I never left you
by Te
October 29, 2011

Disclaimers: No one and nothing here is mine.

Spoilers/Timeline: Vague ones for older storylines. Takes place when Tim is sixteen, sometime before Jack finds out.

Summary: "I... wasn't aware our lives were being written by *Euripides*."

Ratings Note/Warnings: Sexual content which dovetails neatly with the content some readers may find to be disturbing.

Author's Note: I wanted to write something for Halloween this year, but couldn't quite come up with a decent bunny. Britt came in and blew the top of my head off. <3

Additional Note: I usually fudge the Wayne family timeline to a certain extent, but I decided to come out for this one. I'm physically incapable of imagining a Martha and Thomas Wayne who live through the *seventies* -- much less into the eighties. Therefore, I posit in this (and in most of my other stories of the past few years) that Bruce was born sometime in 1960, and that the Waynes thus bit the dust in 1968. This means Tim was born in 1986, and that it's most assuredly *not* 2011, yet. Sorry if that weirds you out.

Acknowledgments: Much love to Mildred, ShadowValkyrie, Melissa, Britt, and Jack for audiencing, suggestions, and encouragement.  A certain anonymous fangirl stepped in to help me polish. :)

Length: 42,000 words.


Tim is smiling.

In the past month, the sight -- and its frame of Bruce's bedroom -- has become, if not common, then familiar.

More familiar than Bruce had ever thought *possible*. It's been a wonderful autumn thus far, but for how long --

Tim's expression turns sour just that quickly -- perfectly. Bruce lifts Tim's scarred hand to his mouth and kisses the back of it. "My apologies."

"Really, Bruce...?" And --

There's a certain linguistic curve to Tim's tone. It isn't quite a drawl, but there's something of that to it. Tim is -- mostly -- relaxed in this moment, even though Bruce has proven himself --

"Fine, I'll ask: *why* are you brooding?"

-- that. Bruce kisses the back of Tim's hand again, and his wrist, and then turns Tim's hand over to kiss his pulse point.

"While I am *occasionally* willing to be distracted --"

Bruce hums. "Your focus is a blade," he says, and licks a path along Tim's forearm to the inside of his elbow, where he kisses once more --

And Tim tugs his hand away.

When Bruce looks up, his expression is sharp --

Demanding --

Beautiful, especially with the flush fading slowly from his cheeks and bare chest, the sweat at his temples, the rising bruise on his throat --

And the impatience writ large over his features.

Bruce smiles. "I was wondering -- beginning to wonder -- how long I would be able to have... this."

Tim raises a pointed eyebrow.

Bruce hums again. "Say it. Please."

"The more you brood, the *shorter* this -- relationship will be."

"As you say. Though..."


Bruce offers one of his own blades via a smile. The strain of it feels wonderful on his face... though only when he shares it with Tim --

Who is narrowing his wide eyes quite cruelly -- the beginnings of self-defense --

And so Bruce uses his greater experience -- Tim has improved too much, too rapidly for Bruce to be able to count on his speed -- to move Tim, to spread his thighs over Bruce's own, to block four of the five nerve-strikes --

Tim pulls the fifth himself, which strongly suggests that he's willing to be patient with him. Perhaps he shouldn't say --


Bruce bites Tim's lip, his cheek, his ear -- "You hesitate, still, over naming our relationship. Claiming it?"

Tim stiffens, but only for a moment before he sighs against Bruce's ear.

Shivering feels as luxurious as the rich and carefully-maintained grain of the skin of Tim's lower back. Bruce will do everything in his power to keep the right to apply moisturizer to Tim from time to time. Bruce strokes --

Sucks Tim's *currently* empty earlobe --

Bites -- "My love..."

"A part of me still can't believe in this, Bruce."

"Because of everything which has come before, or...?"

"That, and..." Tim pulls back and shakes his head. "Sometimes I wonder if you're making love to me... or to the memories you're building of me."

Oh... Bruce closes his eyes for a *moment* --

"Oh, Bruce -- it's all right --"

"Is it?"

Tim strokes Bruce's eyelids lightly -- a request, not a demand.

Bruce opens his eyes and meets Tim's gaze, finding ruefulness, acceptance, worry -- for him. "I'm all right."

"You've lost so much --"

"And so have you --"

"You're allowed, I think, to build as many pleasant memories as you can," Tim says, and cups Bruce's face.



"But... the building of memories doesn't include brooding?"

A sour *twist* of an expression --

"I see."

"*Do* you?"

Bruce smiles and uses his short nails on Tim's buttocks --

"Oh --"

"You shouldn't... hmm... underestimate the attractiveness of your annoyance."

"What -- *Bruce* --"

"Forgive me --"


"Because," Bruce says, and yanks Tim *close* --

Presses himself against Tim's body, Tim's hard and lean and beautiful body --

"Because I need every part of you --"

"That sounds like you want to use every part of the *animal*."

"I promise that I have no designs on your spleen," Bruce says, and waits a *moment* --

And then kisses Tim's laugh, cups Tim's buttocks and holds him *still* for the slow grind that --

Yes, Tim is blushing now, blushing for this the way he always does, as though *any* amount of frottage... hmm.

Bruce pulls back and smiles. "Are you thinking of Dick...?"

A deeper blush --

"Did you find it curious that Barbara chose those particular... encounters to edit together?"

"Bruce --"

"Did you wonder what she was trying to tell you...?"

"I --" Tim growls and yanks himself back --

"Tim --"

"If we've reached the point in the festivities where we speak -- in detail -- about our more problematic kinks...?"

Bruce licks his teeth... and lets his face go loose. "I certainly *hope* so, tiger. Aha ha."

Tim glares at him -- but only for a moment before he snorts and stands on the bed, kicking the rest of the way out of his simple and mostly-anonymous chinos and boxer briefs. Bruce had removed his shoes and socks before doing anything else -- "*Naked*, Bruce."

"As you say," Bruce says, and steps off the bed to divest himself of his clothing. A part of him had been hoping that Bruce Wayne's clothes -- and cologne -- would inspire Tim --

No, he mustn't make assumptions. Tim requires none of the trappings of identity in order to... play.

And to play with him.

Naked, Bruce crawls back onto the bed and kneels at the foot with his hands on his thighs. Tim is still standing, but his pose is not a sexual one, for all that his erection had not entirely faded after Bruce had stroked him to orgasm --

Kissed and bit --

He is thoughtful in this moment, inner-focused and turned mostly away.

He --

"You make me grateful for my age, Tim."

Tim narrows his eyes -- "Patience is a virtue," he says, but it's absent rather than acerbic -- "I *have* thought about that footage, of course..." And Tim paces easily on the bed, toes at the pillows, strokes a line over the top of the headboard, cups one of the bedposts and strokes --


"I've thought about the footage... extensively."

"I'm sure Barbara is happy to hear that."

"Because, of course, she may very well be paying attention to *this*," Tim says, and turns to the nearest camera he knows about -- "Thank you again, Barbara."

"You could," Bruce says, and strokes down his own thighs, up -- "Put your earrings on."

The look Tim gives him is dark, heavy-lidded --

Breathtaking --

"Would you like that...?" And Tim has made his voice softer. Sweeter.

They haven't played this game in... days.

It's not truly a game, at all, but then... how much of this *is*? How much of what lies between them *can* be?

"Tim --"

"Mm. Not fast enough, Brucie. Cards off the table," and Tim's expression is -- thoughtfully -- wicked, but still quite warm.

"Don't *be* like that, crumpet --"


"You know I *love* my little girl --"

"Brucie --"

"My *darling* little girl -- you don't know how *lonely* I get without you," Brucie says, though Bruce lets his expression be rather more honest --

And Tim gasps. Lightly. *Softly* --

And his penis rises. He --

"*Please*, muffin, don't be so *cruel* to Daddy --"

"Are you sure you wouldn't like just that...?" And his voice is still... her voice. Mm.

"I would like, very much, to say something along the lines of how Brucie isn't built for that sort of... encounter --"

"But you know I don't appreciate that sort of lie...?"

Bruce smiles, and watches Tim watch *him* gripping himself, squeezing --


"I don't have that sort of control.... darling."

Tim stands hipshot, arms akimbo and knee bent just so --

"Please," Bruce says, and offers her his hand --

But Tim flushes and shakes her head, shifts pose and *self* --

Until he is a boy again, beautiful and rueful at once. "Not today."

Bruce takes a deep breath and lowers his hand --

"I'm sorry --"

"No. Not that."

"Bruce --"

"No," Bruce says, and -- this, then. "We both know *that* particular identity is more than simply a game for you --"

"If we're going by *that* metric --"


"You could *consider* leaving me room to be *contrite*."

Bruce smiles and shakes his head.

"Why *not*?"

"Well... you are rather young."

Tim's stare has much in common with that of a basilisk. It --

Bruce coughs into his hand.


"Yes, Tim?"

"One day -- soon -- I'm going to tell Alfred that you're deeply insensitive to my needs --"

"Tim --"

"That you're a *selfish* lover --"

"I --"

"And that you've secretly been eating diner food."

Bruce frowns somewhat helplessly.

Tim shows his teeth. "Now, then, where were we?"

"You were in the process of taking revenge on me for refusing to allow you to feel guilty for not being able to take *all* aspects of your *identity* *lightly*."

Tim touches his tongue to his upper lip. "So I was. I... tomorrow, Bruce."

"Don't --"

"Tomorrow... well. I've had something planned for you," Tim says, and smiles ruefully. "For both of us."

Bruce searches Tim, wonders and wants -- "Tim..."

"For *both* of us. I promise," and Tim drops to his knees and arches back, leaving his shins pressed to the bed. "About that footage..."

Bruce crawls close and covers Tim, noting that he'd left his arms spread toward the bedposts --

Bruce cups Tim's wrists and presses them down against the bed --

And takes Tim's moan into his mouth as he slowly lowers himself down, giving Tim his weight --

This discomfort he *sometimes* chooses -

And sometimes chooses solely to give Bruce a reason to move him.

Manipulate him.

Bruce kisses Tim slowly and wetly, as warmly as he can --

Tim arches beneath him, rubs his erection against Bruce's abdomen --

Bruce slips his tongue deep and holds it there --

And Tim sucks it, licks and encourages this: Bruce *takes* Tim's mouth just as slowly as he'd done everything else, resisting Tim's silent pleas for more and faster --

Resisting everything but the *temptation* of Tim's mouth, of his soft and generous upper lip --

He pulls back to suck it hard, suck it *swollen* --

"Please --"

"What about the footage?"

"Well -- oh, I need --"

This time, Bruce makes the kiss much harder, lowers himself more and more until Tim has to strain in order to stay arched --

Tim gasps, flexes his wrists, turns out of the kiss -- "It's just *interesting* that she'd choose six different instances of frottage, don't you think?"

Bruce hums and kisses Tim's chin, his throat --

His *bruised* throat --

Tim moans and does his best to *grind* himself up -- no, Bruce can't wait. He moves Tim's wrists to one hand and straightens Tim's legs with careful force until he can give Tim *all* of his weight --

"Oh, Bruce --"

"My love. Did you want... hmm. A hint?"

"*No*," Tim says, and his voice is nearly feline in its affront. Bruce is wise enough not to say that aloud.

"All right," and Bruce begins to rock their groins together --

"Oh -- this -- that motion --"


"The *West* footage."

Hm. "You use his last name?"

"I don't like him enough to use his first name," Tim says, curt and direct --

Undoubtedly because of West's relationship with the Allen boy. "Noted," Bruce says, and concentrates until he can offer Dick's precise motions, if not the muscularly *bright* force of his personality. Here, he had offered the *appearance* of wildness --

"Oh -- *oh* --"

But there had been precision to it just the same. *Direction* --

"Do you think -- oh -- oh, God, Bruce --"

"I'm listening."

Tim growls and flexes his wrists once --

Again --

And Bruce considers offering Tim the smile which had been on Dick's face --

No, Tim would use his considerable flexibility to do something rather painful to Bruce with his feet. Bruce doesn't want that sort of pain just now. What he wants is this:

The scent of Tim's sweat, and the way it mingles with the scent of Bruce's bed. The way it *teases*.

The sound of Tim's grunts as Bruce speeds himself.

The degradation of Tim's focus --

Tim growls again, tosses his head -- "He's so *beautiful*."

He's not speaking of West, and -- "Yes," Bruce says, and fills his mind with the memory of Dick's laughter, as wild and open and *free* as it had been when he was a boy --

"He -- of course, Barbara knows -- oh, Bruce --"


Tim *struggles* against Bruce's hold --

Bruce squeezes viciously hard --

And Tim cries out and begins to toss his head, begins to shake --


"Nnh -- oh -- *no*!"

Is that a 'no' he should heed? Bruce offers his own growl -- as interrogatory as he can make it without injuring whatever fantasy Tim is building *now* --

And Tim snarls at him rather than gasping or going limp.

Bruce nods internally and releases Tim's wrists -- and allows himself to be rolled onto his back.

Tim straddles him immediately and offers Dick's smile from --

"The Harper footage, Tim...?"

"The *Roy* footage -- specifically, the first one," Tim says, and resettles the smile on his face. It's much wetter and more *hectic* than any of Tim's own smiles --

It's beautiful, and strange --

"Oh -- oh, *yes*," Tim says, mimicking Dick in every way, including the heedless toss of his hair, the baring of his throat, the slight *bounce* --

And so Bruce reaches up and pinches Tim's nipples the way Harper had done to Dick -- hmm. "Do you desire him?"

"Nnh -- of *course* -- "

"With all of yourself?"

Tim glitters at him -- the way Dick would were he *enraged*. Tim, Bruce knows, is merely impatient. There is no one Tim desires with all of himself.

"As you say," Bruce says and pinches harder, *pulls* --

"Oh -- *God*, Roy --"

Bruce raises an eyebrow.

Tim shows his teeth again and grinds the way Dick had for --


"Clark, according -- according to Dick, himself."

Bruce smiles. "You weren't watching Kal's eyes."

"They were *glowing* -- oh." Tim blinks and licks his lips --

Pauses --

And grips their penises together, expression turning thoughtful once more.


Tim squeezes with a sizeable fraction of his strength and they grunt together --

Pant --

Tim *holds* the squeeze until he's whimpering and has lost a significant degree of his thoughtfulness --

"My love..."

"Of course -- of course frottage is Dick's favorite sexual act --"

"He told you that, himself...?"

"God, I -- I couldn't *stop* him --"

"Had you ever... seen?"

Tim's blush is heavy, *dark* -- "Once, but --" Tim shakes his head.

Bruce takes a breath, and is unsurprised by the way it shudders in his chest. "Tell me."

A pant -- and then Tim looks down to meet Bruce's eyes. "He was... making love to Koriand'r's breasts."

Bruce raises an eyebrow.

And Tim smiles wryly this time. "It convinced me -- for rather longer than it should -- that I was closer to the center of the Kinsey scale than I truly am."

Stephanie, Barbara, and -- in other and rather murkier ways -- Cassandra. Beyond those few people, the world of heterosexuality escapes Tim entirely. There could be others in the future -- anything is possible -- but Bruce is quite sure that whatever women *do* move him in that future will also be wearing masks.

And that those masks will likely have a great deal in common with ones designed by him and Barbara.

Bruce nods and twists Tim's nipples again, holding them there until Tim begins to gasp --

Again and again --

"Is she -- I think she's *preparing* me, Bruce --"

"Do you."

"I --" Tim laughs breathlessly and arches forward, offers himself --

"More," Bruce says, and trusts Tim to know what he means -- yes.

Tim is stroking them both, writhing and pushing -- "She -- she knows how I *feel*."


"She knows what I *want* from Dick."

"His passion aimed at yourself, with no limits and no hesitation --"

"God -- fuck -- *brother* --"

"Yes," and Bruce begins to flick Tim's nipples with his thumbnails. "More."

"Nnh -- oh, Bruce --"


Tim growls and tosses his head -- but this time the motions are tight, tense things speaking of vicious control being steadily *frayed* --

And Bruce can't watch that without feeling his own fraying. "Tim."

"She's showing me *how* -- how to have what I want --"

"Only you...?"

Tim's laugh is breathless until it *becomes* another growl -- "You want it, too. You want to -- to live in *me* having it the way you've lived in *Kal*."

Bruce smiles and knows it for something savagely unworthy --

And Tim laughs again. "Barbara knows you won't be able to do it. That -- oh -- oh, Bruce, *ow* --"


Tim shudders, pants -- and begins stroking them hard and fast. He --


A whine -- "You'll give in if I do it. You'll -- if I seduce Dick for myself, you'll wind up giving Dick what he's wanted since I was a *toddler* --"

"Has it been so long?"

Tim lets go of their penises, pushes Bruce's hands away from his nipples, and glares.

Now is not the time for a tease, however heartfelt. Bruce cups Tim's face. "I've lost the power of self-denial when it comes to love. I..." Bruce shakes his head. "I have known too much. *Tasted* too much --"

"You did with *Jason* --"

"And Dick's rage was too fresh then, too --" Bruce shakes his head. "He would've allowed me to take him back. He would've allowed me to do nearly anything with him and *to* him. And he would have learned far, far too much of self-loathing for it."

Tim inhales sharply and gives him a suspicious look, and that --

Bruce smiles and strokes Tim's cheekbones. "With Jason, I hid nearly nothing from myself. One of the things I showed myself, then, was the truth of many, many different emotional subsets. I..." Bruce shakes his head and kisses Tim's forehead. "I do not believe I deserve --"

"Any of us?"

"Yes. However, I know that I can make *you* happy, Tim."

Tim sighs and shudders -- "You can, yes. But --"

"But you're entirely correct that I would have no resistance to a Dick who had been primed to love -- to make love *to* -- someone like you."

Tim stills, giving himself the looseness of imminent violence. "And then...?" His voice is a parody of casualness --

And Bruce is not always a fool. He resists the urge to call on the shadows to hide him. He has wanted Tim's regard --

He has feared it and loathed it --

He loves it, and he always will. But -- "I need you," Bruce says, and he lets it be bald, rough, jagged in an awkward, painful blend of his own voice and the Voice --

Tim grunts and narrows his eyes --

"You believe in that far more easily than you do in my love for you. I want more than that with you, but I can be patient."

A *sip* of a breath -- "For how long?"

"For as long as it *takes*," Batman says --

And Tim jumps and straightens his shoulders before glaring once more. "Barbara might have prepared me better for *you*."

Bruce laughs softly. "I believe she would say something, at this juncture, about wishing you to retain the immediacy of your reactions."

A deeper glare -- and then Tim offers his own laugh, shaking his head and moving to lay himself out once more. And --

"Thank you."

Tim raises an eyebrow.

"For everything you are. Everything you do. And everything you give."

Tension --

A shiver --

A *blush* -- "Please. Finger me."

"Perhaps *I* should do that," Batman growls, flexing his fists --

"I plan to bend over one of the cars... soon. Until then, I need *nothing* from you."

"Then who do you need...?"

Tim smiles, sharp and pleased as he lifts one foot --

As he teases Bruce's mouth with his toes --

As he changes his smile to something as lazy as a drawl, as smooth as the expressions he chooses when he pretends to be drunk on champagne -- as opposed to some other drink entirely.

"So the cologne worked?"

"Who cares about *cologne*?" And Timmy Drake drums his toes on Brucie's shoulder. "I'm *bored*, Brucie."

"We *can't* have *that*, tiger," and Brucie fumbles a grip on Timmy's foot, tickling --

And Timmy's laugh is a breathless giggle -- "*Brucie*."

"*So* sorry, but your little foot is just so *adorable*," and he smacks a kiss to Tim's ankle --

"That's *not* my foot."

Brucie is confused by this --

And Timmy snorts and pulls his knee all the way back to his chest --

"Say, have you been spending time with Dickie again? He's as bendy as a *licorice* whip, aha ha ha..."

"*This* is my foot," Timmy says, pointing, and then he grips both ankles and spreads his legs wide in a 'v'. "And what do *you* think?"

Brucie stares with a *dim* hunger that Bruce need not fake in the slightest --



"What do you *think*, Brucie?"

"Oh, *that*."

"Yes, *that* --  *eep* --"

There's only a certain amount of tickling Tim will accept, but the amount increases at times like these... and for the lightest possible touches to his scrotum.

He laughs --

Blushes the way Timmy never *would* --

Laughs *more* -- "*Brucie*, you have to -- to *talk* --"

"Are you *sure*?" And Brucie presents Tim's scrotum to himself with one hand and drags the fingertips of his other hand over it, back and forth and back again --

"Ohn -- *hee* --"

"It's just that I can think of so *many* things to do with my mouth, tiger..." And Brucie waggles his eyebrows --

And Timmy's expression turns avid, *openly* manipulative -- "Tell me about *Jason*, Brucie."

For this --

For his lover's *pleasure* --

And for his own. "Oh, he was such a little rough-and-tough, such a *bruiser*," and Bruce keeps his eyes on Tim's genitals so as not to have to worry about the expression in them as he tickles more --

Another giggle -- "Did he *leave* bruises?"

"All the *time*, Timmy. I swear, it was like taking my *life* in my hands..."

"I don't -- *nn* *nee* -- I don't think that's your *life*, Brucie --"

"Oh, you little *scamp*," and Brucie fumbles Tim's scrotum in his hand for a moment --

A *ticklish* moment that makes Tim shudder and *clench* --

And then Bruce squeezes firmly and gently --

And Tim moans --

And Timmy turns it into a sound with many n's and r's -- "Brucie, *please*..."

"Please *what*? You know I *need* your happiness, tiger," and for this Bruce can look up with a parody of Clark Kent's earnestness as filtered through a *magnum* of champagne --

"Tell me *more*! Tell me what happened when you dragged Jason into a cloakroom --"

"Oh, *that*. Well, a gentleman *never* tells, Timmy --"

The expression on Tim's face could belong to any number of Tim's personae, as he rarely allows for identities *without* a certain degree of skeptical *sharpness* --

"Are you suggesting that I'm *not* a gentleman? I'm *wounded* --"

"If you *were* a gentleman, you wouldn't leave me *hanging* like this, Brucie."

"Hanging?" Brucie frowns at Tim's genitals -- and firms his grip on his scrotum --

"*Unh* --"

"I've got *this*, but... hmmm..." And Brucie strokes up and down the underside of Timmy's shaft --

"Oh --"

*Lightly* --

"Oh -- *God* --"

"*This* looks a little too *hard* to hang, tiger..."

"God -- fuck --" And the sound Tim makes travels most of the way up an octave before it settles on becoming a laugh --

Tim's penis twitches *violently* --

"Of course... Jay didn't care very much at *all* for gentlemen..." And Bruce begins to squeeze rhythmically, using the motion -- and the right to *perform* the motion -- as a balance against the weight of the memories --

The taste of Jason's sweat --

The sound of muffled curses --

And Tim is watching avidly. He had given his *greed* to Timmy Drake, his desire for more and more than that --

"Why don't you let go of your right ankle, tiger?"

A raised eyebrow. "Why should I?"

"Because there's something just *marvy* you can do with that hand instead."

Tim licks his upper lip -- *only* his upper lip -- and lets go, leaving his leg in the air. "What now, Brucie...?"

"Rub that sticky little head of yours, Timmy. Slowly."

He narrows his eyes -- "And you can't do that for me?"

Brucie drags on bathos -- "I only have *two* hands, tiger. And I need them both for *this*." By rights, Bruce *shouldn't* be using his speed for this, but he knows he'll be forgiven --

And he feels far, far better than simply forgiven when Tim throws his head back and *shouts* for the grip Bruce has on his penis, for the increase in *force* for the grip on his scrotum --

"You see what I mean, tiger? Some things are just *necessary* --"


Brucie -- doesn't know how to growl. He does, however, know when his pretty, pretty boy is starting to get desperate. "Jay *hated* fur coats, tiger. He... mmm, yes, rub like *that*..."

"Yes -- please --"

"He said a fur coat just made a person look like the dirty end of a used *O-tip* --"

Tim snorts and *coughs* -- "Really."

"I *tried* to explain the appeal to him, but he just wasn't *having* it, tiger," and Bruce squeezes rhythmically, scrotum then penis then scrotum again --

Tim groans -- "More -- please --"

"Well, I think you can *guess*. *Every* time we'd slip into a cloakroom for a little playtime, Jay would pick a fur coat to *desecrate*. He said he had *no* problem with how they felt on his -- mmm -- *thick* little cock..."

Tim tosses his head again --

Pants --

"Keep going. *Please* --"

Bruce licks his lips and remembers pushing Jason down onto his stomach --

Licking the back of his neck --

Biting him everywhere his flesh would stay *covered* -- but Brucie wouldn't do anything of the kind. Not that. "I simply *had* to taste him when he'd get in that mood. Had to... oh... *peel* him out of those clothes until I could get his salt on the *tip* of my tongue --"

"*Hnh* --"

"-- and then shove my tongue nice and *deep*. Just the way *you* like it, tiger."

"Everyone -- anyone --"

"You're my *special* little guy, tiger. Just like Jay was. Just --"

"Dick --"

"Oh, *Timmy*. Maybe you should *watch* me with Dickie. Watch me fold him up *tight* --"

"*Nnh* -- *in* me," Tim says, and that was *nearly* Robin's voice, and so there are no real options.

Bruce kisses Tim hard, pulling him close enough that his thighs are nearly pressed to his abdomen --

Until Tim spreads them further, drops them, grips Bruce's *shoulders* -- and pushes. "*Now*!"

Bruce pants and nods, giving himself a moment to know himself, to realize how much he's been ignoring his own hungers --

His beautiful *boy*, and once he'd known there'd never be another after Jason --

Once he'd been sure that he'd never *need* anyone else --

Neither belief had lasted very long, and he believes that Jason would understand. He --

("What the fuck were you even *doing* without a partner, B?")

And he had explained himself -- no. He had *attempted* to explain himself under the withering *heat* of Jason's derision, until finally all he could do was laugh at himself --

("*That's* right, B. Just don't fuck up anymore, yeah?")

And he'd promised to try, promised --

"Oh -- Bruce, you should've *stopped* me," and Tim is unfolding himself, moving up onto his knees, moving closer --

It's their thirty-fourth hug, and they seem to be getting better at it with time. Tim tenses only for a moment when Bruce wraps his arms around him, and Bruce manages not to clutch, not to *bruise* --

"I wish I knew what to --"

"They were happy memories," Bruce says, and strokes down to Tim's buttocks with one hand, strokes and squeezes and -- "I think of the two of you together, from time to time."

"I -- what?"

