Built the same
by Te
January 9, 2010

Disclaimers: No one and nothing here is mine.

Spoilers/Timeline: All kinds of spoilers for various things up through the Timpocalypse of Death in comicsverse and the flashback in "Return of the Joker" in toonverse. Yep, it's one of those.

Summary: Better living through spankies. Well. Kind of.

Ratings Note/Warnings: Sexual content which is pretty much married to the content some readers may find wildly disturbing. I'm serious on this one.

Author's Note: Technically, this story is a late and somewhat AU-ized part of the Devotional series, but all you really need to know for background is that, in this universe, Bruce didn't fire Tim after Tim offed the Joker. Instead, there was therapy. *Bat*-therapy.

Acknowledgments: With much love to Mildred and Pixie for holding my hand and making exciting noises. Mildred points out that this one is more disturbing than the drawer-fic, so, for those of you who read that one... yeah. Jack stepped in with some killer beta.


There is no question in his mind that the boy currently moving with soundless caution through the Cave is the wrong Tim entirely.

While the uniform and the boy's basic features and bone structure are the same, his Tim has not chosen to wear his hair that long since the time before.

There are other things.

There is no scar visible above the boy's gorget on his nape. There are no small, fading 'smile lines' on his cheeks. The boy is at least ten -- possibly closer to fifteen -- pounds lighter than he should be. The loss is visible in the boy's obliques, buttocks, and thighs.

While this boy is not *dangerously* thin --

His Tim had never been so --

No. There *had* been a time when his Tim had been *precisely* this trepidatious, this *frightened* and inclined to hide it under layers of examination and care --

Bruce does not need the boy to raise the lenses on his domino to know the darkness that lives -- that *must* live -- behind his beautifully sharp blue eyes.

He knows what he must do while he is forced to *wait* for the components needed to build the machine which will allow him to retrieve --

Rescue? No, never that.

His Tim knows that Bruce will find him, and take him back, and heal him once more if there is healing to be done.

*This* Tim...

"He left you alone when it happened."

A moment's stiffening, followed by a relaxation so thorough and deliberate --

How this boy must *ache* --

"I'm sorry?" The boy's voice is blandly conversational -- a tack which could even be believable if only the boy would *look* at him --

He cannot let this stand, but he *must* be his own variety of careful.

He must be sure, and warm, and open. He must be honest, naked in every way and undeniable.

Bruce pulls the cowl back silently and tracks the boy's movements as quietly as he can. His Tim has told him more than once that the force of Bruce's *presence* could be more oppressive than a heat haze --

He hadn't used those words.

Would this Tim?

"Bruce...?" The boy has focused on the case with Dick's last Robin uniform. He seems fascinated and disturbed --

There is much they could say to each other, but, for now --

"I'm afraid I don't know which 'it' you're referring to --"

"It's all right," Bruce says, lowering and hardening his voice as he removes his uniform at speed. "You've answered enough of my questions for the moment."

Tim smiles without looking at him, and it's small and sharp, familiar and frightening -- "I suppose you *are* called the World's Greatest Detective for a reason. For myself, the questions seem to be multiplying like especially hormonal rabbits," and he strokes the case with one gauntleted finger. "You honestly believe you'll be able to return me to my universe without help?"

"The League is already acquiring what I need, Tim."

"Because you -- all of you -- dealt with something just like this before," and Tim smiles again. "Remind me to retire before I have to deal with that sort of thing, please. Or -- remind *your* Tim."

*Retire* --

How much pain would there have to have been to make *any* Tim speak of leaving the Mission? How can he even begin to *approach* what this boy needs? No. No. He must show no questions in his eyes.

He must do what's *necessary*.

"In any event, my own Bruce will notice that I'm off the grid eventually --"


An eyebrow raise without so much as a *slight* turn of the head -- "Hm?"

"You said... 'eventually.'" Bruce strips himself *faster* --

"Oh, well -- we work separately, of course. This won't be the first time I'm late inputting my reports."

"But... you live in the manor."

"The carriage house, actually," the boy says, tone musing and low as he studies the case with Barbara's first Batgirl uniform. "This doesn't even seem to *have* Kevlar. Hm. I suppose your Tim felt no great need to make a stand -- however pathetic -- for independence?"

"He -- you should never be alone."

A frown -- "I'm not -- what --" And the boy spins with an attack, batarang firmly in hand. Bruce grabs the boy's wrist and slams it firmly against the case, proud and hurt at once that the boy doesn't immediately let it fall.

This boy has had no time, no *space* to learn the rhythms of this. This boy --

"I suppose *this* is where we battle to the not-quite-death, Bruce?" If anything, the boy sounds bored. *Tired* --

Bruce shakes his head and firms his grip on both of the boy's wrists, pushing his thigh between the boy's own.

"Bruce. Seriously, I -- except that somehow you're naked -- hn."

That -- that *nothing* of a laugh -- "Tim. Tim, be easy."

"I don't suppose you'd *believe* me if I said that I'd already covered wrestling extensively?"

"This is not wrestling, Tim. I promise I will only hurt you as much as you require."

"You." Tim frowns. "You. You're *hard*. Bruce, *what* --"

The kiss is as much of a 'hail Mary' as anything could be. Kisses almost never worked at this *stage* of Tim's recovery --

But had he ever truly been *this* tense in Bruce's arms? This tight and *confused* --

Bruce pulls back enough to meet the boy's gaze. "Tim, it's all right."

"I don't *think* so, Bruce. Look, I don't know what you do with -- well, all right, I suppose I can *guess*, but --"

"He left you alone, and you suffered for it --"

"What are you *talking* about --"

"He... perhaps he even allowed you to leave this life for a time?"

Tim rears back, stiffening --

Bruce nods slowly. "I believe he must have thought it was for the best for you, after all you had *endured* for the sake of the Mission --"

"You don't *know* me --"

"And you are frightened, unsure..." Bruce shakes his head. "I must believe that he was merely ignorant. That he, perhaps, lacked a Barbara to show him the truth of things... beautiful boy, there will be no such pain *here*."

Tim blinks rapidly, opening his soft, wet mouth --

So small, and there was a time when Bruce loathed himself for growing needful at these times, but *his* Tim had disabused him of that entirely. Need *must* be answered by need, and so Bruce presses closer --

Tim gasps -- "Bruce. You. We should talk about this --"

"After, Tim. It's always after."

A strangled sound -- "What *exactly* is *before* --"

"You should never be *frightened*. Not -- is it that you doubt I can be the man you need? That you doubt my strength? My hunger?"

"*Bruce* -- *fuck* --"

A curse so *soon*. He hadn't expected -- Bruce bites the side of Tim's throat harder, opening the gorget to discover -- a different scar. A vicious one from a blade. It was neither the Joker's nor Harley's style, but of course it could be from anything. This *life* --

He allows himself to catalogue the fall of Tim's heavy cape --

So much like his own, now, and how could this boy's Bruce not understand the *message* in that choice? How could he have *denied* this beautiful --

"Bruce -- Bruce, *please* --"

("You have to -- have to *ignore* the begging --"

"But --"

"It's no *good* if you don't, Bruce!"

"I understand.")

At this stage, it's no good to release Tim's wrists for other things. He *will* need to fight --

"Oh, *God*, you -- you're going to *mark* me --"

"Yes," Bruce says, as calmly, as *darkly* as he can --

"Batman, *don't* --"

Bruce bites directly over the scar --

"*Hnh* --"

Yes, there. He holds the flesh between his teeth and licks, *sucks* --

Of course he would be sensitive, *aware* of the punishment his body has taken. Perhaps it's something of a *constant* for Tims --

Another bite, softer --

"You -- you have to *listen* to me, Batman --"

No, harder --

"Please, you *can't* --"

He must, and so when he has bitten Tim's throat everywhere he can reach with the two of them in this position, he begins again, pressing the proof of his own need against Tim's abdomen, marking him with his pre-ejaculate and needy human heat --

And the first moan is benediction, even with the way the boy cuts it off with a pained gasp. If there are moans, there can, someday soon, be *laughter*, delight...

Back to the scar, back to the place which makes the boy curse and strain, struggle and pit himself *against* Bruce's strength. The boy is testing him, perhaps testing his *resolve* --

And so Bruce growls like the animal he is, low and starved the way he *always* is when the boy isn't near --

This, too, is a way of showing care, of *proving* himself --

The boy's hips jerk and Bruce knows that he has twitched behind his jock, that he is beginning to rise --

"Please. Please. You have to stop. You can't -- you can't do this. We don't *do* this --"

Bruce bites again, flexing at the feel of the boy's rapid, healthy pulse against his teeth --

"Oh -- fuck, this isn't -- Bruce, *please* --"

He has to *ignore* the begging, but it's so hard, so *hard* when the boy is near, when the scent of him is rising and maddening him -- no. He can taste. He can lick his way across the boy's throat --

"*Bruce* --"

He can lick the boy's jaw, the fine slice of his cheekbone, his blushing ear --

("And you can't -- you have to keep *talking* --")


"I'm. I'm *listening*, but you have to listen to *me* --"

"You will never be alone so long as you remain with me --"

"That's not how we *work*, you -- oh, God, I'm not -- I'm *not your Tim* --"

Bruce pushes his tongue deep into the boy's ear --

"Fuck -- *fuck* --"

"Do you curse to convince me that you are finding yourself again, Tim?"

"I don't know what you *mean* -- ow, my -- my *ear* --"

Just a bite to the lobe, and no Bruce has pierced the boy here, no Bruce has breached this soft flesh and licked the blood away --


"You will bleed for me. I promise you," Bruce says, flipping the boy's lenses and nudging his head aside to bare his throat again --

The sob is sudden, *shocking* --

It shouldn't be so *soon*, but --

Does it mean --

Could he be more gentle already? "Tim..."

"You don't. Look, we can *negotiate*, Bruce. And we can -- of course. Of course I've always wanted my Bruce --"

"He only denied you out of *fear* --"

"We can *talk* about that, and we can. Please. Please let me go?"

He's supposed to ignore the begging, but --

The boy is shaking.

The boy had sobbed.

The boy sounds so diffident and *lost* --

Bruce eases his grip on the boy's wrists and, if anything, the boy begins to shake even harder. "I promise --"

"You don't -- you don't have to promise anything else. I -- I get the *gist*," the boy says, and his laugh is pained and *edged*, but it's still a laugh.

Perhaps the boy had healed, in part, on his own. Bruce strokes Tim's shoulders and steps back --

And the attack is vicious and skilled, full of the darker, more dangerous moves Bruce had taught his Tim after the abduction. This Tim's speed is perfect, his motions precise --

He drives Bruce *back* --

("It's just that sometimes I *can't* take it --")


("Sometimes. Sometimes, I need a *push* --")

He understands --

("It hurts so *much* --")

Never again.

Still, the boy is wise enough to avoid every apparent vulnerability Bruce offers, contenting himself with the sort of kicks which could easily break Bruce's bones --

The boy has been fighting for his life for so, so long, and Bruce *can't* let it last any longer.

Bruce closes, using strikes rather than his own punches and kicks. Despite his own speed, the boy still manages to bruise two of Bruce's ribs before Bruce can destroy his balance enough to make it *possible* to sweep his legs out from under him --

His strong, beautiful legs --

A pin, then, and three quick strikes to temporarily paralyze the boy's arms and legs --

"Oh, God, *no* --"

"Yes, Tim --"

"You can't -- this isn't *you* --"

"I am only what we make of me together," Bruce says, and lifts the boy into his arms, stroking at the terrible tension in his torso until he goes limp.

Bruce knows, now, not to trust, but there is a little time before the strikes wear off.

Time to strip the boy, and allow himself a moment to marvel at all the different scars.

Time to zip-strip the boy's wrists -- tight enough to *nearly* cut off circulation, because *his* Tim had been able to dislocate his thumbs to escape from lesser holds within weeks of their meeting.

Time to discover the false *fingernail* --

Bruce removes the miniature picks and indulges himself in a kiss to the mutilated digit as Tim pants and struggles to regain control over his body.

The question of how to restrain the boy in a way which would allow both the practicality and *warmth* needed -- no, there is no question. While he could never bring himself to use an actual paralytic on a boy who found such beauty in motion, there are other drugs.

*This* sedative has always had a mildly idiosyncratic effect on Tim, leaving him not only calm and moderately sleepy, but also in even greater need for physical contact.

Nothing will take Bruce from this boy's side tonight, and so, after he injects the boy, he informs Barbara and Nightwing that he'll be taking the night off to take care of Tim, and tells them to divide Gotham between them. It hurts to dissemble even this small amount -- without the two of them, he wouldn't have been able to bring *his* Tim back even as much as he had -- but he can't.

He can't bring himself to leave the boy alone long enough for a full explanation. It will wait.

And the boy... his breathing has slowed and normalized, but he's lying on his side instead of on his back.

"You were still trying to escape."

"Strange. Strange how that works," Tim says, and his laugh travels up and down most of an octave.

It's enough to chill his blood, but he *must* not show his fear. "I promise you --"

"Stop. Ssstop. You. *Please*," and the boy squeezes his eyes shut. He is --

The boy is ignoring the fact that he has begun to harden. He --

("It's just sex. Except when it isn't.")


Bruce lifts the boy into his arms and carries him up the stairs. Alfred will be working on a meal for both of them for at least another hour --

Perhaps closer to two. They all have their methods of dealing with the powerfully *strange* things their lives do to them, and one of Alfred's is the preparation of elaborate meals. Neither his palate nor Tim's was ever truly deserving of such things, but this Tim could be different... he doesn't know.

He carries the boy to their bedroom, watching him note the presence of the armoire which had become his Tim's favorite --

("There's just *enough* room for me... when Alfred lets me get away with it. Heh.)

Bruce lays the boy down and opens the armoire enough to show the small nest Tim had made for himself. The lovingly abused pillow, the half-consumed bags of chocolate and other candy, the .mp3 player --

"He's. Your *pet*."

Bruce strokes the boy's ankle and squeezes. "He is my son, my love, my partner, and my student."

A sneer, a jerk of the chin -- no. The boy is trying to turn away.

Bruce climbs onto the bed and pulls the boy against him, settling the boy between his legs, against his chest --

"Stop -- you won't. Gentle me."

No, not yet. Bruce licks his palm thoroughly --

The boy shudders and makes a *distressed* noise. He has regained enough control that he can move his legs, but the sedative in his system will not allow more than weak, abortive kicks.

Bruce spreads the boy's thighs --

"*God* --"

"It's all right," he says, cupping the boy's scrotum in his dry hand and his penis in the other. "It's all right --"

"Not. *Not* --"

"I will not punish you for struggling. I *understand*."

Hissed breath, tension -- the boy is struggling to sit up, to pull away --

Bruce uses his knees to hold the boy in place --

And gets another sob. "You *can't* --"

"I can."

"You -- don't. Why can't you see what this *is*?"

In this position, Tim wouldn't be able to see Bruce squeezing his eyes shut, but he still doesn't do it. It's important not to encourage bad habits, and --

The boy is warm. Lean. *Spare*.

He lacks the muscle of an acrobat, the body fat of a healthy adolescent --

"*Please*, Bruce!"

"Beautiful boy..."

And the boy's moan is shocking until Bruce realizes that he'd already begun stroking, squeezing --

His body knows what must be done. His body -- knows what it needs. "I will care for you."

The boy growls, strains -- pants and moans again, shaking his head.

"I will. It will not be so difficult to love you, Tim."


"Yes," Bruce says, and then he says it again in the other voice, the one which always --

"Batman. You. You have to tell me what I have to *do* --"

"Feel this."

"You could. You should tell me --"

"*Feel* this, Tim."

A growling cry, and Tim is struggling to move his bound hands, he is sweating and trying to arch --

Bruce releases his scrotum and pulls him back, spreads his legs wider --

"You have to *help* me, Batman --"

"I am --"

"*No* --"

"*Yes*," Bruce says, and begins to stroke Tim's penis faster, more demandingly -- no. He gives Tim the stroke he'd watched *his* Tim give himself countless times --

"Ah -- oh, *don't* --"

"This is your only option, Tim --"

"*Bruce* --"

"This. This is your only *choice* --"

"It's not -- not a fucking *choice* --"

"Precisely," Bruce says, biting the boy's ear again and getting a shout, more helpless kicks --

The boy's scrotum is tightening in Bruce's fist --

The boy is leaking steadily --


*Almost* --

The boy groans and beats his head back against Bruce's shoulder. He has begun to shake again, and the sedative in his system turns the shakes into full-bodied, uncontrollable things, *helpless* things --

"Oh, God -- God, don't make me *come* --"

("You. You can make it *better*, Bruce, make it mean something --")

Everything, he wants it to mean *everything* --

Another groan, bitten off sharply -- but the boy's hips are moving. Slow, of course. Graceless --


"*Fuck* --"

There is only ever obscenity to the sight of his beautiful boy stretched out over his lap like this, only --

A part of Bruce will *always* believe that it's wrong for this to arouse him the way other things do --

He doesn't have to show it. He --

It's only that he has *never* wanted to punish his beautiful boy, never wanted to *hurt* him, never wanted to *shame* him --

"Don't *do* this -- *mmph*!"

("When you covered my mouth, everything stopped. All at once.")

He always wants Tim's *sounds* --

("I knew there was no *escape*, then, Bruce...)

Never. Never any --

("Daddy, *please* --")

Bruce does nothing to quiet his own grunt, and there is nothing *to* do about the twitch of his penis when the boy in his lap pushes into a slow, pointless writhe. "There are... things you must understand."

Another half-broken laugh -- but it stops when Bruce grips the back of Tim's neck.

Bruce nods to himself. It's always touch. Always -- a firm touch.

"Am I..." At first it seems like a sigh, but it becomes clear that some impulse is driving the boy to push out all of his air, to --

"No, Tim --"

A gasp -- "I'm... a bad, bad Robin?"

And Bruce's mind is full, *taken* by the memory of a Tim much younger than this one, of a smile whose wickedness was still so *innocent* --

No. No longer, and he must not let himself mourn for that. Bruce presses the pad of his thumb against the soft-fuzzed nape of the boy's neck and presses down --

"God. God, why won't you --"

Bruce *strokes* down, and down the length of the boy's spine --

"You -- stop -- please stop --"

Down into the heat and darkness of the boy's cleft, where there is sweat, oil --

The shudder seems as though it should move them *both* --


"No, no, *no*," and the boy is trying to kick again, trying to move, trying to bang his bound wrists against the bed --

That much he manages, but only twice. Still -- "How often does he sedate you?"

"*Fuck* you -- *ah* --"

Pressure, only, against the pucker of the boy's anus, but the touch is enough to answer still more questions. While *his* Tim has been this tense in the past, it has been a long, long time since he's been this *tight*. "When you called his name while you touched yourself --"

"God, shut *up* --"

"-- he told himself he did not hear. Later, he told himself that your fantasies were only idle ones --"

"Can't -- I can't *hear* this --"

"You can. You will," and Bruce increases the pressure just enough that the tip of his thumb slips in --

"*Please*, God, I -- I've never asked you for *anything* --"

Bruce closes his eyes -- opens them and pushes in more deeply --

The boy *shouts*, tensing and shuddering once more --

"Later than that, he had grown so accustomed to denying himself -- to denying *both* of you -- that it gained the power of routine. Of *habit* --"

"You. You're not *him* --"

"I could be."

"*No* --"

"My voice, Tim. My touch. My need."

Silence -- no. This could never be categorized as silence. This is the pound of the boy's pulse -- tangible even through the callus on Bruce's thumb. This is the quiet patter of the boy's sweat on the duvet and the whisper of his toes against the same fabric as he tries and fails to kick --

"You know me, Tim."

"No. No, please don't --"

"Years together. Years to come to know one another --"

A head-shake and a gasp --

"You know my every scar --"

"Not--! Not the *same* --"

"You know I feel the ache of every scar of your own."

"Please. Bruce. We just -- we can *talk* --"

Deeper --

"*Please* --"

"You've watched me rise for you in the shower. You've watched me pretend my arousal had nothing whatsoever to do with the perfectly-formed and brilliant boy beside me."

Panting now, and more head-shakes. He must --

Just a *touch* to the soft skin beneath the boy's eye --

"Bruce. Bruce. Please, Bruce --"

Moisture on his fingertip, salt -- "You know this isn't the first time I've tasted your tears, Tim."


And that was more of a moan than anything else, more --

But the boy has sounded helpless before. Bruce *will* remember the mistake he'd made.

"You've cried yourself to sleep. You... you were never the only one, and I would go to you, watch you as you found rest with the dry side of the pillow --"

"God, please. Batman, please..."

"The softest touch to your skin only, Tim. And you were not yet trained enough to wake for it."

The boy is shuddering constantly now -- he relaxes around Bruce's thumb --

He gasps and clenches *again* --

"Please *don't* --"

"You've listened to me scream my nightmares."

"You never -- I was never supposed to --"

"You were never supposed to come to my aid," Bruce says, and *twists* his thumb --

The boy's cry is so *hoarse* --

"I dreamed of you there beside me. I dreamed of you, and screamed all the louder. In my dreams I can protect no one --"

"You can't protect *me* --"

"But I can share my body with you. I can teach you more about me than. Than perhaps you want to know," and Bruce lets himself trail off and *waits*.

Will it be a laugh? A derisive cough? Another shudder?

How far will this boy force him to go until they can *love*?

And the moan starts as barely a noise, at all, starts close-mouthed and *quiet*. But it builds. It builds into a groan --

A shout --

A *scream*, and Tim is beating at the bed with his bound hands again, Tim is trying to kick --

The boy is so *close* now, and the only thing to do is pull out --

"Oh, God, *yes*, Bruce --"

The right words at the wrong *moment* -- and so Bruce strikes.

And he does it again.

And he does it *again* --

Here, the first time, his Tim had laughed. Had asked Bruce if he were truly *serious* about this course of action. *This* boy seems only stunned, as if he'd forgotten the position they were in, as if he thought no Bruce could sink to this level --

"I will follow you everywhere," Bruce says, knowing it makes no sense at all --

And the boy grunts for every strike, every -- every *spank*. This is how Bruce knows that he has calculated the right degree of force. Too light would bring only the silence that has wounded them both. Too hard would've brought the right screams, but they wouldn't have been able to continue long enough for the screams to take them to the next stage.

"It's all right, Tim."

"You. You're spanking me. This fails to conform to any *possible* definition --"

"You've treated your education seriously."

"What? I -- yes --"

"Did it become more important after your losses?"

"It -- I --" The boy shakes his head and tries to push up on his hands --

Bruce stops him by gripping the back of his neck and pushing down firmly --

"How is this even -- you. What do you *want*, Bruce?"

"He sedates you often enough that you've already begun to regain your faculties. This compound... are you accustomed to touching him when you've been drugged? Perhaps he touches you? Clinically, of course --"

"You shouldn't. Do this. You --" Another laugh --

Bruce turns the spank into a *grip*, hauling on the boy until his penis drags against Bruce's thigh --

"*Hnh* -- *please* --"

"When we manage to send you back to your home, Tim... you must go to him. You must show him what you've *learned* --"

"Not -- you're not my *teacher* -- oh -- ohn -- oh, *fuck* --"

His own Tim is incapable of keeping his legs even moderately together when his scrotum is manipulated this way. This boy has thrust against Bruce's thigh once --

Again --

"*No* --"

"It's all right --"

"Let me *go* --"

"No," Bruce says, and flips the boy onto his back, giving in to the urge -- the *need* -- to stroke and pet, touch and *play* --

Of course this boy's nipples aren't pierced, but --

("I have to be able to *feel* you, Bruce.")

Yes. Yes.

Bruce lifts the boy and sucks hard on his left nipple, and then his right -- which is far more sensitive. The boy's penis drags against Bruce's chest, marks him --

So much *need* in this boy --

Bruce bites, hard enough to make himself wince, hard enough --

To make the boy scream and buck.

Once the boy is pierced, there won't be a need for this degree of force. For now, there is the boy's other nipple...

And the question of whether or not he should drug the boy again. Hm. A test.

Bruce moves the boy until one of his knees is close to where they both know Bruce's bruised ribs ache the most. He holds the boy there. He waits --

And the blow to the back of Bruce's *neck* is as clumsy and predictable as a truly sober Tim would never be. He nods to himself --

"Damn -- you. You *rapist* --"

"Your rapist," Bruce corrects, and lifts the boy higher still, giving himself a moment with the boy's scent, with the sight of pre-ejaculate beading at the tip of the boy's penis, with the feel of the boy beginning to struggle in earnest --

"You have always been helpless to this pleasure. You've told me it was *cruel*, Tim --"

"What do you *want* from me?"

"Everything," and Bruce leans in and swallows, leans in and *loses* himself --

*That* shout --

No, that one, because it sounds so *betrayed* --

This *keen*, and the boy's fingers are restless in Bruce's hair, stroking as they shake, shaking as they *yank* --

No pain is great enough to deny himself this perfect pleasure, this moment when the boy's cries could mean anything, at all --

"Don't, please *don't* --"

The temptation to tell the boy that he is repeating himself is beneath him. There is no --

There can be no *tease* to this. Honesty. Nudity. *Openness* -- and the opportunity to reward the boy's helpless thrusts by clawing at his buttocks where they are warmest, where their sweat has *mingled* --

"*Batman* --"

He pulls the boy out of his throat --

"No -- please -- *no* --"

He growls as the Bat growls in his dreams, growls to drown *out* any scream, *all* screams --

"Batman -- Batman, just tell me what you *want* --"

Yes. Yes. *Always* -- no. Not yet. Bruce scrapes the length of the boy with his teeth --

And the boy is wild in his arms, straining, *clumsy* --

The boy's orgasm shocks both of them at once, turning the boy's cry into something animal and making Bruce cough. Batman would never --

"Oh, God, Bruce, I'm *sorry* -- wait, *no* --"

The boy fights to pull out further, to get away --

But when Bruce suckles the head of his penis, the boy's ejaculation continues two spasms more and he slumps.

("But you just *take* --")

You taught me greed, he doesn't say. It's not true.

And it's all too easy to lay the boy out on the bed, to suckle until the pained whimpers become sobs almost too small for the name, until the boy stops beating weakly at Bruce's head and shoulders and simply... waits.

Bruce pulls back and looks the boy over, noting the flush, the wet cheeks, the rising penis.

Bruce nods internally and pulls the restraints out from under the mattress.

It's time for more.


There is no question in his mind that the boy currently working himself to startlingly acrobatic exhaustion on the pommel horse is the wrong Tim entirely.

That much was clear in the loose-limbed violence of his movements as he crossed the rooftop they had shared so briefly, in the *hot* sharpness of his smile as he flipped his lenses up and gazed up at Bruce from under his perfect lashes.

He'd asked if he really had to point out that something was wrong. He'd pursed his lips. He'd stroked his -- empty -- pierced ears. He'd *smirked* --

And Bruce had hidden the shock -- and the shock of *familiarity* -- behind the cowl as he shook his head.

The glitter of calculation in those eyes --

Bruce had known himself seen.

Still, the boy had given him what he'd claimed was a *nearly* complete list of the components for a machine which will allow anyone to move freely between universes and a perfectly clear sketch of how most of those components were meant to be fitted together.

The part of him which had wanted to say that such things were impossible was stymied and all but *silenced* under the weight of the boy's gaze, the impatient tap of his foot --

Tim. This boy *is* Tim Drake -- the DNA test proved it conclusively -- but he's also --

He can't say it.

He can't say it within his own mind and he can't say it aloud, can't *ask* for more than the brief story of the boy's father's death at the hands of... Two-Face.

Bruce swallows -- he has not taken the cowl off in the boy's presence and he doesn't intend to.

Bruce swallows again and watches the boy move, looking for the pleasure of accomplishment and finding only banked rage, tension, *frustration* --

"If you exhaust yourself, I will not be able to use you. Nor will your own Batman assuming we are able --"

"*My* Batman knows that exhaustion is no excuse for not using me hard and *well*, *Bruce*."

No pause, no hitch in his breathing. All of Tim's potential if Dick had been able to train him more seriously.

All of --

Of --

"What do you need," and Bruce manages to keep it from being a question, but the Bat is crumbling in his throat. It tastes like stone and dust and the promise of *light* if he can just swallow it down *enough* --

The boy glitters at him as he turns, spins, *leaps* --

The boy's dismount is sharply defined and almost matter-of-fact --

"Stop lying to me."

"I --"

"Stop *trying* to lie to me, Bruce. You're just --" The boy shakes his head. "You fucking *suck* at it."

"Language," Bruce says, and feels like he's -- drowning. Trying to breathe water, trying --

The boy cocks his head to the side and raises an eyebrow. *One* eyebrow.

One, and Bruce has to remember that, has to --

"Cowl. *Off*, Bruce."


"That's not my *fucking* name right now and you *know* it. You -- you *always* know, and you're supposed to fucking -- to --heh. Ahaheh. Heehahaha --"

"Tim --"

"Take it *off*, Bruce!"

The boy has burn scars from where he was almost certainly electrocuted. The boy has a deep scar at the base of his *skull* from where something -- something was *removed* --

"Oh -- oh, God -- HEE HEE AHAHAHAHAHAA --"

The boy dodges the tranquilizer dart easily and back-flips to the weapons table, moving immediately for the *explosives* --

"*Tim*," and Bruce yanks the cowl off. "Tim, stand *down*."

The boy is panting now, and there is temptation to call it exertion --

He will not be so weak. He will not -- "Tim. Come to me."

The boy shows his teeth in a snarl --

("Yeah? Well, why the fuck *should* I, B? What you *got* for me?")

No --

("Well, what this says to *me*, Bruce, is that you're dangerously close to one of your periodic *flights* of magical thinking, and I'm afraid I'm just a bit too attached to *reality* to join you.")

Bruce swallows again, knowing the boy can see, can -- he must almost be able to *feel* it -- "Tim. Come to me."

There's a blankness in the boy's eyes which is almost desperately familiar, a shuttering --

"Come to me. Now."

The boy stands straight -- and pulls off his t-shirt, exposing a dual line of electrode scars down his abdomen. And -- his nipples are pierced, the rings made of platinum. "Do you like them?" The tone is conversational, but the continued blank of those eyes is anything but.

"I would've chosen silver," Bruce says, entirely honestly.

The boy's smile turns wry. "You did. Somehow, despite years of acquaintance, neither of us realized that I was allergic. It was... excruciating," and the boy lets his shirt fall and moves -- *prowls* -- closer once more. "I almost didn't want to give them up."


"So am I --"

"Not. Not always," Bruce says, and cups the back of the boy's head. He must know. He must know. "Tim..."

"Did you leave him alone, Dad? Did you tell yourself that he'd be fine *without* you?"

Bruce sucks in a breath --

And the boy nods slowly. "I'm guessing Babsy wasn't around to slap the shit out of you. Who killed her?"

"She isn't -- she was shot in the spine by the Joker. Years ago now."

The boy's frown is incredulous. "She let that *stop* her?"

That -- Bruce smiles and feels something not unlike ice cracking beneath all of his surfaces. All of -- "No. However, she has but little access to the man behind the cowl on a day-to-day basis."

A sneer. "I didn't actually *need* more proof that you're kind of a *dumbass*, Dad."


The boy narrows his eyes and beats at the bat on Bruce's chest with his fist. "Strip."

"Tim --"

"*Strip*. I -- you know what I need. Don't you?"

("Ah, yes, the question of my emotional needs. I was wondering when that would come up -- well, no, that's a ridiculous lie. I'll make you a deal, Bruce: we avoid talking about my needs and we can *continue* to avoid ever so much as *thinking* about yours.")

