never* --

Honesty. "Bruce there are times when I've been so aroused I've *had* to touch myself, and more than that -- maybe worse than that -- had to *fantasize* about people who would never want me that way, and would maybe even be... ah. Disgusted. If they ever found out what I was thinking about them. And that's really..."

Bruce is looking *right* at him, searching Tim's eyes and just -- he's *there*, and it feels like a finally. Tim's definitely on the right track -- though he supposes it's possible that he'd just freaked Bruce *right* the hell out.

Tim laughs softly and a little helplessly --

Bruce frowns harder, but doesn't look away. "How. How do you mean."

"I mean... there are always going to people we care about who care about *us* in different ways. That's just how it works. It's -- it's *rare* when two people feel exactly the same about each other, and sex is just one of the ways those feelings can be different," Tim says, and realizes that his touch isn't soothing as much as it's *restless*. Too close to home.

Much, much too close... and there's no turning back.

"Bruce..." You were so blunt, Bruce. So thorough and matter of fact about absolutely everything. At least, that's what I thought until *Dick* took me aside, and I realized that I was never going to really *understand* any of this. Or maybe just that I'd never be able to *control* it --

"Please. Keep... keep going."

Tim bites his lip and nods, squeezing Bruce's -- wrist, this time. He'd been stroking Bruce's forearm rather than his hand, and that has to be getting annoying --

Bruce's skin is so warm, so clear of the scars that informed a large fraction of Tim's adolescence. He's -- he's handsome, and young, and sad, and *needy*, and Tim knows what those last things *feel* like, knows how they can ache, how they can *burn* --

And Bruce is waiting, and -- no, Tim can't stop touching him, now. It's too late. It's -- "Anyway. We're *teenagers*, Bruce. We may have outgrown -- most of -- the completely random erections, but there are still those other ones. And we both... we're both lonely, sometimes --"

"You have -- you don't have to be lonely."

You never *touched* me -- "But sometimes I am, anyway," Tim says, and closes his eyes. "Sometimes I'm so lonely that... I don't even have the words for it."

"Did you ever... have a girlfriend?"

It's been nearly a year, leaving aside the time-skip. The pain is still vicious, but it's containable, now. "She was murdered."

"*Tom* --"

"*No* -- no," Tim says, and shakes his head. "I can't... talk about that. It's been almost a year and..." No, there has to be more than that, for this. They're brothers. "I'll tell you about her... when I can."

And Bruce turns on his side and *grips* Tim's hand. "Tom, I'm so -- I know that -- we both know that saying sorry doesn't mean anything, but for you to have lost someone *else* --"

"You. You lost her, too," Tim says, and remembers the hollow feeling, and the way the Cave had echoed with all the wrong kinds of silence. He'd never even gotten to see her in the uniform, and Bruce had never let himself get close, never let himself really *have* her -- "God, I -- that's *not* what we're talking about right now. I -- okay?"

Bruce nods slowly, but... well, it has to be better that he's not focused on his own innate *filth*, anymore, right? Tim twines their fingers together and turns on his own side, edging a little closer.

"Bruce --"

"Tom. You don't have to... I know you just want to make me feel better --"

"You're wrong. I don't *just* want that, at all. I want you to understand this, Bruce, and to believe it, and -- well. I was talking about loneliness."

Bruce nods.

"Maybe it's just an excuse, but loneliness makes a person's mind... kind of a scary place. All kinds of dreams and fantasies and... Alfred would probably call them 'fancies.' And if you add all that together with everything else, with how *powerful* sexuality is..."

"I wish I could tell you... Tom, even with everything you've said -- and I *do* believe you -- it's still wrong. It's *unnatural*, and I wish I knew how to stop," Bruce says, voice getting rougher and more hoarse as he goes.

Unnatural. It's the seventies, which means that 'queer' isn't even close to being reclaimed, and that he's been going about this in at least partially wrong ways. Maybe Bruce is just coming to terms with the fact that he wants... Harvey Dent.

Tim *doesn't* shudder and he doesn't stiffen.

"Bruce... you're saying that you're attracted to men?"

"*Yes*," Bruce says, and starts to pull against Tim's grip on his hand --

"No, with me, *stay* with me. I -- I am, *too*."

Bruce freezes. "You... you *are*?"

And Bruce's voice is wondering --

"No. Don't -- don't say that, Tom, you just want to --"

"I've *always* been attracted to men, Bruce. And... my Bruce knows."

Silence for a long moment, and Tim can hear how uneven Bruce's breathing is, how *shaky*. Tim squeezes Bruce's hand *hard*.

"Lots of people are. There's even been at least one study that says... ah. The Kinsey Report. They studied thousands of people for years, and they say that sexuality is a spectrum, Bruce, that something like ten percent of all men are -- homosexual. It --"

"I haven't seen. That wasn't in our father's books."

Tim pushes closer. "We had to find it for ourselves. It -- my Bruce is *also*... the word is 'bisexual,'" Tim says. "It's -- a lot of people hate and even fear... homosexuals, but -- God, Bruce, a lot of people hate and fear the *Justice Society*."

"That's *not* the same --"

"Isn't it? It will always be wrong -- and completely irrational -- to hate people who've never done you or anyone else any harm."

"Homosexuals... *I've* read things that say they're often *pedophiles*, Tom, that they prey on *children* --"

"*Heterosexual* men do that a *lot* more." Oops. *When* did *those* studies come out, exactly? No, keep going -- "And -- it's not like you're saying you want to hurt a *child*, Bruce. I'm not even going to phrase that as a question, because I *know* you." And because Jason Todd hasn't even been *born*, yet.

More silence, and Tim does his best to wait patiently, to let it sink *in*. Should he tell this Bruce about all those many, many times he and his Bruce have talked about how *wonderful* Harvey fucking Dent is? How handsome and brilliant and not a murderous psycho at all?

The *scary* thing about that is that Tim thinks he could probably pull that *off*. There's *no* one in Batman's rogues gallery with a more thoroughly researched past than Dent. It's possible that Tim knows more about this Bruce's closest friend than *Bruce* does.

Hell, it's *probable*, and -- is he, perhaps, supposed to do something about *that*, too? Who teaches the Bat to be as paranoid as he needs to be? He's so *open*, now...

And Bruce is tugging against Tim's grip again. "Even if I...if I believe what you say --"

"It's all *true*, Bruce, I -- I *swear* --"

"Let go."

"*Bruce* --"

"Let *go*," Bruce says, yanking *hard*, using all of his raw, natural *power*. Tim holds on until his hand hurts -- "*Please*, Tom!"

Tim lets go and Bruce rolls up onto his knees, heedless of his grace and covering his face with his hands. Tim flexes life back into his fingers and tries to think about what he hadn't covered, what could *possibly* be -- facts.

It's sexual -- and incredibly so, judging by the shape and size of that bulge and the fact that it's gone exactly *nowhere*. It's 'wrong,' and it's not because Bruce doesn't think the other person wouldn't appreciate it -- however *strong* that lack would turn out to be. And it's not -- *just* -- because the person in question is male. It's --

Bruce staring at him in terror even though the nightmare was over. Bruce struggling to hide his erection. Bruce *clutching* him and then immediately letting go --

Because 'Tom' is Bruce's *brother*. Because --

"Oh, God," Tim says, and bites his lip even though it's too late --

Bruce *hunches* in on himself, hugging himself and starting to *rock*, and Tim can't *see* that, can't --

He needs --

He's moving, and Bruce has his arms crossed over his chest and his hands on his shoulders -- but maybe the fact that 'Tom' knows, now, has taken all the fight out of him, because he doesn't resist Tim tugging his hands away from himself, and he doesn't move back when Tim moves closer, and --

And his *hands* are on Bruce's face, and there's barely any stubble, at all. That's -- it feels like an important thing to consider. At least as important as the miserable look in Bruce's eyes, the miserable *plea* --

"Bruce," he says, and his voice sounds wrong to his own ears, too -- desperate. It's. "Oh, *God*," he says again, because the ache is sudden and almost *blinding*, the need and the feel of himself thickening, rising -- Tim swallows --

"I'm sorry, Tom. I'm so --"

"You -- you have to stop *apologizing*, Bruce --"

"I know it was wrong. I *knew* it was wrong, but I couldn't -- I had to have you near me for just another few moments, and then another after that. I had to feel your hand, and your body close to mine --"

Tim opens his mouth to say *something*, but all that comes out is a moan, low and *loud* --

"Please *forgive* me," Bruce says, shaking his head enough that his cheeks rub against Tim's palms --

The warmth and the smoothness, the *youth* --

"I promise I'll never -- never try to *touch* you. I..."

And there's a moment, long enough to be *distinct*, when Tim is only wondering what had made Bruce trail off of his litany of self-loathing. It seems like something that would be *useful* to know --

"I. Are you..."

A breath against Tim's lips, and he realizes that he's been leaning in, that he's *close* now, and still holding Bruce's face, still --

He has to *stop* this. This -- it can't happen, and *he* can pull away. He's had years with this want, he's used to it, he can --

Bruce kisses him, and it's so soft, so dry and *soft*. His mouth shouldn't ever *be* that soft, and Tim can feel himself about to make a noise that needs to be swallowed back --

No, he needs to *pull* back, now, while it's still just the press of Bruce's lips against his own -- Bruce --

Tim *moans* --

And he doesn't know which one of them pressed harder first, but he's always going to have to live with the fact that *he* opened his mouth for it, that he's digging his fingers in against Bruce's face and *urging* Bruce's mouth open --

The first touch of Bruce's tongue is so *cautious*, and that more than anything else --

Oh, *God* --

Tim *sucks* and feels himself shaking -- no, that's Bruce, and it's his whole body, his --

*Bruce* moans and his hands are on Tim, stroking his sides and clutching at the silk of Tim's pajamas, releasing and *moving* on Tim's body, everywhere he can reach, because Tim's sucking his tongue --

Because Bruce *wants* him, badly enough that he's *been* hard, that he's been driving himself crazy with *hurt* --

*Please*, and Tim doesn't know what he's begging for or who could answer him assuming any *interest* in the life of a lying, manipulative *bastard* of a teenager currently introducing the greatest man he's ever known to *incest*.

It has to stop. It has to *stop*, and he can at least stop sucking Bruce's tongue --

Bruce *licks* Tim's mouth, does it again and kisses Tim *hard*, pushing his tongue back into Tim's mouth and *yanking* Tim's body against his own hard enough that Tim's flailing for balance, clutching at Bruce's shoulder and at nothing at all while Bruce pushes his tongue in again and *again*, just --

Does he even know what he's asking for? Does he have any idea what he *wants*?

And Tim knows *exactly* what it says about him that the *fact* that Bruce doesn't is making him harder, it's just that Bruce is holding him so tightly --

He could break the hold. He could do so *much*, but all that he *is* doing is kissing Bruce back and spreading his legs around Bruce's *waist* --

Another moan, deeper this time, and Bruce's hands are moving on him again, stroking and pulling and pressing, *touching* -- over. They're tipping, or Bruce is tipping them --

Tim is on his *back* and Bruce is bracing himself above Tim, lowering himself down and still thrusting into Tim's *mouth*, and Tim can't make himself let go with his thighs, can't stop himself from pushing his hands into Bruce's *hair* --

Bruce pulls back and licks his *lips*, and Tim's body is moving without permission or thought, *doing* until *Bruce* is on his back and Tim is pinning him far too easily. They have too much to *learn* for this, they have other things to focus on, other things to *do* --

"Oh. Oh, I can't *move* --"

Tim kisses Bruce --

Bruce groans and *thrusts* up against Tim, penis hard and warm through the silk against Tim's abdomen. There are better positions for this, there's so *much*, but Tim knows *exactly* what he's asking for -- *begging* for when he begins to thrust into Bruce's mouth --

When he coaxes Bruce's tongue into playing with his own, sliding and *moving* against his own --

Bruce tastes like sleep and feels like need, and whether it's Tim's or his own --

He doesn't know, and right now he doesn't care, because Bruce is almost *bucking* against him, moaning *constantly*. Tim needs to feel his hands again, needs the proof of all that want --

Tim releases Bruce's upper body and Bruce is on him immediately, holding and pulling, clutching -- *moving* Tim until their penises are lined up against --

Oh, the feel --

The first thrust is a --

He can't *count* the thrusts, because they feel approximately *infinite* times better than he ever thought they would in his fantasies, and are also incredibly *frustrating*. There's not enough friction with them both in silk, not enough heat, and --

Is Bruce leaking? Is --

"Oh, God, *Tom* --"


"You feel -- please tell me you *like* this, Tom, that it's good, that we *can* --"

*Tom*, and Tim feels himself shaking, hears himself *whimper* because he knows --

Because he *can't*, and the sound Tim makes when he *rips* himself away is the worst one he's ever heard from himself, including the moment just *after* the rotator cuff injury. But.

"Tom...? I -- did I hurt you?"


"Or... it was too much. It -- I've disgusted you? But -- you seemed to --"

"I *liked* it," Tim says, and knows that he sounds angry, but -- *God*. Tim forces himself to sit straight on the edge of the bed -- with his feet on the *floor*.

Bruce is kneeling next to him and a little behind, and the hand on Tim's shoulder is... incredibly tentative.

Or not so *incredibly*, as the case may be. Tim squeezes his eyes shut and tries not to think about how it would feel to take those fingers into his mouth, about how they would *taste* --


"Bruce, I --" Don't want to lie to you, anymore. Don't want you to stop. Don't want you to call me by the wrong fucking *name* -- Tim shakes his head and lets himself shudder.

"Have I... have I hurt. Us."

"You only did --" No. "*We* only did... what we both wanted to," Tim says, and reaches up to cover Bruce's hand with his own.

"I can't believe -- Tom, when did you *know*?"

Tim swallows back the laugh that wants out and feels it knot itself in his throat. "I've wanted. I've wanted my Bruce for a very long time."

Bruce gasps and squeezes Tim's shoulder. "Then you -- the two of you --"

"*No*," Tim says, and turns around to face Bruce, feeling Bruce's fingers drag against him, brush his *throat* --

"No? But --"

"He -- he doesn't want me. That way," Tim says, and wonders if there'll ever be a day when telling the truth doesn't *hurt* this much. "None --" Tim swallows and tries to *cope* --

"Are you *sure*? I... Tom, I didn't -- it was only tonight that I *realized* what I was feeling, but almost from the first moment I saw you..."

A Bruce who has never known Dick, or Jason... the first Robin that comes along has to be kind of a *powerful* goad -- Tim shakes it off and meets Bruce's eyes. There's a calm in them that Tim wants to *live* in.

It seems to go so *deep*, and to have room for both of them.

Batman, *please* -- "Bruce... I. I'm sure. I know that he knows how I feel --"

"You've told him? Or... kissed him the way you kissed me?" And Bruce brings his free hand up to his mouth almost absently, and --

There are a lot of distractions in there, a lot of things to get *lost* in. He doesn't need to think about kissing his Bruce and he *doesn't* need to think about how red *this* Bruce's mouth is. His own must be the same, and --

Wet. The air is cool on his mouth. Bruce is touching his own mouth and *staring* at Tim's, and everything in this entire universe -- or point in time -- is seems to be trying to tell Tim how *quickly* they could be kissing again, *touching* again, moving against each other until there's nothing else they *can* do --

"Oh. Tom..."

Tim takes a shaky breath and squeezes his eyes shut.

"Would you... sit next to me again?"

"Bruce --"

"Just -- we could. We don't have to, I mean," Bruce says, and moves his hand from Tim's shoulder.

Tim shudders again. He's failing at this -- spectacularly. What, exactly, would Dick do if he found himself making out with his little brother? It really does seem as though Tim *should* have an answer for that, but the fact is that he'd never really gotten that *far* in terms of his *logical* thinking. A moment spent imagining rolling around a bed with Dick was not a moment of Tim's forebrain working at peak functionality. *Still* --

It's Dick, and he'd want to make sure that Tim was okay, that Tim really *wanted* to do what they were doing, that Tim knew that Dick loved him -- okay, there's a start. A good one, even.

Tim crawls all the way back onto the bed and sits up against the headboard. Bruce stays where he is for a moment, watching Tim *carefully* --

"Are you sure? That you want to stay."

Tim nods and reaches out, and Bruce's hand is warm and dry in his own, and it's not rubbing him or touching Tim anywhere *but* his hand, and Tim's going to be okay just as soon as he copes.

Which is something he can do.

Tim tugs, and Bruce crawls up and sits beside him, never letting go of Tim's hand.

Alfred and casual touch have never been friends, and Bruce... who *does* touch him? Leslie, for exams. *Dent*, almost certainly -- perhaps a casual arm over the shoulder and an absent squeeze --

And Tim. "I... touch you, a lot," Tim says, because those are the words that choose to come out of his mouth first.

"Because we're brothers," Bruce says, and his tone is careful and... well, it *attempts* to be light. It doesn't make it, but Bruce is Bruce, and the fact that he'd *made* the attempt means that Tim looks exactly as skittish as he feels.

"I'm -- okay, Bruce. You didn't do anything... *we* didn't do anything. Um. Wrong."

Bruce turns to look at Tim, and... oh, that's an extremely wry smile on his face.

It's more than a little devastating if Tim's honest with himself, familiar and unfamiliar at once, sharp and *welcoming* at once, inviting Tim to share the *joke* --

"If you *really* believed that, you wouldn't have *stopped*, Tom."

Tom. God, Bruce, if you knew *why* I'd stopped -- Tim breathes, slowly and evenly. "Okay, there's a point there, and it's a sharp one. But... if I got down on myself for wanting you --"

"Wanting *your* Bruce --"

"No," Tim says. Neither of them get to play *that* game, not with all the cards not just on the table but scattered all over the metaphorical *floor* -- "I lasted years without sucking my Bruce's *tongue*, Bruce. You -- I guess it's *most* accurate to say I want *both* of you."

"Did that... Kinsey report say anything about the promiscuity of homosexuals? Bisexuals. Or -- I don't know if I like women, Tom."

"You --" Do. Except how, exactly, would Tom know that? "We don't exactly get out much, Bruce. It's entirely possible that you just haven't met any woman who interests you sexually."

"There are a lot of girls who come to the various parties I have to go to," Bruce says, and looks like he should be captioned 'profoundly doubtful.'

Tim smiles --

"Oh. You haven't done that in much too long," and Bruce reaches for Tim's face with his free hand -- stops and just squeezes Tim's hand.

A Bruce who is used to him *smiling*. What the *hell* has he been doing, exactly? Tim lets the smile get a little wider. "I -- anyway. I didn't meet Steph at one of those parties."

"Steph was your girlfriend."

Tim nods. "I met her... on the street, actually. One of the -- days when I was... just walking around. She was... aggressive. Cheerful and matter-of-fact. She'd seen me in her neighborhood a few times and decided that she was going to get to know me, whether I liked it or not."

Bruce frowns. "She sounds like Elizabeth Merriman," and his voice suggests -- strongly -- that that's not a good thing, at all.

"I don't know her, but... Steph wasn't like *anyone* from those horrible parties, Bruce. The girls from those parties wouldn't have given her the time of day, and vice versa. She had her own opinions and her own way of doing things, and *no* one could tell her what was right or 'socially acceptable'..." Tim pauses, and realizes -- "I haven't talked about her in a long time."

"You loved her."

"More than... more than a lot of things. She was *free*, Bruce, and so beautiful, and so *strong*, and -- I always kind of wondered what she saw in me, actually --"

"Tom, *no* --"

Tim holds up a hand. "We had -- a really bad fight. We didn't break up, but she didn't speak to me for a long time... and then she was dead. And none of that has anything to do with our problem *now*, though... she would've been good for the Mission, Bruce. She *understood* that there were things wrong with the world, that the world needed *heroes*."

"You wanted to *tell* her? What... what did your Bruce say?"

"I never asked him," Tim says, and wonders about the future of this world, if he could *make* there be a better chance for Steph -- "The Bat didn't want *me*, and I was there for *all* of it. How would it feel about *her*? And -- I also wanted her for myself. Anyone who knew her would have, and you... when we were all together, my Bruce liked her, too. Liked her a *lot*, *because* she was like nothing else we'd ever seen, *determined* like no one else we'd ever seen..."

"Allies... are important in a war."

Tim smiles at Bruce again, and lets it be as twisted as it wants to be. "Yeah. And sometimes -- often -- I wonder if that fight we had would've happened if I'd ever been *completely* honest with her. I decided, after that, that I wouldn't ever keep myself back from someone I loved. That if it was possible in *any* way I'd never lie to them, that I'd save my lies for the *most* important things."

Bruce frowns, a little. "Like the Mission?"

"Sometimes... sometimes the Mission *isn't* the most important thing. It is ninety-nine percent of the time, but that *one* percent is what keeps us sane, Bruce, and *human*. Sometimes... we have to choose to *be* human, otherwise we just become two more monsters. I... I know I've been saying the opposite --"

"No," Bruce says, and squeezes Tim's hand again. "I understand. The Bat -- it told me, tonight, that it was the only one who'd never leave me. It was trying to make me turn away from you --"

"Oh, God. Bruce --"

"I won't let it, Tom. Even though you'll have to leave, I won't -- we'll *have* each other, for as long as we can."

And that doesn't mean it's time to kiss Bruce again. It -- really doesn't. The lie is as benign as he can *make* it, but it's still a lie, and he can't. Not ever again. 


Yes, he'll have that to remind him every time he thinks about how good it would feel to --

He'll *remember* that he's not who Bruce thinks he is, and that every moment he pretends otherwise is a betrayal of who they *both* are.

"I'm here," Tim says, and smiles ruefully. "Just... thinking."

"About us?" The *hope* in Bruce's voice. The *need* --

Tim swallows and closes his eyes.

Bruce laughs softly. "I think I'll take that as a 'yes, Bruce, but not in the way that you hoped.'"

Tim -- snorts. "I'm glad you can joke," he says, and means it with everything he is. Just -- a little happiness. Doesn't Bruce deserve it?

"I am, as well. The way you kissed me... I've never felt anything like it."

And I've never felt anything like your hands anywhere save in my dreams. Tim bites his lip and raises an eyebrow instead of letting *that* out --

Another laugh. "All right. It *was* only my third kiss and the first two were somewhat... awful. Forced on me. Did you... did you make love to Steph?"

Steph. Just hearing Bruce *call* her that has to make something right in the multiverse *somehow* -- "I... we never went farther than kissing. A little... touching. I've never made love to anyone."

Bruce brushes his thumb over the back of Tim's hand, and Tim can't --

Tim shivers and closes his eyes again. He can *feel* Bruce seeing that reaction, knowing what it means --

"I want you -- badly. But we never. I'll never *push*, Tom --"

"Don't -- don't make promises like that? Oh, God -- I. I *believe* you, Bruce, just -- it's not that, all right?"

"Would you look at me again?"

Tim does, and the search in Bruce's eyes feels slow and thorough and a great deal like being touched, and -- possibly it's a mistake that he's still in Bruce's bed, that he can still *smell* Bruce, the fear-sweat and the arousal both -- focus. "I was going to say... we'll probably... um. Slip."

Bruce's eyes *flare*. "Is it wrong that I hope we do?"

You're asking *me*? "God, Bruce. You're... I love you --"

"And I love *you*," Bruce says, moving *closer* --

"It's not. I have to --" Why would *Tom* say no? Betrayal of *his* Bruce? No, that doesn't work, at all. Not with everything else he's said. Fear of incest? He'd kind of shot that *right* down. "I'm. I'm not sure what I want," Tim says, and it feels like the worst lie he's *ever* told.

"You mean... what you want with me?"

That *tone* -- Tim laughs. "Because, if so, you have suggestions, Bruce?"

"*Yes*. Well -- mostly I..." Bruce laughs, too. "I don't have any *idea* what two men *do* with each other."

And how much does he know about what men and *women* do? God, a world without the *internet*, and Tim could teach. Tim could *show* Bruce, and they could --

"Do... do *you* know?"

"Um... I." Specific sexual activities weren't *in* the Kinsey report. And so -- he should lie? God, he doesn't *want* to -- "I've... thought about it. About what I would like to do." *Oh* -- "And Bruce and I went to an adult bookstore once that wasn't very particular about who they let in the door. There was... pornography."

"Was it... detailed? Did it match what you thought?"

At this point in time? But -- they *are* in Gotham, and... at the very least, it's perfectly reasonable for 'Tom' to be blushing. "I think when it comes to sex that people who love each other and *want* each other... I think they do what feels best, and what they're not afraid to ask for," Tim says, and looks up at Bruce through his lashes.

Bruce looks exceedingly thoughtful... and frustrated. And, abruptly, chagrined. "It would be... pretty embarrassing to ask for... for what I want. Even though we've done it. Started doing it."

Oh, that blush is working overtime. "The... ah. Rubbing?"

Bruce nods, and he's blushing, too. And *shifting*, and --

They really are sitting here with two *serious* erections, though Tim's had faded a bit from the initial... flush. A *bit* --

Bruce shifts again. "Is there something... um. What do *you* want to do?"

End this conversation *really* fast -- but. His palms are sweating -- both the one pressed against Bruce's and the one he's currently rubbing against Bruce's duvet --

"I. If you don't mind," Bruce says. "I mean, *you* don't have to be embarrassed --"

"Neither do *you* --"

And Bruce's smile is soft and *bright*, and his eyes are --

He can't look away, and he can't say no. Not to -- it's just *talking*, and he has to learn sometime, and -- Tim smiles ruefully. "It's hard to talk about."

Bruce nods and squeezes Tim's hand. "Sometimes -- I think it's easier every minute we're together, though. You -- you talked to *your* Bruce about this, didn't you?"

Oh -- yeah. He really needs to start planning these conversations *ahead* of time. And *never, never stray*. "I... we both masturbate."

Another nod, and Bruce's lips are parted.

"I'd like to... I've thought about watching you do it."

"Oh," Bruce says, and closes his mouth. The look of *disappointment* --

Tim does *not* laugh. "I... I imagine it wouldn't be very exciting for *you*, but watching you -- watching your expressions change, watching the tension grow and grow, I --" He doesn't want to laugh, anymore. "I'd like to see. And then there's *how* you do it, and I wonder if it's anything like the way I do, and I'd want to tell you to try other ways, *my* ways --"

Bruce moans, softly, and *stares*.

"Um -- that's. One of the things I've thought about," Tim finishes, and wonders if 'lame' is an acceptable insult, yet. Again. Whatever -- "Bruce... is that what you wanted to know?"

Bruce swallows. "I think. I think I want to watch *you* masturbate, Tom. And -- all of those things."

"Oh... I --" Don't say okay. Don't shove your *hand* in your pants --

"But I don't think I'd be able to keep myself from touching. It's... it's what I fantasized about. In the shower."

His turn to swallow, and to think about Bruce *working* himself while he thought about *him*. All of that unscarred skin and Bruce's big hand, and big...

*Is* he that big, already? Is he still *growing*? *Why* is that such a perverse thought? They're both fucking *teenagers* --

"You -- you looked like you were thinking about it, for a moment, Tom. But now... are you all right?"

Tim smiles. "And maybe I should go back to thinking about you touching yourself while you were naked and --"

Kissed, sudden and hard and awkward like the first kisses with Ariana, when they were both trying to figure out what exactly they were *doing*. He should let it *stay* awkward, only he's turning into it, pulling back *only* enough to let them tilt their heads, let Bruce moan into his mouth and squeeze Tim's hand hard enough for it to be painful --

Bruce tastes like everything he *wants*, and knowing that's irrational *and* untrue is meaningless against the feel of Bruce licking his tongue and trying to pull Tim closer --

*Succeeding* in pulling Tim closer, and --

Oh, *fuck*, Bruce nudging Tim's balls with his knee was probably an *accident* --

The first time. Not the second, third --

He's straddling Bruce's leg and leaning in for more, begging for more with his whole body, because Bruce is touching him all *over* again, rubbing and *clutching* --

No. Bruce keeps *stopping* just at the waistband of Tim's pajama pants, and that's enough -- it should *be* enough to make Tim stop, or at least let go of Bruce's face --

Another moan, and Bruce lets go of Tim's oblique to reach up and grab Tim's hand, tug it away from his face --

Tim pulls back -- but Bruce just presses Tim's hand against his chest. Bruce's heart is pounding, and somehow that just makes Tim feel how much his own is. It's not the same rhythm, but that just makes it more intense, somehow, like there's no space for anything *except* the pound and rush of their blood -- 

"*Please*," Bruce says, pressing his own hand to *Tim's* chest, fingers pushing between the buttons and making Tim break out in gooseflesh, *moan* --

"*Bruce* --"

"*Tom* --"

"I -- I *can't* --"

"You *want* to. I can feel -- I can *smell* it, Tom, and -- oh God, I said I wouldn't *push* --"

Tim laughs and tries not to hate himself too much for how fucking *cracked* it sounds. "Ah -- told you so?"

Bruce's laugh isn't any better, but -- it eases the tension enough that Tim can feel more than just the *ache* that seems to settle at the base of his penis, at the base of his *spine* --

He needs to come, and if he stays here any longer --

Tim growls and lunges in for a kiss, quick and hard and, he hopes, *apologetic* enough to excuse the way he twists easily away from Bruce and gets to his feet *next* to the bed --

"*Tom* --"

"Not -- we'll talk more, I promise. I just -- it *can't* be tonight," Tim says, and doesn't grab himself, and doesn't let himself *tackle* Bruce to the bed, pin him down and kiss, *bite* --

Bruce is panting and staring, hands clenched into fists on his thighs --

"God, I'm *sorry*, Bruce. I never meant --"

"Stop. Stop apologizing," Bruce says, and his smile is quirked and *soft*. "I'll be okay. I'm -- a lot better than I was a few hours ago."

Tim bites his lip and nods -- and realizes that his *own* hands are clenched into fists. He opens them and forces himself to steady his breathing. It would be a lot easier if he could just stop staring into Bruce's eyes, but that's not happening, yet.

And, after a moment, Bruce starts steadying *his* breathing, and he's just as perfect at it as he should be. They're breathing in time, now, and maybe their hearts are beating that way, too.

Maybe he could just lean over and *feel* --

Tim steps back, and then again. "I -- I'm going back to my room."

Bruce nods. "I'll... stay here."

Tim licks just the *inside* of lips. "I'll... see you in the morning."

"Good night," Bruce says, and opens his own fists, rubs his long, hard thighs --

Tim turns and walks to the door, wrapping his hand around the knob --

"Tom... will you masturbate?"

Tim shivers and *squeezes* the knob, and he -- "Yes. I -- I have to, now."

"So do I," Bruce says. "I'll think about you."

Tim moans -- stops. "And I you, Bruce. I -- good night," Tim says, opening the door, stepping into the hall, and closing the door behind him.

It's dark and cold out here, even with the manor's perfectly state of the art heating system. It will be dark and cold in his *room*, and he knows where he can be *warm* --

Tim walks, and doesn't stop until he's in room with the door closed, on his bed and *pumping* -- faster when he hears the faint sound of Bruce's groan.

He sucks his fingers to keep from screaming.


Surprisingly, breakfast was easy.

Tom's smile for Bruce when he'd gotten downstairs was a little shy, but he'd talked about his plans for the day, about the parts of the city he wanted to see and some of the things he wanted to do...

And Bruce has to admit he isn't really sure if he'd eaten oatmeal or eggs or crepes or something else, but he'd eaten, and Tom had, too, and Alfred had murmured something approving --

And now they're walking down the street in their coats and boots -- it's supposed to snow again soon, and the sky is the color of dull metal, clouds pressing down like the lid of a shrinking box.

They're *together*, and it's okay.

Bruce brushes Tom's hand with his fingers and *looks* --

And Tom doesn't turn to face him, but he smiles and brushes Bruce's hand right back.

Bruce knows that it would attract too much attention to actually hold hands, and that's enough. That Tom *wants* to touch him, that he's happy enough to smile and walk close, *be* with him --

*Bruce* is smiling, and he can't really help himself. He doesn't *want* to, and Gotham seems full of rushed people with brightly-colored packages. Reds and greens, blues and golds...

The snow on the ground is kind of disgusting, but it won't be long before it's covered over in a fresh layer of white. It's cold enough that his cheeks feel a little tight, and he knows he must be flushed, like Tom. Or... is it a blush? "Tom... what are you thinking?"

"Yesterday there were fewer people with packages. It's interesting to watch the holiday season seem to *hit* the people of Gotham all at once, Bruce. A... sort of tremor of the zeitgeist, perhaps. Of course, it's somewhat artificial -- the closer we get to Christmas, the harder various retailers push in terms of advertisements and *exhortations* -- but it's still fascinating to watch the human world *move*," Tom says, and gestures at the street. "And then there's the fact that the traffic is moving so smoothly. The only horns I've heard honking are at a distance that suggests the perennially snarled Broad and River intersection, despite the fact that the congestion level is pretty high. People are driving sensibly and carefully -- possibly even happily -- as opposed to angrily -- what is it?"

He... really was staring. "You see so *much*, Tom."

Tom raises an eyebrow. "And I don't even have something always telling me to watch...?" Tom brushes Bruce's hand again. "All right, here's a test. How many blonde women have we passed with bags from JRO Klein?"

"Three, but --"

"And how many cabs have we seen which weren't in service?"

"Um -- also three. No, two. The third one just had a very dirty light on top. Tom --"

"How far have we walked?"

"Fifteen and two thirds blocks, but Tom, those are just *facts*," Bruce says, and stops to help a woman whose stroller has a wheel caught in a grating.

Tom waits near the door to a small, good-smelling Chinese restaurant, and after some pulling -- and some careful rearranging of the woman's packages, Bruce keeps moving and so does Tom. "Just facts... well, you can't really *make* conclusions without facts, and --"

"The conclusions you were drawing make so much sense, Tom. It goes with... I guess the feeling I've been having?"

"One of the things I've learned..." Tom bites his lip and shakes his head. "One of the things my Bruce and I have been working on is that *sometimes* -- really *not* all the time, and you have to be careful not to let feelings become assumptions -- the feelings we get are just... conclusions that don't have words, yet. The human mind is *designed* to see patterns, whether or not there's any pattern *to* be seen."

Sometimes, Harvey gets a little excited about things in pairs... he'd probably be *fascinated* by the fact that Bruce has a twin -- no, he can't know. It's another secret he has to keep.


"I was thinking about Harvey... does Harvey exist in your world? Are he and your Bruce friends?"

Tom's smile is small and a little tight. "Bruce cares about him a great deal," he says, after a moment, and leaves it at that.

That doesn't sound... "Do you not like him?"

Tom's glance seems to -- and probably *does* -- take in a wide swath of the world. "It's more that... I don't know, we never seemed to have much in common?"

"He's very smart, and passionate like you. About justice, and the law." I want you to like him the way I do -- Bruce stops, inside, and... he doesn't know if he wants Tom to care about Harvey the way *he* does or not.

And Tom isn't saying anything.

"*Is* there something you don't like about him?"

Tom stops walking, causing the flow of foot-traffic to eddy around them, and for a moment Bruce feels like a tiny island of himself in a vast sea of humanity.

How could he ever try to take responsibility for such a large mass of people? How could he hope to protect them from the criminals who take *over* Gotham at night? How do they live with things as they are?

"Bruce, I... Bruce?"

They *need* someone, someone more than the Justice Society, and... he'll find a way. With Tom's help. "Sorry, I was... woolgathering."

Tom gives him a searching look and another tight smile -- but he reaches out, and tugs lightly on the hem of Bruce's coat.

Bruce curls his fingers around the ghost of Tom's hand. "I... were you going to answer me?"

"Yes, I -- to be honest? I think I'm jealous of Harvey, of how you -- and my Bruce -- feel about him..." Tom lets go of Bruce's coat and lets his hands hang at his sides. "And not me."

"Oh... Tom, no. I wouldn't -- I don't --"

"You *do*, and so does -- he. And it's all right. Harvey's good-looking, smart, kind -- and yes, *passionate*. It's not that I don't understand, because I *do*. You care about him --"

"Not. Not more than I care about you," Bruce says, and he knows his voice is all wrong for the street, that it's too *much* -- but it's making Tom blush, and the way Tom is looking at him... "Oh, Tom --"

"Let's. Let's keep walking. There are things I want to see," Tom says, and doesn't hesitate before turning away and starting to walk, again.

Bruce follows, and they move in silence for a little more than half an hour, moving away from the main shopping district -- will he have time to find a present for Tom? Maybe... maybe Tom will want to split up.

They're in a more residential area now, close to where their mother had lived with her family while they were still alive, and close to Grant Park. Tom seems to be leading them toward the latter.

"Do you think... um. Sometimes I wonder what it would've been like to grow up in the city proper," Bruce says --

And Tom immediately and perhaps reflexively looks in the direction of the Kane building before turning to smile at Bruce. "We probably still would've gone to the same schools, but... we'd know the city better, too."

"Would you... do you ever think about leaving the manor?"

Tom does another one of those wide-panning looks which make Bruce wonder about all the things he might be missing by the way he can't -- quite -- look away from Tom, yet. "I... there's something to be said for the city, it's true. And I *love* being in the city."

"It -- shows."

Tom's smile is quick and bright, and Bruce feels it all the way through himself.

Bruce wants -- "Will we... go somewhere private? Today?"

Tom blushes again, and almost seems about to *stumble*. "I -- I was going to say that the manor has one *vital* feature that we can't get in the city, at all."

"Yes --"

"And. I -- there's a place in the park that I wanted to show you. It's... well, I don't know what it will be like *here*, but... anyway."

Bruce nods and deliberately goes back to focusing on the city. The traffic -- foot and vehicle -- is milder here, enough that it almost doesn't seem like the same city, or... maybe just not the same *day*.

The clouds are even lower than they had been, and Bruce wonders if Tom is going to want them out while it's actually storming. There will be times when -- when the men they're going to be will *have* to be out in terrible weather, and Alfred had made sure they had hats and scarves in their pockets, but won't they have to be careful not to make themselves ill?

He's seen the kinds of clothes the Justice Society members wear -- some of the outfits seem terribly impractical for the kind of work they do, but... well. Only some of them are actually fully human, judging by the news reports, and those reports are understandably sketchy.

Still, it's possible that the clothes only *look* impractical, and are actually made from advanced materials... research needs to be done. They could look into military-grade armor, other things. Wayne Enterprises *has* a research and development division, and surely they could be working on this sort of thing, too. It would even be lucrative if they marketed some of their discoveries to the military. He doesn't attend many board meetings, even though he gained the right to when he turned sixteen.

R&D would be *much* more exciting. "Tom... have you and your Bruce done much with Wayne Enterprises? The scientists, I mean."

Tom's smile is wide and pleased. "We've started having them look into... ah. Vehicle engines," he says.

"Not... clothes? Like armor?"

"We haven't quite figured out how to ask for that without... showing our hand," Tom says, and leads them into the park.

Bruce nods and looks around. Even this close to the street, it's beautiful the way the manor grounds are. There are a lot of different tracks in the snow, but the snow itself is still mostly clean and white. The trees are pruned a little less assiduously than they are on the manor grounds, and the effect is pleasant. A hint of the wildness of the pine barrens, where Alfred had taken him to choose a tree.

The tree will be delivered today, and... Bruce has only ever been involved in decorating it because he knows it pleases Alfred, but maybe it's something Tom does with *his* Bruce and Alfred --


Tom leads them deeper into the park, and there are fewer tracks. It's darker, and... Bruce hasn't seen a soul for a couple of minutes. "Um... Tom? Could we..." Bruce presses his tongue against the inside of his lower lip and reaches out to brush the back of his hand against Tom's. Just... he wants. A kiss.

"What do you see by that tree with all the lichen?"

"I... snow? There aren't any tracks, and the bushes kind of hide it from the path -- oh, there are." Bruce blushes. "I think those are condom wrappers. I would've thought it would be... um. Too cold. For that."

"Never underestimate the power of sexuality," Tom says, and points to where tracks lead to what looks like a stand of bushes closed on three sides. "What do you see there?"

Bruce frowns. "The snow seems to be... packed down, a little? In a rectangle -- someone laid a blanket down?

Tom nods and points -- "And there, of course..."

"Horse tracks. The police monitor this area. I -- oh." Bruce blushes. "I guess I wasn't thinking... clearly."

Tom smiles *sharply* and drops into a crouch, lifting his pant leg and tucking it into the top of his boot.

"Oh... off the path?"

Tom nods, and Bruce drops hurriedly into his own crouch and fixes his pants the same way.

And, almost as soon as they step off the path, Tom starts moving like a martial artist again, quick and graceful and so light Bruce has to check to make sure he *is* leaving tracks --

"Let me take -- let me go first, here. The ground is a little more uneven than what you're used to," Tom says, raising one hand to make Bruce pause.

Bruce nods and watches Tom scan right and left, turn and cock his head as if he can hear something other than the increasingly distant traffic and the somehow heavy silence of the park. Bruce listens, too, and there are voices from the east --

They fade, and Bruce knows they aren't walking in this direction. Tom raises an eyebrow at him.

"I think... I think we're clear."

"Me, too," and Tom starts moving a little slower and more carefully -- slow enough than Bruce can mimic his motions and *mostly* avoid tripping over roots hidden by the snow and branches snagging in his collar and hood.

It's uphill for a while, then down for much longer, but Tom seems to know exactly where he's going. He only pauses to point out particularly dangerous obstacles -- not incidentally teaching Bruce exactly what to look for. Perhaps Tom and his Bruce spend a lot of time in the park, or go camping.

Alfred had sent Bruce to summer camp when Bruce was ten, and it hadn't been terrible. The woods were pretty, and the food was interesting and mostly new to him. Being surrounded by that many loud and generally cheerful people had been a little stressful, though, and Bruce has the strong suspicion that the camp owners had said something to Alfred about him. Certainly, he'd never gone to camp again, but... if he'd had someone like *Tom* with him...

And Tom has stopped in front of him. They're in something like a small valley, notable for the waist-high fog turning everything smoky and strange. There's an abandoned gazebo to the west, but there doesn't seem to be any paths leading down to it.

Tom is smiling and moving toward the gazebo, seeming almost to wade through the fog. Bruce follows as carefully as he can -- Tom shouldn't be *able* to move that easily *here*, but he is -- and once they're at the gazebo, Tom bounds up and turns in a circle. The smile on his face is almost wondering, as if he hadn't quite expected to see this here.

"Is this... it?"

Tom grins back over his shoulder at him. "I know, it's not much, but... ah. The woman who showed me this place in my world... well. Let me show you something," he says, and moves to one of the rickety looking supports -- "Here," he says, and taps on... writing, carved small and neat into the wood with something sharp. It looks relatively new, and it says:

THEY offer you many things,
     I a few.
Moonlight on the play of fountains at night
With water sparkling a drowsy monotone,
Bare-shouldered, smiling women and talk
And a cross-play of loves and adulteries
And a fear of death and a remembering of regrets:
All this they offer you.
I come with:
     salt and bread
     a terrible job of work
     and tireless war;
Come and have now:
     and hate.

And --


Bruce steps back, frowning and shaking his head.


"I think -- I don't think I like that... poem? Who showed it to you? Who *wrote* it?"

"Ah... hm. Carl Sandburg wrote it during World War I," Tom says, closing the distance between them and taking Bruce's hands in his own.

It's wonderful, of course, it feels -- Bruce shakes his head again. "It makes -- the Bat approves."

"I thought it *would*, but that's not really why I showed it to you," and Tom looks rueful and concerned, and he seems to pause, all over. "I... hell," and then there's no distance between them, at all.

Their clothes are in the way. "Tom?"

"It's a false dichotomy, Bruce. It -- *it* -- isn't really about indolence vs. self-sacrifice. We *could* live our lives the second way, but the poem itself tells us why we shouldn't. Our parents wanted us to be happy, to have love and beauty all around us. And finding *that* poem *here*..." Tom squeezes Bruce's waist and nods toward the fog, the woods...

"It's a beautiful place," Bruce says, because it is -- even with that horrible poem in the middle of it. He turns them so he doesn't have to look at it --

And Tom's smile is amused and a little *more* rueful. "I'm sorry, Bruce. I really didn't mean to make you upset."

"It's all right. I... you're trying to tell me that I should find and never look away from the beautiful things in the darkness, and the difficult parts of otherwise beautiful things. I can understand that. I just... um. Didn't particularly *want* a lesson right now."

"Training never stops... but this is also one of the most private places in the park, Bruce, and I... would really like to kiss you."

The heat is wonder, all-encompassing and heavier than the sky. "Just... kiss?"

Tom's lips part and he searches Bruce, licks his lips... his cheeks are still red from the cold, and the quality of the light turns the blue of his eyes to something much closer to grey. If their mother hadn't been so beautiful, Bruce would have a hard time believing Tom was *related* to him, much less his twin.

His *brother*, and that shouldn't make the heat in him rise more, shouldn't make him need to try to press closer --

"Oh, Bruce..."

"I'm sorry. I'm -- I want you so much, and. A kiss is a lot better than. Than nothing," he says, and leans in slowly, carefully --

Tom moans and lunges for Bruce's mouth, kissing hard. His lips are cold, but the inside of his mouth is welcoming and warm, just like last night. And just like last night, Bruce can't keep himself from sliding his tongue in and tasting. There are faint hints of the orange juice from breakfast, and the persistent muskiness of the tea Alfred had given them to drink in the car on their way to where Tom had wanted to be dropped off.

Bruce licks Tom's tongue, feels for the points of his sharp canines, tries to press *closer*. He wants Tom's skin against his own, wants -- oh.

He pulls back just far enough that he can nuzzle Tom's face, and rubbing their cheeks together, their noses and their cheeks again.

Tom laughs and Bruce laughs, too, kissing Tom's nose and then his mouth again. He tries stroking Tom through his coat, but even the *sound* of his glove moving against it is frustrating and a little painful. Better to focus on kissing Tom as well as he can, making a point to do absolutely nothing Elizabeth Merriman had done to him --

Except that when *Tom* bites Bruce's lip, it feels so fantastic that he can't keep his *hips* from moving --

Tom *grunts* and bites Bruce's lip harder, and Bruce can't -- he pushes his hands into Tom's hair and holds on, tilting Tom's head back --

No, he has to --

He pushes Tom back against the support and hears it creak -- it doesn't bend or crack, though, and that's enough reason to press Tom hard, kiss him more deeply --

Tom whimpers and shakes his head, but he doesn't stop kissing, and he rubs the inside of his leg against the outside of Bruce's own --

"God, I want your *skin*, Tom --"

"I'm *using* it, but -- one more kiss, just one --"

Bruce laughs and strokes Tom's cheekbones with his thumbs, and when Tom slips his tongue into Bruce's mouth, Bruce sucks the way Tom had, and the feel is electric, satisfying and thrilling something in Bruce he has no words for. It's. "Wait, I --" He shakes his head and pulls back, tugging at the collar of Tom's coat --

"Bruce, we can't --"

"I just -- a little, please?" And when Tom leans his head back and pants, Bruce can see skin, the edge of that terrifying scar on Tom's throat -- he kisses and *licks* there, sucks --

"Oh -- oh, *God*, Bruce --"

Just a kiss, and it doesn't have to be hard. All -- so *much* that he wants is right here, his lips pressed against Tom's warm, sleek skin, Tom's salt on his tongue, and the *feel* of sucking that skin into his mouth, pulling until it's between his teeth --

"Don't. Don't mark me, Bruce. *Alfred* --"

Bruce shudders and sucks more gently, but not even the thought of Alfred is enough to make him want to stop. He can *taste* Tom, and when he licks he can feel the place where unmarked skin becomes marked, scarred --

"Oh, Bruce, oh -- God, I can't *think* when you do that --"

Then *don't*, don't think at all, never -- Bruce licks Tom a little harder, presses his tongue against the scar and holds it there for a moment before kissing and licking his way to the side of Tom's throat, and up to the spot behind his ear --

Tom *jerks* against him when Bruce licks him there, and that means he has to do it again, kiss harder and scrape with his teeth --

Lick --

"Nnh -- Bruce, *please*, let me -- I *can't* --"

"I love you," Bruce says, because he has to, because it's more true than anything -- "*Brother*..."

And Tom is panting, eyes squeezed shut and face *flushed*. He bites his lip and Bruce strokes his mouth until he stops, until he can pant again, make a sound --

"Tom, please..."

