Infinite, undying
by Te
November 14, 2009

Disclaimers: No one and nothing here is mine.

Spoilers/Timeline: Mostly vague and AU-ized references to older storylines. Takes place not long after "War Games."

Summary: There is careful, and then there is careful *enough*.

Ratings Note/Warnings: Sexual content which mostly doesn't have a damned thing to do with the content some readers may find disturbing.

Author's Note: A closer-to-real sequel to ending two of A way so familiar. Will not make sense without the other.

Acknowledgments: Pixie and Mildred asked very nicely, and then joined Jack for audiencing duties. Petra found me the title. *hugs all around*


The party is a quiet one, both as befits a city only slowly recovering from the sort of gang war that tends to leave even the most blithe residents chastened, and as befits Brucie Wayne, who, though aging well, is still aging.

Tim Wayne -- a compromise which has, thus far, worked well enough -- is Bruce's *third* son, and that means something even to those few socialites who haven't yet had the chance to be ignored, tripped over, or summarily forgotten in the face of more interesting prospects --

Or crime. There's always crime.

Tim smiles into his champagne flute and spares a moment to meet Bruce's eyes. Bruce is at the center of a clutch of the older socialites -- still too young for Botox, but just a little too old to not be looking for, at the very least, a *first* husband -- and pauses to wave cheerfully.

His eyes make the sort of promises that tend to make the back of Tim's neck heat while his sac tightens. It has been *precisely* that kind of month. Bruce had twenty-six years to revise and improve upon his fantasies.

Bruce has always been a deeply imaginative man.

Bruce --

Bruce is his *father* tonight, and while that word tends to develop interesting definitions when the two of them are alone --

When it's been precisely *that* kind of patrol --

When Tim can't help himself and doesn't care to try --

Bruce is his father tonight, and so Tim turns his attentions to the blandly attractive young men his own age or close to it. It's good to be out, most of the time. The rest of the time --

"*Timmy*, where have you *been*?" Yves Hillman-Louis came out the day after Tim had, and has been stalking him at these parties with a shameless sort of --

Well, to be frank, Tim isn't sure what to call it. While he's quite sure that Yves *is* attracted to him and that he *does* want someone to be young and queer *with* -- "Here and there and everywhere," Tim says, and toasts Yves cheerfully. "How are you tonight?" And what exactly do you want from me?

"*I'm* good. *You* look tired. Anyone interesting?"

Exceedingly. Tim smiles mysteriously and takes a sip of champagne.

"You simply *must* tell me. There's hardly been *any* good gossip around here for *months*!"

Well, that's what happens when half the city is on fire and the other half is riddled with bullet holes -- no. "Well... there's nothing *official*, of course --"

"Official is *boring*," Yves says, looking around before leaning in close. "*Spill*."

Hm. Who will it be? "You know Brucie has been dragging me simply everywhere."

"You *are* the heir apparent," Yves says, hazel eyes bright and dancing, curious and *hungry* --

What *is* it? Tim hums noncommittally. "We had brunch last weekend at Gabo. I'm *not* naming any names, but..."

"Oh, you're *killing* me," and Yves rests one soft, long-fingered hand on Tim's lapel. "Tall? Short? Buff? Closeted?"

Tim touches his tongue to the rim of his flute --

And Yves' breath hitches.

All right, he really *is* that attracted. Tim had been hoping for something much more interesting. "You know, Yves... you really never paid this much attention to me before."

Yves frowns, confused and somewhat dim. "You were always so *quiet*. I -- all right, I admit it, I assumed you were just like --" Yves bites his lip.

Tim raises an eyebrow.

"I *am* sorry about -- your father and his wife --"

"Oh, let's *not* go there," Tim says, and there is no blood soaking into the knees of his pants, there is no metal-shear *stink* --

And Dana may be screaming, still, but not in this house.

Tim shakes his head and sighs a little dramatically. "I loved my Dad, but he *was* kind of... dry."

Yves winces and pats Tim's chest awkwardly. "I'm sorry --"

"None of that. This is a *party* - if a boring one. But tell me something."

"Anything, Timmy, really."

Tim Wayne is allowed to be far, far more pointed than his father. "How long would you have waited to come out if I hadn't done so first?"

Yves blushes and steps back -- but only slightly. "You made it fashionable, Timmy. You... Daddy and Maman actually *encouraged* it. I'm still..." Yves sighs and smiles ruefully. "Look, we both know that I'm supposed to figure out what you're up to as a way to get to Bruce. He hasn't seen anyone more than once in over a *year*."

"And he just gets more marriageable as time passes, yes. You're not going to get anything from me, Yves. I've never been one for this kind of game --" Well, that's a lie, but -- "-- when I have better things to do."

Yves raises both eyebrows. "And people?"

Yves is nineteen years old. Tim is seventeen -- and at least a decade Yves' senior. Tim would do well to remember that. "Like I said, it's nothing official. Just the sort of thing to... hm. Scratch an itch?" And --

Yves is searching him just as if Tim is doing an excellent job being shallow when he should show depth and being deep when shallowness is all but required.

Yves -- has done nothing to injure him. "Don't mind me, Yves. I'm just... restless. And, yes, tired. Call me this week and we can go sight-seeing in Pinktown."

A sour face. "You don't think that's like a couple of circus bears going to the zoo?"

It would be a mistake to assume Yves has no depth of his own. Tim offers one of his real smiles. "Far more like half-eaten Twinkies touring the Hostess factory... but your point is made. Still, you have to admire people who actually *are* out... as opposed to merely letting people know they're queer."

"There's a difference?"

Tim claps Yves on the shoulder. "You know there is," he says, and walks on.

The truth is that there are very few people here in his age group -- to the point where he'd use some of his late father's money to bet on the theory that Yves was only here because Maman Hillman-Louis knew that *Bruce* would be here --

And Bruce brings him everywhere. And --

The *truth* is that Tim is going to have to come up with a game plan for these parties now that he's Bruce's son. Now that enough time has passed for it not to be at all strange -- to the vast majority of *these* people -- that he's Bruce's son. He's not allowed to simply grieve, anymore, and Bruce --

Bruce wants him close.

This is understandable on a large number of levels. This is also more satisfying than he honestly wants to admit --

He'd rather be home with Bruce. He'd rather be continuing the process of *making* the manor home. Choosing new art and rearranging the old. Playing chess in the study and reading in the library. Talking about the Mission -- or anything but -- at the dinner table. Napping in his room and *sleeping* in Bruce's --


Learning new tricks and letting Bruce *help* him hone his body --


So *much* of it, and it's frightening how much of it he keeps needing, how he seems to keep needing *more*, as if there's still something he's *missing*. But --

Letting Bruce dress him.

Letting Bruce *un*dress him.

Studying twenty-six years of sketches and learning how to make them real, make them *true*.


The *truth* is that he has been, more than anything else, making himself into the kind of person who could *be* home in the manor, who could be *this* Bruce's lover and son and brother and everything else --

He'd spent weeks *breaking* himself into someone who could belong to a different Bruce entirely --

And maybe not just to --

Tim *wants* --

But this is part of the Mission, too, and so he mingles, and jokes, and acts no more mysterious than he must to keep the people of this world convinced that Tim could never, ever, be the brightly-colored apparition of violence that he is. This needs to be done, and so he does it, and lets a part of his mind go over what it will in something between instinct and self-defense --

The family.

Barbara is wildly amused by all of this and has been known to sigh wistfully about the lack of footage of Tim in the seventies.

Cassandra has been known to drop by the Cave solely to help train Tim and to hug him whenever she sees him thinking about how much time he'd wasted being afraid of her -- and afraid of himself.

Jason has been quiet, but, oh, Tim is vastly looking forward to the opportunity to share some salient facts with the man and to see if they're enough to shock him out of the need to beat on him.


Dick has been mostly absent since Tim had told him his story -- *all* of his story -- but a) that's only to be expected considering everything, and b) Barbara is keeping an eye on him. Dick had hugged him for the better part of half an hour before leaving to return to New York. He'll come around.

If nothing else, none of them have the option to brood alone for lengthy periods of time, and -- no, that's not it. Dick *understands* how Tim feels as perhaps no one else truly can, and so he'll go to Bruce in time.

And Tom had informed Bruce in no uncertain terms that bald, raw honesty would be the order of the day there.

Bruce always, always listens to --


That voice. *That* voice, and there's a moment when Tim is only kicking himself for having not paid attention to the way the whispers had risen and quieted while Tim had been standing on this balcony, the way --

"Oh... come now. We don't have to play that game. Do we?"

That voice, with the addition of twenty-six years worth of -- occasional -- cigars. Never Cubans, though. Lex Luthor *always* buys American. And --

A sigh. "Tim, then. I suppose it's *enough* of your real name."

Tim plasters on a dim smile and turns. "I'm sorry? Oh -- Mr. Luthor. I wasn't expecting to see you here tonight."

Lex --

Luthor smiles, tilting his head to the side. And then he reaches back and closes the door to the balcony behind them.

"I was actually just planning to rejoin the party --"

"Talk to me."

Fuck, fuck, *fuck* -- "If you'd like. What can I do for you --"

"Start," Luthor says, and refills Tim's champagne flute, "by calling me Lex."

Tim smiles like the teenager he is. "That's rather informal for the man who was nearly the first Independent in the White House since Teddy Roosevelt."

Lex laughs softly and takes a deep breath. "You let Bruce choose your cologne? No, that's not a question. You would never choose something that frivolous for yourself."

If it suited the persona I was cultivating, I would --

Except that he was never supposed to be that honest with Lex --

It's too late *not* to be that honest --

*Luthor*. Tim shakes his head. "I'm beginning to wonder if you have me confused with someone else. I do have one of those faces."

"No, you don't. Tom. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely understand Bruce's need to expose his coup to the world -- you wouldn't agree to be just anyone's *son* -- but you had to know that particular media blitz would garner *attention*."

Yes, well, I didn't know I'd be going back in time in a few weeks -- no, no, no. "I'm flattered *by* the attention, ah, Lex, but you're really starting to confuse me --"

"You still move the same."

"As *what*?"

"Your voice is *precisely* the same."

"Again, Lex --"

"You couldn't even stay closeted. You..." Lex takes a deep breath and sighs. "How long do you plan to keep up the charade, Tom?"

Tim decides to roll his eyes --

And Luthor laughs quietly. "*That* was beautifully done. Perhaps I should expect nothing less...?"

"Look, I don't know *what* you should expect, and, frankly, you're starting to weird me out. Whoever this Tom guy is probably left you because you were *creepy*."

Narrowed eyes, just as if that had scored a *point* --

*Lex* -- Luthor. "If you'll excuse me?"

"Does he hurt you the way you like?"

Tim manages to rear back *almost* on time --

Luthor nods thoughtfully. "He knew you as soon as he saw you, too. The question is whether or not he did anything about it over the course of those four long years before your *first* arrival in his life. Care to share?"

"*Mr.* Luthor --"

"Call me," Luthor says, and touches Tim's cheek with two fingers, "by my name."

Tim tries a mild sneer. "When you can't seem to manage mine? I don't think so. Now, please. Move."

"Why don't you move *me*? You certainly can."

"You're a lot bigger than I am --"

"And you are stronger than you look. Judo. Karate. Aikido. What else, Tom?"

"My *name* is *Tim* --"

"Except, of course, when it's Robin."

Stay focused, stay -- let confusion bleed into the anger --

"Oh, Tom. I really should've known you'd be recalcitrant. And, in fact, I *did* know. Right now, there's a very large crew from Channel Four News wandering around the grounds of Wayne Manor because people listen when I talk. They don't know precisely why they're there, but... well. Ten minutes ago, Mercy informed me that she'd found a very sophisticated hologram --"

"What are you *talking* about --"

"Simply this, Tom: You have two choices. Keep playing this game and have me order Mercy to lead the cameramen in past the hologram, or accept the fact that this is not going to end until we have a long, honest talk."

"Luthor --"

Lex leans back against the door. "You have ten seconds."

*Think* -- "Look, everyone knows you've had something of an obsession about superheroes since a very young age, but I think you've taken it much too *far*," Tim says, and tries a breathlessly incredulous laugh --

"Five seconds. Does he bite the scar on your throat?"

Tim balls his left hand into a fist and beats at his thigh, not incidentally triggering the alarm for Operation Starfall.

He does it again.

He does it a third time --

Luthor picks up his phone --

"Luthor. It doesn't have to be this way."

Luthor starts to *dial* --

"Lex --"

"Your *answer*, Tom."

Tim doesn't cover his face and he doesn't stop breathing and he -- "We can talk."

"Then drink your champagne," Luthor says, and smiles. "It's going to be a long night."

The helicopter that had been flying close hovers above the building and drops a ladder.

Tim drinks his champagne and climbs.


There was no conversation to speak of on the five minute flight to the Chilton helipad, but that doesn't mean that Tim had come up with anything particularly useful to do or say.

The alarm would've caused Alfred to wipe all personal information from the computers and shut the Cave down from all sides, but --

Bruce *has* to be on his way to one of the satellite Caves to begin the process of burning their identities, but --

They'd *planned* for this --

Luthor leads them into the penthouse and pours fresh drinks for both of them, scotch for himself and red wine for Tim.

The same nineteen-seventy-three red Tim had shared with him twenty-six years ago. A lifetime ago.

Knowing that Luthor forgets nothing is not the same as coping with it by a long road.

Tim sits down on a perfectly comfortable chair.

Luthor stands behind him. His energy is impossible to ignore, as is the *feel* of being stared at. Watched. Known?

Luthor laughs quietly -- "No, I'm not going to be playing any games just yet, either," he says, and moves to the couch opposite the chair. "Bruce didn't tell you that you were due to journey to the past."

Tim raises an eyebrow.

"An obvious statement, yes. Humor me," and Luthor smiles, leaning back and resting his left ankle on his right knee.

"I was entirely surprised to find myself... then. I improvised as best I could."

"Your affect is flat when you lie --"

"It often is. And I often do."

Luthor nods thoughtfully. "Bruce is ruled by sentimentality. You... are not."

Tim looks at Luthor and waits.

Luthor hums. "He had to have known of my... interest. I made sure of it."

"In the past, I was invested in your not knowing more about Bruce than was strictly necessary, Luthor. I am not so constrained at the moment."

"By which you mean, 'fuck you, I love him?'"

Tim inclines his head.

"Certainly, that's understandable enough. A great *hero*... of just the type you've been obsessed with since you were a child."

"He's the best man I've ever known."

Luthor steeples his fingers. "You really shouldn't pretend to be less mature than you are. Not with me."

Tim raises an eyebrow --

"Better. Go on."

"I need not be immature to recognize all the good Bruce has done for Gotham, the world, and the galaxy."

"And all the evil I have?"

"You told me --"

"Many things," Luthor says, and waves a hand. "Tell me about the mechanism which allowed you to visit the past."