"You *don't*. Oh -- fucking *God* --"

"Tim, it's all right --"

"It's *not*. I --" Tim growls and crosses his arms beneath a cape which simply isn't there -- "And that's -- half the time you look at me and I can see that you *do* understand, but the other half --"

"Tell me. Please."

The boy narrows his eyes. "The other half you're thinking about sending me away again. About pretending you don't need *me*."

"I've always. But. You must tell me what happened --"

*This* laugh is barely a breath, and the boy reaches up to stroke the small, fading slashes on his face. Abruptly --

Abruptly, it's impossible not to see them as the beginnings of a brutal smile --

"Yeah, you *can* guess. He -- and Harley -- had me for three weeks. Eventually, I gave up the secret. Eventually after *that*, you and Babs found me. I was a *real* prize by then --"

"Tim --"

"He *almost* got me to shoot you in the head, Dad. He came... oh. It was pretty close. But I shot him, instead. And I didn't fucking bother with going for his *spine*."

"No. Tim. Tim, no --"

"*Yes*, Dad. Babs dropped Harley off a cliff *mostly* by accident, and then set fire to the place -- it was the old Arkham, by the way -- and then we went home and you and Babs *fixed* me."

Bruce -- doesn't close his eyes. He -- "And Dick?"

The smile is twisted and pained, paradoxically *bright* -- "You've *always* been obsessed. That's okay -- I am, too."

"Yes. Yes, you've always --"

The boy reaches up and covers Bruce's mouth with his taped fingers. "*He* thought I should be benched forever."

Bruce can't -- he shakes his head --

The boy nods. "We changed his mind. Well, *I* changed his mind -- after you and Babs worked me over and made me better than I *ever* was before. We just don't show him... everything. Right, Dad?"

Too -- the confusion of this -- Bruce takes the boy's hand and folds it into his own. "None of that happened here."

The boy frowns, cheek developing a tic --


"Is he better? Is your Tim better?"

"Different. Entirely -- no, not that. The Joker -- he murdered the Robin who came before you -- *not* Dick. I --"

"That fucking -- who the hell is Jason *Todd*?"

Bruce shakes his head again --

"Oh. Oh. He's me. He was like *me* --"

"He *is* -- he's. He came back to life. He --" Bruce shakes his head. "He's not with me, and I am -- you must tell me what you need."

The frown on the boy's face grows deeper, *darker* -- "*Why* didn't he come back to you, Bruce?"

"Call me -- you were calling me --"

"*Tell* me!"

"I wouldn't -- I didn't kill the Joker," Bruce says, and waits for the look of betrayal, the moment of crushing disappointment -- "I. I failed you -- him --"

The boy snorts. "Seriously? He expected *you* to kill him? *You*?"

Bruce frowns. "I -- yes. He would've also -- I could've let him die --"

"Okay, so now I have to go find this guy and kick him in the face. Jesus, that's just *asinine*."

Bruce blinks, shifts helplessly --

"Ooh. You love it when I use the *big* words, don't you, Daddy?"

"Tim. You shouldn't -- you should only ever be yourself --"

"Oh, like you have *any* capacity to figure out who that is. Not even *my* Bruce is ever *completely* sure."

"Are you?"

A smile to bleed on, and the boy twists his hand away from Bruce's own. "Mean Daddies don't get treats."

And *that* -- "Somehow... I doubt that."

The boy's eyes flare, vicious and, yes, *bright* -- "Show me, Dad. Show me *Daddy*."

Bruce feels his fists clenching and needs --

("Oh. *Oh*. Ah... Oh, Bruce, I'm *so* glad I've decided that all the cameras scattered around this room only exist when you're *not* looking. Mmm...")

Needs --

("Oh, so *now* you wanna piece, B? What if I got sick of waitin' for you and balled the first cheerleader who spread for me? What if I'm *not* fuckin' dying for your cock so far up my ass I taste it?")

It should never be easy to grab Tim -- and it isn't. He twists --

He breathes a silent laugh --

He *moves*, never looking away from Bruce's eyes, never showing the fear they can both smell --

He *exists*, and forces Bruce to do the same, forces Bruce to use his strikes to destroy the boy's balance until he can sweep and pin --

"*Ugh*, get this thing *off* --"

"And if I don't?"

The boy shivers. "Batman's not my Daddy."

A moment, only, to hesitate within himself --

Long enough for the boy to *begin* to raise his eyebrow --

And there is another, different breaking for the feel of his hand closing around the boy's slim throat. Jason had left no scar, but others had --

Too many people have been allowed to *touch* this boy --

His hand should be *bare* --

But Bruce can't bring himself to let go. Not when the boy is moaning for him, when he's arching into Bruce's touch and letting the tip of his tongue slip out from between his soft, pink lips --

"You'll show me what you need."

The nod is brief and small -- all the gauntlet will allow.

"You. You'll show me everything."

The boy closes his eyes --


The boy opens his eyes, and they are wide, a blue so grey it's nearly silvery --

This touch *must* be wrong, but --

If he could've had this --

If his Tim had ever --

He has never even been able to *speak* of Tim as his, but this boy...

"Kiss me," he mouths.

There is no surprise to the bite when it comes, save for the fact that it does not draw blood. Bruce finds himself enraged for ever thinking he needed a life where his face *wasn't* marked --

This boy had taken that, as well --

Bruce kisses him harder, strengthening his grip around the boy's neck until he twitches, shudders --

Bruce *lifts* the boy into the kiss, kneeling up and pulling the boy into a seated position. He must. He must *touch*, and it's only that which allows him to break the kiss and tug the gauntlet off with his teeth --

"You should've -- *koff* -- listened to me when I told you to strip."

Bruce narrows his eyes at the boy. "Stay. Still."

Narrowed eyes, *challenging* expression --

"If you don't... I'll stop."

Terrible to see the hesitation in the boy, the *fear* --

But Bruce knows it will only last until he makes himself clear, until he shows the boy, the beautiful boy --

("If you even *think* about describing me as 'beautiful,' or 'cute,' or '*pretty*,' Brucie, I will use these stiletto heels to lobotomize you. Not that anyone would be able to tell the difference.")

But hadn't there been color in Tim's cheeks beyond the rouge? A shuttering of his eyes --

"Bruce --"

"No," Bruce says, and stands.

The boy gasps, rubs his throat -- "Daddy, you have to. It has to be fast --"

"Yes," and he begins removing the uniform, giving the boy his eyes, his hunger, his pleasure in seeing such beauty --

The boy bites his lip and reaches to squeeze himself through the jock --


"Daddy --"


"Oh -- fuck," and the boy brings his hand back down to the mats, spreads his legs as wide as his Tim --

He has to *find* his Tim, yes, and he will, and he will somehow -- somehow be *brave* --

"*Please*, Daddy --"

"Shall I make you stop begging --"

"No! No, make me -- make me *loud*, Daddy --"

"As you say," and Bruce lets his uniform fall where it will, lets himself *have* the boy's regard as he obviously catalogues the placement and severity of all his scars, as he learns the similarities --

"God -- always --" The boy bites his lip again and shakes his head --

("I. I suppose I do bite my lip too much. I... heh. Noted, Bruce. I'll work on it.")

It was only supposed to be something he stopped for undercover work, something --

He misses the sight of Tim's teeth digging into his lower lip, so much *less* plush and inviting than the upper --

He is naked, and the boy is not, and there's nothing to stop him. Nothing --

He rips the boy's clothes off in two quick jerks, mentally apologizing to Tim for ruining his favorite workout clothes --

How will he ever *explain*?

But he is only lost for a moment before he comes back to himself, to the feel of the boy's slim, taped ankles in his hands. The boy had tried to move away. The boy --

Bruce frowns and forces himself to *focus*, to breathe deep and *understand* --

The boy is shaking his head. The boy's eyes are wide and there *is* fear in his scent -- had Bruce gone too far? Had he caused unwelcome pain?

"Tell me." And Bruce winces inside for the *flat* sound of his own voice, the menace the boy must know wasn't *calculated* --

And the boy moans and bucks his hips, strains to pull free --

"*Tell* me --"

"Just. Just. I promise I'll tell you everything after but right now you can't stop --"

"Tim --"

"Daddy, *please* --"

"Your. Your scent --"

"Don't stop for anything, not *anything*, and I -- please, Daddy, even if I beg --"

Bruce grunts and spreads the boy's legs --

He hadn't meant to *do* that --

Not yet --

"*Ohn* -- God, *yes*, Daddy --"

Impossible not to stroke his way up the boy's long, lean legs. The muscle he'd worked to earn -- "Beautiful boy..."

"Please -- please --"

Bruce nods, because he can't quite think of anything else to say -- no. The boy must hear him. "I am... hungry."

"Me -- always. I'm *always* hungry --"

"The darkness. The darkness can *mock* --"

"Not when you're *here* --"

Bruce squeezes the boy's thighs and leans in to breathe and nuzzle the boy's groin, marking himself with pre-ejaculate, burying himself in the pleasure of this, of something he was never *allowed* --

"Oh, *please* --"

("Lemme... oh, you gotta let me feel your *teeth*, B --")

Bruce nibbles his way along the boy's shaft --

The boy shouts and bucks --

And shouts again when Bruce grips the boy's hips and holds them down, holds them in *place* --

"Can't -- can't *move* --"

"No --"

"You have to let me --"

"*No*," and Bruce bites the boy's scrotum carefully, tugging the soft flesh with his teeth until the boy shouts again -- and settles.

Yes, he can see. He can understand --

("God, sometimes I just gotta fucking *fight*. You *know* that.")

He does.

But there are other things the boy needs, and he *will* have all of them. Bruce pulls back and --

"*Daddy* --"

Bruce grunts again and grips the boy's throat, squeezing hard. "You know the power of that word."

The boy nods.

"You know what you're *asking* for."

The boy squeezes his eyes shut --


Eyes wide again, and with his pupils blown like this, the blue seems more prominent, *softer* --

It's not a surprise that his free hand shakes as he brings it to the boy's face, as he strokes the thin, soft skin beneath the boy's eyes and the mildly chapped flesh of the boy's lower lip --

The boy kisses his *fingertips* --

("God, Bruce, don't *listen* to this, don't -- oh, God, but I want -- *ohn* --")

Bruce pulls back. "On your stomach. Now."

The boy shudders once *while* flipping himself over. He moves his arms until they're flat to the mats above his head, extending the line of his torso. He spreads his legs once more -- far enough that the intriguingly mild strain is visible --

"Your flexibility... moves."

"For you, Daddy, for --"

"Shh," Bruce says, gripping the boy's buttocks and squeezing, spreading --

The flex of his anus as he clenches makes Bruce salivate, and there is no reason not to --

("Fucking *A*, B, you are *not* kissing me after -- oh, fuck *me*, wait, don't --")

A kiss, yes --

"*Oh* -- but -- *hnh* --"

The boy wants other than this. The boy *needs* other --

But the boy also needs to see -- to *know* -- Bruce's need. And this --

This perfect *darkness*, this weakness that consumes, that drugs and maddens the senses --

"Daddy -- oh, Daddy, *please* --"

Yes. Always --

He's wanted --

How could it be so *natural* to hold the boy still for this? How could it feel so right to have this touch with *this* body --

The boy's skin so sleek where it isn't marked, so frighteningly smooth where it *is* --

Bruce dips his tongue *in* --

The boy shouts and -- that sound. He must be beating his fists against the mats. Fighting this or fighting for it?

Bruce digs in with his nails and begins to thrust with his tongue --

"*Ohn* -- fuck me, *fuck* me, Daddy, please, you know --"

Bruce tightens his grip still more, heart pounding for the sense of the boy as something which *could* be fragile given the right touches --

The *wrong* touches --

More. He needs *more* --

The boy wails for him and begins to kick, begins trying to lift himself to his knees --

Bruce holds him *down*, and taking this could only ever be selfish -- even if it should never be small or petty. Taking this must be an act of *deepest* greed, because it demands so much from one's --


Yes. *Yes* --

Bruce lets himself groan, lets the groan become a growl --

The boy wails again, and the motion of his body becomes attempts to move in rhythm with Bruce's tongue. He wants more. He *needs* more --

He will have it.

Bruce kisses the boy hard, shoving his tongue in as deep as it will go --

Bruce grunts for the boy's clench --

Bruce pulls back and moves the boy over his lap --

"Oh, *yes* --*ah* --"

There is no reason to spank him, no punishment and no deniability. The boy is at least sixteen, and he has done nothing wrong --

Does he understand that? Or does he want the sense that he *had* committed a sin which could reasonably be expiated by this act?

After. The boy -- he'd said he'd tell Bruce after, and Bruce will hold on to that. Bruce will *command* that if he must. For now...

One strike after another, light enough to bruise only if he continues this for some length of time without any breaks for massage.

The boy arches into every one, and so it's necessary to alter the rhythm, to make something less predictable --

The boy screams once, sharp and high as he tenses for a light strike to his scrotum. He *stays* tensed --

Bruce wants to kiss him there, lick and soothe and suck --


He has paused for too long. Bruce satisfies himself with the feel of the boy's scrotum in his hand for the moments it takes before he has it settled on the backs of the boy's tight thighs --

Bruce *wants* those thighs, wants --

"I want you spread," he says, and forces Tim's thighs together.

"Please -- please, I *will* --"

"No. This is far more convenient for -- my needs."

The boy pants and tosses his head --

"You should know that in my mind you're already spread and ready for me. Already *slick*."

A moan -- and the boy grinds against Bruce's thigh, hopeful and encouraging at once --

"You want me inside you."

"Daddy, *yes* --"

"And if I only want your skin? The soft flesh of your inner thighs?"

"It --" The boy tosses his head. "*Tease* --"

"Perhaps..." Bruce strokes the reddened skin of the boy's buttocks softly. "Perhaps you *should* be teased?"

The boy growls like a wounded cat, arching and twisting -- the bite lands just beneath the largest scar on Bruce's ribs, and Bruce isn't sure whether the message is demand, plea, rage, pain --

After. He'll know then.

For now --

For now he catches the boy's neck in a grip more brutal than loving and forces him to lay himself out once more, arranges his scrotum on his thighs --

Spread thighs once more.

The boy finds many ways to communicate --

("You have *your* silent communication and I have *mine*, B. If you can't figure this one out, I'll give you a hint -- sit and fucking well *spin*.")

All of them, it was all of them --

("*Bruce*! This is the good *morning* hug! That means you *have* to stop and eat your breakfast!")

If he could've only ever been *wise* --

("Okay, Spooky, I'm only gonna say this once. While I *will* consume your ass-milk wheatgrass pus-shake for justice? No power on *earth* will make me put these chocolates down before my uterus says it's time. No! *Listen to the uterus*. It's calling your name.")

If there had ever been one *moment* --

("Batman, if you keep going at this rate, I will not actually be comfortable having *any* facial expressions. While this may amuse you, I'm personally quite happy about the fact that random passers-by never feel the urge to tranq-dart me and shove me in *Arkham*.")

All of them and none of them, but this boy has promised to teach him how, to show him the path to understanding -- to *guide* him if necessary --

"Such a gift..."

"Daddy --"

"Yes," Bruce says, and spanks the boy's scrotum lightly, carefully, and constantly. It doesn't take long for the boy to begin to whine high in his throat, to then begin to gasp --

To toss his head --

To cry, one solitary and bitterly-fought tear after another -- even as he grinds his penis against Bruce's thigh.

Perhaps his Tim has wanted a reason to cease his (seemingly?) natural Stoicism. Perhaps he's wanted to be driven, if not led --

Bruce doesn't know, and the thoughts are maddening and impossible to contain, obscene in every possible way. The boy Tim had been would've taken any order. The man he's become has been on the edge of letting Bruce's many betrayals drive him away for *years* --

Bruce's fear has been his *savior* --

"*Daddy* --"


"Ohn -- fuck, fuck, it's too --" The boy shakes his head, bites his lip *hard* --

"I won't stop until..." What? What would be best?

"*Please*, it hurts so *much* --"

The urge to stop, to make this *better* --

The boy is keeping his thighs almost rigidly still even as he writhes with the rest of his body. Bruce is not holding him -- if he wanted to stop this, he could do it in an instant --

Even now, even through his pain he is communicating.

"Oh, *God* --"

Bruce breathes deep, tasting the salt of pain-sweat... and perhaps of those few tears. "When you fight, I will. I will *punish* you."

The boy *shrieks* -- but does not move. All right. This far and no further, at least for now, and Bruce thinks his gratitude may swallow him whole.

The *ache* of it --

That which they *share* --


"*Daddy* --!"

"I will let you go only when I *must*," Bruce says, and forces himself to increase the force of his strikes, forces himself to go on, and on, and further still --

The shrieks come constantly --

And they do not stop even when the boy begins to ejaculate. They --

Bruce has to *strain* against the sudden fear, the rage --

He'd wanted to give the boy orgasms in other *ways* --

He doesn't *stop*, not until the boy slumps and --

And begins to weep. He --

"N-now, Daddy, please, it -- *now* --"

Bruce pulls the boy into his arms and rolls them down to the mats, pinning the boy and kissing him, licking away his tears --

The boy shudders and stills --

The boy gasps a *desperate* sob --

The boy wraps his arms around Bruce's neck --

And smiles.


He has learned, and will learn more.

The boy responds well to eye contact, much like his own Tim, but *unlike* Tim, he will not demand it. He will even seek to *avoid* it. Not even in the worst of times...

"Do you trust him so little?"

The laugh is a cough, and comes with a reflexive struggle to free his arms and legs from the restraints -- "On the contrary -- I find I trust *him* more by the moment."

Bruce nods and straddles the boy, and begins to massage away tension.

The boy turns his head and closes his eyes --

"You trust him to disappoint you."

"Look, why don't you just -- do whatever it is you need to do and then go fight *crime* or something --"

"I will not ever use you." There --

Eye contact, if only because he has made the boy incredulous. Bruce wants to stroke the blade of the boy's cheekbone, but he does not stop his ministrations.

The boy searches him and Bruce nods.

The boy snarls -- "You actually believe that. You -- what the hell *happened* to you?"

"I nearly lost you. I will not ever make that mistake again."

"And you honestly believe --" The boy snarls and turns away again.

He has had excellent and thorough training in the various ways to engage a captor, but he hasn't used any of those methods since the first attempt to fight his way free. Bruce knows that this *isn't* because the boy has surrendered -- no Tim could ever *truly* surrender with all of himself -- but...

He had come close to *truly* connecting before.

He wants --

"Look at me."

"Or else?"

"There is nothing you could show me which would alter my need to help you. To love you."

"I'm not *yours* --"

"But you could be," Bruce says, and indulges himself by cupping the boy's throat for a moment --

"God -- don't --"

-- before beginning to massage him there.

The boy pants, eyes tracking fast behind the lids --

"Let me see you."

A snarl -- with closed eyes.

"You know me better than anyone else. You *see* me more *clearly* --"

"*Somehow*," the boy says, and the silver in his eyes is a weapon, "I didn't expect to be raped and then tied to the bed."

"It's true that you usually prefer it the other way around."

A *choked* laugh -- and the earlier snarl's more vicious cousin. "Let me go."


"I will find *another* way back -- to my universe --"

"There is no other."

"I'll take my *chances* --"

"When you called to him from your bed --"

"Shut *up* --"

"When did you stop believing that he would ever come?"

A derisive laugh -- barely a note of it -- and -- "I *always* knew he wouldn't abuse me --"

"Yes. But you were not asking to be abused. While you have hated yourself, you have never felt the need to make someone else the instrument of your self-punishment," Bruce says, and moves to massage the boy's legs, ignoring the slight rise of his penis as best he can.

The boy searches him again, shaking his head -- he stops and turns away --

"He made you lose your faith --"

"You're not my fucking god."

"He made you believe yourself... unworthy of his touch."

The boy's jaw clenches -- and then he relaxes it deliberately and begins to regulate his breathing.

Bruce nods and finishes massaging the boy's legs --

And the boy stiffens, knowing more will come.

Bruce strokes the long, looped scar on the boy's thigh. At least a five-inch blade, unserrated. The boy had lost flesh, and... yes. "When he stitched this wound, he was mad with terror, Tim."

A clenched jaw.

"The fear made him angry, and he made you detail the mistakes you had made, and tested you again and again on what you would do if you ever found yourself in a similar situation --"

The boy looks at him. "Do you expect to amaze me with your insights? You may be a pathetically deluded rapist, but you *are* still Bruce."

Bruce nods. "Yes, I am. And you did not know that he longed to taste your blood."

"Oh -- what is *wrong* with you?"

"I told you -- I nearly lost you."

"That was *before* -- whatever. Forget it."

"I loved you from the moment you stole the Robin suit."

"Stole -- *what*? Alfred *gave* it to me --"

"I ached for you when you learned your father had been killed by Two-Face --"

"Killed -- you -- that was --" The boy rears back as much as he's able. "You think --" The boy shakes his head. "*My* father was killed by *Captain Boomerang*. But you... hn. You didn't know Jason."

This is... a new tack? "Who is Jason?"

The boy's smile is cruel. "The *second* Robin. And your student, son, and lover."

He. He had another love? Bruce stills his hands on the boy's thighs. "More."

"Your relationship with him was... tempestuous. He'd been living on the street for months before you found him, and he had... no patience for your rules and strictures. He cursed like a sailor and had sex with nearly everyone who would stand still long enough for it -- including *Dick*. I don't know when you became lovers, but you began early enough for me to *see* the two of you making love on the *street* when I was still only eleven --"

"No. I --"

"*Yes*. *He* was the one who --" Tim shakes his head. "You lost him. The Joker killed him --"

"*No* --"

"Oh, don't worry. He managed to come back. He's more than a little insane and has a habit of beheading gang leaders --"


"*But* -- you're still *good* and obsessed with him. You *definitely* lost your mind every time he got hurt, and I'm absolutely sure you know the taste of his blood as well as your own saliva. Not to mention his other fluids --"

"He is not *you* --"

The boy's smile is almost triumphant. "No. No, he absolutely isn't. And I think you're beginning to see the problem? *Dad*?"

There is a moment when Bruce is only unsure, when the look in the boy's eyes as he tugs *playfully* at the restraints is enough to *stymie* --

But it fades as soon as his hand is around the boy's throat, because one squeeze is enough to make the boy *twitch*.

Bruce nods. "I already knew that the path you traveled was a different one, beautiful love. I know that better now, and I expect to know it better *still*. But *you* are the one who rises for this touch. *You* are the one he watched as you held your breath, as you toyed with too-small gorgets and the conveniently high soap dishes in the Cave showers. *You* are the one I *almost* lost," Bruce says, raising an eyebrow and relaxing his grip slightly.

"Listen to me, Bruce. I am not. Your. *Love* --"

"But I am still myself," Bruce says, and smiles. "And you... you will always be yourself."

"I -- all right. Your Tim -- he probably curses as a matter of course and not just when he's -- in *extremis* --"

"Not anymore," and Bruce strokes over the boy's Adam's apple to his suprasternal notch --

A brief pant -- "He -- he -- he's rebellious --"

"He has learned to be otherwise."

The boy shakes his head. "Don't. Please don't."

Bruce presses with his thumb and watches the boy flush and darken, *feels* him lift his hips just slightly -- "This touch drives him. Just like you. This touch makes him ache for more."


"He did not always use the mind he had been given -- as opposed to his body, his miracle of a body --"

"Bruce, I'm not -- God, Bruce --"

"Now, though... he studies every moment's expression. He pauses within himself until he knows everything that *is* knowable about a given situation. He *hides*."

"Have to. Always -- I can't be seen --"

"And so you choose darker colors, more protection..." Bruce nods again and eases the pressure. "I want your happiness."

"You -- you'll have my *insanity* --"

"You know there is a place for such things. A *moment* which can only be shared with a vanishing few --"

"No one -- *no* one --"

"He left you alone when you needed him most --"

"I'm not -- some *child*!"

"My child."

"*No* -- *hnh* --"

Yes, pressure again, but the boy can still breathe, still speak... "Did I wait so long to adopt you once it was possible to do so?"

"You -- he was *unseemly*. I --"

Bruce laughs softly. "Of course I was. There was room in all my fear and pain to be your father, room to take *that* from you if nothing else... but I see, now, that it took much too long. You had your other parents for some time..."

The boy squeezes his eyes shut, but there is no effort needed to use his other hand to hold the boy's head in place --

"Look at me."

"Not -- not *you* --"

"Not me."

*Two* pants -- and when the boy opens his eyes there is confusion and the *beginnings* of hurt --

"I wish I could tell you that my Tim was the one who taught me to look beyond fear. I wish I could claim that degree of *sense*, Tim. But I can't. Only loss has ever given me intelligence -- never wisdom --"

"Please. Please let me go."

"Let me show you what we can have --"

"You -- you *did* --"

"The barest touch. A glance of fingertips. Let me show you."

"Please. You -- you know what you're *doing* to me!"

The Bruce in that other universe had allowed a crippling injury in the boy's soul to heal *badly*. Bruce must... break. "I know."

The boy begins to pant in earnest, turning his head back and forth and back again, searching *wildly* --

The screams are heartfelt, wounded things --

The way they last speaks volumes about the boy's stamina and ability to use his capacity for breath --

The screams hurt the way they always do, foster *doubt* the way they always do --

Even *Alfred* used to feel the need to check on them when Tim screamed like this, even though he knew he could do nothing to ease the pain --

The boy's voice cracks and the rest of *this* scream is a half-silent whistle of air. The boy's eyes are wide, but he sees nothing right now, nothing but his own fear and pain --

Bruce cups the boy's face. "Tim."



"*No* --"


"I'm not -- I'm not fucking *weak* --"

"Never --"

"You. You won't break me."

"I won't," Bruce lies, and kisses the boy's forehead, and then his cheeks, and then the brusque point of his chin.

He kisses the boy's mouth, softly enough to invite a vicious bite -- or merely a shaky exhale.

"Tim. Let me show you."

A sharp noise, cut off quickly --"Do what you want," and the boy's voice is nearly flat, nearly --

The pain in him --

The pain he'd learned to *live* with --

Bruce breathes deep and nuzzles his way to Tim's flushed ear. "He envies your strength."

"He -- no --"

"He knows everything that drives you and watches you *endure*, Tim."

"Batman. He's Batman -- *you're* Batman --"

"Not with you -- no. He's Batman with you because he tells himself you demand it from him," and Bruce kisses the boy's ear softly, licks --

The boy shudders. "I have to -- there's such a thing as professionalism -- oh, please don't --"

Bruce holds the lobe between his teeth for another moment before releasing it --

And the boy sighs --

Pants --

And regulates his breathing.

"You're Robin with him because he seems to demand it from you."

"He *does* --"

"He's afraid of you."

"He's always -- he's *young* inside --"

"Eight years old... but while this is a deeper truth, it is also a lie he tells to protect himself from those he loves," and Bruce pulls back in time to see a frown crowd itself over the boy's features. Bruce kisses the boy's deep-grooved forehead. "It's a lie, Tim."

"No... no, you don't -- you don't understand --"

"I do. No man can live the life we have lived -- seen the things we have seen -- and retain anything like the innocence of youth. We understand our desires and motivations. We have looked deep within ourselves and found truths we find loathsome."

"Always -- it's -- a question of self-*esteem* --"

Bruce hums into the boy's mouth, risking his tongue for one delve, another --

The boy turns out of the kiss. "Please. Not that."

Bruce kisses the boy's exposed throat over one of the bite marks --

And the boy groans and shivers.

Is it possible that he could be gentle?

If he pushed hard *enough* --

"We are only what we are made, Tim... and this is another lie. If we were truly so malleable, we would offer ourselves on the altar of your exquisite mind --"

"Please --"

"We are only *afraid* we're so malleable. We... in truth, we have no idea how malleable we truly are, only that it's more so than we wish to be. Robin would never truly change Batman. Robin changes himself to be... what Batman needs."

The boy's moan is long, low, *hurt* --

Bruce suckles at the bruised flesh and waits, wants --

Bruce lowers himself enough that the boy can feel the truth of his hunger --

The boy shudders and cries out before silencing himself again.

Bruce pulls back, making a point of licking his lips where the boy can see him do so. "He wants to believe he needs you to continue denying yourself. To continue denying *both* of you. It suits the man he would like to be, the man who has never found anything *untoward* within himself."

"Batman. Batman is the only one --"

"He is the only one you ever believed in. He is a hero, a paragon, an *icon* --"

"No. No, he's a man, he's -- you're a great man, and you have to know this is wrong, you have to *know* --"

"We are lonely, Tim. We have been lonely... hn. He'd like to believe that the loneliness began in Crime Alley, but, deep down, he knows that this, too, is a lie."

The boy growls, shakes his head in rough denial --

"Without the loneliness... the Bat could never have found us. Without the pain and *old* bitterness it would never have known how to *find* us."

"Oh -- God. It's not *real* --"

"When I touch my Tim it is silenced. When I touch you, there are only... whispers. Easy to deny. I know we can have more."

"It's just -- if I could help him, if I could -- I don't know how to *talk* to him about it --"

"He hopes you'll learn, Tim. But in truth... he will take anything. You are his last hope --"

"Robin doesn't *die*!"

"And would you share the truth of the Bat with Dick? After everything he has suffered because of us?"

"N-no, of course not, it's my responsibility and I -- oh, I've failed him, I can't -- I have to --"

"Shh," and Bruce presses two fingers to the boy's mouth. "He set you up to fail, of course. If he shares the madness and terror of the Bat with you, then who knows what else he will share? No, he *had* to make it so that you would never ask, that you would never feel you had the *right* to ask."

And now the boy is thinking, working the puzzle of it over and over in his mind as he looks for lies, half-truths... reasons to deny the truth he can feel *burgeoning* within himself.

The pride Bruce feels is, perhaps, undeserved -- but only if one were to believe the obvious falsehood that any Bruce and Tim could be strangers to one another. No. This is theirs. This --

This *moment* --

"He was only --" The boy shuts his teeth with a click and shakes his head. "You believe that he was only... protecting himself. That he was... lost. Lonely and. And afraid -- no. *No* --"

"Yes, Tim."

"He's *more* than that --"

"We are what you make us... and more, and less."

"If you want me to -- to take responsibility for my relationship with you --"

"We want you to take everything that belongs to you, Tim. We dream of it when we taste the scent of your exertion. We *pause* inside when you let your gaze move over our body. We..." Bruce closes his eyes and lowers himself once more, letting himself grunt for the feel of the boy's smooth inner thigh against his slick and aching penis --

"Oh, God. Oh, God, I *can't* --"

"He won't say no."

"You -- everything you just *said* --"

"Now, Tim. Now he knows what it *means* to not have you near, to have you far beyond the range of your subcutaneous tracers, to have you *lost*," and Bruce has to stop, has to --

He should've built the machine as soon as he knew it was possible --

His love so *far* --

"God. God, yes, think of *him*. How -- think of how he'd *feel* --"

"No, Tim," Bruce says, and moves until their groins are pressed together --

"Oh -- *fuck* --"

"We are ourselves, and I know that he knows that with all of himself," and Bruce cups the boy's wrists and squeezes.

"Please --"

"I know that even as he struggles to return to me he will deny himself *nothing*."

The laugh has too many *notes* -- but it calms once Bruce squeezes harder.

"Yes, Tim. Come to me."

"What -- what happens if he finds a Bruce who's *too* afraid?"

"Robin always teaches," Bruce says, and smiles. "Let me show you."

The boy squeezes his eyes shut -- but he is hard enough now that he may not even be aware of the way he's pushing with his hips.

Bruce breathes deep once more --

The *flavor* of this boy's arousal is different, not quite so tangibly febrile --

That will change. "Let me *have* you."

