When he saw his own eyes...
by Te
June 1, 2010

Disclaimers: Not a damned thing here is mine.

Spoilers/Timeline: Many references to *old* storylines. Meant to take place just before Tim's sixteenth birthday... in a decidedly alternate universe.

Summary: In which families are put together except when they're not, villains are reformed except when they're not, and, because this is Teland, people get laid a lot.

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

Author's Note: Dear Lord in *heaven* is this ever Mildred's fault. She gave me the bunny *and* the title, and made all the appropriate -- and several of the *inappropriate* -- noises.

Acknowledgments: With much love to Mildred, Pixie, and the Jack for audiencing, encouragement, and putting up with me when I started method writing.


It's a reasonable arrangement.

Tim's parents can't just leave him with a nanny for three months -- or more, depending on *how* well the fact-finding mission for the proposed DI expansion in England goes -- and really --

Metropolis won't be so bad. He *has* always wanted to see the city --

*Superman's* city -- no. He's putting all of that aside. He was *going* to put all of that aside, because really, wasn't it all kind of ridiculous? Of course the world's heroes are exciting, wonderful, *diverting* -- but.

Ridiculous. There's really no need for him to spend his time running around rooftops and ducking into alleys and generally acting like some -- some *fanboy*. Even though he hadn't even gotten the chance to check out those rumors of a 'ghost' in Crime Alley --

No. Just -- no.

It's a work-study program as much as anything else -- nearly unheard-of for teenagers his age -- and the fact of the matter is that LexCorp is working on amazing things, *incredible* things. He's not *supposed* to know this -- no one is, but his mother's spies are some of the best -- but *one* of the things LexCorp has been working on (again) is *cloning*.

LexCorp is -- and has always *been* -- light years ahead of other corporations in terms of their research and development division --

They've even aced out S.T.A.R. a few times --

Tim has been studying advanced genetics for fun since before he was *pubescent* --

And he'll be right there. Of course he'll just be doing grunt work for the other scientists at Cadmus, but he'll be *there*, and that's -- there's no compromise within him for that. It's *incredible*. It's what he'd wanted to do with his life *anyway* --

One of the things he'd wanted to do -- no.

He's putting all of that aside, and really --

("You *know* what I expect from you, Tim.")

He does, he *really* does, because the fact of the matter is that LexCorp has *also* been trying to make inroads in Gotham for the past several years --

Just as DI has been trying to make inroads in Metropolis.

On the evening his mother had called him into the office to explain the course of his life for the next several months, she had been... pleased.

It's the sort of thing Tim had learned to read on her many, many years before. That particular sharpness to the gleam in her eyes, that softly amused hum as she sipped her single glass of white wine -- her usual routine for those times when she planned to stay in the office just for *pleasure* --

("Of course, it would, perhaps, be even *more* delicious if Luthor had a teenager he could send to *us*...")

Tim had pulled on his best impression *of* his mother -- legs crossed, fingers steepled --

("So I *should* be considering myself a hostage to fortune, Mother?")

For *that* she had laughed -- openly *laughed* -- and it had been so long since he'd heard that --

So *long* --

He'd been distracted enough to *miss* whatever she'd said before --

(" -- *assassination* attempts, but I, of course, would never dream of limiting you, Tim.")

But. He'd caught the gist.

His mother is *happy* with this arrangement, and that --

That's enough to make it more than merely reasonable. So.

Right now, Tim is packed and ready to go. Most of his clothes are already waiting for him in the penthouse of the LexCorp building -- an apartment he's never seen, but is more than willing to assume will be both spacious and modern -- so, really, all he has to carry with him on the flight are his few toiletries, some emergency clothes just in case -- including his mother's second favorite suit for him -- and...

His hard drive.

It had been --

It had been *acutely* painful to wipe the thing of years worth of photographs and speculation about Gotham's vigilantes --

Bruce Wayne.

Barbara Gordon.

*Dick Grayson* --

It had been painful, but he'd done it, and now it's more than safe enough to travel with him. It.

He hadn't even been able to --

It's not like he could've just purchased himself some -- some *safe deposit box* or anything like that, so he shouldn't still be so *upset* about it. The *truth* is that it was *always* dangerous to keep such things, and he'd been selfish to do it, anyway.


Tim nods to himself and checks his reflection in the mirror. His suit -- his mother's favorite for him -- hangs perfectly on him, as he hasn't had anything resembling a growth spurt in the three months since it had been tailored for him. His hair is neatly trimmed into a conservative style which suggests that he's just as serious-minded as he should be.

The maid had shined his shoes to a gleam that is both mellow and perfect.

He's ready to go.

And that's what he does.


It is, of course, *wildly* suspicious. While the world's rank and file know him as only a brilliant, relatively young businessman with bents both philanthropic and scientific, the Drakes are anything *but* stupid.

DI has been showing marked and *steady* growth since Janet had officially taken over the reins -- Jack had always been just a *little* useless for anything but the creative side of the business -- and, more to the point, they'd been doing that in *Gotham*, where if your last name isn't Wayne, you are -- as they say -- shit out of luck.

In the end, the Drakes *should* know exactly what Lex would do with any impressionable child they sent his way -- subornation and espionage to *start* -- and so there's really only one possibility worth considering:

The child -- the teenager -- is a ringer.

He *doesn't* know Janet particularly well, but, he thinks, he knows her well *enough*. She may have had help conceiving the boy, but for the rest...

The boy's actual *training*...


The boy will almost certainly be charming, respectful, and as watchful as a boy-shaped camera. The boy will be intelligent and positively *determined* to be as useful as he can be.

The boy may very well do his level best to *attach* himself to Lex, and that --

Lex narrows his eyes at the tumbler of scotch in his hand. What the *hell* is he supposed to do with *that*?

The simple fact of the matter is that the Drakes will take it as purest *disrespect* if Lex *doesn't* let their adorable little leech sink its teeth in to at least some extent, so...

Yes. Parties. Dinner parties. Galas...


A *lot* of work in the actual labs. It can't just be fetch-and-carry stuff, either. No, he has to *engage* that mind -- and the thank-you letter the boy had sent had positively *dripped* with hope (manufactured?) that he would be allowed on the proverbial front lines.

Lex nods to himself and sips his scotch. He will keep the boy distracted as much as humanly possible. He will challenge him, and when he inevitably fucks up, he will smile and urge the boy back onto the horse.

When he *must* converse with the boy, he'll make a point of urging him to talk about his work and -- and this will be irritating -- *not* pump him for information about his parents and DI. Unless...

Is he the sort of teenager who can be coaxed to excess? It would be a certain *sort* of reasonable for Lex to invite the boy into, say, the study at night. He could offer the boy alcohol, a taste of a cigar, more alcohol to flush the taste from his mouth...

*Janet* certainly likes her wine, and for all that that habit has never held her back, it takes *time* to grow that sort of iron-clad liver.

Lex moves back to his desk -- where the dossier he'd had Hope prepare is waiting for him -- and flips through it.

He knows it practically by heart at this point, and Hope is never anything *but* thorough, *but*. Couldn't there be something he'd missed? Some hint of unsavory... something or other?

The boy's only friends are, to all appearances, hopeless geeks from good, solid families -- none of whom are as *financially* solid as the Drakes. That in itself is rather telling.

He'd had Hope look into the popular teenagers at the boy's high school as a side assignment and had found the usual petty corruptions of alcohol and assorted other drugs -- and no connections with the boy whatsoever. One of the boy's friends *tutors* a few of those popular types, but that's as close as it comes.

The boy has been known to host Elfquest parties, and there's a photograph of one of the other friends -- a boy named Ives, of all things -- wearing what certainly appears to be a homemade jerkin. The party had ended at ten-thirty.

Bribing the nanny had gotten Hope the information that the boy was unfailingly neat and punctilious about retiring to his room to do his homework, play music quietly, and sleep by midnight *every* night.

Hope had checked -- undoubtedly rappelling down from the roof -- and found the boy asleep in his bed night after night. There were *some* signs that the tree outside his bedroom window had been used the way such things are *always* used, but there was no way to tell how long ago it had been. And --

The fact that Lex is sitting here this close to *berating* himself for not having Hope watch him for *several* weeks --

Lex laughs at himself, but not especially lightly. The world has proven -- time and again -- that paranoia is the better part of valor, and the *fact* is that the boy puts his back up.

Lex flips to a candid taken of the boy outside of his school. It's a public school -- a mystery he'd answered for himself by taking Jack aside at the last party: the boy hadn't wanted to be separated from the few friends he had made, and Jack is something of an aging liberal.

Public school as sacrifice on the altar of wilting sensibilities.

In the photo, the boy is hitching his backpack and scanning the street. His eyes are narrowed and there is a sense -- illusory but present -- that the boy knows full well that he's being watched. And --

Wouldn't he?

Janet Drake is his mother, and she would've had to at least *try* to prepare -- no. The boy will be here in no more than two hours, assuming that the flight is on-schedule and the traffic isn't any more snarled than usual. Mercy has many, many ways to deal with that sort of thing, and Lex *will* discover what it is about the boy that offends before she arrives with the boy in tow.

On the surface, no one could ever doubt that he was Janet Drake's son. If it weren't for the boy's hair, Janet could've *budded* him out. He has her eyes, her facial features, and -- unfortunately for him -- her size.

There *are* other fifteen-year-old boys who are only five feet four inches tall, but not all that many. He is lean, and the karate and judo classes have made him fit enough. He is a black belt in both disciplines, and Lex can't help but approve of that sort of self-improvement.

The boy plays no sports.

In the photo, there is tension visible in his shoulders and, somehow, in the *way* he's hitching his pack, and his expression --

Lex frowns and flips through the other candids.

And then opens the file with the photographs Hope hadn't felt were good enough in one way or another --

Where are the *smiles*?

Where -- ah. There. A photo taken -- at a distance -- of Ives, Hudson, and the one girl in their group -- Callie. It was Hope's conclusion that Ives and Callie were either a couple or wanted to be, and here -- vaguely -- there is a sign that Tim *had* been smiling.

Lex narrows his eyes and flips through the photographs again, looking for --

A hint of tension at the left side of his mouth here and there. Was that supposed to be a smile?

Lex punches the button which will cause the bud implanted just behind Hope's jaw to buzz gently, sits back, breathes, and waits.

It takes her two full minutes to make it to his office, which suggests --

"I'm sorry, Lex," she says, and her dark brown eyes flash. Once. "One of the new security guards was playing with his bullets."

Lex manages not to *blink* but... "Playing."

When Hope tenses her jaw in just the right way, the outline of the small bud is just visible under her mahogany skin. "He was juggling."

Lex -- doesn't rub his temples. It's part of Hope's *job* to oversee the parade of gun-drunk idiots the mercenary companies keep sending him, separating the wheat from the chaff. "I see. Your actions?"

"I dislocated his shoulders and sent him to the infirmary."

"Good. Take an hour out of your schedule to visit HR tomorrow. Protocol Gamma."

"Yes, Lex," she says, and stands at loose attention, perfect and waiting.

It's not the first time he's wanted to fuck her blind, and it's not the first time he's tamped down on his desires in the interest of reality. As near as he's been able to tell, the closest Hope has ever come to sexual arousal is in those moments just *before* she commits some horrific act of violence -- *not* during or after.

She is just under six feet tall, gracefully muscular, and has a profile which wouldn't be unfamiliar to the more romantic-minded Egyptologists. Lex thus forgives himself for finding it something of a waste that she will almost certainly die just as virginal as she was born, but --

He can focus. "You studied the boy's friends when they were all together."

"Yes, Lex."

"Did you notice..." No, not 'anything strange.' If it were Mercy he could phrase the question that way, but -- no. "Did they ever seem to view him with suspicion?"

Hope frowns -- mildly only, as ever. She is accessing her impressive memory at speed, and Lex sits back and lets her do it.

He sips his scotch and studies the boy's features again, looking for --

He doesn't know what he's looking for. A part of him is only pointing out that this is *why* he has Hope. The rest of him is disgusted by that sort of laziness, and so takes over the act of searching. He has an impressively deep frown line on his forehead for one so young.

He has an *absence* where smile lines should be.

His mouth is --

"There was every sign that that particular group of friends had been acquainted with each other for quite some time, Lex. It didn't seem safe to bribe the parents of the friends in question to find out how long, and the Drakes' nanny had only been working for them for a year."

Lex nods. The reports had all suggested as much. "In your personal opinion, then, the friends were all used to each other's... quirks?"

Hope's frown becomes pained, and -- yes. Asking her about quirks is downright cruel in some respects.

"It's all right, Hope. Use your... intuition."

A slight tic over her right eyebrow -- and then she breathes, settles, and looks him in the eye. "If they were ever attacked, they believe they know how each of them would respond."

Ah, yes, he can always count on Hope to put things into a *unique* context. "*You* don't believe they're correct."

"No, Lex. I can't entirely predict how the target will respond to a threat."

"You said that in your report. Elaborate."

Happily, there aren't any tics for that, but it's clear that she's unhappy with this particular exercise.

For a moment, Lex regrets not sending Mercy for this mission -- Mercy is far more *human* than Hope will ever be -- but the fact of the matter is that he hadn't been expecting this to be --


"It's all right, Hope. Tell me... tell me about his martial arts training."

She nods once. "Adequate. He hasn't had enough training that it affects his day-to-day life, but he moves well and quietly and could easily defend himself from most assailants. At first, I thought that was why his... friends were incorrect about him, but I stopped being sure."

"He doesn't smile."

"Not... the way you do."

Lex blinks. "Are you saying that he smiles the way *you* do?"

She smiles, and whether it's demonstration or honest pleasure...

Lex can accept the fact that he'll almost certainly never know for sure. None of Hope's smiles ever do much in the way of pulling her features out of true. Her frowns don't either, and Hope will look approximately thirty-three until she's at least in her sixties. Still, he makes a point of noting the tension at the *right* corner of her mouth and he nods. "Noted. Do you think he's devoid?"

The smile fades to blankness, focus -- "I can't be sure, Lex. Mercy will be... better."

If Mercy thinks the boy is a threat --

Well, no, she won't kill him or even injure him -- Lex had been clear *enough* about the fact that the boy would be a member of his household for the next few months. If he puts *her* back up, she'll just make a point of shadowing him when he's in Lex's presence. Still, there are the forms to be considered. "Bedwetting? Fires?"

"No, Lex."

"Small graves in the -- neighborhood?"

"The target never visited any of the local parks."

He's back to wanting to have had the boy under surveillance for months. Wonderful. He finishes his scotch, considers pouring himself another --


"You're dismissed, Hope. When you're terrorizing HR, feel free to show your teeth a few times. Most people find that acutely horrifying."

She cocks her head to the side -- "It's because I'm devoid."

"Yes, and many people can sense it. When you show your teeth, you're *always* threatening."

Hope nods once. "Thank you, Lex."

"You're quite welcome. Enjoy the rest of your evening."

Lex allows himself the pleasure of watching her walk away. There's only a *hint* of the pear to her shape, but it's enough to give her stride a sway which is both distinctive in itself and distinctive for having nothing to do with calculation -- even the sort which tends to come naturally to even the dimmest females of the species.

Hope *is* capable of advertising her beauty -- and, with Lex's and Mercy's help, her simulacrum of sexuality -- but it's not something she does without strict orders.

All of this, of course, adds up to a walk that's absolutely *arresting* --

But Lex is capable of limiting himself to no more than a lingering glance -- and a promise to himself to acquire more pale linen suits for her. Tailoring suit jackets to be generous for holsters and sheaths -- and everything else -- is a challenge Lex pays any number of people large amounts of money to meet.

It's always worth it.

He clears away the candids, leaving the rest of the -- quite innocent, if viewed in certain ways rather unique to their breed -- dossier in clear view.

He moves deeper into the penthouse, and changes into a 'suit' which is actually designed to be worn without a jacket. It lends a certain traditional -- and comforting to most -- virility to Lex's form, as well as a sense of casual yet practical ease: the tycoon is at rest, but could very well spring into action at a moment's notice.

It all makes him feel somewhat indebted to the nineteenth century, as though he ought to be pulling sleeve garters out of the armoire and fiddling with some poorly-functioning yet perfectly grand confection of a pocket watch.

It makes him feel as though he's playing himself on a stage that fits *just* poorly enough in this penthouse to rattle as he steps his way across it --

Lex has spent a lot of time feeling that way. He --

This will not be the night he solves that particular equation, and so he sets it aside. The boy will arrive soon --

And Lex has a tableau to set.


According to his mother's spies, Mercy Graves is a master in at least five different schools of martial arts. This isn't precisely the sort of news on which a spy's career is made: his mother knows little of self-defense beyond those few executive's courses she'd made every employee without a physically limiting disability -- and a few of the ones *with* -- take and *she* could tell that Graves was dangerous.

No, the information which had garnered bonuses for the men and women who had acquired it had been:

One, Mercy Graves is Lex Luthor's occasional lover and frequent sparring partner.

Two, Mercy Graves used to be a woman named Bethany Nyman, who in turn had once been an infant named Jane Doe.

Three, the people who had adopted Jane and named Bethany had died mysteriously when Mercy had been twenty-two -- and when she had been Mercy for less than a year.

Four, Lionel Luthor had died somewhat suspiciously before Mercy became Mercy... but not by much.

Five, the list of people who have met violent, mysterious, or merely postulated ends while Mercy and her partner-in-security Hope Terrell have been thoroughly alibied in other places is just as extensive as it should be -- considering LexCorp holdings both official and not.

And really --

("I don't *think* you'll be taking your life in your hands if she or her *friend* picks you up from the airport, Tim, but I trust you'll remain on your best behavior...?")

Of *course*, Mother. Not that he would be quite that *snotty* around her, but --

All right, the simple fact of the matter is that he hadn't expected Mercy -- and she had refused the respect of her last name with a quietly *amused* professionalism -- to direct him to sit in the *passenger* seat of this late-model Lexedes M2, but she had, and he is, and --

Well, that certainly *implies* a desire for a more casual sort of... something or other. Doesn't it?

It's just that all of the conversational gambits he's attempted (asking her about the dojos she's used, asking her about the defensive driving course she'd obviously taken, asking her about the *weather* --)

They'd fizzled.

And died.

And left --

Well, the part of him which isn't screaming in testicle-shriveling *alarm* is pointing out -- rather unnecessarily -- that Tim has only succeeded in making Mercy *tense*.

This --

This is less than optimal.

Especially since fidgeting in a half-conscious attempt to get closer to the door -- and *freedom* -- leads to Mercy narrowing her eyes and reaching -- ever so slowly -- for the inside of her jacket.

Tim swallows.

Mercy narrows her eyes just a little bit more.

Tim licks his lips.

Mercy had never actually moved her hand back to the steering wheel.

"Is there... ah. Anything? I could say?" To make you not murder me?

Mercy balls her free hand into a fist and then slowly -- achingly slowly -- brings that fist back to the wheel, uncurls her fingers, and grips the wheel once more.

"I. You. It's not as if you'd *need* a gun to utterly destroy me --"

"You weren't frisked."

"I -- no, of course -- I mean, my parents have an arrangement --"

"You could be armed."

Tim frowns and considers -- no. "Ms. Graves --"

The steering wheel creaks. Dear God.

"*Mercy*. You -- you would be able to *tell*. I mean, my sensei could tell an armed man at thirty yards and he wasn't nearly as skilled as you almost certainly have to be --"

"I know that."

Well. Tim licks his lips. "Well. That. Ah. Ah...?"

Mercy *sneers* --

And Tim can't help but see that as improvement. He decides to barrel on. "If you would just tell me what I could do to be less... irritating? Please?"

Narrowed eyes again -- and then Mercy laughs.

At least, he *thinks* that was a laugh. It was a bit like a single note stretched over a dull blade and left to vibrate. It was acutely threatening.

It doesn't get better when she does it again.

It's possible that he's reaching for the door-handle --

"If you open that, you'll be dead before you stop bouncing."

This is almost certainly true, as they're driving at a steady sixty-seven miles per hour, *but*. "At the moment, that seems better than the alternative."

"I'm not going to kill you."

"Or maim me?"

Mercy scowls -- and then wipes her features of all expression.

Tim doesn't *shudder* -- quite -- but he can't do anything about the atavistic yelp that only gets half-strangled on its way out of his throat. "Ah -- Mercy?"

"You know too much."

"I'm sorry? Er -- that didn't have to be a question. I mean -- it could very well have been a statement," Tim says, and pulls on the earnest expression he tends to use for teachers who take the time to wonder about the scrapes and bruises he tends to pick up on Gotham's rooftops --

"Don't do that."

"Don't do what?"

"Look, we both know that you're here to get next to Lex for your parents --"

"Do we?"

Mercy's hand doesn't start creeping back to her holster, but there's something about the electric *crackle* of her energy which suggests that *that* was a near thing, too.

Tim sighs and blanks his own expression, covering his face until he has something like his own... something or other back. He knows it's a weak effort by the tension remaining in Mercy's shoulders. He knows the effort is appreciated by her sneer. "Would you at least tell me what 'knowing too much' means in this respect? I mean --" I can't help but wonder how many exceedingly dead people trundled off to the afterlife after hearing those four little words -- no.


"Nothing --"


Tim -- is sweating. He *hates* sweating without cause --

Well, it's possible that this counts as cause.

Tim sighs. "I *mean* -- you're exceedingly intimidating, which you really ought to know by now."

"You know too much," Mercy says again, focusing on the road and generally being silent and implacable enough to suggest that she'll leave the thought there.

Well. At least she's less tense --

"What do you know about Batman."

"Ah... what? I know that any number of people are convinced he doesn't exist."

"He does," Mercy says, with easy calm and assurance --

There are so many *rumors* about LexCorp that go beyond the usual and even the *unusual* business practices of rapacious capitalists -- well. "If you're sure --"

"You are, too. You..." Mercy smiles sharply. "Now, I know for a fact that you're *not* Robin --"

Tim chokes *helplessly* --

"But you remind me of him a little too much. You might consider watching that around Lex."

"Ah... all right? I -- I honestly have no idea what to *say* right now --"

"Then don't say a word. Lex will hear everything from me, anyway," she says, and *this* time the air of finality is -- itself.

Tim closes his eyes, wishing for the non-prescription glasses he'd acquired because Ives said they made him look positively diabolical -- in several different good ways. He could have used them to cast a glare over his eyes, keep Mercy from *knowing* that he's this close to *squeezing* his eyes shut and screaming --

Well, no. If he did that, the woman would tense *up* again. Still --

"Would you tell me what I said that reminded you --"

"No," she says, and it sounds precisely like 'shut up or I'll hamstring you.'

Tim shuts up.

He considers the idea of perusing his memory *of* the rumors that have surrounded LexCorp almost since it had still been *LuthorCorp* --

The rumors that all involve Superman spending a certain sizeable percentage of his time and energy working *solely* to gain proof of Lex committing acts which are criminal -- as opposed to merely negligent or unfortunate --

The rumors that *sometimes* involve Batman's and Robin's involvement --

Tim bites the inside surface of his lip. All sorts of people believe in the Justice League who *don't* believe in Batman and Robin. Tim...

Tim had, once, *watched* Superman land on a rooftop occupied by Robin --

By *Dick*, because Dick's smile had been as bright and wide as it had been on *that* day, because Superman had pulled Dick into his arms, because the kiss had been --

Had been --

And there's something to be said for the obsessiveness Tim had brought to bear with regards to that particular memory -- it no longer makes him blush. And the *point* is that it wouldn't make sense for Robin to trust Superman quite that much if they *hadn't* worked together at least a few times.

Hell, they had been making out in *Gotham City*. Batman knows everything that happens in Gotham -- if he didn't, Gotham would've been a smoking crater a dozen times over by now -- and so he had to have known about Superman and Robin --

Superman and *Dick*, and, yes, Tim can allow himself a moment solely to appreciate beauty, grace, skill, *beauty* --

The moment is over.

Batman certainly knows, therefore Superman and Batman have worked together -- perhaps more so than they have for the League.

Batman, perhaps, has been giving his own fractions to the question of Lex Luthor. While there are -- undoubtedly -- any number of reasons for a terrifying woman like Mercy not to appreciate Robin's myriad charms, there'd been something more than a little personal there. More... yes.

In the absence of immediate threat, Tim has the freedom -- and, quite possibly, the *responsibility* -- to note that Mercy had felt honestly threatened, for all that reality and her own capacity for observation had told her that Tim could do nothing but die messily in any given confrontation between the two of them.

He reminds her of Robin.

That --

She's *fought* Robin, or at least been near enough to him to hear him speak or... something? No, he can't follow the train of thought that far without indulging in far too much speculation. Still -- she's been near to Robin, and she has taken wounds from either him or Batman -- for all that the wounds may have been solely emotional.

The question becomes why she had allowed him to know the source of her discomfort -- no, even that's not truly a question. Tim Drake is *not* Robin, and any threat he *could* offer could easily be neutralized by Lex himself -- be it physical *or* intellectual.

Her advice to watch himself was, therefore, a request from one LexCorp functionary to -- another?

Tim crosses his legs and adjusts the fall of his trousers with one judicious tug. With the threat of himself safely quantified, what's left is a desire to make things easier for her employer and occasional lover. Certain brands of inquisitiveness are just a bit too Robinly for comfort, apparently, therefore...

He can avoid them. He *will* avoid them, because none of this will be worth *anything* if Tim can't at least *firm* the connection between DI and LexCorp. His parents may never call Luthor friend -- or vice versa -- but there's nothing to say that they can't exist in *friendly* competition. Why, Luthor would probably give much solely to work with DI *in* Gotham on... something or other.

A foothold is a foothold.

So -- if he makes Luthor inclined to give as much as possible --

(What had he done? What had brought *Batman and Robin* out of Gotham? What good could possibly come of --)

Tim bites the inside of his lip again, but manages to keep himself from tightening his grip on his knee.

It's --

Lex Luthor can't *possibly* be a supervillain. That -- that sort of thing is for the dangerously *unstable*. Or -- well, he imagines that any number of the aliens who attempt to invade are probably quite stable within their particular cultural contexts --

Mercy is tensing again -- ah, Tim is frowning. "My apologies, Mercy -- I seem to have developed something of a headache."

Mercy grunts and pops the glove compartment -- which is full of bandages, antiseptic wipes, what appears to be a medical grade *sewing* kit --

And there is aspirin. Right.

Tim takes two from the bottle, and Mercy hands him a new bottle of water. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," she says, with a blank professionalism which suggests that the excuse had worked well enough.

Perhaps she thinks he's simply high-strung. Perhaps he should -- no. It would be an excellent idea to be considered simply another weak -- and weak-minded -- terribly *junior* junior executive.

Which is what he is, after all, and --

Supervillains get *caught*.

They --

They don't run multinational corporations and take in young businessmen for the summer.

(Is it possible that his parents are doing something *unsavory* with DI? He -- he'd *know*, wouldn't he?)

Would he?

Tim swallows the aspirin and makes a note to contact Halle Eriksen at his earliest convenience. Halle is his mother's creature to the bone, but she hasn't been in her position for long enough that she *doesn't* still try to speak to Tim like a person -- as opposed to the watered-down version of his mother that most DI employees see.

Perhaps... perhaps his mother is grooming Halle to be *for* him when Tim takes over? It's never precisely a *good* idea to try to second-guess his mother -- certainly, it's done wonders for his father's receding hairline and bleeding ulcer -- but the fact that she has allowed someone positioned so highly in the company to continue to meet Tim's eyes during conversations --

Of course, there's no reason for Halle to know everything.

"Should I inform Lex that you'll be going straight to bed?"

Tim blinks -- "I... suppose I do look somewhat terrible."

Mercy nods once and reaches up to punch her -- communicator. *Really*? No, not now --

"Ah -- no, that's all right. I've never gotten the chance to speak with Mr. Luthor, and I'm looking forward to it."

She narrows her eyes without turning around. "He really isn't inclined toward coddling the... sick."

The word she was going to use had almost certainly been 'weak.' "No, I imagine not. I'll be all right as soon as the aspirin kicks in, and..." What? What? Ah -- "My headaches generally respond well to aspirin."

She raises her near eyebrow and nods once.

Perfect. He's given himself a certain invalid-ish quality that should work well to keep him under the radar.

(Why does he need to be under the radar that badly? What exactly is he --)

No, he's not going to -- travel down those mental pathways again until he's alone.

Possibly he should beg off on meeting the Great Man --

He doesn't know.

He's sitting here faced with the realization that there's a great *deal* he doesn't know, and he'd frankly thought that most people made it *out* of their teens before that sort of thing occurred.

Tim laughs internally. Yes, that's better. He'll just... think of pleasant things.

It only takes four and a half minutes to convince his mind that that wasn't a request to spool through the shamelessly ridiculous fantasy of attending Hudson University and -- somehow -- meeting Dick at a Homecoming function Tim wouldn't attend even if he *was* allowed to matriculate at a non-Ivy League school.

Do people even *drink* Alsace whites at parties like that? Would Dick ever choose to go to a party where one *could* get that? He'd never *liked* the various galas and balls and had used his coursework at Hudson as an excuse to stop attending nearly altogether -- and he hadn't gone back to it after graduating, either.

There's a part of him which only *misses* Dick --

No, he's not thinking of that. He's -- not.

And so he thinks about Ives, instead. He's still quite gawky in some -- shallow -- respects, but he's gained a smooth grace from the yoga classes Callie had convinced him to take, and he --

Well, sometimes he *looks* at Tim, and Tim's *mother* had taught him to read that sort of thing nearly two years ago --

("Like it or not, you *will* find someone marriageable in this pit of vipers your father calls a party. If you listen carefully, you might just manage to find one you won't have to cheat on out of deathly boredom.")

He hasn't the foggiest clue how he's going to explain his sexuality to his mother -- he has the strong suspicion that he's cowardly enough to not do anything of the kind until the company is firmly within his grasp and his future is assured --

Happy things. Happy --

Ives, sweating and rueful after losing their nth game of pick-up basketball despite his much greater height. Ives stretching and rubbing life into his biceps and triceps --

The feel of sleek, *hot* skin under Tim's hands when he'd moved to help --

And the way Ives had continued to pant long after he should've had his wind back.

Callie aside, Tim's *future* aside --

It's something he could have. It's something --

He's reasonably sure Ives would never do anything *like* making the first move --

Could he do it? *Would* he --

It's not something he would ever do in his parents' townhouse, of course, but Ives' parents both work. There have been... oh, any number of times when the two of them have been alone in Ives' bedroom in an otherwise empty apartment. Less often now that Ives and Callie have begun casually seeing each other, but.

And it's not like he *approves* of cheating, but sometimes --

Sometimes just the thought of a kiss is enough to... well.

Tim laughs at himself again, and lets the vast majority of his consciousness focus on the many, many memories he has of Ives' mouth ---

Which is why his penis is working its way -- thankfully slowly -- up to an erection when Mercy pulls into the LexCorp tower garage. The private one, of course, and --

Oh, those cars aren't going to help him retain his composure, at all. Especially since Luthor seems to favor colors which manage to be both tasteful *and* exciting. That much he should've predicted solely by Mercy's chauffeur ensemble, which has much of the same sort of appeal as the leathers found in certain *sorts* of clubs while still being made of what appears to be the finest linen.

He can't tell if she's wearing any body armor beneath the top, and he's all right with the fact that he's not brave enough to try to take a closer look -- there. He's no longer anything like hard.

Despite the fact that Lex apparently owns an *orchid* Spider.

He gestures for Mercy to lead them to the elevators --

She shows her teeth and points at the elevators.

All right, he's apparently still not innocuous *enough*. Perhaps thinking of Ives had put too much of the color back in his cheeks.

He gives Mercy his back --

"I promise to make it a head shot if you annoy Lex."

Tim coughs, considers -- "Thank you. May I ask why I merit --"

"No," she says, leaning back against the closing elevator doors and -- smiling at him.

That -- it's a real smile. It's positively --

Well, no, he can't say that it's a *friendly* smile, but it's certainly... itself.

"What would happen if I were to speculate about your reasoning?"

Mercy's smile grows wider, and infinitely more rapacious.

Tim doesn't swallow, but -- "As a thought... you tend to approve of people who do anything possible to put themselves into the right frame of mind for meeting your employer."

"It's useful. And much less messy than the alternative."

"Are you telling me that you mind... mess?"

Mercy makes something of a *moue* -- "I'm just a girl, Tim."

"Are you -- " Tim rears back and blinks. "This is how you flirt."

Mercy hums another bladed laugh -- and her expression becomes far more professional and even with a speed and *force* which Tim can only admire. "Just a thought, Tim: when you're thinking about sex? Try to avoid moving your hands."

Tim blinks. "I - what."

Mercy drops to a crouch and rubs Tim's right knee through his trousers. Just one finger, back and forth and back --

Hell. "I might've been -- ah. I'm not immune to nervous habits, Mercy."

"So few people are. You can fix that if you want to be less irritatingly obvious for Lex... though you probably won't be able to do a damned thing about your eyes."

*Hell* -- "I -- I'm good at --"

Another hum. "You are, actually. I was guessing," she says, standing and stepping back --

Just as the doors open on the penthouse. "Mercy --"

"You'll want to be as obvious around me as humanly possible, Tim. People who hide -- especially those who do it *well* -- pique my interest."

Tim takes a breath and makes a note to find a way to ask Luthor how much of a free rein he *gives* this woman -- "Noted. If you'll look closely," he says, and lifts his shaking hands.

This smile is so joyous that her face seems to shed a goodly portion of her forty-four years -- "Excellent. Now you can walk at my side or you can let me guide you like a mule. Which do you prefer?"

Well. "I don't suppose you'd let me take your arm?"

Mercy mimes shooting him -- in the *eye*.

"Or not. I'll just lead the way, then."

And that's what he does, being guided left here, straight there, right --

And into what certainly appears to be Luthor's home office. The computer equipment is surprisingly utilitarian, while everything else speaks of a certain sleekly ultra-modern aesthetic. Correction: Sleekly and *comfortably* modern. This is a room designed to be used for long hours at a time, for all of its moderately kitschy 'futuristic' feel.

To that end, it comes very close to suggesting a certain brand of *whimsy* -- and that can't even remotely be correct.

The man himself is on the phone with someone who is making him frown mildly -- he holds up a finger.

Tim nods. Mercy simply continues to stand... in range of any number of perfectly horrible things. Well.

Tim fixes his expression to bland patience --

Mercy stiffens --

Tim unfixes his expression and gives himself a moment to show his terror before he can think of something reasonable to feel *other* than terror. Curiosity, perhaps?

Yes, that works. He's curious. He's --

Well, Luthor isn't actually saying anything, and that's something to be curious *about* --

Yes. Very curious. Possibly -- possibly *irritatingly* curious. He is a teenager, after all, and --

Wait, no, that would call for apathy. He won't be able to manage apathy until he can convince his testicles to drop again -- which will probably happen three months from now in Gotham. The fog will hide whatever expressions he'll be moved to make --

Mercy shifts beside him --

Tim fixes his expression --

Tim *unfixes* his expression -- wait.

He turns to look at her.

She's giving him her profile and, thus, *half* of a disgustingly sunny expression. Which --

"I don't believe my parents sent me here to become your trained emotion-monkey, Mercy," Tim says, quietly.

Mercy *blinks* -- yes. Addressing her in front of the master is a rather good way to get his own back --

Wait, he's supposed to be *innocuous* --

Curious --

Patient --

Something. He turns back to face Luthor --

And Luthor is staring into him with a smile on his face which speaks -- volumes.

Tim isn't sure *what* those volumes entail, but he's reasonably sure that pain for someone is involved. He has impressive smile *lines*, but they make him look less good-natured than, well, *rapacious*. Like someone who *enjoys* dealing pain and lots of it. His nose is straight and aristocratic, his bone structure is as *finely* bold as it appeared in magazines, his mouth is *slightly* too broad and soft for him to look as intimidating as he does --  and raising an eyebrow is pretty much the best Tim can do.

"Good," Luthor says, and doesn't look away, blink, or shift expression.

Tim raises his eyebrow *higher* --

"You have until close of business tomorrow," and he hangs up the phone. "Mr. Drake."

Tim inclines his head. "Mr. Luthor."

Luthor narrows his eyes slightly -- and then turns to Mercy. "Have you decided what to make of him?"

"I have a few ideas," she says, toneless and professional once more --

And Luthor nods as if that answers many -- if not all -- of the questions he had -- "You'll share them... tomorrow at breakfast."

"Yes, Lex."


Mercy -- pauses, all over.

Luthor raises *his* eyebrow --

And Tim can tell, abruptly, that it's been artificially darkened. There *is* hair there, but the true color is impossible to be sure of. Luthor had been a redhead before whatever had happened *had* happened --

No, it's impossible to be sure.

And Luthor sighs briefly. "That exciting, Mercy?"

"In some ways, yes."

"Noted," Luthor says, and leans back in a chair which is actually quite similar to his mother's own in terms of the obviously ergonomic design -- the lines of it still speak of whimsy, however. "Just the same."

"Sir," Mercy says, and leaves --

And Luthor winces. "I'll pay for that," he says, rather mysteriously, and crosses his legs. "Please, sit."

Tim takes the chair on the right. It *would* be nearly as comfortable as Lex's own chair were Tim significantly closer to the average adult female height than he is. The one on the left is clearly for even taller individuals. "Mr. Luthor --"

"Lex, please."

Tim nods once. "Then please call me Tim."

"Not Timothy?"

When the question has been asked in the past, it's been about the name 'Timmy.' Hm. "No, thank you. Only my grandparents referred to me that way."

Luthor -- no. Start as you mean to go on. *Lex* nods. "They passed away when you were six."

"Yes. We weren't especially close, but I must admit that I miss them from time to time," Tim says, crossing his legs and folding his hands on his lap --

"Do you?"

That -- Tim blinks --

Lex smiles, sharply and privately. "I withdraw the question. It was far too personal."

Well... "I must admit that I've grown accustomed to just that... recently."

"Mercy is a firm believer in preparing my guests as thoroughly as possible."

Tim raises his eyebrow again --

"Hm, yes, the question becomes, of course, what *precisely* she's preparing them for...?"