"I love -- I love you, too, Bruce. You're -- you've always --" Tom shakes his head and opens his eyes, and he looks wounded, *lost* -- "You've always been so beautiful, so *important* -- to me."

"*You're* beautiful, and I never thought..." Bruce shakes his head. "May I kiss you again? One more time?"

Tom closes his eyes again and nods, and it feels like stealing something to just pet his small, swollen mouth for a few moments, but it also feels like making love, like the essence of it, somehow. Touch for the sake of itself, for the pleasure of it --

"I could touch you all the *time*, Tom."

Tom laughs softly and kisses Bruce's fingers, rubs his mouth against them. "Not -- not all the time. We have things to *do* -- *mm* --"

Bruce's fingers are in the way of his kiss, but he can't bring himself to move them right away. They're making the kiss messier, more *wet*, and the cold air *bites* where there's saliva on his lip. Tom moans and *licks* Bruce's fingers and his lips, and the cold gets more serious, more *goading*.

It's *necessary* to move his hand, to push it back into Tom's hair and suck Tom's lips, one after the other and then again --

Again --

"That's -- mm, more than *one* kiss, Bruce --"

"It's a kiss with many parts," Bruce says, bringing his hand back down to Tom's throat and rubbing there, letting his thumb slide in the saliva he's left behind, pressing just for the *feel* --

"Oh -- *fuck* --"

"Oh. You *curse*," and Bruce pulls back and searches Tom's face.

Tom blinks and stares at him -- and then stands up straight, tugging his coat back down and licking his lips. "Ah... sometimes? When I'm feeling particularly... fervent. About something."

Bruce -- Bruce is staring at Tom's mouth, at the moisture there...

"Bruce... we should get out of here before it starts snowing harder," Tom says.

He *curses*, and that... it makes Bruce want to blush on Tom's behalf and it makes him want to make Tom do it *again*. It had happened when Bruce pressed against Tom's throat like *this*...

"Oh -- *please*, Bruce."

Never leave, never *stop* -- Bruce shudders all over and nods, pulling back. It *did* start to snow while they were kissing. The flakes are small and there aren't very many of them, but... yes, they should go.

Bruce takes another step back --

Tom sighs in relief. "I -- let's go."

By the time they get out of the park, there are significantly fewer pedestrians out, and the drivers have started becoming impatient and less cautious. Bruce knows there'll be accidents *somewhere*, and he hopes they won't see any. It would be good to help the people in the cars as much as possible, but it would also stain the day far more than even that poem.

Bruce touches his mouth while they walk, and feels Tom watching him do it out of the corner of his eye.


And what had possessed him, exactly, to ask for a kiss? He's supposed to be *discouraging* this -- this *thing*, between them, and instead he's acting like --

He hadn't even *meant* to take Bruce into the park for more than just a little more practice observing things, and to start getting him used to the many different kinds of places Gotham has on offer --

And, all right, he'd known Bruce had *wanted* a private place, *wanted* to make out --

More than that, apparently, and should he really be surprised? Just because Tim has, to date, resisted most of the urges toward going past first base --

They've never really felt like this, and how could they? It's *Bruce*, wanting him with every ounce of passion Tim has ever imagined Bruce could have. Everything hinted in the way Bruce's eyes flared, sometimes, in the deadly curve of his rare smiles...

Not so rare here and *now*. Not for him, anyway, and being with Bruce is a great deal like walking next to temptation. There is no *possible* escape from the knowledge that they could be touching, that --

("I want your *skin* --")

Tim doesn't moan again and *Tom* doesn't look around, or reach for Bruce's hand. They're still on a public street, for all that the snow -- and the threat of its growing heavier -- has cleared things a great deal. They're just... walking, and Tim knows from experience that if he just keeps going on like this for a while, eventually the ache in his penis will fade.

Does Bruce ache?

Oh... Tim knows he does. Pushing him against a *wall*, sucking Tim's *throat* --

"Are you angry?"

Oh... Bruce. Tim shakes his head. "Only at myself. I didn't mean to... encourage."

"You wanted a *kiss* --"

"Yes. Yes, I did, and I still do, and I don't know -- I don't know what I'm *doing*," Tim says, entirely honestly, and -- he can *feel* Bruce wanting *Tom* to look at him, practically *beaming* his need across the space between them -- it eases, and Tim knows that Bruce isn't looking at him, anymore. Not even from the corner of his eye.

He's thinking, instead, and... is that a good thing? A bad thing? Entirely neutral? A part of Tim would like to have been given psychic powers for this little magical mystery tour. Even intermittently being able to be *sure* what's going on in the minds of Bruce and Alfred --


Would it be better or worse to hear nothing at those times when the Bat is 'speaking' to him?

Has J'onn ever wondered?

And where, exactly, is he leading them?

Tim stops in the middle of the empty sidewalk and clenches his hands into fists. Bruce -- stops just *behind* Tim and to the right. Not next to him, and -- "Are you... giving me space?"

"It seemed best," Bruce says. "You said that when you and your Bruce fought..."

That they just stayed out of each other's way, yes. Like that little trip to *Tibet*, or, more recently, the exactly twelve hours he'd spent away from Bruce after Bruce had revealed the *extent* of Tim's sixteenth birthday present. And Bruce is looking at him, again, and they're standing on a public street making something of a tableau.

Still Life With Angsty Gay Teenagers, now with gently falling snow. Too bad Goth music hasn't been invented, yet -- without it, there's no reason at *all* not to suck it up. Tim takes a deliberate step back and forces himself to look up at Bruce, into his worried eyes, *hungry* eyes --

Will he be forgiven for this by whoever calls the account? Can he be? "I thought," Tim says, and brushes his hand against Bruce's --

Bruce takes a breath and *shivers* --

"In -- ah. In my world, there's a really good restaurant near here and, well, we have been out for a while."

Bruce nods.

Arigato is going to be one of the most enduringly fashionable restaurants in the city starting in around fifteen years, but for now it's just fairly exclusive. Sushi hasn't really exploded, yet, but there are a couple of customers seated at the bar with bowls of miso soup and cups of green tea.

The hostess' smile seems a bit *too* grateful -- until Tim considers how often new restaurants like this one struggle to stay afloat -- and the sushi chef Tim's stomach has quietly worshipped since he was ten looks approximately fourteen years old. But Tim is used to these little shocks at this point, and he manages to nod, smile, and thank her for her greeting -- in English which comes out stilted because he's *thinking* in Japanese.

He'd brought Steph here a couple of times, luring her with the promise of the hibachi that doesn't exist in *this* restaurant, yet, and Dick once. Bruce is looking around curiously, and once they're seated --

"I've never had Japanese food, before. Do you go to restaurants often?"

For the past year, he's barely eaten any food that Alfred hadn't prepared -- "Ah... sometimes we check the restaurant reviews before we take a day in the city," Tim says, and tries to imagine doing something like that with *his* Bruce.

They'd have to do it as Brucie and Tim Wayne, adopted son and heir, and that would be...

It would be fun for the part of his mind which likes things to hurt, a little, and he would spend the whole meal searching for *Bruce* under the vapid haze of Brucie, searching and *not* finding, and hurting that much more. Tim shakes it off internally and orders green tea for them both.

Bruce is studying the menu as if Tim might test him on it, a slight frown disturbing the smooth curve of his forehead and tightening the mouth that only seems ungenerous when one is not in the process of being kissed. Bruce is beautiful, and with his coat off it's easy to read the lines of his body, the tension there that has everything to do with Tim has done -- and not done.

His hands are smaller than the ones that have starred in more fantasies than Tim can count, but the shape of them is right, and the strength and grace of them is already --

Bruce is looking at him.

Tim turns to his own menu and thinks about snow and lots of it --

"Um... do you know what I like?"

Why yes, the menu *is* a little unhelpful if you don't already know what sorts of flavors you want. Damn -- "We... always like to try something different," Tim says and *thinks*. Has he ever actually witnessed Bruce *or* Brucie eating sushi? What if he actually hates raw fish? Should he recommend something more conservative? "On a day like this, the udon would actually be great. That's what I was thinking about getting, anyway."

Bruce looks at the menu again. "A soup. That does sound nice, but I think I'd like to... do you eat raw fish? That seems a little dangerous."

Tim smiles helplessly. "Sometimes. It's actually really healthy for you as long as you're in a reputable restaurant. And a place like this wouldn't last long if the customers were constantly getting food poisoning."

Bruce nods decisively. "Then I'd like to try it. I'll order the... chirashi? Sushi."

"That's the right pronunciation... as far as I know."

"And... perhaps we could share? I've seen people..." Bruce frowns. "Or... is that not done at a place like this? I remember our parents used to share each other's food all the time, though sometimes people would give them... looks."

And you want us to be like your parents, Bruce? *Really*?

("I love you.")

Tim shivers and nods. "It's entirely acceptable at a place like this. And I... I would like to share. With you."

Bruce's smile is cautious and small -- until Tim smiles back.

They start with an order of tempura shrimp and vegetables, and it takes approximately ten seconds for Bruce to become adequate with the chopsticks, and another minute for him to become proficient. It might've taken less than that if the waitress hadn't shown up to refill their cups of tea.

When their -- very generously portioned -- meals arrive, Bruce looks at his like it's a mountain he has to scale before he'll be allowed to rest again, and... no, Tim really doesn't want that.

"Here, switch with me."

Bruce looks up. "Already?"

"I... want to show you something," Tim says, and swallows at the way those words *work* on Bruce.

Widened eyes and the color coming back to his cheeks, the searching that feels like being *stripped* -- no. It feels like being carefully, lovingly, and thoroughly undressed as a prelude to --

Tim picks up his soup bowl and hands it to Bruce, then drags Bruce's plate across to his place. He snags the small rectangular bowl, too. "Here," he says, and *goes* with being an ugly American, mixing the wasabi and soy to the viscosity and heat level he preferred before learning that it was more culturally appropriate to leave them separate. Whatever, it *tastes* good, and Bruce is watching him closely.

He picks up a piece of the salmon and thinks about what Dick would do. And that... He smiles and turns it in the light, making a little show of examining the color and marbling before dipping it in the mixture and holding it there for a moment --

Bruce nods, smiling, and Tim leans in and takes the whole thing in his mouth, closing his eyes for the show of it, and also for the fact that it's just that good. Not as *subtle* as what he'd trained himself to prefer, but savory and *entirely* pleasant.

And when he opens his eyes, Bruce's smile is both amused and openly appreciative.

"Tom. You made that look... very sensuous. I know you were teasing, a little, but --"

"Only a little. Good sushi is rich and complex. Some of the flavors are pretty subtle, but it's not like we've been gorging ourselves on nachos and barbeque-flavor potato chips."

"Nachos? Is that Mexican food?"

Oh, the hits just keep on coming. "Ah... sort of? Maybe we'll try one of those restaurants, too. Try the noodles. Just remember to --"

"Lean in, yes. I can already tell that meals like these demand a relaxation of the normal rules of posture," Bruce says, and smiles wryly.

"Live *dangerously*," Dick says through Tim's mouth --

"Oh... I think I already am," and the expression in Bruce's eyes should be as rigidly controlled at the amount of wasabi used in any given bite. The fact that it isn't is just something Tim and Tim's penis have to live with.

They eat, switching off midway through, and Bruce starts talking about decorating the tree, confessing that it's always been something he'd done for Alfred's sake and asking whether it was different in Tim's world.

The truth is, *both* Bruce and Tim had been going through the motions last Christmas. It might've been different if Barbara hadn't been with her father, Dick still undercover and Cassandra traveling, but as it was, it had been just the three of them, and Tim distinctly remembers 'amusing' himself with thoughts of the gallows as he'd climbed the ladder to place the angel.

Tim splits the difference, once more, and tells Bruce that no, it still wasn't the same without their parents, and that it was important to, as Alfred would *think*, 'show willing.' Perhaps if they stayed out late enough and looked *tired* enough, Alfred would let them get away with a very basic decoration job.

And when they're done eating...

"I... I think I might still be *hungry*," Bruce says, and he sounds so surprised at himself, so *confused*...

Tim laughs, quietly, and nudges Bruce's foot under the table. "Sushi is like that, sometimes. We could order more."

"What would you recommend? I think I enjoyed the tuna the most. Both of them, I mean," Bruce says, and nudges Tim back.

"Hmm. We can make up a roll with both of them, and... maybe some scallions and ginger?"

Bruce smiles and looks at Tim's hands where they're folded on the table. "I'm in your hands," and he really does make that sound like... a lot.

And it is.

Tim orders for them, and tries to be at least a *little* less aware of Bruce's gaze on him, *moving* on him and over him --

Bruce clutching at him through the pajamas --

"I'll have that for you in just a few minutes, sir -- oh, I almost forgot! We have oysters today if you'd like some?"

Raw oysters aren't *really* an aphrodisiac. That's just a myth --

"I remember our mother saying she liked oysters, Tom. Perhaps we should get some?"

He's not really picturing Martha Wayne sucking an oyster off the half-shell while gazing alluringly at Thomas, and anyway it's over now. "Ah... sure, let's get a couple. I don't know if you'll like them, though. They're kind of... challenging," Tim says --

"Oh, no, they're *very* fresh," the waitress says. "And the spice is perfect, you'll see. How many would you like?"

"One each?" And Bruce raises his eyebrows at Tom.

Dick is *laughing* in Tim's head. And Bruce is rubbing his ankle against Tim's own. "Make it two."

And really --

They're wearing *boots*. With their pants back down *over* their boots, so they're not actually feeling each *other*. Not even when Bruce, taking Tim's advice about how it's perfectly acceptable to eat the rolls with your hands, pushes the first piece into his mouth and closes his eyes in pleasure.

And *drags* his ankle against Tim's, and pushes, and --

Tim takes one of Bruce's slices to distract himself, and it really *is* good for something he'd come up with on the spur of the moment. Tim really prefers mackerel to tuna, but when he thinks about the fact that they're tasting the same things, that Bruce is *watching* him taste what he's tasting --

He would really, really like to introduce Bruce to the concept of fellatio. There, he's thought it. That's the *end* of all of the --

That's the end of *most* of the paths his brain has wanted him to take today --

For longer than today.

He wants to suck Bruce *off*, fast and messy, and then slowly and with great care. He wants to make Bruce moan and clutch at his hair, make Bruce need to fuck his *mouth* --

And it doesn't matter that he's never actually done anything of the kind -- he's had the *theory* down for quite some time, and it's not like Bruce would notice if he flubbed the practice, a little. He has *motivation* on his side, and the fact that Bruce would let him, would *want* him to --

Bruce *presses* his ankle against Tim's, and Tim has a pretty fair idea of what expression is in his eyes when he looks up, because it makes Bruce *pause* in the act of bringing another roll to his mouth. His hot, wet *mouth* --


Tom. *Tom*. He tries to let that twist itself inside him, let it skewer him a little on reality so he can think of something other than what would happen, what it would *feel* like when Bruce wanted to reciprocate --

"I understand. I'm -- I'm *trying* to understand," Bruce says, making a creditable attempt to look around casually and thoroughly before leaning in. "The way we feel about each other... the reasons *you* have for not wanting to give into them are not my own, and you've done so much to make me *ignore* my reasons --"

"I wish. I wish I wanted to apologize for that --"

"I'm glad you *don't*. It feels like I'm clear of everything but you, and that's what I *want*, Tom. Knowing you love me the way I love you makes everything else *irrelevant* --"

"Bruce, no --"

"*Yes*. I -- you were right to tell me not to promise not to push, because I don't think I can stop, now. But... I won't *force*. Not ever."

Tim closes his eyes. "I know that. I've -- I've always known that about you."

Bruce presses hard with his ankle again, and it feels like he's squeezing Tim's hand, like he's pulling Tim *close* --

Tim presses back and Bruce makes a soft sound and starts rubbing again, and Tim knows that Bruce is *staring* at him, seeing him and how much he wants, and -- this would be so much easier if he could *fear* this Bruce.

If his moods were less easy to understand, if there was always the chance for rejection, contempt for Tim's *weakness*. He *is* supposed to be stronger than this, supposed to be able to purge himself of his desires at least enough to perform the tasks at hand --

But he knows, better than he ever could have before the disasters that started happening the day his father had discovered he was Robin, that moments like this are important. Moments of sweetness, understanding, love and *touch* --

Tim opens his eyes and --

Bruce's smiles have never been and will never be as blinding as *Dick's*, but even the part of him which would still -- and always -- follow Dick anywhere he wanted to lead has to admit that *Bruce's* smiles fill something in him, maybe *heal* something, because --

"I always thought the two of us could be --" No, rephrase. "Bruce, we've always been so close, and I guess I just want that to be enough for me."

"It doesn't *have* to be enough, Tom..."

*Tom*. Tim takes a breath and smiles, stealing the slice from between Bruce's fingers and imagining that he can taste the salt from them, or perhaps the faint oils. Mm. "I know that. And I'm... trying not to be scared," he says, and lifts his hand in a brief pushing gesture.

Bruce nods and leans back, and Tim doesn't slide the toe of his boot up the side of Bruce's calf. But he also doesn't stop the rubbing and nudging.

The restlessness of it waxes and wanes as they eat and drink their tea, going calm for long moments before one of them presses hard again, hooks his foot behind the other's ankle and *pulls* -- and perhaps he should try to live in the humor of the situation. He's playing footsie in an empty restaurant with *Batman*, who thinks Tim is his *twin brother* --

And who really, really wants to feel Tim all over. Wants *skin*, and really, that's wonderful progress in terms of his sexuality. Knowing what you want *and* being ready, willing, and able to try to *get* it from a willing partner is mature, healthy --

Waitress, and is it better or worse to get *harder* when Bruce immediately puts an innocuous expression on his face before Tim even gestures?

All of Batman's instincts and all of Bruce's *humanity*, and maybe Tim should forgive himself, even if no one else would. Robin wasn't ever supposed to be able to stand *up* to that, not in this way.

The waitress leaves them their oysters -- arranged beautifully with turnips carved into roses and died pink -- and goes. Bruce drags the toe of his boot from just *above* Tim's ankle to his heel and raises an eyebrow. "Show me?"

Tim nods and picks up one of the oysters, turning slightly to the side to give Bruce his profile as he licks out to taste the spice, the sourness --

"Is that... standard?"

Oops. "Ah... more like reflexive."

"I think I like that reflex."

Tim shakes his head and laughs. "I feel like I've created a monster."

"Perhaps just let one... out?"

And when Tim cuts his eyes to look, Bruce's smile is sharp and confident and yes, devastating. Maybe he should ask himself how Dick would respond to --

All right no, not that, because he's going to have to stand up and walk *out* of this restaurant soon. No more waiting. He tilts the shell slightly and sucks, pressing the oyster against the roof of his mouth with his tongue and just -- tasting, for a moment, before he chews and hums.

Tim turns back to Bruce and raises his eyebrow, and Bruce's smile gets wider and, perhaps, a little wilder. It's *summer* in this restaurant, now, and while Tim's fully aware that it's just his arousal combined with the tingling heat of whatever hot sauce the owners of Arigato like best -- it doesn't matter. It still makes him want to undo the top button of his shirt --

And think about Bruce's tongue when *he* sticks it out to taste, and when he blinks at the spice.

"Rather different from the wasabi."

"Yes," Bruce says, and tilts and sucks in one smooth motion, narrowing his eyes and very obviously *studying* the entire experience. He's not stroking Tim's foot with his own at the moment, and Tim lets the angel on his shoulder help him pull his foot back while the devil is distracted by the frown line on Bruce's forehead.

Tim picks up his other oyster and waits, letting it slip back and forth in its shell --

"Hmm. The texture is..."


"A bit disturbing, actually," Bruce says. "Do you like it?"

("I love you, boyfriend, and I appreciate your wanting to educate my palate, but this feels like sucking snot.")

Tim smiles ruefully. "It takes some getting used to, but there's something about the feel of it slipping into my mouth that's almost... ah. Sinful."

"Because some religions consider it to be a forbidden food?"

"Because it's unabashedly *raw*, because it was alive *very* recently... I don't know, I can be somewhat fastidious, but eating oysters this way has always felt a little... primal," Tim says, and sucks the next one back. This time, he leaves his eyes open and watches Bruce watch him.

"Raw," Bruce says, and his tone is thoughtful and low. "Do you eat other meats raw? Or... rare, I suppose."

Tim swallows and licks a bit of the juice from his lip. "*Only* when Alfred prepares them that way. I trust his shopping and food-preparation techniques more than I trust anyone else's. Sushi is... an exception to the rule."

Bruce nods slowly and knocks back his other oyster, and Tim can *feel* him being careful to show Tim everything -- the moment's disturbance at the texture, the flare for the heat, the pleasure at the taste --

And, perhaps, for the feel of it sliding down his throat --

("Oh my God. I can't believe I just said that out *loud*. I -- um.")

A rare opportunity to see *Steph* blush because the conversation had turned sexual, and the feeling had been so sweet and perfect, so --

("Just, you know, for the record -- I'm *not* saying that I wouldn't ever... oh, stop raising that eyebrow at me, Tim, *you* know what I'm talking about.")

That night, long after dinner and patrol, they'd sat on the roof of her home and held hands until their palms were sweaty, and then they'd each put their hands on the other's knee, and stared up at the few stars visible until it had started to get light.

("It'll be okay, boyfriend."

"What will?"

"Everything. This, I have spoken.")


Tim shakes it off and smiles ruefully. "Sorry. I was just... thinking."

"About Steph."

Tim blinks. "That obvious?"

Bruce smiles back at him and reaches out -- stops and sets his hand on the table. "Your smile was sad," Bruce says. "I... had a feeling."

Tim nods. "She... ah. Didn't care for the oysters."

Bruce nods. "What did she like? If you don't mind my asking."

"It's -- it's all right. I like that you want to know. Very much. Ah... she liked rock music, but not if it was sexist in any way. People who thought deeply about their beliefs, whether or not she agreed with them. Various shades of purple -- not *all* shades, but many of them. Gymnastics. Playing the piano. Football, but *not* the Knights. Cream soda. Chocolate in all of its forms. Practical shoes..." Tim smiles a little wider. "You get the idea."

"You'll always love her," and Bruce sounds wistful and somehow *proud*, as if Tim's love for someone this Bruce has never known is something that reflects well on both of them.

Maybe it does. "I'll always miss her, too. Check?"

Bruce signals for the waitress with an absently casual gesture he may or may not remember learning from his father. For Tim, it was his mother. His father had never quite gotten the hang of having that degree of presence, and sometimes Tim has wondered if that's part of why DI started to suffer after his mother's death. She'd handled -- officially and not -- much of the stockholder wrangling --

And Tim isn't about to let his mind pull him into more of this sort of... eulogizing. Even if it's better at it now than it was when the various people in Tim's life had *expected* him to stand up and speak for the dead.

In the end, Bruce is watching him closely, but lets Tim wave him off -- for now.

When they leave the restaurant, the snow has stopped again, but it's clear by the sky that this won't be a permanent state of affairs. It's getting late, and Tim needs to buy Bruce a present. It would be nice to have his own money for it -- or at least some time with the kind of computer which won't exist in this world for a *generation* -- but he has to work with what he has, and he's damned well going to give Bruce *something*.

He leads them toward the subway. There's a dusting of snow on the steps, but it's not too dangerous, yet. And Bruce...

Is looking around like a tourist.

"You've never been down here before," Tim says, putting just a little edge in his voice.

Bruce blushes and immediately tones down his body language. "Sorry. Our father used to talk about riding the subway and how it had gotten to be too dangerous."

Oh... right. This is most assuredly *before* the division of transit police were given the budget they needed to make a difference down here, and now that *Tim* is paying attention... that really is a *lot* of graffiti for this neighborhood, and the few passengers are looking distinctly wary -- to the point that one man they pass actually clutches his packages more tightly. "We do have to stay alert," Tim says, quietly. "But it should be fine."

"Do you ride often?"

Tim waves a hand. "I like to be *with* my Bruce for this -- but it's a part of the city that has to be known and understood."

"It's a part of the city," Bruce says, and Tim can almost *feel* Bruce opening his senses, either listening to the Bat or just knowing what needs to be done instinctively, and...

A test. "Given what you know about crime statistics and psychology, who is the most dangerous person currently on this platform?"

Bruce blinks and takes a breath, and then moves into a credibly impatient-looking pace which not at all incidentally allows him to observe everyone here.

Tim waits, keeping a steady observation of the people around them and letting Bruce come to his own conclusions -- it really doesn't take long, at all.

"Oh," Bruce says, and gives Tim a wondering look. "*I* am. I -- I'm the right age for it, and I must seem almost *filled* with restless energy. Additionally, I'm relatively large, unencumbered by packages, and have another teenaged male who could be my *partner*."

Tim smiles, and lets it be as wide and sharp as it wants to be. "One of the things my Bruce and I have picked up is the art of looking relatively innocuous."

"The way you move, sometimes..."

"Problematic, I know -- I'm working on it. But think of it this way: even people who watch martial arts films all the time don't really expect to *meet* anyone on the street with those skills *and* the will to use them. And I am very, very slight."

"You're beautiful," Bruce says, and then smiles wryly again. "Did I pass?"

"With flying colors. And here comes our train."

There's a wild and vibrant -- and unfinished -- mural taking up much of the first three cars. It depicts a timely sort of bible story, with a distinctly Latino Jesus preaching to a crowd of the bored, disaffected, and generally disco-oriented. He turns something that looks like Kool-Aid into rum, and he heals people in jet-powered wheelchairs --

And the doors are open before Tim can be sure about the unfinished portion. In a few years, all of that art will have been scrubbed off, painted over, or just sent to an old train yard to slowly rust to irrelevance. The artist will have moved on to other media, or perhaps will have gotten himself -- or herself -- killed or imprisoned for some greater transgression. The city moves, and Tim has no idea how to impart that lesson, at all.

For now, it's enough to lead Bruce to the end of one of the emptier cars and to try to remember what *he'd* felt like the first few times he'd ridden the subway with nothing to protect him but fantasies of the best older brother anyone could ever have.

Tim smiles. It could be worse -- he could be making Bruce ride on *top* of the train --

"Share the joke?"

"Just thinking of ways this could be more dangerous," Tim says, reaching up to grab one of the straps so Bruce will do the same.

"You sound like you *relish* the prospect, Tom."

"Adrenaline is a fun and powerful thing, Bruce," and the train starts up with a lurch that seems more severe than the ones he's used to. "Watch how I hold myself."

"Of course."

Tim unzips his coat to make it easier for Bruce, and moves into a stance that always feels as though it *should* be more wide-legged. And then he takes a calming breath he doesn't really need and lets go of the strap.

"Oh. Should I...?"

"Not just yet," Tim says, and waits for the turns to get a little wicked. This is the train out to the *very* farthest edges of Bristol, and so the route is one of the older and more idiosyncratic ones -- there. Tim lets his body move somewhat in *tune* with the swaying and does his best to pretend he doesn't know this by heart.

Bruce is studying him openly, but -- for perhaps the first time today -- there isn't *much* heat to it.

Tim raises an eyebrow.

"I'm ready," Bruce says, and lets go of the strap. The next curve hits him fast and hard, but he only stumbles *slightly*. "Or -- maybe not --"

"You're good. Just try to keep your mind on your center of gravity."

Bruce nods and steadies himself again --

"*Don't* lock your knees," but he's too late to keep Bruce from staggering again, more seriously this time --

And possibly grabbing Bruce by the belt and *yanking* wasn't the best possible choice he could've made, but they'd already done a number on their clothes by traipsing through the park, and landing on *this* floor would be a deeply unsanitary tragedy, and --

Bruce is panting a little and staring down into Tim's eyes from a distance of utterly meaningless *nothing*. Tim moves his hand, but Bruce already has *his* on Tim's hip, cupping it and pressing his thumb into the hollow. "Bruce..."

"Yes," he says and leans in that much closer, breathing deep -- "You smell like green tea and peppers."

"Ah... so do you."

"It's far more exciting on you. You should trust me about that," and really --

Really. Bruce is standing easily enough *now* that a part of Tim is wondering how real those stumbles were... except that he's *Bruce Wayne*, and all of his learning curves that don't involve household chores look like vertical lines.

And the other three people in this car are being very, very Gotham about paying no attention to the teenaged boys who possibly -- *possibly* -- only seem to be horsing around.

Bruce's hand feels several distinct varieties of wonderful where it is, and if he were to just *squeeze* Tim's hip a *little* -- this would quickly get out of control. "You should... move your hand."

"Are you sure?"

Tim cuts his eyes toward the other passengers.

Bruce frowns. "*They* don't know we're... that we're brothers."

"And *how* many articles have been written about you?"

Bruce's frown gets deeper. "Hardly any since we were eight, Tom. Are you and your Bruce in the news very often?"

Oh... that. 'Brucie' doesn't exist, yet, and certainly isn't well known... anywhere. They could... focus *first*. "I... perhaps rich and tragic *twins* are more 'newsworthy'." Tim shakes his head. "I'm somewhat accustomed to being a recognizable figure."

"That sounds... perfectly horrible," Bruce says -- and squeezes Tim's hip.

Tim closes his eyes --

"Oh. Tom --"

The lights flicker and die, and the other passengers sigh a little -- they knew this was coming, just as Tim had known, only -- the blackness is a little more *complete* than what he was used to, with only the red exit signs providing light.

"Is this... normal?"

"Ah... yes. It's all -- *mm* --"

The kiss is hard, almost *brutal*, and Tim knows that Bruce is only trying to get as much out of the kiss as he can before the lights come up again, that he doesn't really *intend* to hurt Tim's mouth, but Tim pulls back from it, anyway. Just far enough to make Bruce pet and fumble for the back of Tim's head --

Sway, and Bruce's body bumps against Tim's own, coat zipper cool against Tim's jaw --

("I love you.")

And what he had *really* meant was that he thinks he's *in* love with Tim, with *Tom* who knows so much, cares in ways which make sense to Bruce, in ways that make Bruce so *benignly* jealous, so --

*Sway*, and this time Bruce is ready for it, managing to unzip his coat *just* in time for their bodies to bump and slide against each other, and the kiss is softer, now, but it hasn't *paused*. Bruce tastes like the oysters and smells like the green tea --

Possibly it's the other way around, *probably* Tim doesn't care, because Bruce is stroking into Tim's mouth steadily with his tongue and *humming* with pleasure. He *likes* this, and part of Tim is honestly stuck on that, and possibly will continue to *be* stuck on that. It's *Bruce*, and he *wants* Tim, enjoys Tim's body and wants more of it, wants so *much* --

And it would be so *easy* to just reach down and *cup* Bruce through his pants, to feel his heat, to give that touch to both of them --

*Oh*. Bruce's hand is on Tim's *ass*, petting and squeezing almost hesitantly, and Tim *knows* that he doesn't know what he's asking for, but that doesn't stop the images from bearing down on Tim in the kind of assault he'd much prefer to have happen when he's in his *bed*, *alone* --

But oh, God, how it would feel if it were Bruce's fingers inside him instead of his own, if Bruce were there to look down at him with that expression of confused and *game* lust as he pushed, as he *shoved*. And Tim doesn't know when he'd gotten his hands between them, but he's most assuredly feeling Bruce *up*, now, searching for Bruce's nipples with his palms and his fingertips --

Finding them and *pinching*, just a little, and the only thing that keeps Bruce's moan from being loud and obvious is that it's into Tim's mouth --

Flicker and *movement*, and Tim shoves Bruce back and reaches for his -- perfectly normal belt.

Which is good, because it's just a very inebriated-looking man working his way through the cars. Though why he'd chosen to do that in the *dark* --

"Hey, man, cool down. I didn't see *nothin'*," he says, and giggles his way between them on his way to the next car. 

Tim doesn't squeeze his eyes shut and he doesn't let his frustration make him growl. He settles for balling his hands into fists and not meeting Bruce's eyes for a beat, another -- he breathes and looks, expecting guilt they can expiate between them and getting *absolute* hunger.

He swallows back the noise that wants to come out of his mouth and holds up a hand --

And Bruce strokes down the center of his chest with one hand, and -- his stance couldn't be more perfect and it doesn't seem like he's even *blinking*. Which of them had caused that particular encounter to escalate, exactly?

And how on earth does he *ease* this without making promises he can't let himself *keep*?

Tim reaches up to grab the strap and watches Bruce follow the movement, and then look Tim over like he's memorizing every inch of him, like he's planning his next *attack* --

"Come closer," Tim says, and Bruce --

It's not *quite* a stalk, but thinking that feels like trying to split nanofibers. They'd left *hairs* behind a long time ago, and Bruce takes the strap next to Tim's own.

And -- he can *think*. "That was a mistake."

"Because we left ourselves vulnerable," Bruce says, low and *dark*.

Yes. Yes, but *also* --

"I liked that. What you did with my nipples."

Tim feels himself blushing and there's *nothing* he can do about that --

"Did you like having my hand on your rear? I know you liked it when I squeezed your hip. Are you very sensitive there?"

He's -- still not closing his eyes. Tim shakes his head. "*Bruce*. *Are* you planning your next attack?"

Bruce nods slowly and shifts, and Tim can't stop himself from looking down and seeing -- the bulge isn't as prominent as it had been last night, but it's very much *there*, and Tim could've felt it. He *could* have, Bruce *wanted* him to do it, and --

Tim is reminded, forcibly, of promises he'd made to himself in the heat of adolescent need. That if he *ever* had a chance, if Dick or Bruce *ever* seemed to want him, and oh, God, if they ever seemed to *need* --

"Would you tell me?"

"I liked it. Very much. And it has far less to do with sensitivity than with *potential*."

Bruce's eyes widen for a moment and he nods again. "The potential of other touches. Other things we could do."

"Yes. And I'm done talking about this --"

"For now?"

And that -- *doubt* in Bruce's voice, and something that sounds like. It's --

It's the loneliness, and perhaps the awareness in Bruce that Tom might leave at any time, that -- Tim squeezes his eyes shut and tries to stop hearing that sound, stop feeling that *look*. He's told so many *lies*, and the fact that he didn't mean to make himself *this* kind of necessary to Bruce --

It doesn't matter. It just -- it doesn't. It's *done*, and no one is looking when Tim takes Bruce's hand in his own and squeezes.

Bruce sighs and squeezes back.

"For now," Tim says, and wonders if there'll *be* an end he can live with.


The Bristol-Chambers Mall is another place Bruce has never been, for all that it's only a few miles from the manor. Alfred had called it 'a vulgar place' in the tone he usually saves for when he actually means 'an abomination on the face of the earth.'

Bruce has to admit he'd had a point. Tinny Christmas music is blaring everywhere they go, and Tom's description of the decor as 'mass-marketed psychedelia' really does seem to fit. Bruce has the suspicion that if he were prone to headaches, he'd absolutely have one right now. Certainly, most of the people shopping here -- as opposed to the people they saw in the city -- seem to have something paining them.

Tom had stopped them at the end of the broad entryway and given an almost military gesture, very clearly directing them to split up. That was disappointing -- he's had a whole *day* of getting to see the city and its environs through Tom's eyes, and he's certainly not ready to give that *up*, yet, but... well, they do have to buy presents.

Bruce had ordered Alfred's present two months ago -- a first edition of Bleak House which had already arrived and which Bruce has had carefully wrapped for some time. He'd also purchased a copy of the collected decisions of Earl Warren for Harvey, but he *had* been hoping to get something more fun, too.
Assuming he could figure out what that would *be*. And now there's Tom, and he *has* to get something for him, but what? What sorts of gifts has *his* Bruce given him over the years?

He doesn't know, but he knows he wants his to be better. He's been trying hard not to resent that other Bruce, but he's not doing very well. Just -- he'd had Tom for his whole *life*, and he'd never touched, never *kissed* --

Tom had *implied* that his feelings for Bruce were different than his feelings for his Bruce, that they were --

("I lasted years without sucking my Bruce's *tongue*, Bruce.")

So *blunt* and matter-of-fact. So...

He has to find something good, something that will let Tom know how important he is to Bruce, how much Bruce *needs* him. Those kisses in the park. Those *moments* on the train, and the feel of Tom's hands on his chest, the feel of his rear against Bruce's palm --

Bruce curls his fingers against muscle that isn't *there*, heat and life walking in the other *direction* --

Tom had given them an hour and a half to do what they needed to do, and that means Bruce needs to focus on the actual stores he'd passed -- they were just for clothes and shoes. He has a fair idea of both Harvey's and Tom's sizes just from looking at them --

Tom always knows when Bruce is looking. Harvey knows pretty often, but not like Tom does. It's like he can *feel* Bruce the way Bruce can feel him, and maybe that's what being a twin means. And clothes aren't really all that fun -- he'll save that for a last resort.

He keeps walking and passes more clothing stores, an ice cream shop, an Orange Julius stand, a bookstore --

Maybe he could find a book for Tom. Does he like to read for more than just learning things for the Mission? A part of Bruce has always separated people into two categories -- people who liked to read and people who didn't, with people in the latter category mostly being the sort he didn't like to spend time with, at all. But Tom hadn't mentioned favorite books at all in any of the time they've spent together, and there's something about him which makes Bruce think that he probably wouldn't like Victorian literature -- assuming this brightly-lit and garishly decorated place even sold things like that.

Bruce keeps going, and... a jewelry store. Jewelry is *usually* a gift for girls, he knows, but this place seems to be as casual as the bookstore, and thus possibly aimed at young people like him.

Bruce walks in, and there are a lot of things with -- small -- rubies and emeralds on display for Christmas, and there are even more things with diamonds --

("Oh, Thomas, yes, they were all very sparkly and eye-catching, but don't you think diamonds are for the unimaginative?")

And after his mother had left the room, his father had knelt down in front of him with a smile Bruce thinks of now as being *quirked* and shown Bruce a small blue jewelry box. Bruce had opened it to find diamonds worked into a butterfly pattern on a brooch. He'd asked his father why he hadn't given it to his mother, and --

("We'll keep this between us, Bruce. Let your mother *retain* her good opinion of me for a little while longer, hmm?")

Perhaps Tom remembers something like that, too. Bruce ignores the diamonds and moves deeper into the store. It seems odd that the cheaper things *are* back here, but Bruce supposes there's a difference between robbing a store with immediate access to the street and robbing a store where you have to then run through a large building with patrolling security guards and many potential witnesses *also* focused on shopping, as opposed to on other aspects of their lives.

He'll have to pay closer attention to the local newspaper for reports of crime here to see if his theory is correct.

The display above the counter has a number of pendant necklaces on chains which *almost* look like silver or gold, but really aren't, and -- oh.

The symbol for yin and yang. He hasn't studied enough to know what it *really* means, other than balance, but Harvey had mentioned it once, on a night when they'd been studying together in their room --

("Light and darkness, male and female -- *not* really good and evil, because that kind of dichotomy doesn't really mean the same over there, or... well. Not really. I don't *think* so, anyway...")

And Harvey had laughed at himself and shook his head, letting himself fall back against the bed. Bruce remembers the way his undershirt had ridden up over his abdomen, exposing skin gone pale from the deep and early winter. He remembers imagining it golden again from the sun --

("It's *balance*, Bruce, and I can't really help thinking that's a good thing, you know? Harmony, unity, everything coming together... ah, I don't know. Go back to the third study question -- I'm going to get this one if it kills us both.")

" -- help you?"

Bruce jumps internally and blinks away the memory of Harvey's long fingers, scarred from his summers doing construction work. "This one," he says, and lifts the pendant. "It's backed with silver?"

"Oh, yes --"

"Then I'd like it to be on a silver chain, as well. Something... um. Masculine."

The saleswoman -- an older woman with beautiful auburn hair and a smile that never reaches her light brown eyes -- purses her lips. "You'll have to purchase a chain separately, sir."

"That's all right. Perhaps you could show me some of the nicer ones?"

The smile on the woman's face gets wider and *almost* makes it to her eyes. Bruce can almost see it hit a wall and stop.

("It is an inescapable fact of life, young sir, that there are many people in this world who will look at you and see only the wealth you have at your disposal. While this will make many things more difficult for you than they would otherwise be, you will also often be able to use it to your advantage.")

"Right this way, sir."

Several of the chains she shows him are white gold or platinum instead of silver, and many of them look like they wouldn't be out of place on the gaudier sort of criminal -- the ones who often get their pictures in the paper. The woman's smile shrinks and hardens again when he insists on silver to match the pendant -- her eyes strongly suggest that Bruce is a skinflint who will never have any friends -- but he eventually makes it out of the store with what he wants and a strong sense of satisfaction.

It's not that he's ever *seen* Harvey wearing jewelry, but Bruce knows that it *is* fashionable for young men to do it, these days, and maybe it will make him remember that night, too, and how they'd stayed up long past the time when they'd finished studying and just talked.

Now he just has to find something for Tom...

Except that he walks all the way around his half of the mall -- and *all* the way around the upper floor -- and none of the stores seem like they would have *anything* right. He's tempted to go back down and try Tom's end of the mall, but that feels like surrender *and* cheating --

("Never, ever trust anyone who reads the last page of a mystery first, Bruce.")

And Harvey had tapped his temple with exaggerated seriousness --

("It's the sign of a diseased and *weak* mind.")

Bruce clutches the small bag with the necklace a little tighter and stares at a camera store. He doesn't need to see the way the other shoppers give him a wide berth to know that he has one of *those* expressions on his face.

("Do *try* not to menace the other children, Master Bruce.")

Bruce takes a breath and walks in. He knows exactly nothing about cameras, and he has no idea what Tom would do *with* a camera, but... but.

There's a feeling a little like the one he had about the books, but in the opposite direction. Conclusions without words is how Tom had described it, and so Bruce *focuses* on the feeling, a little. What *would* Tom do with a camera? He sees everything, already, and his memory is either just as good as Bruce's own or better.

But being able to call up a memory at will isn't quite the same as reminiscing, and...

He'd wanted to *show* Bruce things, and he had, but what if they *hadn't* been able to get into the city today, or had only been able to spend a little time? Tom *sees* everything, but it won't always be in his power to show what he sees... unless he has a camera.

And now Bruce wants Tom to have already had the camera, to have wandered all over the city and maybe all over the country, to be able to open an album and say, here, Bruce, what do you see?

And to tell Bruce everything he'd missed, and the meaning behind it all, and -- *yes*.

Asking for the best camera in the store leads to the salesman attempting to get him to buy *movie* cameras, but it doesn't take long to make himself clear -- perhaps because the best cameras for photography purposes actually cost more. He chooses the one which has the instruction manual written in the clearest language and buys several rolls of film and some zoom lenses to go with it -- and makes it back to the rendezvous point with two minutes to spare.

He's not even remotely surprised to see Tom already there -- sitting on a bench with his legs crossed next to two bags. One is from the bookstore Bruce had passed by, and the other is a *large* bag -- with a larger brown paper-wrapped package inside -- from... the art store?

And the smile on Tom's face -- small and a little *mean* -- says everything Bruce needs to know on the question of whether Tom will explain, but... "What...?"

"That would be telling," Tom says, and stands, tucking the larger package under his arm and then lifting the smaller bag. "Come on, we should call Alfred and tell him where we are. I saw a pay phone over there."

Bruce nods and moves into step beside Tom, who seems both calm and well pleased. He's satisfied with the gifts he'd chosen, but Tom looks like a cat with cream *and* a healthy selection of small animals to toy with. If he's honest with himself, Bruce has to admit that he looks very, very sexy, but then --

If he's *really* honest with himself, he has to admit that Tom always *does* to him, and... they'll be home soon, and there will be dinner, and maybe another run.

Maybe time in the Cave, by themselves, and *every* part of Bruce wants to touch Tom there, wants to bury the voice of the Bat under Tom's moans and other noises, under his *own* --

Oh. A photo booth.

He'd seen one of these before -- a traveling one which had been set up near some of the shops Alfred had taken him to in Gotham, and... he doesn't *have* to wait for Tom to open his present. Bruce grins and looks at Tom --

Who was already looking at Bruce with a raised eyebrow.

"Pictures," Bruce says, and nods toward the booth.

"Of the two of us? I..." For some reason, Tom is blushing, but that doesn't look anything like disapproval or boredom.

Bruce pulls a quarter out of his pocket and flips it the way he's seen Harvey do, slapping it down on the back of his hand. "Tails says we *have* to do it, Tom."

And Tom's smile is tight and focused on the coin -- until it isn't tight at all and is focused on him. "All right. But if we get stuck in here because of your ridiculously huge body --"

"Oh. I really like the idea of spending time in an enclosed space with you, Tom," Bruce says, and exaggerates the leer he knows is on his face just a little --

Tom snorts and bumps Bruce's arm with his shoulder. "You just motivated me into giving you a *three* mile run tonight, Bruce."

"In the snow."

"Oh, yes," Tom says, and sets his bags down again, crawling into the booth and holding the curtain for Bruce.

It *is* a tight fit, which seems odd for something he's never seen fewer than two people climb into. Perhaps it's *meant* for one? He puts in the coin and waits --

"The protocol involves *smiling*, Bruce."

"Oh --"



"Three more chances," Tom says, through his teeth --

"*Your* smile makes you look like you're about to *hurt* someone, Tom."

"I *like* this --"


"-- smile. Damn." Tom shifts. "Okay, let's just try to look normal, Bruce."

"No one's ever actually explained to me how to *do* that," Bruce says, and eases his arm around Tom's shoulders.

Tom looks at him incredulously --


"Okay, ow," Tom says. "Let's... I don't know, pretend that we're brothers who love each other in ways not technically against the law in most civilized nations --"

"I think I've already demonstrated that I'm *bad* at that, Tom."

"Alternately, we can pretend that people other than us will *see* these pictures --"

"Tom... I haven't had a day this happy since... you know."

And Tom's eyes are wide and shocked, and Bruce knows that his own eyes are --


"Oh... um. Oops?"

Tom laughs quietly. "I don't suppose you have another quarter? I just have the... ah, dime for the phone."

"Well... let's see what they look like?"

"Sure," Tom says and bumps Bruce with his shoulder, again.

"I -- I like that. Sometimes Harvey does it."

Tom smiles and looks down. "Sometimes I think my Bruce and I have spent a little too much time being formal and proper and *correct* as opposed to casual. Comfortable."

"But you're so *good* at it."

Another laugh. "I -- not compared to some people. Ah... Steph taught me a lot, and I... I've tried bringing it home to my Bruce, who has Harvey."

"Well, I mean..." Bruce thinks about it. "A lot of people touch others constantly, but it doesn't *mean* anything. With you -- and with Harvey -- it's always something important. Even when it doesn't seem important. Or... I don't think I'm making much sense."

Tom cocks his head to the side and looks thoughtful. "No, I think you are. I've learned that even the small moments, even when you're just letting someone you care about know that you love them and *want* to touch them, and be close... well, it's a small thing, but it can also be the most important thing in the world -- when it's gone."

And that -- *oh*. He doesn't know why he hadn't thought of it! "Tom, you don't know if Steph was killed in *this* world. You could find her, be with her --"

"No. No, Bruce, I --" Tom shakes his head. "She's not -- she wouldn't know me, and I can't -- I couldn't. See that."

But... he doesn't *know* Steph, but it seems like it's wrong that she *could* exist and not have someone like Tom in her life, even if it's only for a little while... and even if it means *he* gets less of Tom. "I think --"

"Don't," Tom says, low and a little hard. "I can't, Bruce. I've... thought about it, when I was at the library. I saw a girl with hair a little like hers..." Tom shakes his head again. "Something else, please."

Bruce frowns and nods, and squeezes Tom against him a little --

Tom's laugh is soft and not entirely devoid of humor. "You're getting better at this, already."

"I have a good teacher."

And Tom turns to look up at him, searching Bruce's eyes and smiling, after a moment. "I... no matter what, I want you to know that I want the best for you --"

"I *do* know that --"

"No, wait, I --" Tom rests his hand on Bruce's knee and squeezes. "I have to say this, and I know it maybe seems strange, but... but you're *not* my Bruce, and I've pushed you in a lot of ways --"

"The *right* ways --"

"*Wait*. It's just -- it's *important* that you know that I love you, that I've loved you since the first moment I *really* saw you. I want everything to be the way -- I want everything to go the way it needs to, *and* I want you to be happy, too, and I just... I need you to know that. No matter what happens."

And Bruce feels something seize inside him, something -- "Is it -- do you think you've found a way to... to go back to your home?"

Tom blinks. "No... no, I haven't. But... it could happen. At any time."