"Batman, please, I'm *begging* --"

"For the wrong things. Beautiful boy... listen to your body. Let your desires flow through you. Let the energy between us guide you --"

"Not -- not a fucking *kata* --"

"No...? I believe it's the *first* kata, Tim. And when you learn it well enough... you will be devastating."

The boy's eyes are wide, pleading -- and faintly hazed with increasing arousal.

"Shall I tell you what I want?"

"You -- *do* what you want and just let me --"

"Endure? Never that. Never *anymore*, Tim. I want to mark you with my pre-ejaculate. I want to lick you clean. I want to take you with my tongue, and my fingers, and my penis. I want your beautiful mouth. I want your long, perfect thighs. I want you bent. I want you tied. I want you screaming. I want you *sobbing* --"

"*Don't* --"

"I will not stop, Tim. I will not -- I will not let you go until I *must*."

The boy's expression seems almost *harried* with sadness, his lips parted for words he knows will be useless --

"Let me show you."

"Please, Bruce."

"Pleasure, beautiful love. Let me *show* you."

The boy closes his eyes -- and bares his throat once more. It --

It *isn't* what Bruce wants, what he must *have* --but. "Then take this," he says, and begins to rock and thrust in the slow, inexorable rhythm that makes his Tim curse and scrabble for purchase on the bed, the car, Bruce's shoulders and *hips* --

"Bruce, please *don't* --"

"No, my love. You have... nn. You have no choice anymore. You will take what I give you."

A head-shake as the boy clenches his hands into fists --

"Yes. *This*. He watched you take yourself in this rhythm --"

"Oh, *God* --"

"You were... mm. You were still learning that pleasure, and you were awkward in your skin --"

"No, Bruce, don't -- don't *tell* me --"

"He was proud of your flexibility. He thought of Dick pushing you for more --"

"*No* --"

"Perhaps he imagined Jason holding you down for his fingers. Was he... strong?"

"Big. He was -- he was built like you were as an adolescent -- please, just -- something *else* --"

"We were never able to fully separate our loves, though it has led to strange fantasies, stranger *drives* --"

"Don't *tell* me --"

"But you love Dick, as well. He's the brother you've never had. He is -- oh, Tim, your *skin* --"

The boy growls and squeezes his eyes shut, straining to hold himself *still* --

"Did you know that this is Dick's favorite sexual act? He told me the last time he ever tried to seduce me --"

"God, he -- *he* needs you, he's always needed you so much --"

"He has his own city now, and no more patience for my fears and doubts. My first son. My second love. The brother I *denied* --  no. No. Think of his beautiful body, Tim. Imagine the *fluidity* of his grace --"

"I *have* -- I -- no, don't -- *mm* --"

"Will you bite my fingers, Tim? Do you fear that I will think you broken when you don't? You shouldn't. I know you won't risk the Mission even for your anger. Still, if you were to suck --"

The boy shakes his head once and *glares* --

And Bruce smiles helplessly, *needs* -- "Faster then. I want your orgasm. I want you to stripe my flesh with your ejaculate. I want to see your eyes as you dream of doing the same to *Dick*."

Eyes shut once more --

"It's all right. No one who knows him can avoid loving him... though my Tim doesn't share the truth of *our* relationship with him. The wounds are still too raw... no. Imagine his body above yours, his hair hanging down... you always liked it longer..."

Open, and open *plea*.

Bruce nods. "Yes, Tim. *He* would not be so *deliberate*. He throws himself into lovemaking heedlessly. *Powerfully*. He would think, perhaps, of the way you had taken yourself once you gained that much more flexibility, once you had *accepted* what this pleasure would do for you --"

And faster is both better and *infinitely* more cruel. Faster reminds him of what he could have, what he *wants* --

Faster and *harder*, then, and it could still be Dick --

Dick was never *gentle* with his Tim --

And the boy's moan is slurred around Bruce's fingers, it's --

So low and deep, so --

"*Yes*, Tim. I would give him to you. I would -- I would let him see this until he had to have it for his own --"

The boy *bites* -- but immediately stops, turns his head -- no. Bruce can't take that right now.

He cups the boy's jaw and holds him still, holds him focused until the pleasure causes his eyes to haze over again, *more* --

"He is jealous of every moment you fantasized Dick's touch instead of his own. *Barbara's* touch. *Clark's* touch... and your flush grows deeper for that. As well it should. Here, Clark has *asked* if he may share you with me, and I have never been able to answer in. In the affirmative --"

"*Want* him --"

"He's so... powerful. Frighteningly so, and still so gentle. Is that what you crave, beautiful love? Or do you only crave it from hot, smooth hands?"

The boy closes his *eyes* --

"*No*, Tim."

He opens them -- "Please. Please no *more* --"

"Then come for me."

"Bruce --"

"Come for me... and it can be only for us. No one else would enter this room while they heard your cries --"

"I'm not -- *oh* -- *ohn* --"

"*This* rhythm, yes. And yet you still doubt that I know you, that I *understand*..."

"Just -- just my *body* --"

"And the mind which would demand to be *ground* into the mattress with thrusts, demand to be *moved* even as the restraints tighten around your perfect ankles... you want to *feel* me."

"It doesn't -- God, always, but it doesn't -- oh, *fuck*, Bruce --"

"It's what we want. What we *crave* --"

The boy growls and moans, growls again and tries to pull his head free of Bruce's grip --

"*With* me --"

A gasp -- "*Please* --"

"He let you believe you would always need your control with him. He let you believe that he never wanted to see you *lose* it. Give *in* --"

"*Ah* -- hnh -- *hnh* --"

"You've thought of me entering you a thousand times. You've held yourself spread and cried out --"

"Bruce -- you -- my *father* --"

"And everything else in a moment, everything -- beautiful son, my pride in you drives me to my *knees* --"

"Please *don't* --"

"You will have another orgasm. You will not. Not be able to deny it --"

"Just -- it doesn't *matter* --"

"Everything does. Every moment --"

The boy struggles wildly even as he thrusts in rhythm.

The boy cries out --

Again --

Again, and the feel of his penis twitching against Bruce's own --

The *memory* of the way this boy can clench, *demand* with his body --

And when the boy begins to shake it's necessary to thrust harder, to make his own demands --

"No -- oh, *no* -- *ahn* --"

The boy goes rigid and ejaculates, shuddering helplessly even as he bites his lip in a futile effort to hold back his cries. His semen is warm and slick on Bruce's chest and abdomen, and it only takes a moment to kneel up and gather some of it -- enough to coat the boy's flagging erection --

"*Bruce* --"

"You are young and perfect, beautiful... I am not done with you."

The boy slams his fists back against the bed, twists his ankles in the restraints which must be uncomfortable now...

Bruce moves back and tugs the boy's body further down the mattress... no, the boy's ankles are reddened from struggling. Bruce retrieves the moisturizing cream that works best for the boy's perennially -- if only slightly -- dry skin and applies it carefully and gently.


Gradually, the boy stops beating at the bed with his fists and regulates his breathing -- "You're doing -- this."


"*All* of this."

"Yes, Tim," and Bruce moves to the other ankle.

"*Why* am I allowed to be covered in bruises and bite marks everywhere but my ankles?"

Bruce -- pauses. "You truly don't know?"

The boy blinks away a tear and stares at him... incredulously.

Bruce nods. "While I won't say I never want your pain -- we both enjoy it too much for that --"

"You -- you want to keep it to some -- some arbitrary *minimum*?"

"My love for you has never been arbitrary."

The boy lets his head fall back to the bed. "I can't believe -- that actually makes sense. That --" The boy's laugh is low and old, but calm. "Fine. Anoint me."

"I'm afraid I lack the patience for that... but I will, another time."

The boy stiffens, though it's difficult to be sure which part of the sentence had caused that. Hm.

"He misses the particular care you took in your appearance."

"What? I'm not -- I'm hardly slovenly --"

"Never that. But you used to be more... flamboyant. Your hair, as an example."

The boy frowns and looks up again. "That -- that was only for Robin."

"Just as the careful *lack* of styling -- or what seemed to be so -- was only for Tim Drake."

"I -- had to appear to be a normal, if boring, teenager --"

"And you stopped styling your hair when the pain of your existence became too great --"

The boy snorts. "I *stopped* because Clark mentioned he didn't like the scent not long after Dick complained about it getting in the way of his hair-ruffles."

Bruce smiles. "And you truly expect me to believe you had no other reason...? One moment," and Bruce moves from the bed to the bathroom, where he scrubs himself clean and thinks of his Tim's pointed tongue -- and the pointed *motions* of it along Bruce's flesh.

This boy is not yet ready for such things. He dampens a clean cloth with water slightly warmer than would be entirely comfortable for *him* and brings it quickly to the bed.

The boy closes his eyes for the first touch of the cloth, but also sighs.

"You've always had a near-feline approach to personal hygiene."

A wry smile. "Let me guess -- your Tim actually braved the Y from time to time in order to shower once he was on the street."

"And occasionally shoplifted items like toothpaste," Bruce says, folding the cloth to expose a clean portion and wrapping it around the boy's penis --

"*Hnh* --" The boy pants. "Be -- I don't think this discomfort is necessary. If my opinion counts for anything at the moment."

"I am always careful when I wash you," and Bruce proceeds to do just that.

The boy nods, eyes tracking quickly. "And you... wash him often."

"Every time he allows."

"I'm only as helpless as you make me, Bruce."

"Yes," Bruce says, and leans in to kiss the head of Tim's penis softly. "Which is to say that you are never helpless, at all."

"It -- it must be nice to believe something like that. To utterly abdicate from taking responsibility for your actions --"

"I know what I'm doing to you... and I know why."

"Because you couldn't go *one fucking day* without -- without me on my knees."

"Something else you've dreamed and practiced for. It's much, much easier with a human penis than with anything else, and you already know --"

"I know -- that. I'd always surmised --" The boy stops himself with a hissed breath and frowns, shaking his head. "It's -- you're about to tell me something about how I *know* it's more than just your addiction to having a *pet* --"

"We do know, Tim," and Bruce takes the cloth back into the bathroom and rinses it carefully and quickly -- after first licking to taste the diluted semen. His impression was correct the first time -- the boy has an admirably healthy diet.

Perhaps his Alfred hadn't ever given up on improving his palate.

Perhaps it's simply another way for the boy to exert control. Bruce hangs the cloth and returns to the bed, testing at the boy's muscles for tension and relieving it as he goes. This...

There are differences which can't be ignored. The boy has allowed him to slow things down to a point which is only ever possible with *his* Tim when Tim is *heavily* sedated. The boy has not fought against gentle touches --

("He would. Pretend to be you. *Careful* with me...")

There's something to be said for the idea that this boy has simply -- and ruthlessly -- removed personal triggers until he *could* make himself available to and for Bruce's needs. Certainly, this boy could *do* it. But...

There's something here. There will be, he thinks, at least one more *surprise*. Something else the boy can and will throw at him in some last-ditch effort to protect himself -- no. While Batman should never remove Robin's armor, Batman should also never allow Robin to wear *inferior* armor.

Robin must always have the best Batman can give.

Tim must always know pleasure and happiness, faith and the power he can exercise with an arch of an elegant brow, a lift of that sharp chin --

"Hn. For a moment you looked like you were having *sane* thoughts."

"Presumably the moment passed."

"Oh... most assuredly. I'm still not your Tim."

"I already know that you don't simply hope that repetition will bring the full force of meaning, but...?"

The boy closes his eyes -- but only for a moment. "*But* you have no idea why I keep saying it. I suppose, at this point, it's become something like a mantra. Not especially holy in and of itself, but an excellent focus in its own right."

"I want your mouth."

"Yes, well, I'm attached to it. And all thirty-two of my *teeth*."

The boy has inured himself to at least some of Bruce's honesty. It's something of a spiritual regrouping, Bruce knows. The boy has set himself up behind new barricades... but those barricades will not be as strong as the others. "A part of you believes yourself to be Batman's... property."

A sour look. "I've gotten *over* that --"

"No, you haven't. It's not in you to do so. You never truly belonged to anything or anyone before we met --"

"I had *actual* parents --"

"Who -- as you've told me -- somehow allowed you to wander the Gotham streets at night for... yes, it would've been photographs. My Tim was allowed to keep his photos on his bedroom walls, but you... no, you would not have been. You were forced to learn to hide the truth of yourself from a very young age."

Narrowed eyes and *thinly* banked anger --

Open rage --

And purest, coldest control.

Bruce nods and strokes the boy's chest with both hands. His flesh is slightly too cold, but he can be warmed. Bruce does so, chafing and exhaling on him until the boy begins to show a flush -- more of one than the acts deserve. "He warmed you once."

"We're -- rather far from the equator --"

"You know what he wanted."

"To get me to sleep so that I could be fit for the *Mission* --"

Bruce smiles and licks the boy's nipple --

"*Ah* --"

"More -- far more -- than that. Your skin lacks the sleekness of Dick's, and you pale much more quickly and thoroughly. He felt guilt so powerful it *became* lust the first time you chose to visit WE instead of simply amusing yourself in the sun."

"It seems. Doesn't everything become lust for you?"

"I will not say that you don't have a point... but your body offers more secrets with each moment that passes. I have decided to forgive myself for my inability not to become... lost."

The boy is frowning again, tugging almost *idly* at the restraints --

"Let me show you."

"I -- no."

Bruce -- doesn't raise an eyebrow. "Tell me I may taste you again."

"No." Firmer that time. Hm.

"Tell me I may pleasure myself with your body, Tim."

"I can't -- I can't stop you. I can't do *anything* to you --"

"You can continue to deny us this. You can hurt yourself -- and me."

"You. You *should* be hurt. You should -- fucking *feel* this sometime --"

"The option is available to us," Bruce says, and this time he *does* raise an eyebrow. And lift his crossed wrists into the boy's view.

The boy's mouth seems almost to *fall* open, lower lip red and bitten. His eyes are wide and confused -- and his penis had twitched. For all that Bruce knows that it would not *truly* satisfy this boy, there is something to be said for the power of shock.

Bruce nods to himself.

The barricades are falling.


Bruce had never so much as considered the idea that he could ever wish to be elsewhere if he had a Tim in his arms, but *this* Tim has made him long to run to the computers and re-research everything about sexuality and trauma he's ever so much as touched upon in his work.

The boy's amusement is palpable enough that Bruce knows that the boy knows exactly what he's thinking.

Everything about the boy --

*Everything* about the boy --

"Don't get me wrong, Dad -- I probably *would've* been pissed beyond *belief* for at least a little while if you'd gotten on my case about killing the Joker, but... well. You already know I think Jason is wrong. Or... hm."

Bruce arranges the boy better on his lap, shifting him enough that Bruce can cup his swollen scrotum. "I'm listening."

"Is it possible that there's something *else* he's pissed about? I mean, yeah, died horribly and came back to life is fucking *choice* pain, but -- do you know what I mean?"

"When we were lovers, I could almost never see the boy in him, as opposed to the *brother* in him. I... it was almost impossible to see his youth until I was holding his body in my arms. I know that I missed... much."

The boy nods, absently nuzzling Bruce's throat --

A bite --

Bruce squeezes the boy's scrotum carefully --

And the boy purrs. "Not yet, Dad. This is important stuff, and... well." He reaches down to cup Bruce's penis. "You're *not* as hard as you could be."

"You. You shouldn't feel insulted."

The boy's smile is nearly angelic, and Bruce has to catch his breath -- "Ooh, I was reminding you of *Jason* again. Jay?"

"Yes. Yes, Jay."

The boy hums in absent pleasure. "I'm not insulted. I already know you're gonna fuck me blind as soon as I *let* you."


The boy... wriggles, shifting and twisting --

Bruce clutches him before he can move very far --

"Almost, Dad."

Bruce pulls him close, holding on tightly enough that air flow is restricted --

"Ohn. So good. Your Tim wants this so bad he can *taste* it."

"How. How can you --"

"Be sure? I know you said I'm heavier, Dad, but --"

"There are other things," Bruce says, and kisses the boy's clear forehead. "He never... he never wanted to be treated as a child. He worried that I was treating him that way when I first showed him the armor he would wear, though he did not use those words."

"So who *did* treat him like a child?"

"His." Parents... "I... no one."

"Yeah, see, I *know* what that's like. *My* Bruce let me be a kid for a good long while, but Dick never did... and Bruce deferred to Dick. Probably not soon enough as these things go --"

"There's nothing wrong with you."

The boy's smile is slow and sly. "Dad."

"Everyone. Everyone has hurts."

"We both know that I don't deal with mine in anything *like* a healthy, normal way --"

Bruce clutches tighter --

"*Oof*. Good -- heh -- instincts. But no. This doesn't work at all if we don't both know that we're screwed up in nice, compatible ways. I mean, this is just an educated guess, but I'm thinking that *Jay* would probably be less of a mess right now if he didn't know, deep down, that you looked at your relationship with him like a love story for the ages."

Bruce frowns and relaxes his grip slightly --

"*Timing*, Dad --"

Bruce turns the boy's head enough that they can face each other, holding on to his jaw much too firmly --

"Ooh. Okay, no, go on."

"He *knew* I loved him. And he. He said he loved me. Many times."

"And he *did*. Anyone would love you, Dad. All kinds of people *do* love you, because there's just so much..." The boy bites his lip. "I'm so, so lucky, Dad. And *your* Tim probably feels lucky just to be able to *work* with you."

"I've -- hurt him. So many times. And I called it important for the Mission --"

"It *was*. Look -- all right, back to Jay for a minute. You have to know that you were... what? Twenty years older than he was?"


"Right, okay. So he was a *kid*, and even though he was probably really hardcore and tough and *good* --"

"Robin. He was Robin."

"Yeah. But he was still a *kid*, and a part of him was probably dying for you to treat him that way. To *be* his father. And he knew that you couldn't -- he *had* to be smart enough for that -- but he still wanted it, and maybe felt kinda cheated and all of those other things. *He* knew he wasn't ready to be married to you."

Bruce... closes his eyes and nods.

The boy squeezes his penis while yanking back against the grip Bruce has on his face. That --

Bruce squeezes tighter for a moment before letting go.

The boy smiles. "Perfect. And... you can and should talk to Jay about this stuff sometime. Let him know that *you* know you fucked up. I mean, that worked on *Dick*, and *nobody* was more pissed at you than he was."

Bruce frowns. "He seemed more... hurt."

"Yeah? Well, things are pretty different here. Still, you didn't give Dick what he needed, right?"


"And you didn't give Jay what *he* needed."

"And Tim. I've never... he's never seemed to need --"

"*Really*, Dad? Think about that for a minute."

Bruce frowns, pulling the boy close again because he can --

The boy bites Bruce's chest in a companionable fashion and settles, wriggling only for a moment.

"He... he needed Dick. And I made sure they worked together as much as possible."

The boy pats Bruce's shoulder. "What else?"

"He needed Stephanie. She was his love... and Robin, as well."

"A *girl*? Being *your* partner? I mean, it's one thing if you're working with Batgirl, but that kind of thing is *Robin's* job, Dad."

Bruce smiles helplessly. "She felt -- strongly -- otherwise."

"And *that* face means you wanted a piece of *her*, too. But you held back because of your Tim?"

"She... did not pursue me in that way. She was openly admiring and was not shy about her fantasies... I've had... thoughts. About what our relationship might have been like if Tim and I had been romantically involved."

"One *more* reason for you to have pushed things with him, but -- okay, I know this goes against *everything* I've told you so far, but you can't beat yourself up too much about not fucking him when he was younger."

Bruce smiles again. "Your world-view is... remarkable."

"Heh. You *love* it."

"Yes. Yes, I do. And fear it greatly."

"You're *you*. Love and fear are *married*."

"The second time you've used that word. Are you 'married' to your Bruce?"

The boy sighs, rubbing his cheek against Bruce's chest until the hairs are in disarray. "Yes and no. Yes, because I know he's never gonna let me go, and that I'm never gonna let *him* go. No, because... because *my* Bruce needs a woman. Someone... a different kind of partner, maybe. Babs doesn't count. *She's* married to her father and likes that just fine."

Bruce blinks.

"What? Oh! Not that way. I think. I'm pretty sure. I mean -- okay, Babs is kinda crazy and perverted in *different* ways, but Jim isn't like that. Breathe, Dad."

"Yes, all right. You... your Bruce is *also* involved with your Barbara?"

"Oh, yeah. We've had some *incredibly* hot threesomes, but Babs always *leaves*. Bruce knows I'll never leave."

To have faith like that. To... "Are you sure?"

The boy's smile is sly and wet. "He knows when he's fucking me. Other times... he's not so sure. I mean, Clark *does* keep trying to poach, and I can't say I haven't been *seriously* tempted." The boy frowns.

"What is it?"

"I was supposed to get a clutch for that one," he says, and his prod is just short of a paralyzing nerve-strike. "You're not worried about losing your Tim to Clark?"

"Clark is happily married --"

"Yeah, but is *Kal*? Because Kal is kinda. *You* know." Another prod.

"I do, yes. While... my Tim is noticeably attracted to Clark, he has always refused his advances and invitations. Politely, but firmly."

"No flirting?"

An eyebrow raise on a rooftop, rocking on his heels while perched on Clark's impossibly powerful arm... "Hm."

"This is what I'm *saying*, Dad. I like Clark just fine -- I even love him at least a little -- but he's *greedy*. You can always see it in his eyes, and -- wait, have *you* and Clark hooked up?"

"Several times over the years. And... he was involved with Dick. He *is* involved with Dick."

"With *Dick*? How does that even work? How *old* is your Clark?"

"Three years younger than myself."

"Oh... wow. Okay, that's just *weird*. I guess... maybe the stasis pod in his ship malfunctioned. Or... maybe opened earlier? Or his ship traveled here faster?"

"Your Clark is significantly younger?"

"*Dick's* age. He was a *kid* when he started out. I mean, hell, *I* taught him things, and Lois still makes bitch-face when she hears the term 'cradle-robbing.'"

A much younger Clark... would almost certainly have captured more of Tim's attentions. Especially if he'd had the opportunity to teach, to guide...

The way he felt about Kon-El...

The boy pats him again. "Now you're getting it, I think. Still, I can't imagine any Tim needing more than one Daddy. If you get in there before Clark figures out what your Tim wants, it could all still work fine. And... I was saying before..."

"The question of how I should feel about the fact that I. That I've made Tim wait."

"You *did*. You *know* you did --"

"It still seems as though I would be asking far too much, Tim."

"And making him beg and need and suffer and fucking *twitch* inside isn't asking too much?"

"There are so many people in his life who *would* love him --"

"Yeah, all of those kiddie *metas* that we just don't have. But he's *me*, Dad. He might get hard for all the people he gets to twist in just the right ways, but he *needs* someone he can't *change*. And he's old enough now to have figured that out."

Bruce laughs quietly... and breathes when the boy raises his eyebrow. Bruce kisses him there, bites and thinks about other ways to pierce, to scar... "Beautiful boy. Do you truly believe that you're not changing me even as we speak?"

"You'll always be big enough," and the boy wraps his hand around Bruce's penis and begins to stroke.

"I'm quite sure I'll have little difficulty acquiring the drugs to help such things along as I age."

The boy purrs and turns to face him, kneeling between his legs. "You'll always be Batman."

"For you, if not for Gotham."

Both hands now. "You'll always need me."

Bruce closes his eyes -- opens them. "Yes."

"You'll always hurt me just right."

"You. You will continue to teach."

"You'll always be a fast learner," and the boy scratches -- lightly -- at Bruce's shaft.


The boy licks his lips and breathes deep. "You'll always smell like home."

"Your home. Yours. Tim."

"You'll always, always be my Daddy --"

"Hands and knees."

A moment's -- calculated -- hesitation.


The boy moves, graceful and perfect, spreading his thighs and offering, demanding --

Bruce catches the boy's scrotum as it swings, squeezing hard --

"Oh -- *yes* --"

The spanking, he fears, must seem more perfunctory than satisfying, but the sight of his hand-prints on the boy's buttocks --

The rhythmic *crack* of flesh on flesh --

The way the boy *starts* to crawl away only to realize that Bruce is still holding his scrotum --

"*Daddy* --"

He must spank harder for that, must give more, must wait *longer* --

"Oh -- oh -- oh, God, *please* --"

Yes. A little longer. A little --

The boy's penis is fully erect again. He is leaking for this, so hungry --

"You make me an *animal* --"

And the boy's laugh is delighted, high and sweet, *pure* -- "Daddy, *yes*."

Bruce covers the boy because he must, biting at the join of throat to shoulder until he tastes blood --

The boy screams --

Bruce pulls back and pants, *controls* himself -- "Stay *still*."

"Yes, Daddy, yes, *please* -- *ahn* --"

The last slap had caught the boy's thigh and scrotum --

So swollen and *tender* --

Bruce growls and forces himself to move to where he'd left his belt. The medical grade lubricant is too thick for what he wants, but he will not make the boy wait. He --

He slicks his fingers *while* he's walking back, and has little grace of his own when he drops back down to his knees -- "Spread yourself. *One* hand."

The boy swallows a noise and does it, and Bruce forces himself to wait after spreading the boy's other buttock aside.

He forces himself to only look, only *see* --

While the boy can feel him doing just that. While --

"Daddy... please -- please, you're making me think about --"

"What you look like. I know. You're exposed to me. *Open*."

The boy moans --

"I can *see* that you're not tight. That you have been... used."

A shudder, a groan -- and a clench.


The boy regulates his breathing immediately, relaxing *almost* soon enough...

Bruce grips the boy's scrotum with his slick fingers and massages it roughly --

And the boy's cry spirals high, *sharp* --

"Now," Bruce says, letting go and pushing in with two fingers, pushing in *deep* because the boy only likes to be teased when he feels entirely secure and comfortable --

He could never be so *here* --

And perhaps there is pain for wishing it to be otherwise. Perhaps -- no, not pain. *Loathing*. *He* is greedy, monstrous as he thrusts, as he spreads the lubricant around with little thought for the boy's pleasure --

He has to let the boy *work* for it, let him try to exhaust himself chasing Bruce's thrusts as he tries to be touched the right way, the best ways --

The boy had told Bruce that nothing mattered until he was buried deep, that nothing mattered save that he was made to understand that there was nothing Bruce wanted more *than* to be buried deep --

The boy's needs are so dark, so --

No one who could cry out like this should be able to *be* so hurt, and the anger is large within him, formless and heavier than a storm. He wants to *punish* everyone who had made the boy this way.

He wants to punish everyone who had made the boy this beautiful.

He wants to *show* everyone this beauty, to make them understand as his heart understands --

And now the boy is choking on his own cries -- Bruce had, somehow, given him three fingers.

He isn't sure if he used *enough* lubricant for that --

He'd meant to use *more* --

The boy is shaking so --

He's *trembling* as he cries, as he chokes, as he falls to his elbows and tosses his head like a wounded animal --

Bruce strokes as gently as he can with his other hand -- no. A firmer, surer touch. Something. Something much more secure as he shapes the boy with his hand, marks out the measure of him -- so *small* --

And so perfectly, desperately, *ruthlessly* inclined to stay *Bruce's* boy, wise enough to know that the years don't matter, that the numbers are meaningless against the feeling --

The connection *shared* --


"Nnh -- ohn -- yes, yes, Daddy --"

"Be *ready*," Bruce says, growls against the desire to *beg*. If he could have anything *like* this with his Tim --

If there could be a moment when he was *sure* of his needs the way he's sure now --

And that, perhaps, is why his hand is shaking as he guides himself in, why he's already blowing like an overworked horse at the heat --

Nothing. Nothing like this since *Jay* --

("Oh, fuck -- fuck, so *big* -- don't you fucking *stop* --")

"Oh, Daddy, *don't* --"

Panting again -- and is that truly his hand *locked* around the back of the boy's neck? He -- he's *pushing* the boy's head down, forcing him to turn his head to relieve the pressure on his *nose* --

"God -- *Daddy* --"

"Son. Take. *Take* this --"

The boy *bucks*, forcing Bruce in the last two inches --

They cry out *together* as the boy beats his fist against the mats --

The boy's cry *lasts* longer, becomes a whining growl, a growling *scream* --

"Son. *Son* --"

"Here, Daddy, *here*, it's -- it's okay, you can -- please -- *please* --"

Should he be relieved that some part of him is capable of knowing doubt in this moment?

Or should he simply accept the way it passes as the boy begins to clench deliberately, begins to -- to almost *milk* him --

"Good -- good boy --"

"*Yours* --"

He can't. He *must* --

He covers the boy again, bracing himself on one hand and *keeping* the boy still with the other --

So -- so *small* --

"*Hurts*, Daddy --"

"*Take* it --"

The boy wails --

And it feels as though he's lost everything resembling control, feels --

He feels *lighter* as he thrusts, helpless to the motion of his own body as if he could float away were he not *joined* with the boy --

This perfect and frightening boy who knows everything, *understands* everything --

Just like Tim always has. Just as Tim always *should* --

"*Tim* --"

"Daddy, *yes* --"

"Tim, I -- you must. You must never *stop* me --"

The boy moans and tries to nod, fists clenched tightly enough that his knuckles show white --

"So beautiful, so -- so *young* --"

"For *you* --"

"*Yes*," and Bruce gives the boy his weight, forcing him down onto his stomach, *holding* them there in a place without breath or *pause*.

And then he begins to thrust harder.

Like this, the boy *can't* work his hips. He must take what Bruce gives him and nothing -- nothing *else* --

The boy's shriek is brief and nearly airless --

The boy is flushed *dark* --

No air. No --

To take this, *too* --

Bruce feels himself smiling and knows it for a savage thing, something *undeserving* --

But the boy is still trying to cry out, the boy has a tear at the corner of his eye, the boy is so -- so *sweet* --

*His* --

And so he *must* give, must always *provide*. His hunger.

His need.

His desperate, *aching* pleasure as the world seems to burn itself away in a blinding stretch of time that leaves his skin prickling with fresh sweat and his body jerking spasmodically --

The boy --

The beautiful *accepting* boy --

Bruce loses himself to the black, giving in to it with *fear* -- but.

There is no Bat. There --

There is only silence... and it is very, very warm.

Bruce lifts himself before he opens his eyes, opens his eyes before he tries to regulate his breathing --

The boy is gasping, whooping and coughing, *shuddering* --

"Son. *Up*."

The boy's eyes are wide, *sightless* -- blind. But he moves, getting up onto his hands and knees.


"Need. Daddy, I need --" The rest is lost to coughing, but Bruce understands. He pushes his arms beneath the boy's own and lifts them up onto their knees, spreading the boy's thighs over his own and pulling the boy *down* --

His scream is pain and triumph at *once* --

And Bruce wraps one arm around his chest and takes the boy's twitching penis in hand, stroking firmly, *quickly* --

Tim masturbates himself this way, and it feels like theft and like more of this perfect connection --

The boy's cries are rhythmic --

The boy works his *hips*, and while Bruce won't be erect for much longer -- yes. He can last for this. He can --

The pain is so *bright* --

Bruce kisses the boy's forehead and then can't stop himself from kissing more and more, everywhere he can reach --

He can't reach *enough* --

"Daddy, Daddy, I'm *close* --"

"*Yes* --"

"Oh -- oh, please don't *stop* -- *ah* --"

That for the squeeze, vicious and --

Bruce clutches the boy tighter, making it difficult once more for the boy to breathe and move --

And the boy cries out shamelessly as his orgasm takes him, as he struggles and strains through it until the last spurt makes him slump and whine.

Bruce brings his slick fingers to his mouth.

And waits to learn more.


The boy had -- deliberately and with, obviously, every last ounce of control he had left -- put himself to sleep an hour ago.

It's not the most restful-looking sleep, and Bruce wants --

There are many things he wants, but he knows himself well enough to know that *one* of them is for the boy to be able to rest safely, warmly, and comfortably.