"Ah... yes."

"Me," Lex says, and pulls a cigar from the humidor on the desk. "Do you mind if I smoke?"

"Please, feel free --"

"That wasn't the question I asked, Tim."

Mercy had been clear about one thing -- well, no. She had been *clear* about a number of things. Foremost among them, however, was her desire -- and determination -- to view Tim without the masks of politesse. So. Tim pulls on a rueful smile --

Lex narrows his *eyes* -- but doesn't say anything else.

Tim nods internally. He hadn't liked that smile one little bit. Well. "In that case, Lex, yes, I do mind. I've yet to be in close quarters to a cigar which hasn't seemed redolent of cat urine and bitter weeds."

Lex smiles again. "So noted. While you're here, I'll only smoke on the balconies."

"I appreciate that, of course, but I'd rather not turn you out of your own home --"

"Our home... for the next three months," and Lex tucks the cigar away again.

That -- "Thank you, Lex. That's very generous of you."

"Hardly. You're going to work very, very hard for every privilege I extend, Tim. More to the point, you'll be doing it at next to no cost to myself --"

"Save, of course, for the cost of whatever mistakes I happen to make."

Lex cocks his head to the side and smiles again. "You don't make many mistakes."

Tim breathes a creditable laugh, if he does say so himself. "Tell that to my English teacher."

"Not a fan of literature?"

"I'm pleased that it exists. I don't see it having any real significance to my existence."

"You're aware that I know that the lowest grades you've received -- period -- have been your stolid, solid Bs in English."

"Those are quite low enough, Lex."

"Do you consider yourself a... nerd?"

Tim raises a hand and waves it back and forth. "Rather more of a geek whose obsessiveness spreads across the proverbial board.... though I must admit that the lion's share of that obsessiveness at the moment takes the form of curiosity about that obviously custom computer system."

Lex closes his eyes for a moment and smiles wider. "That particular verbal tic -- the question of what you must admit -- is rather telling," he says, and opens his eyes once more. "Do you have a confessional bent of some sort? Or is it that Mercy rattled you enough that you've forgotten how to lie effectively?"

Tim -- blushes. Helplessly and hopelessly. "Will you threaten to shoot me in the eye if I ask *how* you'd developed such a bad opinion of me so quickly?"

"No, I won't. I..." Lex shakes his head. "Effective -- and charming -- mendacity is the grease in the world's primitive and ill-built machine, Tim. You know that as well as I. While I don't anticipate needing you to lie for *me*... well. Your mother explicitly asked me to do what I could to shape you into the sort of businessman she could be proud of."

Tim doesn't rear back, and he doesn't blink. "No."


"No, she did not."

Lex shows his teeth. "Very true. Still, that answered another question."

"My self-esteem? Or my paranoia?"

"You *are* Janet Drake's son, Tim. You were either going to be a cringing hound or... something else entirely."

"And Mercy's reaction to me didn't answer that question effectively enough for you?"

"I take my information from as many sources as possible, as few single sources are wholly reliable in the world we both live in," Lex says, leaning forward and folding his hands on the desk. "Answer my question."

"Was that an order?" Wait, wait, *innocuous* --

"You *are* my employee now, Tim."

"I'm not your slave. Is Mercy?"

Lex's eyes flare with pleasure. With --

On someone else Tim would call that *delight* --

"Yes," and Lex touches his tongue to his upper lip. "Answer my question. Please."

"Mercy horrified me multiple times. I considered leaping out of the moving car while we were still on the highway. I'm keeping my hands clenched together because I suspect there might still be a mild tremor --"

"Show me."

Tim unclenches his hands and raises them between them --

And Lex studies them the same way he might study a subordinate's suspicious expense report -- "No, no more tremor. Still... no confessions for you?"

"I..." He's not going to be able to appear innocuous in this man's eyes until such time as he *is* terrified again. That much is abundantly, painfully clear. There's a certain comfortable lethargy to this sort of fatalism... and Tim offers one of his real smiles.

Lex studies that, too -- and nods. "Please, go on."

"I've often felt that there was a certain... hm... a certain sort of self-serving weakness to the concept of the confessional. If a sin can truly be expiated merely by talking about it and performing some sort of obsessive and obsessively private ritual... then it probably isn't much of a sin in the first place. That said, I've spent very little time studying religion."

"Make a point of doing so, Tim. You're an American, and Americans are exceedingly superstitious and inclined toward willful cowardice when it comes to the question of the death that's waiting for all of us. If you would know your countrymen, you had damned well better peruse a holy book or two."

And that... is sound advice. Tim nods. "All right, I will. Thank you."

"You're welcome. Tell me how you rattled Mercy."

"I'm not entirely sure --"

"Please, give me your opinions."

Tim thinks for a moment -- stops. "Is this how you talk to her? And to Hope Terrell, as well, I suppose."

Lex -- blinks. "Yes."

Tim nods again. "Noted. I'm a terrible shot and grow queasy at the sight of blood -- especially my own."

Lex snorts --

Tim -- smiles helplessly --

And Lex narrows his eyes for that.

All right. There's something about his smiles that Lex finds compelling. Perhaps he gets tired of only being given the happiness of sociopaths. "All right. I believe that pretending to be a smarter-than-average teenaged boy with an interest in the work she'd done to make herself into a *weapon* left me seeming... wrong to her. It's possible I was too interested -- I don't often make conversation with people older than I am --"

"Other than your parents."

His father never actually speaks *to* him -- "Yes. And... she compared me to Robin."

"To -- really." And Lex's expression grows significantly darker.

"I told her that I would endeavor to avoid that in the future, but I believe that will take time."

"Do you believe Robin -- and the Batman -- exist?"

"Yes, I do."

Lex tilts his chin up, almost seeming to scent the air. "There's more there you're not telling me."

Yes, *but*. "I don't suppose you'd allow me the prerogative of keeping the rest of that answer to myself."

"Oh, I will -- for now. Have a drink with me."

Tim blinks. "I -- it's rather late --"

"And -- for some *strange* reason -- you don't want to be around me without your control," Lex says, smiling and standing -- and moving to the bar. "Humor me."

"Lex --"

"Consider that last a question -- perhaps even a plea," and Lex pulls a bottle from the small refrigerator -- wine. White wine, and while it doesn't appear to be any of the vintages Tim favors, he has no doubt that it will prove to be excellent.

But -- "I hadn't thought of you as being a wine drinker."

"That's because I'm *not*," and Lex's smile is bright and somewhat *voracious*. "But you are."

Tim -- stops rubbing his knee with his finger. It's not that he's aroused, and he's certainly -- he's not going to have that tic, anymore. And it's reasonable to join his host -- his *roommate* -- in standing. "*Was* Hope the one watching me for the last... two and a half weeks?"

"Three weeks -- off and on -- and yes," Lex says, picking up a corkscrew and raising *both* eyebrows.

Tim smiles in lieu of actual surrender. "All right."

This time, Lex's period of study is brief -- at the very least, he *believes* he knows all he needs to about that particular smile --

Which makes Tim wonder why he's playing the game. He mostly doesn't bother with his friends --

The people who *know* -- some part of him. Will they miss him this summer? Or will they take his absence as a sign of it being time to... let loose in some way? It would be alcohol, he thinks -- none of them get to consume even wine save on special occasions --


Tim smiles reflexively --

"Don't do that," Lex says, and pours glasses for them both. "While it's perfectly reasonable for our... hmm... community, it's *not* reasonable for *me*. And I don't think your mother especially likes it, either."

That's -- irritating. "I wasn't aware that you were auditioning for the role of auxiliary parent, Lex."

Another *bright* smile. "Employer, please. Mentor if this goes as well as I believe it *will*. Be honest -- what *does* your mother... no. She trained you to do that. Didn't she."

Tim doesn't clench his fists or anything like it -- "It's a very good smile with many uses."

Lex sets the bottle down and spreads his hands. "You'll get no argument from me, Tim. It's only..." Lex pushes the glass across the bar. "Drink."

"'Chug, chug, chug?'"

"If you do that with *this* wine, there are at least eighteen sommeliers in this city *alone* who will attempt to murder you."

Tim smiles rather more helplessly than he wants to --

"Yes, do *that*. And drink."

Tim sips, noting the hints of both apricot and flowers, the tart briskness -- he takes a second sip and nods his approval.

"Excellent, I won't have to fire the man who recommended it as -- you'll pardon the phrase -- pussy bait."

Tim chokes --

Lex reaches across the bar and claps Tim's back -- briskly. "And that answers a few more questions. The Hansen girl -- your only female friend?"

"Ah -- yes."

"And yet you're hardly a shining example of teenaged American masculinity. Where *are* the girls in your life?"

Tim takes another sip to give himself time to *follow* the turns of this conversation --

"It's all right. I won't expect you to keep up with me until you've had at least a day to recover from the flight. Do you sicken easily? Should I have my physician shoot you up with my soon-to-be-patented preventative cocktail?"

Tim makes a face. "I dislike needles --"

"And you don't dislike the flu? Rhinovirii? The fact that there isn't a single commercial air travel company willing to spend the pocket change it would take to change the filters on their planes after every flight?"

All right, now he's making a *terrible* face. That -- "I believe you've stolen a certain fraction of my *innocence*, Lex. I -- really?"

Lex rocks on his heels. "Yes. That's why -- one of the reasons why -- there are *two* LexCorp jets."

Well -- "I'd thought it was because the first wasn't lavender enough."

Lex shows his teeth. "Speaking of lavender... you're not even remotely heterosexual, are you."

Don't react -- no, blink a few times, and --

Don't take another sip --

"Ah... what?"

The threat *becomes* a smile -- warm and *inviting* -- and Lex moves around the bar to *cup* Tim's shoulders. "No, it wasn't your delightfully scandalized reaction to my moment of crudity that gave you away. Think about it for a moment -- I'll wait."

"Lex --"

"Don't lie to -- either of us. Just consider how I learned your little secret. If you'd like, you can consider it to be a lesson from on high."

"You have no false modesty whatsoever," Tim says, and -- he hadn't quite managed to keep it from being an accusation.

Lex cocks his head to the side and squeezes Tim's shoulders. "What would be the point?"

Yes, that. All right, he considers it. Lex has noted his American-ness and age enough times now that Tim is absolutely sure that he's meant to take special note of it. He *isn't* a standard teenaged boy. The dossier Lex has on him would say nothing about sports of any kind, and the only other males of the species he spends time with are decidedly geeky and even more poorly socialized -- in some ways -- than Tim himself is.

That, of course, is another part of it. Tim has a great *deal* of money in his trust fund -- more than enough that he ought to be surrounded by beautiful, White young people with equally inflated allowances. He should have spent time vacationing *with* his parents and doing the sort of things which need money in order to be cleaned up.

More to the point, as of a year ago he was already *late* for doing those things with women -- girls his own age, of course, but they *could've* been outside his social class -- for some things.

He's not quite old enough that he ought to have anything resembling a *steady* lover, but he should be shuffling through girlfriends at will --

"Part of it... I."

Lex squeezes his shoulders again. "Go on."

"A certain degree of strangeness is only to be expected -- I attend public school, and any number of the parents have no idea who I am, thus they have no reason to parade their daughters in front of me."

Lex shakes his head once. "That would only excuse you if you were ugly. Unpleasant of mien. You're no male model, but there's nothing wrong with either your features or your body."

Why is he blushing -- focus. "Well -- thank you, but --"

"No buts. We both know you've turned girls down for dates. This isn't the fifties, Tim. Hell, this isn't even the seventies. How *many* girls have you refused?"

"Ah -- three. I tend to absent myself or change the subject when I can."

Lex raises an eyebrow --

"Do you color them to make people more comfortable -- ah. Sorry --"

"*Don't* apologize. When I don't want you asking questions like that, I'll tell you. And yes, I do. Bald is one thing -- apparently hairless is something else entirely," Lex says, and his smile is a wry twist which expresses his age --

And, suddenly, Tim remembers the part of his mother's dossier on Lex about his schooling: Lex had attended Exeter in the same -- *small* -- class as Bruce Wayne.

And Harvey Dent. And --

And he doesn't think there'll be *any* appropriate situation to ask those questions --

Lex squeezes his shoulders again. "What is it?"

What -- "I -- hate asking questions other people have asked countless times."

Lex smiles. "I don't think so, but -- a reasonable gambit on your part. It's nearly always better to hide lies with the truth. Now, back to the point at hand. While the relatively large size of your school is enough to hide a certain fraction of your avoidance when it comes to heterosexuality, you're *going* to be a public figure soon enough. Your mother wouldn't have it any other way."

Tim winces. "I -- yes."

"This -- answers still more questions."

"Ah... does it?"

Lex steps back and gestures Tim to drink more.

Tim does so. "All right, I'm braced."

Lex smiles more widely. "You already knew you were on borrowed time with that particular technique, and yet you were still using it despite the fact that it was putting your secrets on decidedly thin ice. *Therefore* -- I know now that you were *not* planning to keep those secrets for much longer."

Tim makes a face *briefly*. "There's something to be said for the short-sightedness of --"

"*Average* teenagers, which you are not. Does your mother know?"

No -- yes. "She suspects, I believe. I -- as you said, we no longer live in the past. I believe if I simply live discreetly and conservatively that I'll be able to perform my duties to DI."

Lex's smile is... far, far less than reassuring.

Tim sighs and finishes his wine. "You're going to say something... oh, maybe along the lines of how I should make sure my power base is solidified before I do anything revolutionary?"

Lex inclines his head and sips his own wine -- he stares at the glass as if it had insulted his mother.

"You'd prefer Laphroaig, I imagine...?"

"Macallan, actually, but Laphroaig sounds better to a certain subsection of the media -- and, thus, to the shareholders," he says, and his tone is somewhat distracted. Disgusted?

"Ah -- I assure you that I have no designs on your virtue --"

Lex coughs and smiles brilliantly, amusement and good cheer back *instantly*. "Not even if I make you finish this bottle of ever-so-*fruity* goodness?"

I like my men like I like my licorice: bendy and dark -- no. Or maybe --


"Not even then, Lex. In all seriousness --"

"In all *seriousness*, I vastly look forward to the day when you open a joint board meeting between our two companies while wearing something leathery enough to moo and tight enough to tell me which side you dress on. Until then, however, I recommend discretion. If you'd like, I'll find you an agreeable young woman to escort to the handful of events I'll be throwing to keep the sharks full of sugary chum --"

"Ah -- ew?"

"For the image or the prospect?"

"Perhaps if the young woman would *also* prefer dancing with someone of her own gender?"

Lex laughs quietly. "More difficult, but still doable. Will you need her to be shorter than you are?"

"I don't need you to be a miracle-worker, no."

Lex cocks his head to the side again, breathes deep -- "You're doing an excellent job of making me think favorably of you."

"I'm glad," Tim says, and surprises himself with his own honesty -- no, with the *depth* of it. Tim blinks --

"You weren't expecting to take much pleasure in my company...? What *do* the Gothamites think of LexCorp?"

"Ah... which Gothamites?"

"The ones who get to make the rules, of course," Lex says, and taps the bottom of Tim's glass. "Go ahead and think about your answer."

"As you say," and Tim drinks slowly and deeply -- "There are any number of rumors about you. About... certain connections to organized crime. Mostly about why you feel such a *powerful* amount of negativity toward the world's superheroes."

A shadowed look --

"Or we could leave that topic alone --"

"I -- no. I don't like them and I don't like the name they've taken for themselves. They operate outside of -- and often above -- the law. They have ridiculous powers, and that power is unchecked by anything save their own *whims*." Lex shakes his head. "Calling them superheroes really just seems to *encourage* them -- as if the parti-colored battles they fight in and around our cities are nothing more dangerous than children's games. Calling criminals *villains* -- no, it's all a bit too dramatic and *false* for my tastes. Sooner or later, one or more of those people will make a bid to take over, and the rank and file are so starry-eyed about them that it might just happen before more thoughtful people can blink."

Tim inclines his head and doesn't -- he doesn't. "Vigilantes, then."

"Soothing tone, willing compromise..." Lex smiles ruefully and gestures for Tim to follow him to the couch. "Yes, I'm aware I've spoken words like that many times in many places to many people. Call it a passion."

"Everyone needs a few," Tim says, sitting down at one end and crossing his legs again. He sets his glass down on the coaster -- as sleekly purple as the *second* LexCorp jet -- and works on putting away a few more of his childhood dreams. For this moment --

It's all right.

Lex sits down on the other end of the couch -- no.

Lex lounges like a *comfortably* younger man than he actually is, and Tim --

Tim doesn't examine his body any more than he already has. He knows Lex is quite fit --

"Is there..." Lex trails off and frowns at something behind his own eyes.

Tim waits patiently, curiously -- and feels like a liar despite the fact that he *means* to do both things. Correction: He feels like the *bad* sort of liar, which --

He's the one frowning at himself, and --

He doesn't want awkwardness. He -- "Is there something I could help with?"

Lex blinks -- and this frown seems much less private. "You're aware of the dangers of predatory older men, yes?"

"I -- what? Yes --"

"Principal among those dangers -- and no, this is not limited to males, but you would've said something if you'd had any interest whatsoever in women...?"

"Yes, but what --"

"*Principal* among those dangers," Lex says, jabbing at his own long thigh with his fingers and *lecturing* a little -- "is the way they can almost effortlessly make the child -- or teen -- in question believe that all fault is their own, that if they hadn't spoken or acted seductively none of it -- whatever 'it' is -- would have happened."

"I *have* seen that particular filmstrip, Lex."

"They still use *filmstrips* at your school?"

Tim smiles. "Well, no, but -- ah... exaggeration for effect? An attempt to lighten the mood? Something?"

Lex smiles wryly. "Fine, then. *Disdain* my excellent advice --"

"Ah -- never that --"

"Who *did* give you the gay facts of life?"

Tim raises an eyebrow. "Well, I *do* name all my computers Ganymede, but I haven't actually believed they were sentient for quite some time."


"It is," Tim says, and sips his wine as primly as possible, "my favorite moon."

Lex raises *both* of his eyebrows --

And laughs, softly and warmly, for a long moment. "All right. I... well, no, I *don't* surrender, but I offer you the point freely and without reservation. Let me tell you what your schedule is going to look like until such time as I decide it needs to look entirely different."

Tim smiles and listens.


Lex uses the intercom to wake Tim at six-thirty, takes his shower, dresses in one of his light summer suits despite the fact that he'll almost certainly get very little time outdoors today -- image isn't everything, but it is an *important* thing -- and then makes his way to the dining room --

Where Tim is waiting by the windows, dressed in his own suit. The material is light, a dove grey that does wonders for his otherwise plain eyes, which aren't very different from Lex's own. A bit more blue than grey, a certain wideness which speaks volumes of how attractive his mother must've been twenty years ago... hm. Perhaps they aren't especially plain, at that.

On a *woman* they'd be quite striking -- yes, that explains it well enough.

Tim smiles at him, miserly and honest -- but warm. "Good morning. I wasn't sure about the breakfast routine...?"

"Very simple. Eva will bring a tray of assorted foods designed to pique your interest in approximately three minutes, we'll eat while Mercy explains to me that you *actually* remind her of a serial killer --"

Tim coughs --

Lex offers his own warmth -- "Do try not to do that while you're eating."

"Ah -- all right? Are you quite sure I should be there for that conversation?"

"Oh, yes," Lex says, and rests a hand on Tim's shoulder -- as lean as it had seemed last night, as *potentially* strong -- "Consider it another lesson: there are *many* benefits to learning how the ways we present ourselves read to others."

Tim smiles wryly. "You do remember who my mother is, don't you?"

Lex does nothing to fight down his grin -- he already knows Tim finds it pleasant and... soothing, perhaps? Familiar? "Your mother is a remarkable woman in any number of ways. And she could've used someone who could teach her how not to be frightening."

"Lex, she would've broken that teacher's spirit over breakfast and then spent the rest of the morning making sure he or she never found happiness again."

"Oh, almost certainly, but what you *may* not know is what my spies have told me about why your parents' attempts to build a corporate community with Wayne Enterprises have all failed so miserably."

Tim blinks gratifyingly. "Are you saying that her *personality* soured the deal?"

"Lucius Fox is now and will always be the mind and power behind the Wayne throne, Tim. I won't say that he spends his time weeding the company of all but the Pollyannas -- that wouldn't work, at all -- but he certainly demands a degree of *friendliness* from his associates which other companies don't bother with."

"I -- you're serious."

"Bruce Wayne has done an excellent job of making the public face of WE as innocuous and dim as possible -- and the world lost a *great* mind when that man discovered champagne, but that's neither here nor there --" Lex pauses for the shadow flitting behind Tim's eyes.

It's gone in an instant, but it *was* there --

"You've met Brucie."

"I -- yes, of course. I've been attending the assorted parties with my parents since I was a child. He's... well. He's himself."

Lex nods in response, but the shadow -- hm. "He hasn't slobbered a kiss all over your mother at any of those parties, has he?"

Tim's expression is delightfully -- correctly -- horrified. And disgusted. "He... it was our CFO, actually. She did seem to enjoy herself."

Really. "Your current CFO is decidedly male."

"Ah... yes. I believe my mother felt Nerese didn't have the right sort of attitude." 

"Nerese Feinstein, current rising star in the WE firmament...?"

Tim winces. "I... you've made your point. Still, the world of business is rather more inclined toward my mother's way of doing things than -- Lucius Fox's."

"Oh, you're not wrong," Lex says, and squeezes Tim's shoulder just to see...

Yes. Tim *starts* to turn toward Lex's hand and checks himself utterly unconsciously.

It's tempting to ask the boy -- to ask *Tim* how many people he allows to touch him with impunity, because that sort of reaction suggests that the answer is 'very, very few.' Lex makes a note to go over the few candids taken of Tim with his father again --

"You're saying that there's a third way."

Lex smiles. "There often is."

Tim raises an eyebrow again. "You're not precisely known for your bonhomie and fellow-feeling, Lex."

Lex smiles -- more. "The trick is to discern who among your associates is worth that sort of thing and to apply it as needed. And you already know that well enough."

A rueful smile, for all that it barely dimples the *right* side of Tim's mouth. "Yes, I suppose I do. Though some would say that I'm just not... ah... committed enough."

Your mother would, and no one else -- no.

Eva walks in with the large tray -- the weight doesn't strain her impressive arm muscles one bit, and Lex will *always* surround himself with the physically fit, because, yes, there *is* an image to maintain.

Tim smiles politely at Eva -- "I don't suppose you'd allow me to take that?"

Eva glares at Tim with a surprisingly obvious pleasure. "Maybe if you eat everything on this tray Lex doesn't, young man. *Then* we can talk," she says, and smiles at Lex. "You'll make this boy eat, yes?"

Eva has... twin twelve-year-old grandnephews. Lex smiles back. "Of course, Eva. He's much too thin."

She nods once, sets the tray down with a *satisfied* grunt, and looks to Lex once more --

"I believe we have some milk...?"

"Yes, Lex. I will bring it," she says, and leaves.

Tim clears his throat lightly --

"I already know you're not lactose intolerant, Tim," Lex says, and guides him to the space to the right of the table's head. "Think of it --"

"Another lesson, Lex?"

"I'll come up with something pithy about it soon enough," and he pushes Tim into his chair before taking his own.

Along with Lex's usual yogurt, fruit, tea, and juice, there is a large amount of sausage, three different sorts of eggs, some sort of hot cereal which probably has an unpronounceable name which translates literally to 'warm calories,' a mound of toast --

"Please tell me I won't be expected to -- ah."

"What *do* you eat for breakfast?"

"Cereal. Usually. Ah." Tim looks positively stricken. "Is that *cheese*?"

"You don't like cheese?"

"I -- that -- not that *much* of it."

It is a rather large bowl of what looks to be a simple farmer's cheese. Hm. Lex prods the bowl --

The cheese jiggles somewhat alarmingly -- or so Tim's expression seems to suggest.

Lex laughs internally. "If you make a good show of trying everything, Eva won't poison the rest of your meals here."

"Considering your *other* employees..."

Lex pats Tim's shoulder. "I'm joking, of course. Eva would use her hatchet."

"Her... hatchet."

"Her father -- and grandfather, and great-grandfather, and so on -- were lumberjacks in the Ukraine. She personally chooses the wood I burn in my fireplaces."

"Well. That's." Tim is still staring at the cheese.

Lex places the bowl of it behind the platter of sausages. "Start there."

Tim closes his eyes and takes a deep, centering breath, which --

"You attended a good dojo."

Tim blinks his eyes open and smiles. "Yes, actually. I spent time researching... well. Perhaps we could spar sometime?"

That sounds very... "I usually only spar with Hope and Mercy."

"Oh, well -- of course --"

"But I would enjoy that very much, I think. Karate and judo, yes?"

"I was going to start with aikido this summer, but --"

"You got sent here, instead. I'll begin teaching you aikido tomorrow evening," Lex says, and reaches for his yogurt.

"I -- ah. Thank you. Very much," Tim says, and actually sounds somewhat *touched*. That --

It's an uncomfortable sort of thing, though Lex isn't quite sure why. It demands... something, and Lex gives himself leave to study Tim deeply, sharply --

Though that makes Tim *start* to offer one of his perfectly correct little social smiles --

Tim hums a rather terrible excuse for a laugh and begins loading his plate with food. "I suppose that was somewhat... much?"

"Is that what the kids are calling it these days?" And Lex wants to kick something very hard, indeed, because the lazy drawl is what he calls on when he *wants* to shut someone up.

He doesn't want to shut Tim up --

Though he's not sure he wants anything to do with that blush. "Never mind --"

"No, I -- I was thinking that I didn't want to take very much of your time. I was hoping to spend the time I had with you observing. Mostly observing --"

"You will," Lex says, and *that* came out too sharply --

What *is* this?

Lex takes his own deep breath, as subtly as he possibly can.

He knows Tim still noted it -- "We don't have to do anything you're uncomfortable with, Lex. In fact, I'd rather we *not*."

*That* -- Lex laughs and watches Tim sigh with relief at least as much as Lex himself does. "You're beginning to make me wonder how many impressionable young people *you* seduce, Tim."

Tim takes a sip of coffee and gives him the *prim* expression. "I assure you, Lex -- I never hurt the puppies I use to lure them into my van."

Lex fights back a snort -- but doesn't fight it very hard. "Noted. Eat your feast. I'll have Mercy bring you to Siegel park to run it off after you're done today."

Tim winces. "I don't suppose we could skip the part of that including Mercy?"

"She's good for you," Lex says, and stirs berries into his yogurt. "She leaves you... hmm... quivering and raw."

"And this is a good thing."

"Absolutely. By the end of the summer, there will be absolutely nothing which can faze you. You'll thank me."

Tim narrows his eyes at him --

"You look like your mother when you do that. Use it sparingly."

Tim blinks, nods, and turns to eat.

By the time Tim has made it through a third of the omelet, two -- homemade, of course -- sausages, and -- bravely -- three large spoonfuls of cheese, Lex is done. Still, solidarity demands that he carries on, so he serves himself poached eggs and sausage.

Mercy joins them when Lex is halfway through that, and Lex holds up a finger while he finishes Lois Lane-Kent's latest article on what a horrible person he is now, was before, and will always be. She really belongs on the editorial page -- and Lex knows full well how much money she was offered to make that move, because it was *his* agent who'd made the last three offers -- but he knows she'll never go.

Such is the madness of the most beautiful woman in the world -- though he knows himself well enough to know that much of his bitterness is based on the fact that she'd actually married the corn-fed puppy who'd followed her around since *moving* to Metropolis.

The rewards of persistence, perhaps.

Or perhaps he's precisely as well-hung as proportionality would suggest.

In the end, the article has little more *meat* than the fact that LexCorp has acquired an interest in Mediacom and plans to push for a greater share of the Metropolis news market -- and that much will be in the press release which will go live in two days.

She's either slipping or bored.

The former would be both disappointing and relieving. The latter would just encourage him to think about replacing her cigarettes with something more exciting and seeing if that would help him press his case.

Probably not.

Lex sighs and offers the paper to Tim, who thanks him quietly and continues to not look at Mercy in a way which *would* be subtle were it not for the bead of sweat at his temple.

Lex checks --

Yes, Mercy is smiling.

"Stop that."

Mercy blanks and stills herself. "Yes, Lex."

Lex sits back and crosses his legs. "Tell me why you've decided to torture Tim whenever possible."

"I'm hoping to encourage him to show his true colors so that I'll have an excuse to... damage him."

Lex nods. Yes, that's reasonable enough. He checks on Tim -- he's reading, but also still eating. That's fortitude. He appreciates fortitude. "You've consulted with Hope?"

"Yes, Lex. We're agreed that, while Tim isn't devoid, he's definitely not... normal."

Tim coughs quietly.

Mercy's expression doesn't slip even one iota. "We're both aware, of course, that value judgments like that one are less than impressive when coming from us."

Lex waves that off. "In some ways, they're even more impressive. Do you believe he'll attempt to injure me?"

"He'll do so stealthily, if possible."

"I really won't --"

"One moment, Tim," Lex says, and holds up a finger again. "You watched him sleep last night."

"Yes, Lex. And then Hope took over."

"But you don't want to kill him."

"Not most of the time."

"How *much* of the time?"

Mercy frowns mildly -- "No more than fifteen to seventeen percent of the time. He *won't* be able to injure you."

"I plan to begin teaching him aikido."

Mercy still herself once more.

"I plan to do so *without* your presence."

"Hope's?" And Mercy doesn't *sound* hopeful, but Lex knows that she is, just the same. She is, as ever, a remarkable woman.

"That depends entirely on her ability to seem innocuous enough to keep from distracting Tim."

Mercy grinds her teeth. Once. "I'm better at that."

"You ruined your play there, Mercy. I'm sorry."

"As am I, Lex."

"Tell me more about why you're sure he'll be a threat."

"He pretends to be less moralistic than he is. He pretends to be... many different things. And he's good at it."

"Yes, he is. But not as good as he could be."

"He'll learn from you," Mercy says, and meets his eyes with nothing but warning in her own.

Lex sighs and nods. "He's already begun, of course."

Mercy nods. Once.

"And the ways in which he reminds you of Robin?"

"The moralism. And... the violence."

Lex blinks for that and makes a point of looking Tim over. Tim, for his part, is looking at him *entirely* blankly -- "Don't do that, please."

"I'd rather not expose myself any more than I've already done, Lex."

"Just the same. Consider it a favor," Lex says, and means it... with more of himself than he can *credit* --

But Tim is breathing deeply -- and showing him fear, worry, anxiety -- *all* very different things -- as well as curiosity... and something very like hunger.

Lex fights back the urge to ask Tim who he *really* is -- that sort of thing *only* works with people like Mercy and Hope --

Lex nods. "Thank you," he says, and turns back to Mercy. "The violence you see is emotional."

"Yes, Lex."

"He might simply be a teenager with few... outlets. We both know how you feel about teenaged males."

Mercy frowns --

Grinds her teeth --

Stops. "No."

Lex makes the 'relax' gesture --

And Mercy slips into the loose-limbed posture which leaves her ready to commit any number of violent acts with the ease of long practice.

"It is my intention to mentor Tim to the small extent which will be possible given the realities of geography and the fact that Tim has a family of his own. My home is his own. My office is his own. My *security* is his own. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Lex."

"I know that makes you unhappy -- to say the least -- and so I will give you this: should Tim ever attempt to injure me in any way, you are free to break one of his arms and one of his legs. Hope may break the others."

Mercy smiles -- and stops. "Thank you, Lex."

"This does not include spars."

"Yes, Lex."


Mercy leaves with a *mild* spring in her step --

"The carrot and the stick, Lex?"

Lex takes a moment to sip his coffee -- Tim has focused on the milk since the conversation began. He probably doesn't want to feel too jumpy. "It's important to keep one's most vital employees satisfied, Tim. And I know you have no intention of cutting my throat in my sleep."

Tim's smile is a sour one. "Are you quite sure about that?"

"Well. I already know how you feel about the sight of blood."

"I could've been *lying* about that --"

"But you weren't," Lex says, and places the half-denuded bowl of berries in front of Tim. "These will clear your palate nicely."

"I -- thank you," Tim says, and frowns at the berries as if they're holding secrets he'd very much like to have revealed.

"You're uncomfortable."

"*Just* a little, yes."

"Mercy and Hope have saved my life a combined total of seventeen times."

Tim drops his spoon -- and picks it up again. "I -- my parents have only had to deal with one serious attempt on their lives."

"The near-kidnapping in Haiti. Yes, I'm aware of that. There wasn't much detail in the news about how they'd managed to escape...?"

A wry smile -- and Tim drinks more milk. "Personality. Specifically, my mother being in a good enough mood to chat with the pilot about what she planned to do about the then-proposed DI expansion in Port-au-Prince. She made a point of taking the pilot's name -- on top of having made a point to present herself as the 'generous captain of industry.' My father played along -- I've never been sure if they actually meant to purchase corporate jets for the decidedly small factory they'd planned to build, but I know that they *said* they would. In any event, the pilot was *supposed* to lure my parents to an area where they could be snatched from." Tim sets his glass down. "He didn't do it. The other kidnappers made a riskier attempt and were caught by the local police."

"And the redeemed pilot?"

"His body was found a week later, missing a head, hands, and his genitals. He had to be identified by his other scars."

Ugly -- and entirely predictable. Lex pushes his plate aside and leans back in his chair, crossing his legs. "And the lessons taken from this?"

"One, to hire the best security firm available. Two, to listen to their warnings -- the Caribbean hasn't been especially safe for wealthy foreign travellers in quite some time. Three... to be more aware of the people who have their lives in their hands. Why? Do you think my mother should've learned to be friendly all the time?"

Lex smiles. "I'm always friendly to the people who fly my jets -- and drive my cars."

Tim's expression quirks -- "Yes, I suppose you *were* friendly to Mercy. Though what she considers to *be* friendly --"

"Is her own business, Tim," Lex says, making a point to make his voice gentle. "I could tell you stories about Mercy's and Hope's childhoods which would almost certainly elicit sympathy from a boy like you --"

"*About* that --"

"I want to see your morality," Lex says -- hell, that was practically a *blurt* --

And Tim raises an eyebrow. "Would you like to co-opt it, as well?"

Would he?

He'd like to be -- a mentor. He'd like --

"I'd like to be responsible -- in part -- for who you become, Tim."

"Ah... thank you?"

Lex laughs quietly. "Yes, it was a compliment. You're interesting without being irritating, charming without being essentially empty, intelligent without being dull... I could go on."

"Does it depend on how twitched I am about being described as dangerous by a sociopath? And -- *why* have so many people tried to kill you?"

"Yes, and -- the world of agribusiness likes to present itself with the image of rolling fields of wheat, and good, sturdy, hardworking Americans with big, cheerful families. It's actually a morass of short-sightedly amoral pesticide companies, equally short-sighted and amoral land barons, and, of course, short-sighted and amoral geneticists. There are, of course, any number of good, high-minded people working for these companies, but none of them rise to the halls of power. You know this."

"I -- have to be honest. I didn't think it was quite that *bloodthirsty*."

Lex smiles and takes a moment to remember his father...

Ah, Dad, you did a *wonderful* job raising me...

"It's getting better, slowly and surely. Certainly, it's been nearly three years since the last assassination attempt --"

"I -- what --"

"The man worked for Intelligrow. I can't actually be sure of that -- he was hired through so many cut-outs that I never did make it past the middle-men with anything like *proof*. More to the point, he was recruited and trained over the course of three long years. He was paid an obscene amount of money in order to make himself look like nothing more than a mid-level attorney, and he did that well enough... anyway. He was carrying a syringe full of curare, had had his beloved wife take his beloved children out of the country with the lion's share of the money he'd received -- and earned honestly *as* an attorney -- and had managed to make it within range of an injection before Hope nerve-struck him and hustled him off to be interrogated."

Tim swallows, and his eyes are... very, very wide.

Lex inclines his head. "DI is moving into weapons development. These are things you ought to know."

"I -- it's really going to be -- I mean, our scientists *accidentally* discovered that new armor compound --"

"And your mother knows exactly how much money is in *that* business. I approve wholeheartedly -- the world's military and police forces *need* that kind of thing if they're going to be anything like useful against all of these ridiculously insane costumed freaks. But what counts as healthy competition in *that* world makes the sort of things your company has faced as a manufacturing and half-assed pharmaceutical concern look like toddlers throwing tantrums in a sandbox. I would be rather *intensely* surprised if your mother hadn't sent you here to learn from me about *that*."

"I..." Tim *starts* to lick his lips -- his mouth is quite small with only moderately generous lips --

He could *use* a little makeup for that -- something subtle enough to only seem to be lip balm --


Tim doesn't finish licking his lips before he shakes his head. "You're right, of course. I should've considered that."

"You *shouldn't* beat yourself up about the failing -- while any number of CEOs know precisely what I've put up with, there are many reasons why I've kept the foibles of my competitors out of the news."

"*Why* -- I mean. Of course that sort of thing is bad for *everyone's* business and would shine a light on your own activities... whatever they are," Tim says, shaking his head once more. "What did you do with the assassin, Lex?"

Lex smiles. "I sent him home with a pat on the head and a fresh set of clothes, as he'd done terrible things to the ones he'd worn."

"I -- you." Tim blinks and frowns, narrowing his eyes. "You used truth drugs on him."

"Of course."

"Including... including the ones with... problematic side effects."

"Science rarely marches forward in straight, even lines."

Tim squeezes his eyes shut and pushes his plate away, and pushes his chair away from the table.

Lex hits the buzzer that will call Eva in --

She appears in less than a minute, and takes less than two to clear the table. Lex gives her the 'easy' gesture, and she nods and says not a word before disappearing once more. He knows she had noted Tim's rather troubled expression -- Tim *will* be receiving treats until he seems happier, going by how she feels about her grandnephews.

"You..." Tim rubs his palms against his pants, back and forth and back -- he stops. "You. I study various drugs and medications. Their effects, their... ah... molecular components."

Lex raises an eyebrow. "It's a fascinating subject."

"Yes, I -- biochemistry. Neurochemistry. There is... there's a drug with the street-name Wipe."