Bruce nods. "All right... I understand, I think. And... thank you."

"No, Bruce -- thank *you*. For everything," Tom says, and there's a zipping sort of hum --

Their pictures are ready. In the first one, Bruce looks terminally surprised and Tom looks like he's getting ready to leap through the camera and do something terrible to the machinery. The second one has Bruce's profile and Tom looking annoyed. The third one has *Tom's* -- wonderful -- profile and Bruce looking... well, all right, he can see what Leslie's talking about when she mentions impactions. The fourth one...

They're gazing at each other, and -- Bruce blushes.

Tom laughs again. "That bad?"

Bruce frowns and hands it over, and Tom laughs more.

"Oh... dear. Possibly we would've gotten better results if we were sitting for a portrait. Sitting on *fire* ants, that is."

"It did seem like a good idea at the time," Bruce says and shifts a little uncomfortably.

Tom bumps him with his shoulder again. "I like them -- they're *us*. And maybe we'll just *save* them for us...?"

"Alfred," Bruce says, "never has to know a thing."

Tom nods and hands the photos back to Bruce, and they lever themselves out of the booth.

Bruce calls Alfred to come to get them, and they only have to wait for about fifteen minutes before he pulls up in the Rolls.

The few people *also* waiting in the snowy dark give the car -- and the two of them -- a lot of looks, and Bruce wonders what it would be like to live in a world where it was possible that at least some of those people would know exactly who they were.

There's a comfort to being anonymous -- even as loudly anonymous as the Rolls makes them, and Bruce doesn't think he'll give it up for anything. The Mission will surely *need* them to be somewhat anonymous, and that's enough. Though... *would* there be some benefit in being a public figure? Some way to hide in plain sight, maybe?

It's hard to imagine that working for *him*, for all that Tom has said about the way many people fail to see even fairly obvious things, like the dangerous way Tom moves when he's not thinking about it. In *their* universe they'll have to do something with it, but... Bruce isn't sure.

He settles in the car as close to Tom as he can make himself get without feeling embarrassed, and wonders if he should ask Tom about the publicity, if *he* has any plans with his Bruce...

He looks, and Tom's expression is curious and somehow quiet. Alfred, and he doesn't have to say it.

Tom nods and leans back against the seat, closing his eyes.

"I trust the two of you had a productive day?"

"Yes, Alfred," Bruce says. "We got a chance to see a fair amount of the city, and had a wonderful lunch at a restaurant Tom knew."

"Japanese cuisine. It was *exactly* the same," Tom says. "It was a little disturbing not to be recognized by the hostess."

Bruce hadn't noticed Tom feeling awkward, at all, but he suspects that this is the sort of thing Tom has learned to hide in the interest of appearing 'normal.' Certainly he's better at it than Bruce thinks he'll *ever* be.

"Truly? It never would've occurred to me to try to introduce Master Bruce to sushi. Unless...?"

Tom smiles. "He was *very* adventurous, Alfred. You would've been proud."

Alfred hums and drives them slowly along the snowy back roads, many of which appear to not have been plowed for at least two hours.

"We also went to Grant Park for a while," Bruce says, wanting to not be *too* lumpish. "It was beautiful."

"I daresay if Master Tom is with us for long enough, you might go so far as to develop a *tan*, young sir," and Alfred sounds pleased and amused, but Bruce is seizing again, a little.

He thinks he would give up... he isn't sure what he *wouldn't* give up to have Tom here for that long --

Tom covers Bruce's hand with his own and squeezes.

It helps *and* hurts, but Bruce still has to turn his hand against Tom's, to press their palms together and hold on.


The run actually tires Bruce out, which is something Tim wasn't expecting in the least. Tim decides to skip the Cave and leads them back to the manor, wondering if the Bat will decide to berate Bruce for it.

It has to be enough for the thing that they do the stretches in Tim's room after stripping out of their outdoor things downstairs, just as it has to be enough that Tim was able to convince Bruce to stick to *just* kissing a little against the door.

Being pressed to Bruce with nothing but their thin, civilian clothes in the way, warm and *warmer* in the manor --

After *that*, Bruce had cupped Tim's cheeks and rested his forehead against Tim's own, and they had breathed together until they were in rhythm and Tim was going a little *crazy* --

And then Bruce had said goodnight and left.

Right now, Tim is working on the more complex breathing exercises and just -- cooling *down*, a little. He's starting to really feel the lack of patrol and serious training, and he's thinking about doing two hundred push-ups and crunches just to *ease* things a little inside himself when there's a knock on his door which Tim would recognize from a coma.

"Come in, Alfred."

Alfred does, bearing a tray with cocoa -- spiked with mint, by the scent.

"Oh, thank you -- here, I'll take that."

Alfred hums and allows him to do it, and Tim sets it on his bed, and waits at what he thinks of as casual attention, because Alfred is looking at him in that way which *always* means that it's *time* to pay attention.

And when Tim raises an eyebrow --

"You've become quite close to Master Bruce," he says and raises his own eyebrow, which...

Does he know? Can he *guess*? He's *Alfred* -- "I... there are differences, but he's *Bruce*, Alfred. My brother, and I can't... I can't not be close to him."

And the look on Alfred's face is one that he knows fairly well -- from outside its range. It's polite and distant and ruthlessly designed to drag more admissions out of the person it's aimed at, more *truth*. It's quite powerful, but Tim has had years to watch it glancing off Bruce's literal and figurative armor like rubber bullets off a tank. But *Tom* isn't that strong.

"I don't know what I would do without him, Alfred. I mean, you've been great, but..." Tim looks down at the floor. "I've been leaning on him rather more than I can feel good about."

"Indeed, sir...? *Open* skepticism -- interesting.

"Well, part of why I wanted to go out today was so I'd have an excuse to do with this Bruce all the things I do with my own. To... pretend," and when he looks up, the suspicion is still in Alfred's eyes, but there's also a certain sympathy...

Alfred may have been a spy -- and Tim has long since come to terms with the fact that he's *never* going to know the whole truth about that -- but he never could've been an assassin, or even been responsible for directing the lives of field agents. While he *can* be ruthless, there's a part of him which can't help encouraging his own natural sympathies, if only because he feels there are too few of them.

And Tom Wayne is a boy in creditable need, whoever else he might be. "Alfred...? Can I... may I ask you a favor?"

He watches Alfred harden a little and knows that he's softening, too. Honestly, there could be a graph for this: Alfred's sympathy along the y axis and Tom's perfection along the x. After a certain point, an increase in x causes *sharp* decreases along the y.

"I mean -- I know you don't really know me..." Tim laughs softly. "I really have to start getting used to *that*. Anyway... I know you have governmental contacts. I don't know who or what they are, save that they were able to help you become our guardian in my world, but... if you could somehow use them to get me a meeting with the Justice Society -- or, well, get *you* a meeting, so you can explain what's going on..."

"You *do* wish to return to your home, young sir...?"

And that, perhaps, is the heart of Alfred's suspicion. Whatever else he might believe about 'Tom Wayne,' he almost *has* to wonder if the scarred boy who showed up dressed like a laborer might not just have more reasons to stay in the lap of known luxury than he has to leave. A little incredulousness wouldn't hurt. "Alfred, I -- I *need* to go back home. Of course I appreciate everything you've done for me, and I understand why you plan to send me to school with Bruce, but this *isn't* my home. I have -- my Bruce and I have *work* to do."

"The 'project,' yes. You have not stinted on involving *this* Bruce in your plans."

A second heart? A more important one? Tim crosses his arms over his chest and starts to pace. "My Alfred has never approved, either. But it's what needs to be done --"

"For *whom*? Do you even understand what you're attempting to undertake?"

At this point, Alfred probably understands better than *Bruce* does. But. "At the moment, it's personal improvement -- with an admittedly obsessive bent," Tim says, and lets himself start to pace. "There's more to it, of course. More that we -- that I couldn't possibly explain, because it's just too *big*. The scope of what we plan, the places we need to go, the things we need to *learn*..."

Alfred hums. "I had entertained hopes of guiding Master Bruce away from such things."

"I know. And... heh. You weren't entirely unsuccessful, Alfred. For things like this, perhaps there's a necessary madness involved --"

"Folie a deux, young sir...?"

"In my world, it was Bruce who was always pushing forward, pushing for *more*. Because the thing inside us which makes us *need* this -- it's larger in him than it is in me, and the same is true *here*. Alfred, I... I don't want to break a confidence, but if you *haven't* noticed that it speaks to him..."

And for a moment Tim has to wonder if he's done something terribly illegal to the proverbial pooch, because Alfred's expression is stone cracked through with a visible terror. And what, exactly, happens when Batman-to-be is locked in Arkham for his own good?

"Alfred --"

"Forgive me, Master Tom. For a moment I believed I was speaking to a stranger," Alfred says, and the stone crumbles so thoroughly that Tim can almost see the man Alfred will be in *his* time.

"He's not... he would never --"

"Hurt anyone? Of course, the two of you plan to learn the martial arts solely for *self-improvement*. Tell me, Master Tom -- have you already begun teaching him what *you* have learned?"

"Yes," Tim says, letting it be bald and naked between them. "I couldn't deny him that, though I tried to hide my training, at first."

"Yes, you did. And you didn't do a very bad job of it, at all," Alfred says, looking around the room as if he can see *everything* he'd done with Bruce, as if he already knows everything there *is* to know.

He's *Alfred* -- but Tim still has no intention of just confessing *everything*. Forgiveness -- not permission -- *has* to be his goal for this. "I'm... not used to having to hide such things from either of you, but, at first, I had to be sure that this Bruce had the same drives as my own."

"And so you became close to him. You studied and questioned and observed, and when you were sure --"

"By the time I was sure, Bruce had already solved the mystery for himself. He is... exceptional, Alfred. In every universe there is. And I will always do everything in my power to help him become what he needs to be."

"And again, of course, it would be too much to ask that you help him become a healthy, happy young man."

"He *is* happier --"

Alfred raises a single finger, and -- yes, that is *entirely* enough to make Tim shut up.

He resists the urge to come to a stiffer brand of attention and waits.

"You have given him something he has never had before, and perhaps the only thing he has wanted since the tragedy that took... your parents. It would be wise to remember the power of that desire when you are encouraging him to further absent himself from the wider world for the sake of this nebulous and *dangerous* project."

And what, exactly, do you think I've been *doing*, Alfred -- no, no. It's *better* if Alfred thinks he *isn't* just that manipulative. "I... think I understand what you're saying. It -- it hasn't *all* been for the project, Alfred. Though I can understand how it must seem that way."

"And so it hasn't simply been a failure of my imagination that I've yet to theorize a strategic use for wasabi?"

Tim laughs softly, and doesn't think *very* much about that one occasion when he'd used the stuff to -- temporarily -- blind a particularly *frisky* target. "It's hard not to try to bring him closer to... to where my Bruce is, just in terms of his feeling *all right* about himself."

"There *are* ways to do that which do not involve making oneself into a weapon, Master Tom."

Tim pushes a hand through his hair. He could protest that -- bring up, again, that it hasn't been the whole of what they've been doing, but every time he does that, he'll get to be that much closer to what Alfred really can't *ever* know about him and Bruce, and the need between them. And so -- "You don't know... I don't think you know how much it drives Bruce, Alfred. How much it gets *between* him and everything -- and everyone -- else."

Alfred narrows his eyes and lifts his chin very slightly, and yes, Tim really is *dancing* on thin ice, here, *but* --

"It -- gets in the way when he wants to be close to... to people like Harvey Dent, when he wants to read a novel with no strategic use, when he wants to just sit outside and stare up at the stars... and so I've learned to compromise with my Bruce. To *work* toward the goal and then, when that *thing* has been satisfied, to pull Bruce toward other sorts of goals, entirely."

"And what about *your* life, young sir? Your hobbies, your concerns --"

"I had a girlfriend for quite some time. She was murdered -- caught in the middle of gang violence. I'm not --"

"Oh, Master Tom... you have my sympathies --"

And it is most assuredly Tim's turn to hold up a hand. "I brought it up only to let you know... I don't believe in turning over all of myself to the higher calling. I *know* there's more to life than that, and I live that way, and I *make* my Bruce live that way, as well. As for separating our lives... no, that's too much to ask. We've always been... close, and it's what we both *need*. It defines us, at least in part, and there's a happiness to that that I really don't know how to describe adequately... well."

Alfred closes his eyes briefly. "I had always hoped that your parents would have another child, a companion for Bruce..."

"And for me, as well. We understand each other, even in this world where I don't even *exist*. We..." Tim laughs again. "Sometimes, I feel like I'm somehow *cheating* on my Bruce, but they're so much the same, both so brilliant and strong and --" Tim shakes his head and paces a little more.

"Your care for him has never been in doubt," Alfred says, and it actually *doesn't* sound like 'it's just everything else about you that rather puts my wind up.'

Tim looks up to meet Alfred's eyes. "I don't... part of me doesn't want to leave him."

Alfred raises an eyebrow. "Because he seems to need you even more than your own Bruce does...?"

"That's part of it. I -- really *like* being needed. My Bruce *has* friends. Not *many*, but some. And, of course, I have friends there, too. People who must be wondering what's *happened* to me. But also... there's a strange sort of quiet to this world which I can't quite ascribe to all of the other strangeness. A world without paparazzi dogging Bruce's and my every *step*... well. None of that is really the point. I *have* to get back to my home, and to my... project. And that's all there is to it."

Alfred nods and unfolds his gloved hands, resting one on Tim's shoulder. "I cannot promise anything, young sir, but I will try to make contact with people who will -- possibly -- be of help."

"Thank you, Alfred. That's all I can ask."

"I will, however, need something from you in return."

In his own world, a raised eyebrow would be sufficient response to that. Here... "Anything, Alfred. *Ask*."

"Give... help Master Bruce find what happiness he can *away* from that damnable hole in the ground. The two of you need only ask, and I will bring you into the city so that you may enjoy yourselves. I have no doubt that the two of you will comport yourselves appropriately for both the sake of your name and for who the both of you are. As to everything else... your wealth and status allow you freedoms others do not have. *Use* them."

And that... does Alfred know about all of the making out or *not*? Fishing for more information about the definition of 'appropriate comportment' is *right* out, but... No, no buts. That's *all* he's going to get, right up until they do something Alfred can't ignore. If he were female, would Bruce suddenly have a supply of condoms in his drawer? No, not that *either* -- "I... all right, Alfred, yes. It's going to be necessary to spend some time in the cave tomorrow, but --"

"The tree *will* be decorated, and the presents set beneath it."

Tim nods. "And... back into the city for Christmas? Sometimes my Bruce and I like to see the parade."

"I suspect it would be more *apt* to say that Master Bruce enjoys the sight of you enjoying the parade, but I have long been at my wits' end to conjure activities the young sir *will* enjoy."

Tim can't do anything about the blush, but perhaps it isn't *too* inappropriate for Tom.

Alfred's nod has a measure of satisfaction to it which suggests so. "Sleep well, Master Tom. And enjoy your cocoa."

"I always do. But... ah. I prefer mine with a touch of cinnamon."

"I will keep that duly in mind," Alfred says, inclining his head and turning to leave, closing the door behind him.

Tim does *not* sigh in relief as soon as Alfred is gone. He saves that for when the manor gains that particular brand of quiet which means *only* Bruce could be lurking within it --

But not this Bruce.

*This* Bruce... Tim thinks he could feel him if he were gravely ill and heavily drugged.

And Tim thinks he'd *want* to feel him then, too. Just -- all the time, and in every possible *way* --

And thinking those thoughts makes his lips feel neglected, makes his body feel restless and irritatingly *unconstrained*. Is Bruce asleep, yet?

Has he masturbated in the shower? In his bed?

Surely he would've done so, already, and that would mean it would be some variety of *safe* to go to him, to be with him in the darkness, holding hands and pressing close, closer --

Would Bruce ever want to *sleep* with him? *Just* sleep, and -- he'd done that with Steph several times. Not *enough*, but just enough to give him a taste for it, the way he'd managed to get a taste for warmth-related huddling during No Man's Land.

*Once* he'd shared two blankets -- one beneath and one above -- with Bruce, stripped down to their tights and shirts. He'd been cold enough that Bruce had seemed to radiate heat like Clark or Kon, and Bruce had refused to let him try to retain any decorum, pulling Tim close and *holding* him there, one leg between Tim's and one over Tim's, and his breath had been hot and damp against the back of Tim's head, and his body had been everything, just *everything*.

And Tim had passed out with an erection that cared *nothing* about cold, exhaustion, *or* propriety, and Bruce hadn't said a word about it -- and had made sure that Tim never bedded down with *only* him again.

*This* Bruce would, perhaps, happily share a bed with him every night, and when Tim inevitably got hard...

He would be hard, too, pressed tight against Tim's ass and rocking, moving -- asking for things Tim could give, *would* give if there were any way --

Tim sighs and throws himself into a quiet, efficient workout.

When he masturbates -- in the shower -- his arms and legs are shaking with a fatigue that's only pleasant until he starts thinking thoughts about deconditioning. In *that* case -- and perhaps *only* in that case -- it's far, far better to think of Bruce's hands on him, moving on his body in, perhaps, some of the ways Tim could teach.

At some point, Bruce will at least *try* to go for Tim's nipples, and that will be -- a lot better than it is with just his own hand moving back and forth between them. He should be coming up with ways to keep himself from escalating, ways to keep himself from moaning and staring and being *obvious* about his lust --

It's just that it keeps getting stronger, keeps --

He'd spent a great deal of time *living* with -- happily -- the thought that there could be an end-point to desire. Not that the desire itself would go away, but that there'd always be a point at which it couldn't get any stronger, save for the occasional moment during which the *object* of desire did or said something which implied potential reciprocation. Then, of course, all bets were off -- which was fine, because those moments *were* only moments, quickly buried under the rhythms of a non-sexual and non-romantic relationship, and --

("Ooh, little *brother*. You look good enough to *eat*.")

And the only proper response to that -- given that Bruce had shoved him into heels and a cocktail dress -- was a gesture non-standard to the silent communication they were both taught as Bruce's partners. And --

("Okay, okay, *be* mean. Just for that? I'm *not* going to sit you on my lap and let you call me 'Daddy.'")

And possibly he should be terrified that he's not thinking about Dick with the part of his brain currently moving his hand. Surely he'd *asked* for just that --

Surely that would be *expected* --

Bruce, staring unblinkingly at him on that subway car, perfectly balanced and perfectly *focused*, because he'd liked the way Tim had played with his nipples, because he was hard enough for Tim that he *would* have, right there in the light with *witnesses* --

Tim groans and strokes himself faster, trying --

Kon, unabashedly naked because he needs the towel to scrub at his short brush of hair, grinning and using his power to wind the towel into a *whip*, just so he can watch Tim break and dodge --

Bruce, cupping his face and holding it still for his kiss, for the relentless motion of his tongue --

Just -- *Clark*, and that light in his eyes when he'd invited Tim back to Metropolis, curious and open and very much *potentially* not averse to the idea of flying up just high enough that Tim would only have to lean in to bury his face against his crotch --

*Bruce*, unzipping his coat *just* so their bodies could bump and touch in the sway of the car and never stopping the *kiss*. Drinking him in and holding him still, wanting and touching, wanting and cupping Tim's ass, squeezing it until Tim couldn't stop himself, couldn't --

Bruce in his bed, in his room that smells so much like him, dark and male and just a little sharper than the scent Tim knows from much of his own adolescence.

Bruce *waiting* --

Bruce not waiting for *anything*, including permission, before knocking Tim's hand away and replacing it with his own. Bruce staring deep into Tim's eyes because he wants to see Tim's expression change, wants to see Tim lose control at least as much as Tim wants to give it to him, *teach* him, show him everything he can, everything he *is* --

*Bruce* --

And Tim manages to keep *some* of the cry back as he comes, but not all of it, and his body wants him to know that coming was an improvement but not *enough* of one, that he could have, could touch and *have* --

Tim bangs his fist against the tile as lightly as he can. He does it -- several times. Many times.

He stops.

He goes to bed.


When they'd arrived at the Cave this morning after -- another -- run, they'd discovered something of an early Christmas present from Alfred. Tom had made a pleased sound and called it a generator --

Tom had *petted* it and gone over the thing like he knew exactly how it worked and, possibly, in what order it had been put together. Bruce understood the -- large, powerful -- lights it had been hooked to, and had taken responsibility for setting them up strategically.

Tom had praised him for his placement... and then spent the next three and a half hours showing him katas and strikes that left Bruce feeling both dangerous and worn out.

He hadn't mentioned anything they'd done the day before -- or the night before that -- and he had held himself the sort of distant that Bruce didn't feel qualified to understand, much less touch -- though he suspects it has something to do with how little time Tom had spent looking into his eyes.

The Bat had had nothing to say about any of it, and they'd gone back to the manor to shower and dress for decorating the tree. Alfred had left a selection of wrapping papers in Bruce's room -- exactly half as many as had been there the year before, and it had warmed something in Bruce to know that Tom had the rest, that he was doing the same thing Bruce was at the same *moment*.

Enough the same that they had walked down with their gifts together, silently but still all right.

Or... he'd thought they were all right, and he still mostly does, but...

If anything, the distance between them had grown stronger with Alfred's presence. Tom hasn't *touched* him for any reason save to correct Bruce's form all day, and. It hurts.

It *aches*, and even though Alfred *is* right there watching them decorate the tree in the same way it has *been* decorated since Bruce was old enough to be a help --

And would their mother have ever wanted to change it? She hadn't been very pleased by what she called 'the trappings' of holidays as near as Bruce had been able to tell, and had mostly left things like this to their father and Alfred...

He's *staring* at Tom. He knows he is, but he can't make himself stop. It's just that his hands know exactly where this small wooden bird is supposed to go, just as Tom's hands know where that blown glass bauble goes and -- all the rest. They're moving on autopilot, and he can *feel* that, and so Tom should be paying attention to other things, speaking about something, *looking* at him --

"I believe it is time for me to check on the roast, young sirs," Alfred says, and there's something... else in his voice.

Something Bruce can't quite put a finger on, save for how it's disapproving and --

"Do *try* not to allow your festive spirits freedom to destroy the manor."

Oh. That.

"Ah... noted, Alfred," Tom says, and turns on the ladder to look at Bruce finally, smiling to share the joke at their expense, and --

He looks so calm, so easy with himself, just as if *he* hasn't felt the distance between them, or doesn't think there's anything wrong with it, or -- Bruce doesn't know. He *just* knows that the expression on his face isn't easy, at all.

He watches Alfred leave out of the corner of his eye -- and watches Tom register his expression. *His* expression becomes worried and a little dark, and --

(Only I will never leave you.)

There's something in Bruce that's *glad* to see Tom troubled, that's almost *satisfied* for it, as if they should share absolutely everything, even that which he shouldn't ever wish on anyone. Bruce stares down at the floor and lets the intricately carved sleigh dangle from his fingers. He can't --

Tom is stepping down from the ladder, and a part of Bruce -- no.


He's watching the door Alfred had left through, and he's clenching his hands into fists, and he's so tense Bruce reaches out --

Tom reaches back and catches Bruce's hand in his own before Bruce can touch his shoulder.

"Tom --"

"Not here. Not..." Tom tenses more and shivers, releasing Bruce's hand and making a fist, once more.

(Do you see?)

"Alfred came to speak to me last night. Just after you left."

Bruce swallows. "What... what did you speak about?"

"Mostly about me going back home. Mostly. He doesn't... I don't think he trusts me completely, and if I were in his position, I wouldn't trust me, either. You're the most important person in his life, and he wants to protect you, and -- God, I do, *too*, Bruce --"

"Would you. You haven't been *looking* at me, Tom --"

"I know. I know I haven't, and it's really hard, but I know it would be harder to do the things which need to be done if I *were* looking at you as much as I want to."

*Wants* to, he wants to, and that's the important thing. That -- he *loves* me, he'd said it, and everything in him had meant it, Bruce could *see* that --

"We have to be more *careful*, Bruce --"

"If you... if you keep acting like this, Alfred will think we're *fighting*, Tom. And then he'll really --"

"Think we're brothers?" Tom's laugh is quiet and *false*. "Bruce, we -- we can *do* this if we put our minds to it. We could --"

"You're talking about pretending that we don't feel the way we *do* feel. About -- about *lying* to ourselves," Bruce says, and this time when Tom catches Bruce's hand to keep Bruce from touching he *yanks*, putting some of his power into it --

And Tom moves *fast*, twisting away from Bruce and almost *dancing* back on his feet until he's several feet away and watching Bruce warily.

"No, I... please, Tom. Don't make us -- yesterday was so *good*."

"It was," Tom says. "It was also -- we lost control. We can't *do* that. Just... what would Alfred think? And Leslie?"

"I only care what *you* think, Tom --"

"That's *not* true. I -- you're *you*, Bruce. You always care. You can't help it -- it's one of the reasons *why* I love you, why I've always just wanted to be *close* to you -- *fuck*," Tom whispers, shaking his head and staring down at the floor. "Bruce, I'm begging you --"

"And I'm begging *you* --"

And Tom laughs again, and this time it sounds like a real one, but it also sounds *awful*.

"Tom --"

"I want -- don't you know how much I *want* to be with you, Bruce?"

"*Yes* --"

"Then... we can *both* know that, and live with that, and still keep our control --"

"I don't want to. And -- I *know* that you don't want to, either. It doesn't hurt anyone if we're together, Tom, if we touch --" And Bruce takes a step toward Tom, trying to see everything about the way he's standing so he'll know which way to jump if Tom *runs* --

But he doesn't, and after Bruce takes the second step closer, *he* reaches out, and --

He looks like he wants to cry, and it gets *worse* when Bruce twines their fingers together, when he presses his palm against Tom's own. "It's all right -- it. It has to be all right if we both *feel* it, Tom."

"I feel -- so much. It. Bruce, it scares me, and that -- I want you to remember that, too, that I was scared, that I *tried* -- *oh* --"

And either Tom wasn't prepared for that yank or he'd just wanted --

It doesn't matter, Tom is in his arms again, hard and lean and perfect, and it only takes a moment before he wraps his arms around Bruce, and they hold each other right there next to the tree, the pine scent strong enough to overpower Tom's -- until Bruce buries his face next to Tom's ear and breathes deep.

Tom shivers and holds him tighter -- and stiffens.


There's a slight clanking sound -- Alfred setting down a tray infinitely more clumsily than he normally would. Bruce pulls back and Tom does, too --

"Ah, the two of you have resolved your differences. Wonderful. I thought, perhaps, a light snack would not be amiss."

Tom smiles ruefully. "Sometimes it takes us a little while to remember that we actually *like* each other on top of loving each other."

Bruce can't imagine *forgetting* that, but -- he nods and smiles ruefully. Tom is very, very good at thinking of the right things to say. He's going to have to study how to do that, himself.

Alfred looks at both of them in turn and nods. "I've decided to prepare something special to celebrate the fact that our home is rather more full than has become our usual. I trust the two of you will manage to finish decorating the tree yourselves...?"

"Yes, I think so, Alfred," Tom says, and pushes a hand back through his hair. Bruce had pulled Tom's collar slightly askew, and he can see the muscles flexing as Tom moves, and he -- stops staring.

There's food, and Bruce *is* hungry. For food, as well. Bruce smiles to himself and goes to the tray. There are a number of small sandwiches -- cucumber and watercress -- and a shrimp salad with wedges of toast.

Tom seems most interested in the cucumber sandwiches, and so Bruce leaves them for him, and -- he actually *is* hungry. Hungrier than he'd expected, and that's been the case since Tom has been here. All of that working out has given him an appetite like *Harvey's*, and Bruce suspects that it makes Alfred pleased, even if nothing else does, or... no.

Whatever had actually been said between Alfred and Tom last night, *Alfred* has clearly decided that he approves of Bruce and Tom spending time together. Time *alone* together, and that means... he doesn't know what it means, beyond a part of him being sure that it's proof that the rest -- all of it -- is all *right*.

But he has to admit that that part of him isn't really interested in anything which *wouldn't* suggest that having Tom -- in every way Tom *allows* -- is right, and good, and...

Tom is watching him as he eats, quick and small bites, neat to the point of making Bruce wonder if Tom had *ever* been messy, even as a toddler, and... "Everything about you is so controlled, Tom."

"I think we've proven -- repeatedly -- that that's not the case."

"If we *had* proven it, I wouldn't have had to masturbate in the shower last night -- and neither would you."

Tom's expression twists into something both wry and a little sour. "Point. I... he's really going to leave us alone."

Bruce nods. He knows Tom's meaning encompasses more than the time it will take to decorate the tree.

"I... I'm surprised? I think?" Tom shakes his head and pops the last bite of his sandwich into his mouth, chewing thoughtfully.

Bruce watches him swallow and thinks about kissing Tom's neck, about how much he'd liked it. Touching -- pressing -- had made Tom *curse*, even though he knows just as well as Bruce does how distasteful their father had found rough language to be.

"All right, I... I suppose it makes sense. He's always been concerned about your happiness. Even more than mine, I mean, and --"

"That doesn't sound right, at all, Tom."

Tom smiles, and it's distant and doesn't seem to be *for* Bruce, at all. "It's not that -- my Alfred doesn't care about me the way he cares about you. It's just that I'm... ah. Lower maintenance."


Tom closes his eyes, but only for a moment. "Just a little saying Bruce and I have about how some people can take a *lot* of handling," Tom says, and jabs Bruce lightly on the shoulder before taking another sandwich. "Like *you*."

"I do try to be unobtrusive --"

"I'm better at that than you'll *ever* be, Bruce. It would be better if you accept that sooner rather than later."

"The way you've accepted that we belong together?"

"Belong... oh, Bruce --"

Bruce takes the hand Tom isn't using for the sandwich. "I know it's... florid, and maybe a bit over the top, but no one has ever made me feel the way you do. And I know..." Oh. *Steph*... "No, you're right, I'm sorry," Bruce says and lets go --

Tom *takes* Bruce's hand and squeezes. "Don't start that. I -- it's true. *I've* never felt about anyone else the way I feel about you, but I can't help feeling that that's not *good* enough."

"We're supposed to find the beauty in even terrible things. And... there are things more terrible than two brothers loving each other the wrong way. *You* taught me that."

"Then... I suppose I just need to teach myself," Tom says, and eats this sandwich quickly -- but still neatly.

"We should work on the tree," Bruce says, and knows that what his tone is *really* saying is that they should stay right here and keep talking, and touching -- everything.

"Yes," Tom says, and his eyes are dancing a little. "We *should*. Let's go."

They do, and even though they don't talk much at all, it seems to go much faster and generally be *better* than it was before. Tom is *precise* about where he places the ornaments, but he's able to do that *and* work quickly.

Bruce hasn't broken any of the ornaments since the first Christmas after their parents' death -- he remembers crying so much that he hadn't been able to help Alfred continue, and the place where the ornament should've been had stood out like a wound, even with the peaked, snow covered house which has had that spot ever since. It just *feels* better to let Tom handle all of the fragile pieces, to watch him place them with care and something almost like reverence.

When they're done, he passes the angel to Tom, as well --

"I... I put it on the tree last year, Bruce --"

"Not here," Bruce says, and closes Tom's fingers around it carefully.

Tom looks at the angel for a moment, and then strokes its mild and lovely face with his finger. And nods.

Bruce holds the ladder, and considers it a victory over his baser urges that only a part of him wishes for Tom to have tighter pants, or to be wearing only boxer shorts, or -- to be naked.

*Just* a part, and the rest is wishing that Alfred was there with the camera to take a picture of Tom placing the angel, of Tom *being* there...

But it's a kind of enough when Tom smiles down at him.

Dinner is wonderful, especially since Alfred pays *attention* to the fact that it's Christmas Eve and joins them after placing all the dishes on the sideboard. The way Tom and Alfred speak with each other... it *looks* easy and moves as quickly as any conversation Lex has with any of his hangers-on, but it's both sharper *and* warmer than that.

Bruce feels privileged to be able to see it, because it's clear that *they* care about each other, that Tom is, perhaps, a better ward to Alfred than Bruce could ever be. They talk about Shakespeare, about wines, about food and about Tom's plan for Alfred to drop them off at the train station tomorrow so that they can go see the parade.

It's the first Bruce has heard about that, but... he's never seen a parade before, and that's what he tells Alfred when Alfred asks if he's excited about it.

It makes Tom smile at him fondly, and Bruce thinks about suggesting that they open their presents early so that Tom can take his camera to the parade, but... maybe he wouldn't want to take something so expensive into the city. He settles back into himself and just enjoys watching, feeling something in him fill and fill *more*, and letting himself hope that it can always be just this way.

Alfred lets them help him bring the trays and plates into the kitchen when he's done, but shoos them out after. And...

"Are we going to take another run?"

"Ah... not tonight. Tonight... let's go to your room?"

*Bruce's* room, so Tom doesn't want to train more, and Bruce feels himself starting to get hard again as they walk up the stairs. It's still not like the days a few years ago when it seemed like errant *breezes* were enough to make him hard, but there's a measure of chagrin to it, just the same. For all he knows, Tom might be planning to try again to convince Bruce that they shouldn't make love --

No, there's a tension in Tom that Bruce knows now, a certain way of walking which isn't objectively different from how he normally walks, but which still suggests that he's getting just as hard as Bruce is.

Bruce rests his hand against the small of Tom's back, the way their father had sometimes done with their mother when *they* were walking up the stairs, and he's blushing, but Tom presses back against the touch just a little, and that's wonderful. Better than.

And when Bruce closes his door behind them --

"I --" Tom shakes his head and pulls off his sweater, exposing nothing but his perfectly fitted button-down, but it still makes Bruce want to lick his lips. Bruce pulls off his own sweater and walks close, and it feels like the kiss was waiting for him, soft and easy and so *warm*, so good when Tom wraps his arms around Bruce's neck and presses closer -- no, he's doing something with his legs.

A quiet thump lets Bruce know that Tom's toeing his shoes off, and Bruce does the same, and shifts enough that he can press his ankle against Tom's own, *drag* their legs together -- mm. "This... it would be easier if we were lying down," Bruce says, and cups Tom's waist.

"I -- not yet," and Tom kisses Bruce again, and pushes one hand into Bruce's hair. Tom's other hand is on Bruce's shoulder and massaging him a little, though Bruce doesn't feel particularly tense anywhere save for his genitals -- will Tom touch him there tonight? Is there anything he could do to convince Tom that it would be a good idea?

Bruce squeezes Tom's waist and tugs on his shirt until it comes untucked from his pants --

Tom hums into his mouth and it sounds like absolute approval, *feels* like Bruce is doing something exactly right -- Bruce pushes the shirt as much out of the way as possible and finally touches Tom's skin with his bare fingers. He finds scars almost immediately, and wonders if Tom's Bruce might get rough with him out of frustration and the desire to touch more gently, more *thoroughly* -- no, Bruce can't really imagine hurting Tom, as opposed to pulling him close, or pinning him when he learns how to do that.

Just -- holding Tom there until he surrendered to what he felt, to what he *wanted*. But Tom isn't fighting him *now*, and so Bruce just drags his fingertips against Tom's sides, his back and abdomen --

Tom shivers and sucks Bruce's tongue, making a sound that isn't quite a moan... Bruce pulls back a little. "Like this?"

"I -- harder would be good, as well," Tom says, and he's searching Bruce's eyes and face, squeezing Bruce's shoulder *hard*.

A demonstration? Bruce clutches at Tom a little, gripping at the firm and perfect muscle --

Harvey's muscle is softer and heavier, not quite so ruthlessly *defined*... it wouldn't feel like this to touch him, and a part of Bruce is glad of that. Harvey isn't here, and has never shown *any* sign that he would enjoy homosexual activities... not that Bruce would know what to look *for*, especially since the most homosexual-seeming person he knows is *Lex*, who he's *never* seen with anyone but women --


"I -- I was thinking about Harvey. And Lex," Bruce says, blushing more and holding Tom tighter, just in case -- "I'm not -- I don't want you to be offended."

Tom blinks at him a little -- but then smiles. "It's all right. I... both of them are very attractive, in their ways --"

"Are you friends with Lex? In your world?"

"I..." Tom shakes his head and rubs Bruce's shoulder again. "We've barely exchanged words, at all. He... moves in his own sort of circle, I suppose. Though I know my Bruce has occasionally had... conversations with him."


Tom's smile manages to be both rueful and a little sly. "I couldn't tell you how *well* those conversations went, but they exist. *Are* you attracted to him?"

"I've... um." Bruce squeezes Tom's waist again, knowing he's using the touch for reassurance and not being able to do a thing to stop himself from doing it.

"It's all right, Bruce. I -- like I said, sexuality is a huge and strange thing. It doesn't have to mean anything in particular if you find yourself sexually attracted to someone you don't especially care for."

"I'd much rather." Bruce frowns. "It's hard enough being attracted to people I *like*."

"Like Harvey," Tom says, and cards his fingers through Bruce's hair. "Do you think you'll find it difficult to stay his roommate now that you understand how you feel?"

Harvey in the top bunk, lying there sleeping peacefully, easily while Bruce touched himself... some boys were brave enough -- *brazen* enough, like Lex -- to do that sort of thing in the showers, but Bruce had always waited until he was alone in his bed...

And sometimes he and Harvey had done it together, with Harvey talking about the girls he knows in Gotham, about their mouths and their breasts --

Bruce squeezes his eyes shut.

"Oh... Bruce. It'll be okay. He never has to know --"

"That was easier when *I* didn't know, Tom --"

"I'll -- I'll be there, and you can talk to *me* about it. And... blow off some steam," Tom says, and backs away, unbuttoning his shirt as he goes.

"Tom...? Are we --"

"I had. An idea. Something we could do together without... um. Anyway, it might take your mind off Harvey."

"I didn't mean to think about him. I was just -- thinking about the differences between your bodies."

Tom smiles ruefully. "He's a lot taller and bigger than I am."

Bruce starts undoing his own buttons. "It's your body I want to feel against my own."

"At the moment --"

"Tom --"

"Bruce. There are other people I'm attracted to, whom I care about *deeply*. But I still have to keep coming back to you --"

"So do *I* --"

"I'm not. I'm not jealous," Tom says, and sits on Bruce's bed, swinging his legs up and backing against the headboard. His shirt is lying open, leaving his chest bare of anything save his scars. He laughs and plays with the fly of his pants. "I'm not jealous *much*... but you're here, and so am I, and we can be together." And he takes a breath, and Bruce's hands feel clumsy on his own buttons.

It would be a *bad* idea to just rip the shirt open, just like it would be a bad idea to pounce on Tom and slam him against the headboard -- and thus slam the headboard against the wall. Bruce shakes his head. "Part of me can't believe this is happening."

Tom takes another breath, and it's shakier this time. "The feeling is mutual. I'm..." Tom stops playing with his fly and *cups* himself through his pants --

"Oh, Tom. Let *me* --"

Tom laughs. "Ah -- not quite? Come sit next to me."

Bruce nods and does it, getting as close as he can and thinking about wrapping his arm around Tom's shoulders, or leaning in to kiss him again, or --

Covering him the way Tom had covered *him* the other night, and they could slide their penises together, press so *close* --

"What..." Bruce bites his lip and can't keep himself from touching Tom's chest and abdomen. So many *scars*, and his skin is warm and -- and *real*, and if he presses hard enough *there*, he can feel Tom's heartbeat. It's not as fast as Bruce's own, even though Tom is still cupping himself --

Tom *squeezes* himself and closes his eyes, and Bruce leans in and kisses Tom's jaw, and his throat --

"I almost don't care *what* we do, Tom, so long as I get to keep touching you like this..."

Tom shivers and moans softly -- stops and shakes his head. "Wait -- wait just a moment."

Bruce pauses with his hand on Tom's chest and his mouth pressed to Tom's pulse point, and -- one more kiss --

And Tom shivers *again* --


"*Back*. Sit back and let me -- I think we should masturbate. Together. And we can talk about anything you want to, and we can *watch* each other, and --"

Bruce pulls back. "Why can't we... stroke each other? I -- I would like that very much, Tom --"

"I just... we're. Blowing off *steam*, and that means -- God, Bruce, Alfred isn't even *asleep*, yet --"

"It will be at least another two hours before he comes with cocoa, Tom, you know that --"

"Bruce --" Tom shakes his head and *pushes* Bruce away. "Let's -- we can try this. All right? It might... it could make other things easier if we just -- come together."

And that's really *not* what Bruce wants to hear, but... Tom close to him, Tom touching himself with Bruce right here to see everything, *smell* everything -- Bruce licks his lips and nods, and Tom takes another deep breath.

And opens his pants. Bruce does the same, nearly ripping his zipper off the track before he manages to make it work, and --

Tom's penis is hard, dark and straight as it rises toward his abdomen. It's slick at the tip, and another bead of pre-ejaculate slips out while Bruce watches and fumbles to get his own penis out of his briefs. He's bigger than Tom, and his penis has more of a curve. Their hair is about the same, and Bruce -- "I have *two* hands, Tom. I could --"

"Touch -- um. You should cup your scrotum, Bruce. Play with it, a little," Tom says, and squeezes himself *hard* --

"Oh, I... do you like that or are you just trying to have more control?"

"Ah... yes?" Tom laughs and rests his free hand on Bruce's knee, squeezes there and then slides it up to Bruce's thigh. "You're so beautiful, Bruce --"

"You're making me stronger. Better --"

"You were *made* to be powerful. Just -- oh, I really can't wait until there are weights for you --"

"For both of us," Bruce says, and puts *his* hand on Tom's thigh. "Last night in the shower I was thinking about just your body, all the glimpses of it I've seen -- would you let me see you naked?"

"I... um. I don't think I can let go of my penis. At the moment."

And Bruce... he's salivating, and he has to *swallow*. "Oh, that's... and you won't let me touch you there?"

"Not -- ah. You should touch *yourself*. And let me see... let me see how you do it?"

Bruce nods and grips himself with his left hand. It's a little strange, but it's the kind of strange... "Oh. I can almost imagine your hand on me this way --"

Tom moans and *strokes* himself --

"*Tom* --"

"I -- last night I was thinking about your hands on *me* --"

"*Where*," Bruce says, and watches Tom stroke until he has the rhythm, and then just because... there's something so *brutal*-looking about Tom's scarred knuckles, something about how this touch is neither deft nor particularly graceful --

And when Bruce looks up, Tom is watching *his* hand and licking his lips.

Bruce hears himself grunt, and -- "Tell me? Please?"

"Ah... everywhere," Tom says, and shudders when he strokes his thumb over the head of his penis.

Bruce does it, too, and feels himself tensing all over, and -- everywhere. "Your... shoulders?"

"You could push me -- ah. Mm. Your hands on my torso, clutching and pulling at my clothes. Your hands on my -- on my *ass*..."

Bruce -- doesn't stroke faster. He wants *Tom's* rhythm. "You felt -- you're so hard all *over*, Tom. Like there's nothing I could do which would hurt you --"

"You could stop *wanting* me. I -- oh, God, Bruce, that would hurt so *much*," Tom says, and squeezes Bruce's thigh, tilts his head back --

Bruce squeezes *Tom's* thigh -- "I'll always want you --"

"Don't -- don't *say* that --"

"It's *true*," Bruce says, and he has to move, has to -- he kneels in front of Tom, pushing his legs apart --

"Oh -- *fuck* --"

He blushes and crawls closer. Just -- Tom doesn't want them to *touch*, but it has to be all right if their hands brush against each other while they're stroking, if their knuckles glance and *touch* --

"Bruce -- *Bruce* --"

"Here, I... please go faster?"

Tom pants and does so, and that means *Bruce* can go faster, almost to the speed he likes the best when he's touching himself, only... there's something *about* doing this slowly, about *savoring* it because Tom is doing the same as he looks into Bruce's eyes --

His lips are parted and *his* eyes are wide and dark in the light from the bedside lamp, and Bruce thinks about the strange tube of 'personal lubricant' which had just *appeared* in the top drawer one day -- replacing the bottle of lotion which had wound up back on his bureau where Alfred felt *it* belonged --

He thinks about pouring some of it over Tom's penis and his own, about pushing them together so they could have each other's *heat* --

"I want -- I think I *need* to feel you, Tom. You look so *sexy*..."

Tom moans and *smiles*. "You can't see *yourself* --"

And it's awkward to lean in and kiss Tom, but Bruce braces himself with his free hand on the headboard and holds himself there, and feels himself *flex* at the way Tom tilts his head back for it, or maybe at the way Tom moans.

The kiss is deep and wet, perfect with the lingering taste of wine in Tom's mouth, with the way Bruce isn't moaning so loud that he can't hear the sounds *Tom* is making, soft and hungry and -- perfect. *Almost* perfect, and even now it would be easy to let go of himself and cover Tom's working hand, to push his fingers between Tom's own so he could *feel*.

He's never touched someone else's penis, and he wants Tom to be the first, wants to *share* that moment with Tom, and everything else, too. Tom had had a girlfriend, but he hadn't gone *far* with her. They could discover all of this *together* --

And Tom's free hand is in Bruce's hair again, tugging and holding on and tugging more -- oh, Tom can't really *move* with Bruce kissing him like this. Bruce moans and pulls back --

"Bruce. Oh -- Bruce, I'm close --"

*Oh* -- "So am I. I just felt -- when you said that..."

Tom nods and licks his lips again. His eyes are closed and he's flushed from his forehead down to his chest. His scent is *high* when they're this close, and Bruce thinks he might be able to smell Tom here even after he goes --

Oh, he *wants* to -- "Tom, please, let me *touch* you --"

"I -- kiss me again, harder --"

And it's possible that there were going to be more words after that, but kissing Tom hadn't even been a *decision* in Bruce's mind, as opposed to something his body had demanded as soon as Tom *said* that. Just --

Bruce can feel *swelling* in Tom's lips, feel the increased softness and the need to have more of it, to make them swell *more*, and Bruce isn't thrusting his tongue into Tom's mouth with anything *like* the same rhythm he's using on his penis, and he's honestly not sure how he's making that *work*. Certainly it doesn't seem like something he could manage to do if he were actually trying --

Tom moans, long and *loud* into Bruce's mouth, and it makes Bruce's tongue buzz a little, hum with the pleasure of sound vibration, with the knowledge that soon Tom will have an orgasm -- will *come*, and that's the word Harvey uses --

Could Bruce ever have something like this with *him*?

Would --

Oh, Tom is clutching at Bruce's shoulder, almost clawing at it --

Tom turns away from the kiss and cries *out*, and it's quieter than the moan, but that's not saying much. It -- Bruce kisses Tom's cheek and licks it, nuzzles it and thinks about their time in the park, about what happens *after* this -- "Tom, I want --"

"I -- I *know*, oh, God --" And Tom goes rigid, throwing his head back again and exposing --

Heat, slick *heat* on his hand, and Bruce doesn't have to look down to know that Tom had just had an orgasm and ejaculated on Bruce's *hand* --

He looks down, anyway, and sees that most of the semen is on Tom's chest, and Bruce realizes that that was the *primary* reason why Tom had opened his shirt --

"Oh -- you're so *practical* --"

Tom gasps and laughs, turning to look at Bruce -- "Come. Let me --"

Again, there might have been other words, but Bruce is moaning too loudly, spilling over his own fist, and -- he can't *see*.

It's too much, it's so warm and dark and *good*, so --

Bruce is panting and moaning, shuddering and *moaning* --

Oh, he *loves* --

And it feels like he *falls* back into his own body from a great height. It jars him and makes him open his eyes again -- and when he can focus, he can see Tom staring at him with his lips parted and his eyes *full*, as though Bruce had done something far more wonderful than simply... coming all over himself.


"I..." Tom shakes his head and moves his hand from Bruce's shoulder to take Bruce's very messy hand.

"Oh, no, you'll get --"

"I *know*," Tom says, and brings Bruce's hand to his mouth, and -- licks.

*Sucks*, and Bruce remembers times when he's been curious enough to taste his own semen, but this -- "Tom, you -- do you *like* that?"

And Bruce has to admit that, as responses go, having Tom look at him from under his lashes and suck *two* of Bruce's fingers into his mouth works *really* well.

"*God*, Tom, that's so -- I. Dirty?"

Tom narrows his eyes in a smile that makes that thing inside Bruce seize again, squeeze his *heart* --

Bruce shakes his head and licks his lips. He wants Tom's mouth against his own again, wants to feel Tom's tongue moving against his own, but. Tom has a messy hand, too.