"I think you would've cared for one another deeply," and Bruce kisses Tim's temple, and cheek --

"Of course -- of course I already do care --"

"And he would've made a younger brother of you, would've demanded it with all of his... his personal *force*," and Bruce kisses Tim again, tilts Tim's head back and *takes* his mouth --

"*Mmph* --" And there is a moment's *flailing*, but a moment is all it takes before Tim is clutching Bruce's shoulders, relaxing himself and giving, always giving --

("You sayin' you need me, B?"

"Very. Very much --"

"Then why don't you *take* what you need, hunh? I'm *not* gonna be that much older if you wait."

"If I wait. Long enough --"

"Then I'll get sick of waitin' *with* you.")

And he had turned out of the shower's spray, bruised and stiff from their spar, but still so --

So beautiful as he gestured at himself --

His beautiful body --

("You know I want you, B."

"Jay --"

"You *know* I'm no virgin --"

"I am."


Here, now, Tim is stroking Bruce's shoulders, squeezing and testing their strength in much the same way Bruce would test the strength of an operative in training.

So many of Tim's touches are *clinical* -- or seem that way if one doesn't give the matter thought. In this moment, Tim is *knowing* him, *learning* him and taking him for himself --

Bruce groans into Tim's mouth and slips two fingers into his cleft, pushes down and down --

There is no swelling from the last time they'd made love this way, and so Bruce makes his touch a rough one, holding Tim's face still so that he must cry out into his mouth --

Again --

A moment's struggle -- Tim wants to *comfort* him --

No, he must explain himself at least *sometimes*. He pulls back and pants against Tim's cheek --

"Tell me if you're *all right* --"

"With you here, with --" Bruce shakes his head and turns to meet Tim's eyes. "Let me please you."

Tim *grunts* -- "You always make that sound like --" He shakes his head --

"*Tim* --"

"*Yes*, please, just -- you know what I *want* --"

"What you need...?"

Tim pants and licks his lips, nods -- and pulls the bottle of lubricant from beneath the warming blanket, pausing only to turn the thing off --

"Always such care..."

"Always a desire not to burn down the *manor* for the sake of my *sex* life," Tim snaps, tugging Bruce's hand between them and slicking it with quick, thorough motions --

("Yeah... yeah, that's about enough. Now push *in*."

"With... two fingers?"

"God, fuck -- uh. Maybe not with other people, but -- oh, *yeah* --")

"*Ohn* -- oh, *Bruce* --"

Tim had been a virgin when they began making love, but there is no comparison --

"Yes -- oh, *please* --"

He had educated himself thoroughly, using *every* resource at his disposal and even using the allowance his father provided to acquire *toys*. His understanding of his own desires -- and kinks -- is as deep as it would be in someone both much older and *wise* --

"Nnh -- oh --"

But Robin is always wise, always sure and brave --

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

Bruce kisses him again, remembering the way Tim had *blinked* for the knowledge that it had been Jason who took his virginity, the way he had *stared* -- and then nodded and moved on.

Bruce kisses Tim *again*, and he keeps his eyes open so that he can watch Tim's gaze go distant, hazed with pleasure as Bruce pushes deep --

As deep as he *can* with his fingers, and there is no true effort needed to crook them --

But there *is* effort in losing the kiss to Tim's scream, in losing the pliancy of Tim's body to the tension of imminent orgasm --

("Oh, yeah, yeah, you can get me off like *this* --"

"*Please* --"

"Want your *cock*, B, want it in me so *bad* --")

And Bruce had made a sound similar to the one he'd made when he'd torn ligaments in his shoulder --

("Or you could come all over me. That's allowed, too.")

And Jason had snickered and grinned --

("Another time, yeah?")

Another time had turned out to be fifteen minutes later, because Bruce hadn't been able to stop kissing, stop touching, stop loving, finally *loving* --

And now Tim is bucking in his arms, demanding more --


"Nnh -- *nnh* -- no, I can't --"

"*What* can't you do?"

"I can't -- have -- oh, God, I wanted to save this for *tomorrow* --"

"*Anything* --"

And Tim cries out and begins to *work* himself on Bruce's fingers, begins to claw at Bruce's shoulders and shake his head, urge, *plead* with his body --

They both know what he *wants*, but --

This, at least, is something Bruce has never just taken, never simply *assumed* a desire for. He --

("I *always* want it, B!")

And Tim has been *clear* --

("You *know* self-denial, Bruce. You know the *drug* of it. The *push* -- and the way it builds a need for pushes from external sources."

"And when you say no to me, my love?")

Tim's smile was dark, then, a thing of shadows and cruelly-sharpened blades --

("Well... then we'll just have to see.")

Tim couldn't manage a smile like that now. Tim --

The closer he gets to extremis, the younger he seems, the more *malleable*, as if it would only ever take the *right* touches to change him *fundamentally*. It's not true, but the temptation remains --

The need --

"I need your *happiness*," Bruce growls --

And Tim's shout is questioning  -- until Bruce pulls out. "No! *No*!"

And there is nothing in Tim which can fight *effectively* at a moment like this one, which is something a part of him insists must be *corrected* --

"*Damn* it, Bruce --"

It will not happen today. Not when he can smell Tim, and feel him --

"Oh -- *oh* --"

Not when he can hear Tim laugh with *chagrin* --

"Fine, but *say* what you want --"

"Sometimes," Bruce says, and scrapes his teeth over the back of Tim's neck --

"*Mm* --"

"Sometimes the words don't come, or are lost in a flood of other words, other memories --" Bruce growls and scrapes his teeth again, again --

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

("Come *on* --")

"I need -- we'll do something *else* tomorrow --"

("Oh, God, B, *fuck* --")

"My -- my love --"

"Ohn -- *yours*," Tim says, and his flush is dark, *complete* -- too complete not to hold embarrassment, *emotional* resistance even as his body welcomes Bruce utterly --

("*Fuck* --")

"Oh -- oh, *fuck* --"

("So -- so *much* --")

"All of you, I need all of you, you know --"

("Don't you *dare* fucking stop!")


And there is no resistance beyond that which exists within him, beyond the need not to hurt, never to *hurt* --

The need which *must* go unanswered with his love, at least in some few small ways:

Bruises on his lean, perfect hips.

A *rough* thrust which curls Tim's toes and makes him *kick*.

A moment to wait for *this* cry --

"Love -- oh -- *now*!"

And then Bruce *must* move one hand from Tim's hip and cup the back of his neck --

Tim *growls* --

And Bruce forces his head down. For this, there is always a moment of regret, of wonder at what might encourage Tim to enjoy other sorts of touches entirely --

("*Harder*, B!")

But that regret belongs to a part of him which is never ascendant at times like these, which can never *be* ascendant, because Tim's body is *hot* inside --

Smooth and --

So welcoming --

And for a moment they're growling *together* --

And then Tim stops resisting the push and drops to his elbows with a shout --

A *scream* for the way Bruce takes advantage of the angle shift --

"Yes, yes -- fuck, *yes*!"

And Bruce can only agree, only --

Only *take*, because the heat of this is immense, more blinding, somehow, than it ever is even with *Kal* --

Robin is so very --

Robin is so very much, and, right now, Robin is the boy on his elbows and knees, the boy being *moved* by the force of Batman's thrusts --

No, not Batman, never --

("Take off. The fucking. *Cowl*!")

Never with Jason, but Tim has spoken of kink, of --

"Oh, God, Bruce, don't stop, don't --"

"Have I -- have I shown *any* sign --"

"Don't *stop*!" And that was nearly a sob, a plea, perhaps, from the part of Tim which grew up knowing that there would be no end to desire, to hunger --

That there would be no *relief* --

For that boy, there can be nothing but a battle at times like this. To move, and perhaps speed his orgasm, or to remain still and take everything Bruce can give --

Everything Bruce is *willing* to give --

It's enough to make him groan, tighten his grip with both hands -- "My *love*, you must -- you must..."

"Please *tell* me!"

Bruce shudders and -- he can't. He pulls Tim up into his arms --

He kisses Tim's *scream* --

He spreads Tim over his lap --

He pulls Tim down and down into every thrust, he --

"Your -- your arms around my neck --"

"Bruce --"

"*Now*," and there is, perhaps, too much of the Batman in that voice --

But it makes Tim *jerk* to obey, makes him blush once more and *shake* --

Bruce needs to *feel* that -- and so he moves one hand from Tim's hip and locks that arm around Tim's chest, pulls him close and closer, still, until they're making it difficult for each other to breathe --

Until they can both feel everything, so much of *everything* --

"Nnh -- oh -- *Bruce* --"

"I've *wanted* you --"

"Yours -- oh, please --"

"I've *ached* --"

"More -- *more* --"

Bruce *can't* hold Tim's hips still with one hand, and the part of him which whispers of a time before --

Of *wasted* time --

It doesn't belong in this moment, either, because Tim holds *himself* still once Bruce squeezes just the right way --

And yells for every one of Bruce's thrusts --

"My -- my beautiful love --"

Yells wordless and *high* --

"Give me your *pleasure*!"

Throws his head back once more, rolls it against Bruce's shoulder as he yells still more --

As his penis twitches again and again --

"There isn't --" Enough. "There can never be *enough* of you --"

"Ohn -- oh -- *Bruce*!"

And the tension in Tim's body is terrible, *frightening* --

And only ratchets itself higher as he ejaculates, grunting over and over again --

Clawing at Bruce's scalp --

And clenching hard enough to make Bruce lose vision, thought --

His boys, his beautiful --

And if they were *all* here in this moment --

If he could have --

So much --

And Bruce is aware that he's clutching at Tim now, that he's *gripping* him with vicious desperation --

That he's *shoving* himself inside --

*Inside* --

"Yes, Bruce, *yes*!"

Batman would never groan like this --

Brucie couldn't *understand* the emotional -- push --

Matches doesn't *deserve* --

But does *he*? *Can* he?

All he can do is *rut* like this, drag wet kisses over Tim's forehead and cheek, bite Tim's ear and pant --

"Oh, Bruce, so *good* --"

"I love -- I *need* --"

"I know, please, I *know* --"

Bruce gasps and feels himself shudder all over --

He can't stop --

There's no rhythm and too much *force* --

"Bruce. Come for me," Tim says, and it's a strangled *mutter* --

He's holding on too *hard* --


And that --

The whip-crack of command --

The measured *calmness* --

*Confidence* --

And his shouts have no words as the white takes his vision, as he spasms and ejaculates --

Over and --

If he could only say Tim's *name* --

Such pleasure --

Tim is gasping --

Such *pleasure* --

Tim is yanking at Bruce's arms --

Bruce holds him tighter --

Tim goes *limp* --

And Bruce ejaculates once more, helpless and shuddering in the moments before his *conscious* mind reminds him that Tim must be allowed to *breathe*. He eases his grip and does his best to even his own breathing as Tim whoops --

And nerve-strikes Bruce's thigh.

Bruce grunts for the moderate pain -- that particular strike is acceptable even for younger targets -- and kisses Tim's temple. "I'm sorry --"

"You're mostly forgiven," Tim says, licking his lips and rubbing at the rising bruise with absent care.

"What must I do --"

Tim holds up his free hand and begins to ruthlessly bring his breathing under control.

Bruce's own technique for moments like this is to fill his senses with the scent of his lover's pleasure, then release it, then give himself time to anticipate the next breath, the next moment of beauty --

And Tim shivers and shakes himself in a moderately canine way. "I'd rather be choked than *burked*, Bruce."

"Technically, one should first be supine --"


Bruce hums --

Waits --

And then takes another wonderful breath. "It was too much not to hold you."

"I... hm. Are we counting that as a hug?"

"Did any part of you enjoy it?"

Tim turns his head enough that Bruce can see his sour expression.

"I'll take that as a yes. Therefore, considering my own enjoyment, I believe we must count it as number thirty-five."

"It's only..."

"Yes, my love?"

Tim leans back and wraps his arms around Bruce's neck again. "I was hoping to leave deep-tissue bruising out of our hugs from now on."

"A valid choice. If you'd prefer --"

"No, no, we didn't agree to that rule when we began counting. It just wouldn't be fair," Tim says, and rubs his cheek against Bruce's own -- a safe choice, since Bruce had shaved for the second time today only two hours ago.

"My beautiful love --"

Tim hums somewhat sardonically.


"A part of me only wants you to call me beautiful... sometimes."

Bruce raises an eyebrow and offers hug number thirty-six with gentle care --

And this hum is much warmer. "I think you can guess when."

When Tim is a woman -- but. "You're tempting me to change your uniform."

"What -- oh." Tim snorts. "I... believe I would do a large number of otherwise unpalatable things to be able to film Jim's response to that."

"Not Dick's...?"

"*Barbara* would be filming *that*, Bruce."

Bruce smiles helplessly. "I enjoy your confidence."

A brief tension, consciously released. "I -- know that. And I know you're not truly saying that I shouldn't have it."

"*Tim* --"

"I *know*, I said." Tim sighs. "Keep saying and doing wildly embarrassing and inappropriate things while I'm nearby, Bruce. I assure you that it's *incredibly* helpful."



"My office in Wayne Tower is lockable, soundproofed --"

"And has floor-to-ceiling *windows*, Bruce. No, *thank* you."

"Were you worried about Kal seeing things he shouldn't...?"

Tim snorts again. "*Clark* told me that he's *already* been paying attention."

Bruce narrows his eyes. "Did he."

"Are you really surprised?"

No, but -- "With Jason, he came to *me*."

"Ah, you wanted *control* of that particular conversation. Hn."

"Are *you* truly surprised?"

"Not in the slightest, in retrospect. He was *very* polite about hitting on me."

"Did you --"

"I was tempted, of course."

"'Of course?'"


Bruce hugs Tim marginally more tightly --

And Tim hums. "I don't have to."

That -- "I... don't want to limit you."

"That... was the truth?"

"Yes, albeit a somewhat difficult one to speak," Bruce says, and kisses Tim's cheek. "Would you tell me of your desires?"

"There's nothing I don't want to discuss with you when it comes to... sexuality."

Bruce sighs. "Thank you."

"I want to be... overwhelmed by him. Taken over to a certain extent."

"The way I do when I 'ignore' your protests?"

Tim hums -- and then laughs. "I usually try not to think about *those* kinks --"

"There is no harm --"

"In fantasy, yes, I know," Tim says, and waves a hand before moving both hands to Bruce's forearms and stroking.

"I enjoy that sensation."

Tim turns enough to show Bruce the edge of his smile. "Yes?"

"You always make me feel... pleasantly large."


"When I was your age, Tim, I wanted to be much, much smaller than I was."

Tim blinks. "Even with your plans for your future?"

"Even so. I felt... lumbering. Obvious. What I've learned of grace still occasionally feels like a thin and tattered skin over the truth."

A thoughtful nod. "I... do and don't enjoy my own size."

"You've wished to be larger."

"I won't even reach *Dick's* size, Bruce. Of *course* -- but."

Bruce kisses the back of Tim's neck. "Tell me."

"I know you enjoy my... portability."

"Yes, though, to be fair, the Batman also enjoys you."

A raised eyebrow --

"Speed. Stealth. Ruthlessness as an answer to weakness. No part of me would change anything about you."

Tim blushes *deeply* --

"Please. Do not doubt that."

"I -- all right. Back to Clark...?"

"Please," Bruce says, and shifts slightly. His penis is softening rapidly, but only because he is mentally encouraging it to do so. They must eat soon, and then patrol -- but he has learned to treasure these moments.

"All right, I -- wait. I need... one more question about Jason?"

Bruce holds Tim slightly more firmly. "Ask."

"Are you --"

"I'm sure."

"I -- am I allowed to apologize for being this --"

"If I'd had the strength, I would have shared him with you years ago. All of him."

"Oh -- Bruce --"

"If I'd allowed myself to take what you offered, I would've had that strength."

Tension --

And then Tim lifts himself off Bruce's penis without another word and turns to straddle him, to kiss him and stroke his face --


"My love."

"You're not allowed to chase me away anymore. Not -- I won't let you."

Bruce closes his eyes. "Please."

"*Bruce* --"

"I meant -- please, be ruthless with me," Bruce says, opening his eyes once more and searching Tim's. "It's sometimes... the only way I can be trusted with such things."

Tim frowns and nods, eyes wide with worry and love --

So much -- "Ask, please."

"Was there much... non-sexual physical affection with Jason?"

Bruce laughs softly. "Not on rooftops, not in alleys, and not in cloakrooms."


"He would demand the right to sleep in my bed, even on nights when we both knew my nightmares would be violent."

"Oh, I --"

Bruce covers Tim's mouth with his fingers. "Jason bruised far less easily than you do, but I still bruised his face in several difficult-to-explain ways when he shared a bed with me on those nights."

Tim frowns.

"Tim --"

Tim moves Bruce's fingers aside. "I'm only regretting the fact that I continue to live with my parents. That's all."

That... is something they never discuss. It -- Bruce shakes his head --

And Tim smiles fondly. "You don't trust yourself when it comes to my father."

"Tim --"

"You don't trust the words that will come out of your *mouth*."

"I -- no, I don't. Additionally --"

"*Additionally*, you don't trust your motivations to be... hmm... worthy?"

Bruce nods mutely.

Tim nods back. "I've known that about you since I began training. I didn't always *trust* those deductions, but... well. I won't say I already know everything you want to say, but... I believe I understand."

"Do you?"

Tim tilts his head to the side, and the smile on his face belongs to the boy who honestly believed -- and still does believe -- that he would die alone.

"Tim --"

"It's what any caring, loving person would say to someone who was... wounded. Isn't it?"

"I. I am not so noble."

"There's something to be said for... hmm... automatic nobility? You covet me --"

"*Yes* --"

"But you covet me *as your son*."

Bruce groans -- stops. They don't *speak* of this -- "Is that so noble?"

Tim's laugh is wry and ancient as he strokes Bruce's mouth with the fingers of one hand and cups Bruce's shoulder with the other. "You *could* covet me as your slave. Your possession? Hmm. That's terribly insensitive of me, I think --"

"Tim --"

"You could covet me as your slave in *nonconsensual* ways --"

"Would you ever --"

"Are you changing the subject?"

Bruce smiles ruefully. "Yes. Please."

Another *fond* smile, and Tim kisses him softly before moving off the bed and toward the en suite bathroom. He beckons --

Bruce follows --

"I've considered BDSM extensively. I believe I'd enjoy it a great deal," Tim says, and steps into the shower.

"With me?"

Tim eyes him shrewdly. "I doubt it. Not... formally."

"Because you know I'm not especially dominant?"

"The part of me which is in love with Batman would love it -- from Batman. But there is the rest of me. The parts of me which will never be thirteen again. The parts of me which know, now, that sometimes even when you were suited up, you were giving me as much of *yourself* as you could."

"I wish -- I wish I could've given more."

"I know that," Tim says, and turns on the water, sighing for the near-immediate warmth. "Now, anyway. I... I've wondered if Clark could provide that sort of... paradigm."

"He can. As can Kal."

Tim's smile, this time, is one of secret pleasure.


"Would you ever let me watch...?"

"The footage is yours," Bruce says, and strokes Tim's still-downy cheek.

"Oh... Daddy."

Bruce hums helplessly --


"I'd rather not patrol with an erection, Tim."

"I don't think that's *my* problem, Bruce," Tim says, and turns to plant his palms against the wall. "Wash me."

"As you say."

After their shower, they have a leisurely meal in the small dining room. As usual, there is a lengthy moment where Bruce is not at all sure whether he wishes Tim to take the seating position of son or lover --

But Tim's smile is wry and warm as he slips with easy casualness into the son's position at Bruce's right hand, and Bruce must admit, again, that being forced to eat with Tim all the way at the other end of the table would be maddening -- for all that it would also feel correct.

They eat in comfortable silence, Tim eating with his right hand and holding Bruce's hand with his left. When they're finished, they thank Alfred and head down to the Cave, where Bruce studies his maps of Gotham in case he'd forgotten some vastly important detail and checks for messages from Jim. There are none, tonight.

Tim stretches and practices throwing strikes --

Walks and tumbles along the beam -- something he chooses to do *every* night he also chooses to patrol the Ries neighborhood in north Gotham, where the youth gangs own a sizeable number of the rooftops.

They suit up together and leave separately, and Bruce treasures the small ache of it, the usual fear, the reflexive self-loathing at his need and weakness, the *nearly* reflexive -- at this point -- need to ignore that self-loathing --

Bruce smiles and touches the bruise Tim had left on his thigh, pressing hard enough to hurt.

It's an excellent way to cut through the dross, and remember who he is supposed to be.

After the fourth brutalized drug dealer, Batgirl joins him on the roof of the Moreau building with a purposeful scuff of her boot. As usual with him when they aren't actively working, she is increasing the volume of her body language. Right now, she feels pleased, playful --

They *should* be working --

But he's too late to hide his hesitation from her, and she leaps for him with easy grace, forcing Bruce to throw her lest they go over the balustrade.

She giggles and rolls --

Bruce misses with his stomp --

His right cross once she's up --

He connects with his -- pulled -- uppercut --

"Oof!" And she giggles again and kicks for his jaw --

His temple --

His *hip* --

He catches -- air.

She flips backward twice, apparently solely for the fun of it -- no. She twists in mid-air, and her kick grazes the bat on his chest. It's relatively weak, but it still could do a great deal of damage to someone's solar plexus --

And, when she drops to her feet, she sticks her tongue out and dances on her feet --

"Hmm. Nightwing or Spoiler?"


"I see," and he moves in, throwing strikes at speed. She *can* block him just as quickly, but she doesn't have the strength to keep that up -- there. He catches her ankle as she tries to flip away --

But she's too fast to allow him to make the toss perfect, as opposed to enough to slow her down for a catch --

A brief and *vicious* wrestling match which will leave them both thoroughly bruised --

She bites his *chin* -- and giggles so much that Bruce can finally pin her. She hums and hugs him with her legs --

And Bruce kisses her forehead through the cowl.

"Batman," she says, and it sounds like another hug.

"What can I do for you?"

"This," and her tone doesn't *quite* speak of a silent 'you *idiot*,' but there's something of that to it, just the same. Still...

"No... work?"

"No *work*," and she is much, much closer to bruising him in less pleasant ways.

Bruce hums and frees her from the pin. They crouch facing each other, and -- "I'm... curious."

She nods at him impatiently.

"Are you rewarding me for beginning a sexual and romantic relationship with Robin?"

Everything of her body -- *everything* -- is telling him that she doesn't know how he manages to dress himself in the morning.

Bruce laughs softly. "You didn't do *this* before --"

"You weren't *happy* before!"

Bruce blinks. "That's... all?"

"Want to. Wanted *this*," she says, and jabs at the rooftop between them.

Bruce wraps his gauntleted hand around hers and squeezes. "I did, as well."

She frowns. "Couldn't tell. Not before."

Bruce nods. "There were... other messages?"

"Crowds," she says, and mimes chattering mouths chattering *at* her from all sides.

"Understood. I'm sorry."

She nods, studies him for a long moment --

Bruce tries to open his energy as much as possible, tries to be *present* in his body --

And her expression is -- surprised.


She points at her groin in obvious question.

Bruce coughs. "I -- ah. Hm."

She points more vigorously --

"Perhaps -- I would have to speak to Robin first --"

The expression on her face -- even through the cowl -- makes it abundantly clear that she knows he's stalling. And that --

Bruce laughs softly and takes her hand once more, kissing it through the gauntlet. "Do you want me?" And then he closes himself off, chasing away everything save cold violence and the hunger of a predator -- "Or me...?"

"Yes," she says, flat and matter-of-fact before she glares once more. "You know that."

He does. He kisses her hand once more. "I need time."

She studies him again, and Bruce isn't at all sure what she's seeing, what she's *knowing* --

He *opens* himself --

And then she nods and tugs her hand away. "Patrol?"


Patrol is always faster -- sweeter -- with a partner, and, when it's Batgirl at his side, it's easier to keep himself focused, easier to feel closer to the Bat in him.

She accepts that part of him with wordless grace, and when they celebrate a victory over some hapless target or another, it's with the parts of themselves which will always be weapons.

He knows, now, that she enjoys celebrating with other parts of herself, as well, but she is kind to him.

She knows that sometimes it's difficult for him to be the Batman without *help* --

She provides.

His family --

Such *beauty* --

She leaves him at one-forty-three with a pat for the bat on his chest, a smile, and -- "Spoiler now!"

She cares not at all for his worries about Stephanie Brown, and never has. It's entirely possible -- probable -- that she understands more about those worries than he does, himself.

Certainly, Tim understands those worries now, and while both he and Cassandra show care with his emotions -- he has discussed Jason with both of them now -- they also have begun training Stephanie seriously. There are parts of him which feel that *that* is only correct, which allows Bruce to believe -- to a certain extent -- that he is... redeemable.

He watches Batgirl fly until the night's shadows take her from view entirely --

And then he turns to the rest of his patrol.

An hour before dawn, Bruce returns to the Cave. The emptiness of it is an *ache*, but of course Tim can only spend *some* nights away from his parents' home, and, for some of those nights, he wishes to be with his brother.

For a moment, Bruce allows himself to spin a fantasy of Tim being as honest with Dick as he has begun being with Bruce himself.

Dick would be surprised -- perhaps even shocked -- at first. Tim has never lied about his emotions with *anyone* as much as he has with Dick. Still, Dick is wise, intuitive, open and in *touch* with his emotions. Nearly every bit of distance which exists between Dick and Tim now -- little enough though it is -- has far more to do with Dick sensing Tim's dishonesty than with anything else.

Dick would *feel* Tim's honesty and reach for it, grasp at it, *drink* from it --

From his mouth --

And Bruce isn't surprised in the least to find himself moments away from putting a video call through to Dick. It --

But could it be a *gift* to Tim?

He knows Tim had told Dick about the change in his relationship with Bruce weeks ago, but *he* hasn't spoken with Dick since then for anything save the Mission --

There is no one in his family who is surprised by this.

There is no one in his family who would not have *better* from him -- and for him, as well. Bruce peels the cowl back, sits down, and makes the call --

"What is it? Do I need to be in Gotham?"

*Yes* -- no --

"Batman --"

"Only me. I -- Dick," Bruce says, and smiles ruefully. "I wanted -- do you have time to... speak?"

Dick blinks at him. The fact that his lenses are down does nothing to change Bruce's conviction that this is happening.

Bruce laughs quietly. "I am aware of how --"

"Strange? Screwed-up? Out-of-character?"

"I'm trying... to do better. Please."

Dick blows out a breath, pushes a gauntleted hand back over his hair, and -- perches on his chair. And then flips his lenses up. "So you're saying that you want to *talk* to me."


"About emotional things."

"If -- yes."

Dick raises his eyebrows. "'If'?"