"You --" Tim swallows. "It does an excellent job of making people recall -- and need to share -- their deepest and most protected memories."


"It -- it *destroys* the neural pathways --"

"In about seventy-two percent of the people exposed to it, and to varying degrees."

This time, when Tim looks stricken, there is no humor to it. There *should* be --

At least within *himself* --

Tim swallows again and looks down. "He was an assassin."


"And a *lawyer* -- "


"What is he now?"

Oddly-shaped plant life -- no, he won't be flip. "Two million dollars and the insurance Jenkins and Moy takes out on all of its employees pays for excellent long-term care. He has, at this point, the mind of a third-grader. He's improving slowly -- and he'll never be a threat again."

Another head-shake -- and a sickened laugh. "Well. I suppose you don't see yourself entering into any contracts with Wayne Enterprises anytime soon."

"Amazingly enough... no. What would you have done, do you think?"

Tim doesn't answer right away. He holds himself still and tense --

He breathes deeply once --

Again --

"I would've died from the *first* assassination attempt, Lex, because it never would've occurred to me to hire someone like Mercy. I -- heh. I believe I'll reserve judgment on Hope until she terrifies me at least twice."

"Big of you."

"Yes, I thought so. I..." Tim looks up again. "I suppose you tell yourself that working for you keeps them off the street?"

"One day -- assuming we make it through today with some measure of civility -- I'll tell you exactly why I hired Mercy." That -- really? Why --

Tim laughs softly. "You... you were only nineteen."

"Eighteen. She didn't work for me *officially* until I was nineteen."

A *pained* look -- and yes, that's improvement. "Lex, I believe I can honestly say that I'm altogether unsure whether I'll want to *hear* that story."

And that... charming, yes. Honest, too. It's not the kind of honesty he wants, though --

He's not entirely sure what that will turn out to be. Not -- not the whole of it. He *will* know more as he comes to know this boy, though, and his father was the one who taught him *that* variety of patience.

Still -- "What do you *want* to do with your life, Tim?"

Tim opens his mouth --

"No. Stop and think. Consider how pleasant it's been to be honest with me. *Then* answer."

And that --

Tim closes his eyes and *smiles*. It's the broadest one Lex has seen which has actually been honest, and it's soft and worn and somehow *old*. It's the sort of smile which tends to require physical contact of some sort, and this isn't the first time Lex has thought that that requirement had more to do with the other person's need to *ease* that expression, need to *change* it to something less -- raw.

It would be awkward to offer that kind of contact right now, no matter how grateful --

But Lex is already moving, already crouched beside Tim, already reaching --

And Tim gasps and opens his eyes when Lex rests his hand on his thigh. "I --"

"Consider how much it would hurt you to answer that question right now -- against the fact that I would accept an answer later."

"Oh. I." This time, Tim finishes the act of licking his lips. His eyes are wide, his pulse is beating strong and fast in his throat -- "I want. I want a useful life. A life where I can... make changes. I want to be the best I possibly can be. I want to be strong, smart, and wise. I want to be interesting. I want to be... admirable."

Oh... "You want to be great."

But Tim frowns. "No, I. I don't need to be... remembered. It's always seemed to me that desiring greatness means desiring that, as well."

"But you want to leave your mark."

"I want to leave a *good* mark. It doesn't have to be my own."

And that... it isn't truly as strange as it seems. All sorts of people are more than willing to follow. All sorts of people take great *pleasure* in following -- "This is the second time you've made me think of Hope and Mercy."

Tim smiles down at him wryly. "But not Robin...?"

"Robin is... let's just say that, so far, you've appeared to have much better taste."

A shadow -- gone, just that quickly.

Lex frowns --

Tim turns away --

Lex turns him back --

And the tension in his throat and shoulders demands --

What? Lex shakes it off internally. "You have the opportunity to become... everything you want."

"Not if I'll be spending all my time fighting off deadly *lawyers* --"

"*That* is what delegation is for, Tim," and Lex strokes the point of Tim's chin... and frowns at himself. "In any event, everyone at that particular party assumed that James Merrill -- that was the assassin's name -- had simply had far too much to drink. Because I had, by that point, acquired the best possible people for that sort of thing, I was able to remain at the party for some hours after that and get things *done*. You *will* have a staff waiting for you when your mother hands over the reins -- but I've learned that it's far, far better to begin cultivating your *own* employees as soon as possible."

"To make sure they're loyal to you and only you?"

"That goes without saying. The *important* thing, however, is to make sure your staff understands your basic philosophy and is ready, willing, and able to help you implement it even during those times when you're doing other things to make your mark."

"Like teaching delicate-minded teenagers how to be.... great?"

"Precisely," Lex says, standing and -- letting go. "It's time to take you to Cadmus. We'll discuss what you're doing on the way."

"Ah -- I wasn't quite sure -- *am* I dressed appropriately?"

"I love the suit without reservation, but, truly, casual wear will be better."

"Noted. I can be changed in five minutes --"

"No," Lex says, and wonders -- no. "Today you'll just be meeting the staff and touring the labs, and, as I said, I love the suit."

Tim smiles *cautiously* and warmly. "All right, Lex. Thank you. Lead the way?"

Lex decides to spend the drive explaining to Tim what he can do about his other suits, which are all inferior.


After spending the day at Cadmus, Tim has only one question of any note for Lex -- who had left at lunch for the first of several meetings:

Why are all of your employees functionally insane?

Well, the 'functionally' part is self-explanatory, but really --

Hope had driven them to Cadmus, and had spent the day firmly within Tim's shadow. Knowing that she was there to protect him -- well, after Lex *left*, anyway -- rather than maim him had helped to a certain extent, but her eyes are even more unabashedly *dead* than Mercy's.

At least Mercy has moments of humor and pleasure; Hope may as well be an android, and not the kind that joins Starfleet and repeatedly saves the Enterprise.

Somewhere, Hudson is sighing in pleasure for that reference. *Hudson* actually has nearly the exact same skin-tone as Hope, but, thankfully, that's where the similarities end.

Though Hudson would probably find Hope deeply attractive once he noticed the holsters and had had time to work up a decent fantasy about Lara Croft.

And then there were the scientists. All of them -- *all* of them -- are scientific polymaths with at least two doctorates in two different fields. Cadmus has produced everything from neurotoxins to pesticides to acne drugs to nutrient 'baths' which will be used for astronauts going into stasis for long journeys in space.

Lex had told him that many of them had been hired fresh out of school by his *father*, but Tim has a growing suspicion that there's something about particular *kinds* of insanity that conveys a certain... youth.

It would explain much about several of Gotham's supervillains, to be sure.

As for these men and women --

Well, the head of the team is Dr. Richelieu Westlake, a biochemist and geneticist responsible for developing a technique which produces transgenic clones of animals with better health and longevity than animals cloned using traditional methods. Over the course of eight hours, he made eye contact with no one at all, and muttered to himself incessantly about who only knows what.

The people responsible for writing the papers which make it *first* to Lex, and from there to the people responsible for actually *doing* things with the various inventions and discoveries, are Drs. Sonia Blakely and William Wang. Blakely has -- shockingly -- a doctorate in English Literature to go with her doctorates in bio- and organic chemistry. Wang is technically a physician, but he's also a neurogeneticist. As such, their papers, Lex has said, tend to be both breathtakingly exciting and *dense*.

Blakely flinches whenever it seems as though someone will touch her -- even if they're just offering their hands to be shaken. Wang snaps his fingers incessantly to music only he can hear -- and, no, there is no chrysoPod in evidence.

The frightening thing is that Tim is reasonably sure he recognizes some of the songs. The other frightening thing is that Wang hisses like a cornered meerkat when faced with interruptions to his snapping routine.

The others...

Well, the others *could* just be geeks and nerds of various stripes, but they really do seem to be the least well-adjusted people Tim has ever met in his *life*. Just --

Jedediah Hoon -- the microbiologist and *other* geneticist -- either hasn't bathed in the better part of the last month, or --

No, he just hasn't bathed.

These are the people Tim will be spending his days with, and, for the most part, he's actually all right with that. As it happens, the rumors about LexCorp experiments in cloning weren't *just* correct, but didn't fly high enough. The idea of cloning Superman *is* frightening -- all of those incidents with Bizarro had proven just how many ways such a thing could go wrong -- but it's also --

Well, how *many* people have suffered because even Superman couldn't be in more than one place at a time?

How many people have *died* because of that? And Bizarro...

Well, who better to know how *not* to go about creating a clone than the people who had screwed it up in the first place? While Tim is growing many, many doubts about the morality of Lex's business practices --

And really, that was so much of an understatement that it might not have successfully written itself across Tim's brain if he hadn't made a point of editorializing it before it was fully *thought* --

The *fact* is that Tim has something like an ace in the hole. If it looks like Lex plans to do something... something *untoward* with any of the clones currently in production, it would only take a few hours to get from here to the doorstep of the Wayne manor house. He'd share what he knew, making sure *Bruce* knew that he had no intention of --

Of course, there are problems with this scenario, starting with the fact that Tim knows full well that he wouldn't be a *fraction* as positive about this project were it not for the way it *could* allow him to wedge himself into the life he's wanted for so long that he doesn't remember *not* wanting it -- as opposed to remembering not *knowing* that he wanted it.

And oh, it had been years of that. Just -- *years* of taking his little pictures and plotting out his little graphs and maps about criminal activity in Gotham and all but staking out the public library branch on Tenth -- not to even mention the amount of time he'd spent wandering around the quads at Hudson. Years -- all without understanding that all he ever really wanted was to be caught, found out, discovered -- and found to be special *enough*.

For what?

Well, for whatever he could use his martial arts training for, of course, and no, he will *not* be telling Lex why he's so excited to learn from him.

(But wouldn't it be a delicious irony? Wouldn't it be --)

And maybe someday *he* could stop Lex from --

Saving his own life?

Feeding the hungry and helping the hungry feed themselves?

Paying terrifyingly brilliant people large amounts of money to continue to be terrifyingly brilliant?

Of course, there's more than that. Everything Hope and Mercy are *demands* that Tim know that there's more than that -- like whatever Lex had done to piss *off* Intelligrow --

And all of those other companies and individuals who've paid large amounts of money to *kill* Lex --

Could he get Lex to tell him about all of it? He'd already promised a fraction of Mercy's story --

(And yes, he does know what the specifics will turn out to be, because he's not actually an *idiot* --)

But then what will he do?

What *should* he do?

It's not as though there'll be *proof* of anything just lying around somewhere waiting for the intrepid, gay teen to stumble upon it with the help of his magic decoder ring --

Tim closes his eyes and clenches his jaw. If Mercy could see him right now, she would undoubtedly be broadcasting her tension in waves of pure menace, but Mercy had opened the *back* door of the car for him.

The privacy shield is as bulletproof -- and adolescent-drama-proof -- as the windows back here, and so Tim can angst in something like peace. It's possible he's angsting a bit too *deeply*, though. One should --

One should work *up* to the knock-down, drag-out battles with one's childhood dreams, he thinks, and so he will think about shallowly upsetting things, like --


Lex hates his suits. That's -- well, Tim had been very proud of his choices for business-wear. Nothing too flashy *or* too conservative -- the sort of thing which has worked wonders for young businessmen for generations -- with only small adjustments in terms of the collars and ties.

Lex, however, had described the suits -- all save for the one he's wearing now -- as pedestrian, dull, and steeped in Republican values. When Tim had pointed out that that was the goal he was going for, Lex had --

Well, he had certainly *seemed* to be very close to shaking him. Lex --

He wouldn't have minded, actually. He. There's something *about* Lex which just *shouts* about all the things that Tim...

Well, not all the things he wants, of course. Lex is -- well, Tim doesn't think he's *evil* or anything. He certainly doesn't seem to --

Well, all right, there's a *certain* amount of megalomania, and that sort of thing *is* very dangerous --

Lex doesn't have any guilt whatsoever about what he'd done to the assassin.

(Would he? The man was already undoubtedly making a very comfortable amount of money as a *lawyer* --)

No, shallow things. Shallow things are wonderful, because Mercy is parking the car by the park and that means she'll be opening the door soon. Shallow --

Lex is extremely fit. He'd moved almost languidly last night, and so it hadn't truly been possible to see the extent of his fitness. For a man in his forties who is *decidedly* not a superhero, Lex is absolutely *ripped*.

A moment to note his abdominals as he'd twisted to tell Hope something --

Another to focus on the breadth of his shoulders, and the triangular tapering of his back --

He has a very nice ass. He --

Mercy opens Tim's door and steps back.

Tim slips out, smiles at her politely, and makes a point of rubbing his finger along the pocket of his workout shorts --

Mercy snorts. "It's no good if you fake it. But the blush is nice."

Indeed. Tim inclines his head before scanning for an entrance to the park --

"Half a block east. How long are you going to need?"

"Thank you... ah. How long can you give me before I start interfering with your... other duties?"

Mercy narrows her eyes and generally *becomes* the picture of skepticism and banked violence --

"I'm not allowed to be polite, at *all*?"

"No. Yes --" She scowls, breathes, and then simply glares at him. "How much time will you need?"

Right. "An hour. Shall I meet you here?"

"Give me your arm."

"Ah --"

"Please. Sir," she says, and continues to glare.

Tim give her his arm --

Sees a flash of *something* --

And *yelps* for the feel of something small and hard penetrating the flesh just beyond his wrist --

And again for the feel of a cold antiseptic wipe being dragged over the -- quite small -- wound. But he can take himself in hand. "Perhaps you could tell me what *that* was."

"Hn. Subcutaneous tracer. That way, if you get yourself mugged or kidnapped, nothing *too* bad will happen to you before I show up to save your hide."

Tim narrows his eyes. "And who gave you permission to do that?"

"I don't need permission, Tim. Your security is Lex's own. If you'll stand still, we can implant the other four right now --"

"No. Thank you," Tim says, and pinches the bridge of his nose. It feels like something is *moving* in his wrist -- "What *is* the SOP for the other implants?"

"One every other day -- and a request that you keep your risky activities to a minimum."

Tim frowns and twists his wrist back and forth -- and manages *not* to yelp when the pain suddenly spikes. He leaks exactly four drops of blood, and then -- the pain fades. "Explain that."

"The tracer has attached itself to your flesh -- and cauterized the wound. The scar should be minimal."

"And you plan to give me four more of these."

"I'll be happy to remove them just as soon as you arrive back in Gotham," Mercy says, standing at a kind of *insouciant* attention and showing her teeth.

"Mm, yes, I imagine you would be," Tim says, twisting his wrist -- mild pain that does, indeed, feel like a burn. An internal *sunburn*, to be precise -- and rolling his head on his neck. "I'll let you know when I've decided where the rest of the tracers will go --"

"You really ought to leave that to the professionals --"

"I *said*... that I would let you know when I've decided. Am I understood?"

Mercy narrows her eyes -- and, this time, her smile belongs to a rather more bloodthirsty -- though not necessarily more sociopathic -- Cheshire Cat. "All right, Tim. Whatever you say. Will you still need an hour?"

"Yes --"

"Are you enjoying giving orders?"

"About as much as I would enjoy taking a half-starved pit bull with a sore tooth for a walk, since you asked."

Mercy smiles even more widely. "Lex pays for excellent dental care," she says, and -- pops out a perfectly sculpted bridge with her tongue before easing it back in. "Make sure you learn how to take care of your employees, someday."

Tim is rooted to the spot, wondering who could have possibly broken so many of her *teeth*. Of course, it could've been more assassins, but that sort of wound --

That sort of *injury* --

"Was it Robin?"


"Was it Batman?"

Mercy cocks her head to the side -- "No," she says, and everything about her suggests a dare to call her on the lie --

The *obvious* lie --

Tim doesn't do it. He doesn't shudder. He doesn't -- he doesn't *fucking* flinch.

He nods once, gives Mercy his back, and runs.

For the first half-mile he can't think of anything but --

What would Lex have done that he'd have to have Mercy -- and almost certainly Hope -- defend him from Batman?

There --

God, if *Batman* couldn't find the proof of whatever it was --

("Sometimes proof is the *opposite* of necessary, Tim.")

That from his mother, of course, but she had only said that after conducting an interview with one of the marketing employees who'd been *rumored* to be taking cocaine and other drugs. His work hadn't slipped and he'd been an excellent employee for eight *years*, but --

But his mother had fired him anyway -- after an interview whose results had been ambiguous at best. And of course it's important to get and keep as savory a reputation as possible. Of course it would've been horrid for DI to gain a reputation as the sort of company where users *could* just slide on the company dime indefinitely --

(Everyone knows that Wayne Enterprises pays for its employees to go through rehab and always gives them a second chance, but *they* have money to *waste* --)

(But is it always a waste?)

What *would* Lex say about it? What happens to the addicts on *his* payroll?

(What would happen if he tasked Cadmus to produce recreational drugs --)

No, not that. Lex -- well, he isn't some kind of *drug* pusher. He isn't --

*What* is he?

Tim knows, of course, that, in the world of business, every harmless-sounding press release hides any number of sins. While there were no human trials for the Dilar body armor his company had accidentally discovered and *purposefully* produced by the thousands to be *ready* for the first wave of orders --

Well, *some* animal's body had to be wrapped in the stuff and then shot at, bombed with grenades, peppered with shrapnel --

There's only so much which can be *learned* by artificial bodies full of artificial bones and organs. If they hadn't done the animal testing, they wouldn't have been able to be *sure* about just how much of a concussive blast the organs of the wearer could take before things became... problematic.

Those tests were only two years ago, and so it's reasonable enough for them to be on his mind --

Would he have been able to order them done even knowing that he'd feel honor-bound to *watch* it all happen?

His father had taken him to the lab that day. His mother had had other things to *do* --

His father had vomited. Tim had not -- but only because he'd chosen to have water for breakfast. And he'd wound up wishing he *had* vomited, because really --

The last thing he'd wanted was for the technicians (butchers) to look at him as some --

Some sort of *validation* --

Tim runs in place for a minute.

He gets several odd looks from the other people on the path -- he's nowhere near any benches, water fountains, or scenic spots -- but that's all right. This isn't his city, and he's allowed to be at least a little odd.

He is. He --

He's *not*, because if he stays still for too long he might just attract his bodyguard.

Tim closes his eyes for approximately five seconds. He needs this run. He needs this freedom -- however artificial and false. He needs this time to think without any entirely too interesting people *around* him.


He opens his eyes and runs, thinking about calories being burned off, about suits which are some variety of age-appropriate --

("Words cannot express how *very* much I miss wearing a bit of rebellion here and there. Don't disdain the opportunity while you have it.")

And that --

It shouldn't be easier to think of conversation with Lex than it is to think about his own life, or -- no, it shouldn't. For all that Lex has *become* a part of his life, he's not a *good* one --

(His hands are always warm.)

Tim doesn't trip. He runs -- steady and even -- and begins coping with the fact that he is, in fact, deeply attracted to a man who'd had at least one difference of opinion with *Batman* -- and, thus, Robin.

And Superman.

Tim doesn't look to the skies, either --

Does Lex have a supply of kryptonite somewhere? He'd almost *have* to, considering his concerns and outright *prejudices* --

Well, no, he remembers that speech quite well: Publicly, anyway, Lex has no problem whatsoever with aliens who don't commit crimes -- especially if they don't commit the crime of vigilantism --

Lex has kryptonite... somewhere.

He has, perhaps, given it to the terrifying people at Cadmus to study, for all that only one of them has any background whatsoever in exogeology --

The one of them who, if he remembers correctly, was hired most recently. Jean Levesque's primary specialty is perinatology and -- yes. The clone -- should the experiment be successful -- will almost certainly be pitted against Superman.

Probably --

Probably that would only happen if Superman proved to be more of a risk than he already has. If he, say, acted out in some way...

Yes, Tim is frowning again -- frowning enough to make the obvious couple jogging toward him *flinch* and move to either side of him --

He hates being *flanked* --

But the two women are no threat to him, and, besides, they're already well behind him and moving further away with every stride. He's not just frowning, he's freaking out to at least a certain extent.

Had Lex shown him all of this thinking that Tim *wouldn't* put two and two together? Just -- that would be *asinine* --

And Lex is anything but that. So. Tim was supposed to figure all of this out, supposed to understand that Bizarro wasn't a mistake so much as a failure, supposed to understand that Lex is a *villain* --

He hates that word. That -- that naming *culture*.

He keeps kryptonite *close* -- hell, maybe in one of his desk drawers.

He's making another clone of Superman, and this one will undoubtedly be stronger, smarter, and more frightening than the last.

He -- wants Tim's morality and, yes, he wants to co-opt it for himself.

(He's already begun.)

What is he supposed to do with information, exactly? It's not like he could run back to Gotham without being ridiculously obvious --

(And a disappointment to his mother.)

He -- well, he *could* just call Superman, couldn't he? And direct him *to* Cadmus --

A building with a great deal of lead shielding -- ostensibly to protect the neighboring area from radiation, but, of course, that's not the *real* reason why. God, he'd *complimented* Lex on finding light bulbs which simulated natural light so well --

He is... he is somewhat compromised, already, because it's not like he's just now coming to these conclusions. He's attracted to Lex Luthor. He's attracted to a supervillain. The two thoughts don't seem to belong together. Or -- it's just that they can't possibly be the same *thing*, can they?

He's attracted to the witty, sly, charming, urbane, open, and openly *friendly* man who stocks wine because he knows Tim likes it and -- touches him.

His shoulders. His thigh. His *face* --

Even Ives has never --

Not on *purpose* --

There's nothing wrong with being attracted to that. He's a teenaged gay male and it would be --

It would be proof that there was something *wrong* with him if he *didn't* find Lex at least a little bit attractive. Right?

Right *enough*.

He's *not* attracted to the man who brain-wipes assassins after who knows how much torture -- mental torture is the same damned *thing* as physical torture. He's not attracted to the man who makes love to a serial killer. He's not attracted to the man who keeps that serial killer a *slave* --

Oh -- wonderful. He's blushing. He's --

He should at least be better at lying to himself at this point, shouldn't he?

The Lex currently colonizing a large part of his mind would say no, but Tim doesn't have to -- and *won't* -- agree with him about everything. No, this --

This is just --

All sorts of people are interested in BDSM. Perhaps just the trappings of it, perhaps just the barest *hints* of it. He's not *abnormal* or anything like that just because he's curious about things like spankings and orgasm denial and --

Perhaps a few other things.

If he can continue to separate Lex from the supervillain -- not that he should, but if he *could* -- it would even be reasonable to want that sort of thing from him. He is, after all, obviously experienced. Mercy is almost certainly not *dull* in bed, and yet Lex satisfies her on a regular basis -- not to mention the occasional starlets, improbably attractive lawyers, and equally improbably attractive politicians who periodically find themselves linked romantically with Lex --

Who is one of the most eligible bachelors in the *country* -- right up there with Bruce Wayne. And that --

Shouldn't he be thinking about *him*? And Dick, of course. *Always* of course, and he may never get to touch either of them beyond handshakes --

That *hug*, so warm and *complete*, somehow --

He may never get to have them, but wouldn't they *have* to be disappointed in anyone who knew what Lex was and still let themselves become involved with him?

Not --

Not that that would ever *happen*, but --

He's panting. He hasn't even run three miles, but he's made himself *pant*. Wonderful. Tim jogs in place and forcibly evens out his breathing until he feels like he's in his own body again.

He *won't* do more than three miles and however many yards it takes him to get back out on the street where Mercy is parked, because --

Well, he's going to have to talk to Lex, and he'd like to be rested for it -- whole in some sort of way which would allow him to be both brave and intelligent.

(And interesting.)

And desirable. That would be nice, too. That would be --

Tim destroys his breath control by laughing, continues jogging in place, fixes his breathing *again* --

And runs.


He isn't at all sure what he's going to get from Tim once he's finished showering and dressing for dinner. He had, after all, given him a great *deal* to consider, and for all that he had hidden somewhere behind his own eyes while Lex was *with* him today --

For all that it was clear that he wasn't engaging in any particularly *deep* thoughts for the tour and introductions --

The world knows that Bizarro was his fault. He'd distanced himself in the usual ways -- a mistake by this functionary, an unconscionable lapse in judgment, a momentary pause in his supervision -- but he had *forced* Tim to ignore and *deny* everything he'd heard from press releases. Tim hadn't had much inclination toward believing that sort of thing, but there *was* a certain pie-eyed optimism that had to be nipped in the bud.

With Mercy's help, that task had been completed in less than twenty-four hours... and now Tim knows what there is to know.

Another clone for the world's protection -- and for Lex's peace of mind, as well. Superman's days of near-absolute power over the earth are *numbered*, and while the number is still much too high... well.

There has been nothing to suggest that the creature even *ages* as humans -- and all *sorts* of perfectly reasonable other aliens -- do. An immortal with that kind of power... no.

And that is *precisely* what Lex will tell Tim when he asks. He'll elaborate here, soften his tone there --

And then he'll see.

For now, he's waiting on the balcony outside the dining room with an unlit cigar between his fingers and Metropolis spread out before him like an *expensive* prostitute -- hm. That thought...

There's something about that thought which suggests it could go somewhere interesting. Something... blackmail, perhaps? Rather sordid, but there are always people in this world in desperate need of being leashed -- specifically in need of being leashed by *him*.

But *who* does his id want him to own? More *specifically* than everyone --



Even now, close to a quarter of a century after there had been anything of the kind, Lex remembers the *hard* light Bruce would get in his eyes when he was wrestling a thought into utter, perfect submission --

And the soft light he would get when touched just the *right* way -- well. It's not the *first* time his mind had thrown him the image of working *someone* into the man's bed, but frankly it's been a while. Every woman -- and there had been many -- he'd sent to Bruce over the years had been -- eventually -- rejected and forgotten to the point where it would've been suspicious for them *not* to dump Bruce in as public a manner as possible.

The *men* he'd sent hadn't even gotten their cocks wet -- in *any* way, shape, or form.

Not even the ones who'd looked like him, and that *was* insulting, yes, but -- why is he thinking about this now? What possible --

Ah, yes, the shadows in Tim's eyes whenever the man's name comes up. Tim is much on his mind at present -- it's been too *long* since he's met someone new who he actually wanted to shape --

And it's been precisely forever since any one of those people has shared a home with him. All right, it's clear enough that Tim has some sort of soft spot for the man --

Or his former ward?

Christ, Dick Grayson still *lives* with Bruce sometimes despite the fact that he'd graduated from Hudson years ago. He spends a fair amount of time in New York with Oliver Queen's former ward and a handful of other people in that same general age group --

And that information is at least six months old. He should have better than that. Hell, he'd *had* Hope in the area --

Lex sends the two-one-two signal to Mercy's jaw implant that informs her to come to him as soon as he's alone for the evening. He misses the convenience of the communicators, but he doesn't at all miss the way security had been a matter more of luck than of anything else. They can still be used for casual things, but the implants and their assorted codes are much, much better.

Mercy won't get anywhere in Gotham -- he knows from extensive experience that Bruce's *one* servant has a level of loyalty to the master which reaches Mercy-levels of fanatical -- but *someone* in New York just might know how *long* Bruce has been screwing Grayson. He doesn't --

He doesn't think he's capable of believing that *that* had started while the man was still a minor, but the truth is, of course, that he simply doesn't *want* to believe it.

And he knows that well enough by the way his father is laughing in his mind, by the way the sound is endless and vital at once, by the way there's no need for anything like *breath* --

Lex clenches his hand into a fist. Bruce had been -- God, *noble*. An *actual* cut above everyone else at Exeter -- *including* Lex himself. He'd considered it proof of his basic superiority to *most* of the human race that he'd realized that about Bruce while still a teenager, and he still thinks that was reasonably impressive. But --

Noble, yes, and Lex knows that he's not the only one who'd heard the news of Bruce taking in an orphan and promptly nodded to himself and thought, "ah, yes, *there* he is."

His best friend had gone crazy -- *homicidally* crazy -- and so it made perfect sense for Bruce to go a little crazy himself -- even though no one could've imagined he'd do so in such a *vapid* way.

(Even though Bruce's madness had come *before* Harv's, good old Harv's...)

Still -- it was just *like* Bruce to witness a tragedy and then do his best to alleviate it. To --

Well, *his* parents had been murdered, right? Everyone knew that.

Lex catches himself running the cigar back and forth under his nose in an effort to -- as ever -- use the scent to chase his father *away*.

His father had agreed with Tim about the scent of cigars -- though he believed the urine odor was more in line with the scent of old men's saggy diapers than cats.

What *is* Tim's type?

Grayson is -- startlingly pretty. He's ten years older than Tim, but Bruce *did* drag him to all those parties --

All those parties the Drakes dragged Tim to. Hm. It would, perhaps, be *like* Tim to develop a crush on the man. Grayson had seemed friendly enough those few times they'd met, if a bit on the hyperactive side, and if Lex owned any modeling agencies, he would've done everything in his power to acquire him.

And --

Bruce never *admitted* to having anything like a crush on Harv back when he still looked like a perfectly handsome human being, but there had always been something in his eyes --

And, yes, he knows Bruce does, in fact, swing that way to at least a certain extent.

How young had he been, Bruce? Did you --

*How* could you --

Tim clears his throat behind Lex.

Lex doesn't let himself jump even internally, because Lionel Luthor had walked like a ghost years before Tim Drake was born. Lex pulls a smile onto his face and turns. "Join me?"

Tim raises an eyebrow. "Not for a *polite* smile, I don't think."

Ooh. Really. "Forgive me, my thoughts took... something of a dark turn."

Tim blinks. "I could come back --"

"No, I wanted to speak to you."

Tim closes his eyes and tenses -- and then relaxes himself with *quick* care. "The... ah. The feeling is mutual."

Yes, it would be. And now would be an excellent time for him to push his thoughts about Bruce aside so he can focus enough to have what he *wants*. Lex moves to the side of the small balcony --

And Tim walks out to join him, curling his fingers over the railing and squeezing tightly enough that his knuckles show white -- and then loosening his grip again.

"Tell me why you're tense."

Tim's laugh is a breath which only *seems* to have been torn away by the wind. The truth is that it wasn't much of a laugh, at all. "I -- you have to already know why --"

"No," Lex says, and turns to *fix* Tim with his gaze -- a trick it had taken him a full afternoon in his father's presence to learn. "I know that I've given you a lot to think about. I know that you've taken the opportunity to do so. I *don't* know whether your tension is based in morality... or in the desire *for* morality."

"And am I only good because I want to look that way...?" Another nothing of a laugh, and Tim shakes his head. "I don't want you to kill Superman. I - I would find a way to stop you."

Lex is fully aware that his eyes are glittering, but Tim... likes that sort of thing.

Enough to blush for him.

"Is that your only objection the project?"

"My -- it's something of a *deal*-breaker, Lex --"

"Answer the question --"

"Of *course*, it's my only objection. The world could *use* what you're building, what you're *creating* -- my God, the implications are --"

"I'd prefer you not call on God in my home."

"I -- what? Ah -- all right? I mean -- I won't do it, anymore," Tim says, raising his hands and backing off a step.

Lex nods. "Thank you. Any other epithets or curses are welcome at *any* time."

"Well... then fuck you very much, Lex, don't -- *weaponize* the -- project."

And are you speaking that way to protect my *security*, Tim...? Lex smiles. "The project is weaponized solely because of its progenitor."

"Yes, yes, you -- you know what I *mean*. With two of those... with *two*, the world's suffering could *dramatically* decrease. With more than two --"

"An army, perhaps?"

"The last army the world would ever need. The army that would *end* the tyranny of other armies --"

"An end to warlords?"

"An end to -- to *superpowers*," Tim says, and the passion in his eyes is bright, real, *true* --

"There's only *one* superpower --"

"Lie. *Lie*, and you --" Tim notices that he's jabbing a finger at Lex and stares at his hand bemusedly --

"Don't stop."

"I --"

"Don't *stop*," Lex says, grabbing Tim's wrist and yanking him close enough to jab at Lex's chest.

Tim grunts -- and blushes.

Really... Lex tightens his grip on Tim's wrist --

"Lex --"

"You were saying?"

The blush becomes deeper -- but Tim looks up to meet his eyes despite everything showing in his own. "We both know that nuclear proliferation throughout the developing world has changed the game entirely. The world needs -- needs *safeguards*, and you're doing this -- " Tim growls and turns away --

"*Don't* --"

"You're doing this for stupid, *petty* reasons, Lex," Tim says, and turns back to him with *hurt* in his eyes. "You -- you ought to be better than that."


"*Yes*. You -- you've done so *much* good for the world -- so much that the fact that there are superheroes actively trying to bring you *down* is a *secret*. That just doesn't *happen* all that often --"

"Are you sure?"

"*No*, I'm not sure, and that's horrifying -- " Tim growls again, stops, *snarls* -- "Lex. You could do so much with this. You could help turn the world *around* --"

"Superman doesn't involve himself with politics."

Tim shows his teeth. "Yet. Right? He'd almost have to at some point -- I *don't* see him allowing a nuclear missile to land. Do you?"

"It would be the perfect way to convince the little people that power should be ceded to him and his... associates."

Tim wags his head back and forth -- then shakes it once. "No, too obviously manipulative. Everyone would want to know why he didn't stop the missile in the first place --"

"He could say he was off-planet -- and who would be the wiser?"

Tim frowns --

Lex tightens his grip on Tim's wrist still more and grips his face with the other hand. "Stay with me."

"I -- I just don't believe --"

"No. You don't *want* to believe that the so-called superheroes of this world can be ruthless. Trust me when I say that I know they can be."


"By far the most dangerous man on the planet -- and not only because *Superman* habitually takes his orders."

Tim sucks in a breath through his teeth -- "I -- I knew that. I always -- I mean. I suspected. Some of the things the League has done... the talents and abilities that we know they have --"

"Not that they were under any obligation to tell humanity everything --"

Tim raises his free hand to stop Lex -- "Wait. Just... wait."

He doesn't *want* to wait. He wants more and he wants it *now*, and he'd grown *out* of certain varieties of patience --

Why on earth is he cupping Tim's *face*?

And how insulted should he be that Tim is obviously *thinking* when they both know he's attracted to Lex, that *he* -- wants. There's a thought there, a thought with a great *deal* of laughter behind it that he doesn't want to *hear* tonight --

And Tim narrows his eyes... beautifully. "How can we be sure that they haven't already infiltrated various governments?"

"We can't be. We won't always be able to count on the League continuing to push forward a woman who was trained to be a *warrior* as their political face."

Another snarl --

There's something almost *adorable* about them -- "I have no problem whatsoever with Diana of Themyscira's *gender*, Tim."

Tim blinks rapidly -- "No, I - of course not. I'm not sure what I was thinking --"

"You were thinking that... I have a point."

"I already knew *that*, but -- the answer isn't wholesale slaughter. Just -- that's *never* the answer. Even *Nazis* have been redeemed and successfully reprogrammed, and these people are hardly *that* --"

"These *people* are hardly *people* --"

Tim attempts to pull back --

"I'm sorry," Lex says, for the first time --

It's been a rather long time for the words -- and the sincerity behind them -- to have been right there, but... he's grateful.

"I'm sorry," he says again -- "I've let my reasonable fears make me unreasonable. Bigoted."

Tim narrows his eyes, lifts his chin -- "You read me too well."

"You're a child. Get used to it."

"If I do, then I'm forced to doubt my beliefs about how sincere that apology was."

"Do you have any metahuman friends?"


"Superhero friends?"

Tim laughs, and this time it lasts for several notes and nearly two full breaths. It's -- infectious.

Or it would be if it wasn't so fascinatingly *rare*. Lex strokes Tim's sharp cheekbone and misses -- terribly -- the feel of rouge. Foundation --

Tim's skin is lovely without it --

Lex lets go and steps back, trusting the need to do so as he's learned to trust nearly all of his body's messages --

Tim is blinking and licking his lips -- and attempting to tug his wrist free --

No, not yet, and Lex squeezes hard enough to *nearly* hurt, just --

To see Tim lick his lips again and... shift. He's growing hard for this. For *just* this --

"You can trust me," Lex says, and smiles.

Tim raises his eyebrow with elegant *force* --

And Lex gives Tim his own laugh --

And watches Tim study it hungrily. Well. At some point Tim might try crawling into bed with him, so Lex will just have to expend some effort coming up with a refusal that is both gentle and encouraging. Perhaps he'll find Tim a discreet young *male* for those times *after* the parties --

Or not. For some reason the idea is... distasteful. Well, it would be better for Tim to have a friend for his experimentations -- and otherwise. Bruce had taught him that lesson --

And that is a question worth asking. "How *much* time have you spent with Bruce Wayne and his former ward?"

"Ah -- practically none? I mean, Bruce introduced himself to my family six different times, and introduced Dick four of those times. I..." Tim smiles ruefully and turns away. "I met Dick... before."

That sounds... intriguing. "'Before'?"

Tim sighs and doesn't turn to face him. "My parents took me to see the circus he performed with."

Now why is *that* -- oh. "Are you telling me... you were a toddler when Grayson's parents were killed."

*That* makes Tim face him again, and the smile on his face is both real and utterly unrelated to everything in his eyes. "It was a memorable night."

Lex lets go of Tim's wrist. Just -- "You feel protective of him."

"And of the people he cares for, yes. Even though he doesn't remember *me*, at all."

"You were a face in the crowd --"

"My parents bribed Harry Haly -- the owner of the circus -- into introducing us to the performers. Dick pulled me into his lap, hugged me breathless, and promised to do his signature trick just for me. That said -- yes, I was a face in the crowd. And I always will be," Tim says, stroking his wrist and rolling his hand a little. "In other words, yes, I have a *ridiculous* crush on the man."

Lex probably shouldn't want to have him shot --


"Well," Lex says, pulling on sanity with main *force*, "he is obnoxiously attractive."

Tim's smile is much, much better for that. "'Obnoxiously?'"

"Oh, yes," and Lex gestures Tim to follow him back inside. "He has the sort of beauty which tends to beat other people's beauty into the dirt while cackling loudly."



"I wasn't aware that there *could* be violent sorts of beauty --"

"Bullshit -- unless you went to *terrible* dojos."

"Which you already knew I did not, yes," Tim says, smiling and settling himself at the table.