Bruce tugs it from where it's cupped loosely around Tom's softening penis and brings it up to his face. The scent is nothing like his own, or... no. There are a couple of *different* scents, and one isn't very different from his own, at all. It's a somehow *thick* scent, the one that has meant sex to Bruce since he was eleven.

The *other* scent must be uniquely Tom -- and Tom is watching him from under his lashes even as he keeps licking and sucking. Tom is... waiting? Only -- he *closes* his eyes when Bruce sticks his tongue out to taste, and shivers at the touch of Bruce's tongue to his finger. Bruce pulls back. "Tom, I want -- look at me?"

And this time when Tom opens his eyes, there's something wild in them, something hungry, and --

And it feels really, really good to take Tom's fingers into his mouth, to feel them -- solid and strong -- against his tongue. The taste is *almost* like the scent, but Bruce can't really define where the difference lies. It's just -- he knows that the taste and the scent are the *new* meaning of sex to him, and maybe will always have that meaning for him.

It's Tom's *semen* in his mouth, just like Tom has Bruce's in his own, and -- they're together, even in this. And it's just the way it should be.


Tim's in trouble. He's -- really in trouble, because *somehow* he hadn't calculated the effect tasting Bruce's semen would have on him, the way it makes him want to stay right where he is, or maybe lie all the way down instead of just slumping against the headboard.

Bruce is *sucking his fingers*, and it doesn't matter that he's sucking Bruce's own -- or. It does matter, because it's all of a piece with this, and with the feeling -- unmistakable -- that he's really not going to be soft for all that long. That he is, in fact, not going to *go* soft all the way.

This was supposed to take the *edge* off, and it had in some ways. It's just that there was another edge *under* that edge, and it's all about the way he can *see* Bruce memorizing the taste and texture of his semen, and see Bruce looking at him like a job that had, at best, been left half-finished.

He should leave. Bruce isn't holding his hand very tightly, nor is he *pressing* his fingers into Tim's mouth. Bruce is almost certainly waiting for Tim to make the next move, to show him... what?

Theory? Fantasy? His own *insanity*?

Perhaps he should just say it flat out. Bruce, in twenty-some-odd years, I'm going to be your adopted son. There'll be Father's Day presents and public declarations of our family feelings, and in certain interviews I'll be referring to you as *Dad*, and on certain nights, when dawn feels like it's years away and I'm all alone in my bed -- I'll mean it.

Even though I want you.

So, you see, this is actually more of a problem than --

Bruce tugs Tim's fingers out of his mouth with a truly obscene noise and *blushes*. His lips are shiny and wet and swollen -- though no more so than Tim's own.

He looks beautiful, perfect, and -- Tim closes his eyes and sucks Bruce's fingers a little deeper, a little *harder*.

"Tom, that feels... I. I don't know what I want," and there's laughter and *wonder* in Bruce's voice, as if Tim had done something far more spectacular than simply giving in to a long-standing -- if mostly quiet -- oral fixation.

It's -- wonderful is a good word for it, for the feel of Bruce's strong arm as Tim slides his hand along its length, for the way Tim *can't* close his thighs because Bruce is right there --

"Or... I. I want *more*, I think," and there is neither awkwardness nor hesitation in the move that ends with Bruce licking Tim's chest, cleaning it of excess semen and generally making Tim feel like something liquid, available -- endlessly *desired*.

And yes, that *is* his hand -- still wet from Bruce's saliva -- in Bruce's hair, and yes, he *is* pulling Bruce closer --

Bruce moans and starts to *kiss* Tim -- and starts to thrust his fingers into Tim's mouth, and Tim manages not to buck his hips, but then he has to wonder why he's *bothered*.

Bruce has his free arm wrapped around Tim's waist and is holding Tim's body against his face, is kissing and licking, mouthing and *nuzzling* -- and singling out every one of Tim's scars he can see for special attention. Like this, it would barely take the slightest push to get Bruce to move down to Tim's penis, to initiate him into *that* sort of lovemaking, and --

Isn't that what they're both asking for, right now? Wouldn't it be just another -- no.

It *wouldn't* be just another step. It would be the *same* step, because, once again, Tim had failed to keep himself from escalating. Maybe if they'd started on opposite ends of the room, if Tim had resisted the urge to be on Bruce's bed and instead stood up against the *door* to masturbate --

Bruce scrapes his *teeth* over Tim's chest, and he might as well be offering the world's most eloquent argument as to why Tim's bullshitting himself. All it would've taken was Bruce saying 'please' once, or reaching for Tim from his bed as he touched himself with his other hand --

God, he'd *pretended* that it was Tim's hand on him, just as Tim had pretended it was Bruce's hand --

And Bruce is kissing his way *up* Tim's chest to Tim's throat, Bruce is *licking* Tim there so slowly and -- not casually. Tim could never call that casual. It's slow and it's *thoughtful*, because Bruce doesn't know exactly what he wants other than *more*, and he's going to do everything in his power to *make* Tim help him figure it out.

It won't take much. It --

"The boys at school, Tom..." And Bruce sucks at Tim's pulse point, presses his tongue *hard* against the skin there and tugs his fingers out of Tim's mouth --

"I..." Tim *grips* Bruce's hair and tries to keep his eyes open, tries to focus on more than just the hint -- the *promise* of teeth -- "I'm listening --"

Bruce pulls back and licks his lips. "Is that... necking?"

And the thing is, Tim was pretty much *all* set to offer more reassurance along the lines of Bruce not being abnormal for finding all sorts of attractive adolescent males to *be* attractive, but -- "Ah... hm. I think there's usually rather less nudity involved. For it to be considered 'necking.'"

Bruce nods solemnly and -- backs away.

Tim blinks and wonders if this is reprieve, and wonders if he'll be able to *live* with it if it is, because several parts of Tim's body are complaining *bitterly* about Bruce not being right there --

Bruce grabs Tim's ankles and tugs.

"Ah... you want me to lie down."

"Very much," Bruce says, and smiles at Tim from over Tim's knees. "You're all... bent."

You don't say -- no, thank you, Dick, not *now*, but... Tim smiles and straightens out his legs, and then bends down over them --

Bruce laughs, easy and pleased --

Tim spreads his legs as wide as he can while bent over --

"Oh. I'm not sure *why* that's so arousing when the thought of doing the same thing makes me want to *hide*, but... let me see you?"

Tim sits up again and scoots further down the bed. He *could* be lying down, but he's not, and surely that counts for something, somewhere. Just as smiling at Bruce when he *knows* it makes Bruce happy counts.

"Will I... is your Bruce that flexible?"

"He's *pretty* flexible, but we both have to work at it fairly hard to stay that way."

Bruce nods and crawls up next to Tim, resting his hand on Tim's chest and pressing lightly. "I'd like to lie down with you. Just -- for a little while?"

There won't be any safer time for this. There just -- Tim bites his lip and lets Bruce push him down, and Bruce follows immediately, lying on his side and stroking Tim's chest lightly and steadily, and Tim realizes that it's meant to be a soothing touch. Has he ever had such a thing from *his* Bruce?

No, he *has*, but those touches have *always* been gauntleted, a reminder of the Mission that lay beyond Tim's pain or fear. This...

Tim covers Bruce's hand with his own.

"You didn't like that?"

I liked it too much. "I... it's not that," Tim says, and turns to face Bruce. There's a slight frown on Bruce's face, but it has more to do with concentration than upset.

Bruce has never had anything like this. Not ever, because Tim can't see even a toddler Bruce crawling into his parents' bed at night. Tom, however... Tom would've depended on Bruce's touch in those nights after their parents were killed, and would find this to be a soothing reminder, even with the smell of sex surrounding them.

Tim relaxes deliberately and watches Bruce -- try -- to do the same.

"It's all right, Bruce --"

"I think you must be right, because the Bat keeps reminding me that it's the only one who'll never leave me."

Tim winces --

And Bruce moves his hand from under Tim's to stroke the frown line from Tim's forehead. "It *is* all right. I... it seems to only bother me like that when I'm feeling especially close to you. When I'm happy."

Right now, happiness on Bruce looks like a serious affair, something which has nothing to do with even the quietest, most close-mouthed kinds of laughter and which should never be undertaken lightly.

"I *am* happy --"

"I know," Tim says, and reaches up to touch Bruce's mouth, to feel the lines which will gradually become hard and unforgiving -- but not now. Not *yet* --

And Bruce smiles against Tim's fingers -- and kisses them. "Of course you do. I wish you could stay right here all night."

"I... I wish I could, too."

Bruce nods. "Then that's all right," he says, and starts stroking Tim's chest again. *This* touch isn't soothing at all, it's firm and a little random, full of curves and arcs and moving down to Tim's abdomen -- "You like this better. I want... would you tell me why?"

Is there anything honest he could say? Anything even *partially* honest? Tim sighs and strokes Bruce's arm, feeling the unworked muscle, the natural power. "I... it reminded me too much of my Bruce."

Bruce nods again and brings his hand up to cover Tim's left pectoral. "I wish I was your Bruce. Sometimes I think I'd do anything to keep you here with me, to make you *want* to stay here with me instead of going back to where... where you belong."

"I... I know that, too," Tim says, and squeezes Bruce's upper arm.

"I think, sometimes, that I'll wake up one day and you'll just be gone, that whatever force brought you here will just snatch you back while I'm sleeping. I can't decide if that would be better or worse than getting a chance to say good-bye."

Steph -- "It's always better to get a chance to say good-bye, Bruce. Even if it hurts."

Bruce strokes up to Tim's cheek and cups him there before moving to Tim's throat, pushing and touching -- at the scar there.


"I think if our parents had gotten to say anything before they died... I would've probably spent the last eight years obsessing about whatever it was, and twisting myself up..." Bruce shakes his head. "Is there any escape, do you think? Any way for me to become someone normal?"

"When *I* think about it... and I have to admit I'm having a hard time doing that with you touching me like that --"

"Your neck is very sensitive. I want --" Bruce shifts and moves to cover Tim a little, pushing Tim's chin up gently but firmly and kissing Tim's throat again, hard kisses and soft, wet kisses and dry --

"Bruce... oh. Oh, I think we were *born* strange," Tim says, and it's necessary to push his hands into Bruce's hair again, to tug and pet and *hold* --

Bruce murmurs something against Tim's skin and *licks* --

"I -- I didn't hear that --"

"I love you, and I want to be with you for the rest of my life," Bruce says, calm and matter-of-fact, and then he leans back in and starts --

God, making love to Tim's neck again, keeping Tim's head bent back so he can reach as much skin as possible, and moaning is just something Tim has to do. There are no options and the truth is that Tim doesn't want any. "You feel so good, Bruce..."

"I'm glad. I want everything I do to you to feel good, everything we do *together*," Bruce says, and sucks lightly over Tim's jugular --

"I wish -- I *want* you to mark me, Bruce -- *oh* --" Teeth, and he has to clarify *now* -- "I meant -- you can't, Alfred will *see* --"

Bruce pulls back and almost *glares* at him. "Where. Where else are you sensitive like that?"

"I -- the small of my back --"

"Turn *over*," Bruce says, and pulls away. "Please, so I can -- I want to --"

Tim does it, and Bruce immediately starts kissing his way down Tim's back, licking and scraping his teeth and stroking everywhere his mouth isn't. "Oh, Bruce, I love you, I -- I don't want to *lose* you --"

"You'll have your Bruce, and he must need you the way I do, he must love you and want you and know how beautiful you are --"

There are always people who are more beautiful, always -- "*Please* --"

"Here," Bruce says, and *licks* the small of his back, hard and *wet*, and Tim tenses all over.

Tim shivers and *moans* --

"Oh -- oh, *yes*, Tom," and Bruce sucks there, hard again, so *hot*, and Tim remembers Bruce massaging him, Bruce *teaching* him how sensitive his body could be, and his touch had been firm and professional even when Tim started moaning, even when the blush felt like it was going to *kill* him --

("It's important to know the secrets of your own body, Robin, lest someone *else* learn them first.")

And --

("Ooh. Remind me to tickle you there all the *time*, little brother --")

And --

("*Damn*, boyfriend. Did I just hit your Robin-spot?")

"*Bruce*, oh -- God, just there, just right there --"

And Bruce groans and keeps sucking, nipping at the skin to get a better grip while he strokes up over Tim's back, along Tim's sides -- down to Tim's hips, and Bruce's hands are incredible there, warm and *strong* and soon to be getting stronger every *day* --

"*Bruce* --"

And the sound he makes might have been a word, might have been *Tom*, but Tim can't make himself care about that now. Bruce is making him hard again, making him *need*, and no one had ever touched him here like *this* --

Steph would have if he'd ever asked, and Tim will never know if his reactions would have aroused or frightened her, will always have to *wonder* --

Bruce *grips* Tim's hips and sucks *harder*, bites *more*, and the skin is starting to feel raw and hypersensitized, and Bruce's sheets are soft, sweet torture against Tim's penis --

"I want -- want you, Bruce, *please* --"

"Tell me. Tell me what to *do*," Bruce says, and licks his way up Tim's back, shifts oddly over Tim --

"*Oh*. You --" He'd pushed his *pants* down further --

"You feel... incredible. Your skin where I've been is slick and almost cool --"

"*God*, Bruce --"

"I... I think I need you to turn over again, but --" And Bruce *thrusts* against the small of Tim's back, once and again --

Again --

*Again*, and Tim can't stop himself from arching up for it, *encouraging* --

"Bruce. You can come *on* me --"

Bruce's moan is *dangerously* loud, desperate-sounding and so good to hear, so *hot*, and the heat runs right through him, the *power* of this --

Knowing that the things he says and does can make Bruce harder, make Bruce *need* him more, and every last one of those things can be *honest*. "I need you, Bruce, need your *touch* --"

"I'm here, I want -- *please*, Tom --"

Still thrusting, still -- Bruce's hands are braced on the pillow to either side of Tim's head, and Tim can see Bruce *clutch* the pillow, knuckles going white as he shakes and *drives* against him -- "*Stop*," Tim says, using the command voice and not bothering to take the time to damn himself for it because he needed Bruce's whimper and the feel of him pressing *harder* for a moment before he rolls off and onto his back.

And then it's *Tim's* turn to move, pouncing and pinning Bruce, kissing him hard and feeling the cool air make the small of his back prickle and almost *hum* with pleasure, with need --

"My skin *misses* you already, Bruce --"

"Tom --"

"*Yes*," Tim says, and braces himself on Bruce's shoulders before lining their penises up against each other. "Like *this*," he says, and starts to rock, and it barely takes a second before Bruce has his rhythm, and another second after that for the look on his face to become purest *concentration*, as if this is the most important problem he's ever been asked to solve.

And the expression doesn't change when he moans, though there's a certain added dimension when he keeps his lips parted, when he reaches to clutch Tim's hips again --

"Oh -- *Fuck*, yes, *hold* me --"

The grip is *iron*, everything he could have ever wanted from Bruce and more, better with the sight of Bruce's hair falling in his eyes as he bucks and arches, as Tim thrusts and *grinds*.

"So good, so -- Bruce, I want you to *come* for me --"

"Will -- oh, Tom, I never knew -- it's so *different* when we're naked --"

"Better --"

"*Yes*," and Bruce urges them faster, and perhaps the most amazing thing is that he still *has* a rhythm that he's following. It's not *quite* Tim's, anymore, but that's not going to stop Tim from getting harder, needing *more* --

"Bruce, I -- I want you in my *mouth* --"

"I don't... a kiss? I -- please, Tom, please don't stop --"

"I *won't*," Tim says and digs his fingers in against Bruce's shoulders. "I *can't*. And I want your penis in my mouth, want to suck you and taste you --"

"*Tom*, *ah* --" And Bruce nearly bucks Tim *off* with the force of his orgasm. He's arching and spurting -- in the wrong *direction*. Tim grabs Bruce's penis and points at his own chest, and the last spurt feels perfect, filthy, utterly *undeniable* --

"So *good*, Bruce. I -- *mm*. I'll try not to hurt you --"

Bruce is gasping, moaning something incoherent as Tim shifts so he can thrust against Bruce's hip. And he should probably let *go* of Bruce's penis, but the best he can manage is to ease his grip as he watches Bruce groan and toss his *head* --

"I promised you I wouldn't *stop* --

"*Please*, Tom, please -- oh, come on *me*," and when Bruce opens his eyes Tim feels like he should be burnt right where he is, feels like he *is* burning, because there's something wound like a heating coil around the base of his spine, something heavy and tight in his sac --

"There's *nothing* I don't want with you, Bruce, and I -- God, I wish --"

"Just stay, stay as long as you can, Tim, and I'll give you everything, do anything --" And Bruce sits up and wraps his arms around Tim, clutches Tim *hard*, and there's less room to move, and Tim has a lot less *finesse*.

He winds up thrusting against Bruce's penis again -- "S-sorry. Bruce --"

"No, don't stop, don't *stop*," and Bruce is kissing Tim's throat again, licking and sucking, nuzzling and whispering that he loves, that he's *in* love and he always *will* be --

It's too much and it's perfect, and Tim knows he's holding on to Bruce's shoulders too tightly, that he's thrusting ragged and much too *hard* -- "Want -- want to be *inside* you --"


Tim laughs and kisses Bruce's cheek, bites -- "I'll tell you. Later -- oh, *God*, Bruce, you feel so good -- *oh* --"

Bruce *gripping* the back of Tim's neck and kissing so hard they might as well be bites, kissing a *collar* around Tim's neck --

Would Bruce think of it as a necklace? Does Tim ever want to disabuse him?

He doesn't think so, and he *almost* doesn't want to come, but --

Close. *So* close, and Bruce's other hand is on his hip, on his *ass*, squeezing hard as he bites so *gently*, over and over, and all Tim has left is noise. A grunt for every time the head of his penis slides over Bruce's abdomen --

A shout when Bruce *lifts* him by the hand on his ass and pulls Tim even *closer* --

And Tim growls at the feel of himself humping like an *animal*, rutting and lost to this beautiful boy, this perfect man who loves him and would only ever let go if Tim said he *had* to --

"*Please*," Tim says, and it comes out sobbed, *shouted* --

"*Anything* --"

"Oh, God, *please* -- *ah* --"

And coming is like a blast, concussive and devastating, forcing him to keen and whimper, shudder all over and whimper more --

*Beg* with all of himself --

And the only reason he doesn't fall over is that he's still clutching Bruce's shoulders, still --

Tim tries to make his fingers work enough to let go, and he just winds up shaking more. Just -- Bruce. He'd just had sex with *Bruce*, and nothing can change that, nothing can take that away --

And Bruce is kissing him, rubbing Tim's ass and stroking at Tim's hairline with his thumb -- pulling them *over* until Tim's straddling him again, and the kiss is something they're doing with their whole bodies.

Tim needs *air*, but he needs this kiss more, needs to know that this is all right, even if that won't last forever --

And Bruce needs the same thing.

He kisses Bruce until the black starts blooming at the edges of his vision and he *has* to turn and gasp, and by then Bruce is stroking Tim almost restlessly, possessive and hungry and perfect. Tim rolls them onto their sides and kisses Bruce again, shoving his knee between Bruce's thighs and getting his own thigh *pressed* -- another kind of kiss.

He kisses Bruce until there's nothing in his mind but the motions and sensations -- the slide of Bruce's tongue against his own, the press of their swollen mouths, the sound Bruce makes when Tim *sucks* his tongue again --

He kisses Bruce because he can't stop, can't *think* of stopping, and because he can feel Bruce's desperation grow, independent of the feel of his still-soft penis. Bruce wants him to *stay* here, and the only way he knows how to make that happen is by not letting Tim back away, even just to speak.

Was Bruce this young -- this *kind* of young during the Klarion business? Could they have...?

No, that Bruce had the *emotions* of a teenager, but the intellect and memory and -- to some extent -- the *control* of a man. This Bruce is young through no magic save the everyday variety, and a part of Tim feels as though he's taking advantage, and...

Maybe he is.

He can't stop.

After a while, Bruce kisses his way to Tim's cheek and groans, quiet and so *hungry* before he lets his head fall back to his pillow.

"Bruce --"

"You have to go. I... I know."

Tim nods. "But -- I won't be far."

Bruce's smile is bleak and far, far older than it has any right to be. "Far enough."

"Oh, Bruce, we --"

"Will you try to stop this again? Try to hold us *back*?"

*Yes*, because -- "No," Tim says, and knows it's the truth.

Bruce nods and doesn't bother searching him for more. He can *feel* it, and no one has ever known as much about him while still knowing so little --

No one except Steph. Tim strokes Bruce's face with his fingertips and tries to stop himself from memorizing the feel. He wants to *live* in this moment, not document it for posterity --

Bruce kisses Tim's fingers and never looks away from Tim's eyes. "If I'd known making love could be like that, I might have tried harder to make it happen with... someone."

Harvey? And how damaging would *that* have been, in the long run? "I... always suspected it would be that intense. That it would *have* to be that intense, just going by the feelings I had."

Bruce nods. "You *knew* your feelings, and understood them. For me, there's just a kind of blank spot where all of this... this *sexuality* goes, a blank spot lasting until I thought about you masturbating."

"But... um. Boarding school. How did you... I mean, you *were* masturbating there."

Another nod. "And sometimes Harvey and I would do it at the same time, and he would... talk. About girls he knew."

Tim blinks and tries to think -- tries *not* to think -- he tries. "Um. And you didn't...?"

Bruce smiles wryly. "Come to any important conclusions? No. I really do think you *did* get all of the intelligence, Tom."

"I suppose it helps that I've never had a voice in my head telling me to stay away from people and not make friends. And I... I'm reasonably sure that my Bruce knows a lot more about sexuality than you do, but then, we've *talked* about it --"

"I needed you. Maybe... maybe there are Bruces in all sorts of worlds who need you, Tom."

Batman needs -- Tim shivers and cups Bruce's face. Lies, but well-meant ones? Who is he fooling at this point, exactly? "I was thinking... my Bruce and I used to share a bed after we lost our parents. It didn't keep the nightmares away, but at least we were together. But I don't think we could -- or should -- try to use that excuse now."

"I think I could sleep all night with you, Tom."

"You'll have my scent. And I... don't plan on showering until the morning. You're a lot messier than I am," Tim says, and smiles --

And feels it freeze and *stick* on his face when Bruce runs his fingers up his chest and then pushes them into his mouth without so much as *blinking*.

"Oh -- Bruce."

He pulls his fingers out with a wet sound. "I'll have your taste, as well. Would you tell me about... I've *heard* the other boys talking about... um. Penetrative sex between males. It's always sounded rather difficult to credit."

Tim bites his lip. He *had* promised. "Ah... it's not something that can just happen. It takes a little work, and lubricant."

Bruce frowns a little. "So it really is... I mean, you'd want to put your penis in my *rectum*?"

"And want you to do the same to me. *Mostly* that, because I've... thought about it rather a lot. And... practiced."

And it's *intensely* obvious that Bruce is trying to think of what 'practiced' means in this respect, and it definitely says *something* about Tim that he finds that expression endearing and generally deeply kissable.

But. "I've -- fucked myself. With my fingers, Bruce."

"Oh, I... you *are* quite flexible, and I suppose..." Bruce frowns again. "And this is pleasurable?"

Tim strokes Bruce's face a little more because he *can*, and because Bruce is still looking deeply endearing, touchable --

They're so *close*, and they could be even closer. Tim is *willing* to send Tom shopping for lubricant -- whatever sort is readily available in this ridiculous era -- and Bruce is waiting.

"Yes. To me, anyway. A lot of people -- male and female -- enjoy that sort of touch, and a lot of people find it wildly uncomfortable, or even painful. I'm in the first category, ah... fervently."

Bruce nods thoughtfully and strokes down to Tim's hip, squeezing lightly. "I'd do it. I -- anything you want, Tom --"

"No, don't -- it would be... it shouldn't be done unless we *both* want it. Just like all sex, really --"

"But *you* want it, and you already know you'd like it, and -- I want to give you pleasure," Bruce says, and strokes until he's cupping Tim's ass again, squeezing --

It takes *effort* not to buck his hips, but God, Tim's already had *two* orgasms and *neither* of them are hard, as opposed to... some variety of oversexed. Undersexed?

"Why... you're *resisting*, Tom," and that was absolutely an accusation, because -- Tom had promised.

Tim presses his thumb against Bruce's cheekbone and grips with his fingers. "*Only* because you find the idea distasteful --"

"I think -- I really do think I'd get past that quickly if you enjoyed it as much as you've been implying."

At least *one* part of Tim thinks so, too, but -- "Let's sleep on it, all right? There are... mm. All sorts of things we can do that you *don't* find upsetting in any way --"

"I wanted to say... I'd like to suck you, too. I like having my mouth on you, making you... loud."

Tim feels himself blushing -- and watches Bruce study the blush and smile.

"You're so beautiful, Tom. And I know I've said it already multiple times, but I'll do anything for you."

Then *fuck* me, fuck me so hard I bite your pillows and scream -- "Then sleep, for now. We have to leave early to get good positions to watch the parade, and after I'll want to show you more things in the Cave."

Bruce sighs and nods, and strokes Tim's ass and hip in what feels like a farewell before rolling onto his back. His shirt is open, his pants and briefs are down around his thighs, and he wants Tim to stay right where he is, but he's willing to listen to reason about that.

Tim rolls off the bed and stands, straightening his clothes quickly, before he can do or say something that would make it impossible for Bruce to *let* him leave. When he's moderately neat again, he leans in over the bed for a kiss, and Bruce's hands are gentle and light on Tim's face.

"Good night, Bruce."

"Sleep well, Tom. I... tomorrow."

"Tomorrow," Tim says, and moves for the door.

There's no sign of a tray or anything of the sort in either the hall or in Tim's room, but all that means is that *if* Alfred had come upstairs to check on them, he'd decided to pretend that he'd done nothing of the kind. Appearances matter.

Tim strips down and puts on his pajamas, feeling both dirty and several different kinds of wonderful. He'd made love with Bruce. They'd taken each other's virginity... or perhaps they'd given their virginity to each other. Bruce thinks he's that much closer to the brother he'd always wanted. Tom feels the same way -- though the phrase 'always wanted' means something altogether different.

*Tom*... would have, perhaps, not fought quite so hard to return to his own bedroom, because Tom is happy and in love and heedless in ways Tim really isn't -- but Tom doesn't get to call the shots for this, and *Tim* doesn't need to upset Alfred any more than he already has. Or... Tom *has* shown himself to have doubts and fears about all of this. As such, wouldn't Tom need to draw a line *somewhere*? To retain some measure of his own space, if only so he could regroup?

And... he's second-guessing himself in *useless* ways. He'd already *left* Bruce's bedroom, and he's here, now, and that's not going to change. It doesn't matter what Tom wants -- or doesn't want. Right here and now he can be *Tim Drake*, and do and think the things which make that person real, *true*.

It's just that he's having some difficulty figuring out what those things *are*, at the moment, and...

When Tim glances at the mirror, he sees a Wayne heir, and that's right and proper for Tim *and* Tom, albeit in different ways. The hair and the eyes are correct, the posture perfect, the hands neither clenched into fists nor hanging too loosely at his sides.

The boy in the mirror looks a little confused -- perhaps even frightened -- and there's nothing wrong with that. Here, now, is the perfect opportunity to *let* himself be confused and frightened. He'd given in to -- several of -- his baser urges, and encouraged Bruce to do the same. He *must* have changed something about the path this Bruce would take with this, and that's not merely ego. The Bruce he knows has been defined and redefined by every close relationship in his life, and a Bruce who is redefined is a *Gotham* which is redefined.

What if it *was* Bruce's basic loneliness that helped him become the man the world needed him to be? The fact that Tim has no intention of easing up on Bruce's training might be irrelevant. What if he'd helped to create a Bruce who was focused on having love and some measure of happiness?

What *could* he do to fix that?

And Tim searches his mind, and forces himself to come up with images and scenarios -- he could make it a matter of emotional barter. No love or touch without training, no lovemaking without *pain* --

Except that he knows this Bruce would never stint on his training, never *shirk* in the interests of sexuality. For Bruce, Tom is something of an ideal, proof that he was never all *that* crazy *and* proof that he has a long way to go. Bruce wants to live *up* to Tom's example, and so maybe...


In the end, he has made promises, and -- more than that -- he has accepted an objective truth about himself. There are *limits* to his control when it comes to feelings like the ones he has for Bruce, and he has exceeded them. For as long as he's here -- and there's nowhere else for him to go -- he has to live with those feelings, and with Bruce's feelings for him.

And that means that he has to --

It means that he *will* give in to all of it, and make himself empty promises about dealing with the consequences of his actions even though he knows that, chances are, he'll either be back in his own temporal reality or somewhere else entirely by the time those consequences *become* something to deal with.

He'll be saved, somehow, and Bruce will be alone with the Bat again, and Alfred will go back to trying to make Bruce's life as warm and normal as he can, and Harvey will lose his mind, and Lex *fucking* Luthor will give in to a lifetime of megalomania backed with brilliance and acumen, and...

Who knows what will happen to the rest of that particular class?

*His* Bruce does -- he *must* -- and God, what Tim wouldn't give to see him again, to report all of this as honestly as he could, every terribly tasteless lie and misstep, every moment of *weakness*. *Fix* me, he would say, teach me how to survive this if it ever happens again, how to keep from infecting others with my own damage.

And Bruce would know something, some trick of will that he'd simply never expected Tim to need, and Tim would finally have the kind of control Batman finds effortless, and he'd be able to promise the multiverse a better performance next time --

And then there'd be work to do. A patrol through the Gotham *he* knows, and if he happened to stumble over Two-Face... well, then Robin would take him in without a second thought --

*Robin* would, and how long has it been since he's felt like *that*? Just -- *could* this be some larger lesson from the multiverse about what happens when you take your identity for granted?

Everything he *is*, for years, had gone into being a better Robin, into living up to the legacy he'd forced himself into -- only lately he hadn't really thought about those things. He *was* Robin -- in Steph's absence, *from* Steph's *loss* -- and that's all there was to it. He was secure in his subordinate position to Bruce, happy in the knowledge that -- *whatever* the future held -- right now, no one would expect him to reach too far, try *too* hard to live up to the Bat...

He was as safe as anyone *could* be in this life, and yes, he'd been going through the motions just a little bit. Suiting up without a thought, riding that perfect and beautiful bike just as if there was no one it could belong to who wasn't *him*, *playing* Robin to Bruce's Batman just as he'd played Bruce's heir.

And now none of those things are true, and none of those things are *real*, and if he isn't careful -- none of them ever *will* be.

And the only truly terrible thing out of all of this is the fact that he knows, down deep, that there's nothing more he can do, nothing else he can *bring* himself to try.

He's in love.


Tom had come to his room early, already dressed warmly and urging Bruce to do the same. Bruce hadn't been expecting that degree of *excitement* for the parade -- but then Tom had reminded him about the presents.

He and Alfred *usually* open their presents after Christmas dinner, but it makes sense for Tom to want to do it much earlier. *Bruce* wants Tom to see his present -- and like it.

And it's not really a surprise to see Alfred already up and working when they get downstairs. He gives them tea and shoos them off to the tree, where he has placed their presents for each other -- and for himself -- in a far more artistic configuration than Bruce could've managed.

Tom looks admiring, as well, but...

"You don't think they're rather... dwarfed? By the tree," Bruce says, and watches Tom for any hint that he's feeling the same way --

Except that Tom smiles, and it makes Bruce want to do the same. "They're an excellent excuse to get down on the floor and look up and up -- well, *I* remember always being a bit stunned by the tree. In a good way."

So they get down on the floor, and Bruce tests what the angle does... and has to swallow, because neither Mother nor Father will be walking in wearing their robes, and they won't ever have those wonderful smiles on their faces which mean that *they're* excited to see Bruce open his presents --

Tom seems a great deal less maudlin, and Bruce works to emulate him. And it feels like a reward for that effort when Tom smiles at him and another when he places the small package in Bruce's lap.

"Me first?"

Tom nods and there's a light dancing in his eyes, and Bruce wants to kiss him so badly -- he opens the package. It's a book called Triton by Samuel R. Delany, and the cover suggests --

"Science fiction?"

"Very *good* science fiction. With a lot of... um. Well... some of the themes speak rather eloquently about *certain aspects* of our lives."

Bruce blinks. He's talking about... "There are books? Fiction books?"

"A fair number of them, though... well. Most of them aren't very good. Or widely available, for that matter. I was surprised to find this at the mall, even though the author has won a fair number of awards."

Bruce nods and doesn't crush the small paperback in his hand. He sets it down beside him and picks up the card -- a subscription to the Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine. "I didn't... I didn't really think you were much of a *reader*, Tom."

"I'm not, compared to -- you. But... again, I thought it was important that you get to see how different people look at the world, and spin fantasies from their observations..." Tom gestures, and it seems like he's trying to take in the whole of the... multiverse? "Anyway, I do *like* science fiction. Especially when I have to do research to understand exactly what's going on."

Bruce nods. "That does sound pleasurable. Thank you," he says, and hopes Tom can hear how much he means it, as opposed to how much he wants to -- kiss. Touch -- "Um..." Bruce reaches and picks up the box with his present for Tom, and hands it over carefully. "Your turn."

"You do realize that I'll only test you on what you read if it seems... ah, relevant, right?"

"I'm going to enjoy reading," Bruce promises, and resists the urge to push the box more thoroughly into Tom's deft hands. He won't drop it. "I promise."

Tom nods and hums, and, apparently, no one had ever told him that he should tear into a present to show that he was excited, because the way he opens the paper is almost surgical, complete with that line of concentration on his forehead.

And... "Does it make it better? For you to open it that way?"

"A certain anal retentive satisfaction is present, I must admit," Tom says and -- winks at him. And then blinks, because enough of the paper is folded back that he can see what it is --

Tom's hands are shaking, and he actually tears the paper -- slightly -- before he's done removing it. Bruce bites his lip and tries not to clench his hands into fists, and -- "Tom...?"

"Bruce. Bruce, I... a camera." *Tom* bites his lip, and his face twists -- he looks like he's going to *cry*.

"Tom, I'm sorry, I thought -- I'll get you something else --"

"*No*," Tom says, looking right and left -- he sets the camera down beside him, and then he's *on* Bruce, almost knocking them down to the floor and squeezing with his arms and his legs --

"You like it."

Tom laughs, wild and breathless against Bruce's ear. "I love it. I -- cameras are important to me. Very... I don't know if I can -- thank you."

Meaning he already has his own cameras in *his* world, but -- "I thought. Maybe you could take it to the parade?"

"No. It's too important, and there'll be too many people around -- it's too *nice* for that. I'll think of something, though, and -- Bruce, thank you. Thank you so much," he says, and his voice is a little choked, and Bruce doesn't know if he'll be able to let go.

"I thought -- I want to see what *you* see, Tom."

"You will," he promises, and then he pulls back and *grins* at Bruce.

Bruce grins back, and promises himself that he'll make Tom this happy as much as he can, every day --


And --

As near as Bruce was able to tell, the parade seemed to be less about the various floats and balloons -- very impressive, in their oddly culture-specific way -- than about the chance for various strangers to gather together to watch other strangers wave and perform.

It was very loud and very cold, and Bruce had spent much of the time wondering what would happen if the air in the balloons got too cold to keep them aloft -- or if the wind became too strong -- and one of them sank and snagged. He would've berated himself for that -- and possibly not even in Alfred's voice -- but Tom had asked him questions about how he would deal with a crowd in chaos, and had generally seemed pleased just to test both of them on such things.

It all left Bruce feeling very good -- better, even, than how he'd felt just to be forced close to Tom by the press of the crowd -- and inclined toward going to other parades in the future. Maybe the 'Gay Liberation March' either here or in New York City. Lex had mentioned them -- loudly -- at the beginning of the school year. It would be interesting to see other people who have feelings like his own, though from what Tom has been saying about the Kinsey Report -- he needs a copy of his *own* -- he'd probably already seen many of them.

Once again, they'd moved through the city together, edging toward different neighborhoods and just 'feeling the pulse' of Gotham, as Tom had put it. They didn't go very far this time, though, as they had other things to do, and once again they'd taken the subway into Bristol and had Alfred pick them up from the mall.

If anything, dinner was even better than it had been yesterday, with Tom complimenting the foods effusively and with obvious honesty -- he even ate significantly more than usual -- and talking about some of the meals *his* Alfred had prepared for him over the years.

Some of the foods had sounded quite strange, but Bruce has to admit that he would enjoy the chance to watch Tom eat every last one of them, or... do anything, really.

And Bruce knows that he's being at least a little ridiculous, but he's never had anything like this before, any sense that he *could* share everything in his mind with another person, that all he has to do is look to the side and there would be someone there, someone brilliant and strong and open-minded and passionate --

Bruce had spent dinner smiling to himself and watching Tom and Alfred converse, and now he's spending their after-dinner run doing much of the same -- except for the Alfred parts.

Tom, for his part, seems focused on his run, but there's still a smile on his face as he moves through the trees, leaping over buried roots Bruce can just barely guess at and still keeping Bruce's pace. This *is* getting easier, and it's even starting to *feel* better, like this is something his body *wants* to do.

His body wants to do other things much, much more, but *this* -- it keeps the Bat still within him save for a sort of silent ache where Bruce knows he *could* find the Bat if he ever looked.

He doesn't. He *won't*. He focuses on keeping his breathing as even as possible, on ignoring the parts of his mind which insist that they could stop against a tree -- that one, or that one -- and hold each other, kiss and touch in the moonlight until Tom's cheeks are flushed with more than just cold, until they have to burrow themselves into each other's heat --

Bruce runs and keeps doing it, and there's an almost painful disappointment when he approaches the third mile and realizes that, again, he won't be able to do any more, even though Tom can just keep going. What would he be like in the summer, with only shorts, a t-shirt, and sneakers to hold back his speed and stamina?

Tom isn't the *fastest* runner Bruce has ever seen, but he does it as naturally as the track team at Exeter -- more so, in some ways. Hm. "Who -- who taught you how to run, Tom?"

"Ah... we asked a cross-country coach for tips. Most of the rest came from practice, and from seeing what *didn't* work," Tom says, and Bruce nods. Maybe there's a cross-country team at Tom's Exeter.

And the last few minutes are a very specific kind of torture. He's getting a cramp, and his legs feel leaden, and breathing evenly has become more of a joke than a reality --

"Three miles," and Tom runs in place. He'd stopped them near the entrance to the Cave, and Bruce stops in relief, remembering to stand up straight to make it easier for his body to oxygenate itself.

But... "There are -- a lot of footprints. Here. Shouldn't we...?"

Tom's smile is bright, almost *electric* in the moonlight. "Yes, we *should*, Bruce. And we'll think about how when I get back. You should focus on coming up with ways to get the wires out of our way."

Bruce nods and waves Tom off.

He waits until he's only panting a little before slipping down into the Cave, and then starts up the generator the way Tom had taught him. And -- there are several new crates down here.

They're *heavy*, and Bruce has to wonder *how* Alfred had gotten them down here -- how he'd acquired them at *Christmas* -- but mostly he wonders what they are. Lights, first.

He manages a set-up which gives them less light overall, but which gets many of the wires out of the way, and then he starts working on his stretches. Tom had said they'd be harder in the cold, and they are, but Bruce can already feel them getting easier in *general*, almost as if his body was made for this sort of punishment, this sort of *exercise*.

Bruce smiles to himself again and gets to his feet, taking a moment to really *feel* himself in one of the ready stances Tom had taught him, to be sure that his body is placed perfectly --

And then he moves into the kata, and he can see all the places where he's sloppy -- almost *feel* them, as if his body has decided to teach him, as well, but --

Oh, it feels *good*, and Bruce can hear/feel the faint thrum, the quiet stone-like mutter of the Bat, but he's not listening, he's hearing --

("The motion from one strike to the next has to *flow*, Bruce. You should move like water, or wind...")

Water had played some role in *carving* this Cave over the millennia. Even now, there are places deep within where one can hear water moving underground, flowing from some underground river to another, or perhaps feeding some vast lake. Water can make stone weak, irrelevant --

("Find the grace -- the power will be there when you need it.")

And that doesn't mean go *faster*, but oh, he *wants* to. All the fatigue from the run is meaningless when it's not the burn in his limbs that *makes* him want to move faster, to burn all *through* himself --

"No one could ever look at you and doubt that this is right," Tom says, from *behind* him --

Bruce pulls himself back into a ready position, and then back to just a regular stance. He's blushing, but he doesn't mind letting Tom see that. "Sorry, I know I was just supposed to stretch --"

"Sometimes your body *will* just want to move," Tom says, and starts walking around Bruce in a circle. "For fun, for pleasure... for the sake of *doing* it," and Tom rests a gloved hand on Bruce's back and lets the fingers drag as he keeps moving. "There are... oh, all sorts of other people who live more in their bodies than we do, but that doesn't mean we *never* feel the things they do."

Harvey lives in his body when he's playing baseball, and sometimes it spills over to other things after practice or a game. Harvey never touches him *more* than when he's fresh from baseball, sweating and exhilarated -- even after a loss.

An arm around his shoulders, a light and friendly punch -- and once, after a close game that Exeter had won in part due to Harvey's fielding at second base, Harvey had kissed him hard on the forehead before beaming and running off to be with the rest of the team --

("I can't believe it. I just can't believe it! Oh, Bruce, I'm so glad you were here to *see* that!")

Bruce shivers -- not from the cold -- and frowns, and Tom pauses in front of him, fingertips pressed to Bruce's sternum.

"The Bat?"

*This* makes him a little wary to talk about. Tom hadn't said much about it, but he'd certainly *implied* that his Bruce was too close to Harvey to pay attention to him in some ways, and Bruce doesn't want to be like *that* --

Tom presses his palm flat against Bruce's chest. "It's okay --"

"It wasn't -- the Bat," Bruce says, and he's blushing harder. "I was... something you said reminded me of Harvey."

And Tom's eyes go distant and a little dark, but the smile on his face looks real. "It really is..." Tom laughs softly, but the Cave's acoustics can be strange, and the sound echoes a little.

Neither of them start at it.

"Bruce... you're learning a lot about sex in a very, very short time, and you were attracted to Harvey before you had the faintest inkling that I *existed*. He's your friend, and a part of you would like him to be more than that, and I can't... no. It's true that I can't do anything about that, but it's also true that I wouldn't *try* to do anything about that. It would be wrong to stand between you and a meaningful friendship, and, well... I just think about how *I* would feel if my Bruce had ever tried to keep me away from Steph, and then I can deal with my... jealousy."

"I don't -- I don't ever want to *make* you jealous, Tom --"

"In the end, Bruce? We have something that you'll never have with Harvey, and that I... that I never could've had with Steph, even if we somehow convinced both of them of the importance of the Mission, and they *joined* us here."

Harvey here, in the Cave. Harvey learning from Tom the way *he* is, and -- the way he would look doing the kata Bruce had been doing. He's *already* strong and fast, athletic and -- he could be so *easy* in his body --

"You're thinking about it," Tom says, and there's a smile in his voice. "Well, I thought about it with Steph, too. She was so *strong*..." Tom shakes his head. "Anyway, I -- I don't think you could ever make me doubt how you feel about me, just like how you know how I feel about you --"

"We love each other. We're -- we're *brothers* --"

"More than that, or less... Bruce, we're *partners* in this, and that will never change," Tom says, and moves his hand from Bruce's chest, taking Bruce's hand and twining their fingers together. "*Partners*, Bruce, and no matter what happens, we'll *always* have that."

"We'll always have the fact that we're *brothers*, too, Tom," Bruce says, and squeezes Tom's hand --

"I... well, yes, I... suppose you're right," Tom says, and looks down for a moment. And when he looks up again, he's smiling. "Maybe I'll just have to find Harvey a steady girlfriend."

And Bruce blushes *more*. "I'm not -- I wouldn't --"

"*Don't* make promises like that, Bruce. Don't -- just don't try. We're not married and we can't be, whatever crazy thoughts might go through our heads when it's just the two of us and we're fresh from making love..." Tom sighs and squeezes Bruce's hand. "One day he might just confess that he's always wanted *you*, or touch you, or kiss you..."

"Tom --"

"And I wouldn't want to be the only thing stopping you from *having* that, Bruce. I... I never want you to resent me, or God, *regret* what we have together --"

"I *wouldn't*, and -- and, anyway, Harvey likes *girls*."

"I liked Steph," Tom says, and raises an eyebrow. "Sometimes I even liked to kiss her, and hold her against me... the feeling was never as strong as it was for the men I found attractive, but it was *there*. And I wouldn't be at all surprised if one day *you* met a woman you were attracted to."

"I've never felt... you know all of that."

Tom nods, and his smile is both rueful and wry. "Yes, I know. It's just... I don't think we should give up on the rest of the world *just* because we're partners and brothers and lovers. If you *didn't* need more than that, you wouldn't keep thinking about Harvey. And I wouldn't keep thinking about Steph."

And that makes clear, objective sense -- nearly everything Tom *says* does -- but Bruce really doesn't want to hear it. Just -- no. "I don't think I *do* need more than you, Tom --"

Tom squeezes Bruce's hand *hard*. "You've always been a romantic and an idealist and... a lot of other things, too. I'm a romantic, too, in some ways. But... no promises, Bruce. And no regrets."

Bruce nods, because that tone of voice... "Sometimes you really do give *orders*, Tom."

Tom laughs and tugs his hand free of Bruce's own. "It's a character failing. I'm working on it. Let's go see what Alfred got for us."

It turns out to be a set of weights -- barbells and dumbbells, and Tom explains the difference between the two -- and Bruce is back to wondering how Alfred had gotten them down here. He supposed Alfred could've used a cart, but then there would've been tracks in the snow, and the cart could hardly have been rolled down the *drop* into the Cave... "I'm beginning to wonder if there are other entrances to the Cave, Tom."

"Oh, there are, but... ah, this is the easiest one to get to that *I* know about. My Bruce and I have discussed opening those others up, more, and also disguising them more effectively. For the one *we* use, we could plant some hydrangeas in the spring, possibly azaleas..."

Bruce nods and decides to chalk it up to being one of Alfred's mysteries... albeit one he won't be able to let stand forever.

They drag the weights over near one of the lights, and Tom shows him how to use the dumbbells effectively. It takes hardly any time at all for Bruce's arms to start getting tired, which makes him wonder about some of the things Tom has said about --

"You'll start gaining definition and bulk *quickly*, Bruce, but it won't happen overnight."

-- that. Bruce smiles ruefully and sets about making a place in his mind for the new knowledge.

They leave the barbells alone after moving them to where they want them to be, which is disappointing -- but infinitely less so after the dumbbell lessons. Tom speaks of mats and benches the way some people speak of loved ones or religion, and Bruce wonders what it will be like to use all the new equipment without Tom there. He has no doubt that Tom will teach him everything he can before he leaves, and so he won't be in the dark either figuratively *or* literally, but...

It won't be the same. None of it will be. There'll be no one to keep the Bat from driving him on and on, and no delicious rewards to consider while deep in the pain from training.

There will only be the next day, and the one after that, and the one after that, and...

And Bruce knows himself. After a while, with nothing else, he will have the knowledge that there's *more* knowledge to be had, and that will keep him moving when he's lonely and afraid, when he's confused and hungry.

He won't let himself think of the 'allies' Tom had mentioned the possibility of, because it would be too painful when he didn't find them. He'll be alone with his memories, and that will be good enough -- because nothing would hurt more than disappointing the Tom who *will* live in his mind.

That Tom might not be able to keep the Bat away, but he will bring warmth, and light, and *life*. And hope for the day Bruce will find Tom again, somewhere in the multiverse, *somehow*.

And surely Tom will have taught his Bruce why they should be together, by then, but maybe he'll still remember *him*, and the love between them --

" -- listening to a *thing* I've been saying, have you?"

"You were talking about getting a ladder down here so we can start stringing the lights from the stalactites, and possibly getting some of the larger fluorescents once we have the wiring under control. I think you were joking about *swinging* from the stalactites like monkeys, but I could be wrong."

And Tom's eyes are narrow, his expression sharp and pleased and almost *covetous*. "Bruce," he says, his voice as low as it ever gets --

"Oh, yes," Bruce says, and closes the distance between them, tugging Tom's coat up so he can cup his waist with his gloved hands -- "Inside?"