In *this* bed.

Bruce laughs at himself internally, and injects the boy with a three-quarter dose of the sedative.

The boy frowns, mutters incoherently -- and *pulls* himself back down into sleep, trusting to years of rhythm and routine -- they do not wake each other without urgent cause.

The boy hopes that Bruce defines 'urgent' in the same ways he does, but if he truly believed that he would be sleeping much more deeply. Bruce removes the restraints, positions the boy on his stomach, reattaches the restraints, and lies down beside him.

The addition of weight and warmth would make his Tim struggle to push further beneath Bruce's body.

The boy...

The boy tenses and whimpers in his sleep in ways which only speak of difficult pleasure.

Bruce closes his eyes, instructs himself to wake when the boy begins stirring, and puts himself to sleep, as well.

He dreams the alley again, and his love isn't there to pull him away from the blood. He can *smell* the boy, nearly taste him, but he's not there --

Bruce wakes shuddering --

"I suppose I should be happy you didn't simply. Punch me awake."

"There were other words you could've used."

"Yes, there were," the boy says, and turns his head to face him. "You drugged me again."

"You'll recover from the dose within twenty minutes, judging by your earlier reactions."

"Is that supposed to be some kind of *excuse*?"

"I need none," Bruce says, and strokes the boy's unscarred features. He hadn't realized how much he'd come to love the scars on his Tim's face, how much they had come to mean safety, acceptance... "He is alone without you."

"Yes, well, why don't we start working to get me back to him?"

"Clark brought the first two components while you slept -- and put them together nearly correctly. He's quite disturbed by you."

"And not by the fact that I'm tied to your bed. Fine, yes, but it would be *nice* to one day get sucked into a *better* world."

"Be careful what you wish for, Tim."

"Meaning *you* found yourself in a world like that?"

"Superficially so. Crime had been nearly eliminated --"

"In *Gotham*?"

"In the world. That world's League had taken over entirely... and had pacified where they hadn't simply murdered."

The boy winces. "And... that other Batman let it happen. That other... Robin?"

"Murdered Dick when he wouldn't leave the Resistance."

"Oh -- no. I don't think I can hear this. Please --" The boy laughs. "Not that that word means *anything* to you --"

"It always means something," Bruce says, and brushes sleep-sweat from the boy's temple with his thumb. "But sometimes it means things other than what I might wish."

"'Your mouth says no, but your eyes say drug me and rape me?'"

"Close enough... for now."

The snarl of a cornered animal rather than the sneer of someone who knows himself *correct*...

Yes. "He never has good dreams of you. Not while he's sleeping."

The boy looks down -- but doesn't turn away.

Yes. "You reject him at every turn. You laugh at him. You use your brilliant mind to cut him to shreds for his failings, moral and otherwise. Sometimes you have sex with him just the same, but you never make love."

"I." The boy shakes his head. "I will stipulate that you have never been especially confident about your place in the lives of your loved ones when the Mission isn't extant --"

"But this seems too much for you."


"You came to him when he thought there would never be another Robin. You fought and struggled to make yourself ready for it despite being neither especially acrobatic nor physically powerful."

Searching eyes -- "Your Tim was -- *is* acrobatic."

"No more than you could've been in a different life. The potential -- and lack thereof -- was the same."

"I. All right --"

"You came to him out of the darkness and you knew him. You had followed him, understood -- ah."

The look in the boy's eyes is almost anxious, enough so that it's difficult not to try to soothe -- "What is it, Bruce?"

"You discovered the secret. The true reason, perhaps, for why you didn't put the pictures on your walls?"

The boy winces -- and blinks. "*Why* did you know that? I didn't give you --"

"You are yourself. You have always seen to the heart of any situation... and you had already told me that you had gotten close enough to see your Bruce making love with Jason. That sort of access, combined with your obvious --"

"Education. Socioeconomic *class* -- yes, all right, I wasn't thinking."

The boy is so *close* now, close enough to lose touch with his own mind..."You watched him at the parties, the other terribly painful *events* at which Brucie Wayne must make appearances... yes. He is morbidly obsessed with those parties because he did not notice you. He had your full regard, but he was heedless of it. On the street, at least, he knew that most of the time he was doing what he was supposed to do. At the parties... he wonders if he seemed too callous. Too dim. Not attentive enough to Dick or Jason. Too sharp. Too obvious. Too frivolously attached to the need for Brucie Wayne... I think you can understand."

"He said... he said that he remembered me. My eyes."

"In retrospect, he certainly did. Which just made things more difficult for him. For me... I had the luxury of knowing that I did not begin to fail in Tim's eyes until he was already close enough that I could begin to make amends. How many years did you know before you went to him?"

"Four," the boy says, voice small and low.

"He loves you for that. He fears you for it, as well... and for so many other reasons."

"I don't want him to be afraid of me. I don't. I never."

"It's terrible to be feared. There is... so much distance."

"*Yes*, and --" The boy growls and shakes his head, tugging at the restraints. "Please."

"It took time to stop fearing my Tim -- as opposed to fearing I will lose him, which I will do until I die -- but it happened."

"When he... broke."

"No, Tim," Bruce says, cupping the boy's face and coaxing him to look at him once more -- there. "I stopped fearing him when I finally understood his fear of me, that we were both looking at distorted, terrible images of ourselves as opposed to *at* ourselves. I stopped fearing him when I saw what I had to do in order to make him stop fearing *me*."

"All right, if *this* is what it took to get your Tim to stop fearing you --"

"Honesty. Openness. Hunger. Passion. Need. Everything you've wanted and more."

"You're not -- I'm not -- please."

"It's yours, Tim. You never have to be alone again."

"I'd like. To go... back to sleep."

"When you dream of me, you could see the truth."


"You've never feared the truth."

"The truth. Is. I have to always face it, clearly and calmly."

"Yes, Tim."

"I have to. To keep an open mind. At all times."

"Yes, Tim."

"I must not. Stray. Or... break?"

Bruce strokes Tim's cheek with his thumb. "You never have. You never will."

"I'm Robin."


"Your..." The boy swallows, face twisting --


"There. There has to be another. I'm. Too old. Going to be too old."


"It. There has to be. And then. I'm supposed to be Batman."

"When I die. Until then, your place is here. With me."

Another swallow, and the boy's eyes aren't tracking as quickly as they were before. He is not truly exhausted -- no. He could be.

Bruce has no way to know how much rest the boy had gotten before coming here, for all that the trip had showed no signs of wearying him. He has to be careful. "You will always have a place."

"I... but. I have to make room. I always. Have to make room."

"You will always be *needed*."

The boy shows his teeth -- whines softly and stops. "Batman. Batman needs a Robin --"

"Yes. And so do I. And much more than that, besides."

"I'm. In your dreams?"

"You come to me in the alley. You pull me away from the blood and darkness. You guide me to the Cave and make me *better*. Every night."

The boy pants. "And I. My Bruce doesn't have that now."

Bruce brushes a lock of hair from the boy's forehead. "I didn't have it until he told me what I needed to do to love him. To help him."

"And he." The boy catches his breath and nods slowly. "He told you all of this. What to do. How to do it."

"Yes, Tim."

"He." The boy's face crumples. "I'm not that brave."

"You are."

"No. No, I've *never*. There's no one, and -- they could all know but I don't *let* them, I *hide* --"

"And when you are needed -- when you *know* you are needed --do you hide still?"

"*No* -- never, I have to -- to. But this is different. Isn't it?"

"We are ourselves, Tim. At all times, in all ways. You can be brave. You *will* be brave."

"You. You're sure."

"I have always been sure of you," Bruce says, and waits one more moment --

Just one, to see the boy begin to tremble once more, begin to weep silently with regret and fear and pain --

Bruce opens the restraints and pulls the boy into his arms, holding him just the way he was taught: The boy's arms are around his neck. The boy is seated sideways on his lap with his legs bent just so. The boy's face is pressed to his throat. His Tim was held this way by a mother he barely remembers after a hurt lost to time.

This boy...

Bruce cannot be sure anyone has held him this way, at all, but he responds to it by pressing close, sharing his warmth and his spare and beautiful form. His tears remain silent, and they last long enough that a part of Bruce *wants* to worry --

This boy may never be as endlessly febrile as his own Tim. Even the Joker couldn't have been so terrible that *this* much of the boy's spontaneity is gone. What's left is a drive toward near *automation* --

His false *fingernail* --

Bruce holds the boy close, rocking him slowly and rumbling his pleasure periodically. His acceptance.

His need.

After the tears stop, the boy begins to touch him, stroking the curve of his ear, the scars on his left shoulder, the bruise he'd left over his ribs --

He strokes everywhere he can reach without changing position, and Bruce gradually slows his rock to nothing. When he stops, the boy's breath hitches --  but he does not stop stroking.

Bruce knows he is being catalogued and measured, that the boy is knowing him in much the same way that he would know any new territory -- and that he is deliberately forcing himself to do it in a way that Bruce can't help but see and understand.

He strokes the boy's hair. "Yes, Tim."

Another hitched breath. "He. He's my *father*."

"You're my son."

A clutching grip hastily relaxed -- and deliberately renewed. "I don't know what to do," he says, measured and calm even as he pulls back to show the needy storm in his eyes.

"Beautiful boy... let me show you."

The boy catches his breath, eyes widening with new knowledge -- "Yes. Yes, Dad."

He cups the boy's face and pulls him into a kiss -- not demanding, but firm. He has been little more than the boy's brutal teacher for much too long --

The boy moans and kisses him back, showing him that, at least in this, he had had some other teacher.

Bruce envies him or her with a passion that makes him groan, makes his penis rise with the desire to erase, to *overcome* --

The boy starts to pull back -- no, he's urging Bruce to lay them down, to cover, to *take* --

He can do all of these things, and more.

He can spread the boy's legs with his own and make *room* for himself.

He can urge the boy's legs up around his hips and *thrust*, over and over until the boy is moaning into his mouth and is harder, even, than Bruce is himself.

Ready for more.

"Do you want the pain, beautiful love?"

"Yes. Yes, please, Dad -- *oh* --"

A bite to his lip, because he has not bitten it enough.

*Renewed* bites to his throat --

That *scar* --

The boy moans and attempts to push his fingers into Bruce's hair. His hands are full of *restless* motion and trembles --

("Yeah, but if you grew your hair out you'd look *weird*, Dad.")

Always a concern. Bruce licks his way to the boy's ear and bites hard, making the boy still in the moments before he arches.


"Shall I pierce you?"

The boy frowns and *starts* to shake his head. "It still seems... too impractical. I rip people's piercings out all the time in the interest of making them talk."

Bruce hums. "There are so very, very many reasons why I've only just begun allowing my Tim to interrogate criminals. Your Bruce has been more... lenient?"

The boy's laugh is choked... but ends in a pleased hum as he begins to stroke Bruce's shoulders once more. "Gotham is a large city, and there are not so many of us. The information needs to be gathered and, next to my Bruce, I'm the best at doing it *efficiently* --"

"And you've never minded causing pain to the deserving."

The boy's look is shockingly -- familiarly -- coy. "And what do I deserve, Dad?"

Bruce growls and gives the boy more of his weight. "Everything. For now, though..." He rubs his thumb on the boy's left nipple. The one that is, at this moment, less sensitive.

The boy narrows his eyes. "I feel. I should let my Bruce do it --"

"We belong to each other at the moment. Give this to me, please."

A moan, an arch -- "Yes. Yes, let's --"

Bruce lifts the boy into his arms and carries him out the door -- and over the covered tray left pointedly *by* the door. He will feed the boy after, and discover the truth of his palate then.

The boy pushes close, affectionate and easy, calm...

"You feel no great urge to make me suffer for this liberty, Tim?"

The boy raises an eyebrow. "Because that's gotten me very far in the past...?"

"We've moved beyond the past, beautiful love. Now is for both of us. For our pleasure."

"I... believe you," the boy says, blushing and laughing at once. "And... in the interest of bravery..."


"I find it hard to imagine your Tim wanting to be any closer to you than I want to be right now."

Careful. He *must* be careful, because the wounds are raw, still. They must be. They *should* be --

"What is it?"

An excellent question... except. "You have also never been one to stint on acceptance when acceptance must be offered."

"One day, my Bruce looked at me -- from behind the cowl -- and said 'you stop at nothing.' It wasn't a question, a declaration, a complaint... there was nothing in the man's voice to tell me *what* it was --"

"All of the above. There are ways to be pleasurably frightened of your loves, Tim."

"But you have to admit that a lack of fear altogether would be optimal."

"Perhaps," Bruce says, and opens the clock. The wash of cold air from the Cave makes the boy's skin come over in gooseflesh, but he reacts in no other way.

They are home.

"'Perhaps?' Bruce, didn't you just say -- in any *number* of ways --"

"Tim. Imagine the darkness of your bedroom. The perfect blackness of --"


"Hm. Again, perhaps. You are on the very edge of sleep -- you've dozed and woken several times on you way to a deeper, more healthful rest."

"All right..."

"You are not at your most observant at that time, of course."

"More's the pity, considering how many times my Bruce has -- ah. Frankly, Bruce, I'm not altogether sure how I'd *feel* about being fucked -- or bitten, or fingered, or *whatevered* -- awake."

("Daddy. If you turn me into a morning person, I will *hamstring* you.")

"Something you may choose to make clear to your Bruce. But... other touches?"

The boy blushes again as he leaps down from Bruce's arms and then up onto the gurney. "Well..."

Bruce smiles and kisses the boy, testing with gentleness...

And the boy cups his face and makes the kiss more firm -- slightly -- before pulling back and touching his tongue to his upper lip.

Bruce strokes his cheek with his fingertips. "Like this, I can imagine you as I first saw you."

"Scrawny, untrained, and inclined toward blatant, helpless, hero worship?"

"Young. Terribly, beautifully, unmistakably young. But I would suggest that you try to gain at least a little more weight."

A sour face. "All of my efforts to bulk up have ended with me being horrifically queasy and slow on the *street*, Bruce --"

"A different exercise regimen might help."

The boy raises an eyebrow... then smiles ruefully and nods. "And, of course, you'd know just that. All right. What I was going to say before... well. There was a moment, when I started to wake, that the feel of your body pressed to mine... I. Perhaps you felt me shiver."

"I wasn't quite awake enough for that. I wish I had been. You have... *do* you have any sexual experience, Tim? I know that must seem like a ridiculous question --"

"Ah. It really isn't. I'm -- I *was* a virgin. I've had two girlfriends, neither of whom I went further than kissing and nearly entirely therapeutic massage with."

Bruce frowns because he must, because -- "You were never meant to be alone."

"Ah... probably not. Before you start thinking that I'm -- that I was *that* repressed, you should know that I almost certainly would've tried harder for more if the girlfriends in question had been boyfriends."

Bruce blinks.

The boy hums. "And that tells me that *your* Tim is as ravenously bisexual as Jason. I haven't given up entirely on the idea that there might be some stirrings of that within myself someday... but I'm also not holding my breath," and the boy reaches out to splay his hands on Bruce's chest, gaze becoming possessive and hungry in a moment. "You're so beautiful. I think. I think I'll find my Bruce's scars to be wrongly placed for at least a little while."

Bruce nods, and tries not to think about all the other things the Joker and Harley might have done to the boy, all of the things that left marks nowhere but the psyche --

"Bruce? What are you thinking?" Mild worry, the *banked* beginnings of anxiousness --

He *must* be careful. Bruce smiles and shakes his head. "I'm worried about you. It occurs to me that I can't simply trust Barbara and Dick to help you in all the ways I can't."

A wry smile. "Well, you *can*, Bruce. Just... not the ones you know."

"They didn't help you --"

"They *did*. Just..." The boy shakes his head. "They've always been there for me. I've rarely been present to be there *for*. And you know that."

Bruce frowns again and cups the boy's face. "You must not do that to yourself -- or your loved ones -- again, Tim. You must open for them, or risk being unable to be open for yourself."

"Or, again, for my loved ones." Tim rubs his cheeks against Bruce's palms. "I take your meaning, Bruce, and I promise that it will never be far from my mind. But... other things?"

("Please, Daddy, you can't just make me *wait*!")

Bruce lets his breathing hitch and watches the boy paint himself with a flush so deep and sudden -- "I would take your virginity in every possible way."

"Oh -- God. Um. It's --"

Bruce stops him with a hand on his mouth. "Give as much of that gift as possible to your Bruce. Bind him to you that way. Take his *fear*."

The boy moans -- and sucks three of Bruce's fingers into his mouth until he can press his lips against Bruce's knuckles and moan *more* --

"He watched you practice this, as well, love."

The boy squeezes his eyes shut and licks somewhat frantically -- and then opens his eyes again. They show nothing but needy question, and Bruce allows a part of his mind to berate the rest for not realizing *how* little experience the boy had.

He could've been --

No, not more gentle, but certainly more careful and firm --

Bruce shakes his head and cups the back of the boy's head with his other hand, urging him to work his mouth. He will take this *now*, and enjoy it --

And dream, quietly, about what it might have been like to have this with his own Tim, who had been so sorely *used* --

Bruce's palms ache with the need to touch his Tim, to touch both of them at once -- just as if he wouldn't lose every remaining shred of self to such beauty as that.

The boy narrows his eyes in pleasure, and Bruce knows that he has been smiling, showing the boy --

This beautiful boy who wishes to *learn* from him --

Such a *gift* --

Bruce tugs his fingers out of the boy's mouth and kisses him again, forcing him to lie back on the gurney and giving into the entirely gratuitous urge to spread his legs over the thing's sides. The gurney is uncomfortable to make love on -- Alfred had given him a withering look when he'd suggested getting one much broader -- and so there is nothing right now he *needs* the boy's legs spread for --

But this is, as ever, a lie.

Biting and kissing his way down the boy's chest leads inevitably to his hands on the boy's thighs, his thumbs pressed to unfamiliar -- but still frightening -- scars...

"Oh -- Bruce. I mean -- Dad?" The boy laughs, then. "Which do you prefer?"

Bruce takes the head of the boy's penis in his mouth and hums --

"*Oh* --"

-- and pulls back. "Bruce, when you wish to be only my equal. Dad or Daddy --"


Bruce smiles.

The boy blinks and licks his lips. "Well. All right. Dad or Daddy...?"

"When you wish me to take you utterly."

A shiver --

"Matches... when you wish me to horrify you."

A *laugh* --

"Batman... when you want to be used."

"Oh... I may have had that fantasy once or... several thousand times."

"Mm. The persistence of... effect. And, perhaps, affect," and Bruce licks a stripe along the boy's shaft. And another. "Brucie... if you have managed to develop even more terrifying kinks than the ones I already know about. Ha, ha, ha."

The boy knees him in the jaw -- almost. "Ah. Sorry. Reflex."

"Understandable --"

"Unfortunately," the boy says, sitting up enough to rub at the spot he hadn't actually kicked, "I'm not entirely sure I wouldn't want to at least *try* that."


"*You* were the one who brought him up."

"Buttercup --"

"I did *not* say now. But -- really? Buttercup?"

"Inspiration failed. How about 'jasmine petal?'"

The boy makes a show of thinking about it... "It could work. Anyway, it's really just a matter of... well. I was *obsessed* with you for just about half my life. And for half of *that* time, the closest I ever came to having a conversation with *you*..."

Bruce suspects that he looks pained. "I feel an urge to apologize."

An eyebrow raise. "Really. For *that*." The smile on the boy's face shows teeth which have far fewer filled cavities than those of his own Tim.

Bruce hums and takes the boy deep --

"Ah -- ah -- *ah* -- *ah* --"

The *slow* graze of teeth is always effective. Bruce pulls off and licks away the beads of pre-ejaculate.

"Well, if you want me to *behave*, Daddy --"

"Please, only if you... mean it," and Bruce looks up at Tim as seriously as he can manage with the boy's *taste* in his mouth --

"Oh. I. I meant it before --"

"Not quite... that."

The boy nods once -- it's nearly a salute -- "I'll remember."

"Always. But... it's always up to you. *Always* your choice."

"Unless and until I make it *your* choice."

"Yes, Tim."

The boy nods slowly, thoughtfully -- and then he blushes once more.

"Please, tell me," and Bruce sucks kisses up along the underside of the boy's penis. There are no electrical burn scars here, either, and for that Bruce can only be grateful to a dead man. A dead monster.


"Consider it... practice."

The boy hums a laugh and arches his hips -- "Please. I mean -- ah. I was just wondering if that... arrangement ever bothered you. In either direction."

Bruce holds up a finger and takes the boy deep once more, noting that the tease of it isn't bothering him yet -- he pulls off. "My home was empty without you. My *life* was..." Bruce shakes his head. "If I can give you what you need for every day of the rest of my life, it will not be enough."

The boy frowns... predictably.

Bruce kisses the head of the boy's penis. "Then think of it this way: I take vast and devastating sexual pleasure from pleasing you. From *being* pleasing. Just as you flush when you see me aroused for you, so do I ache to touch you when you narrow your eyes in covetous pleasure, when you arch for me, when you cry *out* --" Bruce growls. "Do you wish to have an orgasm before I pierce you, after I pierce you, or *while* I'm piercing you?"

Wide eyes and rapid blinks... and the rise of the boy's penis.

"You are perfect. You are what I *want* --"

"I'm not --"

"*Tonight*, beautiful boy. Now, please. Answer me."

The boy licks his lips -- "I *want* to say 'while,' but I'm -- I'm reasonably sure that means I'm too aroused to be allowed to make any decisions about sharp objects --"

"You need none of your caution with me, Tim. *Believe*."

"I do -- *God*, I do. But --" The boy smiles ruefully. "Humor me?"

Bruce *wants* -- but the boy is not truly resisting. Not in that way. This is less a matter of trust and fear than it is of an *ingrained* caution. Or... a virgin's fears? Bruce strokes up to where the boy's thighs meet his torso. "After."

The boy covers Bruce's hands with his own. "After. Yes. I -- please. Pierce me."

"Will you let me taste your blood?"

A moan and a *clutch* -- "I. I can't help but think of possible infection --"

"I will clean you thoroughly... after."

The boy narrows his eyes. "Tell me. Tell me how you want me, Dad."

"In every possible way. I've told you. For this... merely sit comfortably with your legs spread as wide... yes. Beautiful."

"Would you mind if balanced on my hands?"

"Do you need to?"

"I want to. I... here," the boy says, setting his palms flat behind him on the gurney and arching forward.

The boy is posing --

*Already* --

Bruce smiles, and knows it looks savage on his face by the twitch of the boy's penis.


"Stay as still as you can."

"Yes, Dad."

Bruce leans in to bite the boy's left nipple, slowly increasing the pressure until the boy is gasping, until he's groaning -- he stops when the boy begins to tense and sucks, licks, strokes the boy's arms and shoulders, squeezes and tests at the whipcord-lean muscle --

"Oh, Dad, I... I'm not *afraid* --"

Bruce kisses his way up the boy's chest to his throat, his ear. "You have nothing to fear from me... or everything, if that's what you would prefer."

"This. This kind of *power* --"

"Pleasure. Love." 

The boy laughs and moans at once, tilting his head back and to the side --

"Good boy," Bruce says, and sucks over the boy's pulse point --

"I've wanted. I've wanted love so *much* --"

"It's yours."

"Needed --"


"I was -- I was going to say I needed *you*, Dad --"

"And I am yours," and Bruce reaches up to cup the boy's throat, to squeeze -- "Your father. Your lover. Your partner. Your teacher."

"Dream. Nightmare --"

"Passion and horror. Everything, Tim," and Bruce squeezes hard enough to make the boy gurgle and shake, claw at the thick cotton sheet -- "Be still."

Tension -- and perfect stillness.

"Good boy. The love I feel for you has no end, Tim."

The boy lets his eyes slip closed and smiles, open and loose and beatific -- the smile his Tim only gives him in the aftermath of great pain. Perhaps his nipple...

Bruce isn't sure, but he knows that it's not the time to wait. He has made the boy wait *enough*, made them both -- "After, I want your mouth."

The boy nods as much as he can with Bruce's hand around his throat, and, when Bruce releases him -- "Yes, Dad. *Please*, Dad --"

"Shh. Make no sound until I slip the ring inside."

A gasp and a nod, and while the boy's eyes are wide, Bruce honestly can't be sure of what he's seeing right now. There will always be mystery at the heart of Tim, things which can never truly be seen or even explained --

His love.

Bruce washes his hands and retrieves the materials quickly, and forces himself to go slowly as he disinfects both the nipple and most of the boy's pectoral. He uses five alcohol swabs to be sure, and a sixth to hold between his gloved fingers as he pinches and pulls the nipple back to maximum hardness.

He'd had this small-gauge ring set aside for his Tim's penis, but he honestly doesn't know when he'll be able to let the boy's penis *rest* for long enough for such a wound to heal. While the time needed is negligible for any definition of the term, he knows too well -- *feels* too well -- how much a life can change in a moment.

He needs too much --

And he believes that in every moment when the boy isn't near, when he can't be sensed --

Such is not the case now.

"The needle is sterile, and will be discarded after this use... unless you'd like to keep it. Nod if you would."

The boy bites his lip and does so fervently, needfully --

It had taken so long to get his Tim to learn to keep things, to learn to hold on to more than his own survival --

This boy had led a different life, and he must remember that. There's something --

The boy's breath hitches once for the feel of the needle sliding in, and he flushes when Bruce taps it lightly. Pre-ejaculate beads more slowly than blood, and yet the two seem to be matched in this --

He will not taste until the ring is placed. He --

"Be ready, son."

Another fervent nod --

Bruce removes the needle and slips the ring in with slow care. As he closes it, the scent of the boy's sweat rises enough to make him salivate --

"Now, Tim."

"Oh, God. Oh, God. I -- I have *body* art, I --" The boy's laugh is shocked, pleased --

"It will almost certainly take no more than four months to heal so long as you keep it clean, cover it with breathable gauze when you're wearing your uniform, and avoid getting shot in the chest more than two or three times..."

The boy blinks -- and giggles, covering his mouth. "Oh -- God, Dad, I think -- I think I feel more high now than I did on those sedatives."

"My Tim reacted much the same way. Be still."

"Yes -- yes -- *oh*, your tongue is so *much* --"

"Is it painful?"

"Nn -- yes. But --" The boy shakes his head. "I don't know how to *describe* it. Please -- please, I need more -- *oh* -- oh, tell me you like the *taste* --"

"I love all of you," Bruce says, knowing that his tone is *stern* by the boy's low, pleased moan -- "Touch yourself for me. Show me."

The boy's flush grows even deeper, and he does not hesitate, keeping himself balanced on one hand as he grips, as he strokes -- "You -- oh, *Daddy* --"

Bruce grunts and resists the urge to take *himself* in hand --

"For you, for you, please -- I *wanted* you to watch --"

"I did."

A sobbed breath. "I would -- even though I'd say things about hoping you -- you wouldn't --"

"I know. *Faster*."

The boy cries out and does it, barely pausing to collect more pre-ejaculate to slick his palm.

Bruce leans in close enough that he can smell nothing save for the boy's groin and breathes deep --

"Oh -- oh, *Daddy* --"

"Your father. Always."

The boy tosses his head and begins to squeeze himself on every downstroke -- "Want -- want this to be good --"

"It is."

"To be *right* --"

"It *is*, son, lover..." Bruce groans and drags his fingernails down the boy's inner thigh, making him arch and slam himself back down --

Another cry -- "Oh -- oh, the *ring* --"

"You can feel its weight."

"*Yes* --"

"You can feel how much it *will* ache."

"Daddy, *please*, tell me -- you have to --"

"You're mine. I need do nothing."

"*Please* --"

"Yes. As soon as you ejaculate, I'm going to pick you up and throw you to the floor, no matter how much you fight --"

"Won't -- *can't* --"

"You can do anything if I tell you to --"

The boy's scream is sharp, desperate, *proud* --

He kneels up and *claws* at the right side of his own chest --

"Daddy -- Daddy, I'm *close* --"

"Then come for me," Bruce says, and rests his hand at the small of the boy's back in preparation --

"Oh -- you. You're *ready* for me --"

"For so long, Tim. I've been *without* you --"

The boy shoves his fist in his mouth --

"*No*, Tim --"

And the boy ejaculates *as* he rips his fist from his mouth, swaying awkwardly as his body jerks, squeezing himself viciously hard as he groans --

Semen spatters the floor and Bruce wonders as he tosses the boy down whether Clark will come to collect *this* DNA for his experiments in cloning the way he's collected all the rest.

*His* Tim knows of the experiments. His Tim had agreed to Clark's first hesitant queries with a haste Bruce had found morbid... until Tim had explained to him that it was their freedom, and their hope:

To never be alone again.

The boy is panting and staring up at him from the position he'd fallen in -- "Dad," he says, and shows his teeth.

Bruce raises an eyebrow and tries -- holds himself. He holds himself, and the boy looks him over like a project he will lose sleep for, lose *life* for -- "Tim. *Who* do you want?"

"I want my father to teach me how to suck cock -- no."


"I want my father to have already *taught* me how so I could get my mouth fucked. I..." The boy shakes his head. "Show me. Take me. *Help* me. Be *yourself* -- *hnh* --"

That for Bruce's hand in his hair, and the boy opens his mouth --

His red, wet mouth --

"Wider. Wider, Tim --"

The boy nods and does it, letting his eyes slip half-closed, and this is the promise, this --

He must remember not to just --

But the boy *wants* him to, wants all of him if only in this moment --

Such beauty in his life and none of it earned, none of it *deserved* --

And *his* Tim would *bite* for that, but perhaps this boy is more forgiving, more --

His muffled *moan* --

The way he *shakes* --

"Hands on me. *Touch* me, Tim --"

The boy cups Bruce's hips and squeezes hard, using all the strength in his hands to obey, to please, to -- *yes* -- *promise* --

He won't leave. He won't ever -- no. This one *will* leave, and will drag another Bruce out of his terrors and into the only light he'll ever know, but --

Not yet.

Not *yet*, and the back of Tim's throat seems to come too soon, seems to --

He's supposed to *teach*, and so he urges the boy to close his mouth around him, to --


No *hesitation* before he sucks, before he moans again and searches Bruce's eyes for direction, acknowledgment --

Bruce nods and pants, and while he has kept himself from sexual release for far longer periods of time than this --

He must admit that a part of him feared that he wouldn't *get* it from this boy, that nothing he could do or say would sway the boy from the blandishments of his own fears, his own terrible pain --

This is worth everything he's ever learned about psychological warfare, if never worth the boy's pain --

Oh -- "Take. Take more. You... you must swallow me *into* you."

The boy nods and sucks --

The boy shakes his head and begins to work himself on Bruce's penis, very obviously building a tolerance for the feel of something large pressed against tender, sensitive flesh --

Bruce is never more grateful for his size than when he can believe that only it can express his love, his *appreciation* --

"For you, my love..."

The boy strokes Bruce's hips restlessly, claws at them and rubs more, strokes around to Bruce's buttocks and squeezes, *pulls* --

"Not --*nnh*. Not yet, Tim. You're not. Ready --"

And the boy's eyes call him a liar, call him a tease and *worse* --

"You're not *ready*."

The boy whimpers and nods, working himself harder, *faster* until Bruce can only barely feel the flutter of the boy's throat between thrusts --

The boy is taking him. The boy *wants* to take him, and isn't that proof of the larger truth? Doesn't this mean they belong together?
That they can have something like this --

That anything could feel so very *sweet* --

Bruce *grips* the boy's hair, holding him still -- and he can't wait before thrusting, can't --

The boy's choked sound speaks of surprise, body-shock --

His eyes are so *wide*, blue so gentle around the black --

The endless darkness they *share* --

Careful thrusts. Must. He must --

Not too deep.