"If... it was something you desired."

"Something I --" Dick bites his lip and shakes his head once. "Are we talking about what I *desire*, Bruce?"

Bruce tightens his grip on the console. "It seems... we haven't. In quite a while."

Dick tilts his head to the side. "Is Tim there now?"


"Did he put you up to this?"

"Not -- directly. I wanted --"

"*What* do you want?"

"That... is and isn't an easy question."

"Answer it anyway," Dick says, and drums his fingers on his own console, rapid and restless --

"Your happiness. Your comfort. Your -- ease. Your trust. Your --"


Bruce takes a breath -- and nods.

Dick pinches the hawkish bridge of his nose. He is beautiful, of course. Dangerous in this moment, for all that he's too far away to touch. He --

"Would you like -- I could come to you."

Dick stiffens, but doesn't look up. "You'd do that."


"You're --" Dick cuts himself off with a laugh. "You were like this with me once before, you know."

Bruce closes his eyes -- no. He opens them and nods. "Yes."

"You told me you were *lonely*... and then you told me to leave you again."

"Yes. I -- I was not ready, then, to speak to you of everything in my heart. I wasn't brave enough."

Dick licks his teeth. "And you are now? Is this what fucking Robin does for you?"

Bruce grunts -- and holds back a wince reflexively.

"Yes, that *was* crude, wasn't it. I..." Dick shakes his head again. "But you're just going to sit there and take it."

"I owe you... there are no words to express how much --"

"Bruce. Do you love him?"

"Yes --"

"Are you going to try to swallow him the way you swallowed Jay?"

"*No*. I am -- I believe I am better than that now --"

"'Better.' I... what does that mean?"

"We. We speak of you, from time to time. And of Jason. Jay."

Dick looks -- confused --

"Dick --"

"In *bed*?"

"And -- in other... situations --"

"You -- I don't actually have a response to that." And Dick's laugh is bright --

Beautiful --

"I mean -- I'm not going to lie to you, Bruce. I've come up with *dozens* of different ways this conversation could go, and that -- *that* -- was not one of them."

"I... imagine not --"

Dick snorts. "Bruce."

"I'm listening."

Dick studies him again, and the light in his eyes is as bright and wild as it ever was when he was a boy, but much, much sharper. "You are."


"You're *listening* -- to everything I say."

"Yes. Please -- say everything."

"Everything -- no."

Bruce takes another deep breath and nods.

And Dick stands on his chair and spins it around and around -- he stops it and crouches once more.


Dick hisses between his teeth. "Do you want me, Bruce?"


Dick licks his teeth once more. "For how long?"

"Since the night we first met."

"See, this part of the conversation -- I knew this."

"You've always been --"

Dick cuts him off with a gesture. "I knew because Roy has been trying to explain it to me for the better part of a *decade*. *Roy* knows what it *looks* like when crazy older men want you."

"I... imagine so --"

Another laugh. "Let's not go there tonight. Let's, instead, say that I postulated this part of the conversation in several different ways. All right?"

"Yes. Anything --"

"This -- wow, Roy was right about Tim, too, wasn't he."

Bruce opens his mouth -- and shakes his head.

Dick raises his eyebrows.

"I don't feel... I believe he wishes to talk to you about that himself."

"He *never* wants to talk about sex --"

"He's told me -- he's told me that lying about such things has... hurt him. In the past."

Dick searches him and frowns.

Bruce reaches out despite himself -- he puts his hands down.

"Don't -- say any more about him."

"All right --"

"Except --" Dick laughs again and covers his face with his hands. "I think about it. The two of you."

"I want --" Bruce shakes his head once. "Please, go on."

"*What* do you want."

"For you to look at me again."

Dick looks up, and his smile is as wry and dark as one of Tim's. "The way I looked at you when I was thirteen?"

"Sometimes... sometimes the desire for that is very strong."

"And other times, Bruce?"

"You are more beautiful to me now than you were then."

Dick takes a sharp breath. "Am I."

"Yes --"

"I thought about you with Jason, too, Bruce. Sometimes... I couldn't stop."

"It was the same for me with you and Kal."

Dick tilts his head to the side again. "You never showed that."

Bruce smiles somewhat helplessly --

And Dick snorts. "Right. It was okay when it was Clark, but not when it was my *team*?"

"You never spent more than a few days at a time with Clark, Dick."

"Whereas... all right, I'm hearing you," Dick says, sighing and rolling his head on his neck. "Clark would never have tried to take me away from you. He loves you too much for that."

"Dick... did you know... I." Bruce frowns down at his hands --

"Considering who you're being with me right now, the gauntlets really ought to go."

"You're correct, of course," Bruce says, and flexes his hands before looking up again. "I didn't want to -- I couldn't wait to speak to you --"

"What are you asking me, Bruce? What can't you spit out?"

("You know I'm no virgin --")

Bruce smiles ruefully. "I was a virgin when I made love with Jason for the first time."

Dick's jaw drops -- but only for a moment. "You're serious."

Bruce raises an eyebrow.

"You're *serious*."

"Yes, Dick --"

"The *hell*, Bruce?"

"When you tried to seduce me when you were fifteen --"

"You -- told me it was inappropriate. And that you believed in saving your energies -- *Jesus*."

Bruce laughs quietly. "I still do, to some extent. I've just lost the ability to *act* on those beliefs."

"Because Jay -- *seduced* you?"

("How do you keep getting *crazier*?")

"He was... equally incredulous, at first."

Dick stares at him.

"Dick --"

"Bruce -- Bruce."

"I'm listening."

"Were you *afraid* to make love with me?"

"Is that so strange? I'd studied the mechanics, perused every source of information about sexuality I could find, all to attempt to hide my own ignorance, to create a persona who could be known as sexually *frivolous*..." Bruce shakes his head again. "It seemed as though it would've been far, far easier to hurt you than it would've been to please you."

"But --"

"*I* lacked superhuman control."

Dick stares at him for another several moments.

"To... anticipate your next question --"

Dick holds up a hand. "No, I... you thought the *Titans* would hurt me."

"Yes. And... there were times when you would come home --"

"Limping and bruised, Bruce...?"

Bruce closes his eyes and calls up the memory of Dick smiling --

Whistling --

Wincing and then whistling *more* --


"Your obvious happiness at those times --"

"Made it worse?"

Bruce opens his eyes again. "Yes. I was... smaller then."

"And now you've grown?"

"I believe so. I... Jay was relentless in his opinion that I should speak to you. *Share* with you."

Dick strokes his console --

Grips his own biceps --

Breathes and flattens his hands to either side of his keyboard. "You would've listened to him. Eventually."

"Yes. But Barbara was shot --"

"And Jay lost the thread. He -- " Dick stares at him, and the wound in his eyes is too much, too dark, too --

Shared. "Dick --"

"You hid him *away*, Bruce."

"Yes --"

"From *all* of us."


"I couldn't -- I *looked* for the footage --"

"I kept none of it."

"God *damn* you --"

"Almost -- almost certainly. It meant nothing, for a long time, that Jay himself would've cursed me for my actions -- and many, many inactions --"

"Why *not*?"

"Because he wasn't here to curse me," Bruce says, and smiles painfully. "Because he never would be again, and that meant... that meant that no happiness could be real, no light could shine for more than a moment, no pain could *cease* -- and that nothing save the Mission truly mattered."

"Oh -- *Bruce*!"

"I am wiser now, Dick. I am -- I believe I am more... mature --"

"And it helps that you're fucking someone a *generation* younger than you. *Again* -- no, wait, I didn't mean --"

Bruce holds up a hand. "I am blind to neither my faults nor my perversions --"

"Bruce. Clark is only three years younger than you, and *somehow* I've never gotten on his case for this, so -- yeah. We're leaving that alone."

"You need not always be *kind* --"

"How long did it take you to fall in love with me?"

"Dick --"

"Let me change the subject. Please."

Bruce takes another deep breath and nods. "Moments. You were... you were the light of the world."

Dick coughs. "Uh. Bruce."

Bruce hums and leans back in his chair, crossing his legs and steepling his fingers. "Shall I tell you how Jay responded to my more florid moments?"

"I can *guess* -- tell me anyway."

"Bruises. Many, many bruises."

"I --" Dick snorts. "But you didn't stop?"

"Jay demanded my honesty from the very beginning. He was never more likely to turn away from me than when I tried to hide the truth from him -- no matter what the truth was."

"And you couldn't take that."

Bruce swallows. "No, I could not. Eventually... eventually, it seemed as though I should be honest in every way, as though it was *necessary* to share *everything*, and not just that which Jay wanted to know."

"Oh. He wasn't -- he was *young*, Bruce!"

"Yes. Though..."


Bruce turns his hands palms up and remembers limp weight, the scent of burning, the scent of *blood* --


"I couldn't see it. His youth, I mean," and Bruce folds his hands together and tries to fill his senses with the scent of the Cave. "I couldn't see it until I was holding his... body in my arms."

Dick squeezes his eyes shut, but only for a moment before he opens them and nods. "Tim, then."


"How old is he in your eyes?"

"My own age. Older."

"I -- can actually see that. But --"

"But, sometimes, he is frighteningly young," Bruce says, and smiles again. "Younger, even, than you were."

"*Yes*, and that -- I..."

"It's stopped you."

Dick turns away, and his hair hides his face.


"I... it's not like I'm an idiot. Even when I *couldn't* believe what Roy was telling me about how much Tim wanted me, I knew I could probably seduce him."

"But he was too young for you."

Dick stiffens -- and then relaxes with a laugh and turns to face Bruce again. "Is it enough? Does that even *count* when you're still jerking yourself raw to the thought of wide eyes and -- mostly -- unscarred skin?"

Bruce raises an eyebrow.

"Yes, I *am* asking you --- even though you can't answer. Right. Never mind," Dick says, and flaps a hand. "He's sixteen, Bruce."


"And -- you adopted Jay first."

"An attempt to keep him close, to hold him to me... and to tell myself that my feelings for him could be... justified."

"And me?"

"I was... so proud of you. I *am* proud of you, and you've allowed me to watch you grow, and change... to become such a wonderful man."

"A son."


"Even though -- even though you want me," Dick says, and the light in his eyes is wild once more.


"And if something happened to the Drakes, boss?"

"I... have discussed that with Tim --"

"*Really*? He took *that*?"

"There's so much -- please. Don't let him hide from you anymore."

"You *want* me to -- have a relationship with him?"

"You gave Jay such happiness --"

"Wait. How *much* did you get off on that?"

Bruce smiles ruefully. "Not all of my reasons -- for anything -- are altruistic."

Dick nods thoughtfully. "Not all of my reasons for making love with Jay were... right."

"I... not... at first?"

"Not at first. After a while, though... I loved him."

"It seemed... it seemed the only possible outcome to your coming to know him."

"Oh -- Bruce. It wasn't *just* you coming between us. Neither of us were perfect."

"Of course not."

"Yeah, and -- wait. You don't actually believe that, do you?"

Bruce laughs. "I am not the only one in this world madly in love with --"

"Robin...? In *all* of his forms?"

Bruce inclines his head --

And Dick's smile for that is *gently* amused. "*Did* you and Jay ever have a threesome with Clark?"

"I'm... not sure whether or not to be surprised or not that he didn't tell you. But yes, we did. Four times."

"*Clark* has always been protective of my *feelings*, Bruce."

"Your point is made --"

"Will you with Tim? I honestly have no idea if little brother *wants* Clark. *Clark* isn't sure."

"If he was listening today... he's sure now."

"And you talked about that, too." Dick hums and nods again. "You're really trying."


"*More* than you tried with Jay."


"What did it?"

"I've learned many lessons in the past four years, Dick."

"Yeah, but --" And Dick shakes his head and gestures in a way Cassandra would undoubtedly find brilliantly obvious and clear.

Bruce... can make an educated guess. "I needed all of you, Dick. Every last one of you --"

"Are you saying Tim *didn't* set ironclad ground rules?"

"He has been... gentle with me. More so than he has not been."

Dick stares at him.

Bruce raises an eyebrow. "I believe he would say that he's learned many lessons from *you*."

Dick -- blushes. "I. I haven't always been a *good* brother to him --"

"Dick -- "

Dick cuts him off with a gesture. "I've been all right, most of the time. He doesn't have very *many* scars with my name on them... but he has some."

Bruce frowns.

"In retrospect, I'm not surprised that you don't know that." And Dick shakes his head. "I'll talk to Tim, and I'll ask him *very* nicely to be honest with me, and I'll promise to be a better man, and I will *not* try to seduce him unless and until I lose what's left of my mind because of whatever honesty he chooses to share."

Bruce nods and brings his hands into shadow before squeezing them together --

"I caught that. You're not the only thing between *us*, either. I promise."

"Dick --"

"Bruce. When you fell in love with me, I was a thirteen-year-old kid who honestly believed the sun rose and set on the circus and that nothing could be better than having the chance to perform for huge crowds of people who had all paid for the *privilege* of seeing me fly. When you fell in love with *Jay*, he was a *twelve*-year-old in the process of boosting your tires in the hopes of -- and he *told* me this -- not having to knife the next john who came along for his *wallet*. When you fell in love with *Tim* --"

"Stop. He was. I needed him."

Dick takes a breath. "And you can't hear anything bad about him."

Bruce turns away -- no. "I know... I know that he would prefer it if I could."

Dick frowns and nods. "That is, actually, something. You don't have to love every thing about us, you know."

"It seems... the better choice."

"No, boss. The *better* choice is to *accept* everything about the people you love, including the stuff you *can't* love --"

"I do -- I'm not... blind."

"You just choose not to see *all* the time?"

"The darkness in Jay... spoke to me. As does the darkness in Tim."

"And in me, boss?"

"I..." Bruce smiles ruefully again.

"Oh -- *Bruce*."

"Even at your angriest, Dick. Even in your saddest, most hopeless moments. Even when the passion in you boiled over to *violence* --"

Dick growls at him --

And Bruce laughs and spreads his hands. "Even now."

"All right, now I'm *glad* we're not in kissing distance --"

"Because we'd also be in punching distance?"

"And kicking distance, and head-butting distance, and *stabbing* distance --"

Bruce hums. "Noted. But perhaps you can see why it never seemed strange to me that you would find happiness with the 'son of light?'"

"*I* found happiness with *Clark*. And -- occasionally and *very* excitingly -- with Superman. Kal-El is just a little too..."

Bruce raises an eyebrow. "Alien, Dick?"

"We both know *that* could never be the problem for *me*. And we both know that Kal-El is the most *human* part of him."

Bruce inclines his head.

"Is that why Kal is the one you make love with? Most often, I mean."

How *much* of their sex life had Clark shared with Dick? Does he truly want to know? "I..."

"*That* question makes you balk? *Really*?"

"No. It's only that there comes a time in every conversation with you when I find myself wishing and striving to be a man you could love with all of yourself --"

"I *do* love you --"

"You wanted... once, you wanted me to be someone more sure. More... dominant."

Dick snorts. "There's a difference between wanting very, very badly for you to fuck me up the ass and wanting you to be the *Batman*. You *know* Bruce was always more important to me than any other part of you. That *you* were."

He... does. Bruce nods. "I'm not always especially... secure about my sexuality."

"Yeah, well, considering how confused *I* was in my late teens and early twenties -- i.e., the years beginning six years after *I* started fucking -- I think you're allowed."

"Hmm. As you say."

"I *do* say," Dick says, and grins. "So... are you any good, yet?"

"I -- Dick."

Dick's grin grows *wolfish*. "I can't help but wonder if there's anything I can *teach* you, boss..."

Bruce loses control over his expression -- no, he wasn't going to control --

"Oh... Bruce. When am I coming over?"

"I --"

"Wrong answer."

"You didn't give me a chance -- "

"Answer *faster*."

"Tim. I believe -- "

Dick frowns. "He's *monogamous*? No, he's still dating Steph --"

"Yes. That's --" Bruce shakes his head. "I believe that it wouldn't be breaking a confidence to say that he feels some measure of insecurity about our relationship."

"Meaning your relationship with *me*." Dick frowns more deeply. "He thinks you'd *leave* him for *me*?"

"I --"

"I'm signing off to go talk to him."

"His parents --"

"Bruce, if I have to? I will *gas* them so Tim and I can have this conversation in *peace*."

"*Dick* --"

"*Bruce*. I *hesitated* with Jay and I *let* you push me away. For *years*. If anyone fucks *this* up? *It will not be me*."

"I -- understood."

"*Good*. See you -- *all* of you -- soon --"

"I love you."

Dick gasps and narrows his eyes. And then his grin is Nightwing's. "I love you, too, boss. Just think about me *showing* you how much," Dick says, and ends the call.

Bruce shivers and closes the channel --

And Barbara appears onscreen. Her hair is in a loose chignon, her glasses are seated midway down the bridge of her nose, her fingers are steepled, and her smile is... avid.

"Good morning," Bruce says, and pours himself a mug of tea from the thermos Alfred had left for him.

"And to you... boss."

Bruce hums. "I will not ask how much attention you've been paying --"



"Yes, Bruce?"

"Do I meet with your approval?"

Barbara laughs softly and reaches for her own mug -- at this time of night, it *will* be decaffeinated coffee flavored with hazelnut and, perhaps, a measure of one of the sweeter alcoholic beverages. "I don't *disapprove*..."


"You didn't answer Dick's question about Kal."

"I'm not sure I can."


"Yes," Bruce says, and takes a sip -- tonight, Alfred had prepared a mint decoction. The astringency is bracing and soothing at once. "When I began making love with Kal -- and Clark -- I *stopped* trying to analyze my feelings for him beyond love and severe physical attraction."


"One might even say... brutal."


Oh... Barbara. "Only when I was very, very good... or very, very lucky," Bruce says, and watches -- there.

Barbara hasn't blushed in front of him since she was Batgirl, but there are occasionally moments of deeper color.

Moments during which he can only... wonder.

The moment ends with her lifting her left leg to cross it over her right, with the exposure and *flex* of the corded muscle of her upper body. She does something like this nearly every time a moment between them grows too flirtatious, as if she believes she can end -- or at least control -- his desire for her with a show of her paralysis. It --

He can ask. He --

"Yes, Bruce?"

"The attraction that exists between us," Bruce starts, and pauses, hoping --

She does not color again. She does, in fact, raise an eyebrow at him *pointedly*.

He would be a different man entirely if that didn't... move him. Bruce smiles into his mug of tea --

"The clock is ticking, B-- no, I love myself too much to call you Brucie. What *is* it?"

"Have you ever wished to act on it?"

"Oh... that question." Barbara laughs, then, and turns to one of her other monitors. "I suppose I *could* have predicted that. One moment," and she presses a button on the auxiliary keyboard. "More bugs in the big boys' bathroom, BC."

Surveillance on a new target...? Hm. She will either tell him or she won't.

"Eugh. It's *pink*!" Black Canary's tone is one of absolute disgust.

"It's where they go when they want to measure their... equipment. And I believe that shade is 'coral.'"

"*Fine*. But when I *buy* you something this color, you damned well have to wear it."

"Hnn. We'll see," and Barbara presses a different button and turns back to face him. "Are you going to be entertaining enough that I should leave the channels open...?"

Bruce raises his own eyebrow. "Are you going to answer my question?"

"Oh, Bruce. Of *course* I wanted to act on it. I was young, dumb, and... hnn. Significantly less full of human ejaculate than the current Boy Wonder. I was also significantly less than twenty-one... and you *do* have a certain effect on the young and impressionable."

"The desire to act on it --"

"Ended right about when Robin became Nightwing. I *value* my emotional well-being. I valued it *less* back then, but, ultimately, not *that* much less," she says, planting her elbow on her worktable and resting her cheek on her fist. "I don't trust you."

Bruce nods and closes his eyes for a moment. "Entirely fair."

"What that boils down to is that I think I'm an *idiot* for being convinced that I *will* trust you someday soon, and even be happy about that."

"Oh... I. I'm not sure what to say."

Barbara hums and narrows her eyes in a warm smile. "You like being punished, don't you. In *every* possible way."

Bruce hums. "When one is being punished, or scolded, or chastised... one cannot help but know that one is cared for. Appreciated."


"Is there any better way to show love than to offer your time and effort to help another improve in some way, shape, or form?"

Barbara snorts -- violently. "*Yes*. And you *know* that."

Bruce smiles down at his tea. "I admit nothing."

"I... want to ask any number of egregiously personal and potentially traumatic questions about your parents now."

"It's entirely possible that you'd get answers..."

"Yes, but then I'd have to *know* them."

"I'm sure Clark would be willing to... help you forget --"

Another snort. "No, thank you. I *much* prefer his other kisses --"

An alarm goes off near her worktable, and there is a flashing yellow light. She checks a third monitor, snorts, and presses a button. "Yes, Clark, you *can* come in."

"Oh, thank you very much," he says, appearing at Barbara's side. He's wearing chinos, a pale blue button-down shirt, and a beige sweater-vest which appears to have been knitted by hand. He hands her a box of chocolates with, curiously, *Basque* printing on it. "I believe you'll find the work of this chocolatier... ah... well. Try them?" And he smiles broadly.

His hair is plastered back -- hm.


"Oh... yes, Bruce?" Clark Kent's words, Kal's tone -- and expression once he looks at Bruce from over his determinedly unfashionable glasses.

Bruce laughs softly. "I missed you tonight."

Kal narrows his eyes. "I think it would be more accurate to say you *expected* me tonight."

Bruce smiles and inclines his head -- bows, just slightly. "As you say."

"A patient pet is a thing of great worth, Bruce Wayne," and the air of *absolute* threat is... itself.

And entirely warming. Bruce keeps his head bowed. "I will, of course, strive to remember just that, Kal-El."

And then Clark hums. "Bruce. Words cannot express how *badly* I wished for a bit less flooding along the Mississippi tonight, but..."

Bruce looks up. "I do, of course, understand responsibility."

Clark studies him avidly --

As brightly as a boy --

And then he hums again. "Call... one of me?"

"Very, very soon," Bruce says, and turns to appreciate the avidity of *Barbara's* expression. "Barbara."

"Bruce. You do realize what sort of rewards are in your future if you continue to teach me to trust you, yes...?"

Bruce smiles helplessly. It feels broad and manic on his face --

And it makes Barbara blink.

Bruce sobers himself at speed --

"Oh -- not that."

"I --"

"You're not used to expressing that sort of happiness," Barbara says, and her voice is as low and soothing as what she would use to calm a child.

Bruce smiles wryly. "I am all right."

"I --" Barbara laughs ruefully. "Sorry about that. I wasn't expecting -- well."

Bruce inclines his head. "Perhaps, in the future, we will... all grow accustomed to such things."

Clark grins like a schoolboy.

Barbara steeples her fingers again.

Bruce hums. "Batman out," he says, and gives himself leave to pretend that closing the channel on his end is enough to lose Barbara's attention.

It has been... a remarkably good day.

A part of him wishes only to tear at the threads of it -- and of himself -- to prove that he deserved nothing of the kind.

A part of him wishes to throw himself into a muscle-burning workout in order to -- somehow; this part of his mind isn't clear -- make himself worthy for the happiness his loved ones wish to give him.

A part of him wishes to spend the next several hours composing cutting, hurtful speeches designed to chase all of them away forever --

It's the safest *way* --

Hurting them now will save them from --

From him.

Bruce laughs somewhat helplessly. He knows exactly what happens when he tries to save his family from himself: he hurts them, he hurts himself, he staggers under the crushing weight of his loneliness, and then it becomes abundantly clear that he needed all of them *desperately*.

In every possible way.

Bruce pinches the bridge of his nose and fills his mind with an image of Tim glaring at him with contemptuous impatience.

He is nude, contained, and ignoring his own arousal with the ease of a much older man.

Does any part of him resent Bruce's ability to take that ease away from him with a touch?

Is he learning to counter such things?

Questions to ask... tomorrow.

For now, Bruce composes reports on his patrol for his family's use, slips into forty minutes of cool-down stretches, and then moves upstairs. He showers for a luxurious eleven minutes and puts himself to bed with a -- small -- smile he can't seem to entirely chase from his features.

Not even when the dark comes.

He is in Crime Alley again, and he knows what happens, what *must* happen --

He reaches for his parents' hands, knowing that this time he knows enough to guide them away, urge them *away* --

There's no one there.

There's no one there.

There's --

He is alone, and the sounds of traffic are distant and muffled. The rats screech and skitter as they always do, though, and so there must be --

It must be the same.


He walks carefully, using every bit of stealth he's learned --

And, abruptly, he is a man. He --

If --

He hunts for Jason helplessly, needfully. The car must be close, and that means --

Bruce *always* parks near --

*Near* --

He strains for the sound of a rough laugh, a hearty curse, a filthy *oath*, *something* --

"Son, where is your mother?"

He freezes, caught between --

Between --

He is thirty --

Eight --

Nineteen --

Forty-three --

*Eight*, and his father is looking down at him with a *worried* expression on his face. The rats are silent, but Bruce knows that they are filled with far more anticipation than fear, and Bruce knows it's not safe, never *safe* --

He opens his mouth to tell his Father that --

"It's only... hm. She *should* be with us, don't you think?"

"Father --"

"Families... families should stay *together*, Bruce. It's only proper."

"Yes, Father, but --"

"We must... I've been looking everywhere, of course. I wouldn't simply shirk my responsibilities," and Father frowns more deeply, staring at the buildings, the litter, the faintly slick cobblestones. "I'll have to write a letter to the council about this street. It's disgracefully dirty."

"Father -- it's not *safe*!" And for a moment, Bruce is only thrilled, excited, *alive* --

For a moment everything stops, everything *changes* --

Father is looking at him with dawning *realization* --

"*Yes*, Father, let's *go*!" And Bruce takes his hand and tugs him toward the more brightly-lit streets, back toward the theater --

"We -- we must find your mother, son --"

"She's *this* way," Bruce lies without a thought, without a care --

And feels himself grow --

Age --

*Change* --

But Father's grip is implacable, even against Bruce's adult strength. He --

"*Bruce*. What did I tell you about *lies*?"

"Father --" But he's stopped by the rage on Father's face, by the horrible *twist* to his features, like something burnt and --

"Do you know what happens to *liars*?"

"I --"

But Father is growing and changing, himself. He is --

His darkness takes the *world*, and he's pulling Bruce in --

And in --


"Liars have no honor!" And it's Father, Father had *said* that, said it many times --

But it's not him. It --

It *can't* be him, because the rage and terrible *expansion* has distorted his features --

His voice is the voice of shadows and *magma* --


"I don't know where she is!"


Alfred, Alfred is never --

Always --

"Open your *eyes*, sir!"