"I have no idea."


"My name is Tim, Lex, and -- I have no idea. I was in the manor in my own time one moment, and then I was in the manor in the past and Alfred was pointing a shotgun at me."

Luthor narrows his eyes. "Bruce doesn't believe in guns."

"He also doesn't believe in disagreeing with Alfred especially vehemently about the day-to-day care and security of the manor," Tim says, and remembers learning how to use the shotgun... which had involved rather more 'learning how not to fly backwards and fall down' than 'learning how to aim effectively.'

"T-Tim." Luthor sighs and laughs at once. "Of course. Tell me what you *think* about the mechanism that led to your being in the past."

Touché. "There have been any number of space-time anomalies... popping off, for lack of a better term --"

"That much I'm aware of. What are the prevailing theories... among your *community*."

"There are none --"


Tim holds up a hand. "I'm not trying to find a different way to lie to you. There are a group of us in the 'grit your teeth and ride it out' camp, because these things just tend to happen every few years. There are people like the Atom --"

"And he is?"

"No," Tim says, flat and even.

Luthor raises an eyebrow. "You're in no position to bargain, Robin."

"One, I'm not bargaining. Two, I'm not Robin right now. And three, I quite frankly don't give the proverbial flying fuck what you do to me and my loved ones. I'm not compromising security any more than it already has been."

Luthor gives Tim his own flat look. "You *can* be tortured."

"I *can* put myself in the equivalent of a coma with very little effort. I can do it repeatedly and with ease, Lex, and the only reason why I haven't already done so... well," Tim says, and smiles. "I do owe you an explanation."

Luthor blinks once, and smiles broadly. "You're giving your 'family' time to salvage what they can."

Tim shrugs. "In truth? They've already had enough. It's not like we've never been in a situation like this one before."

Luthor hums and takes a sip of scotch, nodding once. "What is the Atom doing?"

"Studying the effects of the anomalies in the hopes of being able to predict them and, eventually, prevent them. As of his last communication with Batman --"

"Do call him Bruce."

Tim offers one of his real smiles. "Lex. I thought you wanted me to be honest."

Luthor tightens his hand on his glass -- relaxes once more. "You're saying that Bruce actually thinks of himself as an ultra-violent man-rodent."

"We all have our issues," Tim says, and crosses his own legs. "Shall I continue?"

"I must say, Tim. It's fascinating to watch you pretend that you're in no danger."

Really, really -- not. "I've been in danger -- in one way or another -- since I discovered Bruce's secret. If I hadn't learned to cope with that -- early and *well* -- I wouldn't have been at all suited for this life, Lex."

Luthor's expression -- darkens. He turns away, and there is silence for a long moment, broken only by the unmistakable sound of a bullet being racked into the chamber of an automatic.

That would be Hope Terrell, currently in the hall some thirty feet away. Tim waits.

"The Atom doesn't yet know anything of any substance."


"And the world's magic-users?" Luthor looks up again, curious and --

Not open. Not -- not that. If anything, these questions feel more like a warm-up than an active interrogation. Or --

Perhaps it's more a matter of Lex --

Of *Luthor* resetting his Tim-centric baselines. "Dr. Fate was the one who tracked me down and brought me back. His methods are... beyond my abilities to explain. To the best of my knowledge, no other magic-users have been having any luck making sense of things."

Luthor nods again and downs his scotch in one swallow before getting up and beginning to pace.

Tim waits.

Tim *waits* -- and alters his breathing to keep himself relaxed when Luthor's trajectories take him behind Tim's chair time and again and again.

Tim waits, and calls up the pearl in his mind.

Shiva had taught him how to build it.

Bruce -- had taught him how to strengthen it beyond all human measure. Tim is still capable of entering it temporarily, but the effort involved leaves him mentally and emotionally useless for several hours.

And it's not a true entering.

If --

*When* Luthor makes it necessary, Tim will enter the pearl for good and all. Not even Bruce knows how to bring him out of it again -- security demanded just that -- though he trusts Bruce to be able to figure it out given time to do so.

Luthor wouldn't give Bruce a chance if he became angry enough.

Luthor --

The truth is, it wouldn't be a coma, at all. He'd simply become the nine year old he was before he learned the secret, young and confused and vulnerable to anything and everything which could happen.

He wouldn't last very long, at all.

Sometimes -- just sometimes -- the Mission is a cast-iron bitch. Tim laughs to himself and takes another sip of wine --


"I'm sorry?"

Lex steps around in front of Tim's chair and drops into a crouch. His expression is flat. The light in his eyes -- hard, sharp, and more than a little deadly --

*Luthor's* expression --

"You know what I'm asking -- Tim."

He does. He knows, and he -- "Bruce told me you tried to seduce him once."

"I was drunk," Lex says, matter-of-fact and amused. "And you couldn't have been more in the room with us if you'd been there naked and doing the dance of seven veils."

"Your kinks never fail to illuminate --"


Tim takes a deep breath. "There are... a lot of reasons. Many of which I already told you --"

Lex taps Tim's knee with two --

*Luthor* taps --

"Now what, I wonder, could be putting that expression of frustration and fear in your eyes? I already know that it has little enough to do with me and what I can do to you -- though I suspect you'd be more cooperative if you knew where Richard Grayson was at this moment --"

"Oh -- please, Lex. That man may have taught me everything I know about escape artistry, but he hasn't taught me half of what *he* knows."

Lex tilts his head to the side. "You're honestly unmoved. Angry, of course, but more because you feel I'm *underestimating* you -- and your family. Is it because -- ah. I see. You've written your life off."

"It seemed the prudent thing to do."

"Your *entire* --" Lex stops, shakes his head, and gets up to begin pacing again. Tension is visible all through him, but it's difficult to be sure how much of it is anger versus all of those other negative emotions.


Tim finishes his wine, gets up, goes to the bar, and pours himself another --

"You're *not* trying to get yourself drunk." Anger laced -- liberally -- with incredulity.

"My tolerance for alcohol is rather far beyond what would be reasonable to assume given my size," Tim says, and hops up on a bar stool.

Lex --


Lex stops pacing and glares. "Bruce trained you to *drink*."

Tim shrugs again. "You never really know when you're going to have to take a drink or five in order to seem... innocuous."

Lex narrows his eyes --

Growls --

Stops -- "You knew me."


"You -- had a fair idea of who I would become."

"Oh... I'd say more than fair. Superman shares everything with Bruce, after all."


Tim smiles ruefully and swirls the wine in his glass. "I would think you'd be more curious about Bruce --"

"He's your fucking *mentor*. He changed you -- body, mind, and soul. The universe gave you a chance to get your own back, and you wasted no time in taking it," Lex says, but the shadow in his eyes speaks of doubt --

And then rage.

Tim waits for him to look away again -- "We both know that's not the whole of *that*... but I'll stipulate that my reasoning with Bruce was obvious enough. It's just..." Tim lets himself laugh again. "Bruce spent twenty-six years wondering what the hell I was doing with *you* -- the last four of which he spent utterly *insane* with confusion because he knew that *I* knew who you were."

"*What* I was, Tom?"

"*Tim*. Please. I made up that name on the spur of the moment, and I'd rather not spend the rest of my life haunted by it."

"And you're saying that Bruce never --"

"You're not Bruce," Tim says, and watches Lex's affect flatten at speed.

He'd never wanted to see that. He --

"And that, ultimately, is the real reason why," and Tim smiles ruefully. "I built Tom Wayne *for* Bruce, and, ultimately, became him to a large degree. Large enough that I... oh, let's just say that it put some strain on my psyche."

Lex -- sneers. "And?"

"And I was always myself with you. That's it. That's --" Tim sighs. "Well, all right, that's the vast majority of my *selfish* reasons for needing you --"

"*Wanting* me --"

"Needing you. And, as Bruce pointed out, more than that, as well."

"Don't even start --"

"You *asked*," and Tim takes a deep drink of wine. "And I'm telling you. You *used* to be someone I could've happily spent a good, long while with. That night at the dance -- *before* we made love -- I told Bruce that I was considering not trying to get back to my home, anymore. I'd told him that I was from an alternate universe --"

"He *believed* that?"

"And that I was his brother," Tim says, and offers another of his real smiles. "He was a lot more innocent then. Remember how you used to feel about innocence, Lex? Remember how you *berated* me when you thought I didn't feel the same?"

Lex clenches his hands into fists -- and relaxes them. "Go to bed, Tim. We'll continue this discussion in the morning."

Tim blinks. "I -- what?"

"Just what I said."

"If we're not going to be talking, Lex, I happen to have other things to do --"

"No, you don't. I would've been informed if Grayson had escaped *yet*... and so you're going to stay put. The beds are very comfortable here, and *I* have other things to do."

"You're serious."

Lex smiles. "I often am, Tim. Sleep well," Lex says, and walks out.


The protocol is always -- *always* -- to get clear, to get *free*, but this --

God, he's in a *hotel*. There are dozens of ways out of this room -- many of which *don't* involve dropping Hope. He doesn't have his 'day belt' or any of his comms -- the natural result of attending a party in a public building in the smoldering aftermath of a gang war is that one is faced with metal detectors and bomb-sniffers at the most *inconvenient* of times --


*Still* --

Tim eyes the open bottle of wine.

Tim closes it and tucks it away in the refrigerator. It won't be *as* wonderful tomorrow, but, truly, only people like Alfred would be able to tell the difference. The family --

They may or may not still be meeting in satellite Cave M to go over what Starfall will mean for all of them.

Clark would've brought Barbara to her satellite Tower for coordination --

They know Dick is missing. They know who's responsible for that, because Bruce wouldn't be Bruce if he hadn't seen Lex closing the balcony door behind himself. He may not have even *needed* Tim's alarm.

Right now...

Well, Lex *could've* used a narrow-beam electromagnetic pulse generator on Tim sometime when he wasn't paying attention -- thus rendering Tim's eight subcutaneous tracers inactive -- but Tim doesn't think so.

They know where he is.

And --

Clark knows, as well.

Bruce is going to have to put a *large* amount of effort into getting Clark to stay out of this one as much as is possible --

They need Clark's help for the *future*, to make sure that Bruce can continue to be on the League, that Dick will be able to help both the Titans *and* the Outsiders --

First they have to get Dick *free*. *He* has to start training himself to be Bruce's heir again, has to --

All right, Tim is pacing, but there really isn't any help for it. If nothing else, he has nervous energy to work off, and --

Oh, dear. That --

That would be Clark, holding Lex by his shirt and hovering beyond the balcony. Apparently it's a night for balconies.

Tim walks over and watches Lex's cigar go flying.

Lex laughs. "Tim. I believe you've met our guest?"

"Once or twice. Ah... Superman. I believe that's less than helpful at the moment."

Clark frowns. "Are you all right, Mr. Drake?"

"As these things go, yes. Lex and I have to finish our conversation, and, to be honest, that's not going to happen while you're giving him the behaviorist cure for acrophobia."

Lex snorts. "I suppose you *would* find fault with the behaviorists --"

"So would you, Lex. Once upon a time."

Lex frowns.

Score. Such as it is. Tim turns back to Clark, who has had more than enough time to scan him at speed, but is still *showing* him that he's doing it. Politesse and confusion, at once. "It's my hope, Superman, that Lex and I can find some measure of common ground -- since he's insisted on becoming part of my life again."

"Mr. Drake --"

"Ask Bruce. This time, give him time to give you the entirety of the story, please. I..." Tim sighs and scrubs a hand back through his hair. "The short answer is that Lex has figured out my identity, and has used it to figure out those of my family. He's not going to get any more out of me, but I have every intention of getting more out of *him*."

A *derisive* laugh from Lex --

"You also used to have a better sense of humor. Darling."

Blanked features and quiet. Fine.

Tim returns his attention to Clark. "Help them, please. And..." Yes, it would be that. "You'll find Dick not far from Metallo, who really needs to be removed from this area at speed."

Clark's eyes glow. He shows his teeth.

Lex remains blank, but really -- at this point, that says it all.

"If you'll excuse us, Superman?"

Clark drops Lex next to him on the balcony. "You know what to do, Tim."

Tim inclines his head --

And Clark is gone.

Tim waits for Lex to straighten his clothes --

"An interesting show of bravado --"

"Call it, rather, a request for civility -- as much as anything like that can be possible with you," Tim says, and walks back into the penthouse. He thinks he might be getting a headache --

No, that's the pearl swelling itself for attention.

The pearl has always wanted him. He hadn't realized that for a long time -- hadn't *let* himself realize that -- but, in the end, there is nothing hungrier than darkness.

And Lex is watching him. Fine. Tim starts to strip. "Have you provided sleepwear for me, Lex?"

"As a matter of fact, yes. You'll find the bedroom fully stocked."

Tim nods and moves in that direction, pushing back at the pearl as carefully as he can --

Not yet.

It's not time *yet*. The bedroom is large, well-appointed, and... much less anonymous than it could be. Tim pauses with his shirt and jacket in his hand. The *art* --

Lex is standing in the doorway. He's mostly backlit, but the shadows suit him, and --

Tim reaches up to touch the painting on the wall. "Magritte?"

"An excellent forgery... do you like it?"

Not to Be Reproduced, indeed. Tim smiles. "I've always found this one disturbing. And amusing. And... telling."

Lex crosses his arms over his chest and leans against the jamb. "Against whom?"

"I never could decide if you were more fond of or enraged by my capacity for deception."

"Limits," Lex says, and his teeth briefly gleam in the light from the other room, "are for the proles."

Tim makes a face --

"I only call you Tom because that's who you were to me for better than half my life," and Lex's voice is less soft than tired. "Tim is still a stranger."

("Tim was never mine.")

Tim shivers --

"Tell me. Call it a gift for the sake of common ground."

"Bruce... had his doubts about whether I could remain both Tim and his lover."


"He does a fair job of keeping himself from expressing those doubts... most of the time."

"What do you see in his eyes when he calls you Tim?"

Tim closes his eyes and sets his clothes on the chair before crouching to remove his shoes and socks. "Too many questions. And no, ultimately, it doesn't surprise me." But he asked for it. He --

Tim breathes, and stretches once he's naked.

"It's fascinating to watch you lie without opening your mouth."

"What? I'm not even hiding the way I move."

"But something is making you want to lie. Need it."

"I might just be tired. It's been a somewhat stressful evening," Tim says, and moves to the bureau --

"Bottom drawer."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome. I would've given you the world."

"That's not what I needed from you."

"Yes, I know. You're a rich boy who just got even richer --"

"*You* were never poor, Lex. Or -- well, that's a question. How much of your father lives in you these days? I can make a few educated guesses, but --"

But Lex moves quickly enough that it's an effort not to throw himself into a ready position to counter. All Lex does, however, is touch Tim's cheek again. "You left."