Not too *deep*, even though the boy is working to swallow him, working rhythmically to Bruce's thrusts, and perhaps this boy would one day wish to be teased *this* way, to be held away from --

No, he could never --

Never, never --

"*Son* -- *nnh* --"

The boy yanks his hands away from Bruce's hips and his eyes show *fear* --

"No *fear*. *Touch* me --"

And the boy wraps his arms around him, grinds his face against Bruce's groin --

The boy can't breathe --

Bruce *knows* this must hurt --

The first time --

Oh, to be the first to *have* this --

"You are -- a *gift* --"

The boy clutches him tighter --

"You are my *love* --"

The boy swallows again --

Again and again --

Bruce groans and pets the boy's hair, hating his clumsy hunger and reveling in it at once --

"Beautiful *boy* --"

Deep-chested *groan* and the boy is shaking even as he shuffles closer on his knees, even --

He is being *devoured*, and moments like these are so --

The boy is *Tim*, and so he is always hungry, always, and he must remember --

There are so many things he must *remember*, and at times like these he wants to be on his own knees, wants to beg, to plead --

He is only a *man*, and this pleasure is too great, too much for any man to stand and remain whole, remain alive --

No --

He'll never leave his love, never turn away, never stray, never *break* --

And the black tells him that he has lost the ability to fully oxygenate himself. The black creeps, encroaches --

Flows from the darkness at the heart of his beautiful love, this perfect boy --

The boy's lashes flutter as he comes close to losing consciousness, and yes, yes, they had to be together even in this --

Always in *this* --

The boy thrusts against his leg and he's hard again. He is --

So *young* --

And Bruce doesn't know the cry that rips itself from his throat as he ejaculates, doesn't --

The boy jerks and Bruce pulls him off, but the boy is holding on too tightly for Bruce to be able to pull him far --

Bruce ejaculates on the boy's face, in his hair --

The boy gasps -- "*Bruce* --"

He cannot stand anymore. He cannot --

He doesn't try.


It isn't the first time Bruce has felt that Clark has overstayed his welcome by far. It isn't even the first time Clark has done so while Bruce has wanted nothing more than to be alone with a beautiful young man who loves him --

Clark has taken Bruce aside *twice* to remind him of the Tim they must search for -- as if Bruce could ever *forget* --

At the moment, Clark is using his heat vision to spot-weld those components which are too sensitive for the tools Bruce currently has available. The fact that the man is making himself useful *while* keeping him away --

The machine is almost finished, but Bruce has so much more to *learn*. There's so much he must understand...

And the boy's brand of sympathy is bladed, at best. The way it always should be. He is sitting on the console wearing only tape for his wrists and ankles, and has shown no desire whatsoever to put on more than that.

He is, Bruce knows, enjoying Clark's discomfort to a degree which would be worrying... had Bruce lacked his memories of Jay. But perhaps...

Perhaps, this, too, is a lesson?

There's nothing more he can do with the machine until it's complete *enough* for Bruce to begin the task of programming it -- and with the boy it will happen that much faster.

The boy is so beautiful. So proud of -- no. The boy has pride in himself, but not that sort. The boy is shameless, and has shown no signs since that first night of incipient psychotic break.

Doubtless, Clark would have something to not *quite* say about that --

"Daddy," the boy says, conversationally pleased, and Bruce realizes that he has moved close.

Clark chokes on something.

The boy smiles brilliantly and kicks his feet.

Bruce cups the boy's face. "You enjoy your youth."

"Well, that's the thing, Dad -- all kinds of enjoyable people have *also* enjoyed my youth. I kinda had to see what the fuss was about."

And that was... a partial truth. The shadow in the boy's eyes speak of a desire for privacy before more truth can be offered. Bruce nods his acknowledgment and strokes the boy's facial scars --

"Problematic, but we use the same scar cream you guys do. Do the others bother you?"

"Only in terms of what you've gone through... and I would not change it if it meant I would lose your beauty."

Clark actually *mutters* --

And the boy snickers. "Does he really think you *won't* send me home?" No effort whatsoever to lower his voice...

Yes, another lesson. "I believe he is simply -- and powerfully -- scandalized."

"I *am* legal pretty much everywhere."

"More's the pity...?"

The boy kicks his feet again. "That's *filthy*, Daddy. I'm proud of you."

Bruce hums and cups one of the boy's small, powerful hands in his own before kissing it. "I live in your regard."

"Is *that* what the vigilantes are calling it in this universe?"

"What else? But tell me... is your regard troubling you at the moment?"

"Well, it would kinda trouble me if someone shouted while I was bent over and the echoes lasted for an hour, but other than that? My regard is feeling just fine, Daddy. Again -- I'm proud of you."

"All right, both of you, really, don't you think --"

"Clark. Have you finished the welding?"

"*Yes*, I've finished the welding, Bruce," and Clark is hovering a foot above eye level. "The two of you really -- this is *inappropriate*."

Bruce raises an eyebrow.

The boy... snickers. "You're just mad because the Tim who belongs here won't put out."

Clark... gapes.

Bruce hums. "To be fair, I've often found myself upset about just that very thing."

The boy pats him. "You guys'll work it out. You just have to be proactive about things and never actually let him get a word in edgewise."

Bruce kisses Tim's other hand. "I was rather hoping for something more along the lines of a frank and open discussion."

"*After* he comes all over himself. Trust me."

The boy, he knows, is not being entirely serious -- he's agreed that the Tim from this universe is quite different -- but the core of his advice is solid.


Clark clears his throat. "Have you thought about how your Bruce would feel about what you're doing, Robin?"

"Hnn. My Bruce knows exactly what I need. I taught him myself. Seriously, Clark, *relax*. *This* Bruce is madly in love with the Tim who belongs here, just like my Bruce is madly in love with me. If he *isn't* building his own magic box as we speak? I'll make sure to tell the other Tim that he should at least give you a hummer."

"You -- I --"

"He might not *listen* -- you're kind of a *stick* compared to my Clark -- but who knows? Everybody gets bored sometimes."

And Clark... yes, he's somewhat hurt.

Bruce cups his shoulder. "Perhaps you'll recall the many, many times you've instructed me to use some of the funds at my disposal to purchase a sense of humor...?"

"It didn't have to be a *mean* one, Bruce. I -- really, Tim, if I've offended you, I'm sorry, but --"

"It's *okay*, Clark. You just... well, you have to relax. Like Bruce has."

Clark frowns at him. "Bruce, the last time you were relaxed... I." He shakes his head.

Bruce smiles ruefully. "Tim has also explained to me, in depth, precisely how I failed Jason even though I meant only to love him. While I don't think I've learned all -- or even most -- of what I need to know in order to successfully navigate a romantic relationship, I do believe that I stand in better stead to do now than I did seven years ago."

"He was talking about... about just *steamrollering* our -- your Tim." Clark blushes.

Bruce considers raising an eyebrow once more, but there's something to be said for gentleness. "Clark... in the interest of fairness, I have every reason to believe that Tim simply isn't fully aware of your attraction to him."

"I'm not -- well, of course, he's a very attractive young man --"

"Clark. You invited him to Metropolis in the middle of a mission we were undertaking to *save the planet*."

"It's only that I want to be his friend -- and, all right, perhaps more than that --"

The boy hums. And kicks his feet.

Clark glares at him.

The boy raises his hands. "Hey, your universe, your rules. I'm just saying -- *I* had pretty lousy self-esteem for a long time. It mostly went along the lines of thinking people *only* wanted me for my... regard, but it *could've* gone the other way if my Bruce hadn't left off my detective training until after... a lot of fucked-up shit. And that *other* Tim my Bruce found was just a *mess*."

"Another universe?"

"Mm-hm. Last time we heard, *that* Bruce and Tim were universe-hopping on purpose. Kind of an interdimensional road-trip of disturbing sex and, hopefully, self-discovery. Bruce is *pretty* sure they won't try to take over the world again."

Consternation and *confusion* on Clark's face -- but he takes a deep breath and straightens his shoulders. And covers Bruce's hand before he can move it. "You have to know that I want your happiness, Bruce."

"You have always been a good friend, Clark. Far better than I've deserved."

"And when you *talk* like that, I *worry*."

"Would it make you feel better to know that I'm enjoying your discomfort?"

Clark opens his mouth, blinks -- "Well... yes, actually, it would."

"I'm enjoying it immensely."

"And Bruce knows from immense, Clark. I mean, really." The boy... gestures. "Of course, *you* know all about that, too. I've gotta say, I've always appreciated you never wearing a jock. Maybe you should think about that other Tim appreciating it."

Bruce raises an eyebrow at the *boy*.

"After Bruce has had his turn, natch. Bros before hos. You know how it is."

"Bros before -- I. I think I'll be going now. Carter said he'd be finished refining the Nth metal within the next sixteen hours --"

"And then he will inform you, and you will return here with it. Yes, thank you, Clark."

Clark frowns at him one last time before patting Bruce's hand --

He's gone.

The boy sighs. "Torturing Kryptonians is pretty much the best game ever, Dad. Well, that doesn't involve my regard."

"And did you feel the same about Supergirl?"

The boy's smile is... wet. "Nah. But Babsy does."

He must admit that the images are... compelling. Still -- "I don't believe the Barbara from this universe has ever been romantically involved with a woman."

The boy sighs and shakes his head. "I almost want to stay here long enough to *fix* things. I mean, Babsy is *mostly* straight, but she knows how to have *fun*."

"Much of our Barbara's amusement is virtual now."

"I have to admit, having an Oracle would be *damned* useful. But the only people really qualified for it in Gotham are me and Babs, and neither of us are getting off the street anytime soon. Well, no, she's going back to school next semester to start finishing her degree -- she's even going out of *state*. I can't really wrap my head around it."

"You'll miss her greatly."

The boy nods, gaze going distant for a moment. "A part of me wanted her to be able to make it work with Bruce. I mean, I made it sound like it was all her deal, but it really wasn't."

Bruce strips off his work-out clothes. "I took your meaning, I think. I would have to be significantly addled to believe that any Bruce wouldn't have a hand in ruining a romantic relationship."

"Heh. You get better, I promise. *And* she didn't have to leave all the time. It's not like there wasn't room. Fuck, it's not like there wasn't room in our *bedroom*."

Bruce steps out of his trainers, sits down naked in the chair, and beckons.

"God, I love it when you're entitled," and the boy wriggles his way into Bruce's lap, using his leverage to spin the chair. "And in *real* answer to your earlier question... it didn't take long to figure out that I had a fucked-up childhood. After that, things were even *more* fucked-up, because you never showed me all of you except in *glimpses*, and Babs and Dick were fighting all the time, Alfred was all about trying to make me sympathize with you and Dick, and Dick was a *hardass* when he wasn't just being an ass...

"I don't know. It seemed like every time I started being a kid in more ways than just liking comics and candy and video games, someone in the family -- or the *whole* family -- would shut me down."

That -- Bruce can't keep himself from holding the boy tightly.

"I'm okay, Bruce. I'm having my childhood now in every way I can, and it's gonna last as long as I want. You make it *safe* for me to be a kid."

It's -- "It's what I've wanted. One of the things I've wanted," Bruce says, and strokes the boy firmly. "I've done a terrible job of it."

The boy sighs. "Yeah, but you were scared, yeah? I mean, you needed me *not* to risk my life more than necessary no matter how fun it was to, say, play around on the de-cel lines."

"Tim... he never..."

"Not an acrobat even a little, yeah, I know. But there were other things he did which weren't so safe, like... I don't know. He maybe had fun fucking with the Arkhamites' minds?"

Bruce thinks of No Man's Land, and the boy toying with Harvey while Harvey was having one of his periodic heartrending struggles with which way he would turn... He nods.

"Yeah, he seems like the type. I mean, I know I am, and I don't even get off all that much on abnormal psych."


The boy twists nimbly, enough to beam a shark's smile into Bruce's eyes.

"Hm. Yes, I imagine that could be... difficult for you. I rescind the question."

The boy wriggles in Bruce's lap --

Bruce strokes down to clutch the boy's hips. "I am... curious, however --"

"About how I'd diagnose myself, I know. Well... the PTSD is obvious, and I mentioned the low self-esteem -- it was pretty crippling for a while --"

"It never should've been --"

"Batman and Nightwing and Batgirl were the only *real* adults in my life, Bruce. I mean, my Dad was useless, and my Mom was gone... you get the picture."

"They seemed to only love you when you behaved in certain ways. They weren't... expressive about their love at other times."

"Well... Babsy is never *not* gonna be expressive if the world continues to spin in anything *like* the right way, and she always, always played with me, but she also never really stood up to my Bruce when he shut me down, and if Dick ever shut me down when Babs was around, they just got *embroiled* in one of their fights."


"No, no, see, now you're thinking that it was all bad for me and it really *wasn't*. I mean, even when my Bruce was always pushing me away, he never really did it *unless* I was hitting on him. I could do things like go to his office and read comics under his desk while he quizzed me on little things, and once Dick took over most of my training, my Bruce was a lot happier. More -- heh -- relaxed."

"Still, I can't help but think he wanted more for you."

The boy nods and spreads his legs over Bruce's thighs, leaning back enough that his torso is an inclined plane of scars and wonder. "He did want more for me, and he didn't know how to give it without Giving In To The Beast Within Him," the boy intones.

Bruce strokes the boy's torso more, careful not to be gentle with even the most intense scarring. "Would there have been any way...?"

The boy frowns thoughtfully. "I... maybe? More touching would've helped, but then that assumes he *could've* touched me more without losing it."

"I... there were times when I looked at... at my Tim. He was touched so rarely by his family -- that much was clear from the very beginning. He... he seemed almost *starved*..."

"He totally was. I mean, my Dad hugged me a little, but his *head* wasn't even in it. He was always looking for the next score, the next chisel... you know how it goes."

"Yes. I thought. I thought of merely holding his body close to mine, and I would be flooded with memories of Jay, of all the promises I'd made to myself to avoid such entanglements in the future --"

"And his youth, and how he might get the wrong idea, or the *right* idea, yeah, I know. But *he* didn't know, so he just got needier."

"The Dick from this universe... he touches Tim all the time. He -- they play with each other, and hold each other. He. He has kissed Tim's forehead many times in my sight."

The boy blinks. "Uh. Seriously? Just... all over him?"

"Whenever possible. Including some of the times when he's been angered or annoyed by something Tim has said. I believe..." Bruce frowns -- and realizes that he's comforting *himself* with the feel of the boy's skin. "Tim, is this... all right?"

"Mm-hmm. If it was just for me it'd be no good. You know that."

He does. "Then..." Bruce moves the boy until they are facing each other --

And the boy shifts further until he can bury his face against Bruce's throat. "Mutual is better."

Yes. Bruce lets his eyes close for a moment. "Yes. Dick has always been affectionate, of course --"

"*Really*? No, no, go on, ignore me."

Bruce frowns again. "I... I confess I'm somewhat stuck on the image of a Dick who was somehow *not* affectionate."

"And... he's even affectionate with *you*? Like -- hugs and not punches?"

"There has been violence in the past. But far more attempts to offer affection."

"Which you totally blew off because of that Beast in you, yeah, I know --"

"He -- I wanted to own him. To let no one else touch, or be near..." Bruce shakes his head. "I resented his friends, and him for having them."

"But he totally *had* friends *anyway*... okay, yeah, I can see that making a difference. My Dick has friends *now* -- and he's a lot more relaxed than he used to be. I'm pretty sure he didn't get laid at all until he was at least in college."

Bruce hums somewhat wryly. "I believe you've given me yet another reason to be grateful to Clark."

The boy snickers. "Well, considering how young *I* was when Clark started hitting on me... yeah, okay. Maybe he just has a thing for Robins."

"It's a more common affliction than you might think."

"Heh heh. That's 'cause you like us *pretty*, Dad."

Bruce hums. "I have wondered, more than once, if I had somehow blinded myself to lust in terms of how I've chosen my partners."

"You didn't choose *me*. That's another low-self-esteem thing, by the way."

"I would have --"

"Tell him, and then wait for him not to believe you, and then tell him again when your cock is in his ass... repeat as necessary."

"I don't suppose you've ever considered a career as a life coach?"

The boy snickers again and licks Bruce's throat. "All my advice is the same, Dad: Put your cock in me, then try again."

Bruce laughs softly --

And the boy hums pleasurably and -- somehow -- manages to press closer.

"I will miss this, Tim."

"Not for long if you play your cards right... but I also know what you mean. This has been pretty good for me. Settling."


The boy leans back enough to look Bruce in the eye. The light behind his own eyes is a dance of heedless blades --

"You are beautiful."

"And *you*... need the sticky hugs even more than my Bruce does. You already know Tims need to be needed."

"He will always need you --"

"I know, I know. But... still. It's different here. It's... well, it's all *grim*, and I know what to *do* about that. There's nothing like knowing that you *can* make a difference."

"And torment Kryptonians."

The boy sighs happily. "*Always*. Especially for a good cause, like making you that much more likely to give *your* Tim what he needs before Clark can step in."

Bruce hums and strokes down the bridge of the boy's nose. "Manipulative."

"With every breath I take... Daddy. But, well, I'm also looking out for my team, as it were."


"Your Tim pretty much has to be this close to crazy with how much of what he needs he's just not getting -- and no, weirdly-touchy-Dick doesn't count, because he's clearly just loving him as a non-sticky brother, yeah?"

"I... I've often thought that if Tim were to express an interest clearly enough that Dick could understand --"

"*Not* the same. Dick doesn't fuck around. If he wants someone, he goes for them. I'm not really shocked that he can be *made* to like someone who goes for *him*, but that wouldn't really do *me* any good."

"Because it wouldn't feel... natural."

"Exactly, Dad. Making sure Clark is ready, willing, and able to step in if you fuck it up again... well, put it this way. My Bruce and Babs got me away from being suicidal and psychotic, but there was still something missing. Clark offered, and even offered to change his voice to sound like you --"

Bruce grunts helplessly --

"*Heh*. Yeah, you get it. Now was that because you already *knew* how good he was at playing a part?"

"He is... very skilled."

"*And* he was fucking the boy you wanted to *own*, so..." The boy nods. "You know he probably did the same *for* Dick, right?"

"The thought..." Bruce smiles ruefully. "I've mainly tried to avoid having the thought."

The boy smacks him -- not especially gently.

"Yes, I did -- and do -- deserve that."

"I can't even give you decent *advice*, because that would mean you'd get all wrapped up in Dick again and not give your Tim what he needs --"

"Tim --"

"I know *my* Dick wouldn't let himself get obsessed with you again, but your Dick is a fucking unknown *commodity* --"

"Would you like to meet him?"

"No, because I'd have to put *clothes* on --"

"I couldn't -- if I were to begin a romantic relationship with Tim, I don't believe it could ever be kept secret from the rest of the family --"

"But you also can't throw it in Dick's *face*. He's -- he's sensitive, and he deserves better than that, and -- he deserves better than that."

And --

The boy is honestly upset, frustrated and hurt somewhere Bruce isn't sure how to touch. But --

"Tim... I promise to talk to Dick."

"About *what*?"

"About my attraction to him, and all the reasons -- good and bad -- why I could not and will not ever act on it."

"And when he throws Tim in your face? When *his* relationship with Tim gets all fucked-up?"

"He wouldn't --"

"He's *human*," the boy says, clapping his hands down hard on Bruce's shoulders. "More... more human than you are."

And Bruce knows that the boy loves him just this way, and that the boy has always wanted something deeper and stronger with his Dick, and that the boy is Robin. "Beautiful boy, it isn't, truly, your responsibility to make the family function smoothly --"

"Yes, it *is*. I -- once Dick left Gotham, it was always *me* who went to him, and dragged him back for this mission or that mission, or just kept him in *touch*. When Bruce can't talk to Babs, *I* do it. When Bruce pisses Clark off, *I* calm him down --"

"Tim --"

"You can't -- you can't make it any harder on him. And -- I know you don't mean to, and I know he'd never say any of this *to* you --"

"Just as you'd never say it to your Bruce?"

"I --" The boy frowns again, the expression taking his face --

Seeming almost to *colonize* it with sadness --

"My Bruce needs more than I can give him alone. But I don't know how to make that work without... without losing too much of him."

Bruce pulls the boy close as tightly as he can, feeling the tension *holding* the boy -- until it's gone and the boy sighs against Bruce's chest. "There is... I think there is something I can give *you*, Tim."

"You always -- you take care of me --"

"And so you try to take care of me in turn, and I am grateful -- and he is drowned beneath his love and need for you. But there is... I think he must look at you and see religion as something worth all of the trouble and pain --"

The boy snorts and pulls *back* -- 

"No, Tim. Be still for now."

The boy raises a pointed eyebrow.

Bruce raises one back. "Be still."

The boy rubs restlessly at Bruce's shoulders. "The courage of your convictions is a *good* thing, Dad, but --"


A breath -- and the boy nods.

"Right now... right now, you look at me and see someone only barely qualified to open his mouth in terms of interpersonal relationships, and you're almost entirely correct to do so. However, Dick and I have spoken extensively about our troubles, and have even reached an accord where we are able to be in each other's presence for extended periods of time without recrimination and violence."

The boy is... skeptical.

"This never would've happened if I hadn't been broken -- quite literally -- and bent by various events which simply have not occurred in your universe -- and I wish them never to do so. You must... you must tell your Bruce quite firmly that he cannot chase people away. That he must cleave to everyone who will allow it -- and the worry and hurt is back in your eyes. Beautiful boy, he will do anything to avoid hurting you any more than he already has. You know this."

A nod.

"This includes..." Bruce sighs and smiles ruefully. "I believe it is possible that you have done your job too well. There has always been a part of me -- large and silent save at the most inconvenient times -- which has desired to be led. And who better to do so than the wise and beautiful boy who had endured so much and yet had managed to come out with even more light, even more *life*?"

"He... he gave that *back* to me."

"He forced you -- through every means at his disposal -- to find it within yourself again. And he needs you, and loves you, and trusts you implicitly. There must have been a moment after you shot the Joker when he was lost and frightened for more than merely a *few* reasons, but he decided that there were no alternatives to having you. He will not ever waver from that choice now."

"I know that. I *know* that, but --"

"But you are sure that there is more that he needs, and you do not know how to force him to take it without losing him to still more obsession. You have seen the way he loves, and you have watched it take him away from you in the past."

A somewhat jerky nod.

Bruce cups the boy's face with both hands. "This is not the past. While he may back away should you choose to..." Bruce laughs softly. "No, he will never let you go. He will rage and fight to keep you. He will abase himself and beg. He will give everything he is for one more *moment*, and only a small amount of that is due to the fact that you need him. He is more greedy than anyone you know, more desperate... you took his loneliness and crushed his *fear* -- the only constant in his life.

"This is not the *past*, and *you* are the shape of his future. While I will not ever doubt you that he needs more than you can give, he will willfully -- *happily* -- deny those needs if it means that you are happier with him. That you are *safe* with him."

"Always. I... but you have to -- the rest of the family needs you, too --"

"And he will follow where you lead. If you were to tell him this -- as clearly and baldly as you tell him everything else -- he will listen. And I know this because my Tim has done the same for me -- if far more subtly."

"He... shows you how to be a friend? Other things?"

"As much as he can. He focuses himself on the Mission, but he gives himself to Dick when he can, and plays with Barbara, and makes visible efforts to repress his fears to help Cassandra with her reading and other things."

"I kinda do want to meet her."

"She almost certainly won't mind your nudity. She has... different priorities."

The boy rubs his shoulders again. "My Bruce... is working with Clark on something."


"Kryptonians figured out cloning a long, long time ago. And... Clark has my genetic material. And Bruce's."

That feeling... is it horror? Pleasure? Need? "Has he... succeeded?"

The boy smiles ruefully. "Not yet. He thinks he might need to use some of his own or Kara's DNA to make it work, which would and wouldn't defeat the purpose --"

"He wants forever with you."

Another rub, and the boy's palms are sweating. "He *thinks* he does --"

Bruce presses down on the boy's cheekbones with his thumbs --

"Oh -- I'm listening. I'm listening."

"Has he..." Bruce shakes his head. "Why would he be so faithless with you?"

"It's not -- he's never *faithless* -- but."

"He allowed Barbara to leave him."

"Yes. And -- there have been others. He has -- he's tried so many *times* to be involved with women, and, okay, it was stupid for him to try it with civilians -- you need to stop that if you're doing it, Dad, because -- you really have to."

Bruce's smile is almost certainly as pained in appearance as it feels. Silver, chased away by secrets. Vesper, murdered for still others. "I have... ceased."

"Even. Even Catwoman would be a better *choice*, Dad --"

"We... tried. And failed -- and I wasn't expecting that slap."

The boy shakes out his hand absently. "She's *never* gonna stop committing *crimes*, Bruce!"

"She -- actually did. Here."

"Really? Well... okay. Sorry, Dad."

Bruce debates mentioning why she had stopped... and decides to leave it for now. "It's quite all right. Tell me, are the slaps more satisfying than other sorts of strikes for my romantic failures?"

The boy thinks about it for a moment -- "I wouldn't say *satisfying*. I mean, satisfying would involve a baseball bat with a titanium core, which is where it would lead if I started punching you the way I want to. It's much easier to restrain myself to one or two nerve strikes for your other issues."

"Noted. And... he stopped trying with civilians... and went to Barbara?"

"And let her *leave*. And -- Diana was all *over* him for a while, but he let her leave, too. And neither of them even *blinked* about *our* relationship."

"Diana..." One kiss in all of these years, and it had been devastating, blinding --

That she would ever want --

"I can't. Not... not her."

"Because you think she's too *good* for you --"

"With the implication that you're not?"

The boy looks down.


"What am I supposed to *think*, Dad? *Tell* me!"

"That her life is in the sunlight, that she is a warrior *of* the light --"

"And that's somehow *better* --"

"No, Tim," Bruce says, and forces the boy to meet his eyes. "Her life is different. She..." He shakes his head. "Here, at least, she told me plainly that one of us would have to change fundamentally in order for us to succeed romantically, and I agree entirely. There is... too much fear and loss for both of us to risk anything like that."

"But you want her."

"I've desired her touch, her conversation, her many smiles... and I'm more than satisfied that *she* is satisfied with Clark's occasional attentions."

The boy blinks. "Clark? *That* Clark?"

Bruce smiles. "He's not always so... prim. You seem to bring it out of him... effortlessly."

The boy smiles narrowly -- and distantly.

"You haven't been clear about whether or not you've been romantically involved with your Clark."

"No, I haven't. Mainly... mainly because I'm not clear about it inside. He... comes to me sometimes when I'm alone. Certain rooftops. We'll talk... or, well, mostly *he* talks, and I listen. We hold hands. He asks me if there's anything I need."

"And do you ever need?"

The boy lets his eyes slip most of the way closed, smile gentling. "I always need when I'm alone. But sometimes I have to be. Though I don't feel the need to dig out the subcutaneous tracers very often now. Not most of them."

"I counted... sixteen?"

"There are supposed to be eighteen. I just..." The boy shakes his head. "There's a part of me that needs to just... be alone. Or... it's more like I need to remember what it feels like. And who I used to be."

Bruce nods and pulls the boy in to kiss his forehead. "Tim often... wanders. Purposefully, always, but... he goes so far, at times. I do and don't want to take him away from his Titans."

"He needs you to. At least -- at least some of the time. And Gotham needs it, too."

"It would be very, very easy to confuse my needs with Gotham's own. I've done it before. Repeatedly, and at great cost."

The boy looks up and frowns at nothing, rubbing at Bruce's stubble. "The Joker didn't have any facial hair, but sometimes I still need you to shave closer than this."

"I'll do it right now --"

"No, no. Just... for future reference. Depending on how long I stay here. I love how hairy you are. It always makes me feel younger."


Razor of a smile. "Yeah, sometimes. Mostly just... more attractive. You're hairy, I'm not. You've got grey hair in your pubes, I don't. I'm *small* --"

"Beautiful --"

"*Beautiful*. Not handsome, not attractive... none of those things. There's a little implied androgyny in there, and, yes, *youth*. And no, this is not where you worry about feminizing or infantilizing me, this is where you just go with the fact that I like being *just* that way for you. I like dressing up, I like lounging around in no -- or almost no -- clothing. I even like dancing, though so far Alfred has said no to a stripper pole."

Bruce... blinks. The images are rather --

The boy snickers and scratches at Bruce's stubble. "I'm betting your Tim would be kind of terrifying with a stripper pole."

"I suppose... he could use it as a weapon..." Bruce attempts to stop frowning and mostly fails --

Until the boy gives him a rough, rapid, and perfect facial massage. "The *weapon* is his sexuality. He has to learn how to use that, because sometimes you need an extra push or two."

"I confess that I'm not at all sure how to teach him... that."

"You'll do it every time you show how *much* he turns you on when he's doing this or that. He'll see, and he'll remember, and he'll do it *again*."

While Tim had complained about being forced into women's clothing for the Mission, the complaints themselves often seemed to be a question of degree... "I wonder if I've already begun."



"Then yeah, you totally have, you pervert," and the boy kisses him soundly, deeply --

He wriggles and hums --

He shifts until he's kneeling on Bruce's thighs and can look down at him while he's kissing --

Bruce pulls the boy close, and closer still, and wonders -- no, he should *ask*. He pulls back. "Tim... are you all right?"

"Never, Dad. Just -- not ever. But I'm better than I was. I'll make sure my Bruce knows to pick up the slack with the rest of the family, and I'll. I'll trust him to keep me. Even if I try to get away."

"Beautiful love. Will you tell me what else hurts you?"

"Sometimes, just sometimes, I think about the fact that there's *one* thing I've never done to make myself stronger and better and more useful, one thing I *could* do fairly easily if it didn't frighten me so. So badly. I."

Bruce frowns. "Tim...?"

The boy blinks. "You. You seriously don't know? Did your Jason Blood just not tell you?"

"Jason Blood? He's not... I've never been close to him personally or... professionally."

The boy bites the tip of his tongue. "Then... leave it. Just leave it."

"Tim --"

"Magic is. It's not inherently bad or anything like that and maybe your Tim *can't*, but. Um. I can. He... there was this thing with Faust and the League -- no." The boy shakes his head. "Leave it."

Bruce strokes the boy's back firmly. "Consider it left. There is no shame, beautiful love. The powers are... too much."

The boy nods, but he's still frowning -- "Still. Maybe you should. I mean, Zatanna is right there, yeah? You can... I don't know. Sometimes I feel it so *strongly*, and it's like. Sometimes it's one of the things which makes me need to run away, and if your Tim doesn't know..."

"I'll talk to him about it, and I'll help Zatanna find a way to protect him. Is that what she did in your world?"

"Mostly she just told me how to keep from using it by mistake. That. It's useful."

Bruce nods slowly. "Are there other hurts?"

The boy smiles ruefully -- and then covers his face with his hands.

"Tim --"

"After. I'll tell you after," and the boy turns on Bruce's lap and slips Bruce's penis into his cleft.


"*After*. Always after, Dad."




Upon hearing the alarm which announced Clark's presence in the area, the boy stiffens in Bruce's arms, laughs and pulls back with a question in his eyes. There is only one possible answer:

"What you wish," Bruce says, and the boy offers a narrowly familiar smile and a curt nod.

He moves from Bruce's lap, stretches, and pulls on the slightly-loose workout shorts before crossing his arms and cocking his head toward the Cave entrance Clark favors most.

Clark's discomfort when he lands in front of the boy suggests that he could just as well have remained nude, and...

The boy draws an invisible line with his toe on the mats.

He wishes to... practice.