Bruce gasps and does it -- "It's not safe. It's never safe --"

"You are *quite* safe *here*, sir," Alfred says, and his eyes are worried -- but he still moves within range of the bed --

"Alfred --"

"You are awake now, and all is *well*."

"I'm sorry -- you don't usually --"

Alfred hands him a towel.

"Thank you. I..." Bruce shakes his head and wipes his face and the back of his neck. He breathes until he can do so regularly, therapeutically --

And Alfred walks out into the hall -- and returns with a tray of tea and half a grapefruit. There is a small amount of raw sugar near his spoon, which strongly suggests that Alfred believes he is in need of... coddling.

("Liars have no honor!")

Bruce shudders and sprinkles the sugar on his grapefruit gratefully. Still -- "You don't... you don't." Not since Bruce had cracked two of Alfred's ribs during Christmas break when he was fourteen. "I don't -- it's not safe," Bruce says, and looks up into Alfred's eyes.

The sadness there --

The *worry* -- "I'm all right --"

"The... tone of your cries was quite different, sir."

"Oh. I... the dream was different."


Bruce swallows and tries to tear the fog of the dream away from himself *while* analyzing -- "Mother wasn't there."

"Indeed, sir?"

Bruce nods and sips his tea -- green this morning, with ginseng. "They were both missing, at first, and for a time I was older and more able to protect myself. Then Father appeared." Bruce frowns. "He was... confused. He claimed to have been looking for Mother 'everywhere.' I was able -- for the first time -- to warn him of the danger, and it seemed as if he'd heard me."

"A success in lucid dreaming?"

Bruce frowns more deeply. "Certainly, the dream changed in ways it never had before. I lied to him about having seen Mother on the busier, safer streets, and he grew monstrous and full of rage. I believe he would've tried to kill me."

"That was *not* your father, sir."

"Of course not. Though... there was much that was the same about him before I lied to him."

"Sir --"

"No, I..." Bruce shakes his head and smiles ruefully. "I know my dreams don't require my conscious *help* in order to be altogether too real, Alfred. Thank you for waking me."

Alfred inclines his head. "You... had not ever called for Master Jason before."

Bruce blinks. "Truly? My dreams of him --"

"Are terrible things, yes. Just the same, when you call for anyone, at all, on those nights, it is for your parents."

"I... see." Bruce considers the matter while eating his grapefruit -- no. "Was I... summoning him?"

Alfred colors slightly. "You were... asking him to join you. Fervently."

Bruce blinks again. "I... hm."

"Indeed, sir. It was... curious."

It is, perhaps, his turn to blush, *but* -- "I wasn't calling for --"

"Robin, sir? No, sir." And Alfred raises an eyebrow at him even more pointedly than usual.

Bruce coughs a laugh. "Noted. I... Dick will be visiting soon, I believe."

"Indeed, sir? That would be wonderful."

"And... I plan to ask Cassandra to visit."

"Or *stay*, sir?" It was, of course, only an illusion that Alfred's tone couldn't get *more* pointed.

"Do you think she would truly --" Bruce cuts himself off before Alfred's expression, Alfred's... *Alfredness* can draw blood. "I have been a fool in many ways."

Alfred simply looks at him. Pointedly.

"I've... decided to do something about that. Many things. Where... allowed."

"Perhaps for the best, sir. Master Timothy informed me that he would be arriving at approximately four-fifteen this afternoon."

Bruce blinks. "He... called?"

"*Yes*, sir. On the *telephone*."

"I -- I did call Dick last night."

*Alfred* blinks several times, but recovers well. "*Very* good, sir. As to the subject at hand: Master Timothy informed me that he does not wish to see *you* until *five*-fifteen."

"That is... curious. Do you think --"

"I am sure I wouldn't know, sir," Alfred says, and his look isn't *quite* a glare, but it's definitely a demand for Bruce not to finish his sentence.

"As you say, Alfred. I will... busy myself in the Cave."

Alfred inclines his head. "Breakfast will be served in forty-five minutes. Do you wish to eat in the Cave?"

He *has* been doing well if Alfred is offering *that*. "Yes, Alfred, thank you."

"You are quite welcome, sir," and Alfred inclines his head and departs.

Bruce finishes his tea and grapefruit, strips the hopelessly sweaty sheets off the bed and takes them to the hamper in the bathroom --

He pauses, for a moment, to inhale near the pillow case he wasn't sleeping on -- Tim.


He wants an hour to *prepare* for him --

And if Bruce isn't careful, he'll spend the entire day spinning countless fantasies about what that preparation will turn out to entail --

Though there's something to be said for the idea that Tim wants him to do just that.

Bruce hums and smiles through his shower --

Through his read-through of the reports Dick, Tim, and Barbara had left on his server --

Through breakfast --

(Only I will never leave you.)

Bruce sighs and focuses on training. Dynamic stretches, a timed run through the obstacle course he'd had Tim program for him -- the machine-gun-wielding rabbinical students are an inspired touch -- the pommel horse, the pommel horse again because he can't help but think of how Dick, Jason, *and* Tim had looked at him whenever they saw him using it --

(Your path will be a lonely one.)

Bruce laughs quietly -- at himself, never the Bat, as that sort of thing seems to make it *louder* within him -- and dismounts, turning his focus to the rings --

The chin-up bar --

And then the weights.

(You must not waver!)

He wasn't *planning* to do anything of the kind --

But Bruce remembers, quite well, how strident, how insistent, how *incessant* the Bat became in those hours and days when Dick or Jason weren't at his side, as if the fact that it could be chased away by their very presence made it... desperate. The Bat *had* been less desperate -- and more constant a companion again -- during the first three years of his acquaintance with Tim, but now...

Now that Tim has begun giving him so *much* of himself, his spirit and body *along* with the scalpel of his mind --

He badly wants to know what Tim thinks about... all of it. He'd responded to the footage -- offered *after* the debacle that had begun with Vesper's death -- of Bruce arguing with empty suits, or with nothing at all, with a level look and a raised eyebrow. When Bruce had responded to *that* with nothing more than a list of tasks to perform --

Bruce is a coward in many, many ways --

And Tim can be gentle about such things.

Bruce *will* find a way to ask, but perhaps not today. Not when Tim has planned something for them both. Such *generosity* --

Such *care* --

And care for the relationship they're building between them, even though Tim can't quite believe in it, yet. Bruce must -- he must do everything he can to make it work, use every *lesson*, make Jason *proud* --

And he's there as Bruce lifts, laughing and smirking with his mouth even as his eyes fill with wonder at the things Bruce could do with his body, at the proof of everything he *had* done written and scarred *across* his body --

("You know this just proves you're an asshole, right?"

"Hmm. How so?"

"You could've lifted that fucking car *yourself* instead of making me use my poor, pathetic, rusty old jack to get your fucking tires back on."

"But where would've been the fun in that?")

And Jason had snickered more than Bruce had thought the line was worth -- the way he'd done nearly every time Bruce made a joke implying a distinct lack of honor and correctness on his part.

It didn't work as well after the Joker shot Barbara. It --

(Only I --)

Reflex to fill his mind with the memory of his own screams as he held Jason's ruined body in his arms. The Bat never fights those screams very hard.

Perhaps because it knows that there's only so much Bruce can take, only so much he can *accept*... without giving serious thought to trepanning.

Bruce smiles up at the shadows above the fluorescents and promises to share some version of *that* thought with Tim, as well. Or... Dick?

Dick has never *seen* that footage, nor has Tim told him about it. Dick would've come to him about it had he known...

Bruce frowns. Would he accept it as Tim had done? Is it anything he can *ask* Dick to accept?

(Your path will be a lonely one.)

Bruce shivers and puts the thought away for now. There is no one in his family who would want him to brood in this moment, in this way. He continues to lift, instead, and, just after four, Alfred comes down with a light lunch for him.

It's incredibly tempting to ask if Tim has arrived, yet --

If he is, perhaps, partaking of lunch in the dining room, or in the room that has been his own since the beginning of his training -- for all that Bruce hadn't been strong enough to show it to him until after Haiti, and, even then, he'd left it to Alfred --

He eats slowly and evenly, and asks Alfred about inconsequential things until he finishes his meal and realizes that he hasn't the faintest clue what he had eaten. He can deduce that it wasn't a soup by the lack of a bowl or spoon, and there seems to have been a salad...

He doesn't know.

And Alfred's expression speaks -- voluminously -- about the fact that he knows it. However, unlike his usual response to Bruce's failures in this regard, his amusement is perfectly clear.

Bruce smiles with rueful apology. "I never thought I could have..." Bruce shakes his head. "Not with Tim."

Alfred looks at him... loudly.

"Of course -- we don't have to -- ah. Hm. Never mind."

Alfred inclines his head, but when he looks back up, the amusement has returned to his eyes, along with a large measure of fondness. "Your happiness is my own, sir. Please continue to behave in a manner commensurate with *keeping* it."

"Yes, Alfred --"

"While I was upstairs, Master Timothy informed me that he would be ready for you thirty-seven minutes from now. I strongly suggest that you not be late, as dinner *will* be served at eight-thirty. Without *fail*."

There have been times when they have been... late. "As you say. I don't suppose --"

"You will find the ensemble Master Timothy wishes you to wear in the garment bag hanging near your disguise items. If there is nothing else, I will be in the kitchen and *only* the kitchen. Master Timothy has informed me that he wishes to meet with you in the library."

Bruce hums and stands. "Thank you. I'll perform my ablutions with care *and* speed."

"Very good, sir. Until dinner," Alfred says, inclining his head and walking toward the stairs.

Bruce watches him go for a *moment* --

And then walks briskly to the showers. Six minutes of that, another eight for the closest shave he can manage -- Alfred had found the time to strop the blade on the straight razor he keeps down here -- a few moments to consider which moisturizer to use -- no.

He checks the garment bag, and finds... a rather *stiffly* formal tuxedo he hasn't seen before. Although...

The cut of it is perfectly flattering -- he knows he'll be able to wear it well. It's just that the flourishes and marks of determinedly casual 'individuality' common to tuxedos for much of the past two decades are all missing.

He gives himself two minutes to consider it, but not too deeply.

He has -- oh. Bruce blinks at himself. He wants to be surprised. Truly?

That can't possibly be remotely *safe*. Better to at least *consider* --

("I enjoy a certain conservative aesthetic... from time to time.")

He does. He --

("Brucie... well. We both know how I feel about Brucie. And *why* I only feel those things *sometimes*.")

Not Brucie's colognes *or* moisturizer tonight.

("Bruce. Do you plan on telling me *why* you have a photograph of Lex Luthor wearing that much leather?"

"Is there a more acceptable amount?")

And Tim had snorted then and shaken his head --

("Fine. But you owe the country an apology for not releasing that photo a few years ago.")

No accessories beyond -- yes, the cufflinks Tim had included are platinum and onyx, and had been a gift to his father from his mother when Bruce was six. Platinum was his father's nod to iconoclastic frivolity, onyx his mother's choice to offset the effect *of* the platinum.

Tim had admired them openly, but only while playing Timmy Drake, whose sincerity can be a difficult thing to judge when they aren't in the process of making love.

It *suggests* a desire for Brucie, but the tuxedo is too much of a refutation of that to be ignored, and --

He'd included sock garters. That is... hm.

Bruce *has* worn them before, but he's reasonably sure he had never done so in front of Tim... as opposed to doing so in a direct attempt to garner Jason's pleasured and pleasurable disgust.

("They make you look fucking *ninety*!"

"Have you always been attracted to that degree of age difference?"


"I could, if you'd like, take out my bridge --"

"Bruce --"

"Perhaps... drool?"

"I will *hurt* you --"

"Hmm. Perhaps I'll simply settle for hitching my pants to just below my nipples and urging you to remove yourself from my lawn -- *nn*. Your body blows are nearly perfect."

"What's this fucking 'nearly' shit?"

"Well. I *can* still breathe.")

The spar that had followed had been brief, brutal, and arousing enough that Bruce hadn't noticed Jason using his belt knife on the sock garters until much, much later.

He'd had Alfred purchase four more pairs.

Here, now, he is very much wearing his father's clothes -- in spirit, if not literally. It's a kink he would never have guessed at for Tim -- and he had considered very, very many kinks for him, indeed. He had, in fact, forgiven himself for that behavior years before, if not for the way eavesdropping on Tim's masturbatory habits had been the reason *why* he'd known that a large degree of kink was possible. And...

Given this morning's dream -- no. He doesn't truly feel as though he's zipping and buttoning and *clasping* himself into his father's gaping maw. His father was the man who was occasionally as mystified by his bright, beautiful, and *sharp* mother as Bruce is by Tim.

His father was a man of honor -- and deep and *comprehensible* passions.

His father would've loved to see him in clothing *just* like this, and that is what Bruce takes with him as he jogs carefully up the stairs --

No, he's still too early. He *walks* up the stairs.

He pauses to place an open book on one of the perfectly terrible chairs in the study -- appearances matter.

He pauses to attempt to determine what dinner will be by the aromas alone -- venison? Truly? It's still just a bit too early in the year for it not to have been farmed --

Well, Tim has something of a passion for truly *dark* red meat. He'll enjoy it.

By the time he makes it to the library, he's exactly two minutes early, and it's only somewhat maddening to stand *staring* at the closed doors -- it's over.

He walks in, and the effect is immediate. There are fires in both fireplaces, and the only other lights are the warm and somewhat dim ones he'd kept because Dick mentioned finding them 'cozy.'

Jason had much preferred reading by sunlight.

Cassandra loathes this room --

And Tim almost never comes in, at all --

But he's here now. He is --

Bruce is *stalling*, because --

It's his mother's favorite chaise. He'd told all of his partners that in their turn.

It's --

Tim is wearing a cream silk negligee that Bruce had *seen* on his mother. She'd only worn that style -- sleeveless, embroidered with leaves and improbably small peonies in a shade of ecru only slightly darker than the cream -- during the spring months, but he'd never told Tim that. He --

He couldn't have been expected to *know* that --

It's not her negligee. His mother was quite petite, but still had anatomy Tim most assuredly --

He's *stalling*, because Tim is reading Pride and Prejudice and laughing softly, lightly with amusement --

Tim *never* laughs quite that way --

("Oh, boychik, she wasn't being *literal*. Not all the time. Remember that, and the book will make a great deal more sense. I promise.")

And Mother had smiled fondly and stroked his cheek --

Sighed and stroked his other cheek --

And when she walked past him to get another book for herself --

Tim is wearing Chanel no. 22. That much is obvious even at this distance. Bruce had trained his *senses*, but not for moments like this, not --  

His makeup --

Her makeup?

Tim has never been *this* sort of woman --

Bruce is wearing his father's *clothes* --

Tim looks up -- *not* toward Bruce -- and frowns. Only...

It's not Tim's frown. Tim never purses his lips quite that much *for* his frowns --

("Frowns are for when I'm *not* encouraging you. Daddy.")

The line on his forehead isn't deep enough --

("But, Mother, your wrinkles are beautiful and distinguished. Like Father's!"

"Oh... darling. Free advice: Never, *ever* tell a woman she looks *distinguished*."

"But --"

"*Trust* me.")

Of course he trusts her. Of course --

But how is Tim *doing* this? Tim has always had a gift for undercover work that's nearly *uncanny* in one so young and relatively inexperienced, but this --

A part of him is only trying to come up with new training missions, new *objectives*, and Bruce isn't sure if he's grateful to that part or *not*. He doesn't know --

What does this mean?

What is this *feeling*?

Tim gasps --

("You *startled* me, boychik! *Please* don't make me bell you. The Division of Youth and Family Services *frowns* on that sort of thing.")

Bruce swallows and takes a step closer --

In time for Tim to turn to face him -- and recoil, shaking his --

Her head?

And then Bruce notices that Tim had cut his hair into a style which can *only* be called a bob. She can't possibly be planning to go *home* like that --

"He chose the clothes, didn't he," she says, and her expression is sour, *dark* --

Bruce shakes his head in confusion. "I -- Alfred?"

She shudders -- delicately. "*No*, darling --" And then she blinks and frowns again. "Unless..."

"I... yes?"

"Just a moment, Bruce, I need to consult your *boy*-toy," she says, and taps her short fingernail against her lower lip just like --

Just like --

No --

No, not --

Bruce doesn't *often* hear Jason Blood's voice in his mind -- the fact that the man is a friend does not mean that Bruce has any intention of slipping further into his world than he already has -- but there are times when it is terribly, horribly clear. It --

("You can't tell me you haven't studied Gotham's maps -- historical and otherwise -- at least as much as *anyone*, Bruce. I won't believe you."

"There is such a thing as *coincidence*, Jason --"

"There are *also* such things as *pentagrams*. And this one has been seasoned with blood for *centuries*.")

And he had laughed --

("Of course, you could ignore the pentagram, entirely -- "

"Certainly, that's been my habit of choice.")

And he had laughed *again* --

("There are places where ghosts walk, Bruce. You and I both know that it's true."

"Jason --"

"There are nights when it happens rather more often than the alternative, too... but you didn't hear that from *me*...")

And there had been excellent wine whose provenance Bruce hadn't *asked* for --

A fire whose shadows danced *incongruously* --

A touch in the lowering dark which he'd felt *before* he'd seen Jason's hand move --

Bruce had excused himself.

Bruce would very much like to do the same thing right now --

"Oh, for the love of --" She sighs and glares at him. "Would you believe that catamite is giving me the equivalent of his name, rank, and serial number?"

"He -- no --"

"No, I'm sorry, of *course* you believe it. You *trained* the creature," and she looks down at herself in disgust. "I can *feel* every last *one* of the scars on this body --"

"M-mother --"

Another glare.

Bruce closes his mouth and swallows.

"Well. *Before* Mr. Timothy Jackson Drake managed to find a way to shut me out, I had a *very* interesting time perusing several of the memories which are most important to him. Let's see if I've got this straight: In the thirty-four years since you watched your father and me bleed out in an alley --"

"Please --"

"Be *quiet*."

Bruce stands rigid and nods.

And when Mother raises Tim's eyebrow, Bruce can see that one of them had plucked it. It --

The *heat* in his groin is sudden, painful, and mortifying. This can't possibly be --

"All right, that's better. Over the course of the last generation, you refused to go to college, instead using your inheritance to travel the world and learn from assorted... *individuals* how best to commit unarmed *assault*. Then you learned how to commit *armed* assault, but only with certain 'acceptable' weapons. Am I correct so far?"

"I -- there -- there must be lines drawn --"

"Yes. Or. *No*."

"Yes, Mother. Please, is Tim --"

"He's *fine*," she says, sniffing and shifting until she's lying on her side propped against the back of the chaise with her right arm and holding her place in Pride and Prejudice with her left. "He has a *very* strong sense of self --"

"He's -- wonderful."

Another sour look. "*Which* of him is wonderful, boychik? Because I *misspoke*: he has *several* strong senses of self, because you *trained* him to."

Bruce winces.

"All right, moving on. After you turned yourself into a *weapon* instead of a philanthropist, businessman, or even a *scientist* -- do you remember those promises you made, Bruce?"

"Yes, Mother, but --"


Bruce inhales sharply and nods --

And Mother nods back, drumming her nails on the back of the chaise.

She would, Bruce knows, prefer for her fingernails to each be a quarter of an inch long, and subtly enhanced in shape. She --

She closes her eyes and shudders again, then opens them to glare at him once more. "Vigilantism -- of a sort more brutally flamboyant than even those of the *other* psychotics running around every night. Your *boy* has *multiple* memories of you picking broken *teeth* out of the *treads* of your *boots*."

"You will not convince me that I have taken the wrong path in that respect," Bruce blurts, and feels himself blushing, blinking and staring --

It feels like his stomach is *convulsing* --

And Bruce realizes, with a start and an emotional *blast* he can't quantify, just where he'd first learned to appreciate a basilisk stare. "Mother..."

She lifts her chin --

*Tim's* chin --

"You're his father, you know. *Not* just his Daddy."

"He. He has allowed that liberty --"

"There is no 'allowance' on his part, boychik. You simply *are* his father, and there is very, very little he would not do for you. For your *favor*."

Bruce squeezes his eyes shut -- no. He must. He must face this. And -- "Please. Please don't break more of his confidences --"

She snorts. "Or *what*? You'll fuck me, too?"

"*Mother* --"

"Where do you think he *got* this idea, Bruce? What do you think was going through his mind as he washed with the soaps you've kept in airtight containers? As he shaved away every hair on his *body* save for... well. I suppose you'll see *eventually*." She shakes her head. "What do you think he was *meditating* on when he gave the seamstress the specifications for this negligee?"

"You -- you *possessed* him --"

"Forty-five *minutes* ago, Bruce. I didn't even have to take this book off the shelf!"

"I. I don't..."

She laughs derisively. "Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that a brutally abused and traumatized teenaged boy knows my son better than I ever could. Than *you* ever could. He remembers you gathering Dick -- and how could you allow him to *refer* to himself that way? -- into your *cape*. He remembers watching you lay your cape *out* for Jason Todd in preparation for *fucking* him on a *rooftop*. And, yes, he remembers every *second* of the fuck in question. He remembers weeping after Jason's brutal murder, and his 'sister' is the woman currently paralyzed from the waist down. *Both* of those events are directly related to the fact that you somehow decided that it's only acceptable to *assault* murderers, as opposed to making sure they could never kill again --"

Bruce growls --


"Mother. Would you --" Bruce breathes deeply and draws himself up. "I believe you must make a choice between chastising me for growing into a violent man and chastising me for growing into a man who isn't violent enough."

She smiles at him, warm and sharp at once, and Bruce remembers the way Father would blush --

"Mother --"

"Your catamite --"

"*Lover*! He is my *lover*, and you *will* respect him!"

She rears back, flaring her nostrils once. She hoods Tim's eyes and turns slightly away, hair swinging with light grace. She --

She isn't *looking* at him, and a part of him is only small for that, aching and small and *needing* --

Screaming --

Screaming in the dark --

But he must. He -- there are things which are only *correct*, only -- only true and real --

"Your father never stood up to me like that. Not. Once," she says, and turns back to face him with *narrow*-eyed pleasure. "Do you have any *comprehension* of how dull that got to be? How often it drove me to say increasingly *vile* things?"

Bruce frowns. "It would've been better for it to drive you to learn *compromise*, Mother."

She snorts then, bright and *loud*. "Would it? Would it *really*, darling? Shall I tell you what he remembers about *you* and the concept of compromise? Perhaps the concept of 'good enough?' Darling boy. Beautiful son..."


She sits up sideways on the chaise, tucking her legs beneath her -- and her expression turns shocked and *pained*.

"Mother --"

"One. *Moment*," she says, and turns to rest her feet on the floor before spreading her legs slightly and taking a deep breath --

And Bruce realizes belatedly that Tim had chosen to wear a gaff today. He --

"Oh, Bruce, he's *fine*. He's using some meditation technique he picked up from an *assassin* of all people, and I can't even *see* him anymore, much less dig through his mind."

"But you're sure he's there?"

"*Yes*, I'm sure he's there. It's *crowded* in here."

"You're... uncomfortable?"

"Are you honestly about to try to talk me into giving *up* the opportunity to speak to you? Come *here*," she says, and points to the empty space on the chaise beside her. He --

He can already smell her. And he can smell *Tim* -- Bruce swallows and shakes his head, crouching at her feet, instead. "I would like to spend more time with you as well, Mother, but I must *understand* this mechanism."

And this time her smile is gentle, open --

Bruce shivers --

And she cups his cheek. "I can still see the little boy in you, of course. The boy who periodically performed scientific experiments which ended with raccoons in the library, smoking craters in the sun room, and draperies which had been miraculously alchemized to damp piles of ash."

"I... became more skilled."

"Mm-hm. I had no doubt that you would. Once you truly came to care about something -- or someone -- nothing would stop you in your *mission* to improve it or them. I *had* hoped you'd learn to treat people less like inferior models on the path to Bruce-ly enlightenment."

"There was nothing in my partners which was *inferior* --"

"But you still changed them."

"*Honed* them, gave them -- gave them what they needed to increase their skills --"

"Tim believes -- with all of himself -- that you *remade* him, boychik."

"No, I --"

("*Yours*, Bruce!")

"Please. Not that," Bruce says, and closes his hands into fists.

Mother studies them avidly -- and with a great deal of rueful amusement -- before looking up to meet his eyes once more. "I am, of course, very proud of you."

Bruce frowns and shakes his head, drawing back --

And she uses Tim's speed to reach for him, to cup his chin and stroke with a thumb which shouldn't be so callused --

No, of course it should. It --

This isn't --

The scent of Chanel no. 22 rises from her inner wrist, and her expression is privately thoughtful as she strokes his chin. "You're hairier than your father was."


"I suppose that sort of thing just sort of *happens* from time to time..."

"Mother --"

"You went your own way -- when I never could have. You built a *large* family with people who care for you -- all without falling into the marriage trap. You've saved more lives than your father ever could have, *and* you've expanded the Foundation in ways I never would have thought of on my own." She tilts her head to the side. "And you did that while running around in *very* tight clothing battling gun-toting madmen with oddly-shaped boomerangs and pieces of *string*."

"I. I have other weapons --"

"Yes, yes, you do," she says, and frowns again. "It was your father, wasn't it. It's *his* memory which keeps you from putting an end to the so-called *Joker*."

"It's. It's my memory of -- you're very... volatile. Labile."

Her smile is sharp again. "Call it the inevitable result of having been forced to live through the same *godawful* few minutes over and over and *over* again for over three decades."

Bruce recoils again -- but Mother's grip is as strong and determined as Tim's would be. "You -- you're being punished."

"*Yes*, darling. By *you*," she says, and tilts her head to the side again. "I'll tell you a secret, boychik: I'm reasonably sure your father is *inches* away from losing the plot entirely."

"I -- what -- I don't *understand* --"

"Don't you? My beautiful son. My *lonely* son. Do you remember telling me that you wanted to stay by my side forever and ever and ever?"

Bruce swallows. "I --"

"Do you remember how *many* times you said that to me, boychik...?"

"I've... imprisoned you?"

"Mm-hmm. I don't *blame* you for it -- most of the time --"

"I -- I'll free you! And Father --"

She covers his mouth with her fingers, and it's all he can do not to kiss them, not to cup her hand and hold, stroke, apologize --

He closes his eyes and shudders --

Breathes --

He opens his eyes once more and waits.

After a moment, Mother parts her soft lips --

Tim had chosen a shade nearly identical to the one Mother wore habitually when she was alive, as opposed to the shades he's allowed Bruce to choose for him. Such *care* --

"Are you thinking of him, boychik?"

"Yes. I. I never knew he would ever do something like this."