Lex pauses behind his own chair and tilts his head to the side. "What are you thinking about?"

"I'm wondering if there's much of a difference between violent beauty and beautiful violence."

"Do you think the latter exists?"

Tim smiles at the table. "I think that it -- probably -- shouldn't."

Lex sits down and gives in to the urge to cup Tim's face once more, to turn his head --

And there's a phrase --

"We haven't finished."

"Mm, no, we haven't. I still have to convince you not to turn the project into a Kryptonian-seeking missile."

"There'd be no need for Superman --"

"Lex. I know you're not at all superstitious, but several different gods --"

"Beings who *call* themselves gods and prey on the weak-minded --"

"Yes, well, they're right there, and they're powerful. And I believe that what you're doing right now is asking for it."

"And what do you think I'm asking for?"

"Death. Mayhem. Chaos. *Apocalypse* -- and not just the planet which goes by that name and is apparently chock full of large, powerful beings who would just love to murder most of humanity and enslave the rest."

"With the project's success --"

"And what happens when the project -- when it breaks down? Sickens in some unknowable way? Weakens? Dies?" Tim shakes his head and lays his napkin out on his lap. "Perhaps I'm not bold enough for this sort of thing, Lex -- I can't help thinking that humanity ought to be left with *insurance*."

Lex allows himself to make something of a face --

"Oh, *come* on, Lex. The man has saved the planet *countless* times."

"So he says -- all right, no, I've gotten the opportunity to discuss certain things with a few of the individuals Superman has gotten put away... if nothing else, you must admit that he *attracts* these people."

Tim smiles wryly. "So would the project -- if it's successful."

"Interstellar diplomacy --"

"The velvet glove should always hide an iron fist, Lex."

That -- Lex sighs and lets go of Tim's face, leaning back and fixing his own napkin. "I expect you to inform me as soon as your mother decides to divorce your father, Tim. She *will* be my next conquest." And Lex is expecting that to hit Tim like a bucket of ice-water --

But Tim laughs softly and shakes his head. "You do realize that I'm duty-bound to attempt to do terrible things to my half-siblings."

He's made so -- so very *well*. He's so strong, so sure in himself -- for all that he almost certainly thinks of himself as being otherwise -- "You're impressive," Lex says, and pins Tim with another look --

Tim's eyes widen as he *gapes* -- "Ah -- I --"

"And I'd convince Janet -- is she ever a Jan? -- to bundle you off to boarding school. No, don't make that face -- there's an *insane* amount of buggery at those places if you know where to look."

"Ah -- no. She's not a Jan. Ever."

Lex sighs somewhat dramatically. "Excellent. I was worried she'd be as primitive as *you*."

Tim's eyes widen --

Narrow --

And he touches his tongue to his upper lip. "I must confess, Lex, that my father has occasionally come to the table in furs, with his club still crusted with blood and hair."

Lex makes a moue. "Oh, that's *horrid*. That's what the help is *for*."

"If you're sure."

"*Quite* sure," Lex says, and pats Tim's cheek exactly three times --

"Who -- never mind."

Lex smiles rather more like himself. "William "Billy" Margolis -- my *first* executive vice president. My father kept him around to catch all the negative attention and be a yes-man. I bought him with nothing more than a seeming willingness to listen to his idiotic ideas and a desire to spend time in his company drinking sherry and tittering at the pool boy. And the chauffeur. And the -- otherwise execrable -- chef."

"*Sherry*? Really? I -- anyway. You already know who you were actually reminding me of."

"Brucie -- for all of his *many* flaws -- has never, ever tittered."

"Why... why are you so curious about him, Lex? Is he the reason why your thoughts were 'dark' earlier?"

And that... why not? But first -- "I'm taking your thoughts about the project under advisement. To general an army like that would be... well. That would be *something* like the pinnacle of human achievement."

"Yes, it *would* --"

"Tim. I have reason to believe that Bruce is sexually involved with Grayson, and that he has been for... much too long."

Tim's jaw drops -- but only for a moment before Tim shutters his expression utterly, which --

"It's a little much, you know. If you blank your expression entirely, you wind up either looking like Hope... or looking exactly like someone with something to hide. In this case..."

"I -- understand. Thank you. It's just... ah. I assume you meant that the relationship -- that the *abuse* would've started when Dick was a minor?"

Lex nods once.

"I want to ask you *how* you know... ah. I don't suppose there's information which could be taken to --" Tim cuts himself off and shakes his head. "The statute of limitations is up, and Dick is an adult, now, who can make his own choices." Tim frowns deeply, darkly -- "He never seemed... ah. Like that."

Lex raises an eyebrow.

"All right, yes, that's hardly a ringing endorsement, but... I would find it intensely difficult to believe. I mean, Dick has had... ah. Lovers," Tim says, and blushes very, very deeply.

"And you know that, how?"

"I could say something about rumors..." Tim's expression twists sourly. "We both would know that was bullshit. I -- all right, Lex, here it is: I'm something of a stalker. I have personally observed Dick behaving in a decidedly romantic fashion with two different women and -- one man. Who definitely wasn't Bruce."

"Oliver Queen's former ward...?"

Another blush -- "I -- yes. Actually."

Lex nods slowly and gives the matter some thought, some... time. Which is exactly -- "When did you do your stalking?"

"At night, while my parents were away or otherwise involved. I -- Dick spent a lot of time in Gotham proper. The subway stop was only five miles away. He liked to spend time in... in certain clubs --"

"Which let *you* in?"

"He's never been much of a drinker, Lex. He likes to *dance*."

There's something there. There's something very *strange* there -- "What aren't you telling me?"

"That I've masturbated myself raw to the thought of him dancing with me? That I've come up with any number of fantasies about harm befalling his lovers that he would need to be comforted about? That I'm fully aware of how obsessive, pathetic, and *ugly* I've been --"

"Stop," Lex says, holding up a hand. "This is going to ruin our digestion," he tries, keeping his tone as light as possible --

Tim stares at his plate and breathes roughly, obviously -- no.


Just --

Lex reaches over and cups Tim's shoulder, squeezes it and thinks --

He's been living on the memory of a hug given *thoughtlessly*.

He's Janet Drake's son.

He's lonely.

He's lonely.

He's -- in love with Dick Grayson? The man being plowed senseless by *Bruce*? God, the man has to have a size eleven asshole by now, and -- Tim is sitting here *idolizing* him. Well, it's not that Grayson himself had done anything wrong -- other than lead on his other lovers --

What to do to prove to Tim that Grayson isn't worth his time? How to make that *work*?

How --

How to deal with the fact that everything tonight has been better, so much *better*, with these moments of contact and touch. What -- "I'd like to hug you." There, he's said it. And it was honest.

"I -- you want to comfort me, Lex?"

Sure. "Look at me."

Tim does, and there's a sense of consternation, of confusion and need, hunger, hurt, *need* --

"I did say I wanted you raw, Tim, but you don't think that's a little much?"

Tim winces and *blanks* --

*Shit*. Lex growls, mostly at himself. "That was a *joke* --"

"Was it? I make you uncomfortable --"

"You make me -- many things at once. I'm just better at hiding it while still seeming to be honest."

Tim gasps a laugh --

"Yes, now *you're* uncomfortable. That's all right. I'm here, and --" Lex presses the button beneath the table -- "in three minutes, our dinner will be here, as well."

"I'm not -- very hungry."

"That's because you told a great deal of truth all at once -- which is a terrible feeling for liars like us," Lex says, and squeezes Tim's shoulder firmly. "Get back on that horse. You'll be fine."

"The -- ah." Tim raises *both* eyebrows at him. "The lying horse?"

"If you'd like. I'd also settle for the 'I'm having fun with my mentor' horse."

"I do -- I am -- you know what I mean."

"More than you want me to, even -- no, *don't* turn away. There's nothing wrong with attraction between friends. I... why on earth do you think I *know* that Bruce swings that way?"

Tim rears back --

"Yes, *think* about it."

"But he hasn't -- he never -- ah."

Lex can do nothing about the smile which wants to be on his face, and so he doesn't try to do anything. Tim looks positively... poleaxed.

Perhaps gobsmacked.

Possibly even bushwhacked. Lex pulls him close by the shoulder. "Boarding school seem more attractive, yet?"

Tim... puckers. It's a different sort of impressive, as the last time Lex had seen an expression like that, he'd been watching a terribly politically incorrect cartoon from the thirties which, amidst all the sexism and racism, had included the use of *alum*.

Lex shakes Tim lightly. "Breathe."

"I'm breathing! Really. Ah. You -- and *Bruce*?"

"Into every life a little experimentation must fall. Well, into every well-lived life, anyway. Look, I know he seems almost entirely useless now, but back then..." Lex sighs, and thinks of eyes too dark to be the blue they were, hands too *deft* to be so virginal... "There was a time when I only wanted to ingratiate myself to him, because I knew that having someone that wonderful in my life would be worth -- nearly -- any price."

Tim is looking at him as if he's speaking another language.

Lex laughs quietly. "He got straight As, argued for the plight of the poor and disenfranchised, and befriended and protected -- to the best of his abilities -- the downtrodden and meek. And he did it because it seemed like the right thing to do -- no, not even that. He did it because that was the person he was. I'm not surprised at the success of the Wayne Foundation -- or of WE. *Everyone* with half a brain who attended that school while Bruce was there is shocked by who he's become."

"But --" Tim shakes his head. "Why do you think he --" Tim blinks rapidly and shakes himself like a dog. "I -- all right, I'm at something of a loss."

"Hold that thought," Lex says, and pulls on a much more professional smile for Eva, who chooses that moment to enter with the tray. "Good evening."

She smiles at both of them. "Good evening! We have *much* food for tonight, since Mercy told me Tim exercised like a *good* boy."

Well, Tim had needed a reason to look so stricken. Lex pats him. "Every day while he's here, Eva. You know how I feel about the matter."

Eva beams at him and seems dangerously close to pinching his cheeks -- she never has, and Lex *thinks* she never will, but the fact of the matter is that she highly approves of Lex 'having a youngster around the house.'

That much had come from Mercy, who Eva actually *likes* -- much to the bemusement of both Lex and Mercy, herself. Eva periodically prods Mercy to stop using birth control -- they will never tell her that Lex had allowed Mercy to have the hysterectomy she'd always wanted for her thirty-second birthday.

Eva places the tray down, removes the cover with a flourish --

Four steaks --each of which is larger than the steaks Lex normally eats *one* of -- three different kinds of potatoes, and a salad Tim is eyeing with raw desperation --

Eva moves the salad out of reach. "You fill up first! The salad will -- what is? Clear your *palate*."

Tim -- that wasn't *quite* a whimper, but still.

Lex decides he'll only make Tim eat half a steak before he allows the boy some greens. "Thank you very much, Eva. This seems excellent, as always."

"You will let me know if there is *anything* I can do to improve, yes?"

"Of course. One moment," Lex says, and turns to Tim, "do you think you'll need more pepper? Dressing for your salad other than the Dijon vinaigrette? Perhaps... ranch?"

Yes, there was that sound again -- "Lex, you -- hm." Tim smiles up at Eva. "Everything looks wonderful, Eva. I doubt I'll need anything at all. For. For days, even."

When Eva laughs, there's less of a jiggle than a sort of tectonic lift and drop of older female continents --

Tim looks intimidated. He really is -- adorable? Something like that.

Eva waves at them both before leaving, and Lex places a good percentage of large, healthy cow on Tim's plate. "Her steaks are the best, you know."

"I'm. Sure. Lex, you're a horrible person."

"Undoubtedly, but what makes you say that now?"

"Your enjoyment of my distressed noises was *palpable*."

"That's just my hand on your shoulder. We both know you aren't used to being touched this much."

Tim blushes --

The blush gets deeper --

*Deeper* -- "This is what I mean by 'horrible.' I'm not your slave, Lex --"

"No, you're not. You're just nearly the only other person I've known *since* I was in school with Bruce who actually entertains me. Other than Hope and Mercy."

"And this is how you go about --" Tim shakes his head and begins slicing off chunks of meat.

Hm. "You do like yours rare, yes? I could have Eva --"

"Rare is entirely -- ah. You like me."


"You..." Tim brings a chunk of meat to his mouth and chews slowly and thoughtfully --

"The faster you eat, the more you'll be able to take in."

Tim glares at him.

Lex smiles quite helplessly and serves himself steak and steamed potatoes. Eva always adds a touch of vinegar, which -- yes. He eats.

Tim does the same.

Lex looks up from time to time, and the determination on Tim's face never fades. He will damned well *scale* this mountain of food, and nothing will stop him -- well. "Don't hurt yourself."

"I won't."

"I'm going to expect to see you in top form when I begin to teach you aikido."

The blush comes back --

Tim *shifts* --

"I'll do my best."

"Better than that. You'll --" Lex laughs at himself a little. It would be nice if he could decide *how* to relate to Tim. As a mentor, yes. As an employer, yes. As... some sort of older brother? He won't *accept* Lex as his master, no matter how fascinating he would look in a collar...


"Grayson is your type."

Tim pauses with his fork midway between the plate and his mouth -- but doesn't blush any more deeply. "Among others."

Like -- "Like me."

"Yes. I won't --"

Lex holds up a hand. "I already said that there was nothing wrong -- well. I don't like to repeat myself."

"Then why bring the matter up again?"

Because you are.... something. "I'm having trouble deciding how I should present myself to you."

Tim's smile is sharp, sly, *dangerous* -- "Red is my favorite color... for large bows strategically placed on attractive men."

That -- "Really."

"Well. Perhaps not the bows. I am very fond of red, though --"

"It's not your color. Something darker, more brown, perhaps more purple... hm," and Lex looks Tim over, tries to think of just the right shade to *compliment* those wonderful blushes --

"My mother," Tim says, and eats another bite of steak... "looks very good in burgundy."

Lex rifles his memory a little -- two different burgundy dresses. "She needs to stop trying to fluff her hair. She may think it makes her look softer, but it just makes her look as though she's trying too hard."

Tim coughs a laugh and pours a Saint-Estèphe -- one Lex was assured was more than bold enough for steak -- for both of them. "What she's actually trying to do when she wears her hair that way is make my father happy."

"You're telling me that she *cares* about things like that?" And Lex *had* thought that his tone was more than joking *enough*, but --

Tim's expression has gained a tightness that -

No, he doesn't like that, at all. "Wipe that comment from the record."

"Done. I -- ah. Well. You've probably guessed all you need to know and I don't have to -- anything."

He's a child, and his parents aren't -- correct. Lex covers Tim's hand with his own. "What I've guessed is -- inconsequential. You can choose to tell me, or you can choose to do nothing of the sort. Either option is available to you."

"Yes, but we both know which one is more entertaining."

"Oh, I have a deep capacity for the enjoyment of trauma," Lex says, and attempts a *winning* smile --

It makes Tim glitter at him, though... it could be something of a sparkle.

Lex strokes Tim's cheek -- still quite downy -- with his index and middle fingertips. "Do I touch you too much?"

"Ah. What? No. I mean -- I don't mind --"

"But do you like it?"

"Yes. Yes, I. And I know you're not... leading me on or anything. It's just. It's very friendly."

"You don't have this with the people you spend time with?"

"They... touch each other. Mostly," Tim says, and frowns at his plate.

"I believe it's time for salad."

"Oh, thank -- ah. Business."

"I would've also accepted 'fuck, yes,' 'thank fuck,' or 'holy balls.'"

Tim splutters -- into his napkin. It's a reasonable enough cue to stop touching him, so --

Lex pushes a lock of Tim's hair back behind his ear before leaning back. "I've never had a protégé. I'm still at something of a loss."

"You're going to make me deeply conflicted about going back home, Lex."

"Then I've done well already."

Tim smiles at him for that, soft and small and *present* --

Lex serves them salad.


How many people, on a day-to-day basis, call out the words "Hey, Superman, I've got some information about Lex Luthor" in the hopes that a legend -- an *icon* -- will land in front of them?

Really, it almost has to happen all too often, and so --

Well, it's *one* of the reasons why Tim is berating himself about the fact that he'd planned to do -- something like -- just that. That he'd planned to do it *before* he had anything resembling proof about what Cadmus was doing with Superman's shed genetic material --

(And oh, the tight *packing* of that double helix, the sense that there were mysteries and beauties and moments of perfection just *waiting* to be teased into the light --)

Well, no, everyone with anything resembling access to this lab knows that cloning is being attempted, which makes it all the more impressive that his mother's spies *hadn't* been able to find out just who was *being* cloned.

Then again, if he depended on Lex Luthor for his livelihood --

Yes, that thought *is* worth a shiver --

And it would be nice if he were shivering for a nice, *reasonable* emotion like stark terror. Really, Hope is barely five paces away. Terror would be *incredibly* reasonable.

For the not-really-going-to-think-about-it-th time, Tim takes a moment to -- internally -- address his penis directly.

Penis, he says, Lex is not going to touch you unless I set you on fire and there's no water around. Even then, there would be a towel or sheet or necktie of some sort --

Penis, *you* won't be able to smell Lex's cologne on that necktie, at all. You -- you'll just drool all over the thing.

No, Lex *doesn't* like that --

For the not-really-going-to-think-about-it-th time, Tim's penis points out that Bruce Wayne's penis had apparently gotten the opportunity to smell Lex all over --

Tim points out that they don't know what Lex had *meant* about experimentation --

Tim's penis points out that he could *ask* --

And Tim remembers that there's no percentage whatsoever in conversing with his penis, which is stupid, immature, and in no way getting what it wants.

He thinks he can hear his penis growling at him.

He thinks --

Well, all right, none of this would be happening right now were he not alone in the computer lab. Usually, he'd be sharing the place with Takahiro Nijimura, but he's taking his weekly three hour lunch -- written into his contract -- to visit a prostitute named, somewhat improbably, Sweet Georgia Brown. Hoon had shared that particular tidbit with a relish which could only be described as obscene, and --

In the end --

Tim is alone with computers, and he's a fifteen-year-old boy, and the internet -- which he'll access from *this* lab on the day he wants to ruin everything resembling a relationship he *has* with Lex -- is right there being full of wonderful porn.

Well, all right, sometimes it seems as though the internet is full of *frightening* porn --

He's not going to torture himself with memories of all the frightening pornography he's seen.

He *is* going to kick himself one more time for reading all of those books about how to improve one's memory --

It always seems like it helps him remember *terrible* things too well. Like just how well-worn the grips are on Mercy's guns. Well, the guns she carries on a daily basis. There's just no telling how many she actually owns.

(Lex would tell him.)

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

And -- yes.

For any project of this magnitude --

For anything involving decidedly idiosyncratic types who came of age back when computers were the ineffectual toys of the military elite --

Well, it's a good thing that he's actually quite good at codebreaking and handwriting analysis. While March's notes are in a language Tim doesn't believe actually exists anywhere outside her own head, the notes from the other scientists are reasonably understandable and thus not *especially* challenging to input.

He's learning a great deal in a very short time, and he has a small and pathetic and *small* dream of reaching a point where he can actually write the weekly progress reports *for* Blakely -- and thus for Lex, himself.

There'd be... well, there'd be *pleasure* in that, a sense of him having earned his keep in more ways than just this grunt work. And, of course, it's not like LexCorp could hire just any *grad* student to come in for this, and before Tim's arrival the scientists were close to mutiny -- he'd gotten *that* little tidbit from Hoon, too -- for how much of the grunt work they were forced to do themselves --


In just about an hour, he'll be helping Westlake prepare the preliminary samples -- forty-three blastocytes which had shown some developmental problem or another --

He'd really like to know how they could *tell* --

Those forty-three not-quite-embryos will be transferred to 'wombs' full of artificial amnion, and then they'll all be observing how well they manage to take in the nutrients. None of the forty-three are expected to thrive, but all of them should make it to roughly the eleven-week stage -- for human embryos, that is -- before breaking down in one way or another.

The fact that these eleven weeks worth of development will occur within *one* calendar week if all goes well --

Amazing. Impossible. *Incredible*.

And then there's the fact that they might *not* break down, that one of those forty-three blastocytes might become... Superman II. Or Supermen II-XLIV, for that matter.

And he'll have been a part of it.

Hell, even if they *do* all break down, there are nearly two *hundred* blastocytes without *any* discernible problems. Once it's clear that the amnion is sufficient to both maintain life and allow it to thrive, *those* blastocytes will be moved to artificial wombs.

And from there --

Well, the fetuses which develop -- assuming any do -- will be moved to Cadmus' brand new crèche facility, and its many, many empty tubes full of amnion kept at an exact thirty-nine point forty-four degrees Celsius to best simulate the womb of a Kryptonian woman on earth.

This --

*All* of this --

It's more than enough to keep him from dying from penis-related distraction for at least long enough that he can get back to the penthouse and his wonderfully private shower.

Really --

It's just so incomprehensibly *beautiful*. The world had lost Superman for nearly three months last year, and the death and damage toll had been in the hundreds of thousands and billions respectively. There was only so much the other heroes could *do*, though, of course, everyone had given their all...

And Tim had never spent *more* time fantasizing about walking up to the Wayne manor house and trying to just --

To be a part of it all. To do what he could and learn how to do more than that, so much *more* --


Now he can.

Earlier today, he'd learned that it was possible to get Westlake to stop muttering if you asked him a direct question while looking directly at his hands. First the muttering stops, then the hands twitch almost violently -- it's best not to do this while he's holding anything -- then the hands settle --

And the answers come in a hectoring, lecturing tone that would make a saint want to punch him. At least *nerve* strike him.

Still, the answers *do* come -- and he isn't even averse to elaborating on them. So, really, all he has to do when he's done inputting and organizing these notes is think up several more intelligent questions -- starting with how they'd managed to work around the problems which had occurred with the Bizarro... experiment.


*Experiment* -- wait, no, *catastrophe*, because Bizarro *had* been meant to kill and replace Superman. *These* clones will be better, stronger, smarter, and -- helpful.

Lex had gone on for the better part of two hours about his plans to educate the clones, to give them background in everything from exobiology to popular culture -- and most of the education will take place while the clones grow and *become* within the artificial wombs.

He wonders what the clones will look like as 'children.'

It would be fascinating to see Superman as he must've been as a child... though Tim has to admit that most of the fascination comes from the utterly ridiculous idea that he'd somehow be able to figure out the man's secret identity with that information. It's not as if he can go back and use, say, middle school yearbooks as *mug* books. And where to even *begin*?

(His accent has always suggested middle America.)

*Lex* would call that proof of rankest manipulation, of course. What could be more comforting than a voice like that? *Tim* would point out that voices like that are anything *but* soothing to most of the world -- including to the people who live on the American *coasts* --

He really doesn't need to have arguments with Lex when the man isn't even here. It's -- well, it's an excuse to go back to thinking about him, and about how his callused fingertips had felt on Tim's cheek, how his palm had felt against Tim's jaw --

Lex had, in fact, hugged him goodnight last night. It was awkward enough that they'd both laughed through it, and the feel of Lex's body, Lex's *warmth* against his own --

He hadn't been hugged since his fourteenth birthday, and then it had been *Callie* --

And he can tell himself, in *this* moment, that their laughter had disguised the way Tim had *seized* for the contact enough -- even though it certainly hadn't done anything for Lex in terms of how Tim's erection must have *felt* --

And Lex had again told Tim it was okay, that it was all *right*, that --

Lex had pulled him closer, and his cologne was sweetly masculine, a scent like being stroked with warm, heavy velvet --

The hug had become a different kind of awkward, and Tim had told himself and told himself to pull *away* --

Lex had had to pull away, and Tim blushes for the memory *of* a blush --

And he's still not getting this work done, and if he has to use one of the Cadmus bathrooms to masturbate --

No. Just -- no.

Tim calls up the memory of Hoon's uniquely cheesy scent until his gorge rises and everything else... dips.

And then he turns back to the notes.


Tim's dogi fits perfectly -- proving that Lex's ability to mentally tailor for people is as good for males as it is for goddess-proportioned females -- and makes him look... younger, somehow.

Happier, perhaps?

For some reason, Tim had assumed that he would have to practice in his workout clothes. He'd been honestly *surprised* that Lex would provide dogis for him, and that --

Well, it's no more -- and no less -- troubling than the way Tim had begun to *tremble* when Lex had hugged him last night, the way he had done everything short of clutching at Lex to maintain the contact *without* being grasping, needy --

No, he can't *not* be needy.

He is Janet Drake's son, and if the technology had been there, she would've almost certainly volunteered to have her son develop in an artificial womb in a lab far from her own body.

The fact that this thought makes a part of him more determined to seduce her someday -- in the dirtiest and most touch-intensive way *possible* -- is very much a fact.

Hopefully, Tim won't resent it too much --


"Oh... I'm here," Lex says, and gives himself permission -- not that he needs it -- to look Tim over once again. Janet's breasts are a C-cup -- a lingering legacy of childbirth, perhaps. Tim would look much better as a B.

"*Is* this how it's supposed to fit?"

Yes, but -- "Walk a little, show me how the hakama move with you."

"That would be the pants?"

Lex nods once and studies Tim's form a little...

It's not a surprise that Tim's usual subtly confident stride gains something in the way of predation once he's on the mats. There's at least a part of him which doesn't get to come out *except* for when he's in places like this --

It's also not a surprise that Lex wants to know *all* about that part. Well. Perhaps this is why other, weaker people have found having protégés to be so difficult. There would almost *have* to be a desire to know everything about the young people in question *wed* to a fear of learning something which couldn't be... dealt with.

Like, perhaps, Tim moving smoothly into a kata --

Not smoothly *enough* -- there's a sense that Tim would hesitate before causing injury -- but still.

And Lex knows how to deal with hesitations like that one. It doesn't even have to be painful -- much.

Lex waits for Tim's eyebrow raise --

Lex directs Tim to the center of the mats with a gesture --

Tim -- flips. *Tumbles*.


"Until my mother found out I was the only male in the class," Tim says, landing a little awkwardly --

Lex attacks at speed --

"*Yeep* --" But Tim only retreats for six steps before he attacks in turn. He does a creditable job of blending his knowledge of karate and judo into a *mostly* seamless whole, but it's clear that he doesn't know *enough*, that --

He doesn't throw elbows, he doesn't use his shins, he doesn't try to head-butt Lex --

"You've never been in a fight in your *life*."

Tim blinks and dodges a punch that would've grazed -- *just* grazed -- his cheek --"No? I'm sorry?"

Lex growls. "You're small, thin, and *feminine*. How the fuck did you avoid --"

And Tim is moving before Lex can finish, using the mats to soften a roll --

Lex tries to get behind, tries to stomp, tries --

Tim rolls up into a crouch, sweeps --

Lex steps over -- "You're being too defensive."

"You just called me *feminine* --"

Lex snorts and speeds his attack. "You'll hurt if you don't show me everything you have."

"Threat -- threat or promise?" And Tim is blocking Lex's punches readily, but he has to dodge for the kicks --

"*Yes*." Lex connects once with his heel --

Again --

*Again* -- and Tim is running again, obviously looking for time to shore up his defenses against such things --

Lex doesn't let him. He follows Tim relentlessly, using learned speed and stamina against youth as much as he can. If Tim were better-skilled, *his* stamina would eventually win out, but a) he's not, and b) this just won't last very long.

Tim trips over his own feet when he tries to avoid a kick which would've grazed his shins --

Lex sweeps --

Tim rolls *quickly*, and so Lex allows him to stand again --

"You. You shouldn't go *easy* on me, Lex."

No. Absolutely not, and Lex grins. "*Attack*. Do your best at it -- and remember that I can take every full-force blow you can give."

"I -- I haven't really -- ah. Not in a while --"

"And it was your sensei," Lex says, and moves into a defensive ready-position. "I am at least as well trained as he --"

"She --"

"She, then. Remember that I paid Hope and Mercy an exorbitant amount of money to travel the world learning different schools of martial arts only so that they could come home and teach me. They can -- and do -- both still best me, but not many other people can."

"Still --"

Lex holds up a hand before moving it back into position. "If you don't believe I can take the full force of your attacks, then at least believe that I will be fully aware of it every time you pull a blow. And for each pulled blow, I will break one of your fingers."

Tim *gasps*, and that --

There's a certain *tension* for that. A certain need -- Lex shakes his head. "This is life-or-death, Tim -- and it's also one of the few untrammeled pleasures you'll ever be able to have in this life. We don't ever have to hurt each other. We merely have to... work."

That breath was more of pant, and Tim is searching Lex deeply, *firmly* --

As firm as the touch to his own chest -- as if he's developed pain or need --

The kind of pain and need which leaves lips swollen and eyes wide --

There's a part of Lex which only wants to know when Tim *had* bitten his lip, if he'd done it with great force, if the flesh was sensitive enough to swell like this for a gentle touch --

And the light in Tim's eyes only gets better when Lex rolls his shoulders again -- "Come for me," Lex says, knowing and -- *knowing* --

But it still feels like an entirely *separate* moment when Tim leaps for him, twisting in mid-air to deliver a kick which only hits at about half-strength --

A kick Lex blocks with *most* of his own strength, enough to send Tim to the mats -- "Don't worry -- I know that was just sloppiness," Lex says, advancing as Tim rolls clumsily, incautiously --

Yes, he's using *his* speed, and he's up on his feet soon enough --

And this time the attack comes with a flurry of perfectly adequate strikes. There's power but no real *passion* -- "*More*, Tim --"

"Lex, I --"

"Your *fingers*."

Tim growls and starts coming for him with... yes. It's the violence that Mercy could see in him from the beginning, the *ruthlessness* which makes Lex need, makes him *want* --

And so Lex keeps his own blocks checked. He will *not* injure this boy, this wonderful --

Fuck *everything* holy, he's going for Lex's *throat*, and that's --

Lex feels himself smiling wildly, and he knows that that sort of look *discourages* people, makes them think him *dangerously* manic --

It makes Tim pant for him, stare and *need* --

And oh, Lex *knows* what he needs, knows that one good pin --

Like, for example, the one which comes after *this* sweep --

One good *pin* --

And Tim grunts *and* cries out --

Tim arches because he needs more contact --

"I hear you," Lex says, and firms his pin into something implacable, impossible --

Tim is small enough to make such things *easy*, make them feel good, feel *wonderful* --

"I know what you need," Lex says, and wonders why those words had come out of his mouth, wonders --

But Tim is staring up at him with his gently swollen lips still parted. Tim is *waiting* --

And of course Lex knows what he's waiting for. Of course --

It would be so easy to bring Tim's wrists together over his head, to grip with one hand and stroke with the other. That clear forehead, those cheekbones, that *mouth* --

Tim *wants* it, but Lex is no altruist, no --

Lex wants it, too, and it could be -- it could be mentor and protégé. Affection. They both like *affection* --

And he could use his mouth on that long throat, he could discover if Tim's nipples are sensitive, he could spread Tim's legs and --

And --

Oh... fuck.

"Lex...? Ah... was that enough to save my ability to type?"

Fuck, he -- no, it's not possible. It's just -- it's not *possible*.

He's not some fucking *pervert* --

This -- this isn't what he *does* --

"This -- I believe this is where you say 'yes,' Lex. As opposed to continuing to stare at me -- menacingly."

Lie -- Tim knows that it isn't menace on Lex's face. He knows. He knows. He knows and he's offering an *out* --

Lex rolls off and up to his feet -- "I --" He has --

There are no words in his mind right now to excuse this, and so --

He won't say anything. He'll just ---

His fists are clenched and he's staring out the window as if the late afternoon *gleam* of Metropolis could give him anything but the sense of himself as being --

What is he doing? What has he already *done* --

The hand on his shoulder is small. *Strong* -- but small. It's a child's hand --

"Don't," Lex says, and steps away --

"I -- all right, but --"

"There is -- there *are* no buts," and Lex pinches the bridge of his nose -- no.

He crosses his arms over his chest -- no, that's terrible.

Lex moves to the French doors, opens them, and steps out on the balcony. There's enough rain in the air that the breeze in his hakama is cold. Not --

Not cold enough.

It couldn't ever *be* --

"I -- I feel I should apologize --"

"No," Lex says, and -- no, he can't let that thought stand. He turns around and glares at Tim as mildly as he can. "It's *not* your fault."

Tim raises an eyebrow. "No, but it did get you to look at me."

Lex snarls --

Tim stares hungrily --

"I know what you *want*."

"You -- yes, I'm sure you do. But -- you should remember that one of the things I want is to have you as a mentor."

"You never -- you didn't accept that when I offered."

"Ah -- I'm an idiot?" Tim pushes a hand back through his hair. "I didn't *reject* it --"


"No, I know. You -- you're doing very well at being a mentor --"

"I'm *seducing* you."

"Ah. Then I'd have to say you've been -- it's overkill, is what I'm saying," Tim says, smiling ruefully --

"Your smiles are wider than they've been."

"Well. You've been making me happy."


"That -- yes, all right," and Tim steps closer --


Tim backs off, raises his hands -- "We could -- I have a funny-slash-disturbing thought."

Lex raises his own eyebrow.

"Yes, well, I -- my mother taught me how to read that... that particular expression you had. Before the guilt kicked in."

Lex narrows his eyes. "Your mother taught you how to know when you were turning people on."


"Not your father."

"Lex, the only thing my father's ever taught me is how to get along with incredibly dominant people by making oneself a doormat."

"Your mother is unfashionable for him."

"Yes, well, he's good in bed. According to her," Tim says, managing to blush and look ill at once --

"She told you *that*?"

Another rueful smile. "It was -- it was all about teaching me how to find a mate who'd be suitable in every way. She didn't want me to ever garner the company bad publicity via some sordid little adultery scandal. I just -- I thought we could laugh about that?" And his voice is too low, too *small* --

Lex cups Tim's face --

Lex tightens his grip when he realizes what he's *doing* --

Lex *feels* himself snarling more, and Tim's eyes shouldn't be this wide, Tim's mouth shouldn't be this -- "I believe," Lex says, "that I need you to go up to the apartment for now."

Tim winces --

"We -- I promise we'll work on the aikido. You made a good start today -- and don't say a word about that, because we both know how much work your sensei put into making you loosen *up* enough to do what you did here."

"To be fair, she never threatened to maim me."

"Maiming is permanent. Broken fingers? Heal."

Tim hums a laugh and -- doesn't press his cheek against Lex's hand. He could do it easily, in a moment --

They both know he *wants* to --

They both know Lex wants him to. "You should -- don't ever try drag."

Tim blinks. "I -- it wasn't -- ah?"

Lex laughs and feels something loosen with him, *ease* -- "One of the thoughts you've given -- one of the thoughts I've had has revolved around you and makeup."

"I... see."

Lex shouldn't have allowed himself to relax, at all. "Go upstairs, Tim."

"Lex --"


Tim tenses --

Shudders --

"You know what *I* want."

Lex narrows his eyes and moves, alters his hold on Tim's face until it's one Mercy would find familiar --

"You know -- you know what I'd do --"

"I could make you do anything for me," Lex says, meaning it as the worst possible threat --

And Tim laughs, licks his lips -- "I'm sorry. I'm very -- I'm very sorry. It's just that my penis is *yelling* at me, and for some reason I can't access my forebrain --"

"You're a --"

"Teenager, not a child, not -- God, Lex -- no, wait, I'm sorry, *fuck*, Lex. Fuck -- you --" Tim squeezes his eyes shut, tenses his jaw against Lex's hold --

That *doesn't* mean squeeze tighter -- "Tim --"

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'll go," Tim says, opening his eyes and -- pulling back.

Trying to pull back. Lex needs to let go --

"It's just -- ah. I can't help but imagine --"

"Think of -- your. Friends?"

"I thought... I'd considered seducing Ives this summer --"

"The gangly one."

Tim licks his lips. "He's much more graceful than he looks. He has -- when he's in motion --"

It's never a *good* idea to shut someone up with a kiss -- sooner or later they *will* start speaking again --

Ah, not this, not *this* --

Tim's short enough that this should be done seated, lying down --

This shouldn't be done, at all --

Tim's mouth is less soft than it had looked, Tim's tongue is slick and cautious --

Too *cautious* --

Lex kisses Tim harder, pushing him back against the French doors and cupping his face with both hands --

Tim whimpers and grips Lex's dogi, tries to pull Lex closer, tries --

What is he *doing*? This -- this proves no *points* --

This does nothing but damn him more --

He'd thought there'd be an *end* --

*Fuck* --

Lex yanks himself back, knocks Tim's hands away --

"I -- you could teach me to do that better --"

"Shut up --"

"*Fuck* -- ah. Lex," Tim says, covering his *properly* swollen mouth for a giggle which sounds drunk, *stoned* --

"This won't happen, Tim."

"You -- you're almost certainly right that it shouldn't --"

"No *almost* --"

"Lex. That kiss made me want to *climb* you."

"Then why *didn't* you? No -- that -- that was --" Lex growls and shoves a hand back over his scalp --

He doesn't *do* that --

"Go *upstairs* --"

"Yes. I -- I'll see you for dinner?"

*Yes* -- "I'll eat later," Lex says, gritting out every syllable -- "*You* will eat on time. Which is thirty-five minutes from now."

Tim bites the inside of his lip, a subtle enough move that Lex wouldn't have noticed it were he not fucking *staring* --

"*Tim* --"

"*Fuck* -- yes, I'm going. Now. I just have to change --"

"*Upstairs*. I'll have someone bring the dogi down later --"

"That's what it's called?"

"Yes, from 'aikidogi,' you -- did you stall like this with your *parents*?"

Tim shows his *teeth* -- "Oddly enough, Lex, neither of my parents have ever licked my *tongue*."

"You might have -- blocked it out."

Tim raises an eyebrow. "Do I seem like that much of trauma case?"

"Some of my best friends --" Lex growls and *grips* Tim's throat --

"Oh, my -- fuck? Please don't make me come on myself and faint. At least -- not if you don't plan on doing anything else."

"This is *not* sexual!"