"Kiss me first -- *mmf* --"

If he hadn't been working out with the weights, he could lift Tom, a little. He's so small that their mother's clothes would fit him, so lean and so sharp, like a weapon made of flesh -- and yet there is a softness to him, something deep within him that loves and needs and can make Tom's body pliant for Bruce's touch --

Not every touch. Just petting him and trying to soothe hadn't worked, had reminded Tom that he wasn't with *his* Bruce -- Bruce never wants to remind Tom of that. Just -- he wants Tom to have moments, minutes and hours when *he* is Tom's Bruce, when he belongs to Tom the way he wants Tom to belong to him.

Bruce apologizes to Steph's memory and kisses Tom more deeply, thrusting with his tongue until Tom moans and grips Bruce's shoulders, squeezes and tugs until Bruce is *looming* over Tom, until Bruce's shadow in the kliegs devours Tom utterly. This close, he can feel Tom shudder, and feel something almost seem to *shift* within him, or --

A *change* in the tension in him perhaps? It's *not* relaxation -- that won't happen, Bruce thinks, until after he's given Tom an orgasm -- but it's as though Tom has gone from being focused on training to being focused on *sex*.

And it's *exactly* like that when Tom lifts his leg to dig his knee in against the outside of Bruce's thigh, and Bruce's arms only shake a *little* when he lifts Tom against him, when he thrusts once, and again --

"*Bruce*, God, I can't *think* when you touch me --"

"You think *very* well. *Too* well. Whereas the only thing I'm thinking about now is whether or not it's too cold down here for us to take our clothes off."

Tom laughs, breath warm and damp against Bruce's cheek -- "*Yes*, it's definitely too cold --"

"See? Your thinking is fine," Bruce says, and thrusts again, feeling his arms *lock* --

"Oh, don't do that, you'll get hurt," and Tom twists out of Bruce's grip as if it's nothing and starts rubbing and massaging Bruce's arms through the coat --

"I'm okay --"

"When you lock up like that..." Tom shakes his head. "It makes it easier to do what you're trying to do in the short term, but it also makes it *incredibly* easy to injure yourself. *Never* lock up. If you can't do a certain move, you just can't do it. All right?"

And Tom's voice is so serious that Bruce can't help but lose a little of his arousal. "I'll remember, Tom."

Tom squeezes Bruce's arms and takes a breath. "Yes, you will -- oh, there's so *much* I want to teach you --"

"Start with your fantasies, and -- everything you've talked about with your Bruce. Everything you want to *do*."

Tom's smile is quick and wide. "I'll never get used to how *hungry* you can be --"

"I'm. I think I'm *starved*, Tom. There's so much I never even *knew* --"

"I know," Tom says, and starts backing toward the generator. "And I... sometimes that arouses me almost more than anything else. Because I *know* how fast you *learn*."

And that sounds... oh, maybe Tom will want --

There are too many ways to end that sentence, and all of them are wonderful. Bruce smiles helplessly and follows.

They move quickly along the grounds after shutting down the Cave, and they strip out of their wet things, and -- Tom insists on moving through the kitchen. There's a *cake* for them, and Tom's right that it would be an insult not to have any, though Bruce barely tastes his before it's gone.

He thinks, maybe, that he's tasting it *through* Tom, who eats quickly but neatly, and makes soft sounds of pleasure at it.

"Do you like..." And Bruce has to think about it for a minute, *focus* -- "Um... lemon?"

"Our Atlantic-crossing ancestors wouldn't have it any other way," Tom says, and there's laughter in his eyes as he takes another bite.

"I mean... more than other flavors. For cake."

Tom looks thoughtful and pauses before taking another bite. "I think... hmm. I like it more than chocolate, certainly, but the way *Alfred* makes it, with all fresh ingredients... I'd have to say vanilla is my favorite. If you look, there are flecks of real vanilla bean in the icing."

"It was... very good."

Tom kicks him lightly, sock rubbing against Bruce's pant leg. "You didn't even notice it, you Philistine."

Bruce frowns. "I'm sure I'd notice if Alfred made something *bad* --"

"I think you must be missing at least, oh... *half* of the taste buds you're supposed to have --"

"I know *exactly* what *you* taste like. I'll never forget."

And the laughter in Tom's eyes gets sharper and a lot more direct --


"Bruce. Your memory is, perhaps, somewhat better than my own. I know that I'm going to have to try repeated tastings in order to have a full picture of your own tastes in my mind."

Tom's mouth on him... Tom *hasn't* done much more with his mouth than kiss Bruce, and Bruce would like, very much... "Could you... eat faster?"

And Tom locks his ankle around Bruce's own and does it, never looking away from Bruce's eyes. He could *almost* imagine something like this with Harvey -- Harvey is one of those people who only breaks eye contact if he's *very* uncomfortable, or if positioning doesn't easily allow it, and Harvey *touches*.

He *could* eat with his team -- and he does, sometimes -- but most of the time he eats with Bruce, and they talk about things, and Harvey will cover Bruce's free hand with his own, or tap Bruce's palm to make a point, or lean in --

Tom taps his -- empty -- plate lightly with his fork. And stands.

Bruce follows him to leave their plates and forks in the sink, and then follows him past Alfred's door -- the light is off, again -- and up the stairs, and he's almost treading on Tom's *heels*, but he's still not close enough until they're in Bruce's bedroom and Bruce can push Tom against the door and just -- hold him there. *Feel* him.

Tom raises his eyebrow.

Bruce blushes, but. He wants -- "If you... would you let me take your clothes off?"

Tom opens his mouth -- closes it and nods. And Bruce wants to kiss him, but he knows he'd get distracted *quickly*. It's hard enough just watching Tom curl his hands into loose fists and *knowing* that Tom is telling himself not to touch Bruce, not to stop him --

Bruce takes a shaky breath and starts working on Tom's shirt, unbuttoning it from the top to reveal a t-shirt that's pulled taut over Tom's muscles, that hides the scars and *teases*. Bruce pushes the button-down back off Tom's shoulders and --

And gives in to the need to kiss the scar on Tom's neck. Lightly, just a few times --

"You -- you're fascinated with that scar."

"It looks like you could've been hurt *badly*. Like -- almost like someone took a *knife* to you, Tom --"

"It looks a lot more exciting than it is. Ah... a stranger on the street knocked into me just as a couple of workmen were dropping a plate glass window behind me. There are some scars on my back and legs from the same event."

"Oh. I thought... I'd been thinking that your scars were from your Bruce," Bruce says and stands straight again.

"*Many* of them are. Just not... um. All of them," Tom says, and raises his arms above his head.

"Oh. Oh..." Bruce strokes Tom's sides and up his arms, grips Tom's arms and *holds* them against the door.

"That -- feels. I like that. I. You could hold me down. Sometime."

Bruce *swallows*, because -- just the thought of it. Holding Tom against this door, or the wall -- against his *bed*, while he kissed and touched -- "That's. Bondage?"

Tom nods. "From what I've been able to... ah. Discern. I've never -- well. I've thought about it. You're so much *bigger* than I am, Bruce, and you always will be, and -- and."

"You like that. You... you never wished that we were more similar?"

Tom smiles and shakes his head. "I wouldn't say *that*, but... ah. Watching you grow and *become* has been... an incredible privilege. I don't think it would've been the same if it had been like looking into a mirror. Do *you* want us to be more similar?"

"No, because then I wouldn't get to have *you*, Tom. You... you're so beautiful," Bruce says, and lets go of Tom's hands to tug the t-shirt out of his pants. "Now?"

"You -- you don't have to ask. Not now. Not for anything --"

And kissing Tom like this, with him holding his arms in the air and his body against the door --

Bruce can feel himself flexing, hardening and lengthening with desire. He loves the way Tom *moves*, but his stillness is so compelling, so *controlled* --

Bruce pulls back and tugs the t-shirt over Tom's head, tossing it behind him and leaning in to kiss Tom again, lick his mouth and his cheek, kiss his forehead and back down to his throat.

"Ohn -- did you. Should I keep my arms up?"

No. Yes -- "I... for a little while longer?"

Tom smiles. "It's your show. For now," and he curls his hands into fists again, and Bruce has to --

He kisses the soft skin beneath Tom's eyes, strangely softer than the skin on the rest of his face --

"Oh -- Bruce."

"Tell me?"

Tom shakes his head. "Just -- that touch. I'm a little sensitive there."

Bruce *licks* the soft skin and Tom shivers, arching his hips away from the door -- and when Bruce steps back, he can see the way Tom's penis is causing a bulge. Just like *his*, but Tom's is a lot more important. Bruce drops into a crouch and opens Tom's belt, tugging it out of the loops because he *needs* to for reasons he can't define --

"Oh -- God, I've *dreamed* this --"

Bruce moans. He's talking about *his* Bruce -- Bruce can hear it in Tom's *voice* -- but... he's the one giving it to Tom, doing this for him. "Tell me -- tell me what to do next?"

"You. You should cup me. Through my pants -- oh. Oh, yes, like that. I -- squeeze me?"

Bruce bites his *lip*, because it doesn't seem like... he wants to touch and maybe kiss, maybe... do what Tom had talked about wanting to do with *him*. Squeezing seems too *mean*, except that it makes Tom *shake*, and --

His knees collapse a little, and --

"Tom, should I... is there something I should say? To make it... better?"

"I -- please," Tom says, and it's slurred and low. "I don't think -- just. Keep talking to me?"

"You're making me more aroused every *second*, and I want -- I don't know what I want other than more, to keep touching you..." Bruce squeezes again and Tom *bucks* against his hand --

"*Yes* -- oh. God, *Bruce* --"

"I want -- want to promise you things, but you already know that I love you, that I want to make you... make you *come*..."

Tom nods and licks his lips -- his eyes are closed, and that --

"Open your eyes?"

Tom moans and does it, looking down at Bruce and -- his eyes are pleading, and Bruce wants to know everything about sex right *now*. But also...

"I'm going to take your pants down now. And. Your briefs, too. I have to *see* you."

Another nod, and Tom's lips are parted -- he's blinking rapidly, and Bruce can't stop himself from squeezing Tom one more time -- "*Bruce*, oh -- you. You could make me come this way --"

"I don't *want* to. It's not enough. It's -- you *know* I need more. Don't you?"

"*Yes*. Do it --"

And the sound of Tom's voice sends an ache through him, a sense that all parts of his body *could* be used for sex, could be *used*. It makes Bruce's hands clumsy on Tom's fly, and *that* makes it necessary for Bruce to rub Tom through his pants in apology every few seconds. Tom is thrusting against Bruce's hands rhythmically, pushing for a touch which must seem illusory and *teasing*.

He doesn't *want* to tease, and -- open, finally, and Bruce realizes that he was holding his breath. He tries one of the breathing exercises Tom had taught him while tugging Tom's pants down to his ankles --

Tom steps out of them, and then he's only in his briefs and socks. The socks don't *fit*, so Bruce gets rid of them right away, leaving Tom bare *everywhere* except for the briefs, white and new and *tented* and Bruce has to lean in, breathe *deep* --

"Bruce, *please* --"

"Just -- your scent. I need to *know* it --"

"In your bed -- last night --"

"Not *enough*," Bruce says, and nuzzles Tom through the briefs, kisses him and marks the length and shape with his mouth --

"Oh. *God* --"

"I think. May I have you in my mouth? Like. Like you *said*," Bruce says, leaning back and looking up --

Tom's eyes are wide, hungry and wild --

"I. I'll stop if you don't like it --"

"It's. Not that. I just... I thought I would do that to *you* first," Tom says, and he's still holding his *arms* up.

"You should. Put your arms down?"

Tom drops them and holds them at his *sides*. "Bruce, are you *sure* --"

"Touch my face? Or... I don't know. Maybe if your hands were in my hair, I could..." Bruce shakes his head. "I don't know. I just know that I *want* you."

Tom licks his lips again. "All right. We can try," and he cups Bruce's face in his hands. "There's nothing I wouldn't give you. Wouldn't *want* to give you."

There's *one* thing he wouldn't and *can't* -- and Bruce won't let himself think about it now. He turns enough so he can kiss Tom's palm, and then the other one. And then he curls his fingers into the waistband of Tom's briefs and tugs them down as gently as he can, careful of the rise and jut of Tom's penis.

It's just as wonderful to see as it was last night, this *proof* that he makes Tom as aroused as Tom makes him, and it's necessary to nuzzle it a little, to feel Tom's heat with his mouth and nose and cheeks --

To kiss the head --

"Oh, that feels so good, Bruce. I -- again, please?"

*Yes*. This time he tries to treat it like a mouth, sucking it a little --

Tom moans and pulls *back* --


"Ah -- too good. I don't want to come too fast. Or on your *face*."

"Oh... that does seem like it would be terribly messy."

Tom laughs and strokes Bruce's cheekbones with his thumbs. "Mm, yes. I... how do you like it so far?"

"I want to make love to *just* your penis for at least for a little while."

The smile on Tom's face is bright and beautiful. "Then... do it."

Bruce kisses along the shaft until he can nuzzle Tom's mound and breathe him in a little more, *taste* him, and Tom is petting Bruce's face, carding his fingers through Bruce's hair...

He likes this, either the feel or the fact of it or both, and that means it's something Bruce *has* to keep doing. He'd liked the sucking, and abruptly Bruce can imagine how it would feel on *his* penis. A more *complete* grip than simply fingers, a pull...

Bruce *sucks* on the shaft and Tom goes rigid for a moment before relaxing, exhaling shakily and inhaling almost evenly. He's going to try to keep *control* for this, which means Bruce will be able to do it for a longer period of time, but. He wants Tom to enjoy this, to cry out for him, and --

It's definitely a *kind* of necessary to suck and drag his way back to the head --

"Nn -- oh. Bruce..."

Bruce nods, and perhaps there's compromise in *just* licking at the head, at learning the shift in texture at the slit with his tongue, learning the *taste* --

"Oh. God, you really do learn *quickly* --"

Bruce laughs and takes the whole of the head into his mouth --

"*Ah* --"

He doesn't suck so much as he feels it with his lips, presses against it and licks until it's slick, wet and -- yes, there's a shine from the lamp. Bruce licks his lips and listens to Tom breathe, feels his hands *shake* --

For only a moment. "Bruce, I -- it's going to start to be a tease. Soon."

Oh... "Would you like that? To be teased sexually?"

Tom pants for a long moment, eyes closed and face *flushed*.

"Please look at me -- oh, Tom --"

"I." With his eyes open, Tom looks almost *distressed*, as though Bruce had been offering far more torture than pleasure. "I don't... think. That I could take it. This time, anyway -- oh, *God* --"

Sucking on the head seems to be easier than it should be, or... Bruce isn't sure. It hardly feels *right* that something so simple could give Tom so much pleasure, could make his hands shake against Bruce's scalp and his knees start to *buckle* --

"So -- hard. Oh, *fuck*, that almost... nn. It almost *hurts* -- no, don't *stop* --"

Bruce hums his agreement --

Tom growls and *thrusts*, pushing his penis deep into Bruce's mouth, deep enough to make Bruce gag and *cough*, but Tom doesn't want him to stop, and if he just focuses on his breathing --

He coughs more and *has* to pull back, and it *hurts* when Tom whimpers, but --

"I'm sorry. I -- I didn't mean to thrust like that, Bruce. I --" Tom drops to his knees and forces Bruce's head back, stroking his throat soothingly until Bruce can stop coughing --

"I'm -- I'm all right. I didn't mean to *stop*, Tom --"

"I've... ah. *Heard* that there are ways to take a penis deep into your mouth, and even into your throat, but I haven't had any practice, and -- that was too much."

Bruce looks at Tom, and there's nothing but rueful apology on his face, even though he's still *very* hard. And shining in the light from Bruce's *saliva*. Bruce licks his lips --

"Oh... Bruce. I think. Sometimes I think this could -- or *should* -- kill me --"

"Maybe if I... held your hips still? Am I strong enough to do that?"

Tom opens his mouth and stares at him, searching a little before biting his lip. "We could. Try that."

"And... it would be a little harder for you to thrust if you were on your back on the bed."

"A little, yes. I -- is that how you want me?"

There is *no* way he doesn't want Tom, but that's not a helpful answer. Bruce nods and Tom stands immediately, grace returned just that quickly, and Bruce has time to reflect that he does and *doesn't* regret that as they make their way to the bed.

His bed --

Their bed, if only for tonight and every other night Bruce can *have* this. Tom lays himself out like a very specific sort of art, spreading his legs -- to make room for Bruce. Bruce crawls on and strokes Tom's long, runner's thighs, tickling his palms with the hair there and teasing his fingertips with the scars.

"I think I'd know you anywhere by your scars alone."

"Bruce..." Tom shakes his head and sits up on his elbows, turning his abdomen into a curved plane of muscle. "Please?"

Yes. Always -- Bruce nods again and leans in --

"You should. Ah -- wrap your fist around the base. That will protect you better than just holding me down. I think."

A good idea -- a *practical* idea, and one which includes more intimate touch, but... "I think I'd prefer holding your hips. For... if you choke me again, I'll try your way."

Tom takes a deep breath and nods, and -- his hips are so *lean*. Almost spare, with hardly any flesh to hide the shape of the bone, so lovely and... perhaps 'elemental' is what Bruce means.

"I've never... there's no one *like* you, Tom --"

"Everything I am... I wouldn't be who I am without you, Bruce."

*His* Bruce, and Bruce shakes his head. "Not me. Not --"

"So much the same, I -- you don't know how much I *need* you," and Tom curls himself upright and strokes Bruce's arms and up to his shoulders. "You -- should do what you want. I won't say no."

Bruce swallows and nods. It's so *much*, and maybe if he spent a day in the restricted section of the library, he could learn all the possible things, all the *pleasurable* things, but for now --

He presses Tom's hips to the bed --

Tom *moans* --

Bruce bends down and takes Tom in his mouth again. Tom is so erect there's hardly any awkwardness at all, and the taste is closer to that of Tom's semen and *full* of the scent and feel that *means* Tom to Bruce --

So much of what he *wants*, and Tom is allowing it -- more, he *loves* it, he's moaning and panting and struggling against the grip Bruce has on his hips. He wants to thrust, to have *more* of Bruce's mouth --

He doesn't have to limit himself to the head. He goes down a little farther, doing it slowly enough not to surprise himself into gagging again --

"Oh, God, *Bruce* -- you don't -- don't have to --"

Bruce nods and sucks as hard as he can -- it's more difficult with more in his mouth, but also more *satisfying* --

Tom cries out and flops back down to the bed, struggling to *arch* his hips and actually leaving the bed a little --

Bruce forces him back down and gets another cry, another taste of Tom's pre-ejaculate on his tongue --

And this sound seems to be all consonants, the next thing to another *growl*, and when Bruce looks, Tom is sitting up on one elbow and shaking his head, almost *tossing* it --

And Tom's hand is in his hair again, tugging -- petting shakily --

Bruce takes more and Tom's sound is brief and high-pitched. His whole body is shaking now, and Bruce knows that he must be *close*. Tom could come in his *mouth*, fill it with his semen --

Well, not *fill*, but perhaps it would feel that way, perhaps it would make him cough again, or -- no, he doesn't want to give this up until he has to because of Tom's sensitivity, so he'll go *carefully*. He pulls back until just the head is in his mouth --

"Nn -- please, Bruce, oh *please* --"

And he *has* to go back down, because Tom is begging, and the sound of it *does* something to Bruce that he doesn't know if he wants to examine or not even as it makes him want to shake his head and soothe --

"Oh -- *ohh* --"

Tom *pulls* Bruce's hair and then yanks his hand free, clenching it into a fist and banging it against the bed once, twice --

Bruce sucks and licks, sucks and nods, because he understands, because he's so hard now that it hurts -- a physical pain and something like an emotional one. It's just too much, this pleasure he can give and the pleasure he *knows* Tom wants to give *him* --

He goes down again because he *has* to --

Tom *shouts* and pulls his knees up, working to get more leverage to thrust, and -- Bruce *knows* that Tom doesn't really want to thrust, that he wants to make things easier for him, but -- oh, his body must not be *listening* to him, anymore, and it's all because of what Bruce is doing.

Bruce tightens his grip on Tom's hips and -- lifts them, a little, pulling Tom against him, pulling Tom deeper until he can feel that warning tickle in his throat, that flutter --

"Oh, God, oh *God* --"

*Yes*, Tom, more, please --

"Bruce. I'm -- I'm *close*, and you should pull *off* --"

Bruce shakes his head and *clutches* Tom's hips, using every bit of strength he has to make his *point* --

"F-fine. Then -- when I suck you, you can't -- mm. You can't apologize or -- or try to get me to *stop* --"

Bruce nods again and pulls back to just having the head in his mouth, and he wonders... would Tom like it if he used his teeth? Tom can be so *rough*, and even he admits to heedlessness. Bruce has been careful up to this point, but... maybe he shouldn't be?

It's not something he wants to just *experiment* with, though, and Bruce tucks the thought away for later, focusing on the feel of Tom fighting for more, the *sound* of him fighting, growling and moaning, and -- when they're masturbating, they don't just squeeze, so...

He goes down and then up *quickly*, just to see --

"Bruce, *yes* --"

For some reason, it makes him blush again, makes him want to hide from this, or at least from the parts of himself which want *only* this --

No, no hiding, not from *any* of this, no matter how strange it feels to *work* his mouth on Tom's penis, no matter how difficult it's getting to hold Tom *still* --

And Tom's cry is so sharp Bruce thinks it must hurt, and he stills all over --

He ejaculates -- *comes*, just as Bruce was going down as far as he could, and the splash of his semen against the back of his throat feels shocking, strange and almost *wrong* --

But *mostly* shocking, and Bruce thinks that's the only reason why he's not choking on it. He swallows when he remembers how --

"*Please*, I can't -- *Bruce* --"

Another splash, and another, and Bruce's body makes him pull back before he wants to --

Tom comes on the underside of Bruce's *chin*, body twisting and head tilted all the way back. He's *reaching* for Bruce, and when Bruce lets go of Tom's hip and takes Tom's hand --

*Yanked* over Tom's body, and Bruce can't keep his balance -- and he has to admit he's not trying very hard. Just -- that *taste* in his mouth, and he feels almost *marked* --

And Tom kisses Bruce and rolls them over, pinning Bruce as much with his mouth as with his deceptively strong arms and legs.

*Tom*, Bruce says, thinks -- shouts, because Tom is licking Bruce's mouth and moaning constantly, and oh, Bruce is *under* Tom, and he can --

Bruce thrusts *up*, and it feels terrible and wonderful at once. His pants are in the way, his perfectly comfortable briefs are *torture*. He whimpers into Tom's mouth and Tom squeezes Bruce's wrists once and pulls *back* --

"Naked. You need to be --"

Bruce struggles and Tom lets him sit up, kneeling up into a straddle over Bruce's thighs -- so *beautiful* -- Bruce tears his shirt trying to get it open and whimpers again --

"It's okay, it's -- let me *help*," Tom says, and his fingers seem to *fly* over the buttons, and he doesn't pause to push Bruce's shirt off before he starts working on Bruce's fly.

Slim, clever fingers, deft and strong, and Bruce flashes on an image of Harvey making a pencil dance over *his* fingers, on a memory of Harvey *smiling* at him --

Tom is so *serious*, right now, and he doesn't *quite* look angry, but that line of concentration is *deep* on his forehead -- "We should've stripped you down *immediately*, I --" Tom moves off Bruce and starts tugging on Bruce's pants. "That was incredible, Bruce. Everything I've fantasized, *more* --"

"I'm glad, I -- I really want to do it *again* --"

"I have *no* objection to that, but first -- arch up for me."

Bruce does so, and Tom *yanks* down his pants and moves to curl his fingers into the waistband of Bruce's briefs. Bruce manages to get his shirts off without causing any more damage, but -- oh, his heart is beating so fast and he feels hot all over, especially his *face*.

Tom is going to put his *mouth* on Bruce, and he'd showered last night, but what if he tastes dirty, or sweaty? "Tom, are you sure --"

"I've *wanted* this, Bruce. You -- you know that --"

"But -- perhaps I should --"

"Be quiet and take your blow job like a man...?"

"Oh, that's -- *oh*. I'm not sure why I didn't associate that term with -- ah. No, I'm sure. That's too *crude* for this, Tom. I -- there ought to be *better* words."

Tom strokes Bruce's thighs and shakes his head, moving between them. "We could give up and file all of it under 'making love,' but that would make it hard to ask for specifics."

"*Is* there a term?"

"We really need to do something about your reading. Ah -- the rather clinical term is 'fellatio,' and I suppose that somehow *didn't* get covered in your Latin classes?"

"Was it covered in *yours*?"

Tom smiles sharply and -- scratches Bruce's inner thighs with his short nails --

"Oh, I -- I like that a *lot* --"

"I thought you would," Tom says, and does it again --

"Tom --"

*Again* --

"Tom, *please* --"

"It wasn't covered, but it *was* in the Latin to English dictionary, for anyone who cared to look. The Romans had fewer qualms about such things -- at certain periods, anyway."

"One does hear... ah. Roman orgies? With homosexuality?"

"And a vast amount of *bisexuality*, but again, eras changed even within -- and we can talk about this another *time*," and Tom *grips* Bruce's penis around the base --

"Oh -- oh, Tom --"

"I *won't* try to hold your hips, so it will be up to you to keep yourself from thrusting too hard and making me punch myself in the mouth. Think of it as an exercise in control."

"You -- *training*?" Bruce sits up on his elbows --

"Ah... I'm *mostly* joking," Tom says, and splays his other hand on Bruce's chest. "But I *am* just as new at this as you are."

"It's... easy to forget. You know so *much*."

"Human beings have been having sex with each other for millennia, Bruce -- *without* the help of books and studies on other humans' behavior. The imagination is a powerful thing."

"Perhaps you got all of the imagination, the... creativity?" And Bruce can't quite keep himself from pushing into Tom's fist. Sixteen years ago they were wrapped around each other, held *close*, and now --

Isn't it reasonable that they should want that again? Or -- that *Tom's* Bruce should want -- he doesn't know, and Tom's eyes almost seem to glitter as he squeezes Bruce's penis, as he *pushes*, lightly, on Bruce's chest --

"You want me lying down?"

"For now. I want to *look* at you, see you spread out and naked for me..." Tom licks his lips and shakes his head. "I never thought I could ever have this."

He's not as strong, as *muscular* as Tom's Bruce, and so he can't be as attractive to Tom, but... it means that Tom is aroused by him and *only* him, and Bruce shivers as he lies down, and tries to keep himself from trying ineffectually to cover himself with his hands --

"Beautiful --"

"Tom --"

"*Beautiful*, and I get to have you. I -- I really don't think I deserve this, and this *isn't* where you argue with me --"

"Please, Tom --"

"I'm glad to have it. I'm *grateful*, and I want you to know that, to *understand* --" Tom growls again and starts to *stroke* Bruce, firm strokes that make Bruce shiver and *want* --

"I do understand, I feel -- I feel the *same*, oh, *please* --"

"*Yes*," Tom says, and then he's right there, *breathing* against the head of Bruce's penis, and -- "I've wanted -- here," and he drags the head over his mouth, his cheek --

"*Tom* --"

"Would *you* like to be teased, Bruce? I could --" And the kiss is so light it's almost another breath, the flick of his tongue against Bruce's slit --

Bruce moans and grips the sheets, wanting them to be Tom's arms, or Tom's hard and muscular thighs --

"When you said you wanted to make love to me this way... I understood. Your scent, your taste -- the solid, beautiful *fact* of you -- *mmm*," and Tom is sucking the head, and Bruce feels his *eyes* roll back in his head --

Feels himself arch and he doesn't have the air to moan. He has to *breathe* -- and then he's gasping, because Tom pulls *off* -- "Tom --"

"Your pre-come is already drying on my face. It's a fascinating sensation, and emotionally... it makes me feel obvious, *pointedly* sexual..."

"Please, anything, just keep touching me --"

"I *won't* let go," Tom says, and squeezes Bruce again for emphasis, or perhaps just because he likes the feel of it, and --

It's another thing Bruce is never going to forget. The *precise* feel of Tom's calluses, the strength of his grip and the ruthlessness with which he uses it. "Love -- love you -- *oh* --"

Tom is sucking on the head again, and using the fingers of his other hand to stroke Bruce's shaft, *tease* --

"Never want you -- don't stop, Tom, I'll do anything --"

And he's gasping again, because when Tom hums, it feels like it's something running through him, shoving itself inside and vibrating every sensitive part of him. Bruce *knows* that his eyes are squeezed shut and that he's *yanking* on the sheets, but --

"*Please*, I -- I don't know what I want you to *do* --"

And Tom pulls off so *slowly*, all the way with a wet popping sound which makes Bruce blush again. "How about just going with the idea that you want *more*?"

Bruce nods and lets go of the sheets with one hand so he can touch Tom's face --

Tom licks Bruce's fingers and looks at Bruce, and his eyes are heavy-lidded and seem almost to *burn* -- "Bruce."

"This -- this arouses you. I."

Tom raises an eyebrow. "It didn't arouse you?"

"It *did*, Tom, but --" Bruce shakes his head. "I didn't think you would find it -- I. I suppose you had those fantasies for a *reason*."

Tom hums again, and Bruce wants that on his penis, wants to beg more -- Tom licks a stripe up the underside of Bruce's penis and Bruce feels himself shaking, hears himself *whimper* --

"Such -- the power in this, Tom, you -- you can control me *utterly* --"

"I prefer to think of it as pleasuring you at my own pace, but I do see your point," and Tom turns his head and sucks on the shaft, flicking his tongue against the vein --

"Oh, *Tom*, it's so -- you're so *wonderful* --"

Another wet sound, another *loss* -- "I'm going to take you in now, as deep as I can --"

"I'll -- I'll try not to thrust --"

"Your control was *always* better than mine," and Tom turns to *bite* Bruce's fingers --

"Your teeth. I -- would you like teeth? Or. Do you think *I* would?"

Tom laughs softly and raises up over him, aiming Bruce's penis toward his mouth -- "I have no idea about either. Perhaps we can try it out sometime --"

And then Tom is *on* him, going down and down and --

Stopping, and Bruce can *feel* Tom's throat working, and it's wonderful right up until Bruce realizes that he's feeling Tom trying not to *gag*.

"Oh --" Don't, but he's not allowed to tell Tom to stop, not allowed to try to hold him *back*. He settles for "*please*," and tries to make it mean everything, including a plea to his own penis to *stop* finding the sensation so *good* --

And Tom keeps *holding* himself there, just barely sucking and -- oh, *salivating* around Bruce's penis, and Bruce knows that it's mostly to do with stimulation of the glands, but a part of him will always know that Tom wants him *just* that much, that he *hungers* for Bruce, for the feel and taste of Bruce's *penis* --

Tom's growl is slurred and *angry*, and he pulls back almost all the way --

He sucks *hard* on the head for a moment, another --

"*Tom* --"

Tom goes *down*, and he's squeezing the base of Bruce's penis rhythmically, almost brutally, and Bruce wonders how he'll ever live with only his own hand again when he knows that *this* is possible, that his beautiful brother could touch him like this, want him like *this* --

"Never -- please. I can't think, I can't --"

Tom humming and that flutter, that clench and release, that --

Tom moves his hand and *swallows* around him, and the clench is impossible now, almost *hard* --

"Oh -- you -- what?"

More swallows, and more saliva running down through Bruce's hair, and Tom's eyes are open, but they're focused on something Bruce can't see, can't --

"So *tight* --"

And Tom makes a noise deep in his chest, frustrated and -- choked.

He's *choking* Tom with his penis, and that can't be -- it's not -- "*Tom* --"

But then Tom pulls back, just far enough that Bruce's penis *isn't* in Tom's throat, anymore, and that seems *terrible*, another *loss* --

Tom is panting through his nose, and when he looks up at Bruce, his eyes are burning again, flat with something almost like *menace*. No one could ever doubt how dangerous Tom is, how suited for their Mission, for the life they need --

And it *should* be ridiculous to think that when all he's doing is -- is *fellating* Bruce, but it's inescapable. The fact that Bruce has no strength when it comes to Tom does not, necessarily, mean that he's weaker than most. And *that* makes Tom's expression almost soothing, proof of a larger truth that encompasses not just the two of them, but the whole world, and --

"I can't -- I want to watch people *love* you, Tom, want to see them -- see *you*..."

Tom raises his eyebrow, and Bruce has to laugh a little, even though it comes out cracked and breathless.

"I know. It's just -- I want to *belong* to you, and I can't be the only *one* -- *ah* --"

And Tom is scratching at Bruce's thighs again, digging in hard with his fingers and riding Bruce's arch. Bruce has no *idea* how he's managed to keep from thrusting, but it's something that he's grateful for, something  -- *oh* --

He'd *thought* too fast, because Tom is sucking him in rhythmic pulses, and now Bruce's shaking is all about the fact that he *isn't* thrusting, that Tom's mouth is right there, his *throat*, so tight and so *warm*, so --

Would it be like that if he were -- if they had anal sex? The feeling for whichever one of them was doing the thrusting would almost *have* to be pleasurable, but Bruce can *feel* his mind shying away from the alternative.

"*Ah* -- *Tom* --"

Tom's hum sounds like a 'yes,' or possibly a 'noted.' It's -- he'd used his teeth, just the barest edges of them -- and he's scratching Bruce's thighs again, and --

"Please, *more*, Tom --"

Another eyebrow raise, but then Tom nods and goes back down so *slowly*, the barest fraction of an inch at a time. It makes Bruce feels ludicrously *big*, and it makes him ache and *tense* with not thrusting, not *taking* what's being freely *given*.

He wants to beg Tom not to stop until he has *all* of Bruce inside him, but that has to be too much, too --

Oh, that flex, that *flutter*, and Bruce sits up a little more in the hope that it will make it easier not to thrust, and he can't keep himself from petting the back of Tom's head, from stroking the back of his neck and his shoulder, just --

He can smell his own sweat, and the lingering *hints* of Tom, but Alfred will change these sheets soon and then Tom will be gone again. It seems urgent, something worthy of *desperation* to get more of Tom's scent, more of *Tom* --

"I *need* you," he says, and it comes out whimpered, almost sobbed --

And *Tom* shakes, and his first swallow doesn't get Bruce in, and neither does the second or *third*, and --

"Please -- oh, *please*, I don't want -- you *can't* --"

Tom makes an *angry* sound, and Bruce has to pet him, soothe, give him something in return for this pleasure that seems to wrap itself around Bruce's spine and *squeeze* --

"*Tom* --"

But *this* time when Tom swallows --

He can't even cry out. There's no air, no space, no *give* --

He's *gripping* the back of Tom's neck and shuddering like the first moments of a *convulsion*. He can't stop, he --

So good --

So tight and *hot* --

And then he feels Tom's lips pressed against his mound, and that --

So *intimate*, so --

And Bruce knows that he's shouting too loudly, that he's this close to *screaming*, but it's meaningless because --

*Oh* --

The pleasure. The power of it as it rolls through him and centers, explodes --

And the world goes darker than the Cave at its blackest, but it's all so warm, so --

It's the sound of his own gasp that brings him back to himself, but there's a strange shuddering under his hand, warmth -- *Tom*, who he's still gripping, holding down on his --

Bruce tears his hand away and tries to push -- and winces at the feel of Tom's throat working on his penis one last time --

*Two* last times, and then Tom pulls off fast, kneeling up and gasping, swaying --

Tom falls back, lower legs bent under his body as he gasps and shivers, and -- it all looks extremely uncomfortable. Bruce forces his own body out of its post-coital lethargy and moves, tugging Tom's legs out from under him and stroking his thighs, his hips --

Tom is *hard* again, dark and rising, *tempting* --

Tom is laughing. It's quiet and the sound keeps getting lost under his gasps, but it's there, and it sounds wonderful, even though Bruce isn't sure what the joke is. He settles next to Tom with his head oriented toward the foot of the bed and strokes Tom's chest in the firm, long strokes he seems to prefer.

After a few moments, Tom turns to look at him with a lazy, sleepy smile on his face.


"Did you like that, Bruce? Because I... liked that a *lot*."

"It was... I think another sort of teenager would say that it blew his mind."

"Yes, but *you* shouldn't," Tom says, and reaches up to cup Bruce's cheek. "Kiss me."

Bruce does, tasting his own penis but barely any hint of semen. The vast majority of *that* had gone directly down Tom's *throat*, and while that brings rather more thoughts of digestion to mind that Bruce thinks should happen while he's trying to be sexual with someone else... it also *is* very sexy.

Tom had worked himself with an almost terrible efficiency until he *could* take Bruce into his throat, and now it's something Bruce thinks he'll want a *lot*. So *many* unforgettable sensations, and the emotional *push* of it all. Tom had teased him until he couldn't take anymore and then *taken* him, and Bruce thinks --

Bruce *knows* that he's never felt this desired before. Just the fact that Tom had wanted to *do* that, that he'd had that sort of elaborate fantasy of *how* he would go *about* fellating Bruce. And...

Bruce also knows that if he's ever with another man after Tom leaves him, he won't be able to help trying to do some of the same things Tom had done, in just that *order*. For Tom himself, he wants something different, at least at first. He wants to be *creative*, and --

Tom's hand is in his hair, again, holding on *exactly* tight enough that he can guide Bruce easily through what feels like a very specific kiss.

Pressure on their lower lips, a swipe of the tongue that almost seems to cut, pressure on both lips and a bite --

And when Bruce bites back, Tom *does* tighten his grip and moan, and. Had Tom kissed Steph this way? Is this something else Tom is trying to tell him about love and life? It's *not* just a kiss -- Bruce can *feel* that -- but he wants specifics, wants --

Bruce pulls back, forcing himself to release Tom's lip. "Tom? What kiss is this?"

"Noticed the lack of... ah, random, did you?"

Bruce nods, and nuzzles when Tom smiles, sucks gently --

"It's the kiss I imagined, to a certain extent. There's a precision to it, a specificity... I don't know. Maybe I'm wrong to try to have *exactly* what I've fantasized, but I can't seem to help myself."

Oh... yes. "Then *don't*. And... show me, again? I'll kiss you *just* that way."

"Bruce --"

"It's -- you're making your fantasy my own, Tom, and that's the way I want it to *be* --"

"Oh, *Bruce*," and Tom tugs Bruce back in by the hair -- and goes through the individual steps of the kiss slowly and carefully. It's another sort of training, and it's teaching Bruce a *thorough* kiss, one which seems to encompass all aspects of kissing, if in a deeply thoughtful way... and one which Bruce hadn't imagined possible.

But -- of course Tom would want a kiss just like this. Of course he would've fantasized a kiss from his Bruce that would make *him* feel taken and learned. "You want to be known --"

"By you. I've always -- there's *fear* in having you know me, Bruce --"

"Even though we're brothers?"

"Even... even then. You're not the only one who grew up keeping secrets, and the fact that I want to give all of mine to you... well. It doesn't mean that it's not hard."

Bruce nods slowly and starts giving Tom the kiss he'd wanted, and Tom starts shaking almost immediately, starts trying to push *closer*, take *more*, and while a part of Bruce is screaming that he should change the kiss and *give* Tom more... no, *this* is what Tom wanted, and perhaps he should think of it as a sexual tease --

Tom moans and *clutches* Bruce's hair --

Tom arches and *writhes* for the kiss, whimpers and struggles --

And when Bruce has gone through all the motions and there's nothing left, he repeats himself, careful to duplicate everything exactly even when Tom starts trying to speak through it. It's mostly just Bruce's name, but there are several slurred instances of *please* --

Perhaps a *little* more, and it's easier than Bruce would've expected to stroke down Tom's chest and abdomen and take his penis in hand, as if his body is already accustomed to at least some of these motions. He doesn't even have to think before he's stroking Tom the way he wants to, hard and even and almost pulling a little --

Tom covers Bruce's hand with his own, but doesn't try to stop him, and the noises he's making are more rhythmic now, more *connected* to what Bruce is actually doing, as opposed to the fantasy in Tom's mind. That's *better*, and yes, more satisfying --

Although Bruce is already getting hard again. It's not a surprise in any way save the physical, and even *that*... it's *Tom*, aroused half-under him, moaning and *moving* for him --

And when he finishes the kiss this time, Bruce pulls back enough to watch Tom's face. There's *deep* concentration, and something that almost looks like pain. Tom's eyes are tracking rapidly behind the lids, and Tom is biting his lip --

Bruce kisses him to get him to stop, and gets his *own* lip bitten while Tom grunts and starts to *thrust* into Bruce's fist -- Tom releases the bite and strokes Bruce's hand with restless force, shakes his head --

Tom opens his eyes and *searches* Bruce --

"I like this," Bruce says. "I love touching you."

Tom frowns harder and nods, closing his eyes again.

"Is there something... what else should I be doing? Would you like my mouth again?"

Tom *twitches* in Bruce's hand, and there are drops of pre-ejaculate on the tip again, and -- he could try what Tom had done. He can't really imagine what it would feel like to *deliberately* lodge something in his throat, but Tom had clearly enjoyed it, and -- more to the point -- *he'd* enjoyed the feeling of being held that way.

Bruce kisses Tom one more time and squeezes his penis the way he likes -- and swallows Tom's groan. If it felt like this, if it made him feel this powerful and this *necessary* --

He makes his way down over Tom's chin to his throat, and thinks about the semen drying on his *own* throat. There's a pull to it -- something on the *way* to becoming an itch, but it still makes him feel marked, and... is Tom bruised on his lower back? He hasn't *seen* Tom there, and he really *wants* to. Bruce sucks Tom's throat lightly and squeezes again --

"Bruce, *yes* --"

"I... would you turn over for me? Just for a moment?"

Tom smiles with his eyes closed. "Happily. But you'll have to let go."

"That sort of thing is getting easier," Bruce says, and kisses Tom's chin, and bites it a little.

"Ah... is it?"

"Yes. Now that I know that you'll *let* me touch you again," and Bruce licks Tom's throat until Tom shivers again and squeezes Bruce's hand -- and thus himself.

"Well, I... the alternative became unthinkable. Or... perhaps not unthinkable so much as *impossible*," Tom says, laughing again and tilting his head back to give Bruce better access. "You're deeply compelling."

"Does that mean I can give *you* orders?"

And he's joking, but Tom shivers and *groans*, and that --

"Oh. I think -- there was a moment when the possibility of my getting hard again was *only* a possibility, but I think it's gone now," Bruce says, and *bites* Tom's throat --

"God. I -- fuck? I don't think I've *ever* cursed as much as I have in the last few days, Bruce --"

"It's wonderfully arousing. Even though it makes me think our mother would've been disappointed."

Tom laughs again, low and almost purred. "Bruce, I think -- our mother would be unhappy about a number of things."

Bruce hums and kisses his way back to Tom's mouth, and then holds himself there for a long moment. The kiss is only a little wet, and *mostly* close-mouthed, and it feels exactly like what Bruce has always thought of as how people in love should kiss when they weren't in the process of making love.

Granted, much of that sentence led to very murky and dim places in his mind, but Tom has been shining a light on all of them, and --

And Bruce pulls back. "I'm not entirely deluded. I know that this wouldn't *work* if our parents were still alive, and maybe... I don't know, maybe we wouldn't *want* to if they were still alive. But I also think they wanted us to be happy."

"Bruce... there's so much *to* this we'll never be able to share."

"Except with each other, and... perhaps that shouldn't make it *more* attractive, but it does. I've needed you since long before I knew even the *shape* of that need, Tom."

And Tom is still frowning, but he nods, and he licks his lips, and he pushes Bruce's hand from his penis so gently that Bruce *knows* the touch will be invited back. Then Tom turns over onto his back, and -- there.

It's not very neat, but the skin at the base of Tom's spine is lightly bruised, and when he touches Tom there --

Tom moans and shifts -- and grinds against the sheets. He could watch that for *hours*, he thinks, and oh, there's a slight difference in *texture* to the flesh there, and Bruce remembers reading about contusions, but the clinical facts of them are meaningless when held up against Tom's sounds and movements.

He's so *beautiful*, and he's sensitive enough here -- *more* sensitive today, it seems -- that Bruce feels like he could do anything.

He settles for licking Tom there, and pressing against the bruises with his tongue until Tom shivers and pushes up against Bruce's mouth. Just -- *how* could this be wrong? They love each other. They *need* each other, and can give each other pleasure effortlessly.

"Brother," Bruce whispers against Tom's skin, and shifts until he can hold Tom's hips and squeeze --

Tom hisses, *tenses* --


"Ah... I think you bruised my hips a little."

"Oh. I. I think I just got harder, Tom."

Tom laughs and pushes up enough to look back over his shoulder. "For marking me or for *hurting* me?"

Put that way... Bruce winces. "I think... um. There's an emotional component. A part of me really wants your Bruce to *know* that you've been with someone else, that you loved someone else -- loved *me* enough to *let* me mark you."

Tom's smile is sharp and more than a little pleased. "Noted. I don't suppose you'd let me --"

"Anywhere. You could... um. *Were* you asking if you could mark me?"

Tom laughs again. "I really was. I... I want to hold on to this, Bruce. Every moment," and Tom turns over onto his back again -- careful not to dislodge Bruce's hands -- and spreads his legs. "Touch my sac?"

Something they haven't *done* yet, and... oh. Warm and so soft, lightly fuzzed with hair... "You feel wonderful in my hand."

"Yes, I really do," and Tom sits up, holding his penis up out of the way so that he can stroke Bruce's hand. "Just looking at you holding me like that..."

"Should I... sometimes I squeeze myself here."

Tom raises an eyebrow and looks very, very wry. "You may have noticed that I like... a rougher touch a lot of the time."

Bruce squeezes and Tom *sighs*, closing his eyes and smiling.

"Do it... ah. Rhythmically?"

Bruce licks his lips and follows orders, and it doesn't take long before the smile becomes something with a lot more concentration behind it and Tom starts stroking himself.

"You... Bruce, I feel so *comfortable* with you."

"Is that so strange?"

Tom opens his eyes again, searching him -- "Ah... for *this*?"

Well, all right. "I suppose you have a point, Tom, but... I think we should be comfortable with each other for everything. Maybe more so than... other brothers."

"Partners," Tom says, and purses his lips slightly as he strokes over the head of his penis with his thumb. "Bruce... what do *you* want?"

"More. I think -- I think that answer will always be the same."

Tom nods and spreads his legs *wider*, pulling his knees up and planting his feet --

"Beautiful. So --" Bruce shakes his head and strokes Tom's thigh with his free hand, squeezes it and tries the scratch Tom had used on him --

Tom jumps and makes a high-pitched noise -- "I -- I think I'm too ticklish for that."

Bruce nods and tries to soothe the skin, instead, and gets a little lost in the smooth lack of hair on Tom's inner thighs. It's perfectly reasonable and natural, but it still *drives* Bruce a little, and makes him want... something.


"Do you have any idea why I would find your lack of hair here so compelling?"

Tom raises both eyebrows and blinks. "Um... hm. Maybe the androgyny?"

"I..." Bruce frowns. "I don't think I want you to be a girl, Tom. I mean, I'm sure you'd look very attractive --"

"Certainly, it could help you feel more... normal, Bruce."

Bruce shakes his head again. "I don't think... you wouldn't look like *you*, as opposed to some girl I didn't know."

Tom reaches down with *his* free hand to cover the hand Bruce has on Tom's scrotum. "You didn't know *me* a week ago."

"I know you *now*, and that's what's important," Bruce says, and squeezes Tom a little bit harder --

"Nn -- oh. Like that, please. And -- androgyny isn't necessarily about me *being* female, as opposed to me *looking* female while still having... ah. All my standard accessories?"

Tom is smiling again, eyes heavy-lidded with arousal as he strokes, as he *rides* Bruce's squeezes -- "You... do you mean makeup? Like... sometimes Lex tries to get away with wearing eyeliner. The gym teacher made him run an extra mile."

Tom's expression kind of *quirks*, and... hm.

"Your Lex isn't like that."

"Not... ah. Particularly. I suppose he's a fan of... glam rock?"

"Is that what it's called? I could name the composers our father liked, and I remember what radio station our mother liked, but neither of those help with what music is popular *now*."

Tom nods. "It's true. And... I'm not really all that well-versed on music myself -- we're getting afield, again --"

"I really don't mind. I'd be happy to just keep speaking with you for... well. As long as you liked."