"Even though you knew about his transsexualism and *profound* Mommy and Daddy issues?"

"Even -- even so. There is... it asks much of him. He's not always comfortable with the part of him which longs to be a woman, Mother, and he's certainly not always comfortable with the parts of me which long to be at least somewhat *dominated* by a woman. I --" Bruce shakes his head. "Please tell me how to free you."

"And if I don't want to go...?"


Her smile is slow and secretive. "While this body is *entirely* inadequate for my needs --"

"It's not *yours* --"

She waves a hand and grips Bruce's chin again before stroking Bruce's cheeks with the fingers of her other hand. "*My* body has, hopefully, finally rotted away despite all the chemicals which were undoubtedly pumped into me."

"You -- didn't want to be embalmed?"

"It's rather *distasteful*, boychik. A doll of dead, cold, *waxen* flesh..." She shudders. "Did you kiss my cheek in the casket, darling?"


"Did you kiss my mouth...?"

"I. I could see the stitching." Bruce swallows painfully. "I could... the mortician's assistant must not have been... practiced at his art. Your lips were parted just enough..." Bruce shakes his head. "I couldn't make myself kiss you there."

"But you wanted to."

"Yes, Mother."

"Because I'd stopped letting you...?"

The anger in him rises suddenly, *painfully* --

And he knows Mother sees it by the heat that rises in her own eyes, the *passion* --

"Mother, *tell* me. Tell me how this *happened*!"

She sighs. "All right. Once upon a time, a beautiful man walked up to your father and asked him for a threesome with me --"


"Oh, he was *lovely*, boychik. Dark, tousled curls and downy skin. He couldn't have been more than nineteen or twenty -- *you* probably would've fallen for him in a heartbeat, because he was also *obviously* well-educated, thoughtful, warm, and gentle in his voice and manner. Someone who made the concept of being 'well-born' more than laughable."

"I. I don't --"

"Just listen," she says, and spreads her knees slightly wider. "The young man told your father that there would be... hmm... a certain madness to the play we'd have together. That we would lose ourselves together, but that there was nothing to fear, as he would protect us from the greater madness of his presence. Your father reacted to all of this as well you might expect," she says, and sighs disgustedly. "Even though the young man warned that the greater madness would come -- in *spades* -- if Thomas didn't agree, Thomas would have none of it and treated the young man *very* disrespectfully. And then we all went out to the movies," she says, and looks at him pointedly.

"I... wasn't aware our lives were being written by *Euripides*, Mother."

And -- she giggles, bright and young as she kicks her heels --

Hm. "Did Tim not choose shoes?"

"*You* told him how much I enjoyed wandering around barefoot."

"I --" Of course he had. "Hm. Why The Bacchae, Mother?"

"You don't think it suits? Madness, blood, cross-dressing... there's even some chilled wine waiting for us in the master suite."

"In -- *your* room?"

Mother smiles, and it's far too broad for Tim's face. "Does he *really* take many half-measures, Bruce...?"

No, he does not. Not once he's committed himself to something. To *anything* -- or anyone -- he deems worthy. But -- "You don't know how to be freed."

She smiles ruefully. "No."

"What *do* you know about this, Mother?"

She sighs and looks away once more, lowering her hands to the chaise. It feels --

Bruce cups her cheek gently and shivers when she does, and again when she turns to look at him. "Please."

"I know that the next time you dream, I'll find myself brooding about whether or not I like the idea of you flinging yourself around the manor with a wooden sword -- instead of paying attention to my surroundings. I know that Thomas will look at me with that *hopeful* hunger he managed so well, at times -- and Tim's memories say you make the same face from time to time. I know that I'll *nearly* trip on a bit of trash, and that my pearls will bounce cool against my collarbone. I know that the shot will be too shocking to hurt, at first, and that I will wind up sprawled on exactly twenty-eight cobblestones. I know that it will seem as though I'm dying forever, that it will take hours and years and *centuries* subjectively before the strange sound in my ears resolves into my beautiful son begging and screaming for me to wake up, to help him, to wake *up* --"

"*Mother* --"

"I know that it will happen *just* that way... every time I don't find a way to break free."

"Is this freedom?"

She lifts her hands and studies them with some measure of distaste. "The polish is a good touch -- and excellently-applied -- but he truly can't disguise what he's done to his hands over the years."

"We've considered gloves. Mother --"

"Did you have the dream last night, boychik?"

Bruce frowns and nods. "Father... Father was looking for you."

"I'll just bet he was. How *was* he?"

"Confused. Worried. Inclined to listen to me for the first time since I began having the dream. Enraged."

She blinks thoughtfully for that. "He was... vehement about wanting me back?"

"He seemed convinced that I had stolen you away somehow --"

"Didn't you?"

Bruce's hand twitches on her cheek -- and she covers it with her hand for a moment, pressing it to her skin and rubbing slightly --

She wouldn't have been able to do that with impunity were she wearing the makeup available during her lifetime, but the question of whether or not she considered it --

Of whether or not *Tim* had considered something like it while she was eavesdropping --

It's irrelevant against the feel of it. Tim's skin here is about as weathered as Mother's had been when she was alive and in her mid-thirties, as Tim hadn't begun to moisturize himself thoroughly --

"Think of *me*, boychik," she says, and smiles with sharp pleasure and sharper demand.

"Mother, I want... I must find a way to free you."

"Yes, I suppose you *would* think that way, and, in truth, thirty years of dying night after night, thirty years of *knowing* how helpless I am and how much time I'd *wasted* --"

"You *built* the Foundation --"

"Yes, I did. But I married your father when I didn't want to do anything of the kind, and I threw countless parties and invited people I never wanted to *look* at, much less speak to, and I argued with your father whenever I got bored enough, and I let your father's big, soft blue eyes dissuade me from taking a lover I actually *wanted*..." Mother shakes her head. "One of the last things I thought that night -- *every* night -- was berating myself for not allowing your father to give me an orgasm the night before."

Bruce -- blushes. But -- "No?"

"Did you ever try to listen at our door, boychik...?"

Bruce looks down at the floor --

And isn't surprised in the slightest by the feel of her gently and implacably lifting his head once more. He --

"I can smell Tim's arousal, Mother."

"Yes, well, *I* can *feel* it, and it's more than a little irritating, darling --"

"I listened -- I tried. The door to the master suite is too thick for it to work --"

"Hmm, yes, I suppose it is. Your father wouldn't hear of leaving the door *open*, of course. No matter how much it felt like I was *suffocating* in that room. Still, it was my own choice to start closing the door once I started kicking your father *out* of the bedroom on a regular basis. I can't blame him for everything."

"Kicking --"

"*After* we were sure you were sleeping, of course, boychik. Appearances matter," Mother says, and stands, shooing him back so that she can stretch and move. She walks through the library with slow care, very clearly accustoming herself to Tim's body --

The sway in her hips is Tim's own.

The sigh is Tim's when he feels both languid *and* irritated --

It's Bruce's favorite, and he can't help moving to join her, to *trail* her like a puppy --

She holds his hand and guides them close to the large fireplace, and then they sit down together on the thick rug. Before his paternal grandfather had died, the rug here had been the aging pelt of a large bear, and there had been any number of other hunting trophies scattered throughout the library where various tasteful paintings and statuary are displayed now. He --

"Mother --"

"Hold me. Hold me the way you hold Tim when he tells you painful things about *his* family."

Bruce swallows and does it, lifting and moving Mother until she is between his legs with her back to his chest. He wraps his arms around her waist and kisses the top of her head before he can think --

But she only sighs and presses closer. "You're warmer than he was."

"I --"

"No, not --" She shakes her head. "He was awkward in positions like this. As if he were never entirely sure that what he was doing was proper."

"I'm not sure, either, Mother."

She laughs quietly and rests her hands on Bruce's. "But you know what's desired...?"

"Dick -- taught me much."

"Except for how to make love to him...?"

Bruce swallows. "If... I know he could have taught me everything, had I allowed it."

"What stopped you?"

"He... he had a youth I could comprehend *as* youth, and he allowed me to raise him as Jason and Tim have not. I could..." Bruce shakes his head. "It felt as though he was demanding that I become his father. He wasn't, truly, but it was a relief to think so. And a pleasure to *act* so."

"More of a pleasure than it would've been to touch him, boychik...?"

"Mother --"

"Tell me, please. I have to *know* you," she says, and now she's almost *straining* to press closer --

Bruce squeezes her firmly and shivers at the feel of her relaxing. Offering herself the way -- "You held me this way."

"Mm-hmm. You loved falling asleep this way when you were small."

"Sometimes. Sometimes Superman holds me this way."

"Kal-El. Does it make you feel small?"

Bruce smiles wryly. "I've yet to call him 'Mother.' I hope to keep it that way."

She snorts, coughs, hums -- "Answer my question...?"

"I always knew that making love to Dick would be... blinding. His body... the way he *lives* in his body..."

"Tim has *countless* memories of him doing wildly improbable things..."

"Tim fell in love with Dick the same night I did, and devoted his life to learning more about him and making himself worthy *of* him --"

She hums again.


"He fell in love with *you* somewhere along the way, boychik."

"I -- I know that --"

"Dick isn't the only one he wants to be 'worthy' of."

Bruce swallows and --

He wants --

"No -- no more about Tim --"

"Because you want to respect his secrets? Or because you're afraid to know how much you've warped him?"

"*Mother* --"

"I understand the latter, of course. Do you have any *idea* how much of your early childhood I spent drunk out of my mind and filling your malleable little mind with God only knows *what*?"

"I -- don't remember that."

She strokes his hands and squeezes them. "That doesn't surprise me in the slightest. Still -- I'd be an even *worse* mother if I didn't advise you to spend a good, long time searching that eidetic memory of yours for moments when my eyes were a little glassy, my movements a little *too* languid... you get the idea."

"I." Bruce swallows again. "Mother --"

"You don't want to. I know. You loved me like no one else. You loved me more than you loved your *father*, and your love for *that* man was *infuriating* at times --"

"*Why* didn't you love him?" And that was more of a blurt than anything else, more -- "Please tell me."

"I..." Mother laughs, then, low and dark as she lowers her head. "I suppose I should tell you. It could only help you have a more *realistic* view --"

"Is that what you want? Truly?"

Mother stiffens -- but then relaxes herself at speed. "Boychik, it's not just the alley, you know. I can... hmm... feel you, from time to time. Not *see* you, not *hear* you or know what you're thinking... but I knew that you were fourteen when you fell in love for the first time, and I knew when whoever it was broke your heart -- *was* it another boy?"

("Ah, big guy, sometimes I think it's you and me against the world. And that? Is just fine by me.")

Bruce shudders. "Yes."


"It. He. He was my first friend, Mother. And -- my brother."

"What *happened* -- oh, Tim is actually reaching out."

"He -- is he all right --"

"He's *demanding* that I stop asking questions along these lines... and offering me information freely," she says, and sounds moderately bemused.

Bruce squeezes his eyes shut -- no. "He is... protective, at times."

"So I see. Give me a moment to confer with Tim, please."

"Yes, Mother."

Bruce waits -- and Mother doesn't quite *slump* in his arms, but there is an abrupt sense that *neither* she nor Tim is remotely nearby. The body in his arms is just that --

No. There is breath, and a rising blush.

There is a strong heartbeat beginning to *speed* --  and Bruce realizes that he's touching his mother's chest through a negligee --

Tim's chest --

*Mother's* chest, because Tim never sighs quite that proprietarily. Never --

Bruce moves his hand as subtly as he can --

"*Hold* me, boychik."

"Mother, I --"

"He showed me everything he knew about Harvey Dent, including the psychological profile you wrote on the man. He'd memorized the whole thing."

"He is... a wonderful operative in every way."

"And your *heir*," Mother says, and turns onto her side, setting one hand on Bruce's chest and the other high on his left thigh.

For a moment, Bruce isn't sure where to rest *his* hands, but it feels too wonderful not to rest one on her lean hip and the other on her waist.

And this sigh is as warmly pleasured as one of Tim's.

"Is he using the pearl once more?"

"No, he's meditating. Lightly, he told me. He'll be monitoring in case I step on any more of your landmines."

"I don't deserve --"


"Mother --"

"I -- apologize for being disrespectful. I've already apologized to Tim, but --well."

Bruce nods and waits --

"Bruce, I thought your father was perfectly handsome and *interestingly* old-fashioned once upon a time. No one had ever treated me with that much respect without *knowing* me, and when I sent him off to read *that* book, or listen to *that* album, or study *that* sculpture, he would scurry off dutifully and do just that. And then he'd come back -- on the schedule *I* set -- and discuss whatever it was with me with intelligence, curiosity, and grace. I was enchanted."

Bruce squeezes her hip gently --

"*Oh* -- hm. This body has very clear ideas about just what sort of things should happen after you do *that*, boychik."

Bruce stops squeezing and feels himself blush *painfully* hard -- "I'm sorry. I --"

"Shh. It's all right," she says, and pats his chest. "*Tim* certainly doesn't mind, and it *has* been that sort of night."

"I -- yes, Mother. Would you tell me --"

"I remember a day when I was twenty-two..." She sighs again. "I had just graduated from Radcliffe, and I thought I knew exactly what my life would be. I would buy my way into one of the literary journals and modernize it by main force, move into the Artist's Quarter -- I had my eye on a truly wonderful loft that got more light than *any* painter could ever need -- hold symposia night after night... well. I was going to create a *new* smart-set, young and fresh and liberal, and we'd make Gotham a place people *wanted* to visit. And? I would let Thomas join us. He dressed like his father, spoke like his great-grandfather, and wouldn't recognize a joint if one was *handed* to him --"

"You smoked *marijuana*?"

"Bruce, darling, it was the *nineteen*-fifties, not the *eighteen*-fifties. I also drank *all* sorts of alcohol, and occasionally had sex with men whose last names I wasn't at all sure about. Some of them were even *Black*."

"That's -- that's not shocking -- or. Not for that reason --"

"Truly? Has the world moved that much?" And she pulls away from him to search his eyes. "Does Lucius finally have *company* on the top of the mountain?"

"I -- some. Not enough --"

"Were there brown people at Exeter when you were bundled off there?"

"Only Harvey --"

"Your love." She hums. "Well, there has been *some* movement?"

"Yes, Mother --"

"Have any of your *partners* been -- Tim suggests the phrase 'people of color?'"

Bruce blushes. "No. Not yet. I... there are several wonderful heroes --"

"But none of them are yours, yes, I see."

"It's not -- I haven't ruled it *out* --"

"But it somehow hasn't happened, yet? Even though you've been working in *Gotham* since you were twenty-six?"

Bruce blushes harder. "The... my partners have all come to me --"


"I -- even Jason. He stole the tires off one of the Batman's cars --"

"And your heart forevermore...?"

"Yes --"



"It's only... his hair was rather *thick*, don't you think?"

"It -- lustrous and wild --"

"And his skin... he tanned rather *darkly* when you let him out in sunlight, according to Tim's memories of watching him at school."

Bruce swallows, mind filling with the memory of Jason gasping for the feel of Bruce's tongue in his navel --

Jason cursing for the ticklish sensation before shoving his hands into Bruce's hair and yanking --

Jason cursing more *fervently* as Bruce resisted the pull so he could taste the sweat from between Jason's thick and growing pectorals, and under his arms, and from his suprasternal notch --

He'd been able to feel the sun *burning* him --

The glare had been too *bright* --

("Come on come on come *on*, you'll be a fucking *lobster* --"

"Jay --"

"I wanna come *before* we have to drag you back inside!")

His care --

Mother hums and pats Bruce's chest. "Yes, I expected to lose you for that. Still, *Tim* has never been sure if you knew who Jason's biological father was."

"I... all signs pointed to it being Willis Todd --"

"But *you* weren't sure."

Bruce swallows. "I'd planned to check when we got home from Ethiopia. His mother... his biological mother was quite profoundly northern European in appearance --"

Mother pats him again. "Yes. I suppose we *could* count him as you striking a blow for vigilante multiculturalism -- I like that word, too --"

"Mother --"

"Darling, you have no *idea* what it was like to have to make an *effort* to find people of color -- yes, wonderful term -- to converse with. And then, of course, one was always viewed with at least a modicum of suspicion. If the police decided to throw their weight around at one of the jazz clubs I frequented, it would never be *me* winding up assaulted or molested or both, whereas my friends always had to worry about just that."

Bruce frowns and nods. "I've discussed such things with Lucius and others, of course, but it's never been something I could fully comprehend, as opposed to merely doing what I could to keep that sort of thing to a minimum in the circles I traveled -- and worked -- in. Was... did you take Father with you to those clubs?"

"Once. The music mystified and irritated him, he refused to have a smoke *or* a drink, and he spent an hour detailing to my friends the research he'd done into the lives of every appropriately *noble* person of color he could learn about while trying to get my friends to discuss the history of civil rights reform in America."

"I -- hm."

"Yes, I dragged him home *very* early, and spent the next several weeks apologizing for him whenever I went back to the clubs myself." She sighs and rests her head on his chest once more. "Please tell me you weren't that hopeless at that age. Lie if you must."

"I... spent very little time in America in my early twenties, Mother --"

"So you were awkward in Tibet? Thailand? Timbuktu?"

"Egregiously so, I fear."

She pats him again. "I suppose it's my own fault for letting your father talk me into sending you to all the schools *he* attended."

"The education was very --"

"Staid? Hidebound? Inclined toward ignorance of the world beyond Europe and North America?"

"... yes."

"But still you *must* defend your father. I understand that. I *truly* do. He was always kind, and respectful, and, yes, *noble*. When my father sat me down one day and informed me that he and Thomas' father had arranged our marriage... well, I laughed. I told my father that Thomas was *very* nice, and that it was impressive how early he'd gotten his medical degree, but that I had no intention of marrying *anyone* until I was at least thirty. I..." She stiffens in his arms.


"He didn't bother to try to be convincing. He pulled out a folder, and laid out very professional-looking photographs of me drinking, smoking pot, kissing men of various ages and races, kissing *women* -- which is something I only did when *paralytically* drunk, and that was perfectly obvious from the pictures. I brazened it out as best as I could. I said that I was an adult and could do what I wanted with my life. I expected him to say something about how I wouldn't be doing it with *his* money, and I even... well, I'd had a fantasy of striking out on my own. I didn't have much in the way of marketable skills, but I knew enough about fashion to work in some boutique somewhere, maybe get a *small* apartment...

"After a while, I realized he wasn't saying anything. That he was only *smiling* at me like... like he'd already won. And then he tapped his finger on the little leaflet he'd put out *with* the photographs. The one I hadn't even noticed." She laughs bitterly and stands. "Come with me?"

"Of course, Mother," Bruce says, and stands as well. When she reaches, Bruce takes her hand and squeezes gently.

She leads him to the Chess Room -- "This was the billiards room in your grandfather's time. There were even *more* gruesome trophies here than there were in the library... anyway," she says, and walks to the bar, selecting a bottle of gin. It's one of the few with no dust, as Tim enjoys the flavor from time to time. She holds it around the neck and then leads them to the master suite.


"You're going to drink with me, boychik. Words cannot express how much I used to dream of being able to do that someday."

"Oh... truly?"

"I couldn't *relax* with your father..." She shakes her head. "We're getting ahead of ourselves," she says, letting go of Bruce's hand, tugging the negligee up above her knees, and crawling onto the bed. She sits on her heels on the part of the duvet Alfred *hadn't* turned down --

And Bruce pauses just to look around, just to *feel* this room. There's a great deal of space without the armoires he keeps in *his* bedroom, but it's too dark to ever be truly airy. Even with the bedside lamps on, this is a room of shadows and *weight*. Alfred had opened the curtains, but it's late enough in the year that outside there's only darkness and naked trees reaching with twisted limbs for --

"You *really* don't want to hear this."

Bruce frowns. "I will not be a coward, Mother."

"You say things like that, and I wonder... well, you know who you sound like."


"Mm-hmm," and she pats the bed beside her. "You don't have to take anything off but your shoes, I promise."

"Yes, Mother," Bruce says, sitting down and removing them before moving further onto the bed and sitting straight with his back to the headboard. "Would you like --"

"*Oh*, yes," and she moves to... snuggle against him again. This time, she tugs until Bruce plants his feet, and then she rests her left elbow on Bruce's knee. She opens the bottle with her right hand, sets the cap down near Bruce's foot, and begins to drink. Heavily.

"Mother --"

"Tim told me *exactly* what his tolerance for this sort of thing is. And told me *why* it's that high, you madman."

"It -- any number of our enemies try to drug us in some way --"

"Mm-hmm, and so *you* decided to give a teenager the liver of a -- oh, hm. Apparently, his late mother was helpful with that sort of thing, too. All right, you're *slightly* forgiven."

"Thank you --"

"When you sound like your father, I wonder -- more than I usually do, I mean -- if I judged him too harshly. Somehow, you're not *irritating* when you're noble."

"Perhaps it's a matter of how easy it is for you to read my emotions?"

"Oh, your father was an open book to me -- once I accepted that he simply wouldn't ever show *much* passion."

"He *loved* you --"

"From the very first moment, yes. I was... oh, *vaguely* aware of that, but it certainly never seemed *serious*. He was so mild about it, so..." She sighs. "Do you know... before that day, he'd never so much as touched my *face*."

"He... wanted to treat you with respect."

"Of course," she says, and takes another swallow. "But he never let me see the desire for more than that in his eyes, either. You did that with Tim when he was younger."

"I didn't... I was grieving, and it was far, far easier to lie than it was to admit that I could love again. Additionally, I feared what would happen if -- when -- I lost my control with him."

"Which would've been inevitable if he knew you desired him?"

"If he *used* that knowledge. Mother --"

"You know it was wrong, don't you? Wrong to *lie*."

Bruce frowns, but -- "Yes, I do. Are you saying you would've loved father better had he been less respectful?"

Mother smiles, then, and it's distant and more than a little ugly.

"Please, I'd like to know."

She hums. "Well. Picture this: One twenty-four-year-old socialite with hopes and dreams both small and large. She's begun work on *some* of those dreams -- you should've *seen* the tripe the Gotham Literary Review would print before I got my hands on it -- and she's ready to do even more. She's just a bit hungover from the night before, but knows she'll only need half a joint to be ready to go *tonight*. She's planning to have a *long* talk with a gentleman who goes by 'Skeet' about Mingus and what his music will mean -- *must* mean -- to future generations, and then have an even *longer* fuck on a bed that smells like marijuana and women who wear cheaper perfume than her own. First, though, she has to get through this *ridiculous* talk with her father. It's not like he'd *really* disown her, after all, and she can make him understand, she *can*.

"However, this woman -- this *girl* -- is really throwing up a great deal of emotional filler, because she's frightened out of her mind by that leaflet. That *brochure*." She frowns again --

Shudders --

She takes a long drink from the bottle of gin and licks the edges of her teeth the way Tim does whenever he feels the burn of alcohol more strongly than he does usually. He --

Bruce wraps his arm around her waist and splays his hand, just to see --

And Mother (?) narrows her eyes the way Tim would, shows her teeth -- and rolls her head on her neck. "I'm all right, Bruce."

"Tim --"

"I... think it's a good idea for her to get this out. I mean, if she's right about your inner child basically *imprisoning* her and your father's *souls*--"

"Tim, please talk to me about *yourself*."

He laughs, quiet and low, and shifts until he can rest his head on Bruce's shoulder. "Make her eat something, please. I was too nervous about tonight to consume more than an energy bar since breakfast."

"All right, but --"

"I'm all *right*. And she isn't. At all."

"She... is weeping?"

Another laugh. "She's screaming and tearing herself apart, actually. And then she snaps back into one piece, and then she tears herself apart again -- some of my mental constructs look rather like slaughterhouses at present --"

"*What* --"

"She's been doing this all night. It seems to be a coping mechanism? I can't judge, really. I mean, I literally cut chunks out of myself in here sometimes --"

"*Tim* --"

"And *you* have a type. Hn. Anyway, the emotional self-injury is really just a visualization technique for me. Almost a meditation. It gets me to where I need to be --"

"We're going to have to discuss --"

"Talk to *me*," and it's Mother, it can only *be* Mother, because there's hardly any grace, at all, as she turns to face him on her knees, because her eyes are wide and wounded, *haunted* --

"Mother, please, if this is hurting you --"

"*Everything* hurts! Everything. Fucking. *Hurts*!"

Bruce takes a breath and pulls her close. He has to. He *has* to. He cups the back of her head and her waist, he pulls her to him and holds on, holds *firmly* --

And her scream is a quiet one.

And so is the next --

And the next --

They will not carry beyond the door, and Bruce doesn't know --

He feels as though he doesn't know *anything* -- but that's not true. He knows...

He knows it was the nineteen-fifties.

He knows she was a young woman who had not developed allies with any degree of *power*.

He knows it was the nineteen-*fifties*, and that fathers and husbands with disobedient women had...


Bruce closes his eyes. "It was... they called it a 'rest home,' didn't they. The place from the brochure."

"Nnn --" She screams again and claws at his tuxedo --

"I'm here, Mother --"

"You *are*. I didn't *want* a child! I was going -- going to --" She turns her fingernails against her own face --

"No," Bruce says, catching her hands and holding them --

She fights him immediately, twisting and snarling and screaming -- so *quietly* --

She uses *all* of Tim's strength, and there are things Tim's body understands -- yes. Freeing her right wrist to keep her from giving herself a spiral fracture leads to seven different nerve-strikes Bruce blocks as lightly as he *can* --

There are no options. There --

Bruce pins her, squeezing her wrists in one hand, kneeling on the negligee to keep her from being able to use her legs, and cupping her throat. "I'm sorry, Mother," he says, and squeezes hard --

And Tim's body goes as limp as it should --

As it *never* should --

He should never have *encouraged* this paraphilia --

But Mother is blinking rapidly and *focusing* on him now, and that --

He can't not be grateful for that --

Even when her smile turns wicked and dark. Bruce shivers. "Mother..."

She blows him a kiss *slowly*, letting her eyes grow heavy-lidded and -- even more full.

Bruce releases her throat. "I'm here."

"You're *hard*."


She laughs and sighs. "My perfect, beautiful son. Thank you *very* much for that. It really would've been bad form to damage my *host*. And that makes me sound like *precisely* as much of a parasite -- nnn -- *NNN* --"

Bruce squeezes *firmly*, holding on until the wildness leaves her eyes, until --

A tear forms --

Bruce kisses it away before he can think --

She *bucks* beneath him -- no.

No, no --

He lets go --


"I'm sorry --"

She laughs again, and there's something of a wheeze to it, harsh and quiet -- "Am I him? Her? Myself?"