"No? You're sure? No, of course you're sure, you probably weren't even a virgin when you were my age -- what did you *do* with Bruce --"

All right, kissing the boy again is --

This kiss is --

Lex is *shoving* Tim against the doors, body to body, mouth to mouth --

Lex *fucks* Tim's mouth with his tongue, making a point of doing it slowly, *wetly* --

Tim moans and tries to push closer, to take more --

Lex grabs Tim's wrists and lifts them above his head, grips them in one hand and squeezes with *all* of his strength --

Tim yelps and moans again --

Again for the feel of Lex's other hand inside his uwagi --

His skin is as sleek and smooth as it should be. Tim is pale, despite it being a warm and clear enough summer --

A modern boy, indoor-living boy, computers and martial arts and -- stalking.

Grayson isn't *here*, and Lex knows himself well enough to know that this kiss is, in part, designed to obliterate all memory of that overgrown *catamite* --

But not well enough to know that he was going to pinch and *twist* Tim's nipple --

Tim is frowning and whimpering -- and thrusting hard against Lex's thigh. Hard and *fast* --

This could very well --

Tim breaks the kiss -- "*Please* --"

"No, I -- no, this isn't -- I *won't* fuck you --"

Tim opens his eyes and -- begs, wordless and open and so *fucking* clear even as the thrust of his hips gains hesitation, the shreds of control --

Lex lets go of Tim's wrists and pectoral and grips those hips, instead, holds them and stills them --

Tim bites his lip *without* trying to hide it, throws his head back --

"I won't *fuck* you --"

"Yes, absolutely, all right, it's just that there are --"

And Lex can *see* that he's holding Tim bent, that protecting him from the handles on the doors is akin to *forcing* him to arch, considering --

The hand he has over Tim's mouth.

Lex sighs and tries to taste something other than the mild *tang* of Tim's saliva. He could taste --

He wants Tim's *sweat*, but it's a little too windy on this balcony --

And he hasn't been licking in the right places.

There are other options. Right now, he could be --

He could be doing a lot of different things to the fifteen-year-old *admitted* virgin --

He can *hear* himself ordering Tim to beg for his cock --

Tim kisses Lex's palm.

Lex narrows his eyes.

Tim widens his own -- and kisses Lex again.

"You -- I was going to be kind. Gentle. *Encouraging*. I was going to make you *believe* that there were other fish in the sea, and then I was going to throw you a few *minnows* --"

Tim *tries* to jab Lex in the abdomen --

And forces Lex to move his hand to protect himself. "What."

"Some of us -- some of us prefer shark."

"You don't *know* what you prefer --"

"But you do," Tim says, blushing to the roots of his *hair* -- "God -- fuck, what am I *doing* --"

"*Are* you religious?"

"We *discussed* that, Lex --"

"You rejected Catholicism. *Not* everything else."

"I -- hedge my bets? Somewhat. I try not to do anything actively evil --"

"Ives is involved with Callie."

"Yes, well, not *very* -- *fuck*, Lex, just -- I'll get a *new* religion. You can make one up. It will make perfect, logical sense, and nobody will go to heaven or hell, and there won't be any -- any supernatural creatures. Except for the ones which can be punched into next week by Superman."

"*Not* --"

"The *project*, I meant the project, I -- Lex, I haven't been this hard since I was *eleven* --"

"That wasn't that *long* ago --"

"Long *enough*. You -- you want this," Tim says, and now he sounds reasonable, like -- he's made his voice *soothing*, of all things --

"It's not a good enough reason," Lex say, letting go and backing *off* --

"*Lex* --"

"*Upstairs*, Tim. I -- I'll join you for dinner."

Tim tilts his chin up -- exposes his unmarked throat. *Again*.

"Tim. You know what you need to. Now go jerk off while thinking about me fucking *reaming* you."

Tim grunts, knees buckling --

He groans, loud and long --

He pants -- "God fucking *damn* it, Lex --"

Lex claps a hand over his own mouth --

"Are you laughing? Are you seriously *laughing*?"

Lex waves a hand, drags the other down from over his mouth. "No."

Tim narrows his eyes.

"Yes. I -- I've never actually done that before. Not without a great deal more foreplay."

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

"Yes. Yes, you are, and that is something neither of us can deny," Lex says, and darts in to kiss Tim's adorably wrinkled forehead before. "Take a shower down here. Masturbate --"

"I don't *have* to --"

"Yes, you do, because I said so," and Lex raises an eyebrow --

Tim grunts again, but manages to continue to stand. "I've decided to swear vengeance on you."

"You'd look ridiculous in a cape."

"You think *everyone* looks ridiculous in a cape."

"I'm *right*," Lex says, and gives himself permission to stroke Tim's cheekbone with his thumb --

Except that Tim is fast enough to catch it in his mouth and -- suck.


Tim raises an eyebrow and sucks harder.

"I'm not the one who just ruined perfectly good pants."

"It's just *semen* --"

Lex takes his thumb back and points toward the showers.

"You *asshole* --"

"And what does *that* say about your taste?"

"*Lex* --"

"Please," Lex says, knowing that it's a voice he doesn't use often, knowing his expression must be --

Enough to make Tim shut his mouth and stare at him, study him --

If he has to beg for this -- to *avoid* this -- he will.

And, yes, Tim can see that, because he nods once and turns.

Lex watches him walk, watches him gain grace *as* he walks, watches the door to the showers swing shut behind him --

Gradually, his internal chorus starts up. There are parts of it which are stuck on *flailing* about what had just happened --

What he'd just *done* --

He can't even say that he'd *allowed* it to happen, because he'd made every move. Tim had tried to seduce with words, but his lack of practice with that sort of thing had been obvious.

Who *would* that work on? That much -- honesty and humor and *openness* --

Oh, yes, it had worked on *him*.

Enough for two kisses and a quick grope, anyway, which isn't *much* in the grand scheme of things --

He's fifteen.

He's a virgin.

He's Lex's... something or other. 'Protégé' would sound a lot better if Lex could be sure that *that* was the only thing he'd been grooming Tim for over the past two days.

Lex swallows and sits on the railing just as the wind picks up enough to make him *want* to sway -- no, he's not suicidal. Whether or not he should be.

He has things to do -- things that *must* be done lest the world wind up in the hands of mentally damaged criminals with god-complexes.

*Humans* with god-complexes are bad enough. *He's* bad enough --

He's fifteen.


*Fuck* --

Lex doesn't stand up and kick through the French doors, nor does he make a ridiculous attempt to rip apart the ironwork of the railing.

Lex doesn't walk in, strip down, join Tim in the shower --

There's so much he could teach, so much he could *do* with a boy who *enjoys* following his orders --

He'd made Tim come without so much as a *complete* fantasy --

How long had this -- *this* -- been there for Tim? Since they met? Before?

Lex is a public figure, and it would be reasonable for Tim to have... wanted the man Lex *pretends* to be? Really?

Lex laughs quietly enough that the wind can take it away. This balcony is high enough that he's not particularly worried about any cameras catching that little bit of performance art --

What if the übermensch had been doing one of his little fly-bys? What if he'd been *listening* --

Lex feels his face heat and his stomach try to relocate itself. He could deny it -- he could maybe even get *Tim* to deny it, and Tim has a *great* future in situational acting -- but --

So many people would come forward to back the alien's word.

So many people who don't wear *masks* would do it --

And then it would all come crashing down. Every bit of power he'd clawed out of the world, every bit of *influence*. Even if he kept his position, the political career he'd dreamed of for years would be --

All over.

All for two kisses and the knowledge that Tim's nipples are small and responsive. That his *left* nipple is, and who really knows --

He could know. *Right* now.

Two minutes from now -- less if he lets himself *look* as eager as a part of him feels --

He should call Mercy home immediately. She hasn't had time to fully set herself up in New York, yet, and it's not like he has anything *resembling* the moral high ground over fucking *Bruce* --

Hell, he *could've* waited until Grayson was eighteen. Twenty-one.

Tim is fifteen.

Tim is a virgin.

Tim is between forty and forty-four yards away.



He doesn't actually *need* to call Mercy home just to fuck her. He has options -- and chief among those options is the one which involves fucking *coping*, because he's never going to see twenty-five -- or thirty-five -- again, and because Tim is fifteen years old.

Where had that come from?

What is he supposed to *do* with it?

Repress, deny -- no.

Cut it out of him with the sharpest *possible* scalpel. If he sends Tim away, he runs the risk of those adolescent hormones getting ahead of Tim's hopes and dreams for his future and causing Tim to spill his secrets -- perhaps while crying into his fruity white wine with his mother.

And that -- years of blackmail. *Years*. And never mind the part of him which wants to insist that Tim is better than that -- the *last* time he'd had thoughts like those, he'd been forced to watch one of the greatest minds in the generation pickle itself with endless floods of champagne.

He's not going to make that mistake again.

He's not going to make *any* mistakes again, and so --


Lex pulls out his phone and dials Westlake at his home -- a beautiful apartment currently being buried under years of old newspaper and, interestingly, bird cages --

"Yes, what is it?"

"Westlake. It's your *employer*."

"Oh. Ah. Hm. What can I do for you, Mr. Luthor? Aheh, aheh?"

As usual, when faced with someone in authority, Westlake reverts to 'ingratiating slime' mode. It's entirely unconvincing, which is yet more proof of the man's genius: A lesser light would've been squashed like a bug a dozen times over. As it is, the former owners of Cadmus had coped with their distaste, hired him, then left him utterly unsupervised.

As such, his subordinate act was even less believable by the time Lex took over --

Is he really going to do this? Is this -- isn't this just another way to be *weak*?

"Mr. Luthor? Aheh? Are you there?"

"You're going to work Drake harder than you've been doing."

"Oh, yes, he's terrible, a waste, slow and lazy like all teenagers --"

"He's nothing of the kind and you will *not* treat him that way. You will simply... increase his responsibilities. Make sure he knows everything he needs to know, and keep him busy from the time he arrives until at least seven every night. Do you understand?"

"The project is too important to be delayed for some -- some sort of *teaching* assignment, Luthor --"

"Westlake. Do you treasure your wealth and position."

"Aheh. Ahum. *Mr.* Luthor, of course, a slip of the tongue only, and of course, well, I'm sure I just saw Drake on a bad day --"

"Stop trying; you're nauseating me."

"Of course. Ahum. Will I -- ah. Should there be homework?"

"Piles of it. Ask.... get a grad student to tell you what would be sufficient to keep a brilliant autodidact occupied on a nightly basis, and then make sure you give that work to T-- Drake. And *grade* it."

"Mr. Luthor --"

"You will have time to implement the project, because Drake will be helping all of you to the best of his abilities and beyond."

"We really need --"

"You will work with what you have and no more, and if I have to say that again..."

"Ahum. Of course, Mr. Luthor. Will -- will there be anything else?"

"Get me your lesson plan by seven-thirty tomorrow morning."

"Seven -- of course, Mr. Luthor. Ahum. Good night?"

Lex shows his teeth to no one at all. "And to you."

Lex hangs up, and the pain for this --

It's no greater than it has to be. It's what Tim had wanted *before* he'd had any designs on Lex's cock. There are other projects Lex has been --

There are other projects Lex *would* have been neglecting, and that --

They'll still have meals together, and they'll talk, and Tim will be too exhausted and distracted to have anything like the ability to be... himself.

Lex doesn't pinch the bridge of his nose again.

He's fifteen.

He's fifteen, and in that shower he is, perhaps, stripping his cock viciously and thinking of Lex, wanting Lex, imagining Lex as someone attainable --

And the hell of it is, he's absolutely right.


Lex had been waiting for Tim when he'd gotten out of the shower and dressed --

Tim isn't thinking about the people who do Lex's laundry, and what they'll think about Tim's brand new hakama --

Lex had been waiting, and that's the sort of thing Tim can't help but find *encouraging*, wonderful, *possible* --

His mouth feels bee-stung from those kisses, which is an absolutely ridiculous metaphor, but a persistent one. Every time he presses on his lips with his tongue, there's something like a twinge -- of *heat*, not pain.

There's a sense that he could be *allergic* to this sort of thing, and it would certainly explain why he feels more feverish every time Lex looks at him -- oh.

"I... suppose I could stop doing that with my tongue."

Lex closes his eyes for a moment and looks almost as if he's *counting* -- or... no. It's Lex. He's probably solving complex equations while also plotting a hostile takeover of one of his competitors.

Tim turns his attention back to his meal -- what only *seems* to be most of a swordfish, prepared with capers, ginger, and several herbs he can only guess at, and served with a pilaf and sweetened carrots -- and tries to do his own complex thinking --

"That -- those were your first kisses."

Tim blushes, but really -- "I would've thought that was obvious."

"I was assuming you were stunned, not ignorant. I -- no, please, don't say anything else about me teaching you."

"Lex --"

Lex holds up a hand. "I'm increasing your responsibilities at Cadmus, effective immediately."

Tim blinks. "I -- thank you? Unless this is in some way about keeping me from making love to you --"

"It wouldn't be --" Lex clenches his hand into a fist and Tim can't help checking to see if his fork suffers for it -- no, he's holding it too perfectly for that.

"I would also like some lessons in how to retain proper table manners after mind-blowing orgasms," and Tim makes his voice as light and conversational as possible --

It seems to make a vein throb in Lex's forehead. Hm.

"So what you're -- not -- saying is that you're trying to get rid of me in the friendliest, most pleasurable way possible ---"

"You'll have *work* to do --"

"And I appreciate that," Tim says, and takes a sip of his -- rather more tart tonight -- white. "But -- " Hm. "We both know I'm supposed to do my level best to be close to you this summer --"

"You failed," Lex says, and seems to be almost trying to *will* that into him --

It probably shouldn't be making his penis hard. It -- "You do realize that that look only arouses me, don't you?"

Lex blinks *once* -- "Yes. Yes, I do, actually," Lex says, and laughs quietly, setting his fork down and pinching the bridge of his nose.

"I mean -- I could try to make myself stop --"

"Tim. You're fifteen years old."

"I'll be sixteen -- and thus legal in *many* places -- in seventeen days."

Lex raises an eyebrow at him, which --

All right, yes -- "There's a difference between legal and advisable, yes, always, but -- I'm not asking you to parade me around on your arm for press conferences. I don't even need you to dance with me at your usual summer ball --"


"I'm not about to -- lose my mind with jealous love for you or... whatever you're thinking --"


Tim narrows his eyes --

"You look -- you bear a strong resemblance to a ferret when you do that," Lex says, precisely out of nowhere.

"A -- "

"Ferret, yes. A terribly angry one."

"Should I hiss at you? Is that a kink I should know about? I -- *do* ferrets hiss?"

Lex coughs and looks pained *and* pleased. "I have no idea," he says, leaning back in his chair and crossing his legs. He moves his napkin to the table --

"You're not going to eat more than that?"

Lex raises an eyebrow at him.

Tim narrows his eyes *again* -- "No, that *wasn't* me acting like... like your *girlfriend* or something. You usually eat *more* than that. That's all."

"And you enjoy using your powers of observation for relatively frivolous things."

"There's nothing frivolous about learning someone you care for, and learning them as deeply and thoroughly as possible."

Lex turns away and the pleased look is gone, and that -- no.

"Lex. There's nothing *wrong* with the fact that I *enjoy your company*. You --"

"I said it myself, yes," Lex says, and turns back to face him. "What do you want from me, Tim? Be as exact as possible."

"In terms of the work -- exactly what you're giving me. I can't express to you how thrilled I am to be able to do this --"

"You did. In your *letter*," and Lex's smile is sharp and old and --

Just as arousing as everything else about him. Damn it. "Is this where I apologize for painting myself as as much of a science geek as possible?"

"You *painted* yourself as a decidedly smarter-than-average but otherwise innocuous teenager -- but no. This is where you tell me what you want from this... infatuation," Lex says, and waves his hand --

Tim knows he's narrowing his eyes again, but -- no. He shakes his head. "I agree with you, Lex -- it *is* an infatuation. It must be. But you're not very convincing when you play the mindless, aging roué."


"No. You -- " Tim smiles, and wonders if it's at all ferret-like. "This is the *problem* with demanding honesty and giving the same. There's no room left to do anything *else*. It's like -- it's like shrinking the world to an area that doesn't extend any further than your own *skin*."

"And you enjoy having room to... play?"

Well -- "You *don't*?"

Lex frowns darkly... at his knee.

It probably shouldn't make Tim want to lick it on his way to licking other things entirely --

He probably shouldn't be staring at Lex's bent leg so -- so *obviously* --

"Tim --"

"I won't do this in public, of course, but -- we have this time," Tim says, and looks up --

"And if I say we don't?"

Tim smiles as benignly as he can manage --

"Mercy would punch you in the throat for that one, Tim."

"Ah -- probably --"

"What were you going to *say* that required that painfully awful fright-mask?"

Tim makes a face -- "I give my teachers that expression."

"And I'm sure they all leave you alone?"

"Well -- yes."

"Answer the question," Lex says, and taps his fingers on his knee. "What possible response could you have to my putting the kibosh on --" He gestures expansively again -- "all of this?"

"Well... two words: adolescent rebellion."


"You're the one who keeps harping on my age, Lex. I might as well see what all the fuss is about."

"The 'fuss.'"

"Tantrums, angst, nihilism, melodrama --"

"*I* will punch you in the throat, Tim," and -- yes, the pleasure is back in Lex's eyes.

Tim lets himself be just a tiny bit smug --

Just to get Lex to narrow his eyes like *that*.

"You look more like a crocodile when you do that, Lex."

"You should see me weep, Tim," and Lex makes that sound like a threat to Tim's genitals. Or -- well, no, he'd probably *just* meant it to be a *generalized* threat, but --

"There are... ah. I'm going to have to accept that there are some aspects of adolescence that I won't be able to escape even if your behavior is the best, Lex."

"You're aroused."

"Not... much?" Tim smiles ruefully. "Don't stop touching me, Lex. Just -- the casual things. I don't want to forget the feel of your hand on my shoulder."

Lex rears back and shakes his head *minutely* --

"Ah... that was too much? Hm. I just meant --"

"I know what you meant, and there's nothing wrong with it," Lex says, and he's absolutely scowling at himself.

"You -- should go back to thinking about the things I've said that have made you happy --"

"Happy. Happy..." Lex scowls even more deeply, tapping firmly at his knee, and --

All right, it's not the *best* excuse to stare at Lex's hands, but it's definitely *an* excuse. Lex's manicure is the best, but that's not enough to take away from the hands' blunt, square *power*. Lex's fingers aren't particularly thick (Bruce), but there's a grace there --

*Hints* of the force which could be brought to bear for a strike or a punch --

Tim swallows and looks up -- and manages to keep himself from jumping very much when he realizes that Lex is staring at him. And into him. "Ah... I'm sorry?"

"Save that for when you are. In fact, try to avoid it entirely."

"You don't want me to want you."

Lex raises an eyebrow.

"Yes, all right, that was an obvious statement, but --" Tim shakes his head. "I'm at a loss as to what I can replace my desire with."

"Are you any good at replacing your emotions in general?"

"Ah... sort of? I'm in the process of detaching my desires from Dick Grayson, since I'm far too old for it to be cute that I'm a stalker."

Lex taps his fingers. Once.

Tim -- winces. "All right, that did sound as though I'm using you to get over my imaginary ex, but -- no. What I feel for you --"


"Yes, of course," Tim says, and offers a real smile. "My infatuation with you is completely different than my infatuation with Dick."

"And that's what you want. The -- physical *expression* of this infatuation."

"At the moment, what I want is to perform fellatio on you to the best of my ability while you offer suggestions about how I can improve my performance," Tim says, and just -- pushes *through* the blush. "As for 'reaming' me... well. I've been fucking myself since I found pornography along those lines when I was eleven --"

"Tim --"

"I rather think it's a distinct *possibility*, Lex. Unless, of course, you're hung like the proverbial --"

"Drink," Lex says, and laughs a little breathlessly. "Drink a little more wine, Tim."

"It's not likely to make me shut *up*, Lex."

"What would?"

Tim tilts his head to the side and considers it -- while bringing the glass to his mouth. "I -- I don't think I'll tell you that."


"You enjoy my company, Lex. That involves me talking. I'm invested in your enjoyment of things related to me... so."

Lex nods. "And that answers the question well enough. All I need do in order to get you to stop your *unique* attempts to seduce me is convince us both that I find your company irritating in some way. You... you hate the idea of being irritating -- being a *nuisance* -- even more than you hate the idea of being actively disliked. Don't you."

Yes, he's blushing more. He takes another sip. "I could say something about my mother at this juncture --"

"She never feels more passionately about your father than when they're fighting like... hm. Your maid used the term 'alley cats.' Yes?"

Well, that's one pink slip in the near future. "There's nothing wrong with passion --"

"Wrong. There are many, many things wrong with directing passion indiscriminately. And even more things wrong with directing it *incorrectly*."

Tim frowns, trying to keep it as mild as possible --

And knowing that he's failed at that by the way Lex nods once. Fine.

"We both know my mother is never indiscriminate, so it then becomes a matter -- you think she's wrong about her passions. You don't think that's a bit self-serving?"

"I think you'd be happier if she were to be passionate toward someone she actually *loved*, Tim."

Tim -- stops drumming his fingers on the table.

He takes another sip of wine --

"Go on, fill your glass again," Lex says, and smiles *gently*. "It *is* that kind of conversation."

"It -- doesn't have to be."

"Because you'd rather be discussing my cock?"

"Do you really have to ask?"

"I think..." Lex laughs softly and fills Tim's glass *for* him -- "I think you wouldn't be so attracted to me if I didn't remind you of your mother."

"That's -- ugly --"

"Yes. And it gets worse when you consider the fact that, to you, I'm something of an improved model *on* your mother, because I'm a ruthless bitch who actually cares about you."

A hug and a stab -- "I."

Lex smiles wryly. "Yes, I did say it. And mean it."

"Infatuation --"

"Between... friends. Who get to know each other better by the moment."

Tim frowns at his wine and moves his free hand under the table so that he can tap out useless rhythms in peace -- if not entirely in privacy. "I don't think you know either me or my mother well enough to make that kind of judgment," Tim says, and knows he sounds hurt and overly formal --

He's supposed to be honest --

Why *should* he be honest? It's not like Lex will --

And Lex rests a hand on Tim's shoulder, and it's warm, and exactly as heavy as it should be, and it's gentle in the only way that could possibly matter: Lex's grip is firm enough that it would hurt if Tim tried to pull or twist away.

Tim sighs. "I can't help but feel as though I gave away the keys to the kingdom."

"More so than when you've been offering to let me fuck you?"

"I --" Hm.

Lex squeezes Tim's shoulder. "Let me help: It's a distinct sign of crippling virginity to feel that there's something more significant about explaining that you enjoy being touched than there is in explaining that you want to get fucked."

That -- "I'm not sure I agree with that, Lex," Tim says, and gives himself permission to cover the hand Lex has on his shoulder with his own. "All sorts of people seem to find ways to have sex --"

"Say 'fuck' for me again."

Lex has interesting, interesting kinks -- and Tim wants to learn all of them. "All sorts of people find ways to *fuck* without anything resembling emotional honesty --"

"I don't -- much."

Tim raises an eyebrow.

Lex laughs again, and there's more life in it, more --

Tim knows that *manic* look in Lex's eyes is want, a hunger that doesn't *have* to be sexual in nature, but *is* --for him.

And presumably for Mercy, too --

"Dishonest sex is -- almost universally -- boring sex, Tim," and Lex is actually lecturing a little --

Tim focuses on Lex's eyes -- which isn't especially hard, considering how compelling --

Attractive --

Tim wishes he'd kept his eyes open for those kisses, that he'd been *able* to do that, because it's not enough to have seen the *lust* in Lex's eyes when he had pinned Tim --

So *easily* --

Lex squeezes Tim's shoulder hard. "Listen."

"I am. I -- I'm listening actively? Attentively."

Lex presses his thumb to the side of Tim's throat --

"Oh, God. I mean -- fuck. Oh, fuck. That's what I meant --"

"Don't have sex with someone you have to lie to, Tim."

"But --"

"It will be almost impossible for you to avoid it entirely --"

"This is what I'm *saying* --"

Lex squeezes Tim's shoulder again. "If it's at all worth it to fuck whatever pretty boy catches your eye -- if the eventual *fucking* will be worth it -- then there'll be something you don't have to lie about. There'll be..." Lex frowns thoughtfully and almost *massages* Tim's shoulder --

And Tim isn't going to say a word, because then Lex might *stop* --

"There's a moment of connection, Tim. A moment where you know, with all of yourself, that you're understood -- even if it's only in some ridiculously small way. That -- more than any flat surface -- is what you'll fuck *on*."

Tim frowns. "I'm not really sure --"

"Marta Gutierrez. Who is she?"

"Ah -- the executive vice-president of Tontano Corporation. One of your leading competitors in the agribusiness sector, and the woman most likely to take over for Hillman Tontano -- despite the fact that the man has two children in their prime who *could* take over --"

"They couldn't. The Tontano brats -- and I use that word advisedly even though they're both in their late thirties -- are useless in every way, and old Hill knows it. Marta isn't quite the power behind the throne *yet*, but she will be within a year -- *with* Hill's blessing as he fades. The kids will make a bid to wrest control over the Tontano fortune out of Marta's and her pet lawyers' hands, but they'll fail."

Tim blinks. "You're sure about that."

Lex smiles warmly, *happily* -- "Oh, yes. Because I bought a few of those lawyers myself, and made *sure* that they set things up for Marta as carefully and brat-proof-ly as possible."

"I'd assumed -- ah. The fact that you haven't been romantically linked with Gutierrez in the better part of four years is a failing of the press."

"So many things are. Neither Marta nor I feel any great need to be public. We can eat excellent meals in our respective homes, and watch great theater... well, neither of us have the time for such things, but if we did -- we wouldn't have to leave the house for it.

"Marta allows me to dress her from time to time -- and dabble in her company's projects -- and I allow Marta to grope my bodyguards and dabble in *my* company's projects. She's only barely bisexual, and plans to come out once Hill is in the grave. We discuss matters of business, sexuality, and the errors which have been made in the production of GMO corn, soy, and rice. Eventually, we *will* be in direct competition again, but..." Lex's smile is distant and fond. "I feel comfortable in predicting that she won't make any assassination attempts unless I'm *truly* asking for it."

Well, this is wonderful. He's jealous of a woman with grey hair and adult children --

And Lex lets go of Tim's shoulder and strokes a line over Tim's cheekbone. "I don't like that expression."

"I --" He's blushing more. "Tell me about the sex?"

"Comfortable. Warm. There's even humor, as she tends to need time to remind herself that she actually enjoys my cock."

"And that's... attractive?"

Lex cocks his head to the side -- "No. Stop it."

"I -- ah?"

"You're not about to make yourself into a parody of a forty-eight-year-old woman out of some need to be *attractive* to me -- no matter how good you'd be at it," Lex says, standing and gesturing for Tim to join him.

Tim does so --

"Bring your wine."

"My mother already taught me how to drink, Lex --"

"I like watching you do it," Lex says, and his smile is both private and -- not. There are things there Tim can't quite guess at, and there are things there which make Tim feel warm and -- cared for.

He'd *said* --

"Follow." And Lex walks to the couch, pointing Tim at the end of it Tim had taken before.

This time, Lex sits closer, turning to face Tim and -- cupping Tim's jaw. "Lex."

"Tim. You're very elegant in appearance. You... hmm. Marta was something another, less-imaginative man might describe as a 'peach' when she was younger. Now, she tends to keep as fit as she can, so she's rather... hmm... thickly muscular. You could never be her."

"I wasn't planning on gender reassignment surgery --"

"She's blunt where you're sharp, hard where you're flexible... nothing with you could ever be comfortable."

The part of him which wants to wince for that is... slow. That was a compliment. That --

"Yes, like that. Don't be jealous. It doesn't become you -- or anyone else."

"Are you telling me you've never been jealous?"

Lex smiles, quick and bright. "I'm telling you that it was hideous in every. Possible. Way."

And --

It's a risk, but the idea of *not* reaching up to stroke the hand Lex has on his face is impossible, cruel and awful *and* -- hideously -- improbable --

It still makes Lex frown --

"It's all right," Tim says. "I'm listening."

"But are you listening to anything but your own *cock*?"

"Yes? Mostly -- do you always use that word?"

"You don't like it...?"

"My penis likes it immensely. Let me suck your cock."

"Tim, this isn't -- that's not what this is about --"

"Lex. You want it. You want *me* --"

Lex lets go and glares at him -- in a way which strongly suggests that Lex is considering doing something terrible to the parts of Tim's brain which control his personality --

"That's one of the looks which arouses me."

"I *know* that --"

"You have a connection with Marta. Who else?"

"Winslow Jane -- her parents had a terrible sense of humor, and honestly believed that it would be amusing to give her a last name for her first name since... etcetera. She is --"

"A Metropolis councilwoman, yes. What --"

Lex smiles *sharply* -- "Couture. Diplomacy. Child-rearing --"


If anything, the smile becomes even more of a blade. "She likes listening to all the horrible things I would do to program her children to be Titans of Tomorrow so that she can then consider herself far more liberal-minded than she actually is."

There's a certain amount of -- jealousy. He can see the appeal of someone like that, the way it would be possible to both feel superior and feel, well, *connected*. If one can be enjoyed for at least a *few* of one's bad qualities --

"I'm not going to touch your face again," Lex says, and his smile has become a scowl.

"Of course not. I wouldn't want to reward me for bad behavior, either. Or 'bad' behavior as the case may be. Perhaps *human* behavior...? In any event, I'm not -- very jealous? All right, no, I'm jealous of *you* as much as I'm jealous of her. I'd like to have someone in my life I could be... dark with."

"I will only judge you if you choose to be an idiot, Tim."

That -- seduction. *Unasked*-for seduction -- and Tim licks his lips. "If you would --"


"Tell me more --"

"Heidi Wendt -- nee Moskowitz. She's nearly as lovely as she looks on the proverbial silver screen -- she learned at a young age how to do her makeup to maximize her assets, and, even now that she has other options, she still does her own."

Even he knows that there's a great deal of skill involved in that sort of thing, but -- "More?"

"Her ambition is the primary appeal. She knows precisely where she wants to be in ten years, twenty, thirty... and she'll stop at nothing to get there. I find her breast implants irritating on a number of levels, but they're as perfectly done as her eye shadow, and she's another one who's been acting since a very, very young age. I'm tempted to introduce you to her -- she'll teach you how to smile like you mean it."

"I was rather hoping to learn from *you*," Tim says, fighting *back* the jealousy --

"Yes, like that. Tell me..." Lex laughs. "Tell me something to prove that you're not about to lose your delightful little mind."

Tim raises an eyebrow --

Lex reaches out -- and doesn't touch.


Lex laughs again -- "You shouldn't make it so easy for me to have fun without you doing the same, Tim."

Tim frowns -- "You're still -- trying to be my mentor."

"I *am* your mentor."

"How is the sex with -- Heidi?"

"As animalistic as it's possible to get without me actually marking her -- Lawrence's of London-insured -- skin. I'm absolutely positive that she's using me to test the limits of the stamina of older men."

"That's disgusting."

Lex raises an eyebrow again. "This from the boy who's seriously considering *lying* to his lovers?"

"Well, I -- there's so much I *can't* tell them --"

"If you want to keep them, and want to keep them *honest* -- as honest as possible, anyway. Yes, I know. I'm not advocating that you wear your heart on your *sleeve*, Tim -- you're far too inclined toward that as it is --"

"It's perfectly reasonable to be jealous of people who have had -- and will continue *to* have -- what I *want*, Lex."

"No, it's reasonable to do something about *getting* what you want -- wresting it out of their grasp, as it were --"

"*Would* you prefer fucking me to me -- sucking you off?"

Lex frowns -- almost certainly for the hesitation, which tells Tim even more of what he needs to know than everything else had. The only question --

No, it isn't a question. He is in no way capable of *tackling* Lex -- it's possible that attempting to do so would get him thrown aside in a way that *wouldn't* be arousing --

(Anything is possible --)

Tim shifts and lies back, lifting his carefully-worn t-shirt to expose the abdominal muscles he's reasonably proud of, the sagittal-patterned hair beneath his navel which is -- hopefully -- enticing --


"Touch me."

Lex gives him the crocodile look --

And there's less than no reason not to arch up and *offer* a little --

"Tell me how you want to be touched."

"Ah -- a lot? Firmly. *Seriously* -- *oh* -- well. You *were* destined to have me by the balls at some point."

And Lex is searching him, lips parted enough to expose the way his teeth are clenched -- as if the tension in his jaw wasn't enough for that, already. His eyes are moving quickly, taking in the scroll of information behind his eyes at least as much as he's taking in *Tim* --

Tim yanks his t-shirt up higher and makes a point of holding Lex's gaze while he twists his own nipples --

While he *makes* himself need to arch, twist --

Lex's grip on him has no *give* -- "Kiss me again, Lex. Touch me -- do *something* --"

And Lex is on him, over him --

Lex is *shoving* his tongue deep --

Eyes open, eyes *open* --

But Lex has his own eyes closed, Lex is --

Lex is *growling* into Tim's mouth and squeezing hard enough to make Tim whimper --

Lex is cupping the back of Tim's head and *lifting* him into a deeper kiss --

Lex lets go of Tim's scrotum and starts working on his fly, and --

Please -- "*Please*," Tim slurs into Lex's mouth, tries to be clearer -- no, he can make the kiss more interesting. He can --

He licks at the underside of Lex's tongue, sucks the tip and tries to *just* suck there --

Lex grunts and his hand stops *moving* --

No, no --

Tim arches up as much as he can, pumps his hips --

Lex *bites* Tim, both lips, Tim's cheek, Tim's chin, Tim's *throat* --

"*Lex* --!"

Lex bites harder, *pulling* on the flesh with his teeth, and Tim thinks:

Not comfortable.


*Wresting* --

Tim locks his legs around Lex's waist and *humps* --

Lex growls, licks and sucks -- "No," he says, pulling back and *panting*.

"What the hell do you mean '*no*?'"

Lex breathes a laugh and *presses* on the spot on Tim's throat he'd bitten. "You're going to have a suck-mark."

"That's -- a much sexier term than 'hickey.'"

"Far less innocent, too. We both know I want you. We both have to live with that," and Lex easily pushes Tim's legs away from himself --

"You *are* --"

"A tease, yes. But -- no," Lex says, shaking his head, standing, and offering Tim his hand. "I'm not going to blame you for failing to think beyond your cock. I asked for this."

Tim -- growls. That's -- well, he wasn't expecting that.

Lex makes a come-on gesture with his outstretched hand. "What we want and what we can reasonably have -- are often *several* different things."

"*Lex* --"

"Take my hand, get up, and go to bed. You can -- do you watch television?"

"Exceedingly rarely."

"You can visit the library --"

"I could bend over this *couch* for you --"

"You're going to have a long, exhausting day tomorrow in which you'll learn more than you'd thought possible about biochemistry and genetics. After that, you'll have homework to do. After *that* -- aikido."

Tim feels his hands twitch with *want* --

"Yes, I haven't forgotten my promise to you. I keep *all* of my promises --"

"Promise me you'll fuck me before you send me back to Gotham."

Lex clenches his hand into a fist -- and opens it again. "No."

"Lex --"

"Take. My. Hand."

Tim does so, but the attempt to use Lex's body as an anchor while he yanks himself close fails as painfully as it, perhaps, should.

Lex steadies Tim by the shoulders. "You're fifteen, Tim. I may have turned a corner in my life where that sort of thing is attractive, but I do not have to -- and will *not* -- succumb to it --"

"You'll just be a ridiculous tease?"

"I -- need more control," Lex says, and his voice is low, steady, calm -- "And I will have it. Leave."

"Lex. Please."

"Think -- think of anything you wish when you jerk yourself off, Tim. I won't try to legislate your thoughts or... anything like that. I..." Lex squeezes his eyes shut for a long moment --

And then he pulls Tim close for a -- hug.



It shouldn't feel so -- *fucking* -- good, but it does, and that's proof of... something or other.

Tim doesn't know.

He *does* know that *with* it feeling so good, he won't be able to do much more than enjoy the following:

Lex's scent, more heavily masculine than it had been last night, because Lex has sweated more today. His cologne is fading sweetness.

Lex's *grip*, which is both firm and cautious, as if he expects Tim to take advantage -- to *try* to take advantage. He wants this, too. *Just* this -- no.

Lex's *erection* is pressed against Tim's abdomen, and Lex's pants are just thin enough -- and Tim's abdomen just bare enough -- that the heat is as palpable as the hardness --

Lex --

"I appreciate you not framing this... denial as some pathetic attempt to protect me," Tim says, and nuzzles Lex's shoulder.

"It is, perhaps, the privilege of the teenager to believe that he doesn't ever need to be coddled," Lex says *thoughtfully*, as if he actually believes it --

"I *don't* need to be protected --"

"From the man who keeps a living weapon as a sex slave and knows you well enough to know how vulnerable you are to, say, people willing to touch you?"

Willing to. That --

Lex squeezes him harder -- "You were never disgusting, or inadequate, or whatever you thought up to explain the fact that your parents never stuck around."

Tim stiffens and pushes *back* --

Lex *grips* Tim's hand and uses the pressure points to force Tim's attention --

"I'm listening."

"You're fifteen. You're living in *my* home. Your parents are on another continent -- and wouldn't know how to protect you even if you let them know you needed it. You're a virgin. You..." Lex's smile is old and somewhat tired. "*Think* about why I wouldn't present it as a matter of altruism."

Because -- "You know how I'd *react* to that --"

"Like a teenager. But -- try again. Use your forebrain."

"It goes *missing* around you --"

"Try. Again."

Tim snarls -- and stops that immediately --

And wonders if he'd made the right choice when Lex searches him again, when he looks --

Lex *likes* a certain degree of primitiveness -- but he can focus. A part of him doesn't want to *admit* that he can focus, but -- oh. "You're not an altruist."

Lex smiles at him.

"You -- you can acknowledge that I need protection without actually caring to *provide* it."

"Something like that," Lex says, letting go of Tim's hand and stroking Tim's cheekbones again. "I could take advantage of you --"

"No," Tim says, and catches Lex's wrist. He knows he won't be able to hold it, but there's such a thing as principle.

Lex raises an eyebrow at him, and, to his credit -- and to Tim's own -- it's far more curious than derisive.