"You made choices you were going to make no matter what I did..." Tim sighs and gives himself a *moment* with Lex's touch --

His hands are even harder than they used to be. He --

Tim steps back. "For a good, long while *I* believed I was in an alternate universe. That there just happened to be a Bruce who really just *wasn't* obsessive enough to become the Batman without help, that Harvey was just a moderately angry but genuinely good -- and *sane* -- guy who happened to be madly in love with Bruce, and that you... that you would change the world just as soon as you had half a chance."

"And that wasn't just what you told yourself to excuse your actions?"

Well. Tim smiles again and starts putting on the pajamas. "I needed no excuse to push Bruce on his way."

"And to jump into bed with him?"

"That body. Those eyes. That intellect. That pure, physical genius. And -- the heart that made all of the above worthwhile. I promised myself I wouldn't, I promised myself I wouldn't let it go too far, I promised myself it would end after the first time... and then I promised myself to take every minute of it I could, because nothing that perfect and sweet could happen more than once." Tim decides not to bother with the pajama top. Tim -- decides, because there was, in fact, something missing.

This close to Lex, he can smell a cologne that the teenager he was wouldn't have touched with a ten-foot pole, but -- it's not unpleasant.

"I miss your old colognes. And the eyeliner. And the rock-solid sense of justice." What are you still doing here, Lex? How close will you let me get?

Lex's breathing... deepens. "You -- cheated on Bruce with me."


"You made me wait *because* of Bruce --"

"Yes," Tim says, and steps closer still. "And no. There was still the matter of you being the world's greatest hero's personal bogeyman."

"Not --" Lex doesn't *quite* growl, and in the dim light his features are --

God, *Lex* -- "Not then, no. I thought. I thought I could live without you --"


"Right, of course, we're talking, and we're talking honestly, even, but God forbid we get *too* honest, right?" Tim laughs and steps back again. "*Was* there anything else for tonight, Lex? Or should I just let you put me to bed?"

Lex clenches his fists, and for a moment all Tim can think about is how that had felt on his skin, on his *penis* --

"It's only been a month for me, Lex. Perhaps you can forgive me for still being somewhat problematically focused."

"You're not seriously saying that you --" Lex turns away, breathes deep, and turns back. "Good night."

Tim smiles ruefully. "And to you."

Lex leaves.

Tim puts himself to bed.


He wakes to an empty penthouse and spends an hour doing his basic morning exercises to the feel of the pearl's gentle, seductive *push*. He ignores it as best he can and tries not to feel bereft, alone --

He hasn't woken without Bruce since he's been back. Even when Bruce wakes up earlier than Tim does, he always comes *back*. To the bedroom if not to the bed itself --

What is Bruce doing right now? Had he patrolled -- no, that's not a question. Jim Gordon is back in control of the GCPD, and that means no one is putting a warrant out for Bruce Wayne's arrest. He needs --

Hell, he needs the *computers*, but he can damned well start with a newspaper.

After his shower. After --

All right, so he is, in fact, burying himself in routine so as to avoid thinking too deeply about what he had nearly done with -- Lex.

Tim showers, and does a thorough job of it, and doesn't think too deeply about symbolism.

He still hasn't even taken a good look at the clothes Lex had provided for him, and it would be a good idea --

A good look at the man's mind --

*Lex* --

Bruce. Bruce, who would've made Clark duplicate Tim's voice for him last night, Tim's tone and affect --

Bruce can be the most jealous man on the *planet*, and even though he hadn't been flirting with -- yes, he really, really had, and also he's being *ridiculous*. He has more to worry about than his love life. He *has* to make Lex understand -- something.

Tim steps out of the shower, rubs his hair dry, pats the rest of himself down, and decides to air-dry while he explores Lex's sartorial choices for Tom. If there are leather pants, they might be able to negotiate --

It's been a month. He's *allowed* to still --

Lex still *wants* him, and there's no getting *around* that --

He *has* to be allowed to be affected by that, right? Or -- Tim is allowed. Robin isn't. He has to remember that. And he will.

Just as soon as he deals with the sight of Lex sitting in the small dining room with two covered trays -- and four newspapers. Lex doesn't try to pretend he hadn't seen Tim, and his eyes are tired and bleak.


A wry smile. "You didn't have to pretend to be unconscious of your body. Communal showers in the Bat-cave?"

"Actually, yes. Are you..." Tim shakes his head. He doesn't have to --

It's *Lex* --

"What's wrong?"

Lex raises an eyebrow. "Come eat. But put some clothes on first."

"Lex --"


The need to *do* for that voice, for that *please* -- Tim finds himself snarling and can't do a thing about it. "Where's Dick?"

"Presumably wherever Bruce and that Cain woman are. I believe Bruce enjoyed handing Superman a chunk of plastique to throw at Corben's chest. It's so difficult to find a material which will allow Kryptonite radiation through while still protecting the rock itself."

"You know it's not going to keep working on him, don't you?"

"Why do you think I keep trying so hard while it can?"

Tim shakes his head and crosses his arms. "When *did* you start believing in making omelets, Lex?"

Lex turns to the covered trays with a private smile on his face.

"Are you going to tell me?"

"You left without a word. The letter purporting to come from you was an obvious fake -- as if I wouldn't have learned your handwriting by then --"

"You're not seriously blaming *me* for the fact that you became a lying, murdering asshole, are you? It's not *possible* for you to have sunk that low."

"A moment, please," Lex says, opening the tray to reveal a great deal of fresh fruit and what looks like yogurt and granola.

Lex became focused on keeping himself healthy not long after Lois named Clark Superman --

"You'll find something more traditionally American on the other tray, but I prefer eating light this early."

"I -- so do I," Tim says, and sits down at Lex's right --

"You shouldn't smell the same."

Tim closes his eyes for a moment... and smiles ruefully. "I disagree."

"Are you trying to -- seduce me."

*No* -- Tim sighs. "Probably, yes."

Lex laughs softly. "I'm not a teenager anymore, Tim."

Tim looks up into Lex's eyes. "I miss you."

"You didn't. You didn't come to me."

"You weren't the boy I fell in love with," Tim says, arranging raspberries in a bowl and placing a dollop of plain yogurt on each.

"Do you -- you actually eat that way."

Tim smiles again. "Sometimes. Tell me what happened."

"You weren't there... and the world was. Lionel sussed out my takeover plans with embarrassing ease, and promised to disown me just as soon as he finished paying for my education. 'It wouldn't do not to finish what I started,' he said, but what he meant was that he was going to make me crawl, and keep crawling. You have no reason to believe that --"

"I do, though," Tim says, and begins eating the berries one by one. Quickly, though. He doesn't care for them quite so much once the acids in the berries start breaking down the yogurt. "Go on, please."

"I killed him. I laughed, cried, raged, abused Mercy in the name of dominating her, cried more... and then everything felt calm and right and so very perfect. So very quiet. I remember having the distinct thought that I should've done it years before, followed by the thought that it wouldn't have *worked* years before, followed by the thought that timing was everything, followed by the thought that I would never wait to pull the trigger if I didn't have to do so," Lex says, and sips his... tea. White, judging by the clean scent. "I laughed uneasily -- surely I was kidding -- and moved on."

God, *Lex* - "It was easier every time."

"Yes. Most things are, with practice."

Tim closes his eyes --

Tim opens them, chooses two melon slices, and forms them into a rough eye shape. He piles blueberries where the iris would be.

He ponders the nature of the pupil -- "I don't suppose you have any molasses?"

"Are you *nine*?"

"Not at the moment," Tim says, and takes a moment to deal with the fact that he is, for all intents and purposes, living in a small portion of himself while the pearl --

This can't be good. He's going to be threatened in the future, and he'll have to --

But Lex is still Lex, and the future is exactly what's in question. Tim rubs his temples --

"It would take a moment to call for aspirin."

"That's -- not the problem," Tim says, laughing and giving the eye a creamy white pupil.

"What is?"

Tim -- doesn't close his eyes. "It's not entirely effortless for me to shut myself down. By which I mean I've been holding myself in readiness to do it since I climbed into the helicopter."

"You're not serious. You -- Tim, I'm not going to do *anything* to you --"

"Right now, anyway --"

"Damn it -- go put some *clothes* on --"

"I'm enjoying running wild and free --"

Lex growls and pushes away from the table, starting to pace once more.

Tim eats.

"Bruce taught you how to do this to yourself."

"Bruce taught me how to do it better," Tim says, and rolls a blueberry around in his mouth. "Shiva Woosan taught me how to do it in the first place."

"What the *hell* were you doing running around with an international assassin?"

Tim waves a hand. "I didn't plan it. She did. I learned some very useful things."

"None of which you use the way they were *meant* to be used --"

"I killed her once," and Tim takes a sip of Lex's tea. There are hints of lemon. "It was an accident, and I managed to revive her with some effort, but it's not something I'll ever manage to forget."

"How --" Lex stops and pinches the bridge of his nose. "How old were you."

"I'd just turned fourteen when she gave me her intensive short course. I was fifteen when I stopped her heart."

"A child."

"By some definitions of the term," Tim says, and goes back to his eye. When he finishes with it, he checks under the other tray --

Bacon, sausage, toast, and what will presumably turn out to be eggs under a smaller cover within the tray. No.

"For future reference, Lex, I prefer beef or fish with breakfast -- when I'm having meat, that is."

"Noted. I'm not -- you're not a prisoner."

"All right. I miss you."

"Stop --"

"No," and Tim takes another few spoonfuls of yogurt.

"You should eat more than that."

"I will --"

"Come here," Lex says, and he doesn't turn around to look at Tim, and that wasn't a request, and -- "Please."

And Tim is moving before he can think about it --

That's a lie. That --

Lex cups Tim's face and searches him, looks *deep*. There are wrinkles at the corners of his eyes, and a lifetime of exposure to the sun has -- despite Lex's best efforts to the contrary -- left his skin darker than it had been when he was a teenager.

He didn't color his eyebrows or lashes today. He didn't --

Lex's thumbs on his cheekbones are -- strong things, impossible-to-ignore things, and yes, Tim is getting hard.

Lex flares his nostrils -- "Why."

"I can't actually be in a room with you without wanting --"


"I need you --"

"Tim --"

"I can still see you. I can still --" Tim neither bites his lip nor closes his eyes. "I don't. I don't think this will change anything. But I want it to."

Lex lets go and steps back, and Tim doesn't bother holding in the gasp.

Or the other noise he makes. Or --

Lex is hard under his clothes. "I'll never be seventeen again, T-Tim."

"No. But I've always had a thing for older men."

Lex laughs -- "Daddy issues?"

"God, yes. But Bruce takes care of those nicely."

"He wants to be your *brother* --"

"That, too. Lex --"

"Get *dressed* --"

"Love me. Love me again. Give me --"

A kiss is an excellent start, especially since arousal makes Tim slow enough that he only drops Lex to the floor, as opposed to breaking any bones. Still, Mercy *and* Hope are now pointing guns at him, and so Tim is careful about only kissing Lex *softly* --

Until Lex rolls him over and pins him, until --

Oh, God, Lex's *mouth*. Still soft, still hot, still *skilled*, and either Lex knows what Tim wants or *is* what Tim wants, because this kiss is forcing him back into his own body, spreading him out into his own soul, or --

This is enough to make the pearl start to retreat?


He'll have to fix that, because you never really know who (Bruce) will think of making out with an overgrown nine-year-old --

And perhaps it's a good thing to be able to laugh into this kiss, perhaps --

It's enough to make Lex cup Tim's throat gently and make the kiss deeper, make Tim moan, make Tim struggle to spread his legs, offer, *need* --

He has to get Lex *naked* --

"No," Lex says, pulling back and catching Tim's hands --


"You have an *audience*."

"*Oracle* is my *older sibling*, Lex."

Lex narrows his eyes. "You're really not going to tell me who that is."

"Not even remotely," Tim says, and rolls his wrists in Lex's grip. "Here. Over the table. *On* the table. In the bath. In the bed. Near the bed --"

"Alpha tau," Lex says, and starts to open his cuffs --

"Yes, Lex," Hope and Mercy say together and walk out *briskly*. Hm.

"Do they call you anything else when --"

"No," and Lex begins unbuttoning his shirt.

"I don't suppose you'd let me --"

"No," but Lex's smile is a soft one, *again* a tired one --

"Did I -- my God, that was about to be a manipulative question. Ah -- never mind."

Lex raises a colorless eyebrow and shrugs out of his shirt.

Tim -- looks. And keeps looking. And --

Lex pulls off his t-shirt, and there's no sign of the angry scar that had been on his pec -- no. A whisper-fine line of pale flesh that Tim wants to lick, wants to bite --


"Ask your question, Tim."

"I don't really -- I plan on saving my more manipulative questions. There's only so often they can work on you, after all."

"Still," Lex says, opening and removing his belt. "Call it another gift. I have to know you."

For what, exactly? Tim licks his lips. "Did I ever make you happy?"

Lex snorts and snaps the belt between his hands. "I should whip you with this."

"We could give it a *try*, but I must admit that I'm not sure how I'd feel about it the morning after."

Lex shows his teeth -- and tosses the belt aside. "You made me so happy that, when it passed, I came very close to making myself nauseated with the vertigo of the mood swing in question. And yes, I do hate you for that."

"That's fair --"

"No, Tim, it isn't. But I don't expect someone like you to know that," and Lex opens his pants --

Tim clenches his hands into fists -- relaxes them. "Someone like me?"

"Someone all but raised to dedicate himself to another man's cause. Someone practically designed to raise himself on another man's *cross*. You pretend that you have no intention of blaming yourself for who I've become, but the truth is that you would relish it with every fiber of your being."

Tim makes a face and sits up on his elbows. "I'm not a martyr."

"Yet. But let's stop and think of what you're ready, willing, and able to do to your own mind for the sake of -- vigilantes," and Lex raises an eyebrow again.

"You *are* the world's most dangerous man, Lex. I can't exactly risk you finding out everything I know about the rest of my community."

Lex hums and stands, letting his pants drop and peeling down his boxer-briefs. Hard. Beautiful. *Thick* --

"I want you."

"You've made that clear. The question is how much of your desire for me is *based* on the fact that I'm the worst man in the world."

"Not --"

"You will never know even a fraction of what I've done in the name of my goals, Tim," Lex says, and makes a quelling gesture.

"I know more than you might think."

"And what does that say about you?"

Tim stands and steps close. "I never claimed to be -- entirely -- good. But I do have excellent taste."

"Tim --"

"I *see* you, Lex --"

"You're a teenager who remembers a good *fuck* --"

"As I recall, you were rather unpracticed at the time..."

Lex narrows his eyes.

Tim smiles. "It all felt wonderful. Needful. Your touch. The way it felt to touch *you*. The sounds you made. The sounds you made *me* make --"

"And you want it again."

"I want *all* of it again --"

"And what, exactly, do you plan to tell Bruce?"

Tim sighs and takes Lex's hand, bringing it to his chest and urging the fingers to splay. "He knows I'm not monogamous."