Bruce gestures for the boy to begin -- just as Clark slows himself down enough that his frown is visible. Nearly palpable --

"Shayera assures me that this will be what you need," he says, proffering an item which appears to be a half-melted torc made out of something entirely unlike steel. "What... what are the two of you planning?"

"Something involving you only tangentially, Clark," the boy says, and cocks his head to the other side, offering a smile which suggests great pain... elsewhere. "May I call you Clark?"

Clark's features blur -- stop. "Of course, Tim. We are... not strangers to each other."

"That was my thought, and certainly I've always respected and admired you a great deal... how old are you?"

Blur -- "Twenty-seven."

The boy nods once. "My Clark is... older. Not much younger than Bruce. The Tim from this universe was your first Robin?"

Clark frowns. "He's hardly... mine," and the blur *could* mean that Clark isn't entirely comfortable with not allowing Bruce to see him turning to glance, or could mean something else. Entirely.

"You're his friend."

"Yes -- I hope so."

Another nod. "He has been a... confidant."

"Tim, I don't mean to -- interrupt, but there are really several things -- and the two of you should. Ah. Perhaps if you were to show me --"

"I'll take care of it, Clark," Bruce says, and crosses his legs. There's a slight ache in his left quadriceps which had been eased by the boy's warmth.

"Just a few more moments, Clark," the boy says, and offers a far sharper and more promising smile. A smile Clark is, perhaps, helpless not to find comforting.

There are other ways to be eased.

"Well... all right. What do you need?"

The boy closes his eyes briefly and lets his smile become wider. "So many things," he says, and opens his eyes again. "For now... please tell me if the Tim from this universe is your confidant?"

"Yes. He is, yes. I... I've also hoped to be his own."

The boy lets his lips part and steps closer to Clark -- who blurs and stops and blurs again when the boy rests his fingertips on his chest.

A slight hiss. "My fingertips are buzzing. Clark... tell me what makes him attractive to you?"

Clark stops blurring himself with a visible effort. "Of course he's -- ah. And you are, as well, of course. I. I haven't been doing... this for much longer than he has."

The boy traces the shield.

"Tim --"

"You're learning together."

"Well. Yes. I've also. He's one of the bravest, strongest people I've ever known. I worried -- we were all worried how he would recover from... from the things that have happened to him. Watching him. It's almost been like watching something bloom."

The boy takes a breath. "You love him."

"He's. A very good friend."

"You desire him sexually."

A longer blur, but the boy doesn't remove his fingertips from Clark's chest. He does, however, tighten his jaw.


"I'm sorry. I'm very sorry," he says, stilling himself *sharply* and turning to Bruce. "You must find him again. And -- I know for such things that I'm not... if there's any trouble, you must let me help this time, Bruce. Please."

Bruce inclines his head. "I will not make the same mistake."

Clark nods and turns back to Tim. "I desire him... powerfully. I would never. I would never try to come *between* --"

"Unless, of course, that very thing was desired...?"

It's a curious thing to watch a man be filled with both miserable hurt and a desire which must be the reflexive response to a Tim being at once crude and cruel.

The boy frowns and shakes his head. "No, I'm sorry, Clark. I have neither right nor reason to tease."

The misery becomes more tangible --

And the boy lifts his chin. "Ah. I see. It's easier, to some extent, when I remind you of him."

"Surely... surely you can understand --"

"Yes," Tim says, and lays his palm flat to Clark's chest. "I could never be him."

"No. Or -- I don't know you." Clark shakes his head and covers the boy's hand with his own. "You hold so much of yourself *back*. I -- even when you sleep --"

"You've watched me sleep?"

Clark frowns, blurs, stops -- and nods.

"You know that Bruce is teaching me otherwise."

"It's... worrying. His personality is so... dominant. You shouldn't. I'm sure you shouldn't try to change drastically."

Another sharp smile, accompanied by an eyebrow raise. "But just a little is fine?"

Clark leans forward, searching the boy before frowning again. "Please tell me what you want from me."

"Does he? Tell you, I mean."

"Rarely, but --"

"You trust him. Know him." The boy nods and tilts his head up and back, exposing the bruises on his throat.

Clark studies them for long enough to be obvious, and then for longer than that before turning to Bruce. "You must. You must not --"

"Tim will go back to his home, Clark. And our Tim will return to us. This is... a caesura."

"One of education," the boy says, and moves the last half-step closer. "And pleasure."

Blur --

"I never knew my Clark when he didn't have control of that."

"It only happens in... personal situations. Superman is much more... he has poise, as does Kal-El --"

"You have always been remarkable at separating your identities, Clark," Tim says, leaning in and breathing deep. "You have always smelled like a storm to me."

"A -- storm. Tim --"

"Would you kiss me, Clark?"

"*Tim* --"

"Please," and the boy lets his eyes slip half-closed and cocks his head once more, this time in purest invitation. "I want to know how it will feel for when I get home. I have... decisions to make."

The boy gasps --

And Bruce knows that Clark had done something too fast to be seen, but not so quickly that Tim hadn't been able to feel it.

"You." Clark shakes his head. "I'm always a teenager in this Cave -- I. Tim, we're not. You shouldn't do this."

The boy presses hard against Clark's shield. "I have no lover at home."

"No. -- no?"

"No. I'm often... very cold. In a way that can't be touched with blankets or sunlight."

Clark frowns, and this time the move that ends with him stroking the boy's smooth cheek is slow enough to witness.

As is the way the boy closes his eyes *nearly* all the way.

"You should spend more time in sunlight --"

"For the warmth? Or for the company?"

Clark swallows. "You shouldn't think that I don't want to -- you're very beautiful."

"Then let me feel you. Please."

Clark's expression waxes perfect consternation and wanes lust, hunger --

There is something of the pendulum to it, or -- it's possible that Bruce means 'metronomic.'

The boy *appears* to be wholly ignorant -- indifferent? -- to the twists and turns he'd created in Clark's mind, but appearances are nearly always deceiving with Tims -- beautiful and terrible boys that they are.

This boy has told no lies to Clark whatsoever, and yet that is the most egregious lie of all --

He is giving Clark his profile now, head turned enough that, even under the bruises, the pound of his pulse is perfectly visible. And certainly audible -- for Clark.

"Tim... please. I don't -- perhaps. I. Does it have to be your mouth?"

The boy shivers, and Bruce isn't sure whether or not it's real -- "Where else would you kiss me, Clark?"

And the boy doesn't move when Clark kisses his cheek -- no. He shifts enough that he's pressing forward into the touch --

He sighs and scratches at Clark's chest --

And Clark grips the boy's shoulders --

"*Oh* --"

Clark is a blur, but it's clear enough that he's kissing the boy all over his face and throat --

*Perhaps* his arms and shoulders --

The pause, when it comes, involves Clark holding one of the boy's hands in both of his own, palm up, and the kiss to that palm is slow and almost pointed as Clark holds the boy's gaze with his own.

The boy's expression is wondering, thrilled, covetous -- *sharp* --

And Bruce knows that he has come to understand more of his own power now, that he has learned -- in the space of Clark's gentle loss of control -- a fragment of the confidence he should always have had.

"Thank you, Clark," and the boy tugs his hand free of Clark's own, bringing it to his own mouth and breathing deep --

The boy slips his tongue out and tastes --

Clark's frown is pained and *hungry* -- and then simply determined as he turns to Bruce. "Now, Bruce. Do it --"

Bruce makes a quelling gesture. "The space where the Nth metal component goes is marked in yellow --"

"It's *done*, Bruce."

Bruce hadn't even seen the blur that time. Something to remember.

The machine hums -- only somewhat ominously -- and the monitor slaved to it immediately fills with multiversal coordinates.

The boy hums. "I suppose I should be pleased by the number of universes with Tim-like biological signatures located in this same general area."

"But you can't help but find it somewhat disturbing."

A smile, only somewhat distant. "It's difficult to believe that all of those Tims have been so... lucky." The boy touches Clark's shield once more. "Thank you again. We will begin."

"Let me *help* --"

"When we need you," the boy says, warm and firm at once, "we will call. Immediately."

Clark frowns more deeply, clenches his fists -- and nods. "Please. Please call as soon as you can," he says, and flies.

The boy touches his mouth gently.

"*Did* he kiss you there?"

"No. Everywhere else, though. He loves your Tim very much."

"In many ways, they grew together. In this world, Clark was off-planet when Tim was first kidnapped by the Joker, but he was back on the eleventh day. I... it never occurred to me to use him as a resource to find you."

The boy winces. "Your Tim was taken by the *Joker*?"

Bruce closes his eyes, but only for a moment. "I had given Tim but little in the way of emotional and psychological training to resist extended bouts of torture. I already know you had been given far more before you had to face your own time with the monster."

"I didn't. I -- that didn't happen to me, Bruce. I was never..." The boy smiles ruefully. "I suspect I would've at least considered suicide if it had, if only to be able to protect the secret."

The world --

There is something --

Something yawning beneath him, something shifting --


Bruce stands because he has to, clutching the back of the chair. He has to leave -- no.

He has to think --

The boy is frowning worriedly, and that --

"You were never. Never taken."

"Briefly by Croc, again briefly by Freeway -- that's when those lock-picks in my finger came in handy..." The boy shakes his head. "I was never kept for an extended period of time, or... tortured. I. Oh."

Bruce squeezes his eyes shut.

"Oh. Oh my God. Bruce."

Bruce -- he tries. He tries to keep *breathing*. What has he done?

"That's why. *That's* why. You -- I thought you were just -- that your Tim had simply. But none of the people I lost even existed here -- "

"Lost?" Bruce feels like he's scrabbling for purchase. Just -- if there's something --

"My girlfriend. My father. My closest friend. Another friend. They -- they all died, Bruce, and you -- you *did* leave me alone for a little while, and you *did* adopt me unspeakably fast, and you never --" The boy shakes his head and takes a step backward.



"Tim --"

"No. You -- you broke me. Because you thought I was *already* broken. You --" The boy shakes his head, lips curling back from his teeth.

"Please, I." All of the differences. All of the --

So few scars, and --

"There was. The pain. The pain in you --"

The boy's laugh travels most of an octave before choking itself off --

"No. No, not that. Tim --"

"You -- I see now. I see. You saw my basic, general, everyday *self* -- what was it? Did I not smile enough? Not laugh *correctly*? *Move* wrong?"

Bruce reaches out --

"Stop. Stop. You have to -- oh, fuck," and the boy drops into a crouch and covers his face with his hands. "You only -- you only did all of those things because you thought --" Another terrible laugh. "You don't want me. He doesn't want me. You don't want me. I'm not right. I'm not. I've never been. I'm not --"


"*Quiet*. Be -- quiet. Because now I have to think. And you're not helping. You never --" The boy growls and stands again, clenching his hands into fists and glaring --

Blinking --

"You don't want me."

"Tim, you must believe -- I hurt you so badly --"

"To make me into the *right* Tim. To." The boy hugs himself -- stops and goes to retrieve his shirt --

The sound he makes as he picks it up --

He'd done this. He had.

He had done the Joker's *work* --

*He* is the monster in the boy's life, the stuff of nightmare and horror --

And the sickness within him in this moment is only deserved, the fear is only --

"Tim. Tim, please -- I know you can never forgive --"

Another terrible *laugh*, and the boy throws the shirt down and strips off the shorts once more, showing himself naked --

So *beautiful* --

The ring's gleam is an *accusation* --

"Say it, Bruce. You have to -- say it."


"You don't *want* me!"

"I do."

"You *don't* --"

"I *do*," and Bruce forces himself to move away from the chair, to move closer to the boy he had hurt so *badly* --

The boy is *shaking* as he steps back --

"Please don't -- please don't run from me --"

The boy sobs once and shakes his head --

Bruce doesn't know what to *do*. Everything Tim had taught him, every lesson carefully *learned* -- "Tim, please. Please tell me what I must do. If. If there is anything, I. Should I. Should I call Clark back --"

The boy's laugh is an incredulous *bark* -- "No. No, that's not... that's not right," he says, breathing deep and nodding once. "Everything you know about how to deal with -- with situations of extreme emotional *distress*. And you."

"I need you."

"Not *me* --"

"Always. Always -- Robin, please --"

The boy sucks in a sharp breath -- and stands straight and rigid, *firm*. "Robin always. Always has to make things better for Batman. Robin is. Batman needs." There is a tic in the boy's cheek, a wildness in his *eyes* --

Bruce drops to his knees in front of the boy, reaching but not touching -- "Please. Please, Tim. Show me. You must -- I know *nothing* --"

The boy's expression crumples -- "Daddy..."

Bruce clutches the boy's slim hips, clutches harder for the tremble -- "*Please*."

"I'm not. I'm not *right* --"

"You *are*. You -- you are brilliant and brave, warm and loving, so *bright* -- please *help* me, Tim..."

The boy reaches down and touches Bruce's forehead and mouth --

The boy rips his hand away and cries out --

"Bruce. Dad. Batman. Daddy. *Bruce* --"

"I will do *anything* --"

The boy covers his face once more and begins to rock on his heels -- "I have to. I can't. I'm needed. I'm needed. I'm needed --"

"*Yes*, Tim --"

"You *hurt* me!"

Bruce groans and tries to keep himself from clutching the boy even harder, tries to -- to --

He presses his face to the boy's abdomen and can't keep himself from breathing deep --

The scent which is home, safety -- *home* --

The boy's groan is high and pained, so *pained* as he pushes his fingers into Bruce's hair, as he grips and *pulls* --

"*Please*, Tim --"

The pull instantly becomes a stroke. A --

He's making the boy comfort *him*, making the boy --

The boy is Tim, the boy should never hurt, never --

He's only supposed to *love*, to show and teach, to love and hold and *help* --



There's something thick and acid in his throat, something else making it seem as though his *mind* is throbbing --

What had he *done* --

But that's a question whose answer -- *answers* --  he already has, and --

And the boy is still stroking his hair, having responded to Bruce's need --

*Bruce* groans and pulls back, gripping the boy's wrist --

"It's not right. It's not right?" Tim is searching his eyes almost frantically --

"You should. You should not comfort me."

"I have to."

"No, Tim --"

Tim starts to turn away, but the motion is hesitant and jerky -- and he never turns his *eyes* away.

Bruce stands and breathes, cups the boy's -- cups Tim's shoulders and squeezes. "Look at me -- no. No, you don't have to --"

Tim pants twice and then regulates his breathing. "What do you want, Bruce? Do you want to -- to take it all back?"

"Yes --"

"Then let me go."

"Tim --"

"Let me *go*!"

"You -- I can't let you believe that you're unwanted, unloved --"

"You'd take it *back*. That's what you *said*," and the tic in Tim's cheek is back, the wildness in his eyes --

"Only. Only *how*, Tim. I would've spoken to you, tried to --" Bruce shakes his head. "I thought you needed me. What I. What I knew how to give -- I'm so sorry --"

Tim flinches --

"Please, no --"

"You can't -- you can't ever -- don't you *see*?"

Hurt. He sees so much *hurt*, and all of it is from *him* --

Tim squeezes his eyes shut for a long moment, and when he opens them the calm is more terrible --

So much more *terrible* --

"Let's. It's time to get me home, Batman. Let's begin."

"Tim --"

"Now," and Tim pushes Bruce's hands off his shoulders and walks toward the uniforms.

Bruce stares at his own hands until they begin to shake.

And then he goes back to the computers.


"So which one is your favorite so far?"

Bruce raises an eyebrow at the boy, who is currently sitting on the beam wearing nothing but white knee socks, a gold, red, and black plaid pleated miniskirt, his nipple rings, and black lipstick.

Earlier, the lipstick had been red. Bruce isn't entirely sure that he's removed all traces of it from his penis.


The lipstick makes the boy's teeth seem to gleam even more than usual. He crosses his legs at the knee. "Uh, huh."


"*I* liked the Tim in the freaky -- though less freaky than the one *here* -- black Batgirl uniform."

"The one in the process of cutting Jason out of his workout clothes with a knife."

The boy sighs. "I gotta admit, he *is* hot."


"Heh. Not enough chest hair, Dad. Don't worry."

"Do you think..." Bruce pauses before selecting the next set of multiversal coordinates. "Did you ever feel... stifled as a male?"

"I *like* my dick."

"To be fair, Tim, we can't be sure that that Tim had his... reconfigured."

The boy sighs. "Yeah, I know, but still. I mean, you make pretty much the best gaffs ever, but I wouldn't want to wear one to *patrol*."

Bruce nods and clicks -- another Tim in a cape and full-face cowl. Robin is a slight, red-headed young woman doing a handstand on the back of his chair, and --

"Admit it, Dad -- you're totally gonna be looking for *her* from now on."

"I. I found the Tim with the blunt, electrified cutlass intriguing."

"The *pirate*? He had a *beard*."

"A false one."


Bruce selects the next set of coordinates. "How did you know how to program the machine to search for your biological signature?"

The boy shrugs. "My Bruce worked up a rough protocol for it back when he was dithering over whether or not he'd build one for himself. I checked my work with Babs while you were sleeping."

Bruce pauses. "You spoke with Oracle?"

"Heh. No. I spoke with *Babs*. I'm gonna have to tell my Babs to lose the contacts at least some of the time, because -- mmm."

"Hm. Did she... say anything?"

"About you fucking me stupid? Not really. Mainly she seemed to be taking notes about how to deal with the Tim who belongs here. Lucky bastard."

Bruce turns to look at the boy again. "It was my understanding that you and your Barbara --"

"Yeah, yeah, but *this* Babs is technically a cyborg."


"I bet she has a death-ray on at least one of her wheelchairs," and the boy sighs dreamily.


"Next universe, Dad?"

"Of course."

Over the next two hours, they find many different Tims, most of whom are somewhere on or beneath the grounds of the manor. It is... soothing, for all that Bruce can't know how many -- if any -- of them had found love with their Bruces. Tim should always be --

If there *could* be any constants, anything which could be considered a law --

No, he's confusing his needs with that of the Mission again, and he can't do that.

And he can't ever allow his needs to get in the way of Tim's -- wherever those needs may take him.

"You're grinding your teeth again, Dad."

Bruce blinks, and forces himself to look once more at the image -- the reality, however alternate -- of a Tim making love to Kon-El.

"You totally always do when that guy pops up. He doesn't look all that much like Clark except for the skin and the body-type."

"His human DNA donor was Lex Luthor."


"My Tim... he thinks I don't know that."

The boy reaches up and wraps his arms around Bruce's neck. He has been in Bruce's lap for the past forty-five minutes. "We have to have some secrets. How did he find out that he thinks you wouldn't know?"

"Luthor informed him via a Titans e-mail address. Tim... I believe Tim thinks I only monitor the Tower via the means he's given me himself."

"He *thinks* you're not as obsessed with him as you are."

Bruce hums and nods. And selects the next set of coordinates --

And finds himself meeting the gaze of a Tim --

A Tim with another one of these *machines* --

But they aren't truly seeing each other. The positioning of the 'cameras' are just --

"Hunh, that's the kind of resonance my Bruce predicted there'd be if two of these things were in operation across the same space-time synapse."

Bruce nods, swallows, and tries to tell himself that there are many Tims who could be working on this sort of thing at the same time --


"Yes. I can't... my Tim has a scar on the front of his throat --"

"Like the kind peeking up out of that gorget?"


"Who gave it to him, anyway? That could've offed him pretty good."

"It was Jason," Bruce says, and strokes the boy's chest because he has to, simply has to --

"And that frown-line... I mean, most of the Tims we saw with ones that deep were also *Batman*."

"He has had. A difficult time."

"Dad. *Get* him."

Bruce wraps his arms around the boy and watches as another Bruce walks into view behind Tim --

His Tim --

When that Bruce raises his hand, Tim stiffens --

And so does the boy.

Bruce holds him tighter reflexively --

"No, I -- it's just that I used to tense up just *like* that when Bruce was about to touch me." The boy shakes his head. "It's not right."

The Bruce on the monitor drops his hand to his side. He's fully in uniform --

The boy growls irritably. "You Bruces are too much alike. We're going to have to go through *all* the Bruce signatures and *hope*. Or get them to strip or something."

Bruce nods and watches Tim -- *his* Tim -- start to snarl before selecting something else --

"Dad, what's wrong? *Get* him. If you're worried about what you're going to do with me --"

"No, it's not. It's not that."

The boy twists easily in Bruce's arms and searches him.

Honesty. Openness. At all times. "He's hurt, Tim. There's something. There's something badly wrong."

"You *said* he was tense all the time. And -- well, he misses his home and his eight hundred almost-boyfriends."

The urge to laugh for that... passes. "Even when he is most tense, he never holds himself in a way... he could be injured badly if he were hit while he was that tense."

The boy takes a breath and turns back to the screen --

The Bruce onscreen pulls his cowl back --

"Holy --" The boy jumps from Bruce's lap and moves to the portal. "Send me *through*."

"Tim --"

"I *put* that scar on Bruce's earlobe. We -- your Tim and I *switched places*."

And relief lasts only long enough to be replaced with fear. A Bruce who'd had only the boy --

The beautiful and strange *boy* --

"Bruce, come *on* --"

The Bruce onscreen clenches his hands into fists, gauntlets creaking -- "Tim. Please. Tell me if there's something --"

"I already told you that there's nothing. Why don't you go train while I do this."

The Bruce onscreen *shudders* --

And the boy shoves between Bruce and the console and activates the portal with one vicious jab.

Onscreen, Bruce and Tim turn as one to their portal... which had, for reasons which Bruce will only allow to remain a mystery for a *short* time, activated at the same time.

Tim pulls three batarangs and stands, while the Bruce onscreen only stares bleakly. *Guiltily*.

What had he done? What --

And the boy strides through into that other universe, skirt coiling around and about his thighs, before breaking into a sprint and leaping for the other Bruce, locking his legs around the other Bruce's waist and his arms around his neck.

The other Bruce moves to support the boy -- and then rests his forehead against the boy's own.

There is enough time to see the boy's worried frown before the other Bruce carries him away --

And Tim's tension mounts for the length of a long moment before he regulates his breathing and returns to the console to search.

What had happened?

The fear --

The fear Bruce feels is *crippling*, but --

But the boy had taught Bruce the *damage* his fears could do. That, more than anything else, is what allows Bruce to stand, to dress in the first workout clothes he can find, to call Alfred to monitor the machine, and to finally walk through the portal.

For a moment it seems as though everything about him is being shuffled, stretched, and *sent* --

And then he's through, and --

"It is you, isn't it." Tim's voice is low and affect-less, but firm.

"Yes, Tim."

He stiffens -- and his laugh is a cracked thing, heavy with shards. "Oh, that's going to be *lovely* on the street. Right." Tim stands, studying the console. "I honestly haven't the faintest clue how to *safe* this thing."

"Let me show you --"

"*No* -- I mean. I mean --" Tim shakes his head, stands at attention, turns, and walks through the portal without another word.

Bruce shuts the machine down and follows.

He finds Tim stripping out of his uniform near his others, and his body language speaks of painful tension, fear, *hurt* --


Bruce makes a point of stepping heavily enough to make noise --

"Yes, Bruce?"

Are you all right -- no.

Give me your status -- no, that goes against everything the boy had --

"He hurt you."

Tim sighs and turns around, smiling manically, removing the gauze on his chest, and gesturing to his swollen, adorned nipple like a game show host presenting a prize. "What do you think?"

The ring is smaller and thinner than the ones in the boy's nipples, but not by much. Bruce resists the urge to clench his hands into fists. "Tell me what you need."

Tim *starts* to snarl -- stops.

"Please, Tim --"

"*No*. You can't -- *you* don't beg me for anything. You --"

"I've wanted. I've wanted to beg you for many things."

"Oh... let's see. Honesty. Openness. Hunger. Passion. Need," Tim says, counting off on his fingers. "That's what that other Tim *taught* you, right?"

Bruce holds back the frown as best he can --

And when Tim starts to snarl again, Bruce knows that he hadn't done very well at that, at all.

"I. Tim -- anything. You -- the answer is anything you need, at any time, in any *manner* --"

"Then -- stay away from me, Bruce. Just -- stay away."

*Please* -- no. Bruce nods and steps back.

Tim nods back, flaring his nostrils and shuddering once. "I'll be patrolling on my own for... a while. You know where to leave your messages and assignments."

"Yes, Tim --"

"And -- why don't you just avoid saying my name as much as is possible, too? Because --" Tim laughs and scrubs a hand back through his hair. "I promise to get myself back on track at speed."

"You. You always do --"

"Enough talk. Please."

Bruce holds his hands still by main force. He nods, and turns toward -- there. A distant, half-finished part of the Cave --

Alfred joins him silently after thirty-five yards, and the gratitude Bruce feels --

"I don't know what to do, Alfred."

"That much was already abundantly clear, Master Bruce. If you are intending to do nothing, you have made an excellent start --"

"Alfred --"

"If, however, you would be interested in hearing my advice..."

"Please. I - please. I was going to -- to tell him everything. To. I was going to apologize and. I love him."

Alfred pats Bruce's forearm with a gloved hand. "I suspect this... abomination would not have occurred had not that *other* Bruce felt the same. Or believed that he did."

Bruce frowns. "I think it must be more than simple belief --"

"Master Bruce. In all of my years, I have never known a single individual more capable of imbuing his beliefs with the cachet of reality --"

"It's more than simply cachet --"

"*And*," Alfred says, and gestures Bruce quiet, "*shaping* that cachet until the line between what is real and what is fantasy has blurred far beyond the point at which the two can be distinguished.

"I'm not sure whether to thank you or apologize, and so, please, consider this statement both."

Alfred hums and pats him a near-unprecedented second time.


"I have, of course, had my own suspicions for quite some time regarding your feelings about Master Timothy, and so I have not been entirely incognizant of the efforts you've made to keep those feelings to yourself, while the young sir was under your care, at least. I have approved of those efforts, if, perhaps, not always of the way those efforts have been realized."

"The other Tim... he thought I'd waited too long."

"Did he."

"Alfred. You are never more disapproving than when you're noncommittal."

"While the other Tim seemed to be a fine and intelligent young man, much like our own, it was quite unmistakable -- to *both* of us, as well as to the young man himself -- that he had many psychological and emotional... difficulties."

"Caused by the Joker."

Alfred stops, turns to face him, and raises an eyebrow. "Truly, sir? How curious that he expressed no such thing in my presence."

Bruce frowns. "You -- you believe the other Bruce hurt him, as well."

Alfred only looks at him, which means that Bruce has failed to come up with the entirety of the answer. Which...

Bruce nods. "I see. The other Bruce allowed his obsessions to shape that Tim more. More than I've allowed my own obsessions to do with the Tim we know."

Alfred's smile is minute and distant. "Or, perhaps, differently."

"Alfred --"

Alfred holds up a hand. "While the opportunity is rather more tempting than my elderly heart can entirely resist, I shall refrain from evangelizing against your mission at this time, Master Bruce."

"Thank you. I..." Bruce stares at his hands -- stops. "I wear the face of the man who hurt him so --" Bruce shakes his head. "I cannot quite bring myself to think about what that other Bruce might have -- must have -- done."

"You must."

Bruce blinks. "You... are rarely so direct --"

"You *must*. Master Tim is no more prepared to face, alone, what he suffered at that man's hands than anyone else would be -- and, I fear, rather less prepared for it than others might be."

"He sent me away. He -- he refused me his *name* --"

"And so you must accept that -- for the *moment*. However: you must also make it clear to him that you are acquiescing to his edict only because you feel, at present, the need to accede to his wishes. You must make yourself available to him, and you must..." When Alfred frowns, his age becomes apparent in many frightening ways.

The dark is always calling, and will take everyone in the end.

Everyone he loves --

By the sound of the engine, Tim is using his favorite bike. Bruce had made slight adjustments to all five of them in part to be able to learn more about Tim's desires...

Bruce turns to watch him go and wants --

Alfred rests a hand on Bruce's shoulder. "It may be helpful for you to make *use* of your shared mission toward this end."

"To... require him to work with me?"

"Perhaps something rather less *immediately* traumatic. As an example, the young sir seems to be finding it helpful to relate to you solely as Robin --"

"No," Bruce says, and turns back to Alfred. "It won't work. It won't -- the first thing I would've done in... in a similar situation would be to strip the protection of Robin from Tim in every way imaginable which did not include crippling him."

Alfred rears back. Only slightly, but --

Bruce nods and knows his expression for something hopelessly *dark*. "You were right, Alfred. I can't allow myself to continue hiding from what I know. The other Bruce... I would've taken the trappings of Robin from him. I would've -- because Tim is the sort of Robin he is -- refused to give him anything resembling Batman. This is precisely the sort of thing which would start the process of crumbling Tim's psychological foundations. Batman has been a constant -- one of the very *few* constants -- of his existence. Without him..."

Alfred closes his eyes, but only for a moment. "Go on, sir."

"Without Batman, there is only Bruce -- who has never been entirely comprehensible to him -- and several fragments with whom he has varying levels of familiarity and internal *belief*. The vulnerability would've been immediate, especially if I had followed the crude -- and concise -- 'rules' the other Tim taught me. I would've pressed an immediate sexual attack, using everything I knew. Everything I had *memorized* about Tim's sensitivities and modes and methods of masturbation."

Alfred tightens his jaw, and it feels like acid, like *cold* --

"Loneliness. I would've played on Tim's loneliness... no, that would come later. Tim would have no compunctions about physical resistance, stinting only at using those strikes and blows which would maim or kill..." Bruce pauses and forces himself to think about it --

To *picture* it --

"No. Tim would be thinking about the Mission, and so would also hold back from the truly *incapacitating* strikes and blows. He would've had no idea that I could *not* be dissuaded from my course of action by mere resistance, and that would've been... yes. That's how I would catch him. A few paralyzing strikes -- I would not want him unconscious -- and then I would restrain him. And then I would drug him."

"Master *Bruce* --"

"It's simple, Alfred. I would want to leave as many sexual acts as possible open to us, which means that I would only be able to use minimal restraints -- all of which Tim is capable of escaping given enough time. I wouldn't give him that time, of course. I would call in the rest of the family to take over the patrols and *devote* myself to...

"Yes, it would've been sedative Four-A, because it's the one which tends to make Tim helplessly physically affectionate. Of course, because of that, it's also the one Tim has the most tolerance to --"

"Sir, you..." Alfred shakes his head, firming his lips into a hard line.

Bruce blinks. "I -- I would never..." Bruce swallows. "But, of course, this is precisely what I would do, what I *could* do. Perhaps. I should keep this to myself."

Alfred brings his hand to his face -- but doesn't pinch the bridge of his nose before he brings his hand back down to his side. "No, Master Bruce. This is. I must know these things, as well."

"Alfred --"


Bruce swallows and nods again. "Tim would continue to fight for his freedom, but would be... disoriented enough not to wait until he was sure he had privacy. I would immediately notice his resistance to the drug, and... I love him. I *need* him, but I love him. I would want him to be comfortable, and so I would carry him upstairs --"

"Where... what would that Alfred have done?"

"That Alfred..." Bruce has to struggle to continue to meet Alfred's eyes, but this is a burden he is sharing.

Whether or not he should.

"That Alfred was effectively removed as an inhibitory influence after... after the Tim from that universe murdered the Joker at the end of three weeks of torture and." Bruce shakes his head. "Tim did not say so, but I believe that Alfred would've lobbied, at least to some extent, for Tim to be removed from the manor. After Tim recovered with Bruce's and Barbara's often-brutal assistance --"

"Do you truly still perceive that to be a *recovery*, sir?"