Tim nods an acknowledgment and gives himself permission to check Lex's pulse -- which isn't as fast as his own, but also isn't especially steady. He --

"You already know I want you, Tim."

"And you know that I -- well. *Little* reminders are helpful from time to time, whether or not I'm feeling especially jealous or low of spirit."

"Low of --" Lex sighs and smiles at him. "Tell me why I can't take advantage of you. Easily."

"If you could, you would. It takes some degree of callous disregard for a given target to act like that, and you've already admitted that you care about me."

"I could offer an interjection on the nature of trust as it comes from a teenaged... heart."

Tim smiles and lets go of Lex's wrist. "As I've implied -- I don't see this as some sort of grand romance, Lex. I'm infatuated with you, I *like* you, and right now I think I'd put up with you *slapping* me with your penis if it meant having you close enough to my mouth that I could -- if deft and quick -- swallow you whole --"

"You've practiced that."

"I'm a queer boy with a lot of free time, Lex --"

"I have a book for you," Lex says, sudden and -- not hard so much as other-focused, which is irritating --

But no more so than how easy it is for Lex to get Tim to follow him. Just a *gesture* --

Well, he'll balk about something else soon enough --

And Tim has to pause within himself for that. Is he really planning to throw a spanner into the first works he happens across just because Lex has *charisma*?

Well, his penis is pointing out that Lex is using his charisma for the wrong things, and thus should be punished, but --

His penis is never actually right about things like that. His *penis* thinks Ives should be punished for having long, knuckle-y fingers and not applying them directly to Tim's rectum, and, as for Dick --

The list of crimes is nearly endless.

Still, focusing on active not-listening to his penis gets him into Lex's -- secondary, he knows -- library safely enough.

There are signs that the place was *once* something that wouldn't have been *out* of place in a manor house -- mostly this is in terms of how its laid out, with the dropped floor and raised ceiling and shelves marching here and there in rigid order. However --

Tim needs to see these rooms during the day. At some point, Lex had chosen to make the entirety of the library into something like a literary greenhouse. You really can't call them 'windows' when they are, in fact, the walls and ceiling. There are shades placed strategically around the room, but the amount of natural light must be absolutely thrilling.

It's the sort of room Superman might love, really, and --

"Now why, pray tell, are you trying to hold back a snicker?" Lex isn't even *looking* at him --

Tim sighs. "*How* did you improve your peripheral vision?"

"Extensive, obsessive training. What is it?"

Tim sighs. It's not like Lex was going to make love to him tonight, anyway. "I was thinking about how much Superman would enjoy this room."

"Ah, yes, the interesting tidbit that he gains his powers from our sun's particular spectrum of radiation," Lex says, and his eyes are hard as he leads them deeper into the main library. "He's a rather *interesting*-looking plant, don't you think?"

"If he photosynthesizes, then, really, isn't he a benefit to the planet?"

Lex stops and looks at him, which --

"All right, that was weak. Still --"

"I have no problem whatsoever with the alien using his powers for the betterment of mankind. He should, however, be *leashed*."

Tim raises an eyebrow.

"He can live however he wishes to -- just let him do it *firmly* in the public eye. Let him pledge his life to -- oh, let's say the United Nations. Let him give up his civilian identity --"

"Assuming he has one."

Lex stops and gives him a *shrewd* look.

Tim spreads his hands. "Maybe the tabloids are right and he flies around having sex with random people *as* Superman. He's hardly an easy sort of person to *miss*, Lex."

"Six feet, four inches tall. At least two hundred and seventy pounds --"

"All that muscle -- I always pegged him at around two-ninety."

"It's *soft* muscle. Braced with what appears to be adipose tissue."

"He's supposed to feel like a *brick*, Lex --"

"How much have you *studied* him?"

Tim smiles wryly. "Not as much as I've studied Batman and Robin," and that is the absolute truth.

He knows Lex can tell -- and he knows Lex can hear the lie behind it.

Tim raises his eyebrow *nice* and high. "You were saying?"

"He's a rogue agent."

"'Independent' is not -- necessarily -- the same thing as 'rogue.' Besides, would you really want the U.N. to decide when Superman could come save you from the hurricane? The earthquake? The volcanic eruption --"

"People who live on volcanoes really do deserve what they *get*, Tim."

"Do they? What about the people who can't afford to move? Whose only livelihood --"

Lex makes a cutting gesture.

Tim raises his eyebrow higher.

"As I *said* -- he can save the world as much as he wants. I simply desire transparency --"

"You *desire* control."

"It doesn't have to be *my* control --"

Tim snorts. "Really, Lex? *Really*?"

Lex scowls -- and then brightens just -- immensely. And strokes Tim's cheek.

Tim pushes into the touch. "Tell me more about Bizarro."

"What more do you need to know? He was a failure."

"*Is* a failure. Currently living out his existence on a planet full of exceptionally *sturdy* flora and fauna."

"According to the *alien* --"

"You think he killed him? *Really*?"

Lex scowls again. "Where does this -- this *faith* come from?"

"'This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine?'"

Lex looks *stricken* --

Tim beams. "You're too easy, Lex."

"Just for that, I'm *not* going to grope your cock the next time you make me forget what the world actually looks like."

"Ah -- can we negoti--"

"No. Come on."

Tim sighs. "About Bizarro --"

"We created something a lot like an egg with an X chromosome and then 'fertilized' it. It worked. It worked so ridiculously well that visions of armies danced in my head."

"Martially, I suppose."

"Oh, very much so. It was all very manly, and I'd even designed the LexCorp logo for their chest-patches -- and, of course, for future tie-in marketing."

Tim nods. "Everything from action figures to... ah... sippy cups?"

"And Halloween costumes, and posters, and collectible stickers..." Lex sighs. "It was a beautiful dream."

"When did you notice there was... ah... trouble?"

"You have to understand, Tim," Lex says, and stops by a shelf full of scientific journals before choosing one and beginning to flip through it, "it seemed perfectly reasonable for the clone's skin to be pale. No one ever thought that the alien's skin-tone was anything *but* due to the sun itself."

"But -- that went beyond even *albinism*."

"Very true... here it is," Lex says, and tucks the journal away before leading them on to another part of the library. "Still, we were breaking new ground, and every test we performed showed that the clone was entirely healthy -- and even within the baseline data we had worked so hard to collect from its progenitor. Even the thing's *hair* was healthy -- healthy enough to break scissors when we tried to cut it."

"All right, so... it took a long time."

"It was awake before we knew. And then... well, it could've been a matter of the clone simply being mentally infantile."

"As opposed to mentally infantile and actively looped."

Lex frowns. "Paranoid schizophrenia is something rather different than 'looped,' but I recognize your attempts to be less *pointedly* terrifying for what they are," and Lex strokes Tim's hair with absent affection. Hm.

"Do you think we could sleep together? *Just* sleep."

"I generally don't sleep with anyone, Tim."

"Yes, but could *we*."

"I -- it's possible. It also won't happen," Lex says, dropping into a crouch and picking a book from the end of the shelf. "Take this, read it, and try to comprehend it as quickly as possible. It's the basis for how we're going to try to *avoid* what happened with Bizarro -- mentally, anyway."

Tim blinks and looks at the -- slim -- volume. It's called The Infant You Want, and it was written by Dr. Emil Hamilton. "The name is familiar, but..."

"He's the mind behind most of S.T.A.R. Labs' most important innovations. He *used* to work for me, but he was willing to give up all of the patents he came up with for Cadmus just to get out of his contract," Lex says, and strokes the book's spine with his fingertip.

"I -- *why*?"

"Because I'm -- and I quote -- 'an amoral reptile only fit for the fetid swamps of humanity's refuse piles,'" Lex says, and the fondness in his voice is -- perfectly real.

"You liked him."

"I still do. He's brilliant without having tunnel vision for his own specialties. His actual doctorates are in robotics and theoretical physics, but that book... well. When his younger sister became pregnant for the first time, Hamilton took it upon himself to learn everything there was to know about embryonic and fetal development. And then, because his sister is apparently *that* tolerant, he began experimenting on the child's mind."

"I -- what?"

"Nothing negative, nor *too* invasive. He simply came up with a detailed and progressive lesson plan for the child and proceeded to apply it. The child was born with the ability to speak English -- though only basic words -- and do simple mathematical equations. It was also born with a fondness for the classic rock Hamilton's sister insisted would play during the lessons instead of Mozart."

"That's -- that's insane. And revolutionary! Why isn't this book on the bestseller lists?"

"Because..." Lex smiles. "A loophole in Hamilton's contract. Everything he *publishes* for the next two years will be LexCorp property. I neglected to remind him of that after his tirade, and so when this came out... I stole it. And placed him, his family, and his colleagues under a gag order strict enough to enslave his great-grandchildren if he fails to keep his mouth shut until I say otherwise."


"And *that* bothers your conscience. Fascinating. Still, don't worry. Once the cloning project is successful, I honestly don't care what the world does with Hamilton's bit of genius."

That -- hm. Tim frowns. "That wasn't true."

Lex strokes the spine of the book once more -- "No, it wasn't. I promise I'll elaborate once you've gotten a grasp on the concepts within. I recommend working in the library -- many of the most difficult passages are only explained in papers which are -- mostly -- not available online. I assure you that *all* of them are available in these rooms."

"I -- thank you, Lex."

"You're welcome. You -- you don't ask enough questions."

Tim blinks -- and raises his eyebrow again. "Don't you mean that I don't ask enough questions whose answers will make me think less of you?"

"Or more. You can be as infatuated as you like. It's my own infatuation which needs to absent itself at speed," Lex says, and the darkness in his voice...

Something about the book -- or the experiments within it -- are troubling to Lex. Tim rests a hand on Lex's forearm --

Lex eyes it wryly.

"I'm also allowed to offer comfort to someone who has offered comfort to me."

"Then, by all means -- hug me."

Tim does just that, and this time --

This time he kisses Lex's shoulder through his shirt. He does it repeatedly, and presses his still-partially-erect penis against Lex's thigh. *Lex* isn't noticeably hard anymore, and that's several different kinds of awful --

Except that Lex cups the back of his head --

And leans in to *breathe* against Tim's ear --

Tim moans and presses closer --

"Start reading tonight."

"Yes, all right --"

"Start... write your major questions down and we'll go over them at breakfast. *Don't* stay up past midnight."

"Ah... all right. *Dad*."

Lex laughs -- and kisses Tim's ear --

"Oh --fuck --"

"Westlake is going to work your ass off tomorrow, Tim --"

"Then take advantage of it while it's here --"

"Be patient."

"Lex --"

"Pretend... pretend you're waiting for something good," Lex says, pulling back -- and walking away without a further word.

Tim watches him go.

And then he sits down to read.


Lex is beginning to lose count of the kisses.

It's been five days of Tim peppering him with questions about the project and Hamilton's book, about Bizarro and about Cadmus' other projects --

Five days of losing himself, disgustingly regularly, to Tim's matter-of-fact and guileless --

No, not guileless. He grows more aware by the *second* of the things which move Lex, and there's one particular smile...

It's as small as every one of Tim's *true* smiles are, and it isn't so sluttish as to show actual *teeth*... and it's very, very sly. It's a smile from a boy who knows it makes him look like someone who needs to be summarily choked, and is *desperately* hoping for someone to take up the challenge.

Tim has worn high-collared shirts since the night Lex had marked him, and that's as infuriating as anything else. He doesn't *unbutton* them until, presumably, he retires for the night, and while that sort of thing is reasonable enough --

Properly *cautious*, even --

Five days.

Twenty one and a half kisses -- the half for the time he'd managed to stop himself from tearing Tim's collar aside to see, to touch, to taste --

And Tim --

Had laughed at him. Breathlessly, cheerfully --

He'd pressed on the mark through his shirt, looked Lex in the eye, and --

("Still no? Then, if you and this *excellent* wine will excuse me, I'll just go to the bathroom and masturbate furiously while thinking of... hmm... your teeth, I believe.")

Self-control is insufferable in the young. Just -- it shouldn't be *allowed* --

("You *did* imply that a time would come when I wouldn't have to wait any longer, Lex... and I already know that you're not taking that back.")

The 'yet' was unspoken, and the part of Lex which is increasingly cock-struck only wants to make sure that yet is *never* spoken, never fucking *thought*.

The part of Lex which is honestly convinced that it's *possible* to be Tim's mentor -- well. It's important for young people -- especially queer young people -- to be as confident, healthy, and self-actualized as possible. They have a *world* to help guide and shape, and so it's necessary for people like Lex to be encouraging, *honestly* encouraging --

Other projects.

Armor resistant to both projectile and energy weapons is one step closer to being a reality judging by the tests done by one of his more official labs two days ago. The only problem left -- going by appearances, which *is* dangerous, but less so once one is more than two years into the testing process -- is that the armor tends to break down when exposed to a blend of gamma radiation and electricity. This sort of thing simply won't occur all that often, but he has instructed the scientists and engineers to find a workaround. If it's at all possible, they *will*, and then --

Well, then he'll be one step closer to having his own private *human* army -- just in case the superpowered one breaks down. And, speaking of that --

Fifteen of the inferior embryos have broken down already -- all of them experiencing complete cellular breakdown. Another nine are showing signs of going down that road.

The one hundred and ninety-two seemingly perfect blastocytes are, at present, being examined and examined again for flaws before their eventual implantation into the artificial uteri --

Tim has been one of the pairs of eyes for that particular task, being as how it's mind-numbingly tedious -- and being as how Tim had tested extraordinarily well on knowing how to identify microbiological problems in clones before they festered.

Tim is, right now, working -- possibly perched behind one of the electronic microscopes Lex would've happily murdered someone for when he wasn't that much younger than Tim.

When he was some variety of innocent.

When --

Other projects.

LexCorp warehouse number H-twenty-four -- otherwise known as LexCorp *secret* laboratory number three -- had been working on a kinder, gentler chemotherapy drug, but the microbiological biota they'd discovered was so *intriguingly* virulent --

The sort of thing where a few drops in the right reservoir could *end* a war --


They're making great strides in stabilizing the compound enough that it doesn't either break down or mutate excitingly while being transported -- always in opaque glass in a climate-controlled case -- or so the supervisors say. They'd said the same thing -- with the words slightly shuffled -- the past two times Lex had checked on them, and that sort of thing...

In truth, it's a job for Mercy -- or for *both* Hope and Mercy if an example must be made of someone -- but with Mercy in New York and Hope keeping an eye on both him and Tim --

There are no good reasons whatsoever for his thoughts to keep turning back to Tim. 

There are many, many bad reasons.

Lex sighs and eyes the phone. Mercy has been his operative for nearly a quarter of a century. As such, she has earned the right to make him wait this long for a call.

There's no telling what sort of situation she'd stirred up by looking for information about Bruce and his former ward -- there just isn't all that much information *available* about Grayson's friends and lovers, and thus nothing which would let him predict --

Other projects.

Tim had expressed an entirely adorable and boyish interest in the latest LexCorp beam weapons destined for the world's police departments -- and, of course, for the LexCorp mercenary squads. To Lex, they're nothing special -- utilitarian and ugly little things which, due to the continued unwieldiness of the battery pack, can't even be worn in standard holsters -- but Tim was clearly raised on science fiction --

Lex growls. His mind doesn't even seem to be *trying* anymore, and that's -- horrifying.

And terrible.

Lex rubs his temples and thinks of Tim in his dogi last night, conditioning himself to Lex's specifications and not exposing the marks on his throat *enough*.

Tim's eyes had been bright and almost wild with emotion, *passion* -- and, perhaps, exhaustion. The flesh beneath his eyes had seemed both bruised and tender, and Lex had touched him there too many times.

Far too many times.

Stopping himself from doing that had led to him *throwing* Tim before beginning the actual lessons --

And Tim had landed gently and well, sprawling himself out and parting his lips, spreading his legs, *licking* his lips --

("Still no? Well, I don't need to masturbate again *right* now, but I find I need to make you think about me doing it.")

Lex almost never thinks about Tim masturbating. He has no doubt in his mind that Tim does it *mostly* efficiently, and that's the sort of thing which only has appeal in person --

That was a lie.

That was a *ridiculous* lie --

Lex laughs and sets up all the security measures and locks for his office computer system before stripping down and changing into workout clothes. If need be, some underling or another will find him in the gymnasium and give him the news he needs to hear.

It won't be Mercy or Hope, but -- hm.

Is it time to retire them, yet? Acquire *more* decorative and functional sociopaths? Where --

He'd found Mercy by purest dumb luck. Mercy, in her turn, had helped Lex find Hope amid the chaff of people drummed out of the armed forces for having simply too much of the wrong sorts of crazy. Hope...

No, if he set Hope to find Lex new blood, she could very well give him an *actual* serial killer, and that sort of thing is only fun with *exceptions* rather than rules.

If Mercy were here right now, he would smile at her until he could feel her scowl suspiciously somewhere behind that Germanically pretty face. And then he would order her over the desk --

No, he would order her to organize the few papers --

No, he would order her to remove her underwear, dress herself once more, organize the papers --

Yes, that would be a start. A good fraction of what he needs. A -- something of an appetizer.

He would wet his cock with her pussy -- she has not yet begun to need artificial lubricant especially often -- and then push *deep* into her ass. No preparation, no explanation: simply one powerful man using one powerful woman, a woman who had willingly capitulated everything she was -- up to and including her *name* -- for the sake of Lex's happiness and needs.

Perfect woman. Beautiful --


He misses the scent she gets when she hasn't showered with the soap Lex chose for her for a few days -- those bare few moments of calculated rebellion which come two to four times per year. Rebellion all the sweeter for the knowledge they share: She would do nothing of the kind if they didn't both know that Lex *needed* to be refused from time to time.

One must always stay *sharp* --

And that, more than anything else, is the reason behind the terribly irritating and awful word 'retire.' Mercy is three years older than he is, Hope three years younger, and the world of international business -- and all of those other worlds Lex has a toe in -- are not getting any friendlier.

Mercy would call in if she were injured badly enough that she couldn't perform her tasks, but --

But he's being an ass. A *short-sighted* ass.

There is, after all, blastocyte two-three-two. The most stable of all of them -- and the most human of all of them.

Nearly half of its DNA is Lex's own.

If it works --

If it *thrives* --

There'd be no reason *not* to clone Hope and Mercy, transfer their personality engrams as completely as possible...

Yes. Yes.

There is, of course, the question of how they would each feel about *being* cloned, but, in the end, he's better than ninety-two percent positive that they would both prefer it to a retirement which left them with nothing to do and no real physical ability to pursue their... hobbies.

Lex moves back to his office and gives himself precisely ten seconds to be wracked with guilt about the fact that he's dressed casually in an office.

After that, he gives himself twenty seconds to live in the memory of making love to Mercy while she told him -- in as perfect detail as possible -- about how his father had met his end.

When that's over, he strokes the finish of the desk and considers -- not for the first time -- redecorating. If he gave himself something more traditional for his home office -- something more like his *official* office three floors down -- then he would be acknowledging the fact that he's in his forties.

That he's in the prime of his years -- by business-world reckoning -- rather than the enfant terrible.

Ordering Mercy to bend over a desk made of the finest wood, to drool on a blotter lacking purple spaceships -- even the subtle ones --


And Tim would... what? He's hinted -- and stated -- several times that he has an interest in BDSM and kink in general, but he's *fifteen*. He can masturbate successfully and pleasurably within two minutes. How much thinking about this sort of thing could he have done?

Lex had done most of his own thinking in *company*, and that was hard enough, impossible to *imagine* enough -- well. His company hadn't been the best.

Women can be *just* as rapacious with the young as men, and their abuses can even be worse -- if only because most people's private experiences with older women involve mothers and teachers. *Benign* forces in a young person's life --

Somewhere in the bowels of Cadmus, Tim is losing more of that *lack* of a tan while also raising an eyebrow.


Lex punches the button which informs his secretary when it's time for him to panic, waits a polite three seconds -- "Samuel."

"Yes, Mr. Luthor!"

"Contact the Drakes. It will probably take some unconscionable length of time to do, and so you are free to focus *most* of your attention on this task."

"Protocol Delta?"

Lex considers... "Tell everyone but the *usual* suspects that they can go fuck themselves, yes."

"Yes, Mr. Luthor. When will it be too late to --"

"It won't be. This is a priority call," Lex says, and pictures Samuel's eyes widening with the need to gossip about Tim. Lex sighs for that -- internally -- but the truth is that it serves a purpose.

If Tim is considered to be on the outs, then presumably *few* people would be able to imagine how close Tim gets to being fucked *raw* on a nightly basis --

"Luthor out," he says -- after giving Samuel time to panic a little about whatever else he might say -- and closes the connection.

After that --

He works out.

First the treadmill and an interesting enough documentary about SIDS research continuing to go mostly nowhere while predominantly male babies die mysteriously. There *would* be a great deal of money for anyone who came up with any answers whatsoever, but Lex wants no part in children's pharmacology. The insurance premiums *alone*...

No, he'll leave that to idealists like Hamilton --

Hm. It will be the man's birthday in three weeks. Last year Lex had donated to a children's hospital in his name. This year...

This year, perhaps, he'll donate to this perfectly heroic company trying to prevent heartbreak for new parents.

Assuming it turns out they're any good. He uses his blacktooth to contact Samuel's opposite number Rene, and has him set the dogs on the research firm in question. They might just have a wonderful summer ahead of them.

Hamilton, Lex knows, almost certainly would prefer it if Lex would just pump the money into one of his more morally questionable ventures -- if only for the sake of consistency, but -- hm. It's possible that he considers the donations apologies. *Weak* apologies, at that.

Hamilton *is* smarter than that, but it's possible that he could be as stoned on his own morals as he was while negotiating the termination of his contract. It's one of the world's fundamental truths, really: people who ride high horses don't always -- or often -- have any *idea* what's going on at ground level.

Which brings to mind thoughts of Batman --

Of Gotham --

Of Tim -- no.

New York. He --

Fuck it. He leaves the two-zero-two -- call me as soon as is reasonable -- on Mercy's implant and moves to the weights.

From the weights, he moves to the mats for his katas --

And he's well into his stretches and cool-down exercises before anyone bothers him, at *all* --

And it's Samuel, not Mercy.

"So soon?"

"The Drakes spent the day using the spa at their hotel in Bath, Mr. Luthor."

He can just about guess which one it is, given the Drakes' love of *practical* luxury and decidedly understated servants. Still -- "How long before I can reasonably expect them to pick up the line?"

"Five minutes, sir. Should I have given you a longer lead-time?"

Samuel is new, and he reminds himself of this --

Well, at least he hadn't bothered him before now. The basic handbook for administrative assistants had been written in clear, brilliant detail by Hope herself in a free moment, and this information was right *there*.

Still, far too many new hires have far too much trouble *believing* in the handbook. Lex swallows a sigh. "In the future, a three minute lead-time is entirely sufficient. As you should know."

Samuel swallows audibly. "Y-yes, Mr. Luthor. I just -- I assumed --"


"Ah -- you've never set aside my other responsibilities to call a non-business-associate before --"

"What does it say in the handbook about setting aside responsibilities, Samuel?"

That may very well have been a whimper. Samuel is attractive enough in his way -- rich, brown hair, a certain blandly perfect gym-bunny physique, squash-player's forearms... and Lex is reasonably sure that Tim would view him with contempt for not standing up for his convictions.

And it's possible that he would expect Lex to be magnanimous. Which -- fine. "I see that I've made myself understood. Look to your handbook in the future, Samuel, and I'm sure we won't have this problem again."

"Yes, Mr. Luthor. Thank you, Mr. Luthor."

"You're quite welcome. The call with the Drakes will be private in every way. No recording."

"No --" Lex can practically feel the man blinking.

"No recording," he says, again.

"Anything you say, Mr. Luthor. I -- should I begin returning the calls of the people I put off earlier?"

"First the business people, then the reporters, then everyone but the lawyers, then the lawyers."

"Page twenty-seven!"

Lex shows his teeth to no one. "Precisely."

"Then I'll just. Ah. Am I dismissed?"

"For the time being. Good day."

"And to you, Mr. Luthor," Samuel says, with an impression of smooth, cool professionalism which suggests that he may just last out the summer.

Anything is possible.

Lex sits on the weight bench and leans against the wall, breathing deeply and evenly and going over what he knows of the elder Drakes. Jackson prefers Jack, enjoys opera, and periodically takes up watercolors -- which may or may not suggest a fondness for the Impressionists he spent time studying in college. Janet prefers Janet, enjoys her work, and has managed to instill in her son both confidence in himself and contempt for the world of business.

And no, Tim hadn't *said* anything remotely like that -- yet -- but he didn't have to.

He's working the boy to the bone this summer, and he's loving *every* minute of it -- not just the minutes where he gets to press his cock against some part of Lex's body. This -- this is a vacation for Tim, and innate geekiness can only explain so much... especially since the *usual* foci for that geekiness are so-called superheroes.

Lex crosses his legs and deepens his breathing a little more. Janet --

Janet almost certainly doesn't know about Tim's love for the world's vigilantes, or she would've stamped it out of him herself even if Tim had been as subtle about it as he's been with Lex. He *knows* those shadows and glints behind Tim's eyes.

He's seen them in any number of his employees whenever Superman has flown by. Such is the price of working out of Metropolis -- or any other city with a high-flying freak of their own.

So, Tim would've had no collections of clippings about Batman and Robin -- hm.

Janet clearly believes in treating Tim like a small, incompletely-formed adult, and has done so for at least the past several years to separate Tim so *perfectly* from the child he must have *once* been...

And so Tim would have some measure of privacy. Lex had known that much already, but how *much* stalking had Tim done?

Are there candid shots somewhere of Grayson making out with... Harper, is it? Yes, Harper.

Lex crosses his legs and rolls his perennially-sore right ankle in its socket. Hope had done an excellent job of breaking that ankle for him the last time he demanded that she 'give no quarter.'

Hope has wonderfully efficient methods of teaching Lex to find *useful* paths of anger management.

Janet has... what? Other than a more terrified staff than even Lex's own, that is.

Chess with her husband, yes, Tim had mentioned that. And that they're evenly matched for the game, though she demolishes Jack at Go whenever he consents to play.

She doesn't play either game with her son.

Tim regularly bests various computers at chess, but getting that information out of him had been difficult. He's ashamed of that habit -- why?

Because, at least once, Janet had refused to play with him. And had done so in a way that... humiliated? Hurt, at least. Humiliation comes later for that sort of thing. Lex narrows his eyes and thinks about it. He has no proof, and asking Tim about it --

He could. It's the sort of thing a good mentor would want to know. Isn't it? Certainly a good mentor would want to provide some sort of -- comfort. A hug. They're getting very good at hugs.

They've had twelve --

("Lex, if you keep hugging me like this -- ah.



"Tell me."

"Spank me?")

Lex laughs quietly, because -- yes. They'd both been aware of how *obvious* that had been. They both know Tim isn't touched, held...

That sort of thing --

Well, it happens -- or fails to happen -- in many, many families. It's not *supposed* to be a failure in wealthy American families full of people who know that therapy is helpful and that certain drugs can make you functional in all sorts of ways... but it does.

All the time, really.

It was easy enough to guess by the way Tim reacted to even the most casual touches, but then Tim had asked for more, asked Lex not to *stop* --

Who touched you, Janet? Was it as awful as I'm imagining? Were you trying to be better than your parents? Or were you just... busy? Those are the sorts of questions he won't *get* answers to until he gets to spend time with her in person -- preferably in surroundings she's not entirely comfortable in --

And how would she make him pay for that?

Would she take her son away?

Would it work if she tried -- no, of course it would. Tim has his future to consider, contempt for nearly all it holds and all. No, he'll... tread carefully.

Infatuation aside, it's a *need* in him now to shape Tim's future. To mold, of course, but also... also to *help* if he can, *when* he can --


Lex smiles for the benefit of his voice. "Janet. You sound positively melted with relaxation."

Her laugh is the same breathy little thing that Tim uses when he's truly amused -- as if neither of them can spare the time to take a deep breath *first* -- "All right, Lex, you're incredibly entertaining when you're pretending to be mindless --"

"Should I laugh at you like Brucie?"

The sound she makes is the curious cousin of an elephant with its trunk mostly blocked by some smaller, unhappy animal. Possibly a ferret.

Lex lets his smile be closer to real. "Perhaps I'll take that as a no."

"Oh -- God. The *last* time I saw that man, he was drinking champagne out of a men's brogue because his little viper of a date had convinced him the shoe was hers. *How* did he graduate from Exeter, again?"

By being -- so much better. The smile tightens on his face, but Lex keeps it. "I couldn't tell you, Janet. Though he *was* popular with the professors."

She hums a laugh which is far more *pleased* than the other -- "What is it, hm? Is he being a nuisance, yet?"

Nuisance. *Nuisance*? No, best to play this out a little. Lex offers his social laugh, and then, "Well..."

Janet sighs. "*Really*, Lex. He'll interview you like some *reporter* if you let him. The trick is to give him things to improve about himself. He can be quite good with that."

"He *is* an excellent worker," Lex says, letting his tone be a little doubtful --

"He gets that from his father," she lies, and breathes another laugh --

Yes, he was supposed to catch that lie. "Come now, Janet..."

"All right, he gets that from... some terribly obsessive person or another. In all seriousness, Lex, you certainly didn't have to put him up in your home."

"I have *nothing* but respect for you, Janet," and Lex leaves out Jack's name in order for her *not* to read the lie for what it is. "Metropolis has lovely hotels, but... well. It's a unique experience to have a teenager around the house."

"Does this mean *you're* planning to breed?"

I think I could make a wonderful child with you... so long as I drowned you after he or she was born. Lex fixes his smile in place. "You know me, Janet. I never like to say never. And Tim has been... good company. In his way."

"Good... company."

"Oh, yes. You've... trained him so well, Janet."

"I've taught him about business, of course --"

"And life, and humanity, and psychology..."

"Business," Janet says, firmly and sharply, "is all of the above and more."

One day, I'm going to bend you over one of our desks... and wind up thinking about your son, instead. Eventually. Hopefully? Perhaps he'll leave that question aside. "A woman after my own heart," Lex says, and thinks about eating razor blades. "How *is* Jackson?"

"Jack is taking his afternoon nap with cucumber slices on his eyes and a very silly smile on his face," she says, offering her husband on the *altar*.

*Has* she ever cheated -- no. *Someone* would know, and thus so would Lex. Still, he can play the game. "Marital bliss is a pearl beyond price, Janet."

"There is *nothing* without a price in this world, Lex. You should know that by now."

I want your son. "I think, then, that we should negotiate future vacations for the young master."

"Oh, please, Lex, I've worked my ass off making sure that boy didn't grow up thinking he was better than anyone else. *Don't* ruin my good work."

Lex blinks, hesitates --

Too long. "*You're* not going to give me the elitism speech, are you? I'd *assumed* that you were far more entertaining than that."

Lex coughs. "I'm sorry, one of my employees just walked in with a message which would've been better left --"

"Don't you have Ms. Terrell and Ms. Graves for that sort of person?"

"Oh, yes, and Mercy will be getting a call. Hope, of course, is with Tim for now."

"Do you really think he needs a *bodyguard*?"

Do you really care? "Safety first, Janet. You know how much publicity LexCorp has gotten about that sort of thing."

Another breath of a laugh -- 

And Lex honestly isn't sure if it's real or not. The fact that Tim emulates it for his own real laughs is evidence for. The fact that it's *Janet*... is evidence against. And he doesn't want to stay on the phone with her long enough to be sure. "About Tim..."

"Yes, that," she says, and sighs. "I'll be honest, Lex. If he's actually happy, then that means you've got him in some lab somewhere. Yes?"

So you *do* know him. "I'm training him in how to wrangle scientists, Janet. He doesn't *know* that, yet..."

Another sigh. "He *will* figure it out. Hm. That *is* one way to get him focused on the things he needs to be focused on. Are your scientists very independent-minded? In need *of* focus?"

"Oh, they're all *quite* mad, Janet." But focus, you beautiful lizard of a woman --

Lizard --

Oh, for the love of -- Janet is his *father's* type. Or possibly just the body in which his father reincarnated himself, kicking out whatever actual soul had been there before --

"Your scientists are insane."

"Oh, to a man -- and woman. So far, Tim has done very well and translating their various squawks and mumbles to English."

"You *sound* like you want to *hire* him," she says, and there's something waking up in her, something like the *actual* woman she is --

And Lex already knows that will be terrible, so -- he laughs. "Perhaps just borrow him from time to time. He could make for quite an effective liaison between our companies."

"A sixteen-year-old with no ability to keep his mind on *actual* business."

Have you ever considered that he might just want to talk to you as his mother? No? Well, here's a newsflash, you glorious bitch -- he's mine now. And he will always, always --


No. Just, no. "I assure you, Janet -- *most* of the questions he's asked have been about my... business model." Good enough --

"Really. I -- hm. I believe I actually meant for that to be a question."

Yes, he would definitely have a difficult time not thinking of Tim were he to ever fuck Janet. And that would be horrifying on far too many levels. Lex tries on a laugh. "Perhaps he needed a man's view of things...?"

Janet snorts -- a sound Lex is reasonably sure is heard more rarely than the screeching of vampire bats is heard in, say, *Greenland* --

He can't help giving himself the victory, nor can he help being pleased by it. Call it the power of Drake and move on. "In all seriousness, I wasn't unaware of your difficulties in keeping the boy focused on the things he should be focused on."


"There really aren't that many female CEOs with teenaged children who *aren't* tabloid fodder. And yes, I'm aware that male CEOs with teenaged children are just as bad at it."

"No one could ever question *your* commitment to feminism, Lex, but I'm... flattered that you'd take an interest."

Of course you're not. "The pleasure is mine. It seems to me -- after only the barest degree of acquaintance --" Undoubtedly more than you'll ever have -- "that he merely needs proof that he can retain his interest in the... less practical sciences while continuing to be the businessman he was born to be."

The silence lasts for nearly ten seconds -- long enough for Lex to *feel* Janet calculating. Perhaps calculating Tim's *bride* price --

Lex knows he'll pay it. "Janet? Did our connection drop?"

Janet coughs. "Yes, I was just wondering aloud about what you considered his liaising duties to be."

And *now* you're suspicious. Hm. "It would be a mostly ceremonial position, at first, but as his acumen and maturity grows, he could chair joint meetings of our respective R&D departments and things of that sort. For rewards, he could propose projects for our companies to collaborate on and throw on a lab coat and some safety goggles every now and again to pretend he belongs in the trenches, too."


"It would all, of course, depend on you, Janet. What *are* your plans for the boy?"

She hums -- but not with pleasure, this time. "Inchoate."

"Janet. Do you really expect me to believe that?"

She *sighs* -- and it actually seems real. "I'm terrified of what the boy will pick up when it's time to send him to college, Lex. Honestly, openly terrified."

Interesting. "He does seem to have a rather liberal bent. Is that the problem?"

A *humorless* breath of a laugh. "It might seem minor to *you*, but you didn't see the boy after Lucius Fox got his hooks into him at the Wayne Foundation Gala last spring."

"Ah, yes. We all thought he had an excellent sense of humor when he started referring to himself as 'the Moral Minority,' but he does seem to have rather taken that to heart."

"*You* don't have to try to do business in a town where Fox's word is practically law. By rights I should be trying to get the boy to be 'good company' to him. Or Brucie, I suppose -- no, that would be worse than useless."

"He seems to have done a fair job with that Grayson boy...?"

"You mean the one who only sets foot at WE corporate to run around acting like the overgrown circus boy he is?" Janet laughs derisively. "If there's going to be a Wayne taking over when Brucie finally breaks his neck after one of his drunken pratfalls, he'd really better work *quickly* to find a replacement boy."

"I *have* been wondering about that..." Not that I think you'll be able to tell me anything in particular, but...

"Oh, the rumors were what you'd expect when Brucie first took the Grayson boy in -- and for years afterward, too, as the boy was always just a little *too* affectionate to be believed -- but no one with a mind in this town actually believes them. Brucie is now, has always been, and will always *be* a pussy hound. When he's sober enough to use what good genes have given him."

And those genes had given him very, very much.

The heat of him had been... phenomenal.

The sound of Lex's name in that *voice* -- Lex forces a quiet laugh. "I'll take what you've said under *most* serious advisement, of course. Still -- I can't see you having all that much to worry about when it's time to send Tim off to... where have you decided he'll be going...?"

"Princeton. Cornell and Yale are more politically attractive, but I *will* keep the boy close."

Lex hums for that. "The illusion of freedom can, for certain young men, prove to be delicious enough that they *don't* try for the real thing."

"You think I shouldn't keep him close? When everything *around* him will be clamoring at him to ignore his birthright?"

Birthright. You -- sound like my father on a *particularly* pompous day, and the fact that I'm still attracted to you is proof that I need to hang myself with one of your son's ludicrously conservative neckties -- no, not that. "Let him move beyond Ivy. Let him study the sciences to his heart's content --"


"You've been giving him a Master's level education in business since he could comprehend English, Janet. If he *believes* he's free, he won't feel the need to rebel -- even as much as a quiet young man like himself would ever consider."

"Hm. I have to admit that you're making a great deal of sense... and that this is why you are who you are," she says, and Lex can hear the smile in her voice. "*When* are you coming to Gotham again, hm...?"

Every time I can take. Your. Boy. "I'm sure there'll be *some* events this fall where I can make a splash or two, Janet... especially if I know I'll have good company."

She snorts again. "Me or my son, Lexie...?"

Both of you, in a Jacuzzi, but only if I can shoot myself full of heroin first -- no. First, I'll drug Tim. He's earned it. "Janet. Darling. Only women I'm planning to fuck call me that."

She laughs -- well, it's almost a roar. Very impressive, really. "*Noted*. I'll put some thought into this 'corporate liaison' thing and get back to you within the week. Does that suit?"

"Oh, wonderfully," Lex says, and studies his manicure. If he gouges her eyes out while he's fucking her -- no. "Consider me available to you at your leisure, Janet. I know you won't abuse --"

"The privilege...? Hn. Of course not, Lex. The same privilege extends to you, of course. Until later?"

"Indeed. Have a wonderful evening."

"And to you." Janet hangs up without another word.