"That's it? That's all you're going to say?"

"He knows that I love you."

"You love a long-dead *teenager* --"

"Lex." Tim cocks his head to the side and begins walking backwards to the bedroom, holding Lex's hand in place. "We're not quick-drying cement. All the potential you were born with remains."

"And is the first taste free, Tim?"

I am never going to be able to say no to you. Not if you put your back into it. Not if I don't -- "Nothing is free. Nothing is ever -- free," and Tim shakes his head and lets go, crawls onto the bed --

Lex cups Tim's hips, sudden and *hot*. "You give this to him."

"I often beg for him to take it."

"Do you ever switch off?"

Tim closes his eyes and thinks of Bruce moaning for him, shouting for him, punching the *bed* -- Tim opens his eyes again. "Yes. I prefer the other."

"You don't like seeing him in a subordinate position?"

"I'm not very subordinate when I'm riding him... but no, that's not it," Tim says, popping his back by rolling his hips.

Lex squeezes them -- "Tell me."

"I'm selfish. Greedy. I never -- I was empty for a long time -- oh."

Short nails against the hollows of his hips, broad thumbs *pressing* on the meat of his ass --

"Please. Please, Lex."

"No foreplay? You're not *that* hard, Tim," and Lex is -- teasing.

Well. "I will be. I just need to think of how it will feel to scream your name."

"Bruce came to watch you sleep. Good of you to leave the blinds open for him."

"Certain things become reflexive. I'll never hide anything from him."

Lex squeezes Tim's hips again -- and lets go.

"How do you --"

"On your back," Lex says, and crawls on after him, pressing close and placing his hand back over Tim's sternum.

Tim breathes deep -- and realizes that Lex hadn't bothered with any of his staid, respectable colognes. Only him. Only -- Tim licks his lips, presses closer, and considers stroking himself enough that he won't be able to think at all, that it will *only* be this moment and nothing else --

And that would be cheating on Bruce beyond anything else he's done. He can't -- he can't ever give himself *completely* to Lex --

He can't trust. That --

"What is it, Tim?"

"Reminding myself that I can't trust you." Yet. Yet?

Lex curls his fingers in against Tim's chest and scratches down --

Tim arches -- "Lex --"

"Don't trust me --"

"Please --"

"Don't *trust* me. Not -- ever," Lex says, shoving a thigh between Tim's own and kissing Tim again --

*Taking* another kiss, and Lex doesn't know every kiss that drives Tim crazy, but he seems inclined to learn, once and for all. Lex pulls Tim onto his side --

Lex pulls Tim *over* him --

Lex breaks the kiss and squeezes Tim's hips hard. "Ride my thigh."

"Hnh -- I. God, Lex --"

"Do it now. *Feel* me."

"Your *skin*, yes --"

Lex shows his teeth -- "Enjoy it."

Tim nods, but the truth is that he's already dragging and grinding himself against Lex's quadriceps. The heat is -- not impossible. The heat is human, and that's all Lex has ever wanted to be. The *pinnacle* of humanity to be sure, but --

Oh, God, it's Lex, it's *Lex*, and he was never supposed to want this --

Tim was supposed to be *better* than this, stronger, more --

More secure, or --

Tim groans and starts to thrust in earnest, needing the friction more than the right motions, the seductive motions -- "Please. *Please*, Lex --"

Lex grunts and cups Tim's ass, squeezing and *spreading* --

"God, *yes*," Tim says, and lets himself drop onto his hands, lets himself clutch Lex's strong, sculpted shoulders  --


"Please. Please fuck me, Lex. Please fuck me *hard*, Lex, make me scream, make --"

"More --"

"Come *back* to me --"

Lex slaps Tim's ass, and that --

Tim grins down at Lex and laughs. "Please, Lex. Be the great man you *wanted* to be."

Lex glares at him.

"No spankies?"

"You." Lex's expression, if anything, gets darker. "You're never allowed to use that -- it's not *even* a word."

Tim hums and thrusts -- three more times. "It seemed to suit the moment --"

"It *didn't* --"

"Lex --"

"*What* --"

"Fuck me. Fuck me, and I promise not to try to seduce you away from the Dark Side for at least three hours."

Lex snorts and spanks Tim six --

Glorious --


Tim pants and grins wider. "You could fuck my mouth --"

"That's not what you *want* --"

"At this time, no. But I'll want it soon enough."

"You never dreamed of me."

"Not of sex, no. I had some deeply interesting nightmares about you teaming up with Harvey, though."

Lex laughs again and *grips* Tim's penis --

"Oh -- oh, *Lex* --"

"You shouldn't sound so *honest* --"

"I *disagree* -- God, don't --" Free again, and it's possible that he's glaring. It -- "Would it turn you on more if I said that I would do nasty things to your bodyguards if you tried to leave now?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact."

"Then --"

"Noted," Lex says, and strokes Tim's hips -- "On your back."

Tim rolls off and plants his feet, reaching down to give his sac a *mean* squeeze -- "Lex, please --"

"Don't say a word," Lex says -- and pulls a small bottle of lubricant out of the bedside table.

Fully-stocked, indeed. Tim doesn't open his mouth -- but. "I don't suppose you'd let me suck you a little first?"

Lex squeezes his eyes shut -- "Tim."

"You're not a teenager. And I don't believe that any sexual act is automatically submissive or dominant. And -- I'm better at it than I used to be --"

"You were already -- *Bruce* --"

"Isn't *here*. But yes, he's taught me much. You --" Tim shakes his head and sits up on his elbows again. "Tell me what to say. Tell me what to do to make you need this as much as I do --"

"Guide you? Teach you?"

"*Fuck* me --"

And this kiss makes him jerk, arch -

He *doesn't* cup the back of Lex's head, but he wants to, wants to feel that sleek skin with all of himself --

Lex covers him --

And Tim strokes the backs of Lex's legs with the soles of his feet, the sides with his inner thighs --

Lex bites Tim's lower lip *hard* --

Tim grunts and feels himself leaking, *wanting* --

And wanting more than that when Lex bites a path along Tim's jaw to his throat, bites him a *collar* --

"*Lex* --"

Lex growls and forces Tim's shoulders down against the bed before rising above him, *searching* him --

"The answer is yes --"

"You *don't* know what I want."

Don't I? Tim smiles. "I promise to object if the mood strikes me? O, you beast, please don't ravish me? Please, please, not the briar patch?"

"Politically questionable."

"What *would* you have done with affirmative action had you been elected?"

"I would've made it *work* -- we're not discussing politics."

"You brought it up --"

"There is... no act you haven't committed with Bruce."

"He's never... scarred me."

Lex narrows his eyes. "I already *have* Mercy."

"And Hope."

"Hope is asexual."

Tim blinks. "Was that an order?"

Lex smiles and kneels up, opening the bottle of lubricant --

Tim spreads *precisely* as wide as he can --

"Lovely. But you knew that."

"Bruce can be convincing. Especially when he insists on turning me into art," Tim says, and sits up enough that he can see Lex's working hands, slick hands, *strong* hands --

"He draws you."

"Often. Lex --"

"Hope is incapable of experiencing strong emotions -- including sexual arousal. We've studied that exhaustively. She does, however, produce far more endorphins than the average human when she works out enough."

"That's... acutely horrifying."

"This from the young man who spent the last four years battling the results of Arkham Asylum's revolving door?"

"I didn't say she was *more* horrifying than, say, Zsasz."

"She's no serial killer," Lex says, and slicks Tim's cleft --

"Oh -- Lex --"

"That's rather more Mercy's purview. You knew that."

"I had -- far less information about Hope --"

"As it should be. I protect my own. Breathe --"


"Tim --"

"Open me. I want -- I want that from *you*."

Lex sucks in a breath and pushes in with two --

"*Ahn* -- oh, *Lex* --"

"So many boys who looked like you -- as much as was possible, and I had the best luck with Eastern Europeans --"

"Good. To know --"

"I spent a great deal of money on black-haired, blue-eyed boys. None of them had your eyes, Tim."

"Probably -- for the best --"

"Was it? I might have been less intent on ruining your life if I'd found a suitable replacement."

Tim smiles and arches up enough to get Lex that much deeper --

Lex pulls out almost all the way --

"Lex, *please* --"

"Yes," Lex says, and pushes back in slowly, pushes in as far as he can *go* --

"God -- *God*, Lex, I -- I don't think there *should* be too many people like me --"

"Funnily enough, I agree. You manipulative little bitch."

Tim laughs and rocks his hips --

"Down. And stay *still*."

Tim grunts and does it, tilting his head back in an attempt to make Lex touch his throat again, squeeze, stroke --

Instead, Lex starts pinching and rubbing Tim's nipples, making them hard enough to *hurt* --

"Oh -- *yes*, Lex --"

"Tell me what *he* does to you at this point."

"It -- varies --"

"*Most* of the time --"

Tim pants and licks his lips, opens his eyes again --

And Lex is looking at him with hunger and intent, banked power and *lust* --

"He finds some way to hold me. Hold me *still*. Often this involves choking me --"

"*Death* games? You're insane."

"*Breath* games. Bruce is -- we're both... experienced. With choke holds."

Lex sneers --

"Oh, come off it, Lex. Mercy has at least as many scars as *I* do, and most of hers aren't even for any *good* reason -- *oh* -- oh, *yes* --"

Lex is *thrusting* -- "There is *only* one good reason to have scars --"

Tim laughs and groans, gasps and laughs more --



Lex shows his teeth -- "Knees up against your chest, Tom -- *Tim* --"

Enough to make him blush, but exposure is worth more than that. The look in Lex's *eyes* is worth more than that -- "I want to be on my hands and knees for you --"

"Fucking me won't make you any dirtier than you are... but, no, I don't like that position. Plant your feet again."

Tim does, and -- "Do you like the way I follow orders?"

"Do you like the way I give them?"

"I like -- mm. I like many, *many* things about you --"

"My cock?"

"The first time I saw it --"

"You stared. Subtly, but still. It was... intimidating."

"I've been told my -- ah... means and methods of appreciation need work."

Lex frowns. "By *Bruce*?"

"Why, Lex. Are you about to go charging -- charging in to protect my honor?"

"I'm *about* to question your taste. *Again*."

"Mmm..." But it feels too good to make that sound when there are fingers in his ass, so -- he does it again. Louder. He does it, and he arches --


"Say -- please --"

"Please lie down before I *slap* you," Lex says, crooking his fingers --

"Ah, *fuck* --" And Tim reaches up to grab the bedposts, fans his knees *out* --

"God, your cock is *reaching* for me --" Lex growls and *grips* it --

Tim croons and shakes his head -- "Ah -- that didn't mean no --"


"Just -- I have to be *sure* of these things, and oh, God, your calluses are *different* --"

"From Bruce's."

"Let me *feel* you --"

"He doesn't --" Lex growls again and starts to stroke, finishing with a *press* to the head of Tim's penis every time, every --

"You did this --"

"That morning, yes. You -- liked it."

Tim nods somewhat frantically and bites his lip --

"*Don't* do that --"

"Sorry. I'm sorry," Tim says, and feels something break and spill within him, something warm and liquid and *needy* -- "Lex --"

"If you apologize to me again -- I'll stop."

"Finally, a threat I can -- can sink my *teeth* into --*ohn* --"

Another crook --

Lex *holds* his fingers there --

Lex *squeezes* him --

"Lex -- *Lex* --"

"*Yes*, Tim --"

"I'm allowed. To be apologetic --"

"You're not my *martyr* --"

"Then what am I?"

Another growl -- and then a low, breathy laugh as Lex eases his grip and leans in to kiss him, once for each lip. "I'll tell you when I've figured that out. Be ready for me."

Tim clenches because he can't actually help it, because --

Oh, it's *good* to have at least one thing he can blame solely on his body, on flex and reflex --

Hormones and endorphins --

Tim whimpers when Lex pulls out, and flips over onto his stomach --

"*No* --"

"*Please* --"

"If you wanted someone *nice* you'd be fucking someone *else*," Lex says, and admitting Lex has a point is, perhaps, the world's best reason to let him wrestle Tim back onto his back. Still --

Tim grabs Lex's relatively clean hand and sucks three fingers into his mouth, licks and mouths, fucks his *face* --

"*Obscene* --"

But Tim can cut Lex off with a look when they're like this --

That has to mean *something* --

Just as it has to mean something that all the effort he'd put into forgetting Lex's tastes was absolutely useless. *This* quality of salt. *This* texture of flesh against his canine. *This* -- moan, and Tim wants to close his eyes, to *feel* it as much as he's hearing it, but it's better to look into Lex's eyes and suck harder before pulling off slowly and lying back down.

Lex's breathing is low and rough --

Lex is slicking his penis with fast, even strokes that will --

Tim whimpers and tries and fails to spread wider, to keep himself from arching again --

"No. Stay right there."

*Tim* moans -- "Lex --"

"Right. There," Lex says, and lines himself up, pushes --

Tim cries out --

"You -- are you too sore?"

Lex cares. Lex -- of course he -- "No. No, just -- that feeling --"

"You never -- we've never --"

"It's *you*," Tim says, and knows that he sounds like he'd rather be sobbing -- "*Please* --"

Hands on his hips then, one slick with saliva, the other slick with lubricant --

The grip is as powerful as anything Bruce has ever given him --

And God, yes, they're both so human, so *much* of what humanity could *be* --

*In*, and Tim can't keep his eyes open, can't keep his thighs from shaking, his hands from spasming and clutching at the duvet --


And Tim realizes that there's no one else who could call him Tim at this moment, no one who could *mean* it so much, so *close* to the right way --

What would he really correct at this point?

How would he *do* it?

Lex groans and rocks his way in for the last few centimeters -- and holds himself there, holds --

"Fuck, *buried* in me --"

"What you *wanted* --"

"*Yes* -- *mm* --"

Fingers in his mouth again, and Tim can absolutely suck, but now he *has* to open his eyes --

Lex's smile is hard, wild, *dark* -- "*My* blue-eyed boy."

Tim raises an eyebrow --

"So you *do* know that poem. Well, Bruce *did* always soak up education effortlessly, and -- hnh. What would you do for more of this, Tim?"

Tim shudders --

"What would you *take*?"

The leverage isn't the best, but Tim can still yank *hard* on Lex's wrist until he pulls out. "You. I'd take *you*."

"You *think* you --"

"*Fuck* me --"

"*Wait*," Lex says, and shows his teeth again. "Maybe I should find out how *much* you know about what I've done over the years --"

"Among other things, you created my best friend -- and then tried to destroy him."

Lex blinks. "The clone --"

"Your *son*, Lex. Your..." Tim laughs, letting himself ignore the pressure, the fullness, the *heat* --

Well, he's not ignoring it very well.

He never wants to be able to. "You've done ridiculously, *laughably* horrible things over the years --"

"And you were amused?"