"I do. I. Alfred, I can't --" Bruce shakes his head again. "He is happy more often than he isn't. He isn't dangerously self-destructive. He has at least one serious relationship outside the family. As an operative --"

Alfred holds up a hand. "I will not dispute you on this matter. And I... I do see. When that Alfred was proven 'incorrect' -- incorrect -- on such a fundamental matter, he lost a great deal of his mystique of wisdom, at least in terms of how to properly care for a young man in that Tim's situation. Very well. Please continue."

"Alfred, are you *sure* --"

"Master Bruce, I will witness this, and I will remember this, and I will *watch* you for any and every sign of mistreating the boy you claim to love --"

"I *do* love him --"

"Master *Bruce*. I will only say this once: if you ever harm Tim in the interest of 'loving' him, if you ever treat him in a way he does not explicitly request..." Alfred takes a breath and shakes his head. "On that day, I will report you to the authorities with every shred of proof I have collected in all of my years serving as your retainer, and I will fight for your incarceration until the day I die. Do you understand."

"Yes, Alfred. I won't --"

"He is *not* that other Tim. Do you understand."

"Yes. Yes, Alfred --"

"I will do this thing even if Master Tim *begs* me not to. Do you *understand*."

"Yes, Alfred."

"Then continue."

Bruce nods once. "I would. I would tell myself I was making love to him at first. Tim would call it the rape it was. I would. I would, in time, concede that I was. That I was raping him repeatedly --"

Alfred groans.

"Alfred --"

"Go *on*.

Bruce clenches his hands into fists -- stops and stands straight. "Throughout the... process, I would systematically search for the weak points in his psyche and exploit them. I would work to convince him that this was for. For his own good, that I was only doing it out of love and need, that I belonged to him, and that, conversely, he belonged to me. I..."

Alfred's expression is stone.

"I. I believe that I would focus on. On his near-pathological need to *be* needed, and so I would share with him everything he meant to me, all the good he had *done* for me. At the same time, I would -- out of a need to do *good* -- explain to him all the ways he had hurt his Bruce by not offering himself. I would speak of my loneliness, and my fear of him. I would. I would offer the Bat."

Alfred narrows his eyes -- and nods sharply.

"That. That would widen the cracks in his foundations which I had already caused. Again, throughout, I would've been coaxing him to speak. To *converse*. I would tempt his mind with small puzzles about my own psyche, and encourage him to solve them. I would reward him for correct answers. I would. At some point I would drug him again... and when Tim tried to make himself lose consciousness, I would only allow him to rest for long enough to scramble his sleep cycle. My belief that his silence and lack of notable cheer had been caused by weeks of torture at the hands of the Joker would be paramount. I would come to both hate and pity the other Bruce for being so afraid to help Tim in this way, and so I would begin to plant suggestions of things Tim could do to help *him*. I would work to break him utterly, and I would succeed."

"It appeared Master Tim had begun the process of his recovery," Alfred says, and it's not quite a question.

"The other Bruce... with only days to. To *work*... he had not finished. Any break in his own convictions would have shattered the new structures he built in Tim's mind. It is my belief that he came to realize that Tim hadn't been tortured -- and that everything he had done was thus worse than pointless. He broke. He broke... and it wasn't the first time."

"I should hope *not*."

Alfred... despite everything he had said --

Alfred still believes that he is fundamentally incapable of doing those things, and the part of him which points out that *this* weakness can be exploited --

Bruce swallows back bile. "He broke when he first realized that Tim had gone missing, and he shattered when he saw what the Joker had done to him. He -- when Tim shot and killed the Joker, when Barbara failed to save Quinzel... he looked at the vows he had made as a child and called them worthless. He refuted them, and he refuted himself, and he then devoted himself to being the man Tim needed him to be, shutting out everyone and everything else. If Tim hadn't needed Barbara and Dick...

"For all that it would've hurt, he would've shut them out utterly, as opposed to just *mostly*."

"And if Tim had seemed to need him to refute the *mission*?"

"I believe he would've done so."

And Alfred looks old once more, *exhausted* --

"Alfred --"

"That is not love, Master Bruce."

"No, I --"

"That is not *love*. And. And it is no one's fault but my own that you may never understand that."

Bruce frowns --

And Alfred sighs. "See to your mission, Master Bruce, and I will plan your post-patrol meal."

"Yes, Alfred."

There is nothing else to say.


Tim has been posing for him for the better part of two hours, but of the ten sketches Bruce has begun, only one is worth the paper it's on.

In it, Tim is kneeling in three-quarters view, palms flat to the mattress behind him. He is erect, sheened lightly with sweat, and turned to face the viewer.

His eyes are flat with menace and accusation --

His eyes are not his Tim's eyes.

Bruce lets the sketchpad fall to the floor and covers his face with his hands.

Tim sighs and the mattress creaks slightly --

Tim's feet are silent on the carpet, and there is a small, strong hand on his shoulder. "This was supposed to *help*, Bruce."

"I know."

"This -- this *always* helps."


Tim growls and tears Bruce's hands away from his face, searching him hard. The hectic light in his eyes has its own kind of menace.

"It's all right, Tim," Bruce says reflexively --

And Tim raises an eyebrow and crosses his arms over his chest.

Bruce squeezes his eyes shut --

And Tim digs his thumbnail in against the scar on Bruce's earlobe.

"I'm. I'm listening."

"So I'm guessing you pretty much followed the *exact* blueprint I gave you with that other Tim?"


"Until you *stopped*."

("Oh. Oh my God. Bruce.")

"Bruce --"

"I had to," Bruce says, and opens his eyes.

Tim frowns and searches him more thoroughly -- and slightly more calmly. He nods. "You apologized."

"I -- yes."

"And you. You at least *implied* that you wouldn't have done it if you'd known he hadn't been kidnapped."

"Yes. Yes. I. I hurt him."

Tim pushes Bruce until he's sitting upright, and then climbs on his lap, cupping Bruce's face with his hands --

His warm, *accepting* hands --

His warmth eases an ache in Bruce's quadriceps that he hadn't been fully aware of --

"My son. I love you."

Tim smiles ruefully. "I know, Dad. And... I'm betting that for a while you made *him* feel loved. Yeah?"


"Do you understand that you made that feeling *stop*?"

Bruce frowns, but -- "I. Yes. I don't know how I could've -- I have to be *honest* --"

"Yeah, but you also have to... know your audience. I mean, he's *me* --"

"He's not. He's. He's much more cold --"

"But you could warm him. You *did* warm him."

Bruce swallows and thinks of the other Tim in his arms, of the *calm* that had muted -- if not melted -- the ice in his eyes. "I thought. I thought if I could somehow never find you --"

The boy's eyes widen --

"Oh. Oh, no, Tim, it's not -- I never would've stopped *looking* --"

Tim bites his lip. "But... maybe you would've had *two* Tims?"

Bruce nods, searching Tim, *needing* -- "If that. If that *worked* --"

"I. I understand. And maybe. The other Bruce was good. He learned even faster than you did, and he held me the right ways."

"You started to love him."

Tim smiles wryly. "Just like *you* started to love *him*."

"Yes. He. He had a happiness that was and wasn't like your own."

"More... intellectual?"

And Bruce knows -- he strokes Tim's temple. "He was more inclined to use his intellectualism than you -- generally -- are."

"Yeah, that must've been pretty hot for you." Tim sighs. "The other Bruce was... more controlled than you. Even when he was fucking me."

"More like Batman?"

Tim moves one hand from Bruce's cheek and waves it back and forth. "More like... older. And not just because he had more grey in his hair."

"I could be --"

Tim stops him with two fingers on his mouth. "*I* could be. But I won't. And neither will you," he says, and raises a pointed eyebrow.

Bruce inclines his head for a moment, and waits for Tim to move his fingers before offering: "As you say."

Tim nods sharply and wriggles and shifts on Bruce's lap until his groin is pressed to Bruce's own.


"He thinks it was never him you wanted."

"I. Yes."

"And, since he's *me*... that means he thinks that *his* Bruce will never really want him --"

"No. Oh -- no --"

"*Especially* because there's no way he didn't catch everything I totally wasn't wearing when I walked through the portal."

The breaking inside --

The hot and acid *flood* --

"I. I made it worse. Even worse than I had thought --"

"No. First you made it *better* --"

"*Tim* --"

"*Then* you made it worse."

"He. He pleaded with me not to rape him."

Tim's frown is deep and worried. "Not in the fun way, hunh."

"It seemed the same. Almost the same --"

"I know. *And* he was all calm and happy when you were done. Just like me."

Bruce nods slowly. "Tell me. I don't know how to... to *fix* --"

"You might not be able to, Dad. I mean..." Tim shakes his head. "In the end, you *do* want me more."

And Tim is so careful to not make it a question -- too careful. "So much. I -- when I dreamed, you weren't there --"

Tim scratches his cheeks. "I'm always there."

"Tim --"

"I'm *always* there. And. And I'll always make sure you can see me."

Bruce nods, feeling dumb in too many ways...

And Tim wraps his arms around Bruce's neck and presses close, sharing his warmth and the steady, healthy beat of his heart. "I think... you wouldn't be able to keep from apologizing. Would you."

Bruce leans in and nuzzles Tim's cheek, which retains much of the downiness it had had when they'd met. The comfort in this is both the memory of Bruce's mother and the many, many memories he has built of Tim.

Robin --

The light in his darkness. "I did... the wrong things."

Tim turns his head and kisses Bruce softly, warningly --

However, the bite, when it comes, is nearly as gentle as it could be. Which means that Bruce has shown himself to be hopelessly fragile and in need. He *must* do better, and yet wouldn't that mean pushing aside the memories of all he'd said and done to the other Tim?

Doesn't he *deserve* this pain?

Bruce shakes his head and pulls back --


Tim needs an equal right now, his partner --

Tim might need much more than that, but how would Bruce know right now? How --

He's being selfish. Bruce takes a deep breath and settles his hands on Tim's hips, squeezing firmly but *not* clutching. When he raises his eyebrow --

Tim laughs quietly, a confection of hums and breath which is, often, as close as he gets to the laughs which used to sharpen Bruce's focus and frighten him for so many *foolish* reasons --

Honesty. "I am... there's something of a conundrum. I can either be the man you need me to be by pushing away my guilt --"

"Or you can be the man you *are* by wallowing in it?"

Bruce winces. "He was. He was a virgin."

Tim closes his eyes, small, soft mouth firming into a hard line -- "I know," he says, and opens his eyes once more. "He isn't *now*, and there's nothing you can do about that save for being more... careful if the situation ever pops up again."

"There should be much more."

"Maybe, but there isn't."

"Perhaps. Perhaps if I went to him. If I explained my desire for him --"

"And maybe apologized a few dozen more times? You'd have to tranq him again, and... no. Well, maybe..."

Bruce tightens his grip on Tim's hips helplessly --

"Oh, Bruce..." Tim shakes his head. "It won't work. The *only* way it would work is if you kidnapped him and brought him back *here*, and there's no way that other Bruce would stand for that. I mean, think about how much *you* would fail to cope with that."

"I can't. I can't lose you."

"You won't," and Tim reaches down to rub at Bruce's hands. "I'm yours. You showed me that. You *taught* me that... so now the other Bruce has to teach that other Tim."

"And if he fails?"

Tim shrugs. "There's always Clark."

Bruce tightens his grip once more --

And Tim narrows his eyes in a smile which is, perhaps, too dark to make it to the rest of his face.


For the first week after Tim's return, Alfred does things like prepare Tim's favorite meals and insist on going over Tim's sizes and sartorial preferences: little things designed to keep Tim in the manor and close to Bruce.

He runs out of those things soon enough, and Bruce is left with an empty home and too many memories of flat, calm refusals to so much as entertain the *idea* of conversation.

*Apparently* calm refusals, because beneath the skim of even tones and eye contact, there are all of those other things. All of the reasons why Bruce is not *worthy* --

And, as has become common in the past week, thoughts like those seem almost to *summon* Alfred near, always ready with a white-gloved *push*.

Bruce has spent hours outside the carriage house in the pre-dawn gloom, waiting for Tim to turn his lamp off --

And waiting for the sense, muted and uncomfortable, that Tim is *actually* sleeping.

As opposed to doing his own waiting in the dark.

Tim has taken a tube of disinfectant to use in the carriage house, and by this Bruce knows that he is, for the moment, keeping the ring.

The theories surrounding that are tempting in multiple directions. It is safer, by far, to force himself to think only of the many ways in which Tim has proven himself *driven* toward finishing every last thing he begins --

The word 'safe' has never been more laughable.

Tim does not shower in the Cave, nor has he shown Bruce his body since the day he returned.

While Tim trains in the Cave, he hasn't allowed Bruce to teach him anything new --

The answer is always *no* --

Bruce can't let that stand for much longer, and perhaps it would be *best* to force Tim to think of himself only as Robin, to do his best to *rebuild* the foundation of their relationship --

But everything in him screams against that, strains and struggles and *fights*. He wants to build something better, something newer and stronger, something which can *stand* when Bruce is only a tangle of needs and wounds, something which will allow Tim to be his own tangle even as they find themselves *close* --

When Bruce closes his eyes, the Bat scrabbles closer out of the black and whispers of power and stone.

When Bruce sleeps, he dreams of sharp smiles and pained ones, sweet smiles and *manic*. He dreams of blood and cordite and cold, gritty cobblestones. He dreams of loneliness.

To be shut out this way --

To be *refused* this way --

The part of him which wants to reassure the rest with thoughts of all the times Tim has absented himself -- in one way or another -- before coming *back* seems more foolish than Bruce can entirely *stand* --

And so he is here, once more. Twenty feet from Tim's bedroom window. Seventeen feet from where the light from Tim's lamp reaches. He could be closer, but not so close as to hear the sounds from that room. The walls are soundproofed and the windows insulated.

He could be close enough to *see* -- but what would he do if Tim were to choose the wrong (right) moment to look up? What would Bruce see in Tim's eyes?

Would he survive it?

Bruce has sketched Tim wearing several new uniforms, many of them inspired by the Tims he'd seen in other universes. A full face-cowl for Tim would counter his lack of size and complement the functional sociopathy Tim tends to show on the street. The boy...

He cannot decide whether or not Tim would *like* it, and while he has always felt himself to be at least somewhat ignorant about Tim...

While Tim has always been --

There is a temptation to seek out the other Tim, the boy who had *started* to teach him so much...

By now, the boy knows must know the vast majority of what had happened with Tim and his own Bruce, and so would know --

But would he?

Bruce has considered calling in Dick for this -- he would come immediately with only the smallest *fraction* of information on what had happened to Tim, had wanted to come when Tim was missing and had only gone back to his own work at the news that the other universe's Tim was helping him build the machine.

Dick has his own information routes, and that, more than anything else, had let Bruce know that Tim had functioned well with the Titans this past weekend.

Tim is so strong...

And Bruce knows -- he *thinks* he knows -- that Tim would not appreciate seeing himself as a victim in Dick's eyes. Tim is never more likely to push aside that facts and facets of all he has lost than when Dick is close.

He has never wanted to be someone in need of Dick's comfort -- perhaps because of all he has seen and studied about how Dick does -- and does not -- relate to such people. The question of Roy Harper would loom large in Tim's mind, and Bruce can't *risk* --

He can't.

He has considered asking Barbara for advice, and he knows the other Tim would be tempted to wound him for the fact that he hasn't already --

He doesn't know what to say. He doesn't --

He wants to be able to meet her as an equal, and he knows that this -- all of it -- makes of him a supplicant. He has no right to ask Barbara to help him make Tim his own, and that -- no matter what he actually managed to say aloud -- is what he would be doing.


Clark is undoubtedly monitoring every moment of this, waiting for the *right* moment, and then --
Alfred wants *Bruce* to help Tim. He has made that... he has made that abundantly clear. Alfred believes, at least to some extent, that Bruce can be *good* for Tim, that they can, perhaps, be good *together* --

Bruce wants that so *badly*. For a moment, he'd had a glimpse, a *taste* --

It is not easy to break into the carriage house. For all that Tim has done but little to personalize the decor, the security is as good as any on the manor proper, and there are even some few traps that Barbara would approve of.

The important thing --

The thing which Bruce is holding to now as he moves slowly and carefully to Tim's bedroom is that Tim has not yet altered the security to keep Bruce away. The schematics he'd given Bruce to memorize and destroy remain the same, and the pass-codes are all within the twenty-four strings of randomized numbers and letters that Tim tends to use for things which he does not mind Bruce knowing.

There are others he could've used.

There are...

He's had time to build *new* traps, and --

And he's here.

He's here, and Tim is awake, resting on his side and facing the door. The moonlight through the window makes his eyes -- and the batarang between his fingers -- gleam.

Bruce wants -- "Please. Please let me --"


Tim -- he's not supposed to use his name. "Robin --"

"That's not -- who you want." The hesitation is almost a question.

"I. There are things I must teach you --"

"Yes, Batman, I know. You will."

"I'm not." But he had used Batman's words, and he's wearing -- "Please."


"I --"

"Leave now. I. Please," Tim says, squeezing his eyes shut and tightening his grip on the batarang.

Bruce reaches out, but he's too far away to do more than throw a shadow over Tim's sheets.

Tim doesn't open his eyes.

Bruce leaves.

In the manor, Alfred is waiting for Bruce outside his bedroom.

Bruce shakes his head.

"And you attempted more than merely *lurking*, sir?"

"Yes. Yes, Alfred. He... he implied that he would allow me to begin teaching him again... at some point."

"That much was never in doubt," Alfred says, and his eyes are hard and thoughtful. "If this continues much longer..."

"Please. Tell me."

Alfred blinks and frowns at him... and softens. "Master Bruce... the young sir is singularly lacking in confidants."

"I thought. Maybe. He wouldn't want Dick, but --"

"No," and Alfred's tone is sharp and final.

Bruce frowns. "I know he doesn't ever want to be seen as... as *weakened* in Dick's eyes --"

"I assure you, sir, that that is not my concern."


Alfred breathes deep. "I will be as plain as I can, sir."


"It would pain Master Dick deeply even to consider that you could be capable of the acts that other Bruce committed against Master Tim. It would, inevitably, force him to reevaluate everything he has come to believe about you. I know this because I have experienced a similar... crisis of faith. He would almost certainly then explain -- with increasingly desperate vehemence -- that while the other Bruce had hurt Tim badly, *you* would never do such a thing. He would then verbally reject all of Master Tim's attempts to delineate the similarities between you and the other Bruce, and he would do so with deep and implacable rage."

"No. No, I --"

"You have tremendous and terrible power and influence over the young men to whom you have chosen to cleave, Master Bruce. You *must* remember that in everything that you do. In everything that you *are*. For this reason, for Master Tim's sake, I must beg you not to allow Master Dick to know of any of this until such time as Master Tim is ready to share with him -- if that time ever comes."

"Dick *loves* Tim. He -- you've seen them together, Alfred, and I can't --"

"Master Bruce, attend carefully. You will *always* be first in Master Dick's heart. There may have been a time when you could have turned him aside from that singular fixation, or guided him to demonstrate love by means other than emulating the exemplar you yourself have provided..." Alfred shakes his head. "That time, alas, has long since passed."

"I. I cannot believe Dick would ever hurt Tim."

"Yet he would, and he has."

"I. Tim has... told you?"

"Master Dick related to me -- in tones of great incredulity and affront -- an argument he had engaged in with Master Tim wherein the nature of your *infallibility* was in question. To put it bluntly, Master Dick was enraged that Master Tim could ever *doubt* you, sir, and wondered what was 'going on in this house' that Master Tim could ever come to feel the way he did."

Bruce feels himself shaking his head. "I. I never knew."

"Neither Master Tim nor Master Dick would ever bring such concerns to you, sir, and if you do not yet understand why this is so, you must -- you *will* -- remedy that situation immediately."

Bruce takes a breath and stands straight. "I -- yes, Alfred. I understand."

"I hope you do," Alfred says, and wipes dust from his lapel. "If, within the next three days, you still have not discovered any means by which you might effect a rapprochement with Master Tim, I *myself* will contact Clark to request his assistance."

Bruce knows the flinch is in his eyes, and --

He wants to tell Alfred that Clark has never been *this* Tim's friend, that Clark's desires are at least as selfish as his own, that Bruce needs Tim to be *his* --

Bruce swallows and nods.

Alfred nods back. "Very well, Master Bruce. Good night."

Bruce goes to bed, and --

In the darkness, Bruce dreams himself small and buffeted by his own screams, choked by his own tears --

Bruce dreams the metal-shear stink of blood and the helpless, hopeless twitch of his mother's hand --

Bruce dreams laughter, familiar and sharp, and Robin is crouched beside him and paddling gauntleted fingers in the spreading pool of blood.

"Again, Bruce? Seriously?"

Robin's hair is wild as the ruffled feathers of a crow, and his thighs are bare and shamelessly powerful --

No, Robin's shamelessness is in his joy --

"*There* you are. Come *with* me!"

No, Robin's shamelessness is her disgust --

"You are *so* damned creepy, boss."

No. Where. *Where* --

But aren't the shadows in the depth of the alley a little too full? Aren't they --


"That was painfully amateurish, Bruce," Robin says, and he winds the shadows around his body as he steps into the light. "I could've dropped you at least a dozen ways while you just knelt there *crying*."

"Yes. Yes, I have to be better --"

"You won't be, though. You never will. This..." Robin's gesture takes in the whole of the alley, and wider Gotham beyond it. "You'll never be ready, and you'll certainly never be worthy."

"I. I have to try."

Robin sighs and cocks his head to the side, acquisitive and cruel. "Yes, I suppose you do. You'll try, and you'll try harder than that, and -- God help us all -- you'll actually convince people that this... this *thing* can work, and then where will we be?"

"You... if I. There could be. A family --"

Robin snorts derisively. "Really? Is that what you call it? A mass of wounds and *issues*, of *shared* weaknesses..." Robin shakes his head. "That's the only kind of family you can build. You know that now, don't you?"

His mother's hand stops twitching and Bruce wants to scream --

"Oh, not *that* again. I mean, really, Bruce, who's going to hear you?"

"You. You could hear, and --"

"And what? Comfort you? Take your pathetic little pain and turn it into sweetness and *light*?"

Bruce squeezes his eyes shut. "Please."

"God, you're useless. All right, let's get out of here. I'll jerk you off in the car and you can tell yourself you're worth something. Certainly, you're attractive enough physically."

"The. The blood is so --"

"There's *always* blood, Bruce. That's what it always boils down to in the end. Take a look if you don't believe me."

He doesn't want to. He doesn't --

"Bruce. Can't you do this one thing for me?"

"Please, Tim --"

"*No*. *Look* at me!"

Bruce looks, and at first it seems as though it's all right. It's just Tim's uniform, the one so like his own, the one he *chose* --

But the red of Tim's tunic is darkening on Tim's chest, becoming heavy and *wet* in the light --

There's more blood on Tim's trunks --

Flowing down --

Down his *legs* --

Tim vomits blood copiously, spraying the alley and spattering Bruce's *face* --

His teeth still gleam so *white* --

"It's what you wanted, isn't it, Bruce? *I'm* what you wanted," he says, and flows into a crouch in front of him. "So why don't you kiss me?"


"No. Please, no --"

"I. I need."

"*Do* it!"

"Daddy. Please."

Bruce sits up and gasps, tearing at the fog of his own mind until he can feel himself warm, nude --

There's no blood, and Tim isn't --

"You. You know what I need, Daddy. You shouldn't -- keep it from me."

Tim is there, kneeling by the side of the bed. He is nude, arms crossed at the wrist behind his back and head hanging down. His hair...

He's cut his hair as short as the other Tim's, and his leaner features are almost stark in the light from the lamp.

He had turned the lamp *on*, and --

"Please, Daddy," Tim says, and his voice is low and thick, *wavering* --


"I need you. I need you to help me. I need you."

The ring gleams so brightly --

He had polished it, heedless of the pain. He had --

Bruce moves, kneeling in front of Tim and cupping his face --

The feel of his soft skin is so. He should be burned by this, struck down, but --

"Tim. You. Look at me."

Tim shudders and tenses -- and when he looks up his eyes are shuttered and almost *blank*.

Bruce feels himself flinch internally --

"Daddy, *please*. You -- you can't keep this from me. You know what I *need*," Tim says and there is more of a light behind his eyes, but it's false, it *must* be false --

"Tim, you have to. We -- we should *talk* --"

"*After*. It's always. Always after," and Tim's smile is briefly ghastly. "You know that."

Bruce starts to shake his head --

And Tim shows his teeth and starts to rear --

"No -- I. It's all right, Tim. I'm here. I promise I won't..." But what can he promise? What would Tim *believe* when every moment of having him near --

*Bruce* can ignore his burgeoning arousal, but even if Tim were suddenly blinded, he could still *smell* it.

Bruce shakes his head again. "Talk to me, Tim. Please --"

Tim exhales sharply -- "*After*, I. I. Please, Daddy, I know. I know that you want me --"

"I do, Tim. I want you very -- very badly, but we must --"

Tim kneels up and presses close, nuzzling Bruce's cheek -- no. He's scraping his mouth and cheek against Bruce's stubble as he shuffles closer, as he -- begs.

And --

Tim is aroused. Not -- not *fully*, but his body --

His *scent* --

"Tim," but Bruce can't follow that with anything else, can't do anything but *freeze* inside at the rough hunger in his own voice --

"Yes, Daddy. You know. You *know*, and I --" Tim pulls back and lifts his chin, exposing the mostly-faded bruises on his throat --

The scar Jason had given him --


Bruce touches the scar. Just -- lightly.

He never *has*, because Tim had cleaned the wound himself, and there had been no need for stitches --

Tim shudders again and lets his lips part -- and pushes against Bruce's thumb, increasing the pressure to *almost* choking --

Bruce tears his hand away --

"*No* -- no, *please*, Daddy, I --" Tim's expression is hungry, *needy* --

His eyes are still so *hard* --

"Daddy, you *know* I'll do anything, you know me, you know what I *need* --"

"Tim, *stop*," and Bruce stands, offering his hand --

The sound Tim makes is so -- so *pained* as he turns away. His breath is hitching and his face is flushed -- no.

It's a blush. He --

He's *embarrassed*, and Bruce can't let that *stand*.

"Tim. Please. Talk to me. Be -- be *with* me --"

"One thing from you. One. *Thing* -- I." Tim clenches his hands into fists and regulates his breathing.

"Tim --"

"Shut -- no. No, not that," and Tim laughs softly and unclenches his fists, turning to look up at Bruce. "I didn't do it right. I know I didn't. It needs... hm. More internal conviction, would you say?"

"I don't --"

"Perhaps... was I showing too much shame, do you think?" And Tim's eyes are curious, clear of everything save a darkness which could be hidden, ignored --

No. No, not that. "Please. Please stand up, Tim --"

"And if I want to be on my knees for you? Daddy...?"

Bruce winces --

And Tim laughs once more and stands, rolling his shoulders and turning to look --

He'd scattered his clothes in a rough line from Bruce's bedroom door -- nearly precisely the same way the other Tim had --

"Yes, I think I'll just be going now. Unless you *do* have some useful thoughts about how I could improve my performance...?"

Bruce swallows and reaches out. Just -- just to touch Tim's shoulder --

Tim stares at Bruce's hand with narrowed eyes.

"Please don't leave, Tim. I. I need you."

Another laugh, *derisive* --

So much *blood* -- "*Please*, Tim --"

Tim stops him with a look, with the hollow in his eyes -- "Useful *suggestions*, Bruce. I know you can do it. Show me what he did to get you to touch him just the right way. *Teach* me how to be. How to be --" Tim shudders once more and grunts, turning away. "Or just let go."

"I can't."

"You -- you can't. I see. What *precisely* does that mean?"

Bruce tightens his grip -- and stops before he has to watch Tim repress a wince. "I love you."

That makes Tim look at him, searching him for a moment before blowing a breath from his nose and turning away again. "Let me go."

"I. If there's some way I can prove --"

"How long was he here before you fucked -- no, I'm sorry. How long before the two of you made love?"

"It. Hours, only. He --"

"I see. And Jason... no, it couldn't have been all *that* much longer with Jason. Right...?"

"Please look at me, Tim --"

"Answer me."

"Weeks. I --"

"Needed them. *Loved* them. And me... well. You *love* me, too."

"Yes. So much. I -- let me show you --"

Tim flinches and throws a hand up between them --

Tim shudders --

Tim slumps, swaying on his feet. "It would be. So easy."


"Let me go, Bruce," and Tim's voice is quiet, exhausted --

"Is that. Is that how you spoke to --"

"Him? Only when I was begging him to stop," Tim says, facing him and smiling ruefully. "Everything he did to me felt... so good. Even when it hurt. Perhaps especially then."

Bruce shivers and can't stop himself from tugging on Tim's shoulder --

And Tim's eyes are wide. "Oh -- oh. Yes, Bruce. You can hurt me. I can be... I'm *enough* like the other Tim that -- my responses would all be the same, and I --"

"Tim, wait --"

"No. *No*, you can't -- or is this a tease? We didn't -- we didn't *cover* sexualized teasing in that other universe, but I suppose there could be a place for it --"

"I'm not. I wasn't ever supposed to tease, but Tim, I don't --"

"Not. Not at all?" Tim blinks rapidly, obviously thinking deeply as he clenches and unclenches his small, hard fists -- "But I... I've always enjoyed a certain. A certain back-and-forth, the way we can relate to each other when. When everything is okay -- no, that's not --"

Tim rips himself away, stumbling on his feet --

"You're exhausted --"

"Of course. Of course I am, and I." Tim covers his face with his hands. "I'm not like him. I'm just. He *thought* I was, and he gave me. Oh, he gave me so *much* --"

"I would -- I *want* to --"

"You don't. He didn't. He took it *back* -- oh, God --"

And Tim is so lean in his arms, hard and alive --

So *tense* as he tries obviously not to move or breathe or... accept?

Bruce kisses Tim's forehead the way he'd seen Dick do, the way he's *wanted* to --

And Tim goes rigid and *still* --

"Tim, it's all right, I promise -- please let me tell you --"

"What. What is. You have to let go, Bruce. You have to. I can't. I can't do this --"

"I want to hold you. I want -- I want you in my bed, our bed --"

Tim makes a soft keening noise and shudders again, pushes -- stops. "Daddy?"

Bruce manages not to grunt but can do nothing about the needy twitch of his penis.

Tim sighs and presses closer, sliding his hand down --

Bruce moans. "Tim, you. You must -- only if you *desire* --"

"I could. I could smell you when you came to my bedroom. Leather. Armor. *Sweat*."

"You --"

Tim licks his *chest* -- "You showered. I wish... let me be right for you, Daddy. Let me be who you need --"

"You *are* --"

"Am I in your dreams?"

"*Yes*, you -- just -- before I woke --"

"What was I wearing?"

"Shadows. Your uniform. I -- you were. You didn't. Want me --"

Tim gasps and squeezes him. "I do. You know I do --"

"So much fear. So --"

"I can be brave, Daddy --"

"So much fear in *me*," Bruce says, and it hurts, but he manages to push Tim back enough to look into his eyes, enough to see the hunger and hurt, the shame and *weariness* -- "Come to bed with me. Come... I *will* show you --"

He shivers so *much* --

But he nods, and, even though there are only a few steps, Bruce lifts Tim into his arms and carries him there, laying him out gently before crawling on beside him.