Bruce nods. There is no other answer.

"Oh, darling... beautiful darling. Let me touch you."

"Mother --"

"Just your hands. Your face?"

Bruce swallows and releases her wrists --

And she curls her hands into claws slowly and deliberately. "Rarr? Tim says you like this sort of thing from time to time."


"Yes, Tim?"

"I've been teaching myself how to use a bullwhip."

"*Hnh* -- I. Hm."


And Tim had smiled into his fresh-squeezed orange juice and said not one word more for the rest of their meal.

Mother's smile is not very different from how Tim's had been in that moment. It's both knowing and accepting, both pointedly sexual and *fond* --

But it's Mother, not Tim, and he must not --

He must never --

She cups the hand he'd choked her with, strokes his fingers and palm --

She brings Bruce's hand to her mouth --

"Mother --"

She kisses his palm so *softly* --

"Mother, don't --"

"You don't beg the way he does. You... he was so *correct* even when his eyes *demanded* that I picture him on his knees..." She sighs and turns away, but doesn't move his hand away from her mouth.

He --

He touches her cheek. Just that.

She shivers and smiles, and it makes Tim look --

Bruce has never seen Tim look that young. He *strokes* her cheek, and --

It must --

It can't only be --

He moves, and lifts her into his arms once more --

"He always *asked* if he could do that. Though sometimes he gets grabby now. When we're more than just your thoughts. When we're waiting for you in the dark -- the *black*," she says, shivering and wrapping her arms around his neck. "Sometimes, now, he yanks the... the *stuff* of me out of the black before I'm even sure who I am. What I am," she says, and -- breathes, not sighs.

"Do you prefer that?"

"I'm not sure."

"Mother --"

"Truly, boychik," she says, and kneels up to nuzzle his cheek --

To kiss him --

To breathe warm against his ear --

Bruce shivers and closes his eyes. "Tell me."

"There's a comfort in not being the *only* madman in the asylum. Tim seems to think you know *that* very well, but refuses to specify."

Bruce winces and thinks -- he shakes his head. "There is much I must admit to, must *confess* to... not long before you were murdered, I began hearing... a voice."

Mother rears back and blinks at him. "Boychik...?"

"It was easy to ignore when you were alive, because I knew it came from the caves beneath the manor, and those were full of *bats*."

"Which -- yes, I do remember the terror on your face." She frowns. "Are you saying that *you* were possessed?"

Bruce smiles ruefully. "It might have simply been madness, Mother. It might simply still *be* madness, I should say --"

"Is it speaking to you *now*?"

"No --"

"What does it say?"

"It speaks of... the necessity of struggle. The inevitability of loneliness. It... it's a jealous thing, and cold, and hard, and it kept me away from my loves far more thoroughly than my own awkwardness and foolishness ever did. Assuming it hasn't all just been my own mind feeding on itself."

She glares at him.


"You haven't gotten help for this."

"I --"

"For over three *decades*?"

"Mother --"

"You have *sorcerers* who take *orders* from you!"

"Do you -- do you think I should call one of them for you?"

"Yes? Maybe? Not *yet*. And don't change the subject --"

"Mother --"

"*Bruce*. Tim is trying to convince me to *let* you change the subject, to be -- *accepting* --" She growls and glares at him more sternly. "How the hell did you convince *him* --"

"He's quite gentle, in his way --"

"He thinks he chases the -- thing. The Bat? He thinks you don't hear it when the two of you are together."

"It's true. Since we began making love, it only hounds me when he's not here."

She inhales sharply --

And narrows her eyes in a *vicious* smile. "That was *incredibly* manipulative, darling."

"I -- didn't meant it that way --"

"Hmm. Perhaps not. Still, you'll have to toss him *bodily* to get rid of him now --"

"Oh -- no -- he must only stay when he *wishes* to --"

She waves a hand. "You'll work that out for yourselves another time. I... boychik."

Bruce frowns. "Yes, Mother?"

"*Do* get your possession problem taken care of. Sooner rather than later."

"When I was a boy, the Bat would guide me in the training I needed, and prepare my mind for the many lessons I would have to learn --"

"And you've *learned* them. Well enough to teach them to all sorts of other people. Well enough to teach those other people how to then teach still *other* people -- hm. What *about* the young woman? Stephanie, is it?"

Bruce blushes --

And Mother smiles with *delight*. "So you *are* capable of getting it up for people who don't bear a strong resemblance to members of the Kane or Wayne families. Oh, darling, I was *worried*."

"There -- there's also Barbara --"

"Hmm? Oh, Tim's *sister*. Yes, well, I suppose she's lovely enough. Ah -- do the salient parts... work?"

Bruce blushes more *deeply* -- "I. I have reason. Yes. They do."

"Well. With all of these people around who *believe* in what you do, you don't truly need the Bat anymore, now do you?"

There's a feeling of *ice* in his spine -- "It -- don't --"

"What? You're afraid it will hear me and then set out to *hound* you more? Darling, you're making my arguments *for* me. If you must, fix it up with some other little boy in need of a vast, grim purpose in life."

"Mother, *no* --"

"So you *do* agree that it's a horrible thing to wish on a child?"

Bruce frowns.

Mother pats his cheek. "It's all right. Tim's coming around to my point of view, and I already know you'll do anything for *him*."

"Yes. Yes, I. He's given -- so much --"

"A hint, boychik: I'm reasonably certain he doesn't want your gratitude."

"I -- hm. I... certainly don't want his."

"Mm-hmm." And she *cups* his cheeks and leans in to -- nuzzle his nose with her own.

Bruce smiles helplessly. "You did this when I was a boy."

"Oh, yes, I did, because you were the cutest and *sweetest* and most *solemn* little boy in the *universe*, and sometimes I just had to do *everything* in my power to make you *giggle*."

"It never quite seemed... correct."

She sighs and pulls back. "Of course it didn't. And I... was telling you a story," she says, and smiles ruefully.

Bruce nods and strokes her hair. "I believe... I believe I can deduce --"

"Can you?" And her expression is avid, hopeful, *eager* --

"He... put you away for a time."

"Oh, yes."

"Because you fought?"

Her smile turns dark once more. "No, darling. Because, as he said, I agreed too *quickly*. He had to make sure I *really* understood how the world worked. *That's* when I fought -- using every *bit* of gutter language I'd picked up here and there, along with all the curses I'd learned in Yiddish and Spanish."

"He overpowered you."

"And ruin his manicure? Hardly. He pressed the little buzzer on his desk, and two burly young men -- I *still* can't look at most Scandinavians without wanting to claw their eyes out -- walked briskly in, restrained me with ease, and held me there until a weedy little man in a doctor's coat walked in holding a great big syringe. And that was all I remembered before they were fastening me into a diaper for my first bout of ECT."


She smiles ruefully. "It was only a week. It's my theory that most people only need to be made to urinate on themselves two or three times before they learn whatever lesson you wanted them to learn in the first place," she says, and raises an eyebrow.

"It's... a theory that's borne fruit. For me," Bruce says, frowning and stroking her. "I don't understand, Mother."

"How your father could agree to all of this?"

Bruce nods. "I... my memories of *your* father are telling enough."

Mother smiles slightly more broadly. "Believe me when I say I kept him away from you as much as I possibly could. As for your father... well. I didn't tell him about Serenity Hills until our wedding night. Before you ask, I'm honestly not sure why I waited. There was the fact that I was angry at him for existing, of course, and the fact that I knew he had *urged* his own father toward this in all innocence -- the innocence, of course, made it *worse*... mostly, I think, I kept it from him because I knew it would hurt him badly if I waited, and make him as sickened inside about our marriage as I was. Misery has always, always loved company."

Bruce closes his eyes for a moment --

It's so easy to *imagine* his father's face in that terrible moment -- but.

"Did he... please tell me?"

"He offered to have the marriage annulled, of course. He is... he was a good man," she says, and smiles for distant memory. "All I could think about were those big, blond orderlies -- no, that's not true. I thought about them, and about the smell of my own urine, and about white walls, and locked doors, and stern-faced nurses, and *fucking* *jell-o* --"

He holds her more tightly --

"He told me that he would protect me. He told me that he would *always* protect me, and promised that nothing like that would ever happen to me again. I thought... I decided with the surface of myself that that was the better choice, by far, and that it could all -- *would* all -- be all right. Especially since he didn't try to *touch* me. He slept on the couch for most of our honeymoon."


"He was... so gentle. But he was young enough, then, that he thought it would help if he could make me laugh. Or..." She frowns slightly. "Perhaps I mean that *I* was still young enough that I *could* laugh for his moments of... foolery. Pretending to be clumsier than he was, mocking his ignorance of the wider world by pretending to be even *more* ignorant..." She laughs and sighs. "There is a sweetness to those memories, still. To the memories of the *light* in his eyes whenever I *did* laugh. Three days before we were to fly home, I called up to cancel the tour we were due to take through the Acropolis. He asked me if I felt ill...

"I told him that I'd felt ill for the better part of a year, and that that was nothing new. And then I looked at him again, drank *in* the hurt in him until I really *did* feel ill. I apologized, he refused to allow it, I told him to stop being so *fucking* noble and burst into tears. It was the first time I'd cried since Serenity Hills, and he couldn't stop himself from holding me. I thought...

"He's huge.

"He's warm.

"He's *here*, when no one else is, and by God, he's my husband." She smiles again. "He stiffened when I kissed him, and asked if I was sure. I kissed him again and he tried to hold me away, and started to speak about *trauma* and the importance of *taking things slowly*. I laughed so hard I gave myself a *cramp*, and his eyes were so *full*. Worry, hope, confusion, love -- and hunger. Those were our first kisses -- other than the one at the altar. His mustache reminded me pleasantly of some of the other men of my acquaintance, though his was much softer. I knew that he wanted me -- I'd known for years at that point -- but that was the first time I could really see it, really *imagine* it. Did you... was there anyone like that, darling? Someone you knew wanted you but didn't let you see it?"

That -- Bruce smiles ruefully. And strokes *Tim's* cheek.

"Oh, darling, now he's *affronted*. He seems to think he was obvious."

"He showed me his respect, and his *platonic* love, and -- occasionally -- his awe. There were times when he would call out the Batman's name when he was masturbating, but who can be sure about the solidity -- the *validity* -- of someone else's momentary fantasy? I could make deductions about why he was physically aroused at various times, but I could never be certain that he wanted me -- truly wanted *me* -- with even *some* of himself. In truth, I needed just that level of reticence from him in the aftermath of Jason's murder. It was only as time passed -- and the *wound* of Jason's absence grew less terrible -- that Tim's distance and *aloof* care grew maddening."

"Did you punish him for it?"

Bruce smiles painfully. "Everything I did, everything I said... it seemed to all make sense for the Mission... I am a better man than once I was. I believe I am capable of thinking more objectively than I used to, and I *know* I am capable of asking my loved ones for advice when there is confusion. Were there... no. You had no friends. No confidants."

"I had my fellow socialites who helped me prepare for the wedding. I... well. My father didn't actually *need* to tell me that I had to stop going to the clubs, and it wasn't as if I could ask any of *them* for sympathy for my poor-little-rich-girl's plight. It was too easy to remember things like Monique's black eye in the aftermath of a raid, and the horror stories Jimmy would tell about what his life looked like before he moved north. And -- I *still* could've run away."

"You don't think he would've had you tracked down?"

She frowns, and it's Tim's expression when he is both frightened and blaming himself for the fear --


She pulls back, kneeling in a straddle of Bruce's thighs and retrieving the bottle of gin. She drinks --

And drinks --

And drinks --

"Mother, Tim needs food --"

"Just -- a little more," she says, and takes one more large swallow. She shivers then, and hands him the much-denuded bottle. "Please."

Bruce nods and drinks deeply. At approximately four measures worth he stops, and blinks away the sense of unreality, the physical reminder of how long it's been since his own last substantial meal -- and then he drinks more.

When Mother breathes deep, he caps the bottle and reaches back to set it on the bedside table, then cups her face. "It can be difficult to reach beyond one's own pain --"

"Oh, darling, did you do that? Did you hold yourself *away*?"

"Yes, Mother --"

"And when there was pain and disappointment --"

"I held myself back even more assiduously. The pain, the *reversals*... they were all proof of a larger truth about the necessity --"

"Of loneliness, boychik?"

Bruce nods, slowly enough not to lose his equilibrium.

"I thought... I thought, perhaps, you wouldn't have that part of me. That that wasn't *enough* of the real me to *be* passed on," she says, and crawls close once more.

Bruce holds her. "You felt the 'real you' was the girl you were before that day in your father's... study?"

"Office. And yes. Bright and merry and *optimistic*."

"You ignored all signs of the darkness within you."

"Glossed them over, truly. Ignored them, drank past them, excused them... it got to be too much to watch your father *hurt* for me."

"But you feared his stopping."

She laughs --

Sobs --

"Of course."

Bruce nods and begins to rock her.

"Bruce --"

"It was your decision to make a child."

"He was getting frustrated with me more often. Not even saints can accept being helpless *all* the time."

Bruce closes his eyes and thinks about himself, about his needs, about -- "You were systematic about it."

"Of course," she says, and her voice is Tim's at his most cynical, his most *deeply* self-loathing. "No matter what, there were three days every month when I *demanded* that he make love to me. Even if I was inches away from vomiting so hard I burst blood vessels in my eyes and cheeks."

Bruce kisses her temple. "You knew how to reach past his... reserve."

"It only ever took letting him see the need in my eyes."

"You gave him someone to save."

"With his *cock*, yes. He was *enough* of a human male for that to work."

"He was the only person you were ever honest with on a day-to-day basis."

Mother swallows audibly -- "Yes," she says, and her voice is small --

"You were never entirely honest with him."


Bruce cups the back of her neck and squeezes. "You were entirely honest with me."

"From... from the moment the test came back positive. I told you everything. *Everything*."

Yes. It would've been necessary. It -- it must have felt like an imperative. The way -- "There was nothing I hid from Jason, Mother. There was... even when I could see him shrinking back from the knowledge I was giving him. From the *responsibility* of it. He was never too young for me."

She shivers and clings --

And Bruce nods. "I'm going to make myself remember now, Mother."

"Oh -- Bruce --"

"There are certain techniques... well. Please stay quiet for a time."

Another shiver -- "Yes, Bruce."

Bruce takes a deep breath and ignores the rising inebriation -- no. He closes his eyes and lets his mind fill with color, confusion --

The scent of Chanel no. 22 --

The feel --

There are no soft breasts here, but there is no difficulty in remembering such things. A part of his mind is taking a thirty-six-year-old Mother's measurements --

Comparing them to when she was thirty-four --

Thirty-one --

Thirty, and there is a wall of cloud beyond this --

No, clouds are neither warm nor this softly implacable. The wall is, perhaps, what Bruce's inner self knows of the line between sentience and non-sentience. He wouldn't have expected it to be so gentle. There is a urge to examine it more closely --

But that isn't what he's here for.

He pauses to look outside himself --

Mother is clinging to him still. There is no sign of Tim, but Bruce knows that he is monitoring from within. It's enough, for now.

He concentrates on the word, shape, and *concept* of 'Mother,' but nothing happens.

He is in darkness save for the pale and shifting wall. That -- ah.

He concentrates on 'Mama,' instead, and the darkness fills with windows full of light. A beginning.

He removes the conception of 'Papa,' and there are far fewer windows, but still too many for his needs.

He removes the conception of 'understanding,' considers, and then removes the conceptions of 'warmth,' 'happiness,' and 'security.'

And then he begins to search.

Here is Mother with her hair hanging loose -- though no looser than her features. She is obviously drunk, and dancing to jazz Bruce can't recognize. The window is situated --

Yes, he's in the nursery. She had brought in the record player from her bedroom, and, now that he's thinking about it, he realizes that he has any number of memories of her doing just that.

Here, today, he is trying to dance with her. The steps aren't especially complicated, but his coordination isn't the best.

Neither is hers.

The first time she falls, he laughs, and she does, as well.

The second time she falls, he laughs again, but she shouts as if she's pained --

And then she shouts again --

And again --

He moves toward her, wobbling -- toddling --

She gathers him into her arms and kisses the top of his head over and over, and she's saying something, but he's frightened, he's worried --

Bruce forms himself more fully within his memory and focuses --

"-- to *fight*, Bruce! You can't let them *get* you!"

"*Who*, mama?"

She laughs and begins to weep.

The window darkens, and Bruce moves on.

Here, now, they're in the library, in one of the window seats. She's combing her fingers through his hair, and he can smell Chanel no. 22... and gin. Rain sheets down the window, and he isn't warm enough.

He presses closer to her, and she makes a soft sound.


"Shh, shh, shh."

"Es, Mama."

And... it sounds like a song, at first, or a nonsense poem. The syllables don't *go* together, not truly -- no.

Bruce *focuses* --

"-- fuck, fuck, fuckity fuckity fuck. That's what you *do* when you're a grown-up, boychik. That's what you do and when you do it you screeeam. And it's all right, because you're supposed to. No one cares. No one *stops* it. No one ever -- ever..."

"Mama --"

"*Hush*. There's nothing wrong with fucking, boychik. Not if you're doing it right, and part of that is making sure you're fucking the right *person*," and this time she makes a sound like she's *straining* --

But Bruce doesn't say a word. He *waits* --

"Love isn't enough, boychik. Love is never -- there has to be more than that. There has to be *security*. And *justification*. And -- and -- oh, I *need* you!"

"Here, Mama!"

"Shh. I'll tell you a story, all right?"

"Es --"

"Once upon -- once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess who was very smart, and bold, and modern, and brave. And then the king got sick of her being those things and sent her far, far away. And when she came back? She was a *wife*. Now go to sleep."

Darkness comes. Bruce moves on.

The nursery again, and Mother is blinking owlishly at him. Bruce is on his back in his narrow child's bed, and Mother is sitting beside him with one hand -- it seemed so *large* then -- on his chest.

Bruce is tired -- *close* to sleep -- but there is something *under* the owlishness. There -- yes.

With distance and time, the inebriation is obvious -- but so is the terror.

The boy he was covers Mother's hand with both of his own and presses, attempts to give *comfort* --

"He's coming, boychik. Your grandfather. The *king*."

The boy thinks of his father's father -- the only grandfather he knew at the time -- and... yes, here is the confusion that hazed over the whole of this memory.

Bruce focuses --

"I can't hide you. I can't protect you. I can't hide *me* and I just -- I just -- he's holding up the paperwork that will put the business fully in your father's hands and there are so many people *suffering*, so many --" She sobs and puts her face in her hands --

The boy sits up and hugs her as tightly as he can --

"Your father *asked* me for this and he never asks for *anything*, boychik! I have to -- I have to keep control -- " She snarls and *yanks* the boy onto her lap -- "He was supposed to be *dead* by now!"

Bruce blinks in the distance of time, backing away enough that he can't hear her, can't -- no.

He must. He must. He pushes forward once more, and the sobs have turned to dark, painful laughter --

"Once upon a time, very, *very* stupid people decided to sell radium as a *health* tonic, and even stupider people *bought* it and *used* it." Another laugh. "I found it in my grandmother's things while I was looking for the 'something old' for the *wedding*. And then I dumped the whole tin of it into his scotch. And I waited. And I wanted. And I'm still *fucking* waiting -- oh, are you petting me, darling? Beautiful darling? I love you so much!"

She kisses the boy he was and lays him down, and kisses him more, and tucks him in. "Maybe mama will push him down the stairs, hmm? Would you like that? Oh, no, don't cry! Don't ever, ever cry! I can't take it!"

And the boy begins the process of relaxing himself, of pushing away the fear, the confusion --

"Shh, it's okay, it's all right, Mama's just playing, just -- playing a game."

"A game, Mama?"

"Oh, yes. Sometimes mamas *have* to play games, boychik. If they don't, they'll go a little *crazy*. And we can't have that."

To the boy, Mother's smile is simply incorrect.

To the man he is now... it is simply itself.

Bruce pulls back and examines memories at random, finding himself again and again in the position of her confidant as she waxes to something as volatile as any primitive explosive and wanes to something small and *broken* inside -- and then pulls herself into someone merely genteelly inebriated whenever some third party could witness it.

It hurts to think of his father as a 'third party,' but there is no way around it. In these memories -- and there are many -- it becomes hideously clear that he was his mother's only true friend. As such, it's immensely difficult not to berate himself for not *supporting* her, not --

But it is her voice he hears chiding him for that. She isn't --

She was never unaware of the effect she was having on him. Even at her wildest --

No. There were times when she *was* unaware, when the gin had taken enough of her faculties that she was a creature made entirely of fear, rage, and the *twisted* love --

He can't not *see* it, anymore, and there is a rage for that within him, a need to lash out, to *punish* --

He was *happy* as a boy --

He thought --

He'd thought he was happy.

Bruce closes his eyes and steps back into the present, into *himself*. Mother has moved to sit sideways on his lap, and she has her head against his shoulder. She is -- not dozing. Not truly. "Mother."

She sighs, and a tear rolls down Tim's cheek.

Bruce brushes it away, and brings his fingers to his mouth. Just -- the salt of it --



He will not -- distract himself.

"Mother... did Father know what you had done to your father?"


Bruce doesn't allow himself to stiffen. "He -- forgave you."

"We never discussed the matter. I... you know he couldn't ever forgive something like that, boychik," she says, and when she looks up, Tim's eyes are faintly exhausted, his expression tugged into something wry and dark. "It ate him up inside, though. I know that."

Bruce nods. "And... your father's death."

"You were five. It had to be a closed casket, really. In the end, the various cancers had turned his skin *dark*, his teeth and fingernails had fallen out, his cheekbone had rotted enough to make him look as though someone had been at him with a *hammer*..." She sighs again. "I opened the casket after I sent everyone away. The morticians did their best, but I could see every mark I'd left on him."

"Were you happy?"

"For a little while. And for a little while every time I thought about how much pain and fear he must have suffered for the last few years of his life. But, of course, he'd won anyway. I was a respectable society matron, his power and fortune would pass into the hands of an acceptable heir, and, right to the end, he could send me back to Serenity Hills simply by smiling in just the right way. Still -- your father and I kept his influence from *you*, and I think that puts the balance sheet on my side," she says, and smiles at him ruefully.

"There is no victory in murder, Mother."

"Perhaps not. But -- murder is an excellent way to remove a source of pain."

Bruce raises an eyebrow.

She laughs. "Oh, boychik. You'd honestly have me *arrested* for this, wouldn't you?"

"I." Bruce frowns and looks within himself again, but he knows what he will find. There's so much --

So many of the people he most admires in the world, most *loves*, have been driven to do such terrible *things*, and, while he is not *sure* that he would've murdered the Joker without Clark's intervention...

Bruce shakes his head. "A great deal of time has passed since I was that... secure in my morality."

She stiffens -- no, that's Tim. He can tell by the narrowed eyes, the obviously *rapid* thought --

Bruce cups Tim's chin and tilts his head up for a soft kiss --

"Oh -- Bruce."

"A moment's need. I promise to discuss this matter with you as soon as you wish to do so."

"I..." Tim shakes his head, bob swinging as the frown line on his forehead deepens. "She's pulling herself apart again."

Bruce nods. "I... am less than surprised. Is there --"

"I -- it's milder than it was before. It's more of a primitive dissection than anything which calls Dionysian rites to mind. Ah... if that helps."

"It does. Thank you."

"You're welcome. Am I allowed to apologize for precipitating this?" 

Bruce laughs and strokes Tim's cheek with the backs of his fingers. "No, my love. You are, however, allowed to apologize for ever making me think that you needed *my* help in order to do a thorough psychological profile on any given target."

Tim's expression turns sour. "I've known you for *years*. I *lived* with you for the better *part* of a year."

"Yes. And you paid very, very close attention to many of the things I could never bring myself to touch, despite spending my life on a mission to tear *away* darkness and fog such as that."

Tim licks his teeth. "There's something to be said for the comfort which can be found in turning one's focus on others rather than on oneself."

"And that, of course, is why you knew perfectly well that this game would arouse *you*."

"I... well." Tim laughs softly. "There are, I'm discovering, a vanishingly small number of kinks which come to mind that I wouldn't at least like to try with you. Daddy."

Bruce takes a deep breath. "Son. Is that truly what you wish to call me?"

Tim's expression is deep, full, *wounded* --

Bruce wants to *demur* --

"I can't -- I can't call you 'Dad' --"

"It's all right --"

"Not. In these clothes."


"So -- I mean --"


"God, I. I'm *grateful* to her, because I had no idea how to *say* this to you --"

"Anything, you can tell me --"

"And I *knew* that, Bruce. I knew --" Tim laughs and shakes his head. "You're in *love* with me, and when I can focus on that with anything resembling the whole of my conscious mind, I understand that that comes with any number of -- perquisites."

"I will give you --"

"Anything in your power to give, yes, I *know*," and Tim glares at him.


"I -- I don't think I can tell you how to fix this, Bruce. But I would very much like to, and not only for the sake of getting my body back and removing this gaff, which I *truly* didn't mean to leave on this long."

"It's... less comfortable?"

"It *isn't* one of the ones you made for me. I couldn't risk your guessing the surprise. Bruce... do you know what I'm saying?"

"I must free her. Both of them. And... he'll follow, wherever she goes."

Tim nods, a troubled smile on his face. "It's... there are no options, Bruce. I'm sorry --"

Bruce presses two fingers to Tim's mouth. "I understand. Please trust me."

For a moment, the trouble remains in his eyes -- but then he nods, and sinks back within himself.

Tim's body is still in his arms, his beauty almost *neutral*. With neither Tim nor Mother animating Tim's features, he could be holding either of them -- or someone else entirely.

There were times early in Tim's training when, after time near the Case, Tim would almost seem to... change.

There would be a different, brighter passion in his eyes, a darker anger...

There would be times when everything about the way Tim *carried* himself seemed to change to suit someone larger, heavier, and achingly *familiar* --

And Bruce had never questioned, never reached, never *tried*. He'd buried himself in being grateful beyond the telling of it that Tim had never sought *him* out at those times, as opposed to occasionally sharing a *large* space with him before one or both of them left to blindly and *needily* advance the cause of justice.

And he remembers, helplessly, the Addis Ababa Chilton. They'd taken the penthouse suite for the sake of appearances, but also because Jason had wanted the widest possible views of the city, wanted to *know* the place Sheila Haywood had made home. They weren't sure, at that point, that Haywood was Jason's biological mother, but Jason's hope had been infectious as *well* as worrying. He --

("My love. Does this... will you..."