Lex doesn't crush the blacktooth beneath his heel.

He does, however, shower at length.

He doesn't do it twice.

He considers making an appearance in his official office --

And that's when the phone rings. Specifically, the orchid phone, which is on one of the most secure lines in the world.


Lex sits down, picks up -- "Report."

"Contact made with secondary target alpha."

Harper. Well, then. "This line was clear as of this morning. Tell me everything you can."

"I'm using a burner, Lex, and I'll be discarding it immediately after this call."

"Good. And?"

"Harper drinks too much, smokes moderate amounts of marijuana, and fucks like a demon."

Lex raises an eyebrow. "According to...?"

"Me," Mercy says, and Lex can hear her smile. "He's a switch, though he prefers dominating women who -- and I quote -- can't throw him around. So I threw him around."

"Foreplay is so important to a healthy sexual relationship," Lex says, and settles himself comfortably. "More."

"He made it difficult. He's had at least some martial arts training, but he's good at pretending that he hasn't."

"Suspiciously good?"

Mercy hums. "He's good enough at throwing off suspicion to make himself suspicious."

Lex laughs. "And that comes out how...?"

"He likes to come across as the basically liberal layabout with the occasional gig as a drummer for a band with no ambition to speak of, but... he shoots. Recreationally, at least. He drinks too much but *doesn't* get especially drunk. His eyes are... hn. They see a lot."

"Interesting. Who fucked him over?"

"I could see some Daddy issues in how he went about screwing me, but there's no telling how deep they go, Lex. He considers me to be an excellent casual hook-up and no more than that."

"You're sure?"

"He was always somewhere else when we were together. *Most* people wouldn't catch that... but I did."

Lex considers that for a long moment, crossing his legs and tilting his chair back enough that Metropolis' sunny glare would hide his eyes from everyone -- were he not alone in this office.

Daddy issues are entirely reasonably with a guardian like Oliver Queen. BDSM is more common by the day...

"Where was he?"

Mercy hums again. "I'm ninety percent sure that he was with the primary target. I decided to use the lonely heart routine with him -- Daddy letting his little girl have a little too much free time -- and immediately got a winner. Of sorts. He didn't open up completely, but he let me see that sympathy became empathy in a few places."

"Grayson is his *Daddy*?"

"I can't be sure, Lex. He hasn't used any names, yet. Or... he said a man named 'Cal' had a hand in -- and I quote again -- 'turning him out' but I couldn't be sure if he was using a *real* name."

"I suppose it's better than 'John.' Did you get anything out of him about that time he spent off the grid six years ago or so?"

"Heroin," Mercy says, with some degree of *bemused* pleasure. "He was open about *that*, and even pointed out a few of his old scars. I found myself speechless, which made it useful that he was clearly used to that sort of thing."

Lex considers *that*... "He decided to seduce you within moments of you approaching him."

"I was wearing the *new* leather, Lex."

Not *quite* skin-tight, enough room for her to move and move well, a thickness not unlike old-fashioned armor... yes, all right. "Tell me how you knew he was with Grayson."

"We spoke about how my 'Daddy' was my friend first, and how we'd agreed that we wouldn't be even slightly monogamous."

That... is enough to make Lex *want* to blush. They both remember the days when Lex wouldn't *let* Mercy fuck anyone else, even if it would've made certain assignments easier.

Even without anything resembling romantic love, it had been terrible to see his father bouncing Mercy on his lap --

And some wounds linger... but not -- thankfully -- anymore. Trusting Mercy enough to open his pants was the last mistake his father had ever made. "He seized the bait."

"He wasn't drunk enough to spill everything by any means, but he was..." Mercy hums again, and this time the pause is *perfect* for Lex to --

Yes. "Masturbate."

Mercy sucks in a breath -- through her teeth by the sound -- "Yes, Lex."

"Fast and brutally. Use your calluses on your clit and shove something up your cunt."

"Hnh -- my. The barrel of my --"

"Don't be flip and don't be ridiculous. You *have* something handy."

"Yes. Yes, Lex," Mercy says, and there's the sound of -- something moving against fabric.

She'd had time to change out of the leather, which -- "Have you showered?"

"No, Lex."

"Smell yourself."

"I'm -- I smell like leather and come."

"You let him come on you?"

"He was -- a good boy. Unh. I -- it's the violet toy."

Large, nubbed... "Deep. Shove it deep and *hold* it there."

"*Fuck* -- yes, Lex -- "

"Good. Now tell me more."

"He was *supportive*, Lex. He wanted to tell me -- oh, about how it wasn't the end of the world that I wanted you more than you wanted me..."

"You managed not to laugh."

"*Barely*. Especially because he'd obviously -- he'd tried to tell himself the same thing. I asked him how he knew all of this --"

"*Spank* your clit."

"*Hnh* -- *ahn* -- yes, *yes*, Lex, please don't make me stop --"

Lex hums and cups himself through his pants. "I'll consider it. How did he know?"

"He -- mm. He told me that his closest friend in the world -- his brother -- was a slut. He used. Hnh. Oh - so hot --"

"Always, Mercy."

"*Lex* --"


"*He* used that word," Mercy says, and the shifts of sound, the background --

Yes, Lex can see her now in what will undoubtedly turn out to be a room in some cheap residential hotel decorated to look like she'd been there for a while. Her legs would be spread, her auburn hair pressed to her temples --

Or just one. Just --

Lex gives himself a squeeze. "When you get home, I'm going to fuck you in front of... who should it be? Hope and her dead eyes and confusion? Or Tim --"

"*No* -- I. Sorry. I'm sorry, Lex."

Lex blinks and rubs himself through his pants enough that he can feel his cock wondering *how* hard it should be getting. "Explain that reaction."

"He's yours. You want him. You -- I would mess that up," she says, reverting to the syntax of the all-but-homeless near *savage* he'd met all those years ago. And that --

Is exceedingly interesting. "You've noticed me lusting for him."

"Obvious -- it. It's not just fucking *lust*, Lex!"

Shouting at him -- "Pinch your lips and *pull*."

"Oh -- fuck, *yes* -- but I'm right --"

"Tell me more about --"

"Hope -- Hope said you liked him like you like us."

Harper. But -- Lex licks his lips and -- stalls. "Did she."

"He wants you bad, Lex. He wants you -- Hope says he'll do anything for you. Almost anything. Hope says you could *make* it anything."

That -- "When did you speak to Hope?"

"Every night. She's... confused. She's never seen you when you're about to take someone else on. Don't -- she doesn't need punishment."

Lex flares his nostrils -- it's absolutely wrong and almost laughable that he *can't* smell Mercy right now. She's... being protective.

She's refusing even the *tease* of being a show for Tim because she's being protective of *Lex*. Which is *absolutely* her job, but --


"The discussion is tabled, Mercy. You have forty-five seconds to get yourself off solely by fucking yourself."

She moans, low and long, and, because she's as well-trained as any slave could be, she lowers the phone to her crotch so Lex can hear exactly how hard she's fucking herself, what rhythm --

Ah, that one. The most effective one for when the position is missionary, which suggests that she has her doubts about her ability to get off if she were to be more... showy.

It's tempting to use soothing words, to comfort her as he would some other woman entirely, but they hadn't been together for two weeks before she'd trained him out of that sort of thing. Still...

Well, for her to lose her composure like that... it was bound to make Lex remember the old days. Right?

And that *shouldn't* bring Bruce to mind, but --

("I would like... do you think you could teach me everything about this, Lex? It seems... excessively complicated.")

That's because all the best things are -- darling.

For a very brief time Bruce could've been Lex's darling in truth, Lex's... lover, not boyfriend, not friend with benefits, and *not* man. Bruce hadn't been a man, then. He'd been a huge, beautiful boy with too many questions Lex could answer, and too much gratitude *for* those answers --

Mercy screams like a hunting hawk and -- yes, *that* rhythm. The one Lex had given her the *very* first time, when he was only trying to hang on for dear life as the *fascinatingly* powerful woman beneath him bucked and shouted and *clutched* -- and there are always compromises which can be made between the part of him which will always only want to *cherish* perfection like what Mercy manages and the part of him which will *always* only be the man she wants him to be:

"*Always*, Mercy."

"*Lex* --"

"You were at 'he used the word slut.'"

"Yes. Yes. He -- he meant it in some ways and in others he didn't. It was -- " Mercy pants twice and then takes a deep, even breath. "It was clear that there was at least one person he didn't approve of the primary target screwing. He said, 'some things are just fucking *wrong*,' and looked like he couldn't decide whether to be jealous or sick."

"And you?"

"His eyes were bloodshot and his movements had that *deliberation* which tends to mean that the target is drunk off his ass. However, when I tried to get him to drink more, he cut himself off and asked me how much alcohol I would need before I went home with him. I smiled and we began negotiating, and he didn't say anything else about the primary target for the rest of the morning."

"That was -- of course that was this morning," Lex says, and lets himself laugh. "I suppose I might have had habits like those when I was his age if all other things had been some variety of equal --"

"No," Mercy says. "You never would have."

Lex raises an eyebrow. "You want to reopen the tabled discussion."

"You -- shouldn't lie to yourself. At the very least, Lex, you should be doing everything you can to make sure you *can* keep the little shit."

It's tempting to say something along the lines of 'you're assuming much, Mercy,' but there are reasons why she's the most highly-paid bodyguard in the country: She has never, ever been solely a bodyguard, and Lex will not be... foolish about things. Still. "You haven't had much time to observe. Nor has Hope, truly."

"You have *one* look when you want someone, Lex. I've had a long, long time to know how to watch for it. And... you have one look when you need someone," she says, quiet and soft, *cautious* --

"Stop that."

"Yes, Lex. I have a date with the secondary target for approximately nineteen hours from now. Do you have instructions?"

The beauty of Mercy is that all of her is now focused on being firm, clear, and inclined toward thinking of her *assignment*.

The trouble with lesser mortals -- like Lex himself -- is that such acts of internal redirection are all but impossible.


He's *fifteen* --

And Lex can give him so much more than his so-called family ever could. He could *become* Tim's family, be his --

Well, not his father.

Possibly his Daddy -- if both of them are drunk enough, anyway -- and --

He's still fifteen.

That won't *last*, but -- neither will this summer. This *moment* he can *taste* --

Fifteen. But --

"Your assignment remains the same, Mercy. But while you're with Harper tomorrow, consider letting him see the little girl in you. Not *necessarily* the one with the switchblade, but I trust you to use your discretion. He's already quite open -- he may just become more so if he were to come to believe more deeply in your vulnerability."

"Yes, Lex."

"And -- for the record -- I've spoken to the boy's mother about making him more a part of my life. *Our* lives." 

A sharp intake of breath. "Yes, Lex. Thank you, Lex."

For listening to his cock and his disturbingly *active* heart? "You're welcome. Report as soon as it's safe after Harper leaves. And..." Lex narrows his eyes in thought... yes. "See if he'll take you shooting. That sounds... interesting."

"Yes, Lex."


Mercy hangs up and Lex does the same, allowing his inner caveman a moment to wonder if Mercy had sounded like a hawk for Roy Harper. The answer, of course, is that she *had*, because they'd learned -- together -- that some people were all too good at recognizing faked orgasms.

Mercy had, therefore, forced herself to an *honest* peak or two.

*Therefore* -- the caveman's question becomes one about how much she'd *had* to force.

Lex smiles at himself and knows that nearly everyone in his life would find it horrible. Shark-like. Cold-eyed. Awful.

Mercy hums for this smile.

Hope relaxes.

And Tim spreads his legs.

Perhaps he'll do it tonight.

And perhaps Lex will think of Mercy's shameless, amoral impatience and Hope's sense of *imperative* instead of his own sense that *he* shouldn't be --

The first?

Is *that* what's holding him up -- no. He's not being held up. He's holding himself *back* because there's such a thing as *abuse*. The fact that Tim's parents didn't *give* him a childhood is no reason to steal the last few fragments of one Tim has held on to.

He --

If he has no principles on which to stand, he becomes his father. Doesn't he?

And -- hadn't there always been a part of him which wondered quietly how his life would've looked if he'd never found Mercy? Or, worse, if his father had found her first and had *any* idea what to do with her?

Would she have enjoyed him more? His ruthlessness, his brilliance, his callous disregard of anything resembling sentiment save when it was expedient?

Is that who she expects him -- no, that's a useless question. He *won't* ever be that, and there is no weaseling or doubt within that statement. Additionally, Mercy may belong to him, but he has trained her to *always* express her needs --


Does that mean *she* needs him to bring Tim further into the fold? To *make* him one of them -- hm.

She'd implied that *Hope* needed it, but Mercy has always considered herself something like the kindly sergeant to Hope's private -- a protective teacher and leader with both of them reporting to Lex as general. Every now and again, there's something almost sisterly about the way they relate to each other, but Lex is fully aware that his perspective for such things is skewed, at best. Still -- if Hope needs something, Mercy needs her to have it. And if Hope and Mercy need something, then Lex would be remiss as a *man* if *he* didn't need them to have it --

And that may very well be the weakest excuse he's come up with for spending time and energy thinking about bending Tim over things and --

Once, he'd lingered in Tim's bedroom after Tim had given him the teasing smile he offers *only* when he's about to go masturbate.

He'd lingered long enough for Tim to close the bathroom door behind him --

To hear the shower *not* come on --

And to hear Tim moan, high and sweet, so --

Lex stares at the hand he's clenched into a fist. He doesn't know if *Tim* had known Lex was still there.

He could ask.

Perhaps --

Perhaps he'll just do that.


Never in his life had Tim ever imagined a learning environment like this one. Cadmus has biology-focused labs, chemistry-focused labs, *robotics*-focused labs --

Cadmus doesn't have everything, but it's rapidly becoming *extremely* hard to remember that. Lex has been building expansions to Cadmus for the past *generation*, and while it hadn't shown during the tour in anything as vulgar as architectural discrepancies, it shows *now*.

Every day, Westlake brings Tim to one lab or another to all but *program* him in the interdisciplinary *art* he's turned human -- and otherwise -- cloning into. While it's clear that the man would rather be doing any number of other things, he's been entirely conscientious about Tim's education. It may be rapid and somewhat rude, but it's thorough -- and every question is answered.

This, of course, means that it's incredibly tempting to make the man deviate from his rigidly-defined coursework -- it is Westlake's intention that Tim have at *least* a rudimentary understanding of what they're doing with 'the Progenitor's' DNA before the clones are decanted -- but Tim restrains himself as much as possible. *He* wants that understanding, as well, if for no other reason than the fact that he's actually quite troubled by the steady failure of the original forty-three blastocytes.

There are only twenty-eight of them left -- proper embryos, now -- and, as of this morning, five of them were mutating like vaguely tadpole-esque *cancers*.

It's -- well, it *is* troubling, and Tim feels helpless. Useless. Even knowing that these embryos were all destined to fail by the end of the week isn't enough to keep him from being upset.

It doesn't help that his colleagues and occasional professors are completely sanguine about the whole thing -- it's clear that the amnion isn't causing the problem, and that was all they'd cared about.

Soon, the other one hundred and ninety-two blastocytes will be implanted and --

Well, of course it's ridiculous to be attached to the ones which were *doomed* --

Certainly it's ridiculous to use the word 'doomed.'

Tim sighs to himself and continues reading over his notes for the ninety-minute lecture Westlake had given just after lunch. He's already been over them twice, and he believes his list of questions is intelligent enough, but it hadn't taken two days before he realized that what he thought was burgeoning understanding of the concepts behind cloning was really just a more *focused* kind of ignorance.

He still has no real idea *why* the original blastocytes were damaged, or what makes them different, or even what makes Westlake and the others think they'll succeed at all this time.

He doesn't know what's *in* the amnion and why. He doesn't know how they convince the cells to feed. He doesn't know --

And he won't know any of that *today.* He'll know soon, though, and then --

Well, he's looking forward to the conversations with Lex. Just -- not even the ones which include moments of Lex pushing him, moving him, touching him, kissing him --

*Growling* while kissing him --

Gripping Tim hard enough to leave small *bruises* while kissing him --

All right, he's always looking forward to those, especially since Lex has given him no reason whatsoever *not* to believe that -- one day -- there'll be more than just kisses --

But there are other conversations possible. There --

All right, now he's sitting here imagining a long, lazy afterglow in Lex's bed -- yes, even his sheets are purple -- in which they discuss life, kink, and teratogenic mutations.

It's possible that he's smiling while doing it.

It becomes probable when Westlake walks in with Blakely in tow and they curl their upper lips at him nearly simultaneously --

Visibly remember that he's not just *any* teenager nearly simultaneously --

And fix their expressions to studious blankness so close to simultaneously that Tim can't actually tell which of them did it first.

Q-and-A time.

Tim spends the next two hours learning, once again, how much less he'd known about genetics than he'd thought.

He spends the hour after that building on his small but growing knowledge base.

He spends the hour after *that* in the crèche facility, checking the settings on the tubes and discovering -- with horror -- that one of them was a full ten degrees too cold. While it wouldn't have been used for at least ten days -- given the schedule and the placement of the tube in question -- it was still --

Well, it's impossible to be *sure* of the internal temperatures *without* checking the programming as obsessively as possible -- and if *he* had designed the tubes there would've been a damned *display* -- and the idea of one of the clones winding up in it --

A viable embryo dying of something as simple as hypothermia --

Tim shudders, reprograms the tube, makes a note about possibly *adding* displays to the tubes to hector Westlake with in the morning --

And then he finishes checking all the tubes. By the time that's done, he's reasonably hungry and Hope is giving him the blank look which tends to mean that she's impatient for him to leave.

This is different from all of her other blank looks. This --

Hope hasn't actually spoken directly to him, and, given his experiences with Mercy, Tim *had* been going with the idea that that was a good thing... but.


*Hope* lets him walk behind her, and that has to be a good sign of *some* sort, right? And --

Lex has *conversations* with Hope and Mercy. He enjoys their company and --

And he has to admit that he'd like to know (have) more about Lex. That -- there's just no way *around* that thought.

"Ah... Hope?"

"Yes, Tim."

Hope's voice is smooth and deep for a woman's. The sort of voice which tends to imply that the person using it can sing and sing well -- and it's just as incongruous as it should be. "Do you think I spend too much time here?"

"Yes," she says, and presses the button which will open the doors to the pre-exit scan room, in which they'll be studied for contaminants -- and proprietary substances -- before they can leave.

And -- he knew that. But where to go with it? "Ah -- where do you think I should be spending my time?"

Hope steps into the chamber and stands with her arms raised and legs spread.

Tim emulates her. It doesn't seem to make the scanning go any faster, but he's absolutely terrified of what will happen the day he doesn't do it.

Even if all that happens is that Hope admits that she was fucking with him.

Perhaps especially then --

"You should be spending more time with Lex."

"I -- I don't want to bother him --"

"Lex will always tell you if you're bothering him," Hope says, as emotionless and *rote* as a textbook.

"True, but -- I don't technically work for him. He has to maintain... ah... politesse."

Hope cocks her head to the side without turning around.

Tim waits.

The tell-tales flash green and allow them into the garage. Hope doesn't pause, even though her head is still cocked to the side, which --

"Has Lex told you to... exaggerate your normal movements and gestures?"

"Yes, for him. It seems reasonable to believe that I am to do the same for you."

"I -- ah. I appreciate it," Tim says --

"You're welcome," and Hope unlocks the Lexedes -- this one is lepidolite -- opens the back passenger side door, waits for him to get in -- hm.

"You don't want me on the driver's side today?"

"You seem to want conversation. The passenger side is more suited to that."

... of course. Tim gets in, straps on his seatbelt, and waits.

Hope doesn't say a word until after she starts the car, and then she looks up into the rearview. "Is this sufficient."

"Ah -- yes. In fact..." Think, think, what would make her -- "Ah, you don't have to look into the rearview any more often than you normally would."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome," Tim says, and wonders -- well, all right, he knows why he's beginning to be covered in cold sweat -- she's *Hope* -- but... still. It's nice to be able to be useful, even in small ways. "Have you given more thought to the... dilemma?"

"Yes. I now understand that Lex would not be able to relate to you in the same ways he relates to Mercy and me. This is... vexing."

Vexing. That. "I wouldn't want you to be vexed --"

"It happens from time to time. And then I -- or Mercy, or Lex -- deal with the matter."

"Of course. I... I think it might be easier for Lex, in some ways, that I spend so much time away from him."

"You both smell like lust when you're together. Ergo, you should be having sex. Perhaps if you were having sex, Lex would be more... satisfied. He does not like to wait for sex."

Well. Well. "It -- he *told* me that he wanted to wait --"

"Lex sometimes lies for effect."

"Of course, you're right. It's only... well, it's illegal for him to have sex with me. And -- some would say -- immoral."

Hope drums her fingertips on the steering wheel. Once. "Lex enjoys being moral at times," she says, and there seems to be a question buried under there *somewhere*, but Tim honestly isn't sure where.

"Ah... most people do, Hope."

"No. Most people enjoy being *seen* to be moral while doing the things which feel best for them to do."

That -- hm. "Did Lex tell you that?"

"He put into words an observation I had been making since I was eight years old."

Tim blinks. "Did something happen when you were eight? I mean... did something terrible happen?"

Hope cocks her head to the side. "By whose definition."

Your own? No. "By -- ah. By Lex's definition."

"Then yes. My older brother got me drunk, then buried me alive with a reed to breathe through --"

"*Fuck* -- you. What --"

"I was buried for approximately two days before my parents forced my brother to confess. Many things became clear after that experience."

Tim swallows and *tries* to think -- "While I'm glad that Lex has someone like you to protect him, I would wish that that hadn't happened to you."

"Your voice is... rough. Trembling. You're feeling sympathy for me."

"Yes. Yes, Hope."

Hope nods once. "Thank you, but it's not necessary. Lex felt better after I told him how I finally removed my brother from my life. Would you like to know."

Tim feels his eyes trying to leave his *head* -- "Ah. Perhaps another time. It does make me feel better to know that... um. That there was an end to torment," and Tim wonders what it says about him that that was absolutely true --

"Is that morality that you enjoy."

*What* -- oh. Tim licks his lips and breathes, focuses -- "I -- I believe that the emotions are too visceral to be moral or immoral."

Another nod. "I am functionally devoid much of the time. Nothing in particular is ever... visceral."

I'm sorry? I'm not shocked? Please don't -- be yourself? None of the above, really, because -- "I see. That does explain things. Thank you for telling me."

"You're welcome. Lex believes that only people like me can ever truly be moral or immoral. That the rest of humanity is too mired in emotional dross to lift themselves above enough to make choices based solely on what is 'right' and 'wrong.'"

Tim blinks. "I... I believe I'm going to have to think about that for some time before I can respond intelligently."

"I have been considering the matter since Lex first said those words to me."

"Which was when?"

"Twelve years ago, just after he hired me."

And that... "If nearly nothing is... ah... visceral for you, then what makes you loyal to Lex?"

"He understands me, and has made a world for me in which very little, ultimately, is senseless. He answers all questions and allows me to be useful. He educates and directs me. With Lex, there is no need for... confusion. Confusion is vexing, and most humans seem to do everything in their power to increase it despite feeling the same. Lex does not."

It would be tempting to think of that statement as being *religious*... but it wasn't. It simply *was*. It --

It's entirely logical.

Tim rubs his sweating palms on his jeans. "Thank you for explaining that to me."

"You're welcome. Would you like further detail."

Can he take it? "Yes, please. Specifically... what did you do *before* Lex hired you?"

"I worked as a security guard for people who rarely needed as much protection they enjoyed believing they did, and attempted to become a police officer or soldier."

"You..." No, think first. "You wanted to lead a useful existence while also being armed?"

"Yes," Hope says, and glances into the rearview mirror --

Tim doesn't flinch --

"When you consider the matter, it's entirely reasonable to wish to go armed amongst humanity. Especially humanity packed into cities."

"You prefer the countryside?"

"I grew up in that sort of environment," Hope says, and turns her attention back to the road. "There is... a sort of comfort. My theory is that the comfort comes from the relative quiet and solitude."

Of the *grave*? "And yet... you don't wish to be entirely alone, do you?"

"No. I enjoy having people to watch. In small groups."

It's Mercy who usually acts as Lex's bodyguard at the larger galas, though Hope is rarely far... hm. "I -- to go back to something I said before... who did you want to be useful *to*? Or... for, I suppose?"

"Someone... else. It was -- and is -- an emotional need. Lex fulfills it. Others have not."

"It's... I've thought about being useful to Lex."

"You can be. This makes you both rare and valuable."

"Ah... to you?"

"Yes," Hope says, and cocks her head to the side again. "Have you thought about how you will convince Lex to have sex with you."

Well... well. It's not like the conversation hadn't *started* there --

"That was a problematic question for you. I apologize. It wouldn't be a problematic question for Lex, most of the time."

"No, I -- it's all right. I would like us to be --" Friends? *Really*? "I would like for us to... get along well."

"I believe we are currently doing so."

"Yes. Yes, I think so, too. And I... well, I've been attempting to seduce him. I'm not especially practiced at that sort of thing. Or... at all practiced, really."

"Lex enjoys leather, silk, and linen. He enjoys being submitted to. He enjoys being engaged intellectually while also being submitted to. He enjoys vigorous physical activity prior to vigorous or gentle sexual activity. He enjoys a lack of self-consciousness. He enjoys... pride. There are other things."

"I... I can do *some* of those things."

"I will help you do all of them, as will Mercy --"

"Ah! That's all right. I. I need to move slowly. With things like that."


"Because... um. Because I'm somewhat shy. And I'm a virgin. I know that I'm attractive -- I can't be *around* Lex without knowing that I'm attractive -- but I'm rather... ah. Well. It can be difficult to be... seductive."

Hope nods once. "When Lex has me do it, it seems that I am lying to him. That is... unacceptable."

"Yes! Yes, that's -- " Tim licks his lips and takes a breath. "It -- it seems as though seductiveness requires a certain personality type that I singularly *lack*. If that makes sense."

"Yes, it does, Tim. Mercy has shown me how to perform, but, ultimately, I could not make myself fit within that particular... paradigm."

Tim winces. "I'm sorry. That must have been very disappointing."

"Yes. I know that Lex desires me physically, and it's... troubling that I can't feel the same. I believe this failure on my part is... feeding my desire for you to have sex with him."

"Well... that does make sense. I promise that I will keep trying. I mean -- ah. I would, anyway. He's. He's extremely -- um. I care about him."

"He cares about you. Mercy explained to me that that was what the tension in his back meant when you were near."

"It's -- ah. Well, it would be a fling. By necessity, I mean."

"A fling. A short-term romantic and sexual relationship."

"... yes. I mean -- we still hardly know each other. I know I'm not -- it wouldn't be any sort of grand romance."

"You care about someone else romantically."

Ives. Dick. Bruce. Oh, yes, his romantic trinity of secrets, lies, obsession, and -- of course -- ludicrous fantasy. "I care about other people in ways that would, ultimately, do me no good whatsoever."

"I've been assured that love is supposed to be at least mostly illogical. When it's successful, that is."

"Well -- I'm not sure about that. I mean -- my feelings for Lex are based on logical sorts of things, just as yours are."

"Are you hoping for illogical feelings for Lex," and when Hope turns toward the rearview, it's far more of a *look* than a glance."

"Ah. Am I? I mean -- I'm not sure. I hope not. I have too much illogic in my life as it is."

"I know the... feeling," Hope says and turns back to the road.

And, at that point, Tim realizes that they're bonding. That he *is* in the process of making friends with one of Lex Luthor's psychotic killers. That --

Well, she's not psychotic. Really, it would probably surprise everyone in her life if Hope were to have a psychotic break. It's just that that doesn't make her in any way *safe*, or --

Reasonable? Maybe? No, not that. She's *very* reasonable. Reasonable to a *fault*, and there's a part of Tim which can't help...

Well, there's something special -- on many, many levels -- about being approved of by someone constitutionally incapable of approving of much of anything. Well. She can approve, but she can't really -- hm.

"Hope... do you think I could be..." Phrase it properly. Think, and -- "Do you think I could improve Lex's life by having sex with him? In the long term, I mean."

"Yes. Mercy has assured me that no one ever stops wanting to have sex with Lex once they've begun. Additionally, the two of you enjoy each other's company without awkwardness for hours at a time. Additionally, you are invested in improving yourself intellectually and physically, which Lex enjoys. Overall, there is a low likelihood that you will leave him before he is moved to replace you with someone else."

Tim winces. "Ah. Ow?"

"I am sorry. That was... hurtful," Hope says, and cocks her head --

"Yes, I -- well. I'm not looking forward to Lex... replacing me."

Hope *smiles* in the rearview mirror, and it's precisely like being forcibly reminded of her skull. Or possibly like being reminded that she can expose his *own* skull with ridiculous ease, should the mood strike her.


"Your emotional reaction is proof that you care for Lex far more than you were earlier willing to admit. Mercy taught me this game. I enjoy it."

Well. "You're very good at it."

"Thank you. It's better not to fight against Lex's will. It's better than that to only fight Lex's will until such time as he no longer enjoys being fought."

Last night, I dreamed that Lex snapped an aubergine cat collar around my throat. It had a little tinkly bell, and I came in my sleep. Again. And -- he doesn't actually have to say that out loud. There are other things he can say. For example, "it's really not... optimal to hurt someone on purpose. I mean, I know I'm quite emotional, but I feel confident in saying that it's immoral."

"And if the person deserves it."

"I -- I'm not comfortable making that kind of judgment --"

"Mercy says you like vigilantes."

Well -- touché. "Ah -- heh. All right, yes. There are some people I trust to make that judgment."

"Even though you've never had a conversation with any of them."

Dick told me he would do his special trick just for me -- "People lie with their words far more often than they do with their actions. And -- I did nothing to deserve being hurt."

"If you consider it from my perspective, Tim, you were being deceitful."

Tim opens his mouth -- closes it. Opens it again -- "I didn't intend to be deceitful."

"Lex says that people who are lying to themselves usually need to be shocked or in some other way forced out of the deceit."

Well -- "I'd appreciate it if you would treat me as an exception to the rule, Hope. I might have argued with you about the depth of my feelings for Lex, but you would have eventually brought me to the right conclusion."

Hope frowns -- mildly but *still* somehow powerfully -- in the rearview mirror. Paradoxically, it's rather soothing. Perhaps because it makes her look like an innocent teenager. Of course, she *isn't*, and --

"Let me guess -- you don't approve of the inefficiency."

"Do you."

Tim considers offering his own exaggerated frown -- no. Hope can read him well enough, which means that she already knows his answer. Tim sighs. "No, I don't. Still... I'm not entirely averse to traditional human social games. And. Things that aren't games. Ah -- this isn't a game. Is what I'm trying to say."

Hope cocks her head to the side and pulls into the LexCorp building garage.

Tim waits, and, eventually, Hope pulls into the space where the Lexedes is meant to go --

"Stay there," she says, slipping out of the car and -- getting in back with him.

"I -- hello?"

"Lex has assured me that this sort of conversation is better with proximity and the ability to look each other in the eye."

"He... well, he has a point. I -- here," and Tim turns to put his back against the car door.

"All right," Hope says, and puts her back against the other car door. She looks at him seriously, and --

It's not blank. There are questions in her incredibly dark eyes, thoughts and drives which belie the fact that a part of Tim only wants to call her a monster and run the other direction. There's a lesson there, and Tim thinks --

Tim knows that he won't ever let himself be immune to learning it. He smiles at her. "This, by the way, is the expression I use when I'm feeling rueful, cautious, hopeful, and humbled. I'd like to be your friend."

"Friends... don't hurt each other emotionally."

"They generally try not to do so physically, either-- er. Well, except for spars."

"I would never do anything which could make Mercy unfit to serve Lex. I... did I make you unfit to serve Lex?"

Tim *wants* to shake his head, but -- but. "In some ways, yes. I'm going to be thinking about him replacing me tonight. Maybe... maybe for many nights. It's a thought which troubles me, and it will thus probably make me act differently around him."

Hope clutches her own knees hard. "No."

"Hope --"

"No. That. That is unacceptable --"

"It's all right! I don't want to -- ah. Burn your motherboard? I think I was probably *due* to feel... inadequate around Lex. I mean, he's very good at building confidence --"

"Listen to him, Tim. You." Hope shakes her head once *slowly*. "Lex will never lie to you. Lex will never exaggerate your attractive qualities solely to build up your self-esteem. Esteem is respect. Respect must be earned. You have already earned respect, and now you must keep it."

Tim licks his lip and clutches his own knees --

Hope stares at Tim's hands and seems to be thinking that they need *personal* re-education --

Tim rests his palms on his thighs and breathes. "I -- all right. But you must understand. I -- did you ever have... a boyfriend? A girlfriend?"


"Neither have I! It's just -- ah. It's all very confusing. And I can -- I can pretend that I'm more confident --"


"Hope --"

"You know that Lex desires your body and cares for your emotional wellbeing."

"Well -- yes, but --"

"You know that Lex will do everything in his power to keep you close."

"I -- no, I *don't*, Hope."

Hope narrows her eyes at him.

Tim doesn't -- quite -- meep. "You said it yourself!"

"I was making a comment for effect. I... I knew that the comment would be effective. Therefore, I should've known that it would be effective in wrong ways. Bad ways." She firms her incredibly plush-seeming lips into a *viciously* hard line. "I have made a terrible mistake. I believe I will ask Lex to punish me."

"Oh -- please don't do that. I need you in good shape. Ah... I mean. For security!"

"Lex never punishes me physically. That would be inefficient. Lex punishes me emotionally."

"*How*? I mean -- ah. How?"

"He stops looking at me. He stops speaking to me. He stops listening to me."

That. Tim is reasonably sure he can *feel* the blood draining from his face, because -- "That. He buries you again."

"Yes. It's the only punishment which works, because it feels... bad. And because it feels bad for him, as well."

Tim swallows. "Lex. He can be. He can be cruel. Callous."

"'I will never be just another human monster,' is what he said to me on the day I was hired. This is true. Monsters are... beneath him. He does what is necessary to correct me when I ask to be corrected, no more and no less."

"How... you told him how to correct you."

"I always knew that when I found... someone, he or she would need to know how to keep me correct. It was not difficult to devise a suitable punishment for someone with my weaknesses. This is beside the point."

"I don't -- I don't want you to hurt yourself. Or to get Lex to hurt you. It was a reasonable mistake to make. Really," Tim says, and reaches out to pat Hope's hand.

The horrible thing is that it feels exactly like a human hand.

He has no real idea why that's horrible.

That's a ridiculous lie and he's not thinking about it. So.

"It was reasonable," Tim says again. 

"Tell me how," she says, and seems to almost be *scanning* the hand Tim has on her own.

"Well. Ah -- look at me?"

She *does*, and that -- well, it's not that Tim regrets it --

No, he regrets it, because there's real emotional *force* behind her eyes all of a sudden, and it's exactly like being in a room with a reawakened mummy, or something else improbably terrifying.

But he can cope. "It was a reasonable mistake because, in your experience, people *retain* their confidence about Lex. Yes?"

"Yes. Lex chooses well. Every time."

What *about* Hamilton...? "So -- yes. The women in his life... well, they're all older than I am. Right?"


"And they're all... experienced. Right?"

Hope narrows her eyes and flicks them back and forth -- "Yes. Yes, I understand what you're saying. I had placed you in the category of the women Lex has sex with, and that was... reasonable, but you are not like them."

"Yes! I'm not. I mean -- yes. I imagine... well, all of them have other romantic *choices* when Lex is no longer interested in them."

"That was always the impression I received." Hope cocks her head to the side. "Should Mercy and I find a man or woman for you to hold in reserve. That would give you... security."

Tim stares -- Tim stops staring. "Ah... no? I don't think so. I mean. I think. Well, it would certainly be interesting to see what sort of man -- I'm entirely homosexual, by the way -- the two of you would find for me... ah. I think I'll have to pass."

"If you're sure."

*Who* would they think was suited for him given that they know that *Lex* is his type? Who else remotely compares? Heads of state? Supervillains? Who -- no, focus. "Yes. Yes, I'm sure. Ah... anyway," he says, and pats her hand again. "You also -- well, you have a point. I probably shouldn't be looking for security, or... some kind of date insurance at my age."

"Most humans don't enjoy being alone. I believe the desire for security is thus... reasonable."

Will she like that word as much as 'vexing?' Is it remotely okay that the prospect makes him feel warm? "I've been alone for... well, for most of my life. It shouldn't be upsetting -- ah. Hm."

When Hope raises both of her eyebrows it looks like a real smile. Somehow. "I believe I know more about love than you do, Tim."

That feeling is -- consternation. Yes. "Ah... well. Yes. Probably. What *would* you do if you thought Lex's care for you would be temporary?"

"Lex will always need security, and I am one of the best bodyguards in the world. I continue to improve, as well."

"Yes, but -- ah. You'll get older. You *are* getting older --"

"I will be replaced, and then I will commit suicide."

Tim -- stares.

He --

He stares, because that's what he's capable of doing --

"You do not approve of this plan."

"Ah... no? I mean. I don't think Lex would like it, either."

"Lex helps me to be useful, but all things break down with time and must be replaced."

"Yes, but -- ah. You're not *just* his bodyguard. He likes you. He *enjoys* you. That -- well, it's obvious. It made me. Well, it made me a little jealous."

Hope narrows her eyes. "Irrational. Neither Mercy nor I can provide Lex with the things you provide him with. This is simple fact, and non-negotiable."

"True, but -- ah. I'm irrational in some ways. I'm working on it."

Hope nods once.

"Anyway. Ah -- my point was that -- well, no, you said it. Lex can't get what you give him from anyone else. I mean, sure, he could get another bodyguard, but she wouldn't be *you*."

"He does... he likes my opinions. And the handbooks I write for his employees. And the effect I have on people he doesn't like."

"Well -- yes. There. I mean, and I bet there are other things, as well?"

Hope nods slowly and thoughtfully.

"So -- you don't have to kill yourself. You. You *shouldn't* kill yourself."

"I will consider the matter more deeply. Lex has told me more than once that things which appear perfectly simple and clear often aren't."