Tim strokes the arm Lex is bracing himself on. There isn't so much of a tremor, and... "I could hate myself for being so attracted to physical strength --"

"You're human. *Live* with it."

Tim smiles. "I could say the same to you. Because, really, Lex -- it's not actually possible for a fully-functional human being -- i.e., one with the full complement of emotions -- to be the embodiment of evil. It is, in fact, ridiculous to even try."

"I'm not *trying* to be evil --"

"Not even right now? Lex, if I'd known... if I'd given the matter any thought, then yes, I would've sought you out when I came back. You're still you. You just have way too much *crap* surrounding you most of the time. Now fuck me or go brood."

Lex rears back -- and clenches the duvet in his fist. "You're naive."

"I'm in love. And -- I think you're rather more naive than I could ever -- *fuck* --"

That *thrust* --

"All right, we can talk later --"

Lex laughs and it sounds helpless, breathless --

"*Yes*, Lex --"

"God, you little --" Lex growls and braces himself on Tim's wrists --

Tim moans and wraps his legs around Lex's waist --

Moans again for the angle-shift, for the unmistakable and *addictive* sense that this can change him, *shape* him --

And there's a voice, silent and cold and *black* that wants him to know that *Lex* could change him, that Lex could say something reasonable, *do* something reasonable --

Clark has always *been* frightening --

"Now," Lex says, and starts to thrust hard and steadily, starts to --

Filling him, *taking* --

Tim doesn't have to think. Not for this, not ever for *this* --

Not when it feels so good to let his eyes slip half-closed, to let Lex fuck them open with those thrusts that drag against Tim's prostate -- "*Lex* --"

"You feel -- you *know* how you feel --"

"Nnh -- tell me anyway --"

"So much heat, so much -- he must fuck you every *day* --"

"No --"

"Then he's -- a bigger fool than I thought. Knees *higher* --"

Around Lex's chest, then, high enough that it could be difficult to breathe if he lets it be --

And the first gasp that goes exactly nowhere makes Tim groan out the rest of his air, makes Tim's heart pound, makes his lips feel swollen and his tongue feel *thick* --

"*More* --"

"Take what I *give* you --"

"Give me *everything* --"

"You don't *want* --"

"And you -" Tim's laugh is just another gasp. "You *like* it that way. It's -- fucking *safer* --"

"Shut *up* --"

"*Make* me," Tim says, and he suspects his smile is a looped, *crazed* thing, but it just makes Lex look wondering and hungry at once, makes Lex give it to him faster *and* harder --

"You *like* this --"

"You don't know how much I *wanted* you --"

"You said *no* --"

"Ohn -- you should never give me time to *think*, Lex --"

"More --"

"Lex, *please* --"

"*More* --"

"*Lex*," and that was loud enough to make Tim blush under his flush, heat *beyond* the heat -- no. It's not the volume. It's the *honesty*, because Lex can fuck him right into his skin, Lex has only ever wanted to cut him open and make him bleed his *own* blood --

There *should* be blood, something metal to taste, something thick to ride him, move him, *take* -- 

And now Tim sounds like he's being *hit*, but shouldn't he? Shouldn't this be as violent as --

But it can be sweet, too, it --

Lex's appreciative kisses, Lex stroking his hair, Lex smiling like the child he never got to be --

"Oh, *please*, Lex --"

"*What* --"

"More, give *me* more --"

"I only have *one* cock, Tim --"

And this time laughing makes Tim shake, makes Tim want to writhe and move even though he's getting exactly what he *wants* --

"I -- I know what you *want*, Tim --"

"Yes -- you always -- you could always *tell* --"

"Then say it again. Tell me how you *feel* --"

"I love you, I love you so much -- I was trying to *forget* you --"

"Bruce was *helping* --"

"He can't. *No* one can -- *mm* --"

Kissed and the thrusts are slower but still just as hard, still just as *deep*, because Lex had *made* himself flexible enough to manage things like this --

Not for *him* --

Tim moans into Lex's mouth and tries to give the kiss back, tries to make it say how much he needs, wants -- and loves enough to *try* to make this work, to stay right here and just --

"*Please*," Tim says, and it's slurred and wet, *incoherent*, but that's only to be expected when one is watching Lex *fucking* Luthor rear up over you in preparation for a *grindingly* hard fuck, the kind of fuck which feels designed to open Tim as far as he can go, to mold him into something which can *always* take this --

God, *this* --

"Come for me, Tim."

Good, so *good* to cry out for that, to throw his head back and try to work his own hips in Lex's rhythm --

"*Show* me what a good boy you can be --"

"Not -- not your *boy* --"

"No? Then I -- hnh. I suppose you'll have to be my lover --"

Possible that there was more after that, *probable* even, considering --

Lex's lips are still moving --

But so is Tim's body, so --

He's jerking again, spasming deep in his penis and deep in his ass --

Lex is so *thick* in him, so --

"*Now*," Lex says, and it's enough to cut through everything else until it's wrapped around the base of Tim's spine and *yanking* --

"*Lex* --"

A moment, then, to watch Lex's eyes widen with pleasure that looks almost uncomplicated --

And then Tim is shouting his way through an orgasm, riding the echoes of the aches he'll feel when all of this is over, struggling against Lex's grip on his wrists --

He just wants to *touch* --

*Heat*, and that last spasm is enough to make Tim feel galvanized, tense and strained and so *good* --

And Tim can manage to keep his legs locked around Lex, but the rest of his body is singularly failing to report in for duty, or for anything other than reporting the fact that Lex is *slamming* into him, grunting for each thrust --

Sweating enough to *shine* in the morning light --

Tim smiles. "Lex."

"You -- God, shut *up* --"

"You wouldn't love me if I were afraid of you... as opposed to being afraid of what you can do --"

Lex growls like an *animal* -- and bites Tim's throat hard enough to make Tim's penis *twitch* --

"Or I could moan for you. Appreciatively. You -- mm. You're fucking me into a new *shape* --"

"*Mine* --"

And Tim legs clutch at Lex without bothering to wait for an order to do so --

Lex's growl this time is *triumphant*, and that --

"Then come for *me*, Lex. Fill me up and ride me *through* it --"

"*Hnh* -- *Tim* --"

"Make me *take* you, Lex. Make me -- show me *everything* --"

And never mind what the cold voice has to say to that, because Lex is groaning and *shaking* -- coming in him. Tim closes his eyes and breathes through it, forcing back everything that isn't *this* moment -

He wants to *hold* Lex -- but Lex's grip on Tim's wrists is edging close to dangerous -- it has already left painful behind --

Tim holds on with his legs and tries, one more time, to understand the message in the way his body is humming and buzzing with residual pleasure. The text of the message always seems to be 'do this again, and often' but what's the subtext?

Shouldn't he always have subtext?

Tim hisses for the feel of Lex loosening the grip he has on Tim's throat with his teeth --

Lex licks him there --

Lex licks his way to Tim's mouth and kisses him with a wet, messy perfection which manages to be perfectly affectionate despite the way Lex is searching Tim with his eyes.

Perhaps because of it.

Tim narrows his eyes in a smile and gives it back, letting himself jump for the first blunted twinge from his ass. He's been getting less of those just lately, and he isn't sure if he'll miss them or not --

Lex pulls back from the kiss and licks his lips. "I suppose you want your arms back."

Tim shrugs as best he can. "Somehow I get the feeling that you'll need the beginner's course for post-coital cuddling. Pinning me painfully is definitely *a* start."

Lex gives him a sour look. "If I needed a hug, Tim, I would buy one of those ingenious boxes for autistic children."

"I imagine it can't be comfortable to cuddle with Mercy. Far too many poke-y bits."

"But the scent of gun oil is *delightful* in the spring, darling," Lex says, and that --

Really. Tim smiles. "So you *did* pack the eyeliner."

"One day, you're going to make some poor, unsuspecting twink desperately --"


Lex smiles back. "That, too," he says, and releases Tim's wrists. "Will you breathe through me pulling out, or do you want me to give you *that* kind of pain, as well?"

Tim takes a deep breath in answer, and blanks his features to keep from wincing in distaste at the feel of semen running down his cleft and thighs.

Another laugh. "You might have insisted I wear a condom, Tim."

Tim waves a hand and starts stretching his legs. "The amount of kryptonite you're exposed to on a day-to-day basis kills everything *but* the cancers you'll undoubtedly be riddled with -- again -- soon enough, Lex. And I frankly enjoy barebacking too much to worry about the momentary discomfort."

"And yet, somehow, *you're* the role model."

"Kids love the domino," Tim says, settling on his back and raising an eyebrow.

"Hm." Lex lies beside him -- and so Tim rolls onto his side and presses close.

"I promise I don't expect this to last long."

"Bruce doesn't stroke your hair and tell you you're *his* good boy after he's reamed you for an hour or two?"

"Oh, he absolutely does. And there are other sorts of cuddle, as well. I've even been known to sit on his lap --"

"Christ, *stop*. You -- you've already done an excellent job of making me both jealous of and nauseated *by* your relationship with Bruce. You don't have to stab me out of the afterglow."

Tim smiles... and licks Lex's faded scar. "You could consider it to be your just deserts."

"I think I'd rather let Clark cart me off to jail one of these days."


Lex smiles and strokes Tim's hair. "That was perfect, by the way. But I've known for years."

"I don't --"

"Know what I'm talking about. That's all right. If you're wondering why I haven't just destroyed his life... well, I'm madly in love with his wife and I won't do anything to hurt her. Ever."

Except for trying to murder her *husband* --

"You, my fascinating fulcrum of faggotry --"

Tim snorts --

Lex *grins* -- but only briefly. "She's married to a weapon of mass destruction, Tim."

"She -- whoever she is -- almost certainly believes that she's married to a *man*."

"If he would just surrender his identity --"

"Oh -- please, Lex. You'd find some other reason to hate him, fear him, *obsess* about him --" Tim stops, breathes, and -- deals. "Did you even love Lois before she married him?"

"Take that back."

Tim raises an eyebrow and sits up. "Not until you answer the question in a way that *makes* me believe you, Lex, because really --"

"You claim to know me. *Look* at her. Lois Lane is everything any reasonably strong, sane man could *want* in a woman, right down to her foul mouth, rage issues, reckless disregard for her own safety, continuing addiction to cigarettes -- Christ, Tom, you'd even look like her in certain lights if --" Lex stops and narrows his eyes. "You've worn drag for your so-called mission. Haven't you."

"And for Bruce's kinks --"

"*Again* with --"

"He wants her, too. He may like me in his mother's fashions and perfumes, but the makeup is always Lois'."

"Doesn't that *bother* you?"

"I'd be wildly jealous if he were to ever have the threesome Clark has apparently been pushing for since not long after the wedding, but... I have no room to cast stones."

"And that's enough?"

Tim raises his eyebrow again. "It has to be."

Lex frowns and sits up suddenly, gripping Tim's jaw and turning Tim to face the sunlight more directly. "What -- it's not just you being turned on. Your pupils have been blown since last *night*."

"It *can* take rather a while --"

"Tim --"

"I'm *seventeen*, Lex --"

"What the *fuck* are you doing to yourself?"

(You can never trust him.)

Oh... hell.

(You don't know what he will do or when he will do it.)

Not this. Not --

(You must not ever *surrender*!)

"Do I *need* to slap you? Tim, *focus* --"

"I'm focused --"

"Your pupils are --"

(You *know* you can't trust him. Look at what he's done. Look at what he's made you *do* --)

Shaking --

He's *being* shaken, and that's never precisely comfortable --

(It would only take a moment. Just one more moment. Just --)

"*Tim*, you *ass*, if you do this, I will murder your entire fucking *family* --"

"They -- stronger than that. Than *you* --"

(Yes. It will only be another moment, and then the others can focus on what they need to do, then you can be *safe* --)

The floor is carpeted, but it's still a floor -- and Tim's cheek rather stings --


"God *damn* you --"


"What do you *want*? I'm not -- you're not a fucking *prisoner*. Corben didn't even muss Grayson's ridiculous *hair* --"


"*Please* --"

Can't --

(Meaningless --)

It's --

"Tom -- *Tim*, please don't fucking *do* this --"

Please. Always.

*Always* --

(You must not --)

*Always* -- and there's a part of him which is only wondering what *Dick* is doing with *his* morning, and what kinds of foods Alfred Pennyworth serves or maybe they have a whole different chef and maybe Dick misses the circus --

He misses the circus, too --

Not *yet* --

Tim opens his eyes and tries to -- "My skin is too -- tight."

"You fucking useless *prick*."

Tim raises an eyebrow. "I love you, too."

"What *was* that?"

"Ah -- the beginning of the end?" Tim sits up and rubs his cheek. "As you can tell, that won't work."

"Then what -- you can't do that."

"Lex --"

"You can't. Fucking. *Do* that. You didn't see how you *looked* --"

"How did I look?"

"Like you were -- high," Lex says, but the doubt in his voice --

Tim raises *both* eyebrows --

"You looked like a completely different fucking *person*, wide-eyed and --" Lex frowns at him. "Young."

Well. Good to know it worked --

He'd already known it worked, and --

(And there's going to be an interview of Bruce Wayne in Gotham Insider next month and why can't they ever interview *Dick* --)

Tim rubs his temples. At some point, Lex had stood up and started to pace -- hm. "How much time did I lose?"

"Three minutes that time. You -- you need help --"

"It's a self-inflicted injury --"

"You need *help*, Tim. Whatever the hell -- no," Lex says, stopping and turning to face him. "You're regressing yourself."

"Am I?"

"To some time when you didn't know any secrets, at *all*. You -- for the love of *God*, Tim --"

"You were never especially pious, and I will *not* believe that you've started up now," Tim says, standing up and -- stretching. Yes, he can do that --

"I'm not going to interrogate you. I'm not even going to *pump* you --"

"Perhaps we can negotiate that," and Tim moves to the bathroom --

"You've *won* --"

"Lex..." Tim shakes his head and turns on the shower. He's -- sticky. He needs to work out more, too, but he's never minded taking multiple showers in a day, and --

(Maybe Mom and Dad will stay home this month. They can read things together, and they'll play chess, and Tim will learn more, and --)

Not *yet* --

(But you know you can't trust. You know it would be a mistake. You know --)

Slammed against the tile, and Lex's hand is broad and warm on Tim's sternum, Lex's eyes are both pissed and wild --

(He's not supposed to make people angry with him --)

"*Tim* --"

"You'd be better off letting me meditate my way out of this --"

"You're *lying* --"

"Yes, I am," Tim says, brushing Lex's hand aside and adjusting the spray, the temperature. "I'm not actually going to get out of this one, I think."

"*Tim* --"

"Well -- Bruce could probably figure out how to do it, given time. He *is* the world's greatest detective --"

"And I'm -- what?"

"Certainly one of the world's greatest scientists." Tim smiles. "Maybe the two of you could work together on it."