Bruce had moved close, joining Jason in the spreading pool of sunlight near the master bedroom's windows. He'd cupped Jason's shoulders and squeezed, knowing the force to be both too hard for his tastes and hard *enough* to make Jason pay attention to him with everything within him. And Bruce remembers feeling manipulative about it, remembers wondering if it would make Jason turn away from him again --

The previous months had hurt so much; their reconciliation had seemed so *fragile* --

("I'm listening, B. Whatever it is."


And Jason had turned to face him, looked up -- not so far, anymore -- into Bruce's eyes with gentle curiosity and warmth --

And Bruce remembers realizing that he *had* proved himself to Jason with his promises and pleas, that, somehow, all was *well* --

("Heh. That smile always makes me think you expect me to start shitting roses, B.")

Bruce had *coughed* --

And Jason had punched his side with casual, easy strength. ("C'mon, let's check this woman out, hunh? Gotham's gotta be getting crazy without us.")

The question he'd wanted to ask, feared to ask, disbelieved in his *right* to ask --

And his throat had been too tight to allow him to answer with more than a nod, but in that moment it had been just as it was in the beginning, and for the first two years:

He had known, with all of himself, that *Jason* had known everything in his heart, and understood. He had known that all *was* well, and would *be* well, and not even all of his memories of the Bat's voice of stone and dust were enough to take away the *warmth* of the moment.

For a time, he'd thought nothing ever would.

He blinks and breathes, and lays Tim's body out on the bed. Alfred had already placed a pillow of Tim's favored thickness on this side of the bed. The part of him which wonders how Mother feels about it --

He shakes his head and massages Tim's shoulders -- tense even in this state -- and strokes his body looking for other points of discomfort. There, a strain in his left triceps.

There, the old back injury Tim most resents -- he had gained it by trying to do more acrobatically than his body was ready for. The fact that both Dick and Jay had injured themselves by trying to push themselves too fast, as well, had not been enough to ease Tim's angry chagrin.

Bruce knows it lasts to this day.

His legs are loose and ready -- ah, a bruise high on his right quadriceps. It looks like the tip of a boot, and the blood has pooled dramatically already. Rubbing at it now will thus not help very much, at all, but there is an emotional component to be --

"I don't suppose you could get me out of whatever the hell Tim put on instead of reasonable underwear...? I'm afraid the thing will *bite* me if I try."

-- considered. "Mother, are you well?"

She sits up on her elbows, lifting her legs to help Bruce tug the negligee back down and smiling wryly. "What do you think, boychik?"

"I think I don't trust myself with this body should it become any more nude than it already is."

Mother snorts. "*Very* fair," she says, and shakes out her hair. "Would you have liked me in a hairstyle like this one?"

"It always seemed correct to see you hair up, Mother. Knowing, now, what sorts of things kept you from *putting* it up..."

"Mm, yes. You were brilliant as a toddler, too. A part of you knew that a Mama with her hair hanging down, down, down was a Mama who could do nothing but frighten you."

"I loved you just the same."

She reaches up and touches Bruce's cheek with her fingertips. "Beautiful boy. I don't know if I want to take your morality or not."

"I'd appreciate it if you didn't."

A laugh --"I love your sense of humor."

"It has much to do with both yours and Father's --"

"I know, I know. But it works for you. It's *charming*, and speaks of your intellect, your self-awareness --"

"I am often very dim to myself, Mother."

"But *not* always," she says, and crosses her legs at the ankle.

Bruce cups them helplessly --

"Yes, there's nothing wrong with *those*, at least --"


"Wrong in terms of *femininity* and the lack *thereof*, boychik."

"Mother, I've learned that the definition of femininity can be quite broad and welcoming."

"I suppose you'll give me a grandchild with some hulking *she-beast* somewhere --"


"With hair on her knuckles and a five o' clock shadow --"


"At *three* in the afternoon, of course --"

"How jealous were you of the more powerfully-built women?"

Mother's smile is bright and viciously proud. "*My* son."

"As you say."

"I spent a *fair* amount of time wondering what it would've been like to have Monique's biceps and knowledge of how to *use* them in Serenity Hills. The resulting resentment was itself," Mother says, and waves a hand. "Still, you *won't* be able to keep disguising Tim forever."

"I am aware of that, Mother --"

"And there'll be another Robin. Someone young and fresh, hopeful, unspoiled," and she frowns distantly.

"I am... rather less enamored with innocence than once I was."

She looks at him rather loudly.

"Hmm. Perhaps I should say that I'm *differently* enamored with innocence. I intend to do what I can to avoid destroying another child's faith in humanity -- and otherwise."

This time, her frown is thoughtful. "All right. Tim certainly didn't have very much of that sort of thing..." She nods, and turns to smile at him ruefully. "I want you to be safe. I want you to keep your *family* safe. I want you to be happy, and secure, and -- and nothing like me."

Bruce cups her face and strokes her chin with his thumb. "Some of that wasn't true."

"Yes, well. I was *never* built to be a mother."

"I love you."

"Free me."

"Father --"

"Will follow me wherever I go. I think... I think we won't be alone anymore, though. That might be enough --"

"Mother --"

"It *will* be enough, boychik, because he helped make you, and I'll remember that, remember *you* -- *oh* --"

It's too much not to pull her into his arms again, not to kiss her forehead, and her cheeks, and her chin, and her mouth, so soft and perfectly painted, so open and willing for him, always for him, always *his* --

And he can cup her face with one hand, hold her in the *right* position as he lifts her with his other arm around her waist.

Her hands on his shoulders are strong and scrabbling, her moans are high and -- not shocked.

Not that.

Tim sounded more surprised the first time they kissed.

*Jason* sounded more surprised, and he had done all the work of seduction --

This --

This moment is for them, for the boy Mother raised him to be, for the man he can't help but -- no, not that. He has a choice. He *had* a choice, and he'd used it for this, to open Mother's mouth with his own, to push deep with his tongue and seek something other than the taste of gin and the lover he *knows*, the lover who --

Who must not be asked to accept this. Not --

Bruce groans and shudders --

Pulls back --

"Oh -- darling," and Mother laughs, breathless and more than a little shocked *now*. That --

"Why -- what surprised you?"

"You *stopped*."

"I -- had to," Bruce says, frowning and wiping smeared lipstick from beneath her lower lip with his thumb.

She's staring at him, panting through parted lips --


"Boychik... either free me, or free me from these medieval *torture* panties!"

"I --"

"*Do* it!"

Bruce groans and --

This kiss, *this* one, because it's the way he would've kissed Jason goodbye if there had ever been a chance. It's brutal and demanding --

It's soft and *needy* --

It's sweet, so *sweet*, because now he knows what makes Mother shake, now he knows how it sounds when she needs him, when she *loves* him --

It's beautiful --

It's his --

It makes her cry out into his mouth, arch toward him, scratch and claw at his hands -- but when she has a grip on them, she only squeezes for a moment before letting go --

And pushing at his chest.

Pushing, *not* stroking --

*Pushing* --

"*Mother* --"

"*Free* me! And I -- oh, boychik, please, please let me do one good thing, help me do one good *thing*!"

And the sound he makes is desperate --

But no more desperate than the look in her eyes. He --

("It's just that you need me, B. It's just -- I can't not know it. I can't not *feel* it."

"You mustn't let me *drive* you --"

"Oh, sure, I'll get back to you when I have a *choice* --"

"*No* --"

"Fuck, *touch* me! Touch me, bite me, *kiss* --")

And there had been a moment when it was in his power to ignore that demand. That *plea*. There had been a moment when he could've stopped and asked, demanded a conversation, *learned* the parts of Jason which only felt helpless to him as opposed to *using* them --

There is *this*moment, because Mother's hands are shaking on his chest --

Because Tim is waiting deep within --

Because Barbara is waiting to trust him --

Because Clark is waiting to be called --

Because Cassandra was waiting for his happiness --

Because Stephanie was waiting for him to have the power to look at her and see *only* her --

Because Dick --

He has to *ask* Tim about Dick --

Bruce shudders and hears himself sob --

"Oh, Bruce... I'll do anything --"

"I don't want you here."

She gasps --

"I don't *need* you here, Mother."

She searches him with terror and hope *mingled* in her eyes --

"I." Bruce swallows and feels something tear within him, something -- "I. I do not choose this. I will *never* choose this --"

Her hands spasm on his chest --

He pushes them away from himself and stands, backing away --

But there's something else, isn't there? Something --

Something to make it *real*, make it *forever* --

And he can see it in *Tim's* eyes.

"Mother. I would not choose your life over my own. I would not choose your companionship over that which I've made for myself. I would not -- I am not yours, and I never will be," he says, and feels liquid inside, torn, wounded, *raw* --

There should be *blood* --

But he holds himself still when she slumps --

And he swallows back the pleas that *crowd* the back of his throat --

And he ignores the tears that form when Tim sits up and stretches, slipping off the negligee with something like the bastard child of superstition and *distaste*.

The gaff is satin the color of *old* cream, and, while not as cheaply made as it could be, Bruce can see everywhere it was designed for a body other than Tim's.

Bruce moves close and tears it off with one brisk *jerk* --

"Oh -- Bruce --"

"I can't -- I can't." Tim had shaved away his abdominal hair and enough of the hair at his pubis to leave a neat triangle. He -- "I *can't*."

Tim shivers. "No one should have to. Come here."

"Tim --"

"Come *here* --"

"I'm so -- I couldn't -- I'm sorry I couldn't --"

"It's all *right*. Now come *here*," Tim says, pulling him closer -- "Wait, no." He takes Bruce's hand and yanks him bodily out of the master suite and into the hall. He pauses by the door to Bruce's bedroom, but sets his mouth in a hard line and walks them on until they reach Tim's bedroom, which Alfred has kept just as he left it when he moved out a year and a half ago.

Once inside, Tim begins working Bruce out of the tuxedo with care and speed at once. When Bruce tries to help, he only fumbles and shakes --

He stops trying to help.

Eventually, he's nude, and Tim brings him to the bed, throwing back the covers and pushing him on, pressing close and covering them --

"I'm not --" Cold. Except that he's shivering.

*Shuddering* --

He hears himself make a sound and turns in Tim's arms, buries his face against Tim's long, pale throat --

Marked throat --

He can't bring himself to kiss Tim there. Not --

Not right now.

Is this thirty-seven? Have they made it into the forties? What should he *count*? He needs Tim's input for that, but he's incapable of asking at this moment, incapable --

He presses closer --

And with time, he becomes aware of Tim whispering warm words, soothing words of promise and pride and *possession*. He is stroking Bruce's hair and the back of his neck --

He is gripping Bruce's biceps --

He is here, and close, and he will remain. He will --

"You're *mine*, Bruce, and you -- you *will* remember that. I won't let you go. I won't let you *fall* --"


*Tim* shivers. "I'm here, Bruce. Tell me -- please tell me."

Bruce closes his eyes and kisses -- Tim's shoulder, not his throat. "My. My love..."

"Yours," Tim says, calm and matter-of-fact.

Bruce sighs and ignores several more tears -- no.

He licks them away from where they've fallen on Tim's skin until he can breathe, think -- no, not that. He's not even *close* to that. But he can touch, and stroke.

He can kiss, and bite.

He can learn *Tim's* body again, learn his cries and sighs and growls as he gives himself once more --

As he *offers* -- no -- "Is it what you *want*?"

Tim pants and stares up into Bruce's eyes. For a moment, his expression is only incredulous -- but then it turns gentle, soft --

"You -- I ask too *much* --"

"I'm yours."

"*Please*, Tim --"

"Fine: I'm yours, and I've needed you to make me come for *hours*."

An egregiously stupid part of him wants only to berate Tim for keeping them *from* this, but Bruce knows --

Bruce can't *not* know that that is simply his mind's first attempt to put this night into a familiar context, a soothing and *simple* --

"There is no *simplicity*, Tim!"

"There never was. Dad."

Bruce blows out a breath and --

And --

He lifts Tim into his arms and carries them to Tim's bathroom --

"*Bruce* --"

"Not that. Not that name. Not right *now*," Bruce says, sitting Tim on the side of the bathtub and turning on the water.

"Ah. I was hoping --"

"I need your scent. Your body. Your *face*."

"Bruce --"

"No. Remake me. Rebuild me. *Please*."

Tim sucks in a sharp breath and nods. "Dad. Wash me clean."

Bruce groans and feels himself twitch with need --

Mother, did he twitch for you?

What did you do?

What did you *say*?

But there's no one to hear that, and no one to answer but his own imagination, and he is wise enough to feel gratitude for that as he retrieves the cold cream and soft makeup removal pads from the hidden compartment in Tim's cabinet.

When he turns back, Tim is testing the water with his toe and nodding in approval. He looks to *him* -- "Put me in?"

Bruce nods and sets the pads and cream down so that he can do just that. Already, the bathroom is filling with steam -- Tim has always preferred his water very, very hot -- and Bruce can feel something loosen within him as he breathes it in.

He can feel himself *eased*.

He pours in Alfred's blend of soothing bath salts and swirls them around so that they dissolve faster.

He opens the cabinet with all of the bath oils he's crafted for Tim --

But Tim is silent. He --

"My choice, son?"

Tim closes his eyes and smiles, letting himself lean against the back of the tub and stretching just so -- "Unless I'm your daughter tonight."

Bruce frowns.

"Whatever you need, Dad. *Anything* you need."

"I need. Please."

Tim opens his eyes and studies him -- sees him. He nods. "The musk."

His *older* daughter, then. Not innocent, not inclined toward being tickled or teased in *those* ways, but still young. Still -- his. Bruce pours the oil in, then pours some into his hands and massages it directly into Tim's chest as Tim looks at him with a warm and open smile. She -- "Lovely girl."

"Yours, Dad," she says, and Mother's voice was never this *sweet*, never this *deep* --

Bruce kisses her and strokes his oily hand beneath the surface of the water, strokes down and down until he can grip her penis and squeeze.

She parts her lips against his own --

She smiles -- "I missed you."

"I miss you even when you're near," Bruce says, and wonders if that's too honest, too *manipulative* --

She laughs and kicks out -- and turns off the water with her toes.

"Beautiful --"

"How do you miss me, Bruce? When I close my eyes?"


"When I turn my head?"


"When you make me lose myself and scream?"


"Oh, Dad.... I take you with me every time."

Bruce grunts and his hands shake -- not yet. Not yet. He lets go of Tim's penis and retrieves the cold cream, instead --

"You can't hear that right now?"

"I..." Bruce shakes his head and does his best to warm the cream between his fingers.

"It's all right. Can you tell me more about what you *do* need?"

"You. Always --" Bruce shakes his head again and rubs the cream in gently and thoroughly. He then wipes his hands on a towel and pushes Tim deeper into the water until just his head and neck are above it.

Tim hums and accepts this treatment *readily* --

"I'm sorry."

"You have nothing to apologize for, Dad."

"I -- beg to differ."

"I don't especially like to think about what would happen if I ever came face to face with Janet Drake again."

Bruce blinks. "Your mother --"

"Janet. Drake," Tim says, clipped and solid at once.

Bruce swallows and strokes Tim's smooth-shaven thigh -- hm. "Did you wax?"

"Oh, yes. I didn't want you to catch Alfred stropping my razors."

"You... did this at --"

"In my parents' house, yes."

Bruce closes his eyes --

*Counts* -- no.

"You need not reject everything at once, my love."

"I know, and I'm not. Or rather, I haven't. Having your mother in my head... well, she was understandably curious about me and my relationship with you."

"She... rifled through your memories."

"And a goodly portion of that which makes me myself. There are things I can't not know about myself and my needs now... well. I *did* always expect tonight to be educational. Clean the polish off my toenails?"

"Yes," Bruce says, standing to receive the polish remover and then sitting on the side of the tub to do it. For disguise-work, Tim can never wear open-toed shoes. The years in tabi have left her toes rather obvious in terms of the work, but she'd needed the greater degree of flexibility and control then.

Now Robin's boots are as stiff and well-armored as the rest of her uniform --

He is being studied.

Bruce doesn't look away from Tim's feet, but he can manage a smile. "Please, give me your voice."

"And everything it wants to express...?"

"I want all of you, my love."

"I -- spoke to Dick last night."

"He suggested that he would move mountains to make that happen if he could."

"Hnn. Well. All he really had to do was *lightly* gas my parents --"

"Is it. When you call them that..."

"Filler. Placeholder. Respect... for Dana Winters-Drake."

Bruce takes a breath and continues working on Tim's toes. "Understood. Thank you."

"You're welcome. Dick is... he's convinced that I can't lose you."

"You can't."

"He's... he said that when you make love to someone, they live in you for the rest of their lives. And beyond."

"Making love doesn't always need to happen first for... the other," Bruce says, standing and acquiring O-tips for the close work before sitting down once more. He doesn't let himself think of Exeter.

Tim hums and chooses the unscented glycerin soap to clean herself with. It will not interfere with the musk. "Would you say it acts as a guarantee?"

"I'm not sure. I only know that I have never fallen out of love with... anyone."

Tim curls her toes -- relaxes them. "Love isn't enough to keep you, Dad. Not always."

"I once had the ability -- the fortitude -- to chase people away from myself," Bruce says, and moves to her other foot.

"You don't anymore?"

"I thought of trying last night. I... I never even made it to the contemplation of what it would feel like to know I wouldn't have your touch."

She catches her breath --

She curls her toes once more --


"My love, I've needed you much. I need you now. I will need you tomorrow --"

"And tomorrow and tomorrow?"

"Yes," Bruce says, and cleans the polish away.

"And when you need Dick more than you need me?"

Bruce tightens his grip on her ankle. He.

Tim sighs. "That is, actually, deeply reassuring. As is the fact that Dick was rather insistent about the beauty, joy, and utility of threesomes."


"Hnn. In terms of removing jealousy."

Bruce hums. "When Jason looked at Kal with wonder and *pleasured* fear..."

"You were still jealous?"

"Even though I believed Jason when he said -- multiple times -- that he wanted no part of a *relationship* with Kal *or* Clark."

*Tim* hums -- "And if I make love with Dick?"

"He... he hasn't hurt you the way I have."

"No, he hasn't," Tim says, and rests her clean foot against Bruce's shoulder. "He's also not my father."

"I am. I am a boy inside. Greedy. Desperate. Hungry. Needy --"


Bruce squeezes her ankle again and works faster.

"I love you, Dad."

"Tim --"

"I love it when you're needy. I love it when you... mm. Lose your control. I love it when --"


Tim growls softly and sits up to reach for the pads --

"No -- please."

She raises her eyebrow -- and nods. "Faster, then. I'll be repainting my toenails soon, anyway."

"As you say," Bruce says, and begins to scrub more than he wipes, working quickly until there's no immediately visible polish.

She slips her legs back into the water and Bruce folds down the padded headrest. He'd removed the padding the thing had come with and added his own to better size it for Tim's head and neck. Right now, it's perfect enough that Tim sighs as she relaxes into it, and Bruce can wipe the makeup free at his --

Not leisure. Not that.

Tim wants to be clean --

Tim wants to be clean for *him* --

And Bruce can't keep himself from using his peripheral vision to examine Tim's penis, and the *degree* of physical arousal --

He's working more quickly. He --

Tim is resting her arms on the sides of the tub --

Arching her chest forward *slightly* --

Bruce growls *while* wiping away the last of the cream and makeup, leans in --

"One moment," she says, and wipes herself down with a facecloth before tossing it aside, pushing the headrest back up, and -- tilting her head up slightly. She --


"I know what you need."

"*Yes* --"

"You know what *I* need."

Bruce winces for the pleasure, the *rising* heat --

And for a moment as he cups Tim's throat, Mother is under him, *fighting* under him --

But it's Tim who moans softly for light pressure --

Tim who urges *harder* pressure with the way she arches, parts her lips, spreads her legs as wide as she can within the tub --

Necessary to squeeze, to reach into the warm and faintly oily water to cup, to squeeze, to tease and stroke --

"Ohn -- *nnk* --"

Was that going to be Daddy? Father? Dad?

The need to know is, at present, *less* powerful than the need to continue touching --

But that won't last --

But it's better to act as though it will, to stroke slowly, *meditatively* --

("Mm. You know how to make a girl feel *thoroughly* molested.")

At the time, Bruce's hands had spasmed without his permission, and Tim had had to move quickly to keep Bruce from letting *go*. Now...

Now, the memory urges him on, gives him something like *leave* to choke Tim in pulses as he rubs the head of her penis, as he presses and *urges* the release of more pre-ejaculate --

"*Hnh* -- I --"


Release --

"*Dad* --"

Blush --

"Oh, *Dad* -- "



Squeeze and *grip*, and her eyes are heavy-lidded --

Her body *hitches* with breaths she can't take --

And she goes limp everywhere save her twitching penis. Bruce can't help panting for that, breathing through his mouth --

Could that even be called breathing?

She is so *beautiful*, and he needs her, *wants* her --

Release --

"*Yes*!" And she gasps -- "Oh, please, *please* --"

Squeeze again, and now he must stroke in earnest, now he must *take* --

Take what she *gives* --

Release --


"Every. Your every *word* --"


"You make me -- you *make* me!" And he knows it sounds like an accusation --

"*Yes* --"

*Squeeze* --

He knows the parts of him which only wish to curl up small and *young* are crumbling for this --

But he also knows what the parts of him which speak with *Kal's* voice have to say to that: There is always room for more.

There is always *time* for more --

(<<You have a need, my companion. I *will* fill it.>>)

This --

He is being made, but he is not being *broken*.

He is being shaped, but he is not being *carved*.

He --

*Release* and Tim is shaking, moaning loudly and constantly. She has lost her admirable and frightening focus, and, as always, there is both thrill and *fear* for that. He lifts her into a kiss --

She moans through it even as she tries to give it back, to taste and tease --

She *groans* and scratches at his shoulders, grips and thrusts into his fist --

He takes her mouth roughly, shows her everything of himself, every -- passion --

A part of him only wants to ask Mother if it's right, if it's *enough* --

But Tim is here to shake for him and nod, clutch, *buck* --

So *beautiful* --

He pulls back to kiss her throat, lick and tease --

"Dad -- please, *Dad* -- *hnh* --"

She prefers the bite, just as Jason always had --

("Oh, *yeah*, B, *yeah* --")

And --

("I *knew* you had it in you --")

And --

("Don't you fucking *stop*!")

Never, never never --

And it's a promise he can keep, keep as long as his loves *stay* with him, never leave, never turn *away* --

She cries out --

The bite is too hard, now, but --

("She was *vastly* amused by the prospect of taking the blame for your bruises and bite-marks. And told me to tell you that you should prepare yourself for the cost.")

Gladly --

Oh, *Stephanie* -- no, he can *say* it. He pulls back --

Tim cries out --

"I want -- please talk to Stephanie --"

"Do it *yourself*!"

Bruce pants. "Is it -- allowed?"

And the expressions in Tim's eyes cycle and flare between hunger, amusement, irritation, hope, *desire* -- "Dad," she says, and raises an eyebrow.

It's an answer, specific and to the point. There are things that fathers can do -- no. There are things which fathers *must* do. And -- "Thank you," Bruce says, and kisses her softly until she moans --

And then he lays her back down in the tub --

And squeezes her freshly-marked throat *lightly* --

"*Dad* -- "

And then much, much harder --


And strokes her in the rhythm she likes best, vicious and not *quite* as fast as she would stroke herself --

("It's... mm. The phrase 'pleasurable torture' comes to mind.")

He isn't more aroused now than he was then, for all that Tim wasn't wet in that moment, wasn't *slick*, wasn't his *daughter* --

He can't --

He squeezes her throat *harder* and strokes her through her twitches, her needy spasms --

Her eyes rolling back in her head --

Her hands clawing at his forearm --

"Beautiful daughter..."

She bucks and *whines*, thin and strangled --


And she is wild in his hands, given over utterly to the insanity of pleasure --

A maenad?

He doesn't think so. Even in *this* moment, he is confident in Tim's ability to come *back*, to focus, to push through if there were a reason to do so --

And he hopes with all of himself that he never has to see that. Better, by far, to believe her lost utterly to the pleasure he gives as she clutches at him --

Shudders --

Stiffens --

He lifts the head of her penis out of the water --

And she opens her mouth for a silent scream as she begins to ejaculate. There is an ecstasy to the moment, to the sight of her semen arcing up and splashing down, but he needs --

He loosens his grip --

"Dad! *Dad*!" And the rest is only a wail as she continues to spend herself for him --

For *him*, and he needs, he's always *needed* --

She slumps --

And he lifts her out of the water entirely, pulling her against himself and kissing, licking, *mouthing* at her mouth, her cheek and throat --

*Holding* her against himself and kissing, tasting musk and her, always *her* --

She shivers --

No, not that. He grabs a bath sheet and wraps her in it before carrying her to bed where he can rub and chafe at her scarred and lovely skin --

She hums and *smiles*, letting him move her as he will until she abruptly rolls over onto her hands and knees and -- offers, smiling back at him from over her shoulder.

Bruce reaches for her -- stops.


"A moment," he says, and ignores the *ache* in his penis when she sighs --

When she *hums* as he spreads her -- oh.

"There. There isn't much swelling."

"Hnn. Practice makes perfect...?" And she... switches her hips.


"I wanted it anyway," she says, and her voice gains a degree of ambiguity. "I... well, you can guess what I'd planned for us."

Bruce laughs quietly. "I felt... I'm not entirely sure what it was I was feeling before I realized my mother had possessed you."

"I *know* you were tempted --"

"And atavistically horrified --"

"Would it have stopped you...?"

Bruce kisses Tim's anus --


"No," and he licks --

"Oh --"

And licks --

"Yes, *please* --"

Kisses *deeply* --

"Oh -- *ohn* -- Bruce -- Dad --" She growls, and at times like this --

There has never been a time like this, because he isn't sure how *much* her father she wants him to be --

He can *ask*. He pulls back and bites her buttocks, once and once --

"*Nnh* --"

"Tell me."

"I. Ah." By the sound, she's licking her lips. "I..."


She spreads her knees awkwardly -- beautifully -- wide, drops to her elbows, and hangs her head. "Daddy..."

Oh... yes? Bruce growls and grips her slim hips, lifting her by them until her equilibrium must be shaken to at least some extent --

She chokes on a *moan* --

He drops her and spanks her scrotum once --

"Yes --"

Twice --

"Oh, *God*!"

He spreads her roughly, holds her open and shoves his tongue in deep --


Good --

Good girl, so deep and dark, so heavy and rich --

The *musk* of her, the blend of it with the oils he'd crafted for her --

For her wonderful scents --

Such *wealth* in his hands --

He kisses her --

He kisses her over and over as she cries out --

He growls and squeezes her --

He pulls back to bite -- no. He sucks her scrotum there --

There --

He leaves marks, just the way she enjoys most --

And she's beating at the bed with her fists, she's -- "*Daddy*!"