Tom's smile manages to be both fond and a little deadly. "My penis has opinions on that."

And Bruce looks... Tom is stroking himself faster and a little harder, and he has leaked enough pre-come that the entire shaft is slick and... very tempting. 

"I... vastly enjoy seeing that expression on your face, Bruce. It narrows my focus with great and moderately terrifying vigor."

"I..." He doesn't think he has to ask before leaning in and taking Tom into his mouth again, and so he doesn't --

"Oh, that looks. That *feels* -- heh. Just keep squeezing me, Bruce, and suck the head, and -- oh, *watch* me fall at your feet," and Tom pushes his free hand into Bruce's hair.

Bruce hums and sucks, squeezing a little faster and trying to fight back the urge to work his head on Tom's penis at the same speed he's using *to* squeeze. That would be uncomfortable for him, and it would make it difficult not to use --

Oh. A rougher touch. Not the *head*, but once Tom moves his hand enough that Bruce can get his lips further down the shaft, Bruce bares his teeth --

"Oh, *fuck* me, Bruce -- hell. The things you make me *say* --"

Bruce shakes his head --

"*Don't* deny it. I... I have no idea which of us has control of this from moment to moment, but -- nn. You have to know that I would've *denied* this -- oh, *fuck*, yes --"

And Bruce *would've* thought that was squeezing too hard, but Tom --

"God, I didn't mean *now*. I -- there's nothing I can -- I want -- *oh* --"

Tom and all of those *scars*, and while some of them are innocent, *many* of them aren't. They must make their Alfred worry all the *time* --

Oh. Oh -- the image is *terrible*, but there's something *about* the idea of staring at Tom with some new wound, about the thought of leaning in to press his mouth to it, kiss it and taste --

He wants too *much*, and perhaps this is where the wrong comes in. Perhaps once one has gone beyond the pale, there is nothing to stop the mind or the heart from going even further, but --

*Does* Tom understand when Bruce says there's nothing he doesn't want?

"God, *Bruce*, I -- you're making me sweat, making me so hard it *hurts*, though -- I suppose that *could* be -- ah. Just your *hand* --"

Does he dare find out? It's not that he wants to purposefully wound Tom, or be wounded himself. It's just that a part of him wants that desire acknowledged between them, discussed and understood -- even if the only understanding reached is that neither of them *do* understand --

"Please don't *stop*, Bruce. Please -- oh, suck me, *suck* me --"

How much *is* Tom willing to ascribe to the strangeness and power of human sexuality? And -- how much of *this* is just another way Bruce's mind is *balking* at the fact that he must lose Tom someday -- and it *will* be too soon, no matter when it happens to be --

Tom moans wordlessly, petting Bruce's hair and thrusting -- *short* strokes because he's sitting up, or possibly because he has just that much control.

And control is so important to Tom, so... is *that* why the Bat has been getting quieter and quieter? Tom is a *good* example, if Bruce can only follow, if --

Oh, Tom is *flexing* in Bruce's mouth, leaking on Bruce's tongue as Bruce sucks and keeps squeezing, keeps *taking*, and --

A part of Bruce wants to make Tom lose consciousness, but *only* for the sake of being able to watch Tom sleep in this bed. To be able to watch that, to have the chance to cover Tom, hold on so *tightly* --

"*Bruce* --"

And Tom thrusts *hard* and starts shuddering the moment before he comes in Bruce's mouth, splashing the back of his throat again, and then coating Bruce's tongue in slick, salty-sweet heat. Bruce hums and Tom *grunts*, tightening his grip in Bruce's hair --

Pulling --

Letting go and starting to pant and almost croon with every exhale. Bruce swallows and sucks carefully lightly --

"Nn -- no, stop, I --"

Not enough. Bruce pulls off, and -- not *enough*. Bruce licks his way up over Tom's abdomen and chest, grips Tom's shoulders and pushes him down onto his back --

"*Yes*, Bruce --"

The kiss is wet, messy and awkward until Bruce can settle his weight over Tom, until --

"Oh, you shouldn't feel so *good* -- *mmm* --"

Tom humming into his mouth, *licking* into Bruce's mouth, and Bruce wants to keep Tom's semen to himself, but he has to admit that Tom's tongue feels perfect, and that it's even more perfect than that to suck Tom's semen *from* his tongue --

And then Tom wraps his legs around Bruce's waist and squeezes *tightly*, urging --

Oh, this, the rubbing, and perhaps there's a better word for it -- surely there'd have to be for something that feels this *good*? Bruce moans into Tom's mouth and thrusts against Tom's abdomen, learning the ridges of muscle and the sleekness of the skin with his penis. It feels --

The *motion* of it --

Bruce isn't *sure*, but he suspects that it's making him want to be inside Tom even as it seems to ease every want he *has*.

Tom wraps his arms around Bruce's neck and keeps kissing, keeps -- oh, he's using his legs to urge Bruce to thrust harder, *faster* --

Bruce pulls out of the kiss and pants, stares down at Tom's narrow-eyed satisfaction, satiation --

"Just give in to it, Bruce. It's --"

"*You* don't surrender to -- Tom, you --"

"Don't I? There's never any *choice*, Bruce. There's only you, and the way everything you do or say, everything you *are* makes me want more of this --"

"I wish -- I want that to make you *happy*, Tom --"

"Then kiss me again, make me stop *thinking* -- and please don't *stop*."

He won't. He can't, and perhaps it *is* the same as the way Tom is holding him so tightly even though this is hurting him somewhere Bruce can't *touch*. He moans into Tom's mouth and Tom holds him even more tightly, arches up to increase the contact between them and sucks Bruce's tongue.

His eyes are squeezed shut and his body is so *tense*, and Bruce wonders -- no.

Bruce realizes that part of the problem is that *Tom* is wondering if he's going too far, and that there *must* be things -- acts and fantasies and images -- in Tom's mind that he doubts Bruce will enjoy or accept, and --

*Tom*. Bruce breaks the kiss --

"Bruce, no --"

"*Yes*, Tom. I want everything, absolutely *everything*. You don't have to be afraid, or -- or angry at yourself, or anything *like* that --"

Tom whimpers and rears up to take Bruce's mouth again, to kiss and *silence* Bruce.

Bruce bites Tom's lip *hard*, flexing at Tom's yelp and thrusting *faster* before he lets go. "It's *all right* --"

"You don't -- Bruce, you don't *know* --"

"I know *enough*," Bruce says, and braces himself on one arm so he can cup Tom's cheek with the other. "There's *nothing* we can't have together, Tom, nothing we can't *be*."

"B-Bruce. Brother -- oh, I love you so *much* --"

"I *know*. I can feel it when you look at me, the way you -- you touch, oh, Tom, let me *have* you --"

Tom groans and -- whispers, too low to be understood under the creak of the bed and Bruce's own panting --


"Yours. I -- please come, please come on me --"

Yours. *His*, and it feels like something is coming loose in Bruce's mind, feels like he's *losing* something important -- but only to the person he was *without* Tom. Bruce smiles and *thrusts* through the shaking, through the pressure and *pleasure* --

"*Yours*, Bruce --"

"*Yours*," and it comes out a cracked and desperate shout, and he almost can't feel the pleasure through the *happiness*, the sense of *right* --

And then it's the only thing he *can* feel.

Tom --

*Tom* --

And the only thing that comes out when he opens his mouth is noise, and Tom is *slick* with Bruce's semen, and he can't *stop* --

Tom rears up again and *takes* another kiss, and -- oh, one last *jet* of ejaculate --

Bruce collapses on Tom, smearing the kiss over Tom's cheek, and Tom is biting *Bruce's* cheek, and Bruce needs to *breathe*, but mostly he needs to stay right where he is, held close and --



The rest of the week moves too quickly, and...

Tim had honestly always believed that, given this sort of situation, time would pass *slowly* until such time as the basic space-time error was *corrected*. Certainly that had been the case for much of the time he'd spent age-switched with Bruce, and time had seemed to *crawl* in the Titans Tower belonging to those Titans Tim really doesn't like to *think* about.

But this...

They eat breakfast, they train, they eat lunch, they train more, they eat dinner and run, and Tim keeps going when Bruce can't, and uses the camera around his favorite parts of the grounds. They work on and in the Cave... and then there's a moment when Tim can't stand any more, when Tom gazes upon his beautiful brother and loses all sense of internal *cohesion*.

They make love, always starting in the Cave and always making their way back to the manor and from there to Bruce's bed. *Tom* already thinks of it as *their* bed, and had confessed that in a moment of coital desperation that had made Bruce bite the join of Tim's neck and shoulder hard enough to leave a mark. And really, Tim has *issues* with the standard collars in this era, but at least they provide maximum coverage.

He still thinks Alfred must know...

Well, Alfred *has* to know some variety of everything -- he's *Alfred* -- but Tim's working theory of the moment is that he's going with the idea that 'boys will experiment' and leaving it at that for as long as Bruce and Tom are at least a little subtle about things.

Appearances matter, and maybe this is how it had worked -- will work? -- when Jason had come along, though, considering that one particular photograph Tim had gotten with the two of them on the roof of the -- currently non-existent -- Consolidated Bank building, they couldn't have been all *that* subtle.

Tim doesn't know, and while he's a little too close to the issue to go with the fact that he doesn't *want* to know...

He doesn't want to know.

It's a *kind* of enough that Alfred has neither been cold nor especially distant with either of them, and has been acquiring things like mats and barriers for the Cave. Tim has been able to teach Bruce some basic grappling moves, as well as a couple of throws.

Bruce has been somewhat weak on the latter -- for *Bruce*, and that really *isn't* a definition of 'weak' that could work for *anyone* else -- but Tim suspects that has more to do with the fact that he doesn't want to risk hurting Tom than with anything else.

He makes a note to go over the art of falling more assiduously, and... it's New Year's Eve.

It's a long enough drive to Exeter that they'll be taking the drive tomorrow -- even though classes don't begin until the third -- and Tom should want to do something special. There's no way in *hell* either Tom *or* Bruce should want to go into the city to watch Gotham's gaudily-lighted 'pearl' drop, but... something.

Tim had spent the New Year's before last with a Dick who was desperately trying to pretend he wouldn't have preferred being with Barbara -- brotherly triage, and Steph had understood -- and they'd watched bad movies and eaten good pizza. The tickle-fight had ended with them breaking one of the couch's supports and spilling sparkling grape juice all over Dick's area rug, and thinking about that...

A part of Tim is pointlessly, hopelessly, and perhaps even paradoxically homesick. Somewhere, Dick is still a few months from being born, and Barbara is a child living with her mother for just another year or two before tragedy will strike. Steph's parents haven't met, and Cassandra's father probably hasn't met whoever her mother is, either. He's *lost* in time, for all that he's comfortable and exceedingly well-fed --


Bruce's hand is warm on Tim's own, light and brotherly in respect of the fact that they're in the small dining room. Even his eyes don't send any messages beyond deep love and generalized worry, and...

Has he taught Bruce that by example? Is it an instinct that Bruce simply hadn't had cause to use before being blindsided by his sexuality?

"I'm all right, Bruce. I was just --"

"Thinking about your home," Bruce says, and squeezes Tim's hand. "Was there ever something special you did for New Year's that we could do here?"

He'd only ever spent *one* New Year's with Steph, and they had spent the night running over rooftops and beating up the -- almost universally -- inebriated criminal class. They'd kissed at eleven fifty-nine, and *kept* kissing until twelve oh seven, when Oracle had sent them after a drunken armed robber.

"I'd really like to... you know that I want to make things as good for you as I can," Bruce says, and his tone is a little heavier than, perhaps, it should be for brothers. A little more troubled.

Tom would do anything to *ease* that, and Tim can't help but agree with that sentiment. "Sorry, I was -- thinking about Steph, too."

Bruce nods and -- his mask is slipping rather a *lot*, because he isn't blinking.

Tom knows that look means 'I love you more than anything.' Tim knows it *also* means 'I never want to lose you, and perhaps if I just stop blinking entirely you won't be able to go.' In another part of the manor -- or deep within the Cave -- it would be a good time to move closer to Bruce, to, perhaps, wrap his arms around Bruce's neck or even something simpler, like lifting Bruce's hand to his face.

Here, he settles for squeezing back and holding Bruce's gaze for a long as he can stand it -- the warmth, the *love*, and it's *not* so different from looking at Dick, but Dick is quicksilver, and could never stay this solidly *present*. Not for this long.

"Bruce... we *should* do something, but I'm not sure what would feel right, as opposed to just... doing something for the sake of doing it."

Another nod, and... really. What he *won't* say: Bruce, sometime in the next ten years you're going to learn how to use that stare to make people piss themselves in terror, and *need* to tell you everything they know. The fact that you're using it now to tell me that you love me is thus something I find problematic, but that doesn't mean you should stop.

*Thinking* it... is enough to make Tim laugh, a little, and *that* makes Bruce's expression shift to something like grateful curiosity. "No one stares like *you*, Bruce."

"I... usually you don't mind. And I like looking at you."

"I still don't mind. Though... ah?"

Bruce smiles. "I have a much better view of Alfred's potential points of entry than you do. And you should finish your lunch."

Bruce really does and Tim really should -- especially since Alfred has started providing Tim-sized portions.

Tim *and* Tom know that Bruce wants to watch him eat, so he does -- using his left hand so Bruce can keep holding the right.

Approximately eight seconds after Tim dabs at his mouth for the last time -- and three seconds after Bruce moves his hand -- Alfred walks in to take the dishes, and --

He has changed into a truly spectacular tuxedo. Even with the apron over it, it's kind of fantastic, and about ninety-eight percent of that is the way Alfred is wearing it. He moves like he was born to wearing things like that, and even though Tim has seen it before, he still can't put his finger on what exactly it *is* -- beyond the fact that 'Master Bruce' or 'Master Tom' would sound odd coming out of him at the moment.

"Have the two of you decided how you wish to spend your evening?"

And yes, the 'because I know exactly how I'm going to spend *mine*' is perfectly audible. Bruce looks to him, and Tim smiles ruefully. "I think a quiet night at home would be best."

Alfred hums and adjusts the towel over his arm. "As you say, young sir. One does hope you'll keep in mind that the cave is *not* your home."

Neither is this. "Ah... noted," Tim says, and Bruce nods beside him. "Will you be escorting Leslie to a show?"

"Yes, and a small gathering to follow. I will be sure to give her... Bruce's regards," Alfred says, and blinks twice before recovering with staggering aplomb. "As to your difficulty, young sir," and Alfred is *very* much focused on Tim, "I have yet to receive word from any of my contacts."

Tim nods and doesn't let himself frown too much.

Alfred inclines his head as if he sees it anyway. "Rest assured that, should you be in school when news *does* come, I will be there to escort both of you home for the sake of a 'family emergency.'"

"Thank you, Alfred," Tim says, and tries not to let Bruce's palpable tension affect him too badly --

And Alfred's focus is *entirely* on Bruce for a long moment, and Tim knows that Bruce isn't feeling it, at all.

Tom would shake Bruce's shoulder a little, would *chivvy* his brother out of his doldrums... except that Tom has to be at least as conflicted as Tim is, and Tim can't imagine doing anything of the kind.

Alfred *doesn't* frown at either of them with anything but his silence, and as that silence grows... it's very *much* a space which Alfred could use to say something discreetly ambiguous about Bruce and Tom's increasingly problematic relationship -- especially once Bruce looks down at the table and clenches his jaw.

Bruce isn't *actually* grinding his teeth, but the possibility is there, and there's no way in hell Tom should be able to continue meeting Alfred's eyes. Tim turns away -- and *toward* Bruce.

Alfred's sigh is deep, heartfelt, and a kind of victory for all of them at once -- albeit not one they'd necessarily want anything to do with. It doesn't do Alfred any good to know that Bruce and Tom are still capable of feeling fear and shame, and it doesn't do Bruce or Tom any good to know that Alfred pities them enough to -- mostly -- leave them to themselves.

And the part of him which really *is* Tom -- no. All of him is whispering fervently about the fact that, in the *short* term, Alfred's resigned sigh does both him and Bruce a great *deal* of good. The whole night, the whole manor, and everything they feel --

"As I will not see either of you before midnight, I wish you both the most joyous new year," Alfred says.

"Thank you, Alfred," Bruce *grits* --

"And to you, as well," Tim says, and forces himself to wait until Alfred is gone before resting his hand on Bruce's thigh.

Bruce shudders and covers Tim's hand with his own. "It's difficult. On a number of levels."


"The Bat..." Bruce sighs and looks up -- into the distance. He's concentrating hard, and his jaw is still tense.

"I'm listening."

"Stay with me, Tom. I -- Alfred and I -- we'll make sure that there's nothing you ever need, or want. I'll *make* Alfred see that it's necessary, that all of it is. You'll never have to push me, and when we argue I'll give you all the space you need --"

"Bruce --"

But when Bruce turns to look at him, there's nothing Tim can think to say, or do.

He shakes his head.

Bruce smiles ruefully. "I know. But I'm... an idealist? A dreamer. You're the best dream I've ever had."

And that -- hurts. More than it should? No -- *exactly* as much as it should, and... "Come with me? To -- to the roof, I mean."

"I know. Rather -- I knew that you didn't mean --" Bruce squeezes Tim's hand. "The roof?"

Surprise and curiosity in Bruce's voice is a lot better than the hurt they've been *sharing* -- Tim stands up and offers Bruce his hand.

And when Bruce takes it, his hand is warm and dry and gentle around Tim's own. Maybe a little too gentle. Tim squeezes, because Tom wants his brother *with* him -- because he can, and Bruce smiles at him. "Lead the way."

They head up to the attic, and Tim remembers *belatedly* that this is the attic with many of Martha Wayne's belongings, but the only thing that makes Bruce pause is a sheeted bust Tim isn't familiar with.

He tugs off the sheet... it's Martha Wayne, looking like she should be on a coin, or at least a larger, more *aggressive* statue. Tim blinks at it a *little* -- Bruce sees him do it. "Ah --"

"You're not familiar with this. I barely remember the two days it was in the east library. Perhaps it didn't exist in your world?"

Oh, Bruce. You really shouldn't be *making this easier for me* -- Tim shakes his head.

"Our father commissioned it from a local sculptor who died of a heroin overdose not long after he finished this. Mother *hated* it. She said it made her feel like she should be dead, or at least, hmm... 'dying picturesquely.'

Tim snorts. "That sounds like her."

"I... always feel guilty for liking it better than the photographs."

"You shouldn't. It's... well, it's three-dimensional. With the light on, you can really see how the shadows would fall on her face."

Bruce nods and brushes his fingers over the bust's cheek. "She should be looking down, though. Seeing -- us."

Tim curls his fingers around Bruce's hand and tugs it away from the bust. "She'd be looking up at you now."

"I can't imagine it. I... can you? Perhaps eye to eye would be easier?"

Tim smiles wryly. "No, it's not. I --" Your mother and mine were of a height, but she should always be taller, too -- "Perhaps we should have Alfred put it atop one of the bookshelves."

"But she --"

"Would understand, I think," Tim says, and wonders what it would've been like to have pictures of his mother around -- as opposed to quietly hoarded in his father's bedroom. How had Dana put up with that, exactly...? He shakes his head. "She's important to -- us, Bruce. And... I don't know how it worked here, but in my universe she wasn't especially partial to the portrait." At least, Tim thinks she *wouldn't* have been, given what he knows...

Bruce frowns. "That's different. Father is with her, and *he* thought the portrait helped to chase away old ghosts."

And that would be *exactly* how he'd said it. "Maybe. But I think it's important that we both remember them exactly as they were and *live* with those memories. Letting them stagnate -- letting this *place* stagnate -- would, I think, be far more of an insult to them than simply having art they wouldn't have cared for."

And Bruce stares at him for a long moment, long enough for Tim to wonder if he'd *finally* said something that made Bruce guess something like the truth, and... there's a kind of lethargic relief to that thought. A sense of 'finally', or perhaps of Atlas shrugging --

He bets Martha Wayne really *hated* Ayn Rand, and he's not going to let that thought make him laugh in an attic full of the woman's belongings --

"The way you handle grief..." And Bruce twists his hand out of Tim's grip and reaches to stroke *Tim's* face.

Tim raises an eyebrow.

"It's as though it's simply a part of everyday life to you, Tom. As if it's normal and something... well, to be *lived* with, as opposed to around or through. I'm not sure I'm expressing that the way I want to."

Bruce, when I was three years old, I fell in love with the most beautiful boy in the world, and then, a few hours later, my heart broke with his when I watched his parents' blood soak into sawdust. "Grief *is* a part of our everyday lives, Bruce. It -- there's no escaping it, and so it would be ridiculous and kind of pathetic to pretend otherwise. Grief *made* us -- I'm just saying that it doesn't have to *break* us, too."

Bruce takes a deep breath and nods. "I think... I think I'll try to remember that."

And will 'try' be the operative word, Bruce...? "Good," he says and turns his face until he can kiss Bruce's palm.

"Oh." Bruce smiles. "I like that."

"Yes...?" Tim does it again, letting it linger this time --


Tim closes his eyes and touches his tongue to Bruce's palm, tasting salt -- Bruce's hand spasms and he moans, steps closer --

Which is how Tim finds himself making out with Bruce under Martha Wayne's blind and beautifully sculpted eyes. Well, next to them, in any event, and -- he's really not thinking about her as he wraps his arms around Bruce's neck --

Except for how he is, because he *knows* Bruce looks for signs of her in Tim's features, and perhaps in the ways he moves. He's never been so grateful that Thomas Wayne and Jack Drake shared a basic type, and that he *looks* so much like *his* mother --

No, just Bruce, and his strong hands on Tim's hips, his mouth on Tim's own, his eyes -- closed when Tim looks, and oh, God, how is he supposed to give this up?

The answer, of course, is the same way he's sacrificed other parts of his life, but he's never *truly* had to give up *love*. God, even when Bruce was being an asshole about *other* things he never tried to take Steph away from him.

When she'd gone, she'd gone because it was what *she* wanted, and -- she was *Robin*, and that means that she was never really gone, at all, for all that he couldn't touch her --

Bruce pulls back. "Tom?"

"I know. I -- I was thinking about Steph again."

Bruce nods. "Loss. If you ever... I always want to listen to you talking about her."

Tim smiles and leans in enough to nuzzle Bruce's mouth, breathe his breath --

"Or... anything else," Bruce says, and squeezes Tim's hips hard enough that Tim feels himself stiffening up in the best possible way.

"I love you," he says, because he can, and twists out of Bruce's grip. "This way."

The window is a little dusty -- the same as it had been when Dick had first shown it to him. Dick's hair had been a little lank from sweat, and he'd smelled like the Batsuit, all armor and no *give* --

But he'd been smiling like he was sharing the best secret in the world, and Tim would've followed him off the Sprang. Tim opens the window and... there. The interesting thing is that the branch is *closer* to the window than it is in his time. At some point between then and now, pruning occurs. Now, though... "We should really have gloves with a good grip, but..." Tim leaps up onto the ledge, and steps -- carefully -- out onto the branch.

He's *expecting* Bruce to protest, but the expression on his face is pure concentration. Tim knows he was moving slowly enough for Bruce to pick up every movement, but he moves slower still, edging to the thicker parts of the branch and, after checking to make *sure* Bruce is taking in his whole body, moves to the next higher branch. And beckons.

And nearly gives himself a heart attack when Bruce gets up onto the ledge, because Bruce *isn't* wearing trainers --

"*Wait* --"

Bruce pauses and Tim takes a breath.

"Your shoes are all wrong. Take them off. And the socks, too."

"It's a little cold for that --"

"And I'd rather not be responsible for turning you into a colorful splotch on the grounds."

Bruce nods and turns in the window, giving Tim his back and presumably removing his shoes and socks. Tim gives himself over, a little, to the spring in the branch and the greys of the world. It's going to snow again tonight, making things extra exciting for the people who'll be partying and generally making hash out of their inhibitions.

There'll be no Batman to save them from themselves for another night, and Tim has to wonder, again, if he's doing this the right way. He has neither uniform nor supplies, but Dick had gone up against the Joker in interestingly colorful pajamas. With no *pants*.

The Joker -- doesn't exist yet. Or is just a young man like Bruce, deeply troubled but generally on *no one's* radar. Could he find him? Guide him toward a decent therapist?

With his luck, he'd wind up sending the kid to whoever had mentored *Strange* -- and Bruce is crouched in the window and watching for his signal.

Tim nods and watches Bruce move precisely as though Tim had *taught* him how to do it. Which... he's Bruce. Tim *had*, just by doing. And when Bruce has his balance on the branch, he looks up with a mild frown on his face. "Yes?"

"I feel as though I ought to have been climbing trees when I was younger. Instead of finger-painting."

He was *right* about the finger-painting? "Ah... finger-painting is a fine and wonderful art form. You were walking in the footsteps of our distant ancestors."

"Mm. And now I'm in yours," Bruce says, and bounces a little. The creak is only ominous because, unlike Dick, Tim sometimes wonders what the *hell* he's doing.

"Watch," he says, and climbs up to the next branch, and walks from it onto the roof.

Bruce follows easily, and doesn't pause before taking Tim into his arms again. The kiss is slow and easy, and feeling the wind in his hair --

The precise *sort* of wind that Tim has only ever felt on rooftops --

A part of him is listening for the grating whisper of his gauntlets against kevlar and nomex, for the entirely different creak of armor moving against armor...

Except that he'd be leaning back much farther, and also be up on his toes --

And he wouldn't be able to see the way Bruce's lashes lie in a sweep on his cheeks, and he certainly wouldn't be able to moan this way when Bruce slips his tongue into Tim's mouth --

This wouldn't *happen*, and so in some ways giving in to this is only reasonable. There's no way to see this part of the roof without being exposed to Tim's view on the grounds, and there is, perhaps, no one in this *time* with a better claim to this than he has.

He's been loving, friendly, and has given every appearance of being open. He --

He *needs* this, and some part of him always has. All those nights in his room in the manor, in his room in the house next door, in other rooms and other *beds* --

And the memory of Bruce pulling him close during No Man's Land has no place here save for what he allows: an entirely wonderful sense of doubling as Bruce almost *crushes* Tim against his body, as he makes love to Tim's mouth with his own --

As he stops and... frowns? "Bruce...?"

"Ah... my feet are cold."

Logistics, his mortal enemy. Tim grins and walks them further onto the roof, not letting go of Bruce's hand until he sits down. "It'll be easier on them this way."

Bruce immediately sits down next to him and starts looking around. "Is it the view you like?"

"The view, the privacy, the fact that... well, one day, we're going to spend a lot of *time* on rooftops, and moving from one to the next."

"Practicality or... the Bat sometimes speaks of the necessity of *fear*."

Your own or others'...? "There's... I think there'll be something to be said for being able to leap in from above, to *pounce* on our targets and hopefully make them do terrible things to their underwear out of terror..."

Bruce laughs and blushes, and Tim bumps him with his shoulder.

"Anyway, it also *would* be just practical. Gotham is a *crowded* city, not planned out neatly like, say, Washington D.C."

"It's... hm. Almost European in that respect."

"Precisely," Tim says, and leans over enough to rub at Bruce's pale feet --

"Oh, you don't have to --"

"I *did* bring us up here. Anyway, the *only* way to get good, workable three-sixty views of the sort we'll need is from above. So we might as well get used to rooftops now."

Bruce hums and wiggles his toes. "Do you do this often with your Bruce?"

One day, Bruce, you will grow up and give me a foot rub that leaves me with an erection I'll be able to pound nails with, and it's only the need for some degree of subtlety that's keeping me from returning the favor. "Ah... which?" And Tim deliberately hits a pressure point too firmly --

"Oh, not there -- or. Not like that --"

"Sorry," Tim says. "My Bruce and I are still learning how to touch each other therapeutically."

"Does it make you... hard?"

"Often. I'm pretty sure my Bruce thinks that I just haven't gotten past that stage of adolescence, yet."

"You really should... I *want* you to have someone when you go home, Tom. To -- I couldn't stand it if you were alone, too."

Tim closes his eyes and sits up, and -- he can't stop himself from reaching blindly for Bruce, from touching Bruce's face and learning it that way, from --

There's no grey in the hair he's currently gripping, and no lines around the mouth he's nuzzling for --

And there's no *good* reason to push Bruce down onto his back and --

Bruce grips Tim's shoulders and holds him away from himself.

"Ah... no?" Tim opens his eyes again --

"That. I needed -- you were thinking about your Bruce."

Tim winces. "I'm sorry. I... sometimes the two of you are the same, and I can't help imagining being with *him*. It -- hm," Tim says, and stops trying to get closer. "*Why* haven't you invited Harvey over during this vacation? He *is* home in Gotham, isn't he?"

Bruce blinks. "I believe so. But... I... do you really think I *should* invite him over?"

Out of the hell-hole he's currently living in with his drunken asshole of a father? "The two of you are *friends*, Bruce. I... he probably would've appreciated it. I didn't think of it before, but..." Tim smiles ruefully. "I've been monopolizing your time."

Bruce raises an eyebrow. "I suppose that's one way to put it, Tom, but it seems to imply that I have a *problem* with that behavior."

Tim laughs and feels himself blushing... he really hasn't been doing that often enough, considering who he's supposed to be. "I -- even my Bruce and I only train *sometimes*, Bruce. You *should* invite him over more often, and go to see him, and... all right, so part of me is only bringing this up to distract from *me* being distracted, but... I'm still right. Trust me."

"There's no one I trust more," Bruce says, and tugs on Tim's shoulders until Tim can rest most of his weight on him. "I... I bought him a present. I hope he likes it."

"You gave *me* a great present, and you got something wonderful for Alfred, too. He *should* like it -- whatever it is -- because you got it for him. It's... I can't imagine him not liking the fact that you were thinking about him," Tim says, and cuddles closer.

Dick had been all but *knotted* around Tim when he'd convinced Tim to lie down, and that was when Tim had learned Dick's scent for good and all. Even now, he can call up its exact nuances, and the memory of the way he hadn't been able to keep from flaring his nostrils.

Here, with Bruce... it's a little too cold and windy for Tim to pick up the subtleties of Bruce's scent, as opposed to the raw and basic fact of it, and -- he's focusing. "If you're worried about how he'll react to it, you can always leave it on his desk sometime when you know you won't be back until *after* he sees it."

"That doesn't seem too... cowardly?"

I have a closet full of gifts I've been too scared to give. I -- "In my closet, at home, there are two presents I never gave Steph, because I was afraid that she was still angry at me after our fight --"

("You chickenshit *bastard*! How *dare* you give Robin up? What gives you the *right*?")

Tim shakes his head. "Now she'll never have them, even though I *could've* just gone to her home and left them at her door," he says, and strokes Bruce's chest. "There's a difference between fear that cripples you and fear that still allows you to be *whole*, or that lets you still do the things which need to be done, I think." 

Bruce nods and rests a hand -- lightly -- over Tim's moving one. He doesn't guide it or hold it still, and Tom knows that he's just enjoying this touch. *Tim* knows that it's something else there'll be a reckoning for, in one way or another. Bruce has never forgotten one of Tim's birthdays, though he'd done an excellent job of pretending to do just that for his sixteenth.

It had been another -- smaller -- test, this one of trust, or perhaps just Bruce's way of showing Tim that Tim was *capable* of mistrusting even those people who were closest to him. A prelude to the main event, as it were. Tim smiles to himself and surrenders to the need to be as close as possible to the boy who'll grow *into* that particular sort of ruthless bastard, given the right sort of pushes --

From him.

Maybe love shouldn't ever be a comfortable or sensible thing, for all that it's *natural* to the human condition. Perhaps the human soul accrued itself like pearl around an irritant of pure chaos, and thus is nothing that could exist *without* that chaos. It doesn't matter either way, though -- Tim will still always have to *try* to make it make sense, to work through his own psyche until he knows, once and for all, how he can have *this* Bruce and still want the other.

It would be an overt act of trading happiness for confusion and pain, of trading joy and satisfaction for an endless *winter* of frustration and unanswered need --

Friendship. Partnership. Family. His own *name* --

"I would've thought Christmas would be harder for you."

And yes, he *was* being obvious. Tim closes his eyes and squeezes Bruce. "I... there were other things to focus on then."

Bruce shifts until he can rest his still-warm hand on the back of Tim's neck. It makes Tim shiver, and *that* makes Bruce hold him more tightly -- "I want to tell you that I don't mind, but that's getting to be more and more of a lie."

"I understand, Bruce. And -- you have every right to feel that way --"

"Do I? You never miss an opportunity to encourage my *greed*, Tom, but I can't help feeling that it will make things more painful when you go."

Tim moves until he's braced up on one elbow and can see Bruce's face. To some, Tim realizes, Bruce would look expressionless, but there's just a hint of something Tom would, perhaps, think of as thoughtful concentration, but which Tim knows is that and carefully banked *hurt*. Tim sighs and moves his other hand from Bruce's chest to his face. "You have a point --"

"I was hoping you wouldn't say that."

"Hear me out," Tim says, and strokes Bruce's cheek. "I... in the future, we'll be risking our lives pretty much every night. There'll be no choice in the matter -- we'll *have* to do it, or else we'll be risking the lives of the people we need to *help*. But... there'll be times when we're home, resting and training and bandaging each other's wounds... well, there'll be *quiet* times, and --"

"You think we should take advantage of them to the fullest possible potential. That we should throw ourselves into our pleasures as much as we do into the *work*."

Tim nods. "That's exactly it. This... well, it's one long quiet time. And of course we *should* be training as fast and as hard as we can -- while still being careful -- but we should also be living in our own present. *Taking* what we can from each other and giving everything we can, as well --"

"Then stay with me, Tom. Don't --" Bruce laughs quietly, and the depth of it... even with everything else, there's still humor. "I was about to tell you to try to stop thinking," Bruce says, and sits up on his own elbows. His hair falls over his forehead a little and, when he laughs again, clouds of condensation mask his features before dissipating in the wind. "I..." Bruce turns and kisses Tim's palm, exactly the way Tim had kissed his own.

He does it again, and makes a soft sound, and then presses his tongue there, wet and warm and faintly ticklish, and -- "I must admit, that sort of thing is helpful in terms of stopping me from thinking of anyone but you."

And Bruce smiles, and presses that smile against Tim's hand -- and turns to face him again. "I don't really know any poetry, and I never felt that lack until just now."

Tim snorts. "You don't have to *woo* me, Bruce."

"Would it help?" And Bruce stands, one hand to his chest and the other lifted to the sky. He's mouthing... something?


"You should feel free to imagine your favorite love poem," Bruce says. "And I really hope it's not by Carl Sandburg. Or, if it is, it probably shouldn't involve war," and Bruce's expression becomes...

Exceedingly declamatory. If he was saying anything, it would be shouted into the teeth of the wind, defiant and some variety of pure --

Bruce drops -- far more gracefully than any relatively untrained sixteen year old should be able to manage -- to one knee, and turns to *beseech* Tim, silently and passionately. There's a light in his eyes that invites the laughter Tim *can't* hold back, and it just keeps growing as Tim runs out of *air*.

"*Bruce* --"

"My... ah. Darling?" And Bruce shuffles closer, still on one knee. "What may I do for you? I feel strongly that you should have stars for your hair. Baubles next to your beauty...?"

"Massive balls of burning *gas*, oh yes, *very* romantic," Tim says, and rolls up onto his own knees. "Perhaps something less... incendiary?"

"The moon, then, to seem tawny next to your perfect complexion."

"Where are you *getting* this stuff?"

"My English teacher says I'm quite well-read for a boy my age," Bruce says, as earnestly as *Clark* -- "But perhaps I haven't read the right things to win your heart. Perhaps... a *journey* to the stars, in a vast, sleek ship -- no more exquisitely designed than your body --"

"Oh -- God. I -- I think you're making me *cry*, Bruce. And not in the *good* way --"

And Bruce leans in and kisses Tim's eyes, one then the other, before leaning back and licking his lips. "Saltier than the seas, more... um. Piquant? Than... something?"

Tim gives up on speech and lets the laugh take him entirely. He can *feel* Bruce watching him, taking *this* -- and he wants to be able to give it freely, with no strings or difficult memories of the man Bruce *has* to grow into. Perhaps it's enough that, when Tim manages to open his eyes again, *this* Bruce is the only one he can see.

His smile is pleased -- *thrilled* -- and he's searching Tim as if the only thing he could ever want is more of Tim's amusement --

"I want to make you laugh like that every day."

"Mm. The imaginary poetry helps," Tim says and edges close enough to wrap his arms around Bruce's neck.

"I could find real poetry and read it very, very badly. I've been told that I read things aloud like I'm at a funeral. And then there's always that moment of silent, awkward realization."

Tim smiles and thinks about strangers, other teenagers telling him that he'd be great if he wasn't such a *drain*...  "I can't help but enjoy those."

"That's very mean, Tom."

Tim tilts his head to the side and kisses Bruce four times, light and quick. "I'm not a very nice person all the time."

Bruce cups Tim's hips. "Should I consider myself warned?"

When you honestly believe the worst thing I could ever do to you is *leave*? "Perhaps," Tim says and nuzzles until he can kiss Bruce's cheek -- slightly warmer than Tim's lips.

"Only perhaps?" And Bruce's shiver *must* be mostly due to the cold, but...

Tim kisses him again. "I do try to be a better person around my loved ones."

"Very rational. You excel at that," Bruce says, and lets go of Tim's hip to tug Tim's collar aside. "Oh... here," and he kisses the mark he'd left behind several times --

More times than Tim can honestly concentrate on counting. "Love is irrational."

"More so than taking orders and advice from voices no one else can hear?"

"Yes," Tim says, and pushes his hands into Bruce's hair, tugs him *closer* against Tim's throat. "So long as the orders and advice are rational in themselves."

Bruce hums and *sucks* at the mark --

"Oh --"

Bruce *stops* and just breathes again, warm and then cold and then warm again. "I never imagined a world in which I could joke about things like this."

"You never imagined a *partner*," and Tim moves back enough to be able to look Bruce in the eyes once Bruce lifts his head. "That's different, now."

"Everything is different. Better. Come inside with me?"

Tim had heard Alfred leave -- in one of the Benzes -- several minutes ago, and... and. "I did want to stay up here a little longer, but..." I've thus far managed to *avoid* having sex on a roof, and I think that's something worth continuing. Tim smiles. "Alfred would be very disappointed with me if I allowed you to get frostbite."

Bruce raises an eyebrow. "Mostly, I was thinking that I'd get significantly less graceful as I got colder, but yes, that, too."

Oh, it's *possible* that Bruce will eventually pick up on the fact that he's reminding Tim of a different Bruce entirely when he starts speaking like *Batman*, but for now --

For now, Tim is being kissed thoroughly, appreciated for his appreciation of practicality --

Held and lifted until he's up on his toes and pressed as close to Bruce as he can get. The warmth between them seems to feed on itself and grow, spreading itself *through* Tim until he isn't remotely sure of his shivers' provenance. Bruce doesn't let go so much as he begins to stroke -- The back of Tim's neck and his shoulders, Tim's obliques and his hips --

There is *nothing* in Tim's experience that has prepared him for being wanted this thoroughly, this *openly*. It's *exactly* as though, *once* given permission, Bruce has assumed it for good and all. And it doesn't matter that Tim knows it isn't *quite* like that --

God, Bruce's *hands*, and in some other world -- some *imaginary* world -- Tim could just walk them to the edge of the roof, take that half-second of free-fall and then they would swing into the attic together, rolling to their feet and then back down to the floor -- no, not that, because Bruce's kiss is getting more urgent, more *everything* --

Bruce has learned to *feel* when Tim isn't with him, and Tom always should be. Tom never thought he'd have anything like this, and Tom is greedy, helpless --

Tim is --

Tim moans and pulls Bruce's hair too hard --

Tim gets *bitten* and thrusts against Bruce's long, strong thigh, and now those hands are back on his ass, squeezing and lifting --

Tim pulls back. "Inside."

"Agreed," and Bruce steps back immediately, looking Tim over like a project, like something to be learned and known in every *possible* way --

"God, I *want* you, Bruce --"

"I'm yours," Bruce says, and nods toward the edge of the roof.

Right, he's thinking, and he's moving *slowly*, carefully. Nothing showy or fancy as he gets on the first branch and moves down to the next --

"Why do I get the feeling that you could do that much faster if you wanted to?"

"Because your observational skills are top-notch," Tim says, and perhaps he's too flushed to blush. "But I need to make sure you can do this the *right* way before we get too excitable."

"I find I rather enjoy being excitable," Bruce says, and moves onto the first branch.

"And I still enjoy *you* with all of your bones in the proper configuration," Tim says, and moves down to the third branch.

"I suppose I'll just have to imagine you moving the way you *can*," and Bruce moves to the second branch, curling his toes and leaning --

Just enough that Tim can arch up and take the kiss waiting for him. The world smells like shades of grey, the wind is a knife, Bruce's tongue is perfect and deadlier than anything else. He's *experimenting* with this kiss, moving beyond the ways Tim has kissed *him* to other sorts of things --

And Tim realizes, with a jolt that makes him groan, that the kisses he's been offering have *all* been teaching kisses, designed to show Bruce exactly how to drive Tim out of his mind --

Bruce pulls back and nods as if all of that was out loud. In the shadows of the branches, his eyes aren't visible as more than holes to a greater darkness. Something Tim has been falling into for -- years.

Tim crawls back in through the window and moves back to give Bruce space, forcing himself not to watch -- there. He straightens the sheet over the bust of Martha Wayne, and Bruce is there behind him before he's finished, arms wrapped around Tim's waist and mouth on Tim's neck.

"We don't have to stay in my bedroom."

"Would you prefer the *kitchen*?"

"The library has couches. The study has... very big chairs."

I'd like to ride you on one of those chairs, Bruce. I'd like for you to make me *beg* for it until I'm effectively begging you to *hurt* me -- "The bed is a wonderful invention, Bruce."

Bruce strokes up Tim's chest and pulls Tim tighter against himself. And *bites* the back of Tim's neck, just hard enough to make Tim gasp before pulling back. "I want you everywhere. I want your *scent* everywhere, Tom."

Tim reaches back and cups Bruce's hips, tugs until Bruce starts to *thrust* -- wait, he wasn't going to *do* that -- "Bruce --"

"On the other hand, the more we make love in my bed, the *longer* your scent will linger there."

"There's -- that's a *point* -- oh, *fuck*, Bruce --"

Bruce is licking Tim's *ear* while he thrusts, and it's ticklish and strange, shiver-inducing even as it makes Tim's sac feel heavy and tight, makes his penis try to push right through his *pants* --

Tim gasps and tries to focus, tries -- Martha's nose causes just a small bump in the drape of the sheet, the attic is dusty and *dry*, and could use some --

Some -- Bruce *holds* his tongue in Tim's ear and strokes down Tim's abdomen to his groin, which he cups and *squeezes* --

"Oh -- *please* --"

"Anything," Bruce whispers -- slurs into Tim's ear and starts licking again, starts --

He's holding *on* to Tim through his clothes, and it feels like the most effective hold in the known universe. Tim's aware that he *can* break free of it, but has the distinct feeling that he'd be leaving an important part of himself behind -- over and above the kind of joke Dick would tell.

Bruce *has* him, and Tim wants him to *know* that he does, that he has *exactly* that degree of power, sexual presence -- he rubs against Bruce, feeling his heat at the small of his back, hearing him *moan* --

Tim's blushes are back for this, this degree of *shamelessness*. God, they're in the *attic*, making Tim's attempt to straighten the sheet over Martha's bust terrifyingly symbolic -- and the next squeeze makes his knees feel weak --


And the next makes him get up on his toes so he can feel Bruce against his *ass* --

"Oh, Tom, I --" Bruce *thrusts*, and the noise Tim makes is unclassifiable and loud, *hungry* --

"Bruce -- God, don't *tease* me --"

"I feel I *should*, for the sake of fairness --"

"*This* isn't fair --"

Bruce moans and starts fumbling with Tim's belt -- and stops fumbling and gets it *open* almost immediately, and -- Tim's hands are free. He manages to get his fly open without tearing anything, and then Bruce's hand is in his briefs, cool and *strong* --

"Fuck, *down*," Tim says, and lets himself drop to his knees, and Bruce is right with him, Bruce's thighs are between Tim's own, and Tim is sitting on Bruce's *lap* --

"Oh... Tom. This position..."

Tim laughs and *grinds* down against Bruce's erection --

"I *like* this position," Bruce says, and strokes his free hand up to Tim's throat, cupping it gently and *biting* Tim's ear --

"Bruce, God, I -- I won't last like this --"

"We can do it *again*," and Bruce licks Tim's cheek, kisses there and starts to *rock* against Tim's ass -- "You always feel so *good*, Tom, so hard against me --"

"Nnh -- that's *you*. I can't -- I can't ever *resist* this --"

"Then don't try. Don't *think* about trying. Just feel me -- I *need* you," Bruce says, and this squeeze makes Tim twitch and spasm --

"*Bruce* -- *oh* --" Bruce squeezes Tim's *throat*, and the position of his hand is all wrong to cut *off* Tim's air, but Tim knows that Bruce isn't trying to do anything of the kind. This is just another touch for him, another way for him to pleasure his brother, and the only information Tom has for Tim is that it's good, it's right, it's everything he *wants*.

Not exactly *helpful*, but hadn't Tim built Tom to be just this way? Just this *focused* on his brother, loving and desperately *in* love, desperately in *need* --

"Stroke me, Bruce. Make -- make me *come* --"

And Bruce growls and squeezes Tim again, throat and penis, and he's *bucking* against Tim's ass, over and over --

"Fuck, I want you *inside* me --"

"It still doesn't seem -- I can't *picture* it sexually, Tom --"

"I -- God, I'll *show* you --"

"Oh, *yes*, Tom --"

"But first -- please, Bruce. Please, I need you to stroke me, need to feel -- you're already getting *calluses* --"

Bruce kisses Tim's cheek and holds his mouth there, and the first stroke is slow and *hard*, and then it gets faster with each successive stroke, faster and *better* --

"Bruce, oh, Bruce don't *stop* --"

"Never, I won't --" He kisses his way back to Tim's ear and bites again, licks again, "come for me. Then show me *everything* --"

Tim nods as much as he can -- Bruce's other hand is still on his throat, and God, the *feel*. A part of Tim is only focused on the fact that he'll have to get Bruce to start moisturizing his hands to keep them *feeling* fairly innocuous, but that part is crazy, soulless, *something*. Bruce knows *exactly* what stroke Tim likes the best, and he's using it, slicking his fingers with Tim's own pre-come and panting against Tim's ear --

"The sight of this, of you in my *hand*, Tom --"

"Your hand, your -- wanted you for so *long* -- *ah* --" That *squeeze* --

"Just *me*, Tom. Stay with me, *be* with me --"

"Here, I'm *here* -- oh, Bruce, you make -- you make everything else go *away*," and Tim can't stop himself from thrusting into Bruce's fist, from *shoving* himself back against Bruce's erection --

"Oh, you're *close*. Your breathing always changes when... *please*, Tom --"

Tim nods again and tries to keep himself from saying anything more, because it would be so easy to say something too true here, to offer *everything* to Bruce even though Tim knows it would ruin everything, break what they have, break the *timeline* --

Tim hears himself sob and *wants*, aches inside where he hasn't touched himself since he's *been* here --

"God, *please* --"

"*Yes*, Tom, I --" And Bruce squeezes Tim's throat just a little too hard, just enough to choke off Tim's gasp --

"*Fuck*, Bruce --"

"This, too? Tom, you have to *tell* me," he says, and eases his grip, and at first Tim can *only* gasp, only shudder and plead with his body, but --

"Good. It feels -- it's *you*, and I -- I don't *know* --"

Bruce groans and does it again and it feels warm, strange -- and when Tim tries and fails to breathe it becomes hot and *stranger*. This is nothing Tim should *want*, and never mind all the times when he's stopped breathing when he was close, or put on a gorget that was too small...

That was a *choice*, and so is this, but --

"*Please*, Tom," and Bruce's rhythm on Tim's penis is ragged, the thrust of his hips hard enough to move them *both* when Tim doesn't brace himself for it well enough --

*Bruce* is going to come, and that's enough to make Tim shudder all over, shake and try to fight for more, for air, for *more*, because it's Bruce, and nearly everything Tim *knows* about control comes from him --

Because it's *this* Bruce, and there's power and passion, reckless love and need which doesn't go anywhere, which *can't* be soothed. Bruce is so *raw*, and the way he feels about -- Tom, not Tim, but Tom is a *part* of him. He could *be* Tom for Bruce, he could -- oh.