"What the hell do you *want*?"

"Do you really need to ask? I -- all right. There are a few ways around --"

Why is he in the shower this late? Why is he *sore*? Was he --

Is there something?

He has to go down for breakfast, and that's never --

Why can't he smell his parents' coffee? He -- wait, this isn't his bathroom, at all, and there's someone --

There's a naked *man*, and he seems extremely upset about something. Did Tim do something wrong? "You -- why are you naked? What's wrong with my voice? And --"

"How *old* are you?" '

Tim blinks and -- all right, there's a naked man in his --

It's *not* his bathroom, and --

"Why am I *here*?"

"*Tim* --"

"Who *are* you?"

"God *fucking* -- *Clark*. Get here *right* now, and for God's sake bring your best friend *with* you, because there's something wrong with *Tim*," the man says, grabbing a robe off the back of the door and pulling it on --

And suddenly Superman *and* Batman are right there, and -- for some reason they don't seem as large as they should, or --

Tim takes a moment to glance at his hands. They're quite bony and larger than they should be. Scarred. He's almost certain that means something -- 

"What the *hell* is going on here, Luthor?"

He hadn't realized Superman *cursed* --

And Batman is -- closer than he was before. Batman is *filling* the entrance to the shower -- "Tim."

"You... know me?"

Batman nods, reaching out -- he stops, which is a relief, because his gloves look very cold, very --

"*Fix* this, you overgrown freaks!"

"I'm taking him home," Superman -- Clark? -- says --

But Batman holds up a hand. "What did you do?"

"What the hell do you mean what did *I* do? We -- hell, ask *Clark*."

Superman frowns at the man -- Luthor. "I wasn't --"

"Wait," Tim says, and thinks about getting that other robe -- "Is that -- are you *Lex* Luthor?"

The man looks *pained* -- and then he squeezes his eyes shut and nods. "And you're Tim Drake --"

"I know. I know that --"

"And you're *seventeen years old* --"

Tim giggles. "Some of the papers *say* you're insane, Mr. Luthor, but I never really thought --"

"Stop," Batman says, wincing -- he pulls off his cowl and that's --

"*Oh*! You're -- but -- what about *Dick*? Wait, is he -- oh -- but why are you doing this in front of -- um." Tim doesn't look at Luthor, but he doesn't think it matters, judging by the *unhappy* sound he'd just made --

"He already knows, Tim," Batman -- *Bruce Wayne*, and Tim knows him from the parties --

Tim is supposed to call him *Bruce* --

And he's reaching out --

"Please don't -- touch me. Um. I'm sorry? Maybe... if I had clothes?"

Bruce turns off the water --

And Superman -- *Clark* -- hands him a large towel. Tim uses it and tries to pretend he doesn't have the attention of three fairly large men --

Two of them are *superheroes* --

Dick is *Robin*! Dick -- that changes *everything*, that --

Of *course* Robin had appeared not long after Batman had taken Dick away, and Bruce Wayne has always been so *big* -- but clumsy. *Stupid* --

*Pretending* to be -- oh, but that's *brilliant*! Maybe if there's time if he can ask Bruce about --

Well, he's busy, of course, and Tim still doesn't know *why* they're all here --

Or where here *is* --

Or -- hm. No, the towel is monogrammed with a very familiar 'C,' and the soaps seem... "Are we at the Chilton?"

"Yes," Bruce says, and hands him a robe --

"That's -- I don't suppose there are any smaller ones? I -- oh, but I'm larger for some reason --"

"Maybe," Luthor *grits*, "you should *think* about that."

Tim frowns. "I assure you that I am, Mr. Luthor. I just -- it doesn't seem to make much sense. Unless there was some kind of... of aging spell cast on Gotham? Oh, but that would make my parents -- I have to check on them --"

"They're all right, Tim," and Bruce's voice seems to be *pitched* to be low and reassuring, but he's still --

"Your old uniform was much less frightening, B- Bruce."

A wry smile -- "As you say. Do you remember anything before you found yourself here?"

Tim thinks -- yes, but -- he shakes his head. "I remember finishing my project for school, but it all seems very vague. And... dim? Maybe?" Tim tries to offer something like a rueful smile, something that seems *intelligent* --

And this time when Bruce reaches out, Tim finds himself back in the shower --

"Oh. I moved... quickly. I'm -- do you want to... check my temperature, Bruce? Or... something?"

Clark --

"Wait, are you Clark *Kent*? The reporter who always -- *oh*." Tim frowns. "You don't think that seems like... um. A cheat?"

Clark blinks --

And Luthor makes a choked noise *while* pinching the bridge of his nose. Bruce --

Bruce is holding a hand up, and --

The glove is off.

"Is this all right, Tim?"

"Why -- why do you need to touch me? I mean, I'm all right -- I feel perfectly all right, and -- um. All right, I'm a little sore, but really. You don't have to touch me."

Bruce frowns. "Is there something --" Bruce stops and takes a short breath. "You're not accustomed to being touched."

"Ah -- well. I mean, of course my parents hug me when they -- um. I just don't see -- I mean. We don't know each other very well."

Bruce nods. "One moment, please," he says, and turns back to Luthor. *Clark* is staring at him, too, but Luthor isn't looking at either of them. He's staring just beyond Tim's shoulder --

He's *glaring*, hands clenched into fists --

"*Talk*, Luthor," and Clark sounds -- angry. *Dangerously* angry --

(You should always be very clear in your understanding of danger, which is everywhere.)

Yes, yes, of course, that's right, and -- hm. Tim doesn't remember having a voice in his mind *before*, but --

(I will only ever tell you logical, easily-researched things. For instance, if you were to place your hand near to Clark's face right now, you would almost certainly feel burned.)

His -- his eyes do seem *incandescent* --

(Note the rage visible in Luthor's form. Note the tension he holds in his shoulders and near his hips. Note his body, barely covered.)

Tim's *own* body --

(Yes. You are in his hotel room. You are naked together. What could that mean?)

Tim flinches -- and he's not fast enough to avoid being *caught* by Bruce -- "Oh -- please don't do that --"

"*Tim* --"

"He *doesn't* want you to *touch* him, Bruce," Lex says, and his smile is a terrible thing, a *frightening* thing -- "The whys don't matter. You just need to take your hands off him right *now* --"

"You *don't* give the orders here," Clark says -- and suddenly Luthor just *is* halfway up the wall with Clark's hand around his throat -- "What did you *do*?"

"*Nothing*, you ass --"

Bruce squeezes Tim's shoulder --

Tim shudders. "Please --"

"I'm sorry. I'm -- I only wish to offer comfort --"

"I -- if you could just help me -- I mean, I am still in Gotham, right?"


"Then..." Tim takes a deep breath. "Maybe I should go downstairs and -- and catch a cab. I don't live far --"

"I'm afraid I can't let you do that yet, Tim," Bruce says, and frowns again. "It's not... safe. Not for you."

"But -- why? And -- and Mr. Luthor is starting to turn colors and I don't think --"

"*Clark*," Bruce says, low and *commanding* --

Clark drops Luthor right there  --

And Luthor coughs a lot, only -- it sounds like he's laughing, too. It's not a very friendly laugh. It still feels --


-- like something --


-- he ought to *know* --

(Note the quality and placement of your soreness.)

His -- well. His *bottom* -- and it feels like something was *in* it. Or is *still* in it -- oh.

Tim looks at Luthor, but he still isn't looking at any of them, and -- "Mr. Luthor?"

Luthor stiffens and closes his eyes again -- opens them. "Tim. What do you need?"

*Clothes*, but -- "I -- did we -- um. I mean. The soreness... um."

Luthor *shudders* --

"My *God* -" And Clark's growl is --

"*Don't*, Clark," Bruce says --

And suddenly the bidet is melted and -- and *fused* --

Tim didn't know marble could *do* that --

(He is dangerous. You are in danger now. You must find a way to absent yourself.)

But he still doesn't know what's going *on* --

(You will have time to regroup. For now, it is important to leave.)

He can't go *home* --

(Home is irrelevant. Time and space to deduce your next move is not.)

Tim nods internally. "I -- I think I'll just -- ah. If you'll all excuse me --"

"I need you to give us time, Tim," Bruce says, and his voice is low and careful again. "I promise I will not touch you, or... interfere with you in any way."

(There is *danger*!)

But it's *Batman* --

(You are not ready to treat with him. It is not time for that. You are in a room with an alien and a rapist --)

He doesn't remember *being* raped --

(You are a child. Luthor is not. This is one of the definitions of rape.)

Tim -- doesn't flinch again. It seems important to maintain his -- his *control* --

Luthor hadn't flinched when Clark had melted the bidet --

*Why* would he have sex with *Lex Luthor*? He -- he doesn't even really know for sure what sex *is*. It all sounds so -- so *improbable*, and it's not like he's ever even *had* an erection --

If Luthor is a pedophile, it would explain Clark's reactions --

But not Bruce's. Not --

Bruce has a hand on Luthor's shoulder. "You have to tell us what happened. Or. Is there... footage?"

Luthor shakes his head and laughs -- briefly. "I turned *off* the cameras, Bruce. And the microphones, too, for that matter."

Bruce's wince is small and subtle, but there -- "Did you notice anything strange before this happened?"

"His pupils were blown last night, and stayed that way through this morning. At first... at first, I thought it was arousal."

Maybe -- he was drugged? He --

(Rapists often use drugs to subdue their victims.)

"Should -- should I be tested for... drugs?"

Clark clenches his fists tightly enough that his *knuckles* crack -- "It's a thought."

"Clark --" Bruce's tone is hard, but not *sharp* --

"I have never felt the need to have sex with people who didn't, at the very least, want to have sex with the image I've presented to the world at large," Luthor says, and his voice is quiet and subdued but still -- sure.

There's something about it which *feels* honest --

(He is a rapist.)

But he would remember that --

(There could very well be compounds in your system unknown to the larger scientific world. Luthor is a highly-trained biochemist in his own right.)

He knows that. He -- he's read that, only it feels as though there is something more, something --


And it almost feels as though there's something in his mind -- other than the voice -- which is pushing him *away* from things, or --

Holding him away?

(You are, understandably, confused. Wait for your chance to make your escape.)

Tim ties his robe on more tightly, and --

Bruce and Luthor are speaking quietly enough that Tim can only hear the timbre of their voices. Bruce's is low and calm, though not especially reassuring, anymore. Luthor's is -- tense. *Tight*. His own fists are clenched --

"Oh --"

Clark is blocking Tim's view -- "Tim..." He lifts his hands --

Tim steps back --

"Of course, I'm sorry."

"It's -- do. Do rape victims behave like... I. I don't think I was raped."

Clark frowns, eyes glowing enough --

Tim's face is starting to feel *sunburned* -- he steps back --

Clark reaches out -- stops himself and covers his eyes with his hands for a moment. When he moves them again, they're only blue and gentle and worried -- "Tim... something. Something very strange has happened to you. There are things you don't remember about yourself --"

"I -- picked that up," Tim says, and rubs at his cheek where the feeling of warmth hasn't faded enough -- he's blushing. He *hates* --


Yes, he can do that, and -- "What things have I forgotten, Superman?"

A rueful smile. "The fact that you've called me Clark since we met a few years ago is, at the moment, foremost in my mind. But, if you'll turn to look in the mirror?"

(The world is a place rife with miracles and wonders both strange and terrible. There is *always* another explanation.)

Tim frowns -- and turns. And looks around for -- but he's right there. Those are his eyes, and that's his nose and mouth, and --

He's too old. He's -- and he *knew* that, but this is not just how he would look if he were eight years older, this is *him* --

Tim sits down on the side of the tub. He doesn't remember making the decision to do so, but -- he had to sit down. He just --

Clark sits beside him, reaches out -- and folds his hands in his lap. "Perhaps... perhaps you understand why we're all so confused."

"You -- know me as a seventeen-year-old."

"As does Bruce. And... Luthor."

(He is an alien.)

But --

(He is entirely capable of speeding his reactions -- his 'tells,' if you would -- to the point where *you* could never tell if he were lying.)

Tim rubs at his temples --

(I am not a headache.)

"Do you need anything? I -- let me bring you your clothes?"

"I can get them --"

"Bruce would prefer it if you stayed close. I..." And then Clark is holding a small pile of neatly-folded clothes he doesn't recognize.

They do look like they'll fit his body --

This body --

*His* body, because wouldn't he have difficulty moving --

(There are always explanations. Take the clothes and dress. You'll find it easier to escape, then.)

Tim takes the clothes. Clark turns away -- but he's still blocking Bruce and Luthor -- Lex?

(The rapist.)

But no one thinks he *did* --

(You must always, always think for yourself.)

You're not *me* --

(Aren't I?)

Tim --

Tim dresses himself as quickly as he can, alternately ignoring and being *struck* by his body --

*This* body --

Will the voice become his own if he lets it? There's something --

(It's all right.)

-- something not right about that, something --

(There is danger everywhere save for within your own mind.)

-- and some things *need* to be dangerous, need --

Batman and Robin have to be the most dangerous people in Gotham, because if they ever aren't then *everyone* is in danger --

(If you are not safe, then neither is anyone else.)

"That doesn't make any *sense*," Tim says, and *then* realizes that it was out loud -- oh. Oh, dear.

They're all *looking*, and both Bruce and L-Luthor seem troubled and dangerously close to coming to *touch* him --

"I'm all right," Tim says, and tries the smile which always works on Nanny Helga --

It makes everyone in the room look even *more* troubled, which --

(Sometimes, you must be *partially* honest in order to allay suspicion.)

Yes. Yes, that does make sense. "I'm just -- very worried about my parents. And -- um. About me, too. And I keep trying to think of explanations for how I came to be here, but --"

"I brought you here," Luthor says, and something about the way his hands hang at his sides makes Tim think that he'd rather be reaching out -- "We were both attending a party."

"I -- without my parents?"

Bruce closes his eyes, but only for a moment. "With me, Tim. We are... close."

"Are... hm. Did my parents leave for St. Moritz early?"

"Yes, Tim. They did. You'll be in my care until they return," Bruce says, and never looks away from Tim's eyes even though it seems like he *wants* to --


"I really can just stay home with the nanny, Bruce. I do it all the time --"

"*Not* this time," and Bruce turns back to Luthor --

"Bruce. If Tim doesn't want to stay with you --"

"Then you'd like to offer your own homes, *Lex*?" Clark stands -- and then hovers. "I don't think so --"

"Oh, stop glowing at me before you rupture something, alien. If you don't have anything useful to offer, then just go back to -- no, never mind."

"Were you going to use the word 'babysitting,' Luthor? Is that really how you want to put it?"