"I *love* you," he growls, snarls like the beast she allows him to be and spreads her once more --

Delves *deep* --

And now she's grunting for him, rocking faster and faster --

He checks --

She is nearly as hard for him as she was before her orgasm, and he knows precisely how to improve that. He kisses her once more, sucks and nibbles --


And then he flips her over onto her back and swallows her whole.

"Oh, *fuck*, Bruce --"

And there is perfection in looking up, in meeting her wide, shocked eyes, in asking, silently, if she truly expected any different --

And her laugh is a hitching gasp --

Another --

"Oh -- you shouldn't make me want to drum my *heels* --"

He disagrees. Still -- there was rather enough of that earlier. Better, by far, to grip her ankles and hold them still --

Swallow for her growl --

Swallow again for the way she *fights* reflexively --


And then simply *keep* swallowing, because the pleasure makes her cries almost peal in his ears, makes them round and so --

So very sweet.

A part of him only wants to take her this way, to take her pleasure for his own over and over until she loses consciousness --

(Really, boychik...?)

Bruce grunts and yanks himself back to keep from biting *down*, searching --

Searching *himself* --


"I... I heard. Her."

Tim jerks, eyes widening -- "Wait."


"Are you... how sure are you that you weren't talking to yourself?"

"I..." Bruce grips his own thighs and breathes, forces himself to *think* --

And Tim is right there to wrap her arms around his neck, to kiss his cheek and press her hard, slick penis to Bruce's abdomen.


"Do you hear her now?"

He searches himself --

He struggles and *tears* at himself --


Nothing --

A space of darkness and *grit* --

A whisper --

Lost when Tim presses her lips to his cheek. It.

"Only the Bat."



"All right," she says, and pulls back enough to meet his gaze. "I think we can agree that your mother would have more than one thing to say to you at a moment like this one...?"

Bruce shudders and licks his lips, closes his eyes --

"She shared the kisses with me, you know."

Bruce jerks and opens his eyes, *stares* -- 

And Tim smiles wryly. "She said they were mine at least as much as they were hers."

"They -- I --"

"I knew that wasn't -- quite -- true. Just the same..." Tim raises an eyebrow. "Don't let your mind torment you with her voice, Bruce."

"I'm... not sure --"

"That you have a choice...?"


"Think of it this way: *She* wouldn't want you to do that to yourself. If she can't do it herself, she wouldn't want anyone else to have any *part* of it. Darling."

Bruce inhales sharply -- and nods. "I will remember that."

Tim cups his face and smiles. "Good."

"And -- I'm sorry for --"

"Changing the mood...?" Tim wraps her free hand around Bruce's penis and squeezes viciously hard --

Bruce *grunts* --

"I note that the state of this hasn't changed one iota."

"It's yours."

Tim smiles sharply. "Daddy."

Bruce relaxes his features -- "Princess...?"

She purses her lips and tilts her head to the side, expression turning distantly thoughtful even as she begins to stroke --

To squeeze in *pulses* --

"You *know* Daddy loves you just *oodles* --"

"No," she says, and darts in to bite his lip.

Bruce raises an eyebrow --

And she pulls back. "Lose control, Daddy."


"Take..." She licks her lips. "Take it out on me."

"I --"

"Take it out on my *body*."

Bruce's penis twitches *hard* --

And Tim purrs softly. "Make me feel it, Daddy."

"I. Shall I punish you?"

Her eyes flare -- "I've been a bad, bad girl, Daddy."

"You -- never --"

"I hurt you, Daddy. *Teased* you."

Bruce hears himself *panting* --

"I forced you into something you didn't *want*."

He's flexing his *fists* --

"I..." She licks her lips. "You know what I need, don't you, Daddy?"


"You. You know how to *give* it to --"

She moves *with* his grab --

She claws at the duvet as he drags her over his lap --

"You should still be in *silk*," he blurts --

And she bucks against his thigh. She --

"Another time," Bruce says, and the smile is like an awl in his temple, only painless.

Bloodless and hot at *once* --

"Daddy, *please* -- *hah* --"

And she always enjoys being spanked, whether it's Brucie or Matches or the men they're building between them. More to the point, she enjoys being spanked *this* way: Hard and fast enough that she *can't* catch the rhythm of it through the pain --

Through the *force* --

"Little girl..."

She moans --

*Shouts* when Bruce spanks again --

Again --

"What will you do for me, little girl...?"

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

"Answer. The. *Question*," he says, and emphasizes himself with a spank for her scrotum --

She screams and *kicks*, heedless and free --


"Everything, Daddy, everything!"

"*Prove* it," he growls, and *he's* not sure what he means, but Tim --

Tim pushes up on her hands and *works* her hips, coming close to finding his rhythm and crying out for his spanks --

His striking *hits* --

"Nnh -- oh -- Daddy, *yes* --"


"*Please* --"


"Oh, Daddy, *Daddy* --" And she screams *as* she balances herself on one hand --

As she reaches beneath herself --

As she pushes her scrotum back between her legs and *presents* it -- but.

"*More*, Tim!"

"I'm *sorry*, Daddy, I'm so -- please punish me, please hurt me, please *show* me --" And the last word flies into a *shriek* as he begins to punish her scrotum --

As he strikes and strikes and --

The flesh reddens so *quickly* --

"*Please*, Daddy!"

"*Take* it."

A *growling* scream, and she never stops working her hips, never stops *moving* for him, *offering* to him --

It's too much --

It *must* be too much --

But he will not stop. He --

It's what he owes and what he needs at once. It's --

She had taken his weakness and laid it out for him.

She had taken his *childhood* and laid it out for him, *spread* it out for him until he couldn't not see it, not know it for *precisely* what it was --

She sobs and Bruce feels the smile on his face turn *savage* --

He hadn't realized he *was* smiling --

She never stops *working*, and she is Robin, beautiful, gamin, ambiguous, vicious --

She never stops *working*, and that means she's his, forever *his* --

"I'll never let you *go*, Tim!"

Another sob --

Another --

Her scrotum is *shaking* -- because she can't keep her hand still anymore, can't --

"On your *elbows*."

She nods frantically, and Bruce knows that she's lost her words for the time being. He wants them *back*, but for this --

For the primitive and brutal *ecstasy* of her cries --

There is satisfaction, and more than that when she does drop onto her elbows --

When she *barks* a cry as Bruce moves his spanks back to her buttocks and thighs --

("You know. You know you *can* do me like that, B.")

They'd been examining underground pornography in an attempt to identify the participants --  some of whom were underage --


"It's just a spanking.")

And everything about his posture demanded that Bruce take his apparent casualness as truth --

To ignore everything else he could *feel* --

He couldn't.

("I mean -- seriously, B --"

"Do you want. I could... hurt you.")

A wince --

He'd shifted on his *feet* --

("We need never --"

"But do you *want* --"

"Everything. And nothing you don't desire.")

And Jason had searched him for honesty, for everything --

Bruce gave it to him *with* his arousal --

("I think. I think we can make it good. Like -- together."



"*Please* -- please.")

They'd left the pornography playing in the Cave --

("We have to -- I kinda need a *bed* for this."

"Anything --"

"Stop saying -- no, wait, don't.")

And his laughter was *nervous* --

And so were his cries.

When they began.

Here --

Tim always starts these games --

They're never *games* --

Tim always begins sharp, bold, as confident as someone who *knows* that nothing about what's going to happen will truly move them. Here, in this moment --

In so *many* others over the past month --

"Nuh -- ah -- *AHN*!"

There are tears on her cheeks.

She is flushed to her *navel* --

"How much more can you *take*?"

"More! *All* of you, Daddy, please!"

"Are you *sure*?" And it's the work of a moment to make his voice more dark than desperate, more amused than --

"Oh -- oh, God, I don't *know*!"

And Bruce feels himself tense hard, *rigid* -- "*Tim*."

"I'm sorry! I'm *sorry*, I *need* you!"

"*What* do you need?"

Another sob --

*Another* -- "*Speak*, Tim!"

"I need your penis! I need to be *fucked* so -- so *hard* --"

"Shall I punish you *that* way --"

"*Hnh* -- oh -- oh, fuck, I'll *come* --"

("Hurry, hurry, please fucking *hurry* --")

Bruce *forces* a growl out of himself instead of the *needy* groan which wants to break free --

And *yanks* on Tim's scrotum.

The scream pierces everything he has of reserve, of --

It's all he can do to keep himself from simply shoving *in* --

But he still pushes in with one finger *while* reaching for the lubricant in the bedside table --

Tim screams *again* --

And Bruce gasps at the slick feel -- "You'd lubricated yourself before --"

"*Yes*, Daddy, *please*!"

"It's. It's not *enough* --"

Tim sobs and tosses her head, babbles something high and *sweetly* incomprehensible --

But Bruce knows it's an apology, a plea for forgiveness --

"My love. I will not *wait*."

And that makes Tim reach back once more, spread herself and shove her face down and her posterior *up* --

And Bruce can't --

He must --

He crooks his finger *while* pouring lubricant on the rest of his hand --


He thrusts and *drags* --

"Yes, yes, *yes* -- *no*!"

"*Quiet*," Bruce says, and continues pulling out *slowly* --

And Tim shakes --

Shudders *violently* --

And clenches *hard* as Bruce's fingertip leaves her, spasms and --

"You're *perfect*," and it's another blurt, it's -- it's not quite *right* for the scenario --

(She *wants* you to lose control, boychik...)

Bruce grunts and *shoves* in with two slick fingers --

God, no --

(I'm not actually here...)

And Tim is *howling* --

(But you did always want my voice in your mind, darling...)

And Bruce is *taking* him, *using* more than preparing --

"Daddy *Daddy* --"

(I would've wanted *just* this from you...)

Please --

*Please* --


(Yes, *please*, boychik. I'm the part of you who didn't get *quite* enough freedom. I'm the part of you who didn't get what she *wanted*. I'm the part of you which will take, and take, and --)

"*Tim* --"

"Yes, Daddy, *please* --"

"*Help* me!"

A *questioning* noise --

A gasp --

And then Tim is crawling away from Bruce's fingers, Tim is up on her knees and straddling him, kissing him hard, kissing him *deeply* --

(You know how to get rid of me, don't you?)

He doesn't, he never --

(Just give in. To all of it. Every. Little. *Bit*.)

And he can still taste gin in Tim's mouth --

(Don't fight it.)

Mother --

(Don't *fight*!)

And Tim grunts when Bruce bites her tongue --

Cries out loud when Bruce throws her down onto her *back* --

"I *need* you!"


"I -- *Robin* --"

"Batman --"

And she screams for the feel of his teeth on her thigh --

She *grunts* when he breaks the skin, cups Bruce's head and *croons* when he sucks, when he tries for *more* of her blood, so salt and *metal* on his tongue. She's panting and twitching constantly now, twitching despite the yank on her scrotum --

It feels as though it happened *ages* ago --

(Don't think!)

Mother, *please* --

(You're *my* son, too.)

He is.

He *is*, and he --

He has a *need*, and he --

Tim isn't Jason, isn't *Jay*, but doesn't she enjoy being bitten?

Wouldn't it be all *right* to mark her in the ways he'd marked Jay?

There is no answer in his mind, no --

He bites her thigh again --

And again --

He bites her other thigh, then flips her over --

"Daddy, *yes* --"

-- and bites the backs of her knees, the backs of her thighs, so reddened with *welts* --

He'd wanted *this* with Jay, but could never *take* it --

But he'd had Jay's buttocks like this --


Just like this, just --

He bites and kisses, bites and breaks the skin again high on her left gluteal muscle --

"*Fuck* --"

He bites harder and *sucks*, and doesn't she know what she does to him? Doesn't she understand how much he *must* hold back?

"Daddy -- oh, *fuck* --"

She'd *shown* him the sensitivity of her lower back, offered it with a rueful smile --

A moan whenever he *massaged* her, just as if --

As if --

Bruce growls and scrapes his *teeth* --

"Hnh -- *hnh* *hnh* --"

Sucks and licks a long stripe up her spine --

Bites his way back *down* --

"Daddy -- *Daddy*!"

She's working her hips again. She's --

She's *grinding* against the bed, and so Bruce knows that the desperation in her cries speaks of how *close* she is, how --

He's *pleasing* her with this --

(And yourself...)

*Yes*. And it's tempting beyond *language* to simply continue, to bite and bruise and *cut* her with his teeth until she screams and ejaculates --

But he's already kneeling up and slicking himself, squeezing for the pain of it, the *knowledge* that he *can't* make himself less aroused in this moment short of a *stab* wound in an unfortunate place --

Kal had even taught him to enjoy being lightly *electrocuted* --

And laughing turns Tim's croon questioning, pleading --

But Bruce has no answer save the hand on the back of her neck -- "*Spread* yourself."

"*NNH* --" But she does it, panting and rubbing her sweat-slick face against the sheet as he pushes --

And pushes --

And she screams for his *snarl* -- no, it was for his *shove*, for the way he couldn't wait, couldn't *take* --

But he can take this; he can *claim* this perfection, this sweetness as he knocks her hands aside --

Grips her wrists --

*Braces* himself on them and yes, oh, yes, oh, please --

Such --

She's *wailing* for this, and he has no blame, no --

She's so *tight*, and he knows this will make her raw, make her anus swell as her scrotum will --

She will wear his *marks* --


Bruce licks his lips and *moves*, studying her winces, her bitten lip and dark brick *flush*. This is --

For some *part* of her, it's too much. For some part of her, this is only what she can give to *him* --

And there is a part of him which needs that like nothing else. He *is* a creature of greed and *rank* humanity. He *is* human. He --

Sometimes nobility takes *work*, and in this moment he will not *give* it --

"*Daddy* --"

And, oh, her eyes are squeezed shut --

Her teeth are showing --

She wails again --

*Again* --

And again as her eyes fly open --

As she stiffens and clenches around him hard enough to make him *shout* --

And Bruce realizes that he'd shifted the angle of his thrusts just enough --

Just enough to *give* as well as take --

(Did you truly want to...?)

It's a question he doesn't need to answer right --

Right now --

Oh, that *scream* --

And for a deep and *frightening* moment Tim is wild beneath him, drumming her feet and fighting, straining, *growling* out her screams --

Kal would've been able to *smell* Tim's orgasm coming --

Jay would've simply *known* --

("Yeah, *give* it!")

He can do nothing *else*, because --

"Yes! Oh, *yes*!"

Because she's showing her teeth *predatorily* --

"Daddy, *come*!"

Because she's --

("I'll fuckin' *milk* you if I have to!")

And Bruce is squeezing her wrists too hard --

Bruce is shuddering and *rutting* --

"Ahn -- Daddy, it's good, it's so *good* --"

Bruce is *groaning*, and he has no rhythm, no control --

No ability to *stop* himself from shoving and dragging his penis against her prostate --

No ability to do anything but *this* --

(I wanted *you*!)

Bruce shudders more and *spasms* --

He doesn't want to *lose* himself for that thought, not --

"Oh, Daddy, I love you so *much* --"

And growling for *that* is a relief, pleasure enough to smile for even as something screams within him, as something --

Explodes --


"Yours, always yours, always -- oh, always -- *nnh* --"

Better to cover Tim, to take every touch, every square inch of hot, slick skin as the world's colors simplify and brighten --

Take him --

Take *all* of him --

He can't see --

Can't think or --

Breathe --

And gradually he becomes aware that he's growling *constantly*, gasping only to growl again --

That Tim is still *clenching* --

That he's *flexing* his penis and --

Ejaculating *again* for the feel of Tim *trying* to breathe --

Why must he always steal Tim's *breath*?

(Because he *likes* it.)

And there is, perhaps, little *enough* shame in twitching for that --

He can't possibly have anything --

Tim goes limp and Bruce ejaculates *again* --

And the laughter in his mind is sharp and sweet at once, low and loud, feminine and female --

He takes all of it and kisses Tim's temple as he grinds --


"My love. Blink twice when you need me to move."


Bruce indulges himself with a slow, steady thrust with his softening penis as Tim winces and smiles, winces and tries to gasp, winces and --


Bruce hums and *grinds* --

And Tim's eyes roll back in her head --

But only for a moment before she's blinking once --


Bruce *considers* releasing Tim's wrists -- no. He braces himself on them and pushes himself up, shivers with *lustful* pride as Tim begins regulating her breathing immediately.


"You're perfectly wonderful."

"When I gasped before, the world tipped sideways."

"Hmm. You're that inebriated?"

Tim smiles with her eyes closed. "I've begun to feel it rather *loudly*. I noticed the effect the last time I masturbated after one of our tolerance-building sessions."


"I suppose it *does* make sense that you'd want to experiment with this, but... no."

"Except for those nights when you'll be inebriated anyway...?"

Tim giggles --

Cuts herself off with a snort --

"Oh -- God. Food, Bruce."

Bruce lowers himself once more, not *quite* all the way --

And Tim's purr sounds more helpless than pleasured. "Bruce."

"A moment more to enjoy you, please. And... we could induce you to vomit?"

"It's too late for that to make *much* of a difference for my sobriety. And also eugh."

"Hm. As you say... daughter?"

"I... am not at all sure. Also, I think my ass is actively burning."

"I assure you that it isn't. But...?"

Tim sighs and nods. "Pull out."

Bruce leans in to kiss Tim's temple while he does it -- as slowly and steadily as Tim had trained him. Once he's out, he rolls them onto their sides and kisses Tim's shoulder, the back of his head, the back of his neck --

Her neck...?

Bruce *licks* Tim there --

And Tim sighs again. "There's always a... transition. You know this."


"A moment... I have to be male."

Bruce doesn't speak --

"I have to be male... for certain parental values of necessity."

He doesn't *speak* -

And the noise Tim makes is low and amused and *hurt* all at once --

Bruce pulls Tim against him and kisses the top of her head. His --

"It's only..." Tim sighs again and pulls on... something. A certain stiff formality which can exist even when they're curled together, *warm* together -- the transition is nearly complete. He is male. "The more reason they have to get to know who I am as a person, the more dangerous things *become*, Bruce. You know *that*, too."

"Yes," Bruce says and squeezes him. "I'm sorry. I want your freedom."

"From everyone and everything but you?"

Bruce hums. "The idea had occurred."

Tim yawns and wriggles --

Giggles --

"Oh -- God, I need to stop that."

"I --"

"Disagree, yes, I know," he says, and strokes Bruce's arm. "Just the same."

"You don't think your parents would find it *more* suspicious if you never came home obviously inebriated...?"

"I... well, *that* idea had occurred. I still think it would be better for me to *fake* it, Bruce."

"Perhaps... you're staying with Stephanie tonight?"

"That would work -- oh, hell. *Patrol* --"

"You're benched."

"*Damn* it --"


"No -- I know," he says, and growls sharply. "You could've -- all right, no, I would've let her drink, too. I probably would've thrown drugs at her, too," and he shudders. "She showed me some of her memories."

Bruce takes a sharp breath -- "Did she."

Tim squeezes Bruce's forearms. "She... she called it a matter of being fair. I'll tell you everything --"

"Tim. I -- not now."

"All right. I... you heard more of her voice."

"Yes. She -- I. It wasn't a torturing voice. And it was clear that I had simply... given personhood to a part of my own psyche."


"A rather... selfish part."

"Hnn. Not... sensual?"


"Uninhibited, perhaps...?"

"You -- I made you bleed --"

"Mm. In multiple places, even. Did you --"

"I never. I only made Jay bleed that way once. It... I was exhausted at the time."

"At the edge of your control," Tim says, and it sounds like another purr. "Do you think Jason wanted you to be perfect?"

("*Do* it!")

Bruce closes his eyes for a moment, calls up the scent of Jay's hair after he'd been sweating --

Making love.

"I know he didn't."

"So --"

"I also know that there were times when I frightened him. When I... when there was too much of me."

"Hmm. Physically?"

"When we first began making love, yes. Later, the concerns were more emotional. As I began telling Mother, I wasn't always -- or even often -- able to keep from... spilling myself for him. From laying my emotions and *issues* at his feet. It seemed... it seemed as though it excused *something* when I kept myself from cutting or bruising him too much. Whatever 'too much' could be made to mean on a given day."

Tim strokes him thoughtfully, silently...

And Bruce holds him and enjoys him, every moment --

Every *touch* --

("Uh. B...?"

"Yes, Jay?"

"There's something... I mean. It's not a big deal or anything..."

"Tell me, please..."

"Do you ever think I'm too... young? For... anything?")

He'd known what the correct answer was.

He'd known what the answer Jay *wanted* was.

But it was always, always better -- *needful* -- to be *honest* --

("You're so much more than a teenaged boy, Jay."

"To you?")

And Bruce had smiled then, helpless not to cup Jay's face --

("To the world, when you're Robin.")

And Jason had bitten his lip -- not for the first time that day, judging by the look of it --

("Yeah, okay.")

Bruce closes his eyes and holds Tim more tightly -- no. He can ask. "Do you ever feel as though I ask too much of you emotionally?"

Tim snorts what must be *painfully* hard.

"Ah. No, I was speaking --"

"Of our romantic relationship, yes, I know. Still..." Tim snickers for nearly thirty seconds, then hums. "I'm your son *and* your daughter, Bruce."


"You have to... take care of me."

Bruce holds Tim more tightly --

"You do just that. But there comes a point where I'm your lover, friend, and partner, as well. You let me choose when those moments will occur far more often than you don't, and that... well. I want all of you, even when that frightens me."

"Tim --"

"*Because*... the fear has far more to do with the desire than it has to do with that which *is* desired. There don't seem to be *limits* to what I feel for you, Bruce. Dad." <<Most-desired.>>

Bruce grunts and *bites* Tim's shoulder --

"Oh -- yes. I'm sixteen, not twelve. It makes a difference."

"Enough of one?"

Tim hums. "One hopes. Though, honestly, I'm perfectly capable of telling you to leave me alone, Bruce --"

"Are you?"

"Hnn. All right. I'm perfectly capable of taking an extended *vacation* from you. Yes?"

*Tibet* -- Bruce shudders. "Yes. Please don't -- please."

"You've done nothing to make me want to leave. You have, in fact, done any *number* of things to make me want to stay *close*. Go with that, please."

"My love..."


"Let me give you everything. Let me... *show* me what I must give to make you happy --"

"I will."

"*Please* --"

"I will," Tim says again, squeezing Bruce's forearms for a moment and standing --

And staggering --

Bruce moves off the bed, lifting Tim into his arms --

And Tim snorts. "It's not that I *mind* this, per se, but... I need a robe."

"Not a shower?"

Tim makes something of a moue -- "*Yes* a shower, but if I stay this drunk for much longer, I'm going to be *irritated*."

Bruce hums. "Noted. Can you stand...?"

"Yes. But stay close, please."

"As you say," Bruce says, and carries Tim back to the bathroom before setting him down and tugging his robe off the hook on the door.

Tim puts it on with only slight awkwardness -- but his expression makes it quite clear that there is a fair amount of concentration to thank for that. Tim takes several steps toward the door --

Snorts --

And lifts his arms.

"Beautiful son," Bruce says, and lifts Tim once more before beginning to carry him to his own bedroom -- and his own robe.

"I -- not that epithet."

Bruce smiles, and it feels both sharp and a little cruel --

Tim backhands him.

"Hm. Noted."

As it happens, their time sense wasn't the best. It's only seven after eight when they make it to the small dining room, and Alfred -- looks at them.

But then he *looks* at them, and -- "Sirs. Would it be correct to assume that something appropriate to the season has occurred?"

The *season* -- Bruce sighs. "I believe we've reached a point where I'm allowed to view at least certain holidays with distaste, Alfred."

Alfred hums and turns to look more fully at Tim, who is staring somewhat glassily at his place setting. He frowns. "Master Tim."

"I'm here, Alfred. Just very, very drunk. Due to the events of..." Tim waves a hand.

"I see. Will I *wish* to know what has transpired?"

Tim coughs a laugh --

Sways --

Bruce steadies him and turns to Alfred. "I feel quite comfortable answering that in the negative, old friend. However, I will be informing the family as a whole just the same. Just in case."

"As you say, sir. If the two of you will excuse me, I will return with something with which you can begin your repast."

They thank him together, and then Tim leans back --

Blinks owlishly --

Sways once more --

"I could," Bruce says, "hold you in my lap."

Tim glares, but not truly *at* anything.

Bruce hums and moves Tim accordingly, then kisses his cheek.

"You're really going to tell the whole family about this."


"The family you plan to have sex with."

Bruce blinks and considers --

And Tim hums and takes a sip of water.

"I... hm."

"Yes," Tim says, and leans back, slumping enough that he can rest his head on Bruce's shoulder. "This is disgustingly comfortable."

"I'll punish you for enjoying it later."

"You do that. The rest of the family has *different* Mommy Issues, Bruce."

"I... think it would be important for them to know about the voices in my head."

"Start with the *first* voice. *Mention* that I was possessed for a few hours, yes, and by whom, but the rest..." Tim rolls his head back and forth on Bruce's shoulder.

And moans.

"I'm. I never want to be this drunk again, Bruce."

Bruce strokes Tim's stomach. "As you say. *Everything* you say."

Tim is silent, then, and still enough that Bruce wonders if he'll have to wake him in order to get food and water into him.

Alfred isn't back, though, and he believes it's all right to allow him to rest --

And all right to allow himself to *take* Tim's rest for his own.

Bruce kisses Tim's jaw --

"I think... I think we're all right."


"I think, in fact, that we've come through this with grace and aplomb, Bruce."

Bruce hums. "Shall we congratulate ourselves?"

"Bruce, if I tried to pat myself on the back right now, I'd fall over and giggle until I vomited."

Bruce coughs. "Perhaps we'll attempt to avoid that. I... when did you know that I wished to make love with the entirety of the family? We've spoken extensively of Dick and Jay, but --"

Tim snorts --

Giggles --

Hiccups -- "*Damn* it, Bruce."

"Hm. Noted."

Tim sighs and pushes a hand under his robe, apparently solely to rub at his abdomen.

Bruce kisses his temple --

"When you call him Jay where I can hear you..."


"I feel like I know him. Like I *can* know him."

Bruce squeezes Tim gently. "Then all is well."

("There are *still* *no* *roses* coming out of this ass, B."

"Perhaps you'll let me --"

"You can't fucking *check*!"

"Aw, dumpling, don't *be* like that --"

"B, I love you, and I love your cock, but you're about to get punched there *real* fuckin' hard.")

Bruce closes his eyes and presses his smile to Tim's throat.


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