Tim seems to be studying the ceiling --

His breathing is rapid and uneven --

"It's all right," Bruce says, and tries to mean it, to believe, to do more than simply lower his mouth to Tim's abdomen --

He feels like a beast, a demon --

And more than that when Tim pushes his hands into Bruce's hair and tugs gently, more of a plea than a demand --

"It's all right," Bruce says again, and kisses the scar to the right of Tim's navel -- another wound Bruce had not been allowed to care for -- this one from his work training his fellow Titans, his dangerous *friends* --

Bruce sucks a kiss to the trembling flesh and lets his hands find the shape of Tim, the beautiful boy in his bed at long *last*, and he will be careful, and gentle when gentle is needed --

He won't lose his control until he can be sure --

Tim shudders and rips his hands from Bruce's hair --

"Tim --"

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I don't know what to do," and Tim covers his face with his hands again --

Bruce tugs them away and presses them down to the bed --

"Oh -- oh, yes, I can -- yes, that, Daddy --"

"Tim, am I..." Bruce swallows and shakes his head. "You must only call me that --"

"You -- you *like* that, I can see -- *feel* --"

"I do. I've always wanted..." Bruce squeezes Tim's wrists --

Tim groans and arches, spasms --

"Oh. Oh, love..."

And the ache, sudden and heavy, pointed and sweet --

A part of Bruce is convinced that the ache can be soothed with *this* kiss, with this taste of simple mint --

Tim had *prepared* for him, and the number of ways this could be true, the number of things he could have *done* --

Bruce strokes Tim's palate with his tongue, doing it firmly because he must, because the other Tim had not wanted to ever be *tickled* --

Because Tim is shaking and less kissing him back than letting his tongue dart and strike randomly --

And Bruce is struck by memory and fantasy at once, the knowledge that he desires Tim's mouth and the *feel* of that faintly plush upper lip against his groin --

Bruce groans and kisses Tim harder, wanting a moan and getting a whimper --

More *shaking* --

Tim is *tired*, and that --

He must remember that, he must --

He can't have everything tonight, and he *must* make it so there will be other nights, other --

Bruce breaks the kiss --

Tim cries out with *loss*, eyes wide and desperate --

Bruce kisses Tim once more, giving in to the urge to cover him, warm him with his body, crush him to the sheets until their scents can mingle and twine *together*.

And this --

This is the kiss Jason had liked the best, this -- this *quality* of being overwhelmed, or --

Could it have been the closeness? The *intimacy*...

Bruce grips Tim's wrists in one hand and begins to stroke his throat, pressing on the bruises to test them -- and to hear Tim's small sounds, feel them emptied into his own mouth like nectar --

He needs --

His body wants to *thrust* against Tim, to show him --

And when Tim starts to struggle and move Bruce does just that, because --

He has to, he --

Tim cries out into his mouth and stills, *takes*, but --

Bruce has to know what Tim needs, what he *wants* -- who he wants.

Bruce breaks the kiss and covers Tim's mouth for a moment, trying to *will* him to believe, to *trust* --

The blue of Tim's irises is so soft when his pupils are dilated this way --

"Tim. You. When you call me that --"

"I mean it."

Bruce can feel himself begin to *leak* -- "Not. Not *always* --"

"You're my father, Bruce --"

"Tim --"

"And. And I know the two things aren't. The same." Tim shakes his head. "Show me how. *Please* --"

Bruce kisses Tim again, moving his hand back to his throat and touching more purposefully, marking the spaces he wants to bite, and -- there. Enough pressure for a *slight* choke --

He pulls back and searches Tim's eyes, finding need --

Too much *darkness* --

"It was only -- I couldn't *lose* you, Tim --"

"Dad -- Daddy, don't -- please don't stop --"

Bruce squeezes harder and -- yes, this. He kneels between Tim's legs and pulls him into a seated position, stroking his hair neat once more and watching -- *feeling* -- Tim try to gasp, try -- "It's all right..."

Tim nods and wraps his hands around Bruce's forearm, making Bruce feel overly large, *consuming* --

"When you. When I was a fugitive. When I gassed you, I. Even as you began to lose consciousness you tried to remain tensed and *alert*..."

Tim's expression is confused -- and then wondering.

"I wanted. Your body is so *lean*, and there were no clean spaces amidst the rubble... your cheek. I wanted to touch. I could not keep myself from reaching out to trace the shape of it..." Bruce shakes his head. "I'm saying this badly, doing this -- please, Tim."

Tim blinks and strokes Bruce's forearm. He's no longer trying to breathe, but his eyes are still alert and focused -- patient.

"It's only... you must understand that you were never *mine* --"

And Tim shakes his head almost violently, *clutches* at Bruce's arm --

"I was -- I'm so afraid of chasing you *away* from me."

An abortive gasp --

Another --

And Tim is trying to reach for him, hand trembling even as the focus fades from his gaze --

Bruce relaxes his grip and Tim gasps and scrabbles for Bruce's shoulders with both hands, crawling close once more and pushing his face against Bruce's throat. And this --

Bruce does not think he's a fool. Not -- not completely. Within, Tim is stretched on the rack of himself. He's not thinking clearly and there are breaks, *fractures* within that beautiful and powerful mind.

Bruce must be *careful*, and if he can just --

He pulls Tim close again and tries to think, to do more than merely stroke and rock as Tim pants and trembles and waits for *direction* --

"You must." Bruce licks his suddenly dry lips. "Only when you desire me, Tim, only... you must not let me merely. Merely *demand* --"

"Have to. I have to --"

"You *don't*, Tim --"

Tim laughs and digs his short and *bitten* nails in against Bruce's back. "He took it back."

"I don't... know what that means --"

"Don't you?" Tim pulls back and looks up into Bruce's eyes. There's a small and *fragile*-seeming smile on his face and his gaze is manic once more -- "What would *you* have done if you found out that everything you'd done to the other Tim was. Wrong? If it turned out that you had treated him the way you were only supposed to treat someone like me?"

Bruce frowns and strokes the nearly obsessively neat ends of Tim's hair. He had worked so *hard* -- "I. I would've tried to make amends, but --"

"But that *other* Tim knew how to speak to you, how to... hn. Yes, I know. He took it all *back*, and that. I'm afraid I'm something of a mess --"

"He. I know he attacked your mind --"

Tim hums and scratches at Bruce's back. "Yes. Yes. He was very -- you're good at things like that. You know me."

"Not as well as I wish --"

Tim dips his head and looks at Bruce through his lashes --

"You. I've wanted your beauty for my own. When I. I've sketched you countless times, but it's never any... it's never right unless I put you in uniform --"

"But you've wanted me in other things?"

"*Yes*, Tim --"

Tim nods. "You've wanted to see me other ways, see me live other lives, be other people --"

"No --"

"You liked him in that... that skirt. Those socks. Did you shave his legs for him?"

Bruce swallows. "They were. Already shaved --"

Tim nods and touches his tongue to his upper lip --

"Please let me --"

"Show me? That's what he said, over and over, once I was nearly entirely broken to his way of thinking. 'Let me show you.' Over and over and over," Tim says, laughing softly and rocking on his own.

Bruce pulls him close once more --

"Oh -- oh, you want to *comfort* me, and I understand that, but really, Bruce -- your *erection* is getting in the *way* --"

Bruce winces and pushes Tim away --

"No, not that, or --" Tim shakes his head. "I'm. He probably never gave you mixed messages. Right?"

"He. It's all right --"

"Tell me, Bruce."

"He tried. He was clear. He often. He spoke to me as if I were a child --"

"An eight-year-old, perhaps?"

Bruce nods and gives in to the need to massage Tim's shoulders, to *work* the tension away --

Tim moans and blinks rapidly, relaxing again --

His body is *trained* to go limp for touches such as these --

And Bruce knows he's not being -- being *fair*, but --

"It's all right," he says, and lays Tim down again -- on his stomach, this time.

Tim sighs and grips -- lightly -- handfuls of the sheet. It's a promise that he'll stay still. That he'll *accept*.

"I've got you --"

"Yes. Yes, Daddy --"

Bruce groans and wills his hands not to shake as he massages his way down Tim's back. If he could offer comfort and warmth, touch --

The taste of mint in his mouth isn't *strong* enough --

"I want. Tim. You..." Bruce shakes his head and pauses to stroke, to pet and, hopefully, *soothe* --

"I don't know. I don't know if I can treat you like some... some wayward *child*, Bruce. I." A rough tremor passes through Tim's body, and Bruce realizes that he has been working the sensitive area at the base of Tim's spine for much too long, that he's *searching* for the moan --


"Ohn -- Bruce." And Tim begins to work his hips, grinding against the sheets. The motion of his body is suggestive almost to the point of *pain* --

No. Not almost. Bruce leans in and kisses the back of Tim's neck --

Tim exhales sharply and grips the sheets more tightly.

"You. You can lead me. I want you to."

"I can't, Bruce -- Daddy. I can't do that --"

"You can. You can tell me what you *want* from me --"

"Everything, God, it's -- it's *everything* -- *oh* --"

That for the bite to his throat, for the way Tim's pulse seems to almost be *trapped* between Bruce's teeth --

Bruce groans and releases him, kisses him, covers him again because --

Because it's so *wonderful* --

And Tim moans and arches up, struggling to resist Bruce's weight and pressure --

"Tim --"

"I -- I told you not to *stop* --"

Bruce forces Tim down against the bed, nestling his penis between Tim's buttocks --

"Oh, God -- oh, God --"

"Did he. Did he do this."

"*No*, I -- he was. I wanted to save... certain things. For you --"

"*Tim* --"

Tim cries out and clenches, and the feel of his hole against the head of Bruce's penis makes Bruce swallow, *thrust* --

A flush spills down Tim's back, reddening pale skin and making the sheen of sweat seem obscene, blatantly *pornographic* --


*Taboo*, yes, because Tim has always been precisely as old -- as *young* -- as he feels, and right now --

In this moment where Bruce has *offered* himself to be led --

Tim's lack of eagerness -- and of anything resembling even acquiescence -- is pointed, *telling*. Tim is too young in this moment, Tim is trapped in need and pain --

Bruce can *help* --

"I love you," Bruce says, thrusting carefully. He must not let himself slip inside, for all that the feel of lubricant is unmistakable. He must not --

And the voice inside him which only wants to know *why* -- no. The voice wants far more than that. It's a wheedling thing, as subtle as any serpent --

The beautiful boy is right here, moaning his pleasure for *this* touch --

"Bruce -- oh. Oh, please, Daddy --"

"It's. It's all right --"

Tim laughs, breathless and *pleased* -- "Rather -- ah. Better than that -- oh, I *feel* you --"

"Yes. Yes, I --"

"Don't stop, Daddy, please don't --"

"There are. There are other things I desire. I haven't tasted you --"

Tim moans and clenches his fists twice -- "I. I'll come too *fast* --"

Bruce groans and imagines --

Remembers --

The *taste* would be different, and -- Bruce pauses for long enough to grind, to attempt to nestle himself more firmly --

"Bruce. *Bruce* -- *oh* --"

"Perhaps I should. You need rest --"

Another laugh -- "Then. Wear me *out* --"

And Tim gasps for the feel of Bruce's hands on his shoulders -- perhaps for the discomfort? The physical statement of intent? "I would make love with you in every. Every possible *way* --"

And this moan is louder than the others, more *open* -- until Tim cuts it off and tries to shake his head.

"*Tim* --"

"Not. Not *Jason* --"

"Tim, no --"

"I can't -- God, I can't even *fake* it --"

"I don't *want* you to --" Bruce growls and pulls back --

"No --"

Bruce flips Tim over onto his back, bending his legs up because it's important, because he must *see* --

Tim groans and beats his head back against the mattress -- only twice. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm just. I'm not right, and I can't seem to --"

"It's all *right* --"

"Oh, God, it's *not*, and I -- I think part of me *wanted* you to send me away --"

"*No* --"

Tim sobs once and scrubs at his face with his hands before smiling ruefully up at him. "You're supposed to bench me at. Times like this --"

"This --" Bruce shakes his head. "You're not -- we're not Batman and Robin here --"

"Shouldn't we be? The Mission *does not end* --"

"A pause, a -- a caesura --"

"Oh... oh, Bruce. I don't think you can fix me."

Bruce clutches Tim's shoulders. "You're not -- there's nothing wrong with you --"

"That a little intensely sticky self-esteem-bolstering can't cure...?"

"No. No. There's nothing -- I don't want to *change* you. Please, *believe* me," and Bruce knows he's squeezing too hard, that he *must* be causing pain --

But Tim only looks at him, searching --

And *not* finding, because he frowns and shakes his head --

"Tim, be *with* me --"

"How? Just -- you haven't given me any -- any workable *directives* --"

"Listen to my words. Trust me. Trust me never to lie to you about *this* --"

"But you want me to direct *you* --"

"*Direct* me," Bruce says, letting go of Tim's legs so that he can cup his face once more, touch and *hold*. "Tell me how to touch you, how to. Tell me who to *be* --"

"All of you. I need -- I mean. Not all the time -- I don't want to follow his *rules*!"

"Throw them out. Start again. *Signal* me when I do wrong, stop me when I. When I *overstep* --"

"You can't -- you can't ever -- I just want to. You can't take this back --"

"I *won't*," and Bruce strokes Tim's cheekbones with his thumbs, licks his dry lips once more -- "Let me taste you --"

"I --"

"*Why* don't you want it? Tell me. Tell me *everything*."

Tim squeezes his eyes shut again, shudders and beats at the bed with his fists --

And there is a part of Bruce which should *wither* in shame. A part which Alfred would reject without pause, and which would cause Dick unimaginable pain. The other Bruce had gotten to see Tim in the aftermath of having every doubt and fear obliterated. There would've been calm, happiness, pleasure --

So *much* pleasure --

And all of that had been *lost* when the man had realized his mistake and had allowed his guilt and horror to overcome everything -- including his need for Tim's happiness. And that...



"Open your eyes."

Tim does, and the misery there is almost enough to stagger him, *pause* --

Almost. "I would've wanted to take it back."

"I know that, Bruce," and Tim's voice is tired and far too *old* --

"You don't. Not truly. You believe... my beautiful love, you honestly believe me incapable of loving more than a handful of people. You think me that *small*."

"You're not -- there's nothing *wrong* with -- *hnh* --"

("When all else fails, a hand on the throat can do *wonders*, Dad.")

"You think. You believe that my failure to molest you when you were still a child --"

Tim mouths 'Jason.'

"I was weaker then, my love, more desperate to have anything..." Bruce shakes his head. "Every *moment* was fraught, dangerous and *sharp*. And I had not known need like that before. I know it now. I know *you*."

Tim narrows his eyes in suspicion, *barely* banked anger --

Bruce nods. "He hurt you badly in the interest of making you into someone you're not -- quite. And then he hurt you worse, and, yes, I would've been lost enough to my own emotional distress that I would've wanted to do the same. But I have learned from him, beautiful love. And now I'm going to tell you what he should've done -- and what I will always do."

Tim's expression is flat again, blanked and *cautious* --

Not for long. He won't *let* it be for long. "He should've asked you for as much clarification as you could give. He should've asked you *precisely* why you seemed so sorely *hurt* -- even though you had suffered nothing he could imagine. He should've *explained* to you that you should never be so lost, that you were the one who brought him back -- ruthlessly and forcefully -- from the places of darkness of pain... breathe," Bruce says, and loosens his grip.

For a moment.

"He had no Jason to lose, but there were other losses, were there not?"

Tim nods, mouths 'Dick.'

Bruce shudders -- internally. "And so he was broken *enough* when the other Tim found him and made him his own -- and it *is* a brand of ownership Tim. Perhaps the only kind we are truly capable of. You saved my humanity and taught me that there were other ways *to* love, that there was room for both patience and care... but I learned those lessons badly, and so neglected you even as I worked to make it difficult for you to connect and share with others. Clark..."

Bruce smiles sharply.

"Clark has watched this particular drama with *interest*, my love. He is waiting to take you from me *when* I fail you -- but I will not. I will not let you *go*, no matter that Alfred has come to believe that I am nearly as bad for you as that other Bruce. When he learned that I would've done the same things to you, that I would've taken -- *raped* -- when I was not given..."

Tim shudders and blinks, flinches deep behind his eyes -

"You are so beautiful, and I have let cowardice lead me. I have let me failures convince me that I was only capable *of* failure, and that you would never truly have faith in my ability to make you happy again -- much less make you whole. Breathe."

Tim takes only a sip of air before pressing against Bruce's hand.

"My love. I would've taken you into my arms -- fighting you if I needed to do so. I would've kissed you, hoping for you to return it and *taking* your bites, your sweet and perfect capacity for *viciousness*...

"I would've stripped us both down until there could be no secrets between us, and I would not have let you deny your *inevitable* arousal -- and here you are tempted to snarl, holding it back until you seem to have a *tic*. I have always known that you desire my body, my form, my *touch*. More than that... well. You would've made a brilliant spy, were you not all but *designed* to be my partner. I... hn. Breathe."

Tim starts to shake his head -- stops and gasps. Once.

Bruce squeezes. "There are times when I've considered everything you might've done -- or might still do -- with your mind. When you've narrowed your eyes in thought for an advertisement about some university or another, when you've expressed a deeper interest in psychology or demolitions... I have tortured myself with these things, Tim, because, when you leave... when you leave me you always go so very *far*," and Bruce knows that the desire to stop himself from squeezing harder is *beneath* him in this moment.

Tim reaches for Bruce's forearm -- and stops.

Bruce nods. "My love. My *distant* love, and I know that I've taught you how to make your natural urges toward privacy even more powerful, that I've shown you my *back* --"

Bruce growls and forces himself to think, to *continue*.

"I would not have let you *save* yourself for another. I would've worked to convince you that I was enough like the other, enough to soothe you, satisfy you, *calm* you where you are lost and -- so very frightened of me and my *weaknesses*. *Breathe*."

"Bruce. I --"


Tim gasps and shivers, swaying slightly on his knees until Bruce tightens his grip once more.

"Yes. Yes, my love. The only lies will be for the Mission we share. The only distance will be for the lives we must protect. The only *cold* will be for those times when we must not be anything but. Here, like this..." Bruce shakes his head. "You will lead me in this, because the truth is one you have known for years, now. I am little more than a child when I love. I am jealous, immature, needy and *stricken* with greed. It would be so easy to excuse every excess by telling myself that neither of us truly know what someone like you, a beautiful boy like you, could ever need. And so it would allow you to run from me when I hurt you, to *leave* me once more..."

Bruce growls again and pulls Tim back up onto his knees, flexing for the choked noise and *aching* --

"I ache for you. My palms sweat for the need to touch your skin. I salivate to taste you, to bite and *mark* you. Breathe."

"I. I. Please, Bruce --"

"*Breathe* --"

"Oh, fuck. I." Tim breathes deep and grips Bruce's forearm -- no. He's stroking it, tugging --

*His* palms are damp with sweat and the scent of him --

The rise and needful jut of his penis --

"You prepared yourself for me."

Tim nods once, and his eyes have been wide for some time now, and he's flushed, so *flushed* --

"Is it because you want me to take you? Or is it because you believe that's what will make me need you the most?"

Tim squeezes his eyes shut -

"*Look* at me --"

And Tim's gasp goes nowhere, gains nothing -- he opens his eyes.

Bruce loosens his grip --

Tim moans and tightens his own -- "I don't know what I want. I'm not -- the other Tim -- he had to have been so *sure* --"

"Or he convinced himself that he was. You can do the same."

Tim whimpers and presses his throat against Bruce's hand --

"No. Not yet. Do you want to train *yourself*?"

"No. No, Bruce -- Dad. Oh, God. I don't know if I want -- no. I *don't* want to turn this into -- just another *protocol*."

"Even with the comfort inherent to such things?"

"No. No more *cold*. You -- you *said* --"

"If I penetrate you with my tongue, I will need to take you with my penis."

Tim groans and presses *forward* --

"*Listen* --"

"I *am*. I can't -- God, please, Bruce --"

"If I penetrate you with my fingers, there. There could be other options."

Another groan -- and Tim flings himself back, spreading his legs and lifting, offering -- "Finger me. Touch -- please, Dad --"

And the rest of that is a whimper for Bruce's palm on Tim's inner thigh --

Another for Bruce spreading him *wide* --

"God, I -- I'll stretch *more* --"

Bruce pauses with his fingertips pressed to Tim's perineum. "And gain weight?"

Tim's laugh is so *light*. "He gave me. He gave me a new *diet* --"

Bruce rubs Tim there, feeling sweat and lubricant --

"*Ohn* -- oh, *please* --"

"I desire you the way you are --"

"Yes. Yes, all right, *please* --"

"But I will not desire you *less* should you gain more muscle and fat --"

"Dad, *in* -- oh, *fuck* --"

Two fingers.

Two fingers, and the boy is --

Tim is so much *tighter* than the other had been. That much is quantifiable, observable --

He is not truly significantly warmer inside than the other. *That* is illusion and hungry fantasy. He --

"I've *watched* you, Tim."

"Hnh -- hnh -- I -- please --"

"You have. There aren't enough *cameras* in the carriage house --"

"Oh, God, I -- I'm sorry, Dad, I'll fix --"


"*Please* --"

"Here. You'll come *here* when you desire, when you *need*," and Bruce presses down on Tim's abdomen and finds a faster rhythm, a more *demanding* one --

"Oh -- oh, God, your *hands* --"

"On you. *In* you."

"Dad --"


And Tim throws his head back and shouts, penis twitching, leaking *steadily* --

So *soon* --

But he had teased, and -- perhaps this is enough. Perhaps, somehow, it could *be* enough --

Another shout and Tim sits up, bracing himself on one elbow and reaching down with his other hand to stroke Bruce's own. He seems to almost be *studying* Bruce's hands this way, to be seeking a greater level of understanding --

Bruce would *give* --

But when Tim looks up, his eyes are wide and dazed, hungry --

"Beautiful. So -- I will give you *anything*."

Tim closes his eyes and smiles, moaning and lying back once more --

Pulling his knees back to his *chest* --

And there *is* a moment when his flushed cheeks darken still further, when Bruce is forced to recognize embarrassment once more --

"We will find shame that only gives you *pleasure*, Tim --"

"Dad, anything, just -- just let me *have* this --"

"My fingers?"

Tim nods and reaches down to grip himself --

"No. *Wait*."

Tim cries out and flattens his hands to the bed -- and starts to work his hips, despite the difficult position.

Hunger. Openness. *Honesty* --

Bruce thrusts harder, finding the rhythm Tim had set --

"N-no -- *yours* --"

And it takes a moment to *comprehend* that, to recognize that Tim isn't truly giving all of himself -- his rhythm. *His* rhythm, perhaps because Tim doesn't want to feel the same thing --

Bruce had instinctively started using the rhythm he'd *watched* Tim use, but *this* one makes Tim toss his head and groan, over and over. There *is* no rhythm to his sounds -- despite the fact that Tim is still working his hips --

The sounds seem to thicken the air, to make it more difficult to breathe it in, to think about anything save the boy who feels so *perfect*.

He'd wanted this with Dick and he'd *had* this with Jason, and his body is telling him that there could be even more, that there *will* be more if he just keeps pleasuring the beautiful boy --

Tim has started to *shout* --

So *open* for him --

Bruce pulls Tim's legs over his shoulders and *grips* his penis, crooking his fingers once --

Again --

Tim shouts once more and ejaculates, clawing at the sheets and holding himself in a taut arch for a moment which seems to stretch beyond all *reason* --

And then he ejaculates twice more and begins to writhe, leaving Bruce's mind to feel like a burnt thing, heavy and dense with the ashes *of* reason --

He wants to hold Tim down and *take* --

He had *prepared* himself --

And Tim is trembling again, panting -- laughing. The sound is closer to a croon than anything else, high and breathless as it is...


"Sorry, I'm. It's just. Somehow I'd forgotten that I would actually *enjoy* --"

"Tim. I *need* you."

Tim gasps and blinks his eyes open, forcing himself to focus *quickly* -- "*Oh* -- oh, Bruce, let me -- what do you *want*?"

"All of you. I -- you must stay with me."

Tim licks his lips. "I won't. I can't go anywhere else --"

"Here. In the manor."

"My." Tim blinks more. "Bruce, I. You want me --"

"*Here*, Tim," Bruce says, and pulls out before he can convince himself to begin thrusting again, begin *opening* --

And Tim is braced on his hands, arching only just enough to make the ring stand out bald and gleaming -- "Dad..."

"You. You need not move your belongings, but." Bruce frowns and stares at his hands, one dry and one shining with lubricant.

Tim wraps his hands around Bruce's wrists and moves closer. "There are times. I mean. I think I'll need... to leave. Sometimes."

*No* -- "Yes," Bruce says, but can't make himself look up.

"If I could. The other Bruce had... spaces for Tim in his room."

Bruce grunts and imagines --

Tries to imagine --

"I'm not. I mean. I've mostly grown out of my desire to curl up in your armoire."

Bruce blinks and looks up, knowing that he looks confused --

Tim laughs, and the hectic light in his eyes almost matches it. "Your *scent*, Bruce. Even those horrifically fashionable colognes Brucie wears."

"You would want...?"

Tim licks his lips. "Once, I watched you lead Jason into a cloakroom..."

"The darkness in such places... it can be. Forgiving."

Tim nods slowly, searching Bruce more. "It's. I mean, I didn't think you were being Brucie for him."


The smile becomes wry. "Not after I gave it some -- slightly less feverish -- thought," and Tim squeezes Bruce's wrists. "But he's a part of you."

"Not -- always."

"No. Not always. Not now."

"Stay with me --"

"Yes. Yes, I -- tonight?"

He wants -- "I want more than that."

Tim bites his lip -- stops.

Bruce wants to touch him there, to *encourage* --

"I. I suppose I'm going to... have to believe that."


"And. You're going to. Keep saying it."


Tim exhales shakily and releases Bruce's wrists. "Let me -- suck you."

"*Yes* -- I. Wait."

Tim frowns and starts to shake his head -- stops. "I'm waiting."

"Is that truly what you want in this moment?"

Tim's smile is rueful and young, *sweet* -- "If you took me tonight, there's nothing I wouldn't agree to."

"Then --"

"I need. I need to know I'm more than that, Bruce. Please."

Bruce swallows and forces himself to nod, to do more than cup Tim's face with his dry hand --

And Tim lets his eyes slip most of the way closed and rubs his cheek against Bruce's palm. "Dad..."

"Beautiful love. Will you let me guide you?"

Tim moans softly. "Yes. Yes, I will."

It's easier to nod this time, and easier than that to push his fingers into Tim's shorn hair and cup, *grip* --

"I love you, Dad. Please show me."

Bruce does.


Tim has never truly minded the darkness, for all that his skin was darkened from the sun when first they met. He'd become pale very quickly, and the memory of that guilt is a twinge Bruce treasures. A small crime, and the first one.

He knows Tim would be vicious if he knew that Bruce considered it a crime, at all, and the secret of it is something he treasures, as well.

For all that Tim knows perfectly well that he has not rid Bruce of his guilt -- just as Bruce knows that he will never truly rid Tim of his doubts -- the specifics of such things are what allow them to be apart from each other when *that* is needed.

And it is -- for Tim.

Right now, Tim is nude on the bed which had been his before Bruce had brought him into his own. He is positioned in such a way that the camera focuses best on the fingertip bruises on his right hip, and he periodically presses on each one with his index finger.

Clark is kneeling beside him, no more awkward than he should be. It has been a long time since Tim has invited him in so far.

It's only the second time.

Bruce has eschewed sound for the last twenty minutes -- Clark and Tim aren't positioned very well for the reading of lips -- and he believes he will continue to do so.

Tim is not tormenting Clark today. Tim is...

There. A touch for Clark's hand, and watching it swallow Tim's own -- so *gently* -- makes Bruce tense and fear --

No. He must trust. He must always --

There is a reason why he had not simply laid *claim* to Tim's time -- and body, and *energy* -- when he'd mentioned calling Clark earlier.

Tim knows the reason as well as Bruce does, and this is -- *must* be -- his own trial of belief.

Bruce boots the machine and resists the urge -- a masochistic one on so many levels -- to look in on any other universes aside from the one he wants. When he finds it, a soundless alarm which Bruce doesn't have begins flashing on the other Bruce's console. The placement of the thing suggests that the other Bruce wants him -- and any and all other observers -- to know that *he* knows he's being watched. And --

He'd found a way to alert himself to this kind of surveillance, which is only sensible...

And Bruce takes a moment to berate himself for the shape of his own fears, for the sense that he has allowed himself to *shirk* --

And Bruce takes another moment to fall into all of the memories he has of Tim responding with brutal negativity to thoughts like that one.

On the other monitor, Clark is lying on his side with one big, hot hand on Tim's waist.


Terrifying --

And the other machine is booting itself. It will only take a moment for the machines to synch, and --

There. The hum's frequency has few differences from the original, but it is --


Bruce walks through to the other universe --

"You don't have anyone monitoring the machine on your end."

"There's no need," Bruce says, and pushes his cowl back. "The Bruce who first discovered these... things had studied it extensively before offering it for the use of his League."

The other Bruce frowns. "You're speaking of the Bruce who attempted to take over his world."

"Succeeded. That League's only mistake was to attempt to pacify a world with a significantly less nihilistic League. I don't suppose your own League has ever found itself considering the possibilities inherent to a better world...?"

"Never," and the other Bruce doesn't bother to cross his arms over his chest, but they both know the belligerence -- and violence -- is held back very lightly indeed. "What do you want."

"To speak to your Tim."


"I --"

"It will not happen," he says, and nods toward the portal. "Go home."

"I injured much --"

"You did. And we are repairing it together."

Bruce takes a calming breath in lieu of clenching his hands into fists. "You are... the two of you..."

The other Bruce shifts neither body nor expression.

He doesn't have to. Bruce nods. "Then there is hope. I worried --"

"That you had ruined our chance to find... connection."

"Happiness. Warmth."

The other Bruce closes his eyes for a moment, expression easing. "The dreams are... easier. Tim's own remain a mystery."

Bruce nods. "They may always. You have to accept that."

"Have you?"

Bruce smiles ruefully. "No. I... there is the matter of Clark."

The frown returns. "*Which* matter?"

Bruce raises an eyebrow.

The other Bruce shakes his head. "The Clark from this universe has several lovers, including Dick. He has no need --"

"I don't care about *his* needs, Bruce."

"If you truly cared about Tim's own --"

"My Tim is currently curled naked with Clark on his bed, in the sunlight. I do not -- *cannot* -- claim to be sanguine about the matter, but. They need more than we can provide."

The other Bruce turns to look at the alarm, but Bruce knows he's not truly seeing anything of the kind.

"Your Alfred --"

"Where," the other Bruce says, lifting his gaze to Bruce's own once more, "is *your* Alfred?"

Bruce nods. "He spends a great deal of time with distant relations in England... whether or not he is truly in the manor. This is something you'd already surmised."

The other Bruce frowns again, and Bruce knows the pain of it, the fear --

There has always been so much *fear*. "Bruce... the pain in the moments of loss is blinding --"

"I know that --"

"-- but it isn't worse than the pain of seeing him pull away from the world. From those parts of himself we can never touch --"


"Bruce --"

"Go home. I. I've heard you."

Bruce nods, and isn't in the least surprised to discover that he had begun reaching out, for all that the other Bruce is eyeing his hand like a particularly absurd obscenity. Bruce smiles. "He's taught me much. You might consider --"

"I have. I. I do," and the other Bruce lifts his own hands to study them. "Go home."

Bruce does, and shuts down the machine.

On the other monitor, Tim is dozing on his stomach while Clark strokes his back.

Only his back.

The question of whether or not Clark knows --

Of how *well* he knows how much he could have were he simply more aggressive --

Does Tim mock in his dreams?

Does it hurt too badly to consider alternatives?

Clark is an *alien*, but perhaps never more so than to Bruce himself. There was a time -- a *chance* for that not to be the case...

Bruce shakes his head, turns off the monitor, and stands.

Tim will not truly sleep while Clark is with him, and, once Clark leaves, Bruce will be here.

They will be together.