Luthor narrows his eyes. "You're the one who said it, *Clark*. *I* would like to take this time to point out which of us is the only adult in the room who *hasn't* actively worked to endanger a child --"

Clark's laugh is incredulous --


And Tim is moving before the decision is firm in his mind. If he can get out of the room, itself --

If he can make his way to some -- some ductwork or something --


Can a voice be a touch? Bruce's voice seems like it *should* be --

"Please stay."

There's *more* in Bruce's voice than just a request for -- for *patience* --

"I promise you, Tim. We will find a way to ease this, if not fix --"

"*No*, Bruce, we're *going* to fix it. I can't --" Luthor growls and turns to Tim. "You love me. You *love* me, Tim, and I --" Luthor pants and seems to almost be straining against his own *skin*. Just --

"It's all right," Tim says, because something --

He *has* to, and that --

(Yes, ease their minds. Leave them secure in their assumptions.)

That's not what he *wants*, but -- "It's -- I'm all right... Lex, and I'm sure we have a lot to -- to speak about --"

"You've won, Tim. You -- please," Luthor says --

(The rapist --)

"Lex? Lex -- your." Tim laughs quietly and tries to keep himself from rubbing at his temples. "Your name *feels* familiar, but I think I'm really just trying to do anything I can to make any of this -- make sense."

Lex --

(The *rapist* --)

Batman knows that he's seventeen. *Batman* doesn't -- doesn't lie to *children* --

(He will do anything to serve his Mission! That is the definition of danger!)

It's a good Mission. It's the *best* Mission, and Dick is a part of it, and that means --

That must mean --



"-- yes, you've *said* that it's not a coma once, and now you're going to tell me *again*."

"It's not a coma," Bruce says -- "Tim. Open your eyes, please."

Oh -- *no* one can tell when he's not asleep --

His *parents* can't tell, and neither can Nanny Helga --

"You're safe here. I promise you."

Tim opens his eyes -- and jumps at a screeching noise -- "Are those -- bats?"

"Judging by the guano currently ruining an eight hundred dollar pair of shoes? Yes," Luthor --

Lex --

(The *rapist*!)

Tim bites back a groan and sits up -- and the bed follows him. Oh. He's on some sort of hospital bed --


He's on a gurney, and he feels --

(Confused. Perhaps even frightened. You may need to get to a hospital.)

"I think -- am I ill?"

"Yes --"

"No," Bruce says, and rests his hand on the bed. "However, I am in the process of running several tests to be certain."

"Should I... I mean, did I faint? Or --"

"You blacked *out*," Lex says, gripping the foot of the gurney. "Because of the unholy *thing* you --"


Lex snarls -- and sucks in a breath. "Then let's see *your* methods, rodent-man."

"What -- I --"


"But --"


Tim hears himself making a frustrated noise and resists the urge to bang on his temples with his fists --

"Do you have a headache, Tim?"

"What? No. Just -- I'm very frustrated. And -- I was wondering why I'm not in a hospital to have these tests run," Tim says, and doesn't look up until he feels like he can hold onto his expression. "Also... if I truly am seventeen, then I really shouldn't need to -- to -- I..."

(It's all right. Everything will be corrected.)

He doesn't *want* to go to sleep again --

(With time, Batman and the rapist will need to do other things --)

He's not really a child, at *all* -- and he's being pushed again, *forced* again, and he doesn't want to go. There are questions he needs to ask, and questions --

Questions are always important. To seek knowledge is to be truly alive, and he can hear Bruce saying that, only he doesn't really know --

And would his parents really visit St. Moritz *again*? They hate taking the same vacation twice and that's why they're not going back to Martha's Vineyard even though it was so pretty there and he's tired, he's very tired, and that means he needs to sleep --

Even though he doesn't want to --

(It's all right. It's all right. It's --)

"*Robin*. Code *Alpha*."

He moves, and --

And the motions come so easily, feel so --

Find and neutralize the threat --

"Stand *down*," Batman says, and that's when Tim realizes that he was moments away from -- breaking Lex's jaw. With his *foot*.

Tim is holding himself in a position that doesn't even seem --

He can't even *feel* the stretch that must be in his thighs, he has to --

How is he *balancing*?

"Oh --"

Bruce catches him before he falls, and -- lets go once Tim has found his feet again.

"As you can see," Bruce says, "the memories remain."

"The *physical* memories, perhaps, but we've seen no sign that they still connect to much of *anything*," and Lex turns to face him -- "I won't hold that against you, Tim. The sort of training you received... goes down to the bone."

"What *training*? Why -- how --"

(Do you see the danger, yet? Do you understand? They can do *anything*!)

"How did you make me *do* that, Batman?"

"Bruce. Please, I am not Batman in this moment."

"But -- that *voice* --" But how does he know it? *Why* does he know it?

Bruce said they were close.

Clark said that he's close to Lex, too --

He *remembers* everything about being nine years old, but somehow --

(*No* --)

Why is it so necessary to keep me in the *dark*?

(Because you would know dangerous things otherwise. Because you would *tell* those things.)

An answer. A *true* answer, and surprising enough that he wants to sit down again -- he's already sitting down. He's back on the gurney, and Bruce and Lex are speaking to each other in low voices and Tim --

Had done something.

(It was a mistake to try to keep this from yourself.)

You're the one --

(I'm *you*.)

Well, then -- something. Tim doesn't particularly like doing this when other people are around, but it feels good to pull his knees up and cover his face and just -- breathe.

(You're listening.)


(There is a way this can still work.)

He has to protect the Mission.


He was -- he was *endangering* the Mission --

(You had already done the worst of it, but yes.)

Memory -- memory is complicated, associated with more aspects of the psyche than anyone can truly be sure about. The body, the intellect, the -- soul.

(You gave your soul to others. You have to take it back.)

From -- oh.

(Yes. He won't be able to hurt you, anymore. Neither of them will. No one will.)

Tim squeezes his eyes shut --

(For the Mission.)

The Mission needs --

Batman needs --

(You will be clear. Focused. Dedicated. You will never hesitate to do what is necessary.)

Never to kill. Never to break. Never to surrender --

(The words of the man, who is fallible.)

And you're not?

(You built me to be better than that.)

I want my memories back.

(Distractions and irrelevancies.)

*Now* --

And there's nothing like a sigh or even a sneer, but that doesn't stop Tim from being able to feel it, anyway. Feeling it is an excellent way to distract himself from the pitch and yaw of eight years --



Years. With death written all over them. Deaths which could've been prevented, deaths which were ultimately non-final, deaths which show no sign of ever being alleviated, deaths --

(In the final tally, more would be hardly noticeable, at all.)


(I would like to point out --)

That Tim -- and no one and nothing else -- had set up the rape... issue. All to avoid having sexuality alone be enough to shake him from his... convictions.

Right now, Bruce is discussing hypnosis with Lex, and the use of a tactic which might even have been helpful -- the specific search for blocked memory pathways based on what they both know about his childhood and his childhood-related... issues.

Right now, this can all -- stop. The ache in him. The need for this moment between Bruce and Lex to last long *enough* to mean something --

(You can never trust.)

Sometimes, Bruce had spoken of screaming to drown out the voice of the Bat. It was all too easy to imagine, considering everything Tim had seen of the footage --

Everything he'd seen in a sixteen-year-old Bruce's *eyes* --

(Neither of them will let you hide your expressions from them for very long.)


(There is only one suggestion.)

How do you know it will work any better than the other?

(Very simple. Once it's done, you will do something which will remove your options.)

*Lex* --

(Everything he knows. Everything he has the power to do. And there are others who know too much, as well.)

This doesn't work without the secrets.

(So few worthwhile things do.)

There are other things which... which are worthwhile --

(You can't even *think* it with conviction. What do you suppose that means?)

Once, Dick had asked him about his childhood --

(Dick was never right for the Mission.)

Once, he had explained it all to Dick as best he could --

(You love him for his flaws as much as anything else. Admirable... for someone with that sort of luxury.)

There is no luxury in this life.


There is --

But Dick had held him so close that night, and after a while Tim had been able to stop thinking of sexuality, of appropriateness, of secrets --

(It never lasts. You know the right way.)

It's not the *only* way --

(What would Gotham do without Batman? With a *compromised* Batman?)

Tim does not flinch --

(Yes. Think about it.)

He would never let me get away.

(He would also never kill you. And there are always ways to escape imprisonment.)

Always, yes. Just -- but what of all the time he'll spend hunting me down? Efficiency demands --

(Dick. Cassandra. Barbara --)

All have other things to *do* --

(They will be free to do them. And so will Clark.)

They're free -- they --

(I'd tell you to stop trying, but it's only human to do so.)

*Human* -- I don't want to *be* Lex --

(As if you would be. Lex has never been nearly as practical nor clear as he would like to believe himself to be. You know that.)

He does. And --

Lex's rage is a weakness that could never --

It was in him as a *teenager* --

"Tim," Bruce says, and that soft sound means that he's touching the gurney again, so close --

Tim looks up, and there isn't much he can do about his expression. He doesn't try.

"Tom. How?"

(Be... yourself.)

Tim smiles ruefully. "'Things fall apart; the center cannot hold?' Something like that," he says, and turns to Lex. "That was... ridiculously terrible for you to deal with. I'm sorry."

Lex rears back slightly, blinks, and narrows his eyes. "How exactly do you plan to keep it from happening again?"

"I really don't think that will be a problem, Lex. Any plan which can't stand up to being naked in a partially-melted bathroom with you, Bruce, and Clark is hardly worth its salt, after all."

Bruce hums --

And Lex's laugh is deeply, deeply affronted. And brief. "You're the single most manipulative creature I have ever met."

"Almost certainly," Tim says, and slips down off the gurney. The computers are all shut down, giving the Cave a silence which feels -- deathly. He has to --

There are things he must do in order to be able to perform his duties. Tim starts stripping out of the clothes --

Lex had purchased these clothes for him, and, judging by their style, Lex had been paying attention --


Takes one. He had been paying attention to what Tim wore on a day-to-day basis to school. He had no real way to know that that was as much a costume as anything else --

(Except for the uniform.)

It won't be mine, anymore.

(There will be others.)

Did you plan those, too? Should I call you Bonnie?

(Juvenilia has never, ever suited us.)

Naked, Tim moves for the lockers and his workout clothes, and there's something --

There's something *else*, but he's not going to look for it, yet. He has decisions to make.

(There are no other choices.)

Lex can do nothing to injure us from here. There isn't even *cell* reception --

(And if he made time-based orders to his subordinates?)

Tim doesn't hesitate or falter --

"You're not joking. You're about to shrug all of -- *that* off and *train*?"

Tim pauses at his locker, touching cool metal and thinking of the first time he'd realized that it *was* his locker, that he had a *place* here --

(All things end, with time.)

Very, very true. Tim smiles back over his shoulder. "If you take me prisoner again, I'd like to try harem pants and a navel jewel."

Lex looks -- incredulous.

Bruce hums again... but he stops, and stares at Tim, and --

(Not yet --)

Tim raises an eyebrow. "We're going to have to spend some time working on a use for the pearl which would actually *be* useful, but right now I'm not really up for it."


"Yes, Bruce, I *know* it was horrifying, but it really couldn't be anything --"

"Stop," Bruce says, and starts -- *advancing* on him --

"Bruce? What is it?"

(Be *yourself* --)

For how long?

(Long *enough*.)

Tim tilts his head back once Bruce is close, and Bruce's hand is perfect on his jaw --

Bruce's hand is *always* perfect --

"My love. How long?"

"I'd say I've been 'back' since not long after you decided to mash my Robin buttons, *Dad* --"

Bruce shakes his head once. "Not that. Not... you have more control over it?"

Tim frowns --

"Please don't lie to me, Tom. Not -- not for this."

One of the very few things Bruce has wanted which Tim hasn't been able to give him is for Tim to be able to hear the Bat. It would make Bruce -- not happy, not that, but less *alone* --

And all Tim is doing is looking *confused*, looking --

Lex is there, looking back and forth between them, face held in a position *ready* for a sneer -- but that's only because of the honest fear in his eyes. "It isn't over, is it."

Bruce shakes his head again -- "Tom."

"That's not his fucking *name* --"

"It is for Bruce," Tim says. "It's all right, Lex --"

"It is -- not. All right. What you *give* to him --"

(Use this. Now.)

"And you wouldn't take it if I offered it to you?"

"No, I *wouldn't*. One, I already have Mercy. Two -- I don't. I don't need you to be anyone but yourself, even though you're fucking *certifiable*."

And the way that feels --

(He's so close now.)

The way it *aches* --

(It doesn't have to.)

He could be closer, and God, Tim *wants* him closer --

(You don't need want.)

"Tim. For the love of *everything* I'm too evil to believe in, *please* tell me your pupils are dilating for a *good* reason --"

"They are," Bruce says, and turns Tim back to face him. "It's the voice in his mind which worries me."

"Excuse me?"

"Bruce, I don't -- I still don't hear it. I know that's something you've always needed from me --"

"And you're being honest, which means that it's not the Bat, at all."

"It's *nothing*, Bruce --"

And Lex's hand is warm and *hard* on Tim's biceps. "The thing you did to yourself left... what is it? Residue? Something telling you -- *what* is it telling you?"

Tim closes his eyes, sighs, and twists away from both of them. "The only voice in my head is my own. I will admit to occasionally arguing with myself to an extent which is rather *worrying*, but..."


Tim smiles ruefully. "It's all right. And now I need to dress and train and have a few more private arguments about -- all of this."

For a moment *Bruce* looks confused --

(You've done it.)

Wonderful, he's managed -- yet again -- to successfully lie to his mentor, partner, lover, brother, and father. That is an *excellent* future he's setting up for himself --

(Will you start counting your lies again? Think of the efficiency lost when you realized you'd lost count.)

He'd had, for all intents and purposes, something like a miniature breakdown. And had been forced to bench himself on a night when there turned out to be *four* different murders -- all with crime scenes he could've examined in detail had he not been so busy trying not to hug himself and rock because he no longer knew how often he had failed to be anything like a son --

How is he supposed to do that again, exactly?

(You already do it all the time. You are not attached to your emotions so much as you are attached to having them. And even then...)

Only for his family. Only --

But Lex isn't his family and never can be, and --

(Never. Never, never. It is the antithesis of pain.)

I *like* pain --

(You enjoy the utility of it, and you have built something of a fetish for utility in general. It serves you well enough for the physical aspects of life --)

I won't lose it.

(Nothing necessary will be lost.)

Only those pesky, irritating --

(You joke, but you're also being entirely honest --)

I'm not a murderer!


Well. Good to know that screaming doesn't do a damned *thing* --

(That was more of a yell.)

Tim closes the locker. He doesn't slam it, and he's -- dressed enough. He has a choice to make.

(Secrets are necessary!)

Of course they are. Of -- course.

Tim sits down on the bench and clutches his hands together between his knees. It was a good morning. A very -- "Bruce... the timing -- and location -- is terrible, but I would appreciate time alone with Lex."