That --

And it feels like he's being yanked out of his own body, *away* from Bruce, and maybe that's why he's shouting *no* even as he comes. He needs more of this, the pleasure and the awkwardness, the --

They're so *fucking* young, and sometimes it really shows, and Tim knows he should be ashamed of it, of *himself*, but --

He knows pleasure, and the sight of his own come spilling over Bruce's fist, spattering the floor --

"*Tom* --"

And Bruce sounds so *lost*, so -- he's squeezing Tim's throat *much* too hard and slamming against Tim's ass, and it's so perfect that it makes Tim's penis twitch, makes Tim moan and *press* down against Bruce --

And if Bruce says anything else, it's lost in the low and hungry groan as he shakes himself through his own orgasm. After another few seconds -- and before the lack of air gets to be *dire* -- Tim reaches up and starts tugging on Bruce's hand --

Bruce lets go of his throat with another shudder, but keeps his other hand wrapped loosely around Tim's penis. Tim twines his fingers with Bruce's own and encourages Bruce to give him a goodbye squeeze that makes Tim kneel up and groan --

Well, it *would* be too loud, but... they have the house to themselves.

"That..." Bruce takes a shaky breath. "You usually find that sort of contact uncomfortable after you ejaculate."

"Ah... in a very good way, though -- sometimes. In a way that seemed *necessary* at the time," Tim says, and looks back over his shoulder.

Bruce is flushed and a little wide-eyed, and yes, when Tim looks down, there's a wet spot on his chinos. "I've... never ejaculated in my clothes before."

Whereas Tim had gotten the chance to learn *why* the padding around the jock armor was so absorbent the first time Bruce sparred with him when Tim was wearing the suit. It had been their *longest* spar to date, with Bruce taking him through one fall after another, one hit after another... Tim turns all the way and cups Bruce -- lightly. "I'm flattered. And... I *will* be aroused again very, very soon."

"You felt. Your... rear. The way you were moving it."

Tim nods and licks his lips. "I want you. Badly."

And the heat is behind Bruce's eyes again, bright and a little wild. "You said you'd show me."

"And I will," Tim says, and pulls a handkerchief out of his pocket. "After we clean up our mess."

Bruce blinks and shakes his head once. "That really wasn't what I expected you to say."

Tim grins and raises his eyebrows. "Did you *want* to leave drying semen in the attic, Bruce?"

Bruce makes a face. "When you put it that way... no. And now I'm thinking rather too much about the drying semen in my *pants*."

"We'll take care of that, too," Tim says, and uses his handkerchief on the floor. He winds up leaving deeply suspicious dust-free areas -- and the panicked teenager inside him insists that the *smell* will linger long past the point reality would allow -- but it's good enough.

When he stands, Bruce stands with him -- and winces. "This really is kind of... disgusting."

Tim laughs. "Let's just get to your bathroom."

And it doesn't take too long to rinse out Bruce's briefs and pants and hang them up. It takes, in fact, a brief enough period of time that it seems far more efficient to drop to his knees on the tile --

"*Tom* --" 

-- and *lick* Bruce clean than to do anything else. And efficiency stops mattering with the first taste of Bruce on his tongue, and then becomes a word whose meaning Tim honestly isn't sure of once Bruce pushes his hand into Tim's hair and *tugs*.

"We could... oh. We could shower together sometime. I... in the morning, before breakfast?"

Tim hums non-committally --

Bruce laughs softly. "Then at night, before you leave -- oh, I. I can't believe I forgot *school* --"

Tim nods and takes the head of Bruce's penis into his mouth, sucking as lightly as he can make himself --

"Tom, I'll *want* you. Need you. How -- oh, that feels --" Bruce grunts and tugs Tim *away* --

"I wasn't finished with that --"

"Stop -- distracting me," Bruce says, and his voice is serious and deceptively *older*, and that means that Tim has no choice but to look up.

But there's no reason not to lick his lips once he *has* --

"Tom, your *mouth* --" Bruce's penis twitches and he squeezes his eyes shut for a moment, but --

There's no give to Bruce's grip when Tim tries to get back to the business of sucking. Tim sighs and waits.

After a moment, Bruce opens his eyes again, and the seriousness that was in his voice is in his eyes. "I'm going to *see* your mouth in class and at events, and -- how are we going to *continue* this, Tom?"

Because there's no doubt in Bruce's mind that they *will* be continuing this, and, if Tim is honest with himself, there's no doubt in *his* mind, either. Tim takes a breath and twists his head back and forth until Bruce loosens his grip, and then smiles. "I suppose just saying 'the same way amorous young men have been doing it for generations' won't be sufficient...?"

"Tom --"

"All right, I'll be serious. Harvey is going to be in training for the baseball season, so you'll be in your room alone after classes for a significant stretch of time every weekday. We're 'cousins', so there's some leeway there -- it will be assumed that we'll eat together, study together... that sort of thing. Additionally, the grounds are extensive, and no one will really *question* our urge to take runs together -- though others may want to join us if we make it seem too enjoyable. All in all, while we can't *always* be disappearing together... there *will* be opportunities. And we'll take advantage of them."

Bruce frowns. "You've thought about this."

"Not really," Tim says honestly. "But I have... observed the activities of other boys at... Exeter, and there really is a great deal of *tradition* for this sort of thing."

"If we're caught, we could be expelled."

Tim lets his smile be as sharp as it wants to be. "If we're caught by a *teacher*, or a residence advisor? Sure. But we'd most likely be caught by another *student*, Bruce -- and every student has secrets they don't want known by anyone else."


"Or bribery. Or simply being *very* convincing about the need for that person to keep his mouth shut," Tim says, and stands, resting his hands on Bruce's shoulders and squeezing. "Look, it's not very pretty --"

"It's *horrible*, Tom --"

"*Listen*. It *is* horrible, I agree with you, but we need a civilian education and we need each other. For that matter, we *need* a certain reputation for the future... and maybe a little adolescent ah... tomfoolery wouldn't be amiss in that respect. But the *first* two things are what we need to consider. I'd be willing to *try* just not having sex for --"

"No," Bruce says, and *grips* Tim's hips. "Not that."

Tim laughs softly. "Then you see my point...?"

Bruce's expression is more than a little dark -- "Let's... not get caught."

"Clearly the best possible choice. But if we --"

Bruce kisses Tim hard, clearly attempting to silence him, but... it's something Tim can allow. So long as Bruce doesn't wind up giving Tim long, burning looks in the middle of calculus, so long as he doesn't try to sneak in to whatever room Tim will be in at night --

So long as they can schedule efficiently and effectively, then things won't get any more fucked up than they already *are*.

And Tim is very good at scheduling.

Once the kiss stops being pointed and starts being a *kiss*, Tim can start walking them back into Bruce's bedroom, which has become a place where it's not even a little odd for Tim to be kissing a teenaged boy with no pants on. Tim smiles into the kiss and pushes his hands between them so he can work on Bruce's shirt, and...

It really shouldn't be possible, but Tim thinks Bruce is already getting a little bigger and more defined from the workouts, as if his muscles were just waiting for the *chance* to bulk out. And a part of Tim --

Tom wants to stay right here and *watch* Bruce fill out, and grow, and generally become the massive human wall of vigilante he was born to be. In time, he would watch Bruce acquire his scars, one by one by one, and --

"I don't know why, but there's something about that expression I like very much," Bruce says, and shrugs off his shirt.

"I was thinking about the future," Tom says. "Our future," and he kisses Bruce to keep him from saying anything deep and loving, sweet and deadly --

Bruce cups Tim's face and tries -- and succeeds -- to say it with his kiss. It's slow and wonderful, wet and so *warm*, and yes, Tim *does* have to give this up, but not now, please not *yet*. Tim feels the edge of the bed with the backs of his legs -- no, he wants to strip before he's on the bed, so he pushes back against Bruce --

And Bruce nods and starts stroking Tim everywhere he can reach. It's -- he doesn't seem to get *tired* of Tim's body, even though he could probably recognize it with the barest touch of his pinky by now. Certainly, Tim's *body* knows how to move under this sort of welcomed assault, how to twist and shift so that he's always pressing against Bruce's hands, always *renewing* his welcome --

Bruce pulls back and pants against Tim's mouth, and *slowly* slides his hands down to Tim's ass. "Tom."

Always for you -- "Let me get my clothes off," Tim says, and can do absolutely nothing against the *need* to rub himself against those hands, against Bruce's *body* --

Bruce nods, but kisses Tim again, catching Tim's lower lip between his teeth and biting down before sucking --

Tim grunts and reaches down and back with one hand to encourage Bruce to *squeeze* his ass --

Bruce does and Tim lets himself buck, shifts until Bruce's thigh is between his own and he can *ride* it a little, and the only things keeping this from being perfect is that he's still dressed and that he's not turned around. And both of those things can *change*. Tim makes the kiss harder for a second before --

Before Bruce gives it right *back* to him, and Tim wants to say that it was just meant as a prelude to breaking, but it feels too good, and *far* too much like all of those fantasy kisses, always given *after* Batman had finished with him in all of those other ways, always meant to let Tim know that it was all right, that he was wanted, that it would happen again --

Tim whimpers and shakes his head, sucking Bruce's tongue helplessly and grinding himself against Bruce's thigh --

And *then* Bruce pulls back --

"God, *Bruce* --"

"*Do* you believe in God?"

"I --" There are several gods right *there*, and angels, and demons, and -- not *yet*. "I'm honestly not sure about the purpose of religion in general," Tim says, and then focuses on pulling back enough that he *can* start stripping off.

Bruce nods as if *that* was the most important question Tim could answer, and -- what would Tom say?

"I want -- I want to believe in an afterlife, in the idea that good people can live on in *some* way, shape, or form... or be reborn... I don't know, Bruce," Tim says, and gets rid of his shirts at speed.

Bruce looks Tim's chest over and traces the scar over his left pec with his fingertips. "I think... I think that if gods exist, humans give them too much credit."

Very sensible. *Go* with that -- "That... makes sense to me," and Tim kicks off his trainers and pushes his pants and shorts down -- Tim *breathes* --

And *stops* when Bruce grips Tim's penis and uses it to tug Tim closer. "You're beautiful --"

"You've mentioned --"

"Did you want me to stop?"

An honest question, made somewhat more fraught by the feel of Bruce *firming* his grip, shifting and stroking -- Tim closes his eyes and Tom says, "I always want to be beautiful for you."

Bruce takes a heavy, audible breath. "You *are*. I -- Tom. I don't want to let go."

Tim smiles and strokes Bruce's forearm, squeezes it and knows it with his palms and fingers. "Maybe just for long enough to let me finish getting naked?" And when he opens his eyes, Bruce nods and lets go.

Tim can be efficient -- he does what he can to catch his breath *while* he's getting rid of his pants, shorts, and socks. And then he's naked, and he gets caught by the heat in Bruce's eyes, the *need* --

"You -- you can't look at me like that --"

"When we're at school. I know," Bruce says, and steps close enough that the head of Tim's penis brushes his thigh while the head of *Bruce's* penis slides across Tim's abdomen. "But I can *now*."

*God* -- "I. Was going to show you something --"


"But I need lubricant. Of some sort. Ah... lotion?" Every boy has *some* sort of lubricant handy. Not that Bruce is remotely like --

Bruce is walking to his night table, opening a drawer... and pulling out a tube of K-Y, just like it's the future. Or... hmm.

"I didn't realize that K-Y was available in... drug stores here."

Bruce frowns at the tube. "Is it? Alfred... um. There's a case of it. In the back of my closet. He said that it wouldn't damage the latex in the condoms he gave me. Your Alfred didn't...?"

Tim chokes just a *bit* -- recover, dammit. "Ah... the condoms, yes, but not... it doesn't matter. That's just perfect," Tim says, and crawls onto the bed. When he reaches out, Bruce places the -- brand new, by the look of it -- tube in his hand.

"I really wasn't sure... um. I'm still not, unless Alfred thought I *would* be having... anal sex?"

Tim bites his lip and shifts to a seated position with his legs spread and his knees up --

"I really enjoy watching you do that, Tom. The... your flexibility --"

"I've *noticed* you enjoying it," Tim says, and smiles a little as he opens the tube and slicks his fingers. "You enjoy it in several enjoyable ways, in fact."

Bruce blushes. "I was actually... I meant aesthetically. Sometimes... does your Bruce ever sketch?"

Tim pauses, and thinks about Bruce showing him a sketchpad with pictures of himself perfectly rendered in the new Robin suit. He'd suggested shorter spikes for the gauntlets and tried *desperately* to come up with some rational reason -- *any* rational reason -- why he might be allowed to see what *else* was in the pad. Bruce had taught him the basics of perspective and shading, but *those* pictures had been...

He'd made Tim look like a hero, like something more than just *himself*.

"Ah... sometimes. Would you like to... draw me?"

Bruce swallows and nods.

"You... it's not something you have to ask me for, Bruce. It would be like... I don't know, asking my permission to *think* about me." I always want you to think about me, Bruce. Always --

"It wasn't that long ago when I thought I *did* need permission to... think about you."

Tim grins. "Well, those kinds of thoughts... can be tricky. It's not like I've never had guilt for a fantasy, or thought less of myself because I couldn't *not* --" Want you. "I... we have to learn to live with these things, Bruce, because our minds wouldn't have it any other way. Join me?"

Bruce nods and crawls onto the bed, shifting until he's sitting on his heels and facing Tim -- and staring at Tim's slick fingers. "*Do* you know why Alfred thought I needed the lubricant, Tom? Women... I. Don't they produce their own...?"

Tim nods. "They do, but some women don't produce *enough*. I think Alfred just wanted to make sure you were fully prepared." And that a need for lubricant wouldn't cause any unwanted new Wayne heirs to be fertilized into existence.

Bruce looks... thoughtful. "Then I would think he'd acquire the same for you?"

Yes, *that* -- Tim shrugs. "Perhaps there'll be a case waiting for me when I get home --" Whoops.

But Bruce doesn't slip into depression or pleading. He says, "Yes, *then*," and kneels up and cups Tim's knees. "Show me. Please."

An order, then, because Bruce doesn't *want* to plead, and because command is what Bruce has left when there's nothing else. Knowing that puts much of Tim's relationship with the older Bruce into an interesting new light... but that doesn't belong here. "Watch," Tim says, and starts to circle his hole with his slick fingers.

Bruce takes a breath. "The sensation... are you teasing yourself?"

"Yes. But I'm also preparing myself. Having this area slick when I -- when I'm being penetrated will mean less discomfort during the actual thrusts. Sometimes I eschew this for just that reason."

"Oh. A rougher touch," Bruce says, and touches his tongue to his upper lip.

"Are you thinking about hurting me, Bruce?"

And Bruce's eyes are wide and -- not panicked. Just... full. "Yes," he says, and his voice is low and... rough. Heh.

Tim nods. "For this... I've never done it with someone else. Slow and easy would probably be the way to go."

Bruce nods slowly, and blinks. Once. Eventually.

Tim shivers and pushes in with two fingers, and realizes -- immediately -- that the teaching portion of this particular interlude is rapidly going to become spotty, at best. "I... oh. Too long. It's been too long --"

"*How* long, Tom?"

"Ah... about three weeks." And *then* I had my gauntlets, which are so much like *yours* --

"And you were thinking about -- your Bruce," Bruce says, and squeezing Tim's knees. "You're already so flushed."

"I never... oh. I never imagined anyone would find that *attractive* --"

"Not even Steph? You look so *sexual* like this, Tom. So... it becomes impossible to imagine a world where I'm not touching you, where I'm not this close. *Closer*."

"Steph never mentioned -- that. Ah -- hold my sac?"

Bruce lets go of Tim's knee and does it, pushing it up against Tim's penis to leave himself an unobstructed *view*. "Like this."

"Oh -- please. I..." Tim pushes deeper and starts to rock his fingers a little, and he can't keep himself from thinking about Bruce's fingers, Bruce's *penis* -- "There's. My body knows this feeling, knows what it's going to *get*."

"The sense of strangeness is lessened?"

"Y-yes, Bruce, but -- it's still there. There's always a physical shock, a sense of *breach* --"

"But you find that shock pleasurable," Bruce says, and it's not a question, and when Tim focuses on him --

Bruce is focused on *him*, lips parted and eyes narrow and *hot*.

"This is what you want from me."

"There's more -- God, you know there's always *more*, Bruce --"

"Your arousal is so intense. I -- show me the touches you like, Tom. Show me so I can *do* them."

"*Please* -- I mean, yes. I mean --" Tim laughs, and Tom is begging silently for harder, for *now*, for Tim to show Bruce how to *break* him this way so that he can finally be free of that horrifically inconvenient *Tim* creature --

Tim growls softly and starts to thrust, making the strokes as long as he can manage, stretching to push *deep* --

"*Oh* -- Bruce, you --" Squeezing Tim's *sac*, and --

"Is this wrong, Tom? You like it so much at other times --"

"*No*. Don't stop. I just never -- never when I'm inside myself like this --"

"You're making me want to suck you again --"

"Nnh -- no. I don't want to *come* yet," Tim says, and it's a struggle to keep his eyes open, but it's *worth* it to see Bruce looking at him like *this*. It's a close cousin to the look Bruce gives him when Tim's showing him a new kata, but it's also much, much better.

*Bruce* had taught him how to be a weapon. He'd taught *himself* how to be sexual -- in as much as he's managed it, and, yes, with a great deal of unwitting help from *Dick* --

"I... I don't know how much more I can. Say --"

"Tell me -- tell me how *much* you want me to do this to you, Tom --"

"Oh -- so *much*, Bruce. I -- " Tim laughs and fucks himself *harder* --

"*Tom* --"

"It's been so hard not to beg you for this, Bruce. From the beginning, the first time we *kissed* --"

Bruce moans and squeezes Tim's sac *hard* --

"*Fuck*, Bruce, I -- slick your fingers --"

"Tom, I --"

"Do it *now*, Bruce, because I can't stop and I need it to be *you*," Tim says, and gives in to the urge to crook his fingers -- and arches off the *bed*.

"What *was* that?"

"My prostate gland. It's -- nnh. Not too far in, upper wall --"

"Noted," Bruce says, and his hands aren't shaking on the tube, but everything in his eyes says that that has more to do with inhuman levels of *will* than anything else, and --

"Please, Bruce. I -- this feels good, but I know you'll feel *better*."

Bruce *grunts*, and the amount of lubricant on his fingers is a little ridiculous, but -- his fingers are bigger. *Longer*, and Tim can't stop himself from spreading wider, bracing enough to *buck* onto his own fingers -- "Pull *out*, Tom --"

Tim does, not bothering to bite back the sobbed breath -- or the *cry* that comes out when *Bruce* pushes in with two --

"Oh, *tight* --"

Tim groans and throws his head back, trying to *reach* the part of his mind that will allow him to relax, to breathe --

It's *almost* as much as he's ever taken, and Bruce doesn't wait before starting to *thrust*.

It *is* slow, but no slower than Tim was fucking himself, and really -- why would it be? Why -- oh, he can *feel* Bruce trying to move his fingers inside him, *looking* for Tim's prostate -- "Oh, almost, I -- a little -- *fuck*," and this time Tim's gritting his teeth as he throws his head back, and all of his noises are coming out a little strangled, a little --

It's *right*, because Tom has wanted this since he knew it was possible, since that first time he'd felt himself clench and *wondered* --

"Tom, is it -- you seem almost *distressed* --"

Tim opens his mouth but nothing but a moan comes out. He shakes his head -- he *stops* and reaches down to grip Bruce's hand, to feel it and stroke it -- "In me. You... oh, God, Bruce, it's what I *wanted* --"

"Then *take* it, I --" Bruce crooks his fingers again and *holds* them there, and Tim feels himself arching and twisting, trying for more -- less --

Definitely *more*, because Bruce is moaning again, watching Tom lose it and, perhaps, realizing that he could've had this all along, that Tom could be just this way for him if he were using his penis --

"Tom. Tom, you should *tell* me when you can take more. I -- I'm so *hard* --"

"Not -- not yet, I. Please, start fucking me again, start -- *nnh*, yes, like *that* --"

Rhythmically hard, *perfect*, and there's no awkward stretch, nothing Tim needs to do other than *ride* that rhythm and help Bruce take him, open him, and Tim knows his eyes are closed, but he thinks he can *feel* how much Bruce is enjoying this.

The slight *screw* of his fingers, the sound of his breathing under Tim's noises --

"You sound *wild*, Tom, so *hungry* --"

"Waiting -- waiting so *long* --"

"*I'm* here," Bruce says. "I'll never leave you, never deny you -- it would hurt too much, Tom, and I already *ache* for you --"

"*Please*, Bruce, I -- you." Tim pants and tries for a little control, a little -- "You're going to make me say I'm ready before I am --"

"And then I'd *hurt* you."

Bruce wants. Tim wants --

Tom wants to feel this for hours, *days*. Tom wants to spend the car ride to Exeter trying not to wince every time Alfred hits a *bump*. Because it's Bruce, because it's his brother, so beautiful and so passionate, so *good* in ways Tim will never approach.

*Tom* will never --

He doesn't know, and there's no way to think about it or anything *else* with the way Bruce is shoving into him, opening him --

Crooking his *fingers*, again, and Tim loses the rhythm a little bit --

Bruce makes a *new* rhythm, and Tim's clutching at the duvet. He can smell his own sweat under all the scents of Bruce, or maybe over it -- Tim opens his eyes and stares at the ceiling, watches the illusion of it moving as Bruce moves him --

"*Tom* --"

"Fuck, *more*," Tim says, and he doesn't know if he was ready for it or not, but he's going to find out -- oh. Bruce pushing against Tim's hole with the third finger, trying to work it in without pulling out -- "Ah -- let go of my sac and hold me open with your other hand. That might -- *ohn* --"

Noise, just *noise*, because being spread makes the skin of his perineum feel tight and vulnerable, sensitive to the *air* -- Bruce still can't get in.

Tim takes a deep breath -- Tim clenches around Bruce and forgets what he was going to say, because there's that *burn*, that friction-heat --

And Bruce is trying and failing to get in again, and *that* --

"You have to -- you have to pull out and try to. I'll hold myself spread for you --"

"*Yes*," Bruce says, pulling out fast enough that it feels like he's taking Tim *with* him --

And there's barely a moment before he's nudging Tim's hole with three bluntly perfect fingers, using his free hand to push at Tim's thigh and try to spread Tim *wider* -- "Bruce, I -- I can't *get* much more spread --"

"I know that. I -- it's only that I want to *see*," he says, and starts pushing *in*, slow and relentless, and the burn is immediate, the stretch seems *impossible*.

"I want. Oh, God, I -- breathing. I'm --" Bruce has taught him to control his breathing at the end of a spar *after* a six mile run. He can damned well --

He *can*, it's just a matter of ignoring the look on Bruce's face, the want and the focus and -- he's not going to disappoint Bruce. He *can't* deny Bruce, and taking a *good* breath --

"Fuck. *Fuck* -- Bruce, I --" Tim laughs and gasps and *breathes* -- "How long *are* your fingers?"

"Long enough to make you curse. To make you -- hn."

That sound. That -- bucking against Bruce's hand makes him *scream*, gets Bruce in right to the knuckle, and he can't stop moving now. It burns too much, it's too much to have in him sitting *still* --

"Tom. Tom, I don't want you to hurt yourself, but the way you're moving..."

"Can't -- can't stop. Bruce, you should... oh God, I don't know --" And that was another scream, because there's not enough *room* for Bruce to crook his fingers like that, but he'd done it, and now he's doing it repeatedly --

Tim's aware that he has given up some of his leverage by kicking out, but he's shuddering too much to get it *back*. The burn and the pressure, the *pleasure* --

"*Good*, Bruce. So --"

"I can *tell*," Bruce says, and -- oh, cups Tim's *sac* again, squeezing it in time with his rocking, with the bending of his fingers inside --

"Stretching me open. You're -- I've *wanted* --"

"I'm *here*, Tom. I won't stop. I -- I'm so sorry I didn't do this *before* --"

Tim grins helplessly. "Just wait until it's your *penis* inside me --"

"I don't want to wait at all --"

"Just a little --" Tim pants and grits his teeth, tries to keep himself from *slamming* against Bruce's hand -- "A little more. I'm almost ready for you -- *mm* --"

Kissed, and it's awkward, hard -- extremely serious. He can feel Bruce *willing* him to be ready -- or to at least be willing to be a little reckless, hungry enough to take the inevitable *pain*.

A rougher *touch*, and whether he'd given Bruce that kink or if it would be inevitable for Bruce to *develop* that kink -- Tim doesn't know, and right now it doesn't matter. Tom wants to *feed* Bruce's kinks, give him everything so he'll keep coming back for more -- break. "Harder, fuck me -- oh, *God* --"

And he *knows* Bruce isn't using even *most* of his strength, but that doesn't do anything for the *feel*. It's not *about* stretching or preparation, anymore, and Tim doesn't think it could be more perfect even if Bruce *was* wearing the gauntlets.

Tim gives *in* to it, feeling a *shift* inside himself, feeling his internal muscles relaxing --

"*Tom*. Oh, it's *easier* --"

Tim nods and whimpers, letting himself fall back and pulling his knee up again. If he tries to catch Bruce's rhythm he'll tense up again, and just *taking* this is -- absolutely incredible. As devastating as -- some sort of *bomb*, and all of his mental architecture is --

Something --

"*Bruce*," he says, and reaches back to brace his hands against the headboard, to give himself just a little more --

"I want you so *much*, Tom --"

"Don't stop, please don't ever --" Tim sobs, gasps and bangs his head against the pillow. He's been *exactly* this hard before -- multiple *times* -- but it doesn't *feel* that way. Bruce could make him come just like this --

How many times has the *thought* of Bruce doing this to him been enough to bring him off? How many times has he bitten a scream into his own fucking *hand* --

And Tim knows the sounds he's making are *dangerously* loud, that he should have some measure of --

Not control. Not that, not for *this*. For this Tom can be just as wild as he wants to be, because Bruce has one hand inside him and the other wrapped around his *sac* --

Because every time he manages to focus, Bruce is staring *only* at him, eyes narrow and *hot* --

"Tell me *when*, Tom."

Tim gasps again, spasms and *shudders*, and he doesn't think he *is* ready, but he's slick enough -- he doesn't want to come from just Bruce's hand. He -- "Do it, Bruce --"

"*Yes* --"

"Slow, pull out *slow* --"

Bruce growls and *thrusts* one more time, twisting enough to make Tim arch off the bed --

"Oh, God, oh -- *please* --"

"Slow. I..." Bruce shakes his head and does it, and the feeling of loss is immediate, it --

Tim's spasming again, clenching and groaning and *shuddering*, and Bruce is going to be over him soon, in him -- Tim forces himself to *breathe*, and Bruce grunts when it gets easier to pull out, squeezes Tim's sac *hard* --

"Tom. I want -- I want this to *last* --"

"I know, please, I -- we can --" Another clench, and the words won't *come*, but he can try harder, fucking *beg* his own body and mind -- "Tug. Tug on your sac a little --"


"It -- ah. *Might* make you a little less hard --"

"So I *can* last. Oh, Tom --" And Bruce leans in and kisses Tim again, *just* as the tips of his fingers slip out, and Tim keens into Bruce's mouth, and can barely make himself kiss *back*. But Bruce is kissing him hard, *taking* Tim's mouth with his tongue, and it's good and it's a *tease* --

And Tim doesn't realize that he's shaking his head until Bruce pulls back --


"Can't -- need you --" Tim shakes his head again and works his hips, and the brush of his penis against Bruce's abdomen isn't *enough* --

Bruce moans and kisses him again, bites Tim's lip before pulling back and kneeling *up*. He reaches between his legs with his slick hand and tugs *hard*, wincing --

Tim winces with him, and Bruce's penis twitches -- dips, slightly.

"I don't think I ever want to do that *again*," Bruce says, and strokes Tim's sac with his thumb. "But I recognize the *use*. I... should I put lubricant on my penis?"

"*Yes*, I -- a fair amount. And let me *see* you do it," and Tim sits up enough to get a clear view.

Bruce's hands are shaking *now*, and the shadows have taken his eyes, and he's big. He's *too* big, and Tim knows that the thought shouldn't be making him clench again, but it *is*. He feels hungry, *grasping*, and Bruce is still *staring* at him as he slicks himself, strokes --

"Oh, Bruce, you're --" Tim bites his lip and tries to get a handle on the sexual *force* of seeing Bruce like this --

"Cold. I -- it didn't *feel* this cold before --" Bruce shakes his head. "The anatomical realities are -- comprehensible. I. I want to *bury* myself inside you, Tom."

Tim squeezes his eyes shut and nods, pushing against the headboard to keep himself from grabbing his needy penis. It feels like he's leaking *ridiculous* amounts of pre-come, and the air feels cool where he's slick, where he's *sweating* --

"Ready. I think -- say it again, Tom, say you --"

"*Fuck* me, Bruce, I --" Tim opens his eyes again, but focusing seems impossible, like something belonging to a different Tim, a Tom who can think -- "I want you *in* me, and I'd do anything --"

"*Tom*," Bruce says, and it sounds like more, it sounds like *everything*, and Bruce has himself by the base --

Bruce slides the head of his penis *over* Tim's hole, and Tim knows that it must feel good, that the pucker has to be wonderful tease, but it *is* a tease, and Tim whimpers and arches, tries to *get* Bruce to --

*In*, and it's just the head, but there's that body-shock, that heat that rolls through him and insists that something wrong is happening, something --

Bruce's moan sounds like it could've been Tom's name, but he's shaking his head and *panting*, licking his lips --

"Tom. Your body -- the *heat* --"

"*Yours*," Tom says, and Tim tries to say please, tries to beg someone, something, but only air comes out, because apparently that was all the hesitation Bruce could *stand*. He's pushing in, making soft and constant noises, breathy and low --

Pushing *deep*, and Tim's body relaxes for it *suddenly*, causing another body shock that makes him arch -- and Bruce is deeper, still, and the feel --

The shape is so *unfamiliar*, and maybe Tim should've acquired a toy at some point -- no, *Tom* would feel just like this, just this *stunned* by the sensations, and the fact that it *does* all feel this *natural* compared to his own fingers --

And Bruce is all the way in, sac pressed against Tim, and -- *fuck*, he's holding Tim's sac again. *Just* holding it, but Tim knows that's going to change, that it almost doesn't matter what *he* says or does --

Bruce is looking down at him, and that --

He's so *young*, but he's Bruce. He's everything Tim wants in a world without Steph, everything Tim needs -- no --

This is for Tom, isn't it? This --

"Bruce," Tim says, and Tom agrees --

Tom *whimpers*, because Bruce grinds his hips enough that he pulls out a little, that he seems to push back in from the *side*, and Tim's penis twitches --

Bruce groans and squeezes Tim's sac, and God, he's not *blinking*, and that has to be uncomfortable, that matches all of the fantasies and dreams, nightmares and momentary shudders of vigilante sexuality -- the blank lenses of the *mask* never blink, but these are just blue eyes, hotter than they should ever be but still giving the sense of something *banked* --

"Tom. Nothing has ever felt... like this. Nothing has ever *touched*..."

Tim nods helplessly, and wonders if Tom should be declaring something similar -- no, Tom knows that Bruce can *see* what's happening to him, that Bruce has to *know* --

"I'm going to. I have to *move*, Tom --"

"*Yes*," and Tim is as braced as he can be for it, as ready -- but Bruce only lets go of Tim's sac and pushes his arms beneath Tim's knees, lifting and bending them *back* -- "*Bruce* --"

"Is this -- anatomy would suggest that I could be. Deeper," he says, and a part of Tim is only a bit insulted that Bruce is thinking that *clearly*, but the rest is nodding, licking Tim's lips --

"Please don't *wait* anymore, Bruce -- *ah* --"

Another grind, but it's more serious this time, the motion of Bruce's hips better designed for the purpose -- something. Definitely something, because Tom is already mourning about not being able to wrap his legs around Bruce's waist, and Tim is wondering if he'll be able to *take* this, if this is really *possible* --

"Please," he says, and maybe he'll never be sure who he's begging for *what*, anymore. Maybe -- maybe Bruce will just reduce all of Tim's communication options to *yelling*, because *this* grind is faster, *continuous* --

"I don't. I know if I start thrusting --"

"*Fuck*, Bruce, I -- *please* --"

"I don't want this to be *fast*, Tom. I want -- you feel so perfect around me, so *warm* --"

"So deep in me, Bruce, you -- oh, please, just -- a little faster. It's *easier* --"

"Do --" Bruce pants and bends Tim's knees back a little farther. "Do you *want* it to be easier?"

An *excellent* question, deserving more of an answer than the sob that makes it out when Bruce thrusts a little bit -- just *twice* -- at the end of his grind, at the beginning of the next --

"Tom --"

"I don't *know*, Bruce, but -- I know I want the feel, the *fuck* --"

Bruce groans --

Bruce *thrusts*, and it's hard enough to move them both, to make Tim *shove* against the headboard and make it bang against the wall -- "Oh -- *yes* --"

"*Tom*, that -- oh, that felt incredible --"

"*Again* -- *oh* --" And Tim is slick inside, but that --

The speed and the *force*, and Bruce is saying something low and fervent, shaking his head -- Tim should be able to read his lips, but --

*Again* --

The burn and the *pressure*, and when Tom looks down it feels as though he should be able to see the outline of Bruce's penis, see the way it's changing the internal *shape* of him --

Again --

Again --

And Tim only wants to encourage, wants to -- he opens his mouth and shouts and Bruce growls, pushes Tim's knees *all* the way back --

And then it's fast and several different varieties of deadly. The stretch and the push, the rhythm -- jagged at first but becoming smoother with each thrust, each *individual* fuck --

"I don't. I don't think I can *stop* --"

"*Please*, Bruce, oh, God, please, I -- you feel --"

"Tell me you *like* this, Tom --"

Tim laughs and chokes on it, because they're slamming the headboard against the wall every time, because the burn just keeps intensifying, because the body-shock keeps coming, keeps --

His body is fighting *for* this, and wanting to clench isn't enough to make him do it, isn't --

Every *thrust*, and Tim couldn't move his legs if he wanted to, couldn't *escape* from this, and it's possible that Tom is going to have some serious difficulties focusing when it gets to be time to learn escape artistry --

"Tom, *please* --"

But maybe Bruce will, too -- "Love -- Love you, love *this*, Bruce --"

"Oh -- I. Harder. Tell me you want *harder* --"

"*Fuck*, Bruce --"

"Yes, I -- I'm *fucking* you, finally, oh please let me do it *harder* --"

There's no *option* -- "*Yes*, Bruce --"

And then Tim is screaming because it *hurts*, because it's everything he's ever wanted, and Bruce never needed to be Batman for this, he only needed a reason, a plea --

"The sounds you're making -- oh, Tom, I know I should be -- be sorry for this --"

"*No*," and Tom agrees, or maybe that *was* Tom, because it's hard to breathe, hard to think or see --

No, his eyes are closed, and he can't make himself open them. He can already *see* Bruce in his mind, see his pleasure and inhuman *focus* --

"God, don't *stop*, Bruce --"

"My love, my brother -- *mine*," and somehow it gets even harder, even *more*, and Tim *needs* to keep his hands against the headboard to keep from getting shoved against it with each thrust, or --

One hand, and a large portion of his strength, because it's the only leverage he *has*. He reaches for Bruce blindly with the other hand --

Bruce *bites* Tim's fingers and holds them in his mouth, never so much as losing a *beat*, and Tim wants -- he can't *move*, but he *can* --

Clenching makes them *both* shout, and Tim's fingers are free again, and he can *touch* Bruce. His cheek and his chin, his perfect and unmistakable jaw --

"Tom. I want -- would you open. Open your *eyes* --"

And his voice is the bastard child of Batman and something much hungrier, and when Tim opens his eyes --

"Oh, *beautiful*," and Tim can feel Bruce *flexing* inside him, feel him shift and loosen his grip on the backs of Tim's knees, and *that* shift --

"*Hnn* --"

Prostate, every -- every fucking *time*, and now Tim can't really touch Bruce with anything like grace or, fuck, basic motor skills. He's spasming all over, fingers splaying against Bruce's chest and throat, but --

"There. It's -- right *there*, Bruce --"

"Yes, I *see*. I won't stop, Tom, I -- will you come for me?"

Spasm and *clench*, and the noise Tim hears himself make is animal, desperate --

"I -- I think I want you to come while I'm. While I'm *fucking* you --"

Tim nods and *growls*, shouts and *claws* at Bruce's chest --

And then Bruce lets go of one of Tim's legs entirely and brings his hand to Tim's *throat*, squeezing hard enough to choke off every sound, every breath --

So good and Tim feels himself blushing under the flush, heating and *needing* --

"Better. You find this *better*, and I -- I want to *understand*, Tom..."

Sound, want -- he can't --

"Will you do this to me? *For* me -- oh, Tom, I think -- the look on your *face* --"

Tim nods and Tom keeps trying to *touch* Bruce, to feel him and show him how good, how right --

"After. You have to let me hold you, have to *stay* with me --" And Bruce cuts himself off with a growl that seems to go on and *on* --

And Tim realizes that he's *holding* himself clenched, tight enough that he must be almost interfering with the rhythm Bruce wants, and it *hurts*, but it also makes the slide of Bruce's penis against his prostate a little slower, better --

It makes it *last* longer, and Tim is shaking all over, *hitting* Bruce as much as he's stroking him, and --

*Oh*, he can --

And it feels like it takes *years* of fumbling before he has a decent grip on his own penis, but --

"Oh, *yes*, Tom, touch yourself, show me --" Bruce growls again and eases his grip on Tim's throat --

Tim gasps and strokes, and then there's no stopping himself, it's too good, too right to be doing this while Bruce can see. He *wants* to see it, wants Tim to come for him --

*Grip*, and Bruce's rhythm starts getting a little ragged, angle shifting to *miss* his prostate with some of his thrusts, and the only way Tim can keep his hand from shaking too much is to hold on *hard*, squeezing and almost *stripping* himself --

Squeezing harder and trying not to clench too much, trying to keep this *going* --

"Tom, I -- I can't --"

"You *can*," but it comes out a hoarse whisper, and Tim *realizes* that he's not breathing, feels himself seize and *twitch* --

"Don't -- I don't want to *stop*, Tom -- so close, so -- you feel so *good* --"

And Tom knows that's just right, Tom wants to tell Bruce he loves him, that he'll *never* leave --

"I won't forget, won't *lose* this -- please *come* --"

And Tim tries to nod against the grip on his throat, fails and focuses on stroking himself faster, on listening to the sounds Bruce is making, the panting and the grunts, low and so hungry, like even this isn't enough, *can't* be enough. And the headboard is beating against the wall in an uneven tattoo, and Tim's other arm is *straining* with the effort of keeping Tim from *braining* himself on it --

"*Tom* --"

Yes, he wants to say, always *yes*, and maybe he's saying it with his body, because Bruce is moaning now, constant and harsh, beautiful --

"*Do* it --"

Fuck, that *voice*, that -- ordering him, and there are no gauntlets here, and he's not bent over a truly magnificent car, and he doesn't need either of those things, any of the *trappings*, because when he opens his eyes again --

When he sees the *heat* --

The focus on him and *only* --

And it feels like he's shifting inside, burning and aching and *seizing* --

There's an angle change, something --

He's arching and trying to scream --

White-out, and there's nothing but the desperate pleasure all through him, *shoving* itself through and out through the head of his penis, over and *over* --

Bruce eases his grip on Tim's throat --

And then he's back in his own body, loose and a bit *stunned*, but he can still get his hand from around his own penis and down between his legs to where Bruce is still shoving himself in, still --

A *harsh* moan, and Bruce is either calling for Tom or *pleading*, but even that isn't as *important* as the feel of Bruce thrusting, shoving in and pulling out --

God, the skin there is so *stretched*, taut and warm to the touch, fevered for this --

And Bruce is still *staring*, teeth gritted as he tries to hold on, tries to keep *fucking* him --

And it's the *most* necessary thing in the world to stop teasing Bruce's penis and reach up to grip the back of Bruce's head, to *pull* against all that rigid power until Bruce is close enough that Tim can rear up and kiss --

*Swallow* Bruce's groan and suck, lick --

And scream when Bruce *slams* in, forcing Tim's bracing arm to bend --

Oh --

Heat and slickness -- Bruce is *coming* in him, and he'd never been able to imagine the feel of that, Tom had always wondered and *wanted* --

Bruce groans and can't hold onto the kiss, dragging his lips over Tim's cheek --

Bruce *collapses*, knocking the air out of Tim's lungs and generally feeling like the biggest, the best --

Tim feels himself clenching again and the pain is *sharp*, cutting through the endorphin high and making him gasp and shudder -- no, Bruce is shuddering, pressing himself down against Tim harder, all but *grinding* Tim into the mattress --

"Nn -- perfect," Tom says, and Tim wraps his arms around Bruce and holds on through the shaking, squeezing harder once Bruce starts kissing his cheek, his temple and his ear --


"I love you --"

"*Yes*, you --" Bruce pants and kisses Tim again, rears back enough to kiss Tim's mouth --

And Tim pulls himself together enough to make it a good one, deep and wet and as hungry as he still feels. He wants Bruce to fuck him *again*, and it *almost* doesn't matter that his body has several different objections to that idea. Just --

So *good*, and Tim tries to put that *into* the kiss, the love and the need -- oh, Bruce *flexing* --

Bruce grunts into the kiss and shudders again, pulls *back* --

"Tom. I... I think I want you on top of *me*."

And the image -- images. He could *ride* Bruce for this. He could be *inside* Bruce, fucking him, *taking* -- Tim moans and nods. For *now* he pulls his knee up to give himself a little leverage and flips them, yelping at the feel of Bruce sliding *almost* all the way out --

"*Oh*. I -- you're so *skilled* --"

"I'm so *sore* -- that is *not* a complaint," Tim says, settling on his knees and trying to get Bruce *back* inside --

"Ah -- ouch. I don't think -- I think I'm too soft now," Bruce says, and he sounds more than a little mournful about it.

Which is something everyone in Tim's head can understand, as there's nothing Tim can do to keep Bruce from slipping the rest of the way out. Tim sighs and strokes Bruce's chest, laying his palms flat to get as much of the feel as he can. Sleek, sweat-oiled skin and about a third as much hair as he *will* have.

It's finer, too, and almost seems a deep brown in this light rather than black. The hair beneath his navel is the right texture, though -- not that Tim would know by the feel, but...

He gives in to the need to *just* stroke Bruce, to add the faint scrape and rasp of Bruce's hair against his palms to the throbbing inside him, the ticklish and strange feel of semen leaking out of him and down his thighs --

Bruce sits up on his elbows, and that changes the feel of things significantly, adds the texture of abdominal muscles under the smooth skin, the slight hint of folding and curve...

Tim licks his lips --

"Were you planning to look at *me*, again, Tom...?"

And Bruce sounds amused enough that Tim only feels the need to smile. "Oh, I am. Just... a little at a time."

"*About* that expression on your face..."

Tim hums and circles Bruce's nipples with his fingertips. "I'm listening."

Bruce laughs softly. "You look like you can't quite decide if you want to have me for dinner or just make me work out until I collapse."

Tim smiles a little wider. "Make you do *something* until you collapse, certainly..."

"You're... satisfied?"

And that's an honest question, so Tim has to look up. And raise his eyebrow. "You fingered me, fucked me, choked me, *ordered* me to come --"

"I --" Bruce blushes impressively. "It was really more of a fervent plea, Tom."

Tim shows teeth. "If you say so. In more direct answer to your question... I'm *very* satisfied. How about you?"

Bruce shows his own. "I feel like I could run a marathon with you on my back. I feel like I could make love to you with my mouth for hours. I feel like I could stand up to the Bat and make *it* afraid. I feel --" Bruce laughs again and shakes his head. "That was incredible. I'd say it was everything I'd dreamed of, but I'd never dreamed anything of the kind. But *you* have."

"Repeatedly. *Often*. And it was better than all of the fantasies."

"Because it was real?"

"Mm. That, but also..." Tim lays his palms flat again and strokes up to Bruce's shoulders, to the sides of his throat and back down again. "There's only so much one can do with only one's own fingers."

Bruce nods and stares *into* him -- "How long."


"How long do I have to wait before I can feel *you* inside me? You had been stretching yourself for... a long time?"

And that was very much a request for Tim to demur and say that it had hardly taken any time at *all*, but... Tim nods. "I've been... it's been a fantasy for years."

"Will it *take* that long?"

That... Tim raises an eyebrow and lifts his penis on two of his fingers. "Size won't be nearly as much of a factor."

Bruce blushes again. "Should I protest that? I'm not *that* much bigger than you are, Tom."

Tim keeps his eyebrow raised and very deliberately looks Bruce's penis *over*. Slowly.

"All right, now you're just being ridiculous. But I'm serious, Tom -- I want that. I want to feel what *you* felt."

"I wasn't being entirely facetious," Tim says, letting his penis drop and stroking Bruce's chest again. "Go with the idea that the orifice in question *starts* at just around the same size, and even small differences in size... make a difference."

"I see your point, but -- how *long*?"

"There's no way to be sure until we start stretching you, Bruce --"

"Then *start*," he says, and grips Tim's right hand in his left. "You don't *need* your penis for that."

Oh. "I..." Tom licks Tim's lips. Tim licks *Tom's* lips. Tim wonders how far the rift is going to go before he loses his *mind*, but -- focus. "It's better if you're already aroused."

"Do you honestly believe I *won't* be? Please, Tom. Let me... show me this, *too*."

And the only question after that is where the lube had gotten to -- the foot of the bed, somehow. And when Tim turns around again, Bruce has his knees up and his legs spread, and --

His hole is so small that it almost isn't arousing to look at -- 'almost' being the operative term. Tim licks his lips again. "How sensitive is your penis?"

"Not very, anymore. You could... touch. If you wanted to --"

Tim wants to *suck*, but that wouldn't be very -- hmm. "Let's get in the shower."

"Won't that wash the lubricant away before it can be... effective?"

"Not if we position you the right way," Tim says, and moves off the bed... and realizes that he's not really *listening* for Bruce to follow him so much as he's kind of *feeling* for it.

On familiar terrain and barefoot, Bruce already moves as silently as a ghost -- *just* as if he'd been paying attention to the way Tim moves when Alfred isn't around. Tim shivers internally. There's so much Bruce can learn from him -- and *about* him if he stops being careful, and never mind how well he follows the first rule of being undercover: to make yourself into someone the observers expect -- even *want* -- to see.

How long can this *last*?

Only. There's a part of Tim --

Tom turns the water on warm and steps into the tub. And whispers -- not as faintly as Tim would like --

As long as I want it to.

Tim swallows and focuses on Bruce climbing in to join him. There's a pleased smile on his face -- this is something he'd wanted, and Tom is giving it to him, if only for a little while. He steps under the spray, closes his eyes, and hums, letting the water sluice over him and reaching for Tim's free hand.

Tim lets himself get tugged close and takes the kiss. *This* isn't a fantasy he's really had before -- as opposed to having several which revolve around the showers which aren't in the Cave, yet -- but he has to admit that it feels good. Warm and intimate.

When Bruce pulls back, his hair is plastered to his skull, and his smile is soft and inescapably loving. "This is already wonderful, Tom."

"Better than I'd expected, to be sure. Let me wash you?"

"Oh..." Bruce raises his eyebrows. "Is that a fantasy of yours? I think I'd like to wash *you*."

Tim smiles. "That should wait until we're done. And I... was thinking of a specific *part* of you."

"Ah... that." Bruce's smile turns rueful. "Do you think I should've worn a condom? Alfred showed me with a banana, but I have to admit that I didn't really want to have anything between the two of us, for all that the results are somewhat... unpalatable."

"*Just* so, considering that I'm looking forward to having my mouth on you --"

"Oh, Tom..."

Tim lets his smile get wider. "Condoms are a good idea just in general, but with both of us being virgins..." You didn't *know* me, Bruce. I could've been lying to you -- Tim swallows back a laugh which has no place *here*. "Next time, we'll give it a try."