He doesn't hear Bruce leaving -- or Lex coming closer -- but Lex sitting beside him and astride the bench is enough of a warning, and --

"I would... like to help," Lex says so *quietly* --

And, in truth, there is no such thing as *enough* warning. "I love you."


"We love each *other* --"

"Yes," and Lex isn't touching him, but --


Yes. And Tim deliberately turns to face Lex, knowing he looks tired and, perhaps, *old* --

"It's not enough, Lex. I can't trust you."

"And so you're -- leaving me?"

Tim smiles and pushes his hands into Lex's own. It takes some effort. "No. Not that."

"Then?" Casual voice, but nothing that could ever be termed casual in his eyes.

"God, I -- you never could do much about everything in your eyes."

Lex laughs and squeezes Tim's hands in his own. "Most people never look that closely... my love? No, that doesn't work. I feel too much like I ought to be beating at my breast while wandering the heath."

"The moors would also be acceptable --"

"And the rooftops...?" Lex raises an eyebrow --

And it feels like just one more necessary thing to twist his right hand free so that he can stroke it. "Not there... mostly not there. He's training me to know everything I need to take over for him."

"You --" Lex sighs. "I suppose he does get to wear more armor."

"The cowl is, in fact, bulletproof," Tim says, and traces a domino over Lex's features --

And gets a snort. "You're far more likely to get me into a dress. Darling."

(His throat is an easy target.)

Tim smiles. "It's true that you could've done better with certain segments of the electorate."

"Libertarianism is rarely popular with people who were kicked out of the family nest before they could achieve economic independence, yes..." Lex frowns. "What is it, Tim? What could -- how do I make it enough?"

Tim shakes his head. "We should focus on taking what we can get --"

"You want more than that."

(His chest. There, and there.)

"Of course I do, Lex. I -- God, I missed you so much --"

Lex raises his eyebrow again.

"I -- right, yes. You and Bruce --"

"You shouldn't -- you owe us nothing save for the explanations you already gave," Lex says, and his voice is strained --

"Do you really believe that?"

"Of course I don't, you -- remind me the next time I have an insult to hand."

Tim lets his smile be somewhat wider. "As you say --"

"And *don't* sound like him -- you. You could visit me. Tour my labs. Spend hours going over my books and training yourself to be a forensic accountant on top of everything else --"

"I do already have the basics down."

Lex's laugh is choked -- but not shocked. He rubs at his eyes with his fingers --

(He trusts you implicitly.)

Tim -- doesn't grit his teeth. "You didn't sleep well last night --"

"Amazingly enough, no, I did not," Lex says, moving his hands and showing Tim a smile both avaricious and fond. "Would you have stayed --"

"Yes. Yes, I --" Tim stops and laughs, freeing his other hand and stroking along Lex's bare forearms. He had rolled his sleeves back. "I wonder, often, what I might have done if Dick hadn't come --"

"You really shouldn't make me think more poorly of the man than I already do."

Tim makes a face. "It can't possibly just be his hair, but I honestly can't think of what else there *could* be --"

"Your father liked to use anecdotes from his life to illustrate certain talking points," Lex says, and smiles -- very meanly.

Tim blinks and pauses with both hands --

(Perfect. Stay natural.)

"He talked about *Haly's*?"

"I gave bonuses to everyone who could bring me information that connected your parents to Bruce -- don't worry, most people believe I plan to take DI from WE -- and one of the people we stole from DI after the collapse... well."

"What -- *why* did he --"

"A lesson, I believe, on the importance of accepting necessary risk. Because, of course, there is no such thing as perfect safety."

Tim -- fights back the urge to make a face. It really does sound just *like* his father, and the fact that he's offended... well, it's a fact. At least he'd known not to tell that story in front of *Tim* --


Lex is looking at him curiously --

"Sorry," Tim says, and smiles ruefully. "I just --"

"I always found it easier to be angry with my father after he was dead... but I understand that this is not usually the case."

"He -- had no real reason to know how important Dick is to me, of course --"

"Because, as I suspected -- and as you found ways to tell me even when you were lying about your own *name* -- your parents weren't truly a part of your life. It's only natural to blame them for it --"

"I don't -- look, Lex, I'm not really as fucked-up as I look."

Another raised eyebrow --

"I love it when you don't color them. I -- I suppose I've wanted you to know that for quite a while --"

"If you're not leaving me, then don't talk like you are," Lex says, pointed and matter-of-fact at once.

(You will not always -- or often -- have the chance to say goodbye --)

He knows. He knows. Tim picks up Lex's hands and rubs his face along the knuckles. "I would've gone crazy -- crazier without you."

"'Tom' is much friendlier than you could ever be."

"And a lot more... human, I think," Tim says, and bites Lex's knuckles one at a time.


(You do not have to do this while you're still compromised.)

He will not ever be a coward.

(There are often many differences between bravery and practicality. And all too few between bravery and foolhardiness.)

Still. Tim lets go of Lex's hands and smiles, gauging the distance between them, the angles --

(The heart.)

Of course. "I love you --"

"And we're really going to have to have a talk about *that*," *Clark* says, unceremoniously picking Lex up and moving him --

(Out of *range* --)

"Really *yes*, little brother," and Dick pins Tim's arms --

(Don't struggle yet.)

He doesn't --

"Now, Clark didn't tell me *why* I was supposed to do this, but he was pretty clear --"

"Luthor's life was in danger," Clark says, calm and *stern* --

"What are you *talking* --" Lex stops himself and looks at Tim, eyes wide and -- knowing.

Tim tries consternation. "Look, I know my love life is interesting, but --"

"Bruce asked me to listen closely," and Clark takes a moment to scowl at Lex. "That particular level of calm you just achieved, Tim... after everything that had come before --"

Dick snorts. "Clark, he's *always* cold. I think it's a *good* thing for him to be cold when he's dealing with Luthor --"

"I'm not --"

"Not that particular quality of coldness, Dick. You don't have to do this, Tim --"

"Do *what* --"

"No," Lex says, smiling and holding up a hand. "Let him go. Please."

Dick -- hugs him. "We're so gonna talk about this, little brother. At *length*. How is he even your *type*?"

Tim closes his eyes --

"Lover," Lex says, and the smile in his voice is full of *relish*. "*Don't* do that."

Tim doesn't grit his teeth -- he opens his eyes. "I can't trust you."

"Not even remotely," and Lex *laughs*. "My God, Tim, you are..." Lex shakes his head and comes to crouch by the bench --

"Be *careful*, Luthor --"

"*Do* shut up, alien. Tim just reminded me why he's the man of my dreams, after all. The love of my life."

Tim's eyes feel grainy and raw. His heart feels --

His *hands* feel --

Lex cups Tim's knee and cocks his head to the side. "Let him go, Mr. Grayson. He's not going to do anything while he can be so easily *caught*."

Tim narrows his eyes. "I don't have the sort of agenda which would be greatly inconvenienced by a certain amount of time spent incarcerated, Lex."

Lex's laugh is breathless and fond. "Oh -- all right. *Do* make sure he gets sent to Arkham first."

"This is *nothing* to joke about, Luthor. What you've done to him --"

"Yes, *yes*, alien, it's as criminal as *anything* else --"

"Tim...?" Dick's voice is -- small. *Low* --

Tim doesn't close his eyes again, and he makes a point of staying relaxed. "It's really all right, Dick. I won't do it while he can see it coming."

Lex *coughs* another laugh -- "You've always been a *terrible* romantic."

"*Tim* --"

"It's all *right*, Dick. I --" And Tim has to laugh a little himself. Just -- of course Bruce would know not to trust him. Of course Bruce would always have an ace in the hole. And --

Of course this would make Lex happier than *anything* else he could ever do.

"I'm not going to do anything," Tim says. "I promise."

If anything, Lex's smile gets even *wider* --

"Tim..." Clark moves Lex aside and crouches where he had been. "You have to know there are other ways. Other... Bruce already *has* new identities set up for all of you, and there are certain technologies I have at my disposal... you won't *need* plastic surgery or -- or anything *like* that --"

"Of course not. I know all of this, Clark -- I helped *design* Starfall."

"It's just that you seem to have forgotten --"

"My fiancé forgets *nothing*," Lex says, standing and rocking on his heels.

Tim snorts -- "Lex."

"What? You'll *want* to stay close. Just in case."

"I -- ow." Dick is holding Tim by the hair and *yanking* his head back --

"Little *brother* --"

"It was -- haven't you ever had a moment's thought about how to make things simpler, Dick? No, you don't have to answer. I *know* you have. And I know you've even *done* something about it --"

Dick makes a soft sound and grips tighter. "It's not you, Tim. It's not -- you never have to *go* there."

Tim reaches down and cups Dick's thigh. "I know. I do know. It was really..." Tim sighs. "It seemed like I could just... make the problems go away. *All* of the problems."

"And I can attest that that sort of thing is *often* useful," and Lex sounds like he wants to *titter* --

"*Shut* up, Luthor --"

"Oh, all right, Clark. I'll just button my lips up tight and see if I can get the animatronic dinosaur to wreak some measure of havoc. Toodles," Lex says, and wanders off, whistling... Bowie.

Tim smiles helplessly --

"You're not *Jason*, Tim --"

"No, I'm not," Tim says, and pulls against Dick's grip --

Dick lets go --

And Tim turns around to face him. "First and foremost, I'm right here and Jason isn't --"

"You were going to take yourself *away* from here -- or did you think that Bruce *wouldn't* know --"

"Oh, I knew that he'd know. I just wanted to give him plausible deniability --"

And Dick's expression crumples in on itself --

"Right, wrong thing to say. I..." Tim shakes his head and cups Dick's shoulders. "I'm in love with him. I am, I think, the only one. It just seemed like..."

(Pause. Give him a chance --)

"Your *responsibility*, Tim?"

Tim sighs and smiles ruefully. "Maybe I could've stopped him from becoming who he is if I had tried harder in the past --"

"You had other things to *do* --"

"And you always have such an easy time weighing that sort of thing, Dick? Really?"

Dick frowns --

And Tim takes Dick's hands in his own. "It was just -- a whim. Or -- no, it was a lot more than that, because once I realized my original plan was going to go haywire on me I started working to come up with a new one, but... still. I frankly don't know if I would've been able to go through with it."

(Too *much*!)

Oh, hell. Oh --

*Clark* --

Tim turns to check -- but Clark is turned away from both of them, and his face is in shadow. Hm.

Tim squeezes Dick's hands. "I -- thank you. Just -- thank you. If nothing else, you stopped me from putting rather a ridiculous crimp in a relationship that happens to be very important to me."

Dick frowns more -- "He's *thrilled*, Tim --"

"Ah... trust me when I say that he would've been less thrilled if I had, say, managed to... cripple him."

A wince -- and a nod. "You downplayed your relationship with him when we talked, Tim."

Tim closes his eyes and takes a breath. "I was trying to downplay it for myself. We'd only had... we'd mostly only had an extended flirtation, but it still made me feel... very much alive in my own skin. I could be myself with him -- I *can* be myself with him in ways that I still can't with anyone else."

"Because you don't have Steph."

Steph would've done her best to beat me unconscious and then drag me back -- here.


"Yes," Tim says. "No one -- there's no one like her."

Dick strokes Tim's forearms, wordlessly and reflexively checking for strains --

Of course Dick remembers that that's where he tends to *get* strains now that he's finally passed the single most important flexibility threshold for his thighs --

("Lovely. But you know that.")

Tim -- doesn't shiver --

"Was that --" Dick smiles sadly. "You were thinking of him."

"I -- yes," Tim says, and is grateful for his blush --

(You're welcome.)

"I know that you'd rather I focus on Bruce --"

"You'd seemed -- it was okay between the two of you. Right?" And Dick's so *hopeful* --

"Yes. Better than. *Much* better than --"

"But he's still not enough for you."

Tim looks down -- movement --

And when Tim looks up again, Clark is behind Dick, and --

Giving Tim a look which manages to be sympathetic, knowing, and *level*.

(An intriguing -- but perhaps not entirely surprising -- development. He won't stop us. Keep your expression even -- no. Sad. Slightly.)

"Oh, Tim. I don't... I don't *judge* you, all right?"

Tim smiles ruefully. "Are you sure?"

"I think you're *crazy* --"

"An attitude that seems to be going around --"

"You shouldn't be *dating* someone you want to *kill*. No matter *how* occasionally the urge hits. Just -- seriously. Please tell me that makes sense."

(You're close.)

Of course he is. "I..." Tim laughs ruefully and scrubs a hand back through his hair. "You have a point. I'm not... I love him."

"Don't -- hurt yourself. Please."

"I won't --"

"*Please*, little brother," Dick says, and -- no one had ever said that his instincts weren't the best. In their way.

(The damage is done.)

That's never the point with Dick. Never --

"When the urge strikes me... I'll pull away."

Dick frowns --

"I'll call for *back*-up. And that's -- that's the best I can do."

"Other than staying *away* from him --"

"Other than that, yes," Tim says, and smiles again. "I still need to say goodbye to him --"

"*Tim* --"

"For the *night*. I -- we have negotiations to begin. And you have your own work to do."

This time, Dick's frown is more diffuse. "Metallo put several cops in the hospital. I need to check on them, and also -- God, I haven't done a routine on the bars in --" Dick squeezes Tim's hands again and lets go. "This isn't done."

(No, it isn't.)

"This isn't done," Tim repeats.

And Dick still looks *somewhat* troubled --

But that ends when Clark puts a hand on his shoulder. "Shall I take you back now?"

"Oh... Clark." Dick sighs and walks into his arms. "Never stop being a creepy Bat-stalker, please."

"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about," Clark says, and pulls Dick into a hug that apparently requires leaving the ground --

And turning Dick enough that Clark and Tim can share another wordless look.

Tim gestures the stand-down -- and Clark is gone with Dick.

(And you worried we wouldn't have any allies.)

Your sense of humor needs even more work than my own.

(Or not.)

I'm going to keep my emotions.

(As you say.)

In fact... you will now stop trying to convince me to go devoid.

(But --)


Again, there are neither sighs nor sneers... but there's a weight missing from the back of his neck, and, in its place, is something much softer and warmer -- he is loved.

He is *loved* --


Tim smiles and walks into the Cave proper --

Where Bruce and Lex are standing by the computers and conversing. Lex still looks thrilled. Bruce... Bruce is calm, and measured, and secure that what needed to be done had been done.

Bruce has learned to trust his allies.

(Far too much for his own good, sometimes.)

None of this is an exact science.

(It should be --)

Shut up.

And -- silence.

He's nowhere near naive enough to believe it will last, but... good enough. Tim adds sound and *presence* to his walk --

Bruce and Lex turn to face him --

Tim smiles ruefully --

And prepares to negotiate.


"By the time you swear you're his,
Shivering and sighing.
And he vows his passion is,
Infinite, undying.
Lady make note of this --
One of you is lying."

-- Dorothy Parker