Bruce nods seriously, trustingly...

Bruce strokes Tim's wet hair, pushing it back off his forehead. Tim raises an eyebrow --

"You look rather *severe* like this. Though it suits you."

"Severe...?" Tim sets the lubricant next to the soap and lifts his hands to Bruce's face, pressing hard on his cheekbones with his thumbs. "Should I be *very* stern with you, Bruce...?"

The heat is back in Bruce's eyes in an instant, and they're wide and blue and searching Tim for, perhaps, every stray aspect of sexuality. "Would you like that?"

Controlling *Bruce*... there have been more than a few times when he's wanted to take over to at least some extent, to *show* Bruce how wrongheaded he'd been with people like Helena and Steph, people who only needed a *little* in terms of training, direction...

But he'd never really thought about it *sexually*. And --

"I think the more important question is whether *you* would like it --"

"Tom. The reason why we're *here* is that I want you to -- to *finger* me. So that I'm -- eventually -- stretched enough that you can penetrate me with your *penis* --"

"Point, but... there's a difference between those things and actual sexual *dominance*, Bruce --"

"Which you enjoy."

"Which --" You've all but *primed* me *to* enjoy -- no. Not this Bruce. "I... I suppose I want to make sure that you don't get the wrong ideas about certain sexual acts."

Bruce raises an eyebrow. "You've been an education in a number of respects. And -- if you don't want to do something, *you* don't have to do it --"

"I *do* want to be inside you," Tim says, and strokes down to Bruce's shoulders, squeezing them and smiling ruefully. "But I have to admit that I don't want it as *much* as I want you to be inside me again."

And Bruce's expression is... cheerfully knowing. "I feel as though this would be a good time to say something along the lines of, 'wait until you *are* inside me.' Before you make that particular judgment."

Because Bruce had enjoyed it *just* that much. And because Bruce wants to feel *everything* his brother feels. Tim smiles ruefully. "Noted. Let me..." He grabs the soap and backs up enough that the spray is on Bruce alone.

Bruce's lips are parted before Tim so much as *touches* him, though he's still quite soft. A gentle touch, then, and there's something *deeper* about keeping his eyes on Bruce's face while he does this. Something --

Bruce closes his eyes when Tim starts soaping him, but they're tracking fast behind the lids, and --

He opens them again almost immediately, and touches his tongue to his upper lip.

"You're imagining doing this to me."

"The way you're moving your fingers is almost *frighteningly* clinical, Tom. I'm hoping to convince you that there's a better way."

Tim laughs -- mostly at himself. "I'm sorry. I'm not sure *why*..." He strokes Bruce with his soapy hand, slow and seriously --

"Oh -- much better," Bruce says, and the smile on his face is broad and a little hectic. Wild the way all of Bruce's truly wide smiles are, as if they require *that* much more internal... passion.

And Tim knows *exactly* why he'd tried a clinical touch. The fact is, he *had* imagined washing Bruce, but he'd never managed to take the thought to *bed* -- or shower -- with him for serious consideration. The *fact* is -- he'd never dared to touch Bruce any way *other* than the clinical or the 'partnerly' -- and he'd never been able to imagine *initiating* any other sort of touch at all.

Bruce would have to start it -- whatever 'it' there might be, and... is it possible that the *path* his sexuality has taken, to date, has more to do with a fear-based failure of imagination than with anything else?

Could he *change* himself in this time in ways that don't involve the name he thinks of himself as having at all?

Tim squeezes Bruce and lets himself smile...

"Tom. That -- that smile seems so *dangerous*."

"There is *no* one more dangerous than you, Bruce. Your power, your skills --"

"I'm untrained --"

"For *now*," Tim says, and squeezes Bruce again. Harder --

Bruce moans and tries to push into his fist.

"But the danger of you..." Tim shakes his head, but not vigorously enough that he'd have to take his eyes off Bruce. "You're incredibly beautiful, Bruce. You're young, but you don't act that way --"

"Neither do you --"

"You're brilliant, but you can hide it easily, pretend to be more... heh. Average," and Tim starts to stroke a little faster.

"You. You don't hide. That way -- Tom, you feel --"

"I've never had that sort of patience. I want you hard, Bruce. Hard for *me*."

Bruce moans again, closing his eyes and tilting his head back --

"Beautiful, as I said. You could make people fall at your feet if you chose to. A casual gesture, a *hint* of a smile... I'll never have that sort of beauty --"

"*Tom* -- ah -- ow?"

"Sorry. Mostly," Tim says, and eases his grip. "Don't argue with me for a little while...?"

Bruce nods and searches Tim's face again, a hint of something troubled in his eyes...

"It's all right, Bruce. It's --" Tim smiles and rubs the head of Bruce's penis with his thumb, feeling it get *fuller* as the rest gets harder. Longer and *thicker*... "I only want you to be *sure* about this. You're staggeringly attractive, and any number of people would want to have sex with you -- whether or *not* they knew that you were also so kind and loving, so intelligent and *thoughtful*.

"And I know that you wouldn't *want* anyone like that, that *you* know that sex is always better with someone you care about... but. It's still a privilege to have this with you. I still feel... incredibly lucky. And *anything* you want from me sexually automatically becomes something *I* want," Tim says, and lets the water wash the soap from his hands before tugging Bruce into the full force of it --

"*Ah* -- so. Tom --"

"I want to make you *come*, Bruce. In every way you'll allow --"

"I want the same *thing*," Bruce says, and there's anger in his voice, frustration and.

And a desire *Tim* can't do anything about, because one day Tim will have to go back to where he belongs. But Tom can touch that desire, can *have* it for himself -- Tim moans and drops to his knees, and the scent isn't there, but the *feel* --

He rubs his cheek against Bruce's shaft, turns and mouths it --

He sucks *hard* --

"*Tom*. Take -- take the lubricant," Bruce says, and Tom doesn't have to look up. He reaches and then it's in his hand, and all he has to do is grab Bruce's hips and push to make him back off a pace.

The water's running down Tim's back now, slipping into Tim's cleft and making him shudder and *want* --

And maybe it *shouldn't* be, but it's the easiest thing in the world to slick his fingers and push them into Bruce's cleft, to slide them over and over Bruce's hole while he sucks --

"Oh. That -- I'm not sure..."

Tim pauses with his fingers *just* brushing against Bruce's perineum and pulls back off his penis. "Do you need me to stop?"

Bruce clenches his hands into fists before looking down. His expression is all about rueful amusement -- unless one is actually paying attention to his *eyes*, in which there is all the hunger Tim thinks he can *stand* --

Tom wants more.

"I... I have to keep reminding myself that it *is* possible and can *be* pleasurable. Perhaps if you stopped... teasing?"

Tim licks his lips and considers it... yes, he *was* teasing, and he'd even said as much about it to Bruce when he was fingering *himself*. Tim nods and kisses an apology to the head of Bruce's penis --


"I'm sorry. I got a little lost in the *feel* of your hole, Bruce. The skin there is both wrinkled and *taut*. It's... unlike any other feeling."

Bruce opens his mouth and pants once, twice -- "Perhaps we could... if we positioned ourselves a certain way we could *both* touch each other? Ah... back on the bed?"

Tom likes that idea *immensely*. Tim actually has to *live* in this body at all times, and his ass is telling him in no uncertain terms that *nothing* is going to be entering it -- or touching it too vigorously -- for at least a while. Tim shakes his head. "I'm a little too sore for that. There'll be --" Other times. Will there? "Ah... give me a little time to heal."

"Did I *injure* you?"

"There wasn't any blood I could see, but there were probably several small tears. Nothing serious."

And Bruce looks deeply, deeply conflicted. A part of him -- and it's well past time for Tim to wrap his hand around the base of that part -- is almost certainly aroused by the thought of having fucked Tom *just* that hard, while the rest is quite sure that there needs to be -- at least -- an apology.

Tim squeezes Bruce's penis. "So long as we remain clear about what sorts of damage are allowed --"

"Your scars," Bruce says -- blurts. "I... so many of them are from *your* Bruce."

Ah, yes, *that* lie. If nothing else, the blush is timely. "Some would say that your desire to mark me permanently is *dangerously* possessive --"

"You. You said you were mine," Bruce says, and the wildness is back in his eyes under a thin layer of hurt and doubt.

Tim kisses the head of Bruce's penis again. "And I am. But I need to keep the ability to walk, to run, to *sit*..."

Bruce squeezes his eyes shut. "Tom, I... I'm sorry --"

"You never have to apologize for wanting me --"

"I *do*. For -- the degree of it, the depth... the *things* I want -- *oh* --"

That squeeze was a little on the hard side, but it just made Bruce moan and *shake* -- "There are things we *can't* do, or have --"

"I know. I -- I *do* know --"

"Then we're fine," Tim says, and wonders if it's true. Bruce had said he'd let a monster *out*, but surely it can *be* controlled? His Bruce --

Is not here. And it's important to *remember* that, for all that Tom would just like to do every *possible* equivalent of rolling over and showing his belly. Or... *is* that Tom? Really?

"The bruises on my hips --"

"The one. On your throat. And the ones on your back --"

"Yours, Bruce," Tim says, and *licks* the head of Bruce's penis. "You've left your mark --"

"So *many* scars --"

"Did you think I'd forget you when the bruises faded, Bruce...?"

"Promise. Please, I..." Bruce groans and braces one hand against the wall, and the sound of it sliding against the steam-damp tile seems to settle in Tim's jaw and penis, seems to *thrum* --

"I will *never* forget you," Tim says, and licks a long stripe over Bruce's penis --

"*Tom* --"

"I'll feel you in me long after the swelling goes down and the tears heal," and he scrapes his teeth *lightly* over the shaft --

Bruce groans again and reaches down, pushing his free hand into Tim's hair and pulling --

"Your taste and your *scent*, Bruce, and -- there's no one like you, not really. Not... God, not even *my* Bruce," Tim says, and feels his face twisting with the force of that truth, with the truth *behind* that truth --


"I *need* you. I -- God, you could ask -- I *need*," Tim says, and slides his slick finger back to Bruce's hole. "Say yes to me --"

"*Yes*, Tom --"

And pushing in with one finger feels *easier* than what he remembers of his first few times experimenting with this touch for himself. There's no real resistance to it, for all that Bruce is gasping and shuddering --

He should focus.

"You feel... the strangeness. The sense of wrong --"

"I. Tom, yes. There's..." Bruce's laugh is low and cracked. "I want to ask you if you're *sure*. *Again*."

"This might *not* be pleasurable for you, no matter what we do --"

"I *want* this," Bruce says, and it's as much an order as it's anything else, and the only possible response to that is to push in a little deeper, twist and *search* --

"Keep breathing, Bruce --"

"Yes, I -- oh, *Tom*. That -- that feeling --" And the words dissolve to grunts as Bruce starts trying to work back against Tim's hand.

"Careful, Bruce. You -- ah. Might experience a kind of sensory whiplash between the feelings that seem entirely pleasurable and the ones that seem wrong, or even dangerous."

Bruce nods, showing his teeth -- *gritting* his teeth. "And yet... the only way to get more of the pleasurable feeling is through *enduring* the difficult ones. It could be another... another of your *lessons*, Tom."


"Finding the beauty in terrible things -- oh, *please*, Tom, I don't know what I want --"

"This could help," Tim says, and uses his free hand to guide the head of Bruce's penis into his mouth. Sucking makes Bruce clench and call Tom's name, and Tim waits until Bruce relaxes again before starting to thrust, deliberately keeping his finger slightly bent so he can continue stimulating Bruce's prostate --

Bruce *twitches* in Tim's mouth, leaks pre-come onto Tim's tongue --

Tim twists his wrist slightly with each thrust, and he knows he's not really doing anything to *stretch* Bruce, but Bruce is starting to relax, his moans coming lower and longer as he stops fighting the sensations and starts to *live* in them --

"Oh. Oh, Tom, I -- I think I *see*..."

Tim hums around Bruce's penis and thrusts faster, and Bruce is working himself again, taking each thrust and turning it into something deeper and more serious --

"I want --" Bruce laughs and tugs on Tim's hair again. "I think I'm starting to feel *sure* about my sexuality..."

And Tim thinks about pausing to let Bruce know that not all homo- and bisexual men enjoy this sort of touch, but Bruce had sounded so *happy* --

And a growing part of Tim doesn't want anything to discourage Bruce from this. He starts to stroke with the hand he has around the base, matching the rhythm of his finger, the rhythm of Bruce's *hips* --

Bruce gasps and trembles, slipping a little when he shifts to brace his feet more securely. The part of Tim which is no good to or for anything at all starts laughing hysterically about the idea of losing the Batman to an embarrassing bathroom fall -- but it's easily buried under the *feel*. Bruce is thick on his tongue, his scent already rising past that of the soap. And while he's *tight* around Tim's finger --

"More. I think... another finger? Please try, Tom..."

Tom nods and pulls out all the way, rubbing his fingers together to make sure the lubricant he'd put on both is still good and slippery --

And then Bruce brings his free hand down to hold himself *open* for Tim's fingers, and waiting isn't even a *remote* option. *Here* is the tightness he fears and wants, the heat and resistance that would make attempting to fuck Bruce *now* into a sickly erotic torture.

But his other hand knows not to stop stroking, and Tim doesn't think he's physically *capable* of not sucking, and Bruce --

"Hnn -- you. There's a heat to this, a sense that I *could* be raw? No, don't try to answer me, I -- I don't think I could take..." Another groan, and Bruce is almost massaging Tim's scalp, petting restlessly and occasionally pulling. "I want the other feeling *back*. Perhaps -- could you start thrusting again?"

Tim's not as deep as he *had* been, and he knows from experience that his knuckles are going to catch on the taut skin of Bruce's anus and probably *hurt*, but -- he nods and sucks harder before starting a slow thrust, squeezing instead of stroking and trying to *will* Bruce to relax.

Bruce makes a sound through his teeth, and Tim doesn't need to look up to know that Bruce is clenching his jaw against the sensations. It's exactly the wrong thing for him to *do*, and Tim squeezes his penis hard with his hand *and* his lips --

It makes Bruce *thrust* into Tim's mouth, and that's more than enough reason to do it again, for all that they're failing to communicate --

"I think -- I know you're trying to. Tell me something. Tom, you feel wonderful, feel -- ah. Even your fingers feel..."

Tim hums a question --

"Strong in me. Mn -- *adamant*," Bruce says, and looks down.

Tim smiles around Bruce's penis and looks into Bruce's eyes as he -- carefully -- forces his fingers deeper.

Bruce gasps and leaves his mouth open, eyes widening and then narrowing again, and Tim feels that heaviness, that *warmth* -- it really *wasn't* going to be long before he got hard again, but this --

Tim moans around Bruce and lets Tom guide him into taking Bruce deeper into his mouth --

"*Tom*. It's -- please take -- thrust --"

Tim nods and tries a corkscrewing movement that lets him past the resistance with every thrust, lets him *stay* deep as Bruce closes his eyes and shudders. And the feeling --

Tim has *thought* about rimming -- there's very little he hasn't *thought* about, in one way or another, when it comes to sex -- but he'd never really seen the appeal before now. The feel of Bruce around his fingers --

He could *imagine* that around his tongue, imagine the sounds Bruce would make --

And imagine himself failing utterly to keep from fucking him if he ever did such a thing. Better to keep that kink to himself until Bruce is at least a little more open, until it's a little bit *safer* to give up that control.

For now, he goes down until he's kissing his own fist, licking as much of Bruce's shaft as he can while he gets a handle on *this* rhythm --

And then he starts *fucking* himself on Bruce's penis, riding the rhythm of Bruce's hips more than anything else --

"Tom. *Tom* --"

*Yes*, Bruce, and this is for you, for *us* --

"I could never -- never give this *up* --"

And Tom wants to tell Bruce that he never has to, that this will last for as long as Bruce wants it to, because Tom is *incapable* of giving this up --

"I *need* you, Tom. You -- you have to know that --"

He does, and so does Tim. There's so little he can *do* in this time, but everything means so much, every *word* spoken could move the future in a different path -- or do nothing at all.

"Please, I -- your. Your *throat* --"

And which would be worse, exactly? Even asking the question is asking for disaster, and Tom doesn't care about any of that. *Tom* is focused on the *thrill* of moving his hand from the base of Bruce's penis, on the harsh sweetness of the last breath taken before Bruce is *in* --

Moaning and *thrusting*, sharp little motions that leave him socketed so *tightly* --

The taste isn't strong enough, but the smell is intoxicating, a call toward the best kinds of desperation --

"Tom, *harder* --"

Anything. *Everything*, and Tim feels himself lifting and *thickening* as he works his hand, as he works his *own* hips at nothing, at the fantasy of Bruce. The reality has a strong enough grip on Tim's hair that it's impossible to do anything but *take* the thrusts into his mouth, and --

Is it a *loss* of control on Bruce's part? Or is it the need to have it be *just* like this?

Impossible to tell, and Tom thinks it's impossible to *care* about. Bruce needs him, his fingers and his mouth, his throat and his muscular *force*, and Bruce should always have what he needs. Bruce should never *have* to need, because --

Oh -- just --

Of *course* Tom couldn't be as real as he is without healthy chunks of Tim to shore him up, but to take *that* from Tim, to build himself on the foundation of Tim's *life* -- 

And Bruce pulls Tim *in*, crushing Tim a little against his mound. The hairs tickle and scratch, and it's not enough to stop Tim from wondering if Tom might not have been better for Bruce than Tim ever was.

The better *Robin* --

"Don't -- Tom, I'm so *close* --"

Tim tries to nod, fails and settles for *working* Bruce's prostate as much as he can, trying to hold onto himself, trying --

Bruce shouts and his knees buckle, he's shaking all over and coming down Tim's throat, pulsing and *flexing* in Tim's throat, clenching around Tim's fingers --

Tim uses his free hand to try to support Bruce by the hip --

Bruce's knees *knock* against Tim's chest, forcing him back even as he holds on *tight* to Tim's head --

"*Tom* --" And his voice is strangled and rough, low and so *close* to familiar that Tim flushes --  though it could be the lack of oxygen. After a moment, Bruce starts *stroking* the back of Tim's head, and it's possible to pull back enough to gasp -- and taste the slick head of Bruce's penis.

Bruce shudders again and staggers before standing upright and taking a shaky step back. Tim pulls out slowly and lets *Bruce* pull out, and tries to own the desire to keep him where he is, tries not to *let* himself give that to Tom, because it doesn't all belong to him. It --

It doesn't.

Tim rests his hands on his thighs and pants, keeping his eyes closed --

Until Bruce cups his chin and makes him look up. There's an invitation in Bruce's expression, a happiness he wishes to *share*... but there's also the trouble Tim knows he'd put there solely with his body language.

"I'm okay," Tim says, and stands up. "Just... thinking."

Bruce frowns -- but it fades off his face immediately, and then there's a look of wonder that makes Tim seize, makes him want to *run* --

"Bruce, don't --"

"You don't want to leave me."

Tim winces, and clenches his fists against his need --

Against Tom's need --

He clenches his *fists*, and winces harder. Everything Bruce needs to know is written all over his face and body, and even if that *wasn't* clear before... it becomes undeniable when Bruce smiles.


"I -- I have to --"

Get yanked into a kiss, apparently, but it's not like he hadn't seen it coming. There's nothing Tim could say to Bruce's realization that Bruce wants to hear, and perhaps...

Perhaps this is another one of those quiet times.

He'll take what he can.


Tom had stayed with him until nearly two -- later than he *ever* stayed, and late enough that they'd dozed together, close and wonderful -- but he had left.

And then his laughter had brought Bruce to his room... where two of the paintings on the wall his bedroom shared with Bruce's had fallen to the floor. There was a minute crack in one of the frames they'd both agreed Alfred would discover no matter what they did, but it had been easy enough to hang them again --

And kiss until Tom pushed him away, smiling ruefully and shaking his head.

Now they're together again, but they're in the back of the Rolls with Alfred at the wheel, so there's really nothing they can do. Not even hold *hands*.

A great deal of Bruce is trying to focus on that, trying to get *used* to the idea of possibly going whole *days* without anything but the most casual sort of touch from Tom, but the rest is... restless.

Tom is dozing beside him, eyes half-lidded and hands folded in his lap. Technically, the cooler Alfred had packed with snacks and drinks for them should be resting between them, but Alfred hadn't said a word when Bruce had put it to the side.


He really should be more worried about what Alfred thinks about all of this, but it's honestly hard to imagine ever having a conversation with him about it. If Alfred told him that he had to stop making love to Tom, Bruce would tell him that he couldn't, that he wouldn't even *if* he could, and... that's where the conversation ends in his mind.

Alfred has always been rather 'hands off' in terms of parenting, because they both knew he could never take Bruce's parents' place, and that it would've been sad and ridiculous at once to try. There have been times when Bruce has wondered what it would've been like if Alfred *had* tried, but he can't really see who that Bruce would be.

In some ways, it's easier to imagine the Bruce whom Tom had grown up with, even though perhaps it shouldn't be. It's just... he'd be happier and more confident, focused both on the Mission and on living something like a satisfactory life.

The Harvey in that Bruce's life probably never feels the need to wave a hand in front of his face and ask if anyone's home, because that Bruce has too much to *live* for to get lost in his own thoughts. That Bruce *smiles*, and never feels strange doing it, never feels as though he's betraying his parents *or* the thing inside him, because he has Tom to explain that it's all right. *Why* it's all right.

But... Bruce frowns. That Bruce doesn't make *love* to Tom, has never so much as *kissed* him. That would have to make a difference, wouldn't it? Perhaps there's a want in that Bruce he has never been able to name, because he always had Harvey there to explain the depths and breadth of his own sexuality.

He *can't* have ever thought about Tom that way, because if he had, Tom wouldn't have been a virgin. Tom would've known even *more* -- and perhaps wouldn't have let Bruce touch him, at all.

And he wouldn't want to stay here, even though he knows it would be...

*Why* would it be wrong?

In this universe and in Tom's own... everything is the *same*, except for his presence. And Tom's Bruce has already well begun his training, and surely won't stop just because Tom is missing.

He'll *miss* Tom -- perhaps like he'd miss a *limb* -- but the two universes wouldn't change that *much*. Would they?

And Tom had lost Steph there, and doesn't even know if she's still alive *here*. Bruce could find out for him, and somehow engineer a meeting between the two of them, tell Tom he *wanted* to go into the city for something --

And Bruce realizes that he's plotting to cause a meeting between two people who could only find it painful, awkward, and confusing solely to be able to *keep* Tom... who would wind up cheating on both of them in the *best* possible scenario. Bruce frowns a little harder --

And Tom shifts in his doze -- it's possible that Bruce means 'doze' -- until he's crossed his legs in such a way that his knee brushes the outside of Bruce's thigh.

Bruce doesn't know how comfortable Tom can find that position in a *car*, but he's glad of it, especially once he slips his hand *under* Tom's knee and can feel the brush of it every time Alfred takes a curve or hits a bump.

He wishes Alfred were a worse driver --

"While I do not expect paroxysms of joy from the two of you at the prospect of returning to school, a hint of measurable *life* would not be amiss."

"Sorry, Alfred," they say, together --

Tom is smiling. "Did you have a good time last night with Leslie?"

"Quite, young sir. I presume your Alfred and Dr. Thompkins are friends, as well."

Tom smiles a little wider. "I've never wanted to make presumptions about *either* my Alfred or Leslie... but it did always seem to be a reasonable assumption *someone* could make."

Alfred hums, obviously pleased with Tom... his Alfred must miss him a great deal, though surely that Bruce is better able to be the sort of teenager Alfred has wanted him to be.

And Bruce can *try*. "Would you... what sort of party did you attend?"

"A gathering of Dr. Thompkins' and my acquaintances," Alfred says. "We saw in the new year quietly with just a touch of excellent brandy."

"I've always wondered what brandy tastes like," Tom says, and the smile is still on his face --

"And so shall you continue until your eighteenth birthday, Master Tom."

"There can be no achievements without striving, Alfred."

Alfred hums again, and --

"The two of you. You... play with each other," Bruce says, and feels himself blushing.

"Does it... bother you, Bruce?" And Tom dips his knee enough to apply pressure to the back of Bruce's hand.

Of *course* he would find a way -- Alfred is watching him via the rearview mirror, and seems troubled, and... why does he ever bother to open his mouth? "I only meant... I like to watch it. I don't mean to be... grim. All of the time."

"Even identical twins have aspects of their personalities which *diverge*, Master Bruce," Alfred says, and his tone is gentle and accepting and...

He knows Bruce is trying.

Tom nods. "I've... always had something of a smart mouth," Tom says. "The fact that Alfred puts up with it has kept it from getting me in trouble with other people."

"A measure of care in one's speech and habits is always to be advised."

This one, he knows. "'Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.'"

Tom taps Bruce's hand with his knee. "There's something to be said for *risking* that sort of foolishness."

"Perhaps I'll believe you once you say something foolish," Bruce says, and raises his eyebrow at Tom.

Tom's expression sort of *twists*, which is interesting to watch as he blushes -- and as the blush grows deeper.

"I'm quite sure you will at some point, Tom. Perhaps an hour or less before Alfred does."

"*Really*, Master Bruce. While a certain degree of filial affection is acceptable -- and even to be admired --"

"Ah... If I may, Alfred...?" And Tom turns to face Bruce, expression wry despite the blush. "The fact that I know almost everything about you does *not* make me wise... as opposed to observant. The trick is to *fool* the people like me who are always, always watching."

And that was a rather *full* statement, and Tom *knew* it was, and -- at least a *part* of Tom was both fully aware of *prodding* at Alfred's knowledge of their relationship and *enjoying* the act. Bruce feels more than a little *stunned* --

"Deception, Master Tom...? Is *that* what your Alfred has taught you?" Alfred sounds... not suspicious. The shift in his tone is too subtle for that. But -- something.

But Tom never looks away from Bruce, and -- "In my world, the Waynes have been newsworthy since before we were born. There's no getting away from it -- to the point where sometimes Bruce and I have to give interviews just to get the press to *stop* talking for a little while."

"That's outrageous," Alfred says, and the anger in his voice is clear.

Tom waves a hand. "It's a wasp flying around our heads. It could sting at any time, but, for the most part, it's an annoying drone that never, ever goes away. And... I've learned, by necessity, how to *handle* that sort of attention. How to *be* Tom Wayne, tragic heir. If anything, my Bruce has an even easier time of it, because *he* chose -- from the very beginning -- to present himself as a buffoon hardly *worth* the attention he was getting."

Bruce frowns. "A... buffoon?"

"Loud, dramatic -- and more than a little idiotic. So, you see... sometimes, for some *reasons* , it's better to speak out," Tom says, and leans back again.

"And were you planning, Master Tom, to deceive very *many* people once the semester begins?" That subtle *thing* is still in Alfred's voice, and Bruce is starting to sense real *danger*. He wants to warn Tom, to remind him that *this* Alfred isn't his own, and can't understand --

"I'm going to be pretending to be my own -- distant -- cousin, Alfred. I have to play it as though Bruce and I barely know each other, have to relate to strangers who look like friends or -- at least -- friendly acquaintances." Tom shakes his head. "It would be *fair* to say that I'm preparing myself for the role of a lifetime."

Alfred is silent for a time, obviously considering --

And Tom shifts enough to lounge, a little, letting his eyes slip half-closed again. There's the *hint* of a smile on his face, but it doesn't look as comfortable as it could. Or... perhaps Bruce means that it's a *distant* sort of smile, as if whatever is amusing Tom is neither very nice nor nearby.


Tom shakes his head again. "Just... it's going to be hard pretending I don't know everyone. Though the things you've said about Lex suggest that it won't be that hard with *him*."

"What *is* he like in your world?"

Tom blinks and taps his ankle with his fingertips. "I... well, he isn't a friend. I think the best way to put it is that he's extremely wrapped up in his own personal philosophy, which is all about human advancement through science and *will*, which doesn't sound that bad on the face of it --"

"It sounds," Alfred says, "like apologia for fascism."

Tom raises an eyebrow. "That's... the impression I always got from him, yes. I've always found it somewhat frightening that someone with views like his could also have both the mind and the money to try *implementing* some of his philosophies in the real world."

"All the more reason for the two of you to focus enough on your studies that you may someday offer a competitive vision."

Tom taps his ankle again. "Why should we wait? The Wayne Foundation *exists*, albeit in little more than name at the moment. There are things it could be doing socially, culturally, politically..." Tom turns to look at Bruce again. "I'm sure Mother would've approved of the literary charities --"

"She was adamant that children should have access to literacy programs from a young age," Bruce says, and wonders if he should be preparing to defend himself --

Tom smiles. "There's more, Bruce. So much *more*. Breakfast programs for poor children to go *with* the literacy programs. The sponsorship of... oh, I don't know, dance troupes which recruit and perform in the poorer neighborhoods. Helping to rebuild and refurbish schools. There's so *much* Gotham needs, and so much we can do to *fill* those needs --" Tom laughs, self-deprecatingly, and drops his gaze. He's blushing again, and the only thing Bruce wants more than forever is this *moment* -- "Okay, so maybe I've thought about this a little."

Bruce nods. "You're right. And... I *do* have some say about how the money is used. I... I'll remember for the next meeting."

"While I do not wish to distract you from your studies, Master Bruce, you would do well to remember that you have the right to *call* a meeting whenever you wish."

Bruce blinks and tries to think about it, tries to imagine...

He knows, deep inside, that this sort of thing is *exactly* what their mother would've wanted for them, it's just that --

(Yes. You understand.)

*No*. Not -- it's been days, and he'd thought --

(You cannot lie to me.)

Bruce swallows and remembers not to look around, not to look *panicked*, because no one can ever know --

(You *know* where your true task lies.)

Bruce closes his eyes and balls his hands into fists --

And Tom is pressing hard on Bruce's *right* fist with his knee. Tom --

When Bruce looks up, the expression on Tom's face is both worried and knowing, and Bruce can only nod to confirm that knowledge.

"Master Bruce...?"

"Um. Sorry, Alfred. I was woolgathering."

And he knows Alfred is looking in the rearview mirror, but he doesn't have to meet *his* eyes.

"Ah... anyway, it can be something we think about another time," Tom says, and taps Bruce's hand with his knee twice. "We can't work out and study *all* the time."

Alfred sniffs. "One does *hope*, young sir."

After that, it's a mostly quiet ride, with the woods at the sides of the road gradually growing deeper and the traffic thinning out. Bruce can't help but imagine Tom running easily through those woods, occasionally looking back over his shoulder to urge Bruce faster, farther...

It's a *companionable* silence in the car, but Bruce knows that has more to do with Alfred and Tom than with him.

Alfred drives them into a park for their meal. If it were summer, they'd be eating outside at one of the tables -- once Alfred had laid and weighted a tablecloth -- but Bruce can't help but like *this* rest stop better.

Tom compliments the food, as usual, and talks about a picnic on the manor grounds that Bruce would like to duplicate... though he has to admit to himself that he'd want Alfred to give them the food and leave them to it.

Alfred starts speaking about the theater, though, and that's always --

There's so much of Alfred's life that Bruce barely knows anything *about*. He listens with interest. But --

"But how do you *do* it, Alfred?" And Tom sips tea from one of the mugs that Alfred had brought to go with the thermos. "A knowledge of the appropriate history, of course. A sense of what Shakespeare was trying to do with the play and the character in question -- vastly necessary, I imagine. In the end, however, you're playing the part of someone who never truly lived, never *could* have lived -- given what we know *of* the history. It seems so *much*."

Alfred looks in the rearview and raises an eyebrow. "I find it fascinating, young sir, that it's not the language which stops you."

"Se me dijeron que estoy bastante bueno con idiomas," Tom says. "Some languages, anyway. And it *is* English. Just... for a different time. Imagining myself in the audience makes it easier."

Alfred hums. "If you're asking how I used to go about playing a role...?"

"A role *alien* to your life and experience," and Tom smiles ruefully. "I find the topic relevant, as you might have guessed."

"Indeed," Alfred says, and never looks away from the rearview mirror. "Different... actors would have different ways to answer that question, Master Tom. For myself... I have always held the opinion that the reason why Shakespeare's plays have lived on long past a time Shakespeare himself could have imagined is that he was, first and foremost, writing about the lives of *people*. Even his caricatures lived and breathed as humans do, and held all the attendant passions and histories. In the end, one must not simply *play* a role; one must *live* it, with all the power one can bring to bear.

"There can be no half-measures and one must not flinch from either the character's depths or his heights. For the length of the performance, from just before the curtain rises until just after it falls, one must be another person, entirely. For that time, one's own history and experiences are irrelevant, save in the ways they can inform and deepen the character's own. It is *not* a portrayal, Master Tom. It is a *life*."

Tom swallows and takes a breath, and Bruce can't really bring himself to blame Tom for being so affected. That was a *lecture*, for all that Tom's question had been mostly idle, and somehow...

Somehow it feels as though it was more than that, as well. Part, perhaps, of a conversation between Tom and Alfred in which he has no place...

(Only I will never leave you.)

Bruce winces internally and focuses on eating his sandwich. Maybe he should try playing Bruce Wayne, buffoon. Or... maybe something easier than that: Bruce Wayne, son of Martha and Thomas Wayne. A boy who has never been underground and has always been alone in his own mind --

(Never alone! I have *promised*.)

"I'm... really not sure I could ever manage that, but... I'll keep your advice in mind, Alfred. Thank you."

"You're quite welcome, Master Tom. If you delve somewhat deeper into the cooler, you'll find a dessert for you both."

"None for you...?"

"Dr. Thompkins informed me that the tests she had performed for my last physical showed that my blood sugar levels were of some concern, and that I should consider abstaining from certain desserts."

What? *No* -- "Alfred? Are you all right?"

"I wasn't aware that diabetes ran in your family, Alfred."

"To the first, I'm quite all right, Master Bruce, and there is no need to be worried. As to the second, it does not to the best of my knowledge, Master Tom. Though there were some distant relatives whose health as they aged was not the best. 'An ounce of prevention', as they say."

And Bruce can't help but go over and over that within his mind, searching for...

What would he do without Alfred? How --

(Only I --)

There's a kind of satisfaction to screaming within his own mind, but not --

Tom's hand is on his own, behind the cooler. He's squeezing *hard*, but -- Bruce looks, and Tom has a frown of deep concentration on his forehead, and Bruce can almost *feel* him willing him not to worry. But -- *Alfred*.

Tom nods and squeezes his hand again, and turns to face the rearview mirror. "Did she say she'd be doing further tests?"

"Yes, she did, young sir. And I will be sure to inform you both of the results," and Alfred sounds... amused.

And it's *Alfred*, but even he has never managed to seem that blithe when he was truly worried about something. Tom raises an eyebrow at him, and Bruce nods.

After their meal, Alfred sends them to go stretch their legs, and Bruce isn't at all surprised when Tom immediately takes off in a jog.

It's not a *run*, though, and Bruce has to admit that it feels good. He's glad he's picked up Tom's habit of wearing sneakers more often than not, for all that he can't help but imagine their father frowning at it.

Tom takes them along a well-worn path, and the snow is thin enough on the ground that Bruce can see trash left by others. It doesn't really seem *like* Tom, but maybe he doesn't want to get his clothes mussed too badly. And the path is wide enough that they can jog side by side.

Tom smiles at him when Bruce bumps him with his shoulder. "Casual contact. Good. We'll need to learn how to do more of that."

"I know you're right, Tom, but I think it's going to feel somewhat unnatural to clap you on the shoulder when I'd rather be pulling you into my arms and kissing you until you start making those interesting noises."

"'Interesting', hm? I seem to recall you making a few of those yourself, last night."

And that... Bruce blushes. "To be honest, I can't help feeling as though you make me sound like a dying bull calf."

Tom snorts and elbows Bruce lightly. "In the interest of fairness, I've wondered if I ever reminded you of a cat in heat."

"Not a *small* cat...?"

"Mm. I have the horrible suspicion that my voice just isn't going to get much deeper. Which will make the future... challenging, in some respects."

"In terms of being intimidating? You could just *look* at a criminal --"

"From a few inches below eye-level. And -- masks. We'll need them to protect our civilian identities. Which reminds me, Bruce -- right now, we have school and other things keeping us from training the way we wish to, but there will always *be* other things --"

"The Bat --"

"Is only right *some* of the time. It's not quite a broken clock, but sometimes it comes pretty close," Tom says, and takes the rightward fork of the path. "I -- look at it this way. We're doing this because we want to *help* people, right?"

"To save them. To make sure what happened to us never happens to anyone else."

"Well, what if we could approach that from more than one angle? By the time the mugger loads his gun, there's next to nothing to be done about him *other* than stopping him before he can hurt someone else. But if we could somehow get to the child who would otherwise grow *into* that mugger..."

"I do see what you're saying, Tom. But I never really -- 'Bruce and Tom Wayne, philanthropists' isn't really what we're supposed to be *doing*."

"You -- we have a ridiculous amount of money and... *minions* who will do what we say *with* that money. It comes down to... ah... effective time management?"

"I'm also supposed to somehow run Wayne Enterprises, Tom --"

"And the stocks wouldn't be riding as high as they are if you didn't already have talented, professional staff taking care of the day to day responsibilities. It's -- all I'm trying to say is that it's *possible*, Bruce. All of it. And more than that -- it's *just* as important, in some ways, as our Mission."

And the Bat... is silent. Not gone -- he *won't* make that mistake again -- but perhaps it realizes that it has no power over him, that it *can't* have any power over him while Tom is being passionate. Being *himself*. But he doesn't need the Bat to tell him that Tom will be gone, someday.

Perhaps the Bat has learned how to save up its orders and imprecations for those times when Bruce is helpless. And when Tom is gone -- no.

When Tom is gone, Bruce will begin working to find the people who can *teach* Bruce how to find him again someday, along with everything else.

"Still with me?"

"Always," Bruce says, and smiles for the future *he* can see, just a little. "I think you're right. That you must *be* right, because nothing else makes as much sense while still being sane and rational and *not* a voice in my head."

Tom's laugh for that is brief, though, and more troubled than Bruce wants to hear.

"I'd like to think that was amusing. In the way I'd phrased it, at least?"

"It *was*. And I believe you should make jokes as often as you can -- if only because I find that sort of thing desperately attractive --"


Tom smiles, quick and sharp. "One might even say catastrophically --"

"Please don't talk like Alfred when I'm thinking about kissing you."

*That* makes Tom laugh -- "Perhaps shoving me against a handy tree?"

"I was thinking more of a gentle push," Bruce says, and the smile really *wants* to be on his face, but... "What was troubling you before?"

"I... I worry about you and the Bat. About the way it *hounds* you. God, I -- I could *feel* it, Bruce --"

Oh. "Inside? You -- did you hear?"

"Ah -- no. It's more that I could feel you *hurting*. And -- I knew it would object when it did. I could guess at some of the things it was saying."

He doesn't know *why* he gets excited at the idea of the Bat talking to Tom. He would never wish it on someone he cared about, and there's no one -- there's no one like Tom.

"I'm sorry I wasn't clear, Bruce --"

"No, it's all right. I was... being rather adolescent."

Tom bumps Bruce's arm. "You do *know* that's allowed, right?"

And *that*... Bruce smiles. "Do you remember... when you *called* our mother 'mother,' did she ever try to get you to go back to calling her 'mommy?'"

"I was always more of a 'mom' kind of boy, Bruce. And you're really the *only* person in the world not named Alfred who could make me look casual."

"You wear sneakers all the *time*," Bruce says, fully aware that he's protesting more than a little --

"Mm," Tom says, and they leap over a rather large fallen branch. "I'm also ready to *train* all the time."

An excellent point. And really, shouldn't Tom be *less* passionate for the Mission than he is, considering everything else he wants them to do with their lives? Just -- everything and he'd had a *girlfriend*, too. "How... you must have had a lot of friends in your universe. At school, I mean."

"No," Tom says, unequivocally and almost *curt*.

"That -- sounded almost like a *scold*, Tom."

"I didn't mean it to. I -- it's just that the kids at school are *kids*, in ways we haven't been since we were eight. Well... there's something about... ah, Lex which has *never* been young, but the rest?" Tom shakes his head. "I couldn't really relate to them. Steph was different. Her home life was... extremely difficult for her growing up. She understood grief and pain."

Sometimes, Harvey comes back to school with bruises he either explains away in ways that aren't especially plausible or doesn't explain, at all. And when he does, there's something in his eyes... "I -- Harvey. I think... I think part of what draws me to him... I don't know," Bruce says, and he's blushing again.

Tom *knows* how he feels about Harvey and says that it's all right, that he doesn't mind even though it makes him jealous --

"Never mind, I shouldn't have brought him up --"

"I bring up Steph all the *time*," Tom says, and stops. "And... it wouldn't surprise me if Harvey understood more than he let on," and he's looking distant again, thoughtful...


"I've always thought... humans are animals, and animals have instincts. Instincts to warn about danger, instincts to love and care for our young, instincts to *propagate* --"

"Well, some humans do," Bruce says, and raises his eyebrows.

Tom smiles wryly. "Point. But --"

"You think we were drawn to Steph and Harvey for a reason. That there were things within them we needed, for one reason or another."

Tom closes his eyes and clenches his fists, tilting his head back -- "Need. I -- I needed Steph so much. And there's a hole in me..."

Bruce cups Tom's shoulders and squeezes. "Tom..."

"I'm all right. I..." Tom laughs softly and looks at Bruce again. "Do you understand?"

"I think... you're saying that there were things about Steph you needed that even your Bruce wouldn't have been able to help with. Even if the two of you had been... together."

"Among other things, yes --"

"And you're saying that you think Harvey is the same way for... for me?"

Tom rubs Bruce's chest, letting his fingers splay, briefly. "I think, sometimes, you forget about him. That it's only me in your head --"

"*Yes*, Tom. Just -- you make me feel so *filled* --"

"It's the same for me," Tom says, and his smile is crooked and warm. "But it's not like that all the time. It... wouldn't be a bad thing to *let* yourself be closer to Harvey, to learn more about him, enough to know if you *could* ever be very close to him --"

"If it was... safe."

"Safe. I..." Tom shakes his head. "Sometimes I wonder if anything is *really* safe, Bruce."

Bruce nods and cups Tom's face, feeling the slight chill in his cheeks. They'll have to head back soon, but. "Everything becomes a calculated risk."

"Yes, and... I don't think other people live that way. Or... if they do, they aren't aware of it."

"Are you jealous of them?"

"Am I?" Tom looks thoughtful again. "I... I *think* I'm more *confused* by that than anything else, but... we've known all along that we were... somewhat unique."

And that is... "Once, I pointed out to Leslie that I wasn't like the other children."

Tom's smile is somewhat quirked. "I imagine she had something to say to that."

For a moment she had looked honestly shocked, as though she couldn't believe that anything like that had come out of Bruce's *mouth*. And then she'd put one hand on her hip and raised a finger on the other hand and *shook* it -- "She said that the only thing I'd get out of deciding I was different in some unknowable way was loneliness. And a fat head."

Tom snorts. "I -- am not surprised."

Bruce smiles ruefully. "At the time, I wondered if the voice... if the *Bat* meant that my head was *already* fat."

Tom wraps his arms around Bruce's neck and takes the last step closer. He feels strong, lean and wonderful against Bruce's body, and a world without this --

He can *only* consider it as a temporary thing. No one should have to give something like this *up* -- 

"Leslie is right, too," Tom says, and squeezes Bruce's neck.

"I... the two don't seem to... mesh?"

Tom smiles ruefully. "I know. It's just... we're all people, all *humans*, with the same *sorts* of needs and desires. Most people *are* happier if they feel useful in some way -- at least in my experience. It's just that people like *us*... can be useful in ways other people can't. And that does and doesn't have to do with the money."

Bruce nods. That makes sense the way so *much* of what Tom says does, and... "I think mother would have agreed with you about the Foundation."

"Yes, I think so, too. And... I don't know. What we plan, what we *need* -- I don't think it would've made our parents happy, at all --"

"I -- don't like to think about that."

"Nor do I. It's a hard line we have to walk, but we *do* have to walk it. And... compromise isn't always a bad thing."

Bruce leans in close enough that he can nuzzle Tom's mouth, breathe his breath -- "You tried to compromise before. With *us*."

Tom hums. "I did. I -- I was wrong."

"But you don't think you're wrong about this."

"No, Bruce, I don't. And I -- oh, Bruce --" Tom kisses him, holding Bruce's lower lip between his own and pulling, sucking --

"Tom --"

And the kiss takes his whole mouth, *demands* it, and Bruce has to tilt Tom's head back a little, has to make it deeper and better --

How long before he'll be able to have this again? Just --

Bruce knows that he's kissing Tom too hard, but part of him is wondering what had *made* Tom initiate the kiss right then. Is he feeling it, too? The fact that they won't be able to have this as often?

He *doesn't* want to leave. He hadn't said it that way last night, but Bruce knows he doesn't, they *both* know he doesn't, and the feel of that is both warm and *frustrating*. They have something wonderful, something maybe like their parents had had --

No, he can't think about it that way even though it's true, even though it's *real*, and so much more than he'd ever *dreamed* --

Tom makes a muffled sound and tries to pull back, and for a moment Bruce can't let him --

Tom *bites* him, though, and no part of Bruce can pretend not to understand. He pulls back --

Tom gasps and shakes his head. "Bruce. You have to let me *breathe* --"

"Not -- all the time."

"I --" Tom blushes and laughs. "All right, fine, but *sometimes*," he says, and Bruce can't help but dwell on the fact that Tom is still close, still playing with Bruce's hair...

"I liked that last night. Um... when you were just looking at me and touching."

Tom's smile is small but very bright. "It's something I could easily do for long stretches of time, Bruce. I've wanted to touch you... well."

He's wanted to touch *his* Bruce -- but he doesn't want to leave. "I love you. You make me happier than I've been -- you know this, but I still want to say it, want you to *hear* it --"

"And you really, really want to kiss me -- often," Tom says, and his smile turns sharp and curved, but the weapon of it seems aimed more at himself than at anything else. "The way you make me feel... the way I can't *help* but feel when I'm around you..." Tom shakes his head. "I don't have words for it. Love seems too small, too *pat*, almost --"

"Yes, *that* -- though. It can *be* large, Tom. We can have..." Bruce laughs despite himself. "You're making me want poetry again."

"Well, perhaps we'll learn something decent in English class," Tom says, and pats the back of Bruce's neck. "Kiss me again? We have to --"

Almost certainly, Tom was going to say they needed to get back to the car. Bruce feels *strongly* that those were unnecessary words, or, at most, should only be spoken directly into his mouth. Tom's tongue is mobile and slick, and he tastes mildly of the tea from lunch, and he's not thrusting, but Bruce still has to push his thigh between Tom's own and *feel* him, make him lift up onto his toes --

And moan into Bruce's mouth.

And he doesn't have to restrain himself to touching Tom's face. They're all alone out here, and Tom's body is so perfect, so sharp and defined compared to his own --

His beautiful brother, and sometimes Bruce thinks he could be satisfied if he could just keep *looking* at him, keep watching him move and smile, laugh and *train* -- but he knows that would never be enough for him, not when there was even the possibility of being able to *touch*, to stroke Tom's back and the slim curve of his throat, the tight and muscular *fact* of his posterior.

In Bruce's hands it seems too small to have taken what they'd done last night, but now Bruce's whole body knows that it *isn't*, that it's there and *ready* -- or can be *made* so with just more *direct* touches.

He'd been so hot, so *tight* around Bruce's penis, so *welcoming* -- and Bruce feels himself starting to get hard, and that means --

That has *come* to mean press closer, take *more* of what Tom will give, but -- not now. Bruce pulls back.

Tom raises an eyebrow -- and then looks down between them and blushes again. "We'll find a way -- several ways," he says, and steps back after stroking the back of Bruce's neck one more time.

"I think if I had your confidence I'd be able to do anything, Tom."

Tom smiles and shakes his head. "Willpower is a wonderful thing."
"It doesn't feel that way at the moment."

"Well..." Tom runs in place for a moment and punches Bruce's shoulder. "C'mon, tough guy. Run it off!"

Bruce makes a face. "Is *that* how you're going to pretend to be?"

"Ah -- maybe not," Tom says, and smiles ruefully. "But let's run, anyway."

Bruce lets himself watch Tom go for a moment.

And then he follows.