Tim sighs in relief. "He's right about that. And -- it can be vex-- it can be annoying, but sometimes it's a good thing. Complexity is... well, it can be beautiful."

Another thoughtful nod. "Lex only gets tired of people who turn out to be foolish in some way. Not ignorant -- ignorance can be repaired -- but foolish."

And Tim thinks of the feelings Lex has for Bruce --

The feelings Lex has now spoken *around* four different times, eyes full of regret, wistfulness, and *fury* for who he believes Bruce had let himself become. Those feelings that haven't gone anywhere for a *generation --

Tim blushes. He can't really -

He can't compare himself to Bruce. Even -- even a *teenaged* Bruce had to be incredible, beautiful, *large* --

"Look at me," Hope says.

Tim does it --

"You were improving before. You stopped. You should start again."

*How* -- ah. "I'm going to try not to think about being replaced."

Hope narrows her eyes *again* --

"I'm going to try really, really hard? I mean -- I don't mean that to be a question."

"Lex needs your pride in yourself. You know that."

"Yes, he does enjoy it when I'm confident, and... and playful, I suppose --"

"Playful. Yes. Neither Mercy nor I are very good at being continuously playful around him. Also, you are small and male."

"Very... very true --"

"Your features are even. Your skin is clear. You are neither overly fat nor overly thin -- though Mercy thinks you should eat more -- and your eyes are large in a way which most people find attractive --"

"I -- thank you, you don't really have to --"

"Your hair is healthy. Your teeth are healthy and white. You keep yourself clean --"

"Hope --"

"You make him erect. You make him laugh. You make him obsessive. You make him want to fix your emotional damage. Lex doesn't become like this for all people. You -- you will be one of us now. You *must* be one of us."

That was nearly *passionate*, and -- Tim can't actually ignore it. The part of him which has always belonged to his mother wants to protest for the sake of all the self-improvement he hasn't done, yet --

But he doesn't actually want Hope to start reprogramming him forcibly --

And he doesn't want to keep Lex waiting any longer.

And he doesn't --

He isn't, actually, less confident than he was when he walked out of Cadmus. He *knows* he can make Lex lose control -- if not ever precisely *enough* for his tastes. He knows he can make Lex laugh, make Lex *need* to touch him --

No one has ever *needed* to touch him before. Not -- not like that.

And Lex --

Lex could be touching him right now.

He -- all right, he can't actually imagine Lex having sex with him in the back of a *car* --

A limo would be something else entirely --

No, right this moment Tim wants the car. Awkwardly small spaces for them to contort themselves in, missed touches, clothes pulled awry, buttons going missing --

And Hope is touching his face. Hope is --

Tim doesn't yelp. "Sorry about that. Just --"

"You were thinking about Lex."

"Very -- very much so."

"Sometimes I blush for no reason at all," Hope says, and her voice is thoughtful and low.

"I -- are you sure it's not for any particular reason?"

"Sometimes it happens when I'm training and thinking about nothing."

Thinking about -- no, Hope is absolutely capable of that. "Perhaps it's just your body's way of telling you that it misses... something?"

Hope nods. "Feeling. It misses feeling. I think I am enjoying watching you... feel. But only when you do it appropriately. Logically."

"Feeling isn't logical --"

"Feeling about Lex is perfectly logical," she says, turning and stepping out of the car. "Come. Lex will be waiting."

Conversation over. Okay, then.

Tim follows Hope to the elevator --

And Hope straightens Tim's t-shirt and pinches Tim's lips together *hard*.


"Lex enjoys soft, swollen lips."

Well -- okay, then. Still. Tim raises an eyebrow.

Hope narrows her eyes.

Tim keeps his eyebrow raised with sheer force of will that he'll be sure to thank his mother and Lex for assuming he gets out of the elevator alive --

Hope lets go.

"I could've just bit them, Hope."

"If you'd done it hard enough to swell your lips quickly, you would've left tooth marks."

Tim licks his lips experimentally. They're a bit sensitive, but not precisely hurt. And they're significantly more swollen than they had been. All without unsightly tooth marks. "You haven't had a panty line since you began working for Lex, have you?"


Tim nods and pats Hope's upper arm. "I -- just tell me when I need to pinch my lips from now on. I promise I'll do it hard."

"All right, Tim. I don't think I ever believed that I would meet someone else as sensible as Lex and Mercy."

Tim knows his smile is weak... but he also knows it's honest. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," she says, and leads them out of the elevator --

Where Lex is waiting with an eyebrow raised and his arms crossed over his chest.

He looks regal -- even aside from the lavender of his shirt --

He's eschewed his jacket --

And, really, every last one of Lex's shirts is tailored to subtly accentuate the great amount of effort Lex has put into having a torso which invites the eye, the hand, the tongue --

There's no reason for *this* shirt to be making Tim want to sweat, but perhaps it's just a matter of absence making the penis grow that much more ridiculous.

" -- we sat in the back seat of the Lexedes and discussed these things more... personally. I will be considering Tim's ideas very deeply, Lex."

Well, yes, he *can* pay attention to what's going on around him --

Especially since Lex is blinking. He'd done it twice -- and that was a third. "Tim."

"Yes, Lex?"

"You... had an extensive conversation with Hope."

"Yes." Oh... he's shocked. The man who surrounds himself with living *weapons* is just a bit stunned, really, and that --

Another *blink* --

Heh. "I believe we bonded to a certain extent, Lex."

Lex narrows his eyes.

Lex drums his fingers on his biceps.

Lex licks the edges of his *teeth* --

And Hope is standing at attention with no expression on her face whatsoever which, somehow, makes the whole thing that much better.

"I'm hungry, Lex. Are you hungry? Because... I think that I could eat," Tim says, and offers one of his brighter smiles.

Lex grunts, takes a breath --

And then Tim just *is* up on his toes and shoved back against the elevator doors --

Lex is cupping Tim's face with one hand and Tim's *throat* with the other --


"Don't," Lex says, and licks a *hard* stripe over Tim's lips, "get any more exciting than you already are."

"You... would you tell me what my motivation for that sort of stagnation would be?"


Tim tries for something resembling insouciance --

Lex frowns. "Don't do that."

Tim sighs. "Really, Lex, you have to give me more practice at smiles like that."

"No, I don't."

"You give *Hope* practice," Tim says, and works in as much teenaged drama as he can --

Lex tilts Tim's head back --

Breathes against Tim's mouth, warm and scented with sweet mint --

"Tim," he says, and the kiss is soft, *sweet* --

The kiss *immediately* makes Tim's knees feel optional, his mind feel something other than complete in and of itself. Lex's kisses are a *constant* reminder of need, of the sort of need that can't ever be reasoned with, or contained, or --

Lex moves his hands to Tim's hips and *lifts* Tim against the doors --

Tim *bucks* --

Tim groans into Lex's mouth and tries to remember who he's supposed to be, what he's supposed to do when there's another person right *there* --

When there's a *friend* right there --

But Hope wants him to do just this and more besides. That --

This is, perhaps, *soothing* for her --

And when Lex squeezes hard enough to make Tim's bruises twinge, Tim can't think about Hope anymore. There's only Lex's tongue and the way it's systematically removing Tim's ability to think clearly --

There's his *own* tongue, and the way Lex sucks it, nibbles it --

Lex is holding them groin to *groin*, and that --

Fuck, Lex is already hard, and Tim *wants* to berate himself for not realizing that right away, but that would involve somehow not giving himself over to this entirely. It feels *daring* to grind against Lex --  he's blushing again -- but it also feels so close to what he *wants* --

Lex grunts into his mouth and pulls him *closer*, and knowing that Lex was strong is nothing against how it feels to be *moved* like this --

And Tim isn't grinding so much as he's *thrusting* now, slamming himself against Lex --

Lex pulls back --

"No, fuck, *please* --"

"Tim. Put your legs around my hips," Lex says, and his voice is low and soothing --

His eyes are almost *calm* --

And Tim knows that was English, but --

"Do it now, Tim."

"I --what --"

"Legs. Up."

Tim groans and does it, feeling awkward and slow, feeling like he can't quite get the motions he *wants* --

But then Lex sighs -- "Now," he says, and starts *fucking* against him. Just -- a thrust like that --

So hard and sure --

So --

So confident of its *place* --

And it should be, because Lex can see everything on Tim's face right now. Lex --

"This -- position -- oh. Lex --"

"What about this position?"

"You -- don't even sound *strained* --"

Lex leans in and bites Tim's lip. "This... is something my body could do for, oh, extended periods of time. And I'm not going to have an orgasm --"

"Then *why* --"

Lex bites him again --

"*Fuck* --"

"Yes," Lex says, and starts thrusting faster --

"Oh -- *ohn* --"

"I'll remember this rhythm," Lex says, and *smiles* at him --

"Damn it -- answer --"

"I'm going to get you off, Tim. And then we're going to have a lovely dinner. And then? We're going to talk about your mother."

"*What* --"

"I'm reasonably sure I don't still want to fuck her. That I am... hm... *healthy* enough to know the difference between a *good* fuck and a *fantastic* one," and Lex emphasizes himself with harder thrusts --

Tim tries to keep *thinking* --

"No, not that frown," and Lex licks Tim's forehead -- "Mn. Your sweat is disgustingly palatable. Eat less healthy foods."

"You -- *no* --"

"Obey me."

"*Fuck* me," Tim says, and manages a glare --

Lex narrows his eyes and smiles *widely* --

And then the thrusts are *relentlessly* hard, hitting hard at Tim's ass and dragging up over his penis -- "Fuck -- *Lex* --"

"You've got more than that for me," Lex says, and that --

Was a challenge. Well.

There's some *difficulty* in pulling himself together -- no. No, he doesn't have to. He doesn't have to have anything *resembling* control --

And so when the urge strikes to stop gripping Lex's shoulders and grab his head, *instead* --


"It's round. It gleams. And I want to lick it in the *exact* same ways I want to lick the head of your *cock*."

Lex parts his lips for that, but --

Tim wants more. "I want you to *slap* me with your cock --"

"Too much pornography is -- isn't optimal for a healthy young mind --"

"I want you to come on my *face*, Lex --"

"Do you."

Tim smiles -- and isn't especially shocked by the way Lex's next thrust forces a *growl* out of him --

"Oh -- good boy."

"Then give me a *treat*, Lex."

"*Earn* it."

"I jerk off on my knees on the pretty red sheets you got for me --"


Tim grunts helplessly, feels himself seize -- Lex had just --


"I drop down onto one elbow, Lex. I -- hnn. You don't want my mother."

"And how -- how did you come to *that* conclusion?"

Tim laughs --

Tim *croons* --

Lex kisses him hard, bouncing the back of Tim's head on the door and *fucking* Tim's mouth, one thrust after another in the opposite rhythm to his hips' --

Those lean, *hard* hips and that penis --

So *hard*, and why the *fuck* is Tim still wearing his jeans?

Lex bites Tim's lower lip hard --

And then his *upper* lip -- "*Answer* me."

"You can't teach her, corrupt her, dominate her, scandalize her, joke with her, or own her. She's too -- hnn. She's too *old* for you --"

"*Tim* --"

"Daddy," Tim says, hitching himself up a little higher, changing the angle to something that makes him cough out a grunt every time Lex *thrusts* --

"You *won't* get what you're -- what you're asking for *today* --"

"Begging, Lex. *Begging* --"

"Yes, I --" Lex growls --

The world *moves* --

And Tim is skidding along the marble floor with Lex above him and out of *reach*. Which --

All right, the reflex to grab for his crotch is good. The fact that he doesn't get his pants open before Lex is between his legs again is *bad* --

"Why *shouldn't* I make you come in your pants again?"

"Because you want to *keep* me," Tim says, and feels himself blush, feels his heart stop beating --

But Lex's smile is savage and *wild*, and his hands are deft enough on Tim's button-fly to be insulting, but hard enough on his cock to be forgiven --

Forgiven *everything* when Lex takes him out --

"Look at you."

"I *can't*. Your hand is in the *way*."

"Shall I move it, Tim? Or should I just... move it," and Lex starts jerking him off expertly, perfectly --

No, no, that's *not* his rhythm, not his stroke, but -- "*Lex* --"

"Yes, I think you *can* just call my name until you get off. I think we'll both enjoy that."

"I --"

"No," Lex says, and *squeezes* him --

"*Lex* --"

"Exactly," and Lex moves to cover him, bracing himself on Tim's shoulder --

"Holding -- holding me down --"

"That's not my name. Darling."

Tim grunts, arches --

"Give me what I want, Tim --"

"Lex. When you fuck me? Make sure I *can't* move," Tim says, and makes a point of opening his eyes --

Lex is staring at him, searching him --

Lex is breathing through his mouth --

Lex flares his nostrils and starts *stripping* him, stroking so fast and hard that Tim winds up making a sound like a *bark* --

"My *name*, Tim --"

"You -- please --"

"*Say* it."

"Fuck, *please* --"

And then Lex starts *pressing* on the head of Tim's penis for every stroke, forcing him to leak more, to --

To be so fucking *obvious* --

"*Tim* --"

"*Lex* --!"

Lex grunts, moves --

And Tim is *screaming*, because Lex is sucking him, holding Tim in his mouth and *sucking* him --

His mouth --

His hot, *soft* mouth --

Tim feels himself arching off the floor, strangling his own scream --

And then there's nothing but white fire and the fact that he *knows* Lex is swallowing, that he can -- oh he can feel --

Black --

*Teeth* and that was a shriek, that was the feel of every single cell of his body saying *yes* --

He falls back into his body.

He hits the floor.

Lex kisses his mouth, hot and *slick* --

And when Tim opens his eyes, Lex's gaze is boring into him like -- like twin *augers* --

Tim's ass clenches without his permission and his cock *twitches* --

And Lex narrows his eyes in a smile before pulling back and licking his lips. "Tim."

"Ah. Yes?" Tim tries to stop his eyes from crossing --

"Did you just call me a pedophile?"

Tim blinks a few times -- no, his eyes are still crossing a little. "I wouldn't say I *just* called you a pedophile, Lex. I mean -- you're not *just* anything. Really."

Lex hums and stands, reaching down to help Tim up --

His jeans and boxer briefs wind up around his ankles. For a moment, Tim can't at all figure out what to do about that, but eventually thought kicks in and he can deal with them.

It's possible that he's swaying on his feet by the time he gets his jeans fastened again, but he's reasonably sure that he isn't going to fall. He's fine. He's good. He's -- not a virgin anymore.

That -- hm. Tim glances at Lex --

Who is looking at him with an extremely smug smile on his face, which...

"Somehow, I doubt that you started your day planning to hump me against the elevators, throw me to the floor, and then blow me... so I'm going to chalk this up to a victory for healthy teenaged sexuality."

Lex scowls at him.

Tim tries a beam --

Lex winces.

"That bad?"

"You... Hope. Tell him."

Hope -- who is still standing at attention *right* there, but has both of her eyebrows raised -- "You smiled like me," she says, musical and low and still somehow *light*.

She is probably as happy right now as she ever actually gets, which -- all right, fine. "I think you have a beautiful smile, Hope, and I hope you never use it on me again."

"I will only smile at you if you stop making sense. Or if Lex tells me to, of course."

"That's entirely fair," Tim says, and turns back to Lex. "Dinner?"

Lex looks him over with a distinctly proprietary expression on his face, adjusts himself in his pants --

Tim considers changing his request to something more bed-oriented --

All right, mostly he just *stares* --

And Lex gestures toward the dining room. "You're dismissed, Hope. You'll report the conversation you had with Tim to me in more detail after Tim retires for the evening."

"Yes, Lex," she says, and turns to leave -- but not before she nods at Tim solemnly.

Tim waves at her back.

"If you broke her, you'll have to buy me a new one, Tim."

Tim turns his own scowl on Lex --

"Very good. I almost can't tell that I amused you," Lex says, and rests his hand at the small of Tim's back before guiding them toward the dining room.

"Hmph. Were you aware that she planned to kill herself as soon as you decided that she wasn't up to being your bodyguard anymore?"

Lex tenses -- and sighs. "Yes, that is the way she thinks."

"You're her *world*, Lex. I believe I managed to convince her that you'd want her to stick around in some capacity --"

"I plan to clone her."

"You -- hm."


"I'm trying to decide if my reflex to say something along the lines of 'gah, you freak, you freak, you *freak*' is warranted."

"It isn't. Unless you've changed your mind about the project?"

Tim -- scowls.

Lex laughs softly. "Yes, I see. When you're scowling falsely, you look your age or older. When it's real, you look approximately ten."

"And yet, you're still attracted."

"Oh, very much so. I'd let you touch my cock if you'd given me any proof whatsoever that you could control yourself."

Tim coughs.

"You should watch that. Eva's home remedies are strictly forbidden under the Geneva conventions.

Tim *looks* at Lex --

And Lex strokes Tim's cheekbones, left then right. "I can't possibly replace them. You've already realized that."

"I -- it's abundantly clear that they're more than just your bodyguards, yes. Where *is* Mercy?"

"On assignment in New York. I don't expect her to be gone for very long, and she'll be glad to know you've missed her."

Tim snorts. "She'll sneer and think about hamstringing me, you mean. What *did* I do to piss her off?"

Lex's smile manages to be private without being strictly exclusive. It's a joke that -- for better or worse -- Tim is invited to. "I believe your primary sin in her estimation is your failure to be at least twenty-five years old."

"But by then I'll have lost my fresh-faced innocence, Lex."

"Fresh -- hm." Lex strokes Tim's hair and cups the back of Tim's head for a moment. "Teenaged boys have always brought the worst out of her. You shouldn't take it personally."

"I -- hm. I feel that there's a story there that I probably don't want to know."

"Meaning Hope *did* tell you what her beloved brother did to her. I was wondering what she meant by saying that you'd discussed 'history.'"

"Well -- yes. It was the *way* she said that things had changed for her when she was eight."

Lex nods and presses against the small of Tim's back one more time before pulling back Tim's chair. "Let me buy you a new wardrobe."

Tim blinks. "Um? I mean -- if you'd like? I trust your taste."

"You probably shouldn't, but I'm not going to let you off the hook."

Tim snorts. "Noted. *Is* Mercy's hatred of teenaged boys based on whatever happened to her to make her who she is?"

"You're assuming something happened?"

"I -- you're saying she was born that way."

Lex smiles and looks down on Tim from behind his chair.

"You like that position."

"I like *many* positions, Tim, and, yes, I believe that you will learn that to our mutual pleasure --"


"When you stop asking questions like Hope."

Tim considers and rejects sticking his tongue out at him -- wait, no. He sticks his tongue out.

"You deliberated before doing that."

"Juvenilia isn't exactly my natural bent, but you do seem to respond well to it. Well for my tastes, I mean."

"You should be careful playing with men like me, Tim," Lex says, and -- really, it's almost a *purr* --

Of the sort which demands *attention* more than response -- no. Lex always wants a response. "Are there any? Men like you, that is."

Lex narrows his eyes, pulls out his own chair, sits down -- and grabs Tim by the jaw. "You're remarkable. Stop feeding my ego."

Tim opens his mouth -- and closes it again before nodding. "About Mercy?"

"I have many, many theories about the whys and hows of her general inclination toward soullessness -- it never stops surprising me when she shows humanity, even though it almost certainly should have by *now* -- but, in the end, they are only that."

Tim frowns, thinks -- "What would *she* say about it?"

"She gave me an accurate enough read on her own emotional profile when I first took her on, back in the days when the money and other things I gave her were only gifts of a lover --"

"I don't think they were ever only that, Lex."

Lex raises an eyebrow and smiles. "And the gifts I give you, darling...?"

Tim opens his mouth -- it really is *difficult* with Lex holding his jaw, though Lex's hand is placed precisely enough that there's no pain -- "Who else has been your 'darling?'"

The smile gets wider, gains that air of not-quite-privacy -- "For nearly four years, 'darling' was the name I saddled most of my classmates at Exeter with. Especially Bruce Wayne, who would blush *remarkably* for it. This isn't the first time you've reminded me of the boy he used to be, and I'm quite sure it won't be the last. Shall I continue?"

About Mercy. Right. He can -- he can definitely *cope*. Tim licks his lips --

Lex studies Tim's mouth -- "Hope pinched your lips for me."

"Ah -- yes. I convinced her to let me do that in the future."

A critical frown -- "You really don't need much. While your lips aren't especially broad or sensual in their own right, you're hardly just another lipless WASP. Bruce, now -- you have to kiss him for an hour before his lips look like anything but firmly-drawn lines across his face, and, by then, you've got the world's worst stubble-burn and the sense that you've been smearing your mouth with bee venom."

Keep. Coping. "Ah. Ah? Well -- is that where that phrase comes from? And -- I often feel rather stung when you've been kissing me."

"You're attracted to Brucie. Aren't you."

Tim makes a face -- it really is *very* easy to do -- and, "I think it would be far more accurate to say I'm attracted to... the man you remember."

"The *boy* I remember. The man..." Lex lets go and strokes Tim's cheekbones --- once and once -- before leaning back.

He doesn't say anything --

And Eva walks in with the usual massive tray and equally massive -- somehow -- smile.

Tim smiles back --

"Ah, such a good boy," she says, moving around behind Lex instead of immediately setting the tray down. The impression is of some vast ship -- perhaps an AEGIS cruiser, perhaps not -- failing to slow down as it approaches the dock --

But she doesn't run him over so much as she sets the tray down *directly* in front of Tim and then hugs him. Or -- she could be trying to smother him. She --

Well, while her breasts *aren't* each the size of Tim's head, they're currently *bracketing* Tim's head and Tim is making a noise.

Yes, a noise.

Because --

This is not a position he's supposed to be in dear God in heaven she's rocking him.

He hears Lex say *something*, but there's so much *breast* in the way that Tim can't actually make out the *words* --

More rocking -- wait, he's supposed to hug back.

He does so, squeezing carefully --

She squeezes hard enough to make his cervical vertebrae creak alarmingly --

She pulls back and pats Tim's cheeks while he tries not to pant. "Hope tells me you made friends!"

"Ah -- well -- I like her. Very much."

Eva waggles a finger in his face. "You *must* be good and careful with Hope, who is sweet but a little..."

"Strange?" Sweet. Sweet -- well, yes. In a way. Tim manages not to frown.

"Well... she has had a difficult life, and this makes her... hmm... different. Yes. *Special*," Eva says, and pats Tim's cheek again. "You be nice boy like always and all will be well."

Tim smiles ruefully. "I think I can manage that. We -- well. Everyone is different, after all."

She beams down at him for a long moment before turning to Lex -- "You have found her a friend. Now you will find her a *man*. A big, strong one so that she will be able to have many strapping babies for Eva to bounce on her knee."

Strapping -- hm.

Lex smiles and takes one of Eva's hands in both of his own. "I promise to keep working on it, Eva," he says, and squeezes once before letting go. "What do you have for us tonight?"

Eva sighs with genuine pleasure and pulls the cover off to reveal a -- massive -- quiche.

"Is that. Ah. Is that butter shining on... over... ah."

"I put extra on *just* for you, since you liked the sandwich I sent for you so much."

That -- Tim blinks. "I don't think I understand...?"

Lex hums a laugh. "Eva puts butter on all of her ham sandwiches, Tim."

"Oh, my. Goodness. That -- well, that would explain --"

"The creamy, buttery deliciousness, Tim...?"

Tim fights back a scowl at Lex and smiles -- somewhat weakly -- up at Eva. "Thank you, Eva. I'm sure the quiche will be as wonderful as everything else you've prepared."

She pats the top of his head this time, sighs, and looks to Lex once more.

"You're dismissed -- though Hope told me that she would want the butterscotch ice cream softened for later."

"Of course, Lex," she says, and leaves.

Tim raises an eyebrow at Lex.

"You have, perhaps, surmised that Eva demands a certain amount of circumspection from the rest of us."

"Well, yes. I'm just curious about the strength and *focus* of those demands. Or -- how *conscious* she is of making those demands, I suppose."

Lex raises his own eyebrow.

"All right, yes, she is someone *you* hired. But that just begs the question of *why*. It's not as if you want any other part of your life to be Rockwellian."

"Rockwellian -- hm. I suppose there is that sort of cachet to it," Lex says, and smiles wryly before slicing a wedge of quiche for Tim and placing it on his plate.

"Are you quite sure you have me working out enough for this, Lex?"

"Oh -- absolutely. Your ass could use the padding."

Tim -- doesn't immediately stand up and attempt to view his own ass. It's a near thing, though.

Lex snorts and pats Tim's cheek --

"I only take that from people who cook for me, Lex."

Lex purses his lips into something of a moue, flutters his eyelashes, and sighs. "Darling, you simply *must* forgive me."

Tim's eyes want to cross, and so he lets them. And then he stops. "*That's* what you did in high school?"

Lex laughs softly and cuts his own wedge. "It seemed like a marvelous idea at the time, and it was... well. We've already discussed the pleasures one can take in adolescent rebellion."

"No wonder you were in so many fights, Lex. I mean --"

"No," Lex says, and pours the wine -- a vintage Tim knows for its powerful sourness. It really will go wonderfully with the meal --

Just like every other wine Eva had picked. Hm. It really was a mistake to buy into her 'genial peasant-woman' act even a little, though Tim wouldn't be the least bit surprised if she owned a whole slew of babushkas.

Tim drinks his wine and raises his eyebrow to what he likes to think of as the 'continue, please' height.

Lex laughs again and searches Tim avidly. "I didn't get into one single, solitary fight after I started putting on my little act, Tim. Think about it."

Well -- all right. On the one hand, it was the seventies. On the other hand, it was the *seventies*, and many of the most enlightened people still believed homosexuality was a tragic mental illness. But --


Exeter at that time would've attracted a group of boys who would've been at least somewhat invested in not being as thuggish and closed-minded as their lower class peers --

Somehow --

Tim frowns. "I don't think it quite works in my head, Lex. I mean --" Tim shakes his head. "The *children* of the men you went to school with are all well-bred Neanderthals."

Lex looks thoughtful for a long moment -- and then nods. "Perhaps it merely *was* a sign of the times, but I always thought there was a bit more to it than that. I gave those stalwart young men a hint of the forbidden -- of the *actively* taboo -- and I did it safely: by always having a single, always having access to assorted varieties of contraband, and always having legions of well-bred and blue-eye-shadowed women to fuck in semi-public places."

That -- " All right, yes, I can see it. Some of them probably even flirted with you a little...?"

"Some rather more than that. Which stopped being amusing when I noticed myself thinking about wrapping my hands around Bruce's big, thick cock and stroking."

Tim doesn't actually cough --

Lex's smile says he heard it, anyway. "Yes, *he* is hung like the horse you mentioned last week, and everyone at Exeter knew it."

"Communal showers."

"Oh, yes," Lex says, and sips his wine before making a face and staring at his glass.

"It really is improved by the addition of the quiche, Lex --"

"Yes, yes, I imagine so. Beverages shouldn't *need* food to improve them. Excuse me," and he gets up and walks into the kitchen.

Tim waits -- no. The fat content in this meal won't be any more manageable once the food is cold. He eats, promising himself an hour on the treadmill --

Two because he thinks he can *hear* the fat in the crust --

And maybe Lex could make him do more push-ups. That --well, that would be interesting with Lex standing over him the way he's wont to do -- no. Crunches. With Lex holding his ankles. *Squeezing* his ankles --

Maybe lifting them up onto his shoulders --

"Are you licking your *fork*?"

"Ah -- probably," Tim says, putting the fork down and looking up --

Lex is carrying a pitcher of ice water and two simple glass tumblers. While they're quite well-made, next to the wine glasses they look like something out of a cafeteria. And Lex is raising an eyebrow at him in *challenge* --

Tim raises his hands. "That's what you usually drink for meals like this, yes?"

"Be proud of yourself -- you've learned my dirty little secret."

"You like *some* kinds of alcohol  --"

Lex waves a hand. "I like scotch. I know a lot *about* scotch," and Lex sits down, "but that's only because I *do* like it. I researched the varieties available -- commonly and not -- and settled on Macallan as the best possible choice for my palate. Wine -- and everything else -- is something I care about as much for as a fart in a windstorm. I pay several people an unconscionable amount of money to keep my wine cellars current -- and competitive -- and, as you've no doubt guessed by now, Eva is one of them. Eva is capable of distinguishing vintages by scent alone, and is more than confident enough that she scolded me for not letting you improve my palate. I..." Lex sighs and smiles ruefully. "One day, Eva decided to prove to me that I could, in fact, determine good wine from swill. All we wound up proving was that I think Midnight Train --- yes, the wine of choice for aging hobos -- has an excellent *nose*. So. You, oh my darling, will be carrying the banner of taste and breeding for both of us."

"Midnight -- I --"

"I also quite liked the Doon's Farm."

Tim suspects he looks pained.

Lex laughs again. "Yes, go ahead and look down on me, Tim. I'll just tell Eva how homesick you are --"

"Oh -- oh, no --"

"Yes. I'll also tell her about the one well-used teddy bear your mother wouldn't let you bring with you --"

"I've never even *had* a teddy bear!"

Lex blinks.

Tim blushes. "Not that I wanted one."

"About your mother --"

"Lex, no --"

"Wait," Lex says, and holds up a hand. "There are things I actually need to tell you about your mother -- and the conversation we had this afternoon."

Tim feels the skin at the back of his neck prickle and *creep* --

"Yes, now you're shut down tighter than --" Lex growls quietly and pushes his chair back -- and pauses. "Hm. I was actually considering crouching at your feet."

"That -- that would make this blush terminal, Lex."

Lex -- glitters at him. "Would it."

"You're *not* actually attracted to *beets*, Lex."

"How do you know? I mean, Bruce was a kinky, kinky boy."

"Really? How -- ah. Never mind."

Lex laughs again and gestures for Tim to turn more fully.

Tim does so --

And Lex takes Tim's hands in his own. "You see... all of this is going to make you *look* for that passionate, brilliant, *thoughtful* boy the next time you see *Brucie*, and you're just going to break your own heart."

Tim raises an eyebrow. "And you know that because you've broken your own?"

"Oh, countless times. When we were in our twenties, I spent an unconscionable amount of time and effort attempting to get him *back*. And watched him -- every time -- drink himself into increasing levels of idiocy. I'd *really* like to know how many people he had to bribe -- and how *well* he had to do it -- in order to be able to take in a *child*. So -- I think I'll stop talking about him."

"You don't have to! I mean -- I remind you of him. I'd like to know --" Tim growls at himself --

The light behind Lex's eyes *flares* -- "Yes, Tim?"

"You have to know how *invested* I'd be in something like that, Lex."

Lex cocks his head to the side and narrows his eyes. "Have you ever been in Wayne Manor?"

"I -- once. A tour. Have you?"

Lex smiles. "Once. The waves of genteelly subtle distaste being sent my way by Bruce's valet-cum-guardian were more than enough to make me cut my visit short by five days. Sometimes I wonder..." Lex frowns and shakes his head.


"No, not now. I promise we can help go over your obsession -- and my own -- some other time," Lex says, and squeezes Tim's hands. "I spoke with your mother about making you the liaison between our two companies."

"You -- oh. I thought --" Tim laughs. "Never mind what I thought. Go on. What were her objections?"

"You *thought* it would be something awful, and, in some ways, it was. Have you considered actually *talking* about your childhood with... anyone?"

Tim raises an eyebrow. "Have you considered talking about yours?"

"Mine. Tim."

Tim raises the eyebrow *higher*. "Lex, everyone with *half* a functional memory remembers what kind of man your father was --"

"Yes, and *most* of them believe I'm the proverbial *chip* --"

"You obviously aren't -- ah. If the stories I've heard about your father are true."

Lex's smile is sharp and humorless. "Oh, I don't know. He always *did* treat his fucks well enough -- up to a point," and Lex *taps* Tim's cheekbones with his fingers --

"I -- that feels like you're playing my *skull*, Lex."

Lex blinks, expression turning horrified for a moment --

Shuttered for another --

And then, in the first few moments after the shutters crack, he looks --

He looks like the boy who had -- perhaps -- lived behind the faux queen. Which...

"That was your father's mannerism, wasn't it?"

Lex's laugh is a cough. "Yes, it *really* was, darling, and if you forgive me, I promise to let you keep wearing the same sort of underwear you seem to like."

"You -- what's wrong with my underwear?"

"Forgive me?"

"*Yes* --"

"I wouldn't change a thing about your underwear. You have excellent taste when you don't plan to show it to anyone," Lex says, and brushes his thumb over Tim's cheekbones firmly. "Better?"

"Infinitely. What -- what about my mother?"

"I'm going to need you to tell her that you find me amusing enough, but that it's clear that it only takes a little effort to manipulate me. This will let us both off the hook of her suspicions --"

"You made her *suspicious*? I -- sorry, I'm fine. Ah -- no. That won't work. If she's suspicious, she'll dig until *she* has an answer. She won't just take my word for it."

Lex shows his teeth. "I really dislike her."

Tim raises *both* of his eyebrows.

"I never said it *wouldn't* be a hate-fuck, Tim."

That -- Tim snorts. "All right. Here's what has to happen: I'll tell her that it's... hmm... abundantly clear that you're feeling your mortality. That you -- possibly -- just don't *do* midlife crises like reasonable people and get overly young mistresses. And then she'll say something -- something awful about my *own* sexual appeal --"

"Which, if you think about it, would be *true* --"

"Not." Tim frowns down at their hands. "Not the way she would put it. It just -- ah. Anyway --"

Lex lets go of one of Tim's hands and lifts Tim's face again, searches Tim's eyes -- "I would've talked to Bruce about my father. I *did* -- to a certain extent. Mostly, I talked about my mother, who died the same year Bruce's parents were murdered. Sometimes I think I would've been a different person if I'd told him more. Other times, I'm absolutely sure of it."

"Ah -- really? And that isn't... terrifying?"

Lex's smile is old again, but this time it's soft. "Every human needs something to regret, lest they feel incomplete. *You*... get to decide what it will be."

"Wait, are you saying you regret not -- not getting *closer* to *Bruce*?" He belongs to Dick, and Superman, and -- and *justice*, and it's okay if he belongs to Dick just a little more than what's -- normal. Isn't it? They're *heroes* --

Lex raises an eyebrow. "*Now* it's getting to you? All of the adolescent yearning was sexy and interesting up to a *point*?"

"No! I mean -- well, yes." What to say. What -- "Ah. It's just -- I'm having a difficult time imagining a WE-LexCorp merger. To say the least."

"Oh... my. Darling. Have you just not paid *attention* to the defense contracts WE has snapped up over the years?"

"Well, yes, of course, I have, but those were all for things like boots, and armor -- I fully expect WE to improve on our Dilar sooner rather than later -- and -- I don't know. Uh. Um. Dinner?"


"Fuck. I mean -- I love my mother, and, really, she wants what's best for me --"

"She wants what she *thinks* is best for you, and I even agree with a few of her plans. Minds like yours *belong* in business if only to save it from the cretinous and morally bankrupt. However. There are other things in this world, fruits trembling ripe on the vine for just the right hands to pluck," Lex says, and twines the fingers of his right hand with the fingers of Tim's left. *His* left hand is still on Tim's chin -- "Are you understanding me?"

"Are we talking about having more sex?"

"Not quite."

"Then no," Tim says, and squeezes Lex's hand. "All right, no, yes, I do understand. A liaison position wouldn't just let our companies *mingle*, as it were, but would also allow me a certain degree of freedom -- so long as I didn't fuck up."

"Freedom always has a price. You can pay it."

Tim smiles ruefully. "Just -- ah. Do something faintly outrageous, maybe? Something to really... hm -- "

"Play up my supposed fear of death, yes. This -- and the way I'm going to dress you -- will make people think I want you as my heir, and will allow your mother to scale a few more mountains of power on your lean little back. I..." Lex leans back but doesn't let go of Tim's hand.

"Lex... are you going to clone yourself?"

"Absolutely. I have two different labs working on personality and memory transplantation," Lex says, absent and distracted. "Give me a moment."

"Of course," Tim says, and turns back to his quiche. It's still warm enough, but his tongue is convinced that it can *feel* the fat congealing. He eats four more bites with his right hand and gives up entirely.

Lex is still thinking deeply, but now he's nodding periodically and ticking points off with his free hand on his thigh.

Tim takes the time to study him, to really *try* to see his age. It's in the lines carved in at the corners of his eyes, and the deeper lines at the corners of his mouth which speak of countless false smiles over the years.

Additionally, Lex is pale, but there's a certain hard darkness *under* his skin, as if every last moment of ultraviolet radiation had written itself on him. In him. His skin isn't thin or papery -- and Tim would bet a *kidney* that Lex will never allow it to get leathery -- but there are aspects of all three. A *sense* of having been weathered.

His nails are manicured -- there's no way to tell anything by them. The calluses *feel* old, though, feel --

God, he hadn't spent enough time *considering* the feel of them on his penis --

"I promise to touch you extensively. Look up."

Tim does, smiling ruefully --

"I'm going to hire a whore to blackmail Bruce with."

Tim blinks. "I can honestly say that I never would've guessed those words would come out of your mouth."

Lex laughs. "I've done it before. It hasn't ever *worked*, but I also never let myself *think* about what I *knew* about Bruce's sexuality."

"I -- so what you're saying is that you're going to shave a megalomaniac."

Lex sighs. "You have no idea how often I have that fantasy, but -- no. Bruce found countless ways to say that it was my utter difference from everything he'd ever known that was -- at least part of -- the attraction, and found even *more* ways to imply it. It took him nearly five semesters to come up to my room and *ask* me if I really made love -- that was *exactly* how he put it -- with men, and by then I had come to... want to know him. In any event, it's been over twenty-five years, and he knows where people like me come from. There are still other options besides circus boys, pinch-faced valets, psychotic legal beagles, and, of course, drunken imbeciles."

It won't work. It could *never* work -- Bruce probably knew all along that the people Lex sent were professionals. *Just* as much as he knew that their other marks would pay top dollar to keep their reputations. But. "As an example?"

"Oh... I believe I can see him already. Dark hair, blue eyes. The hair would either be as fine as yours, or as thick as the hair I was destined to have once upon a time. A curl in it, perhaps. A hint of similarity to that *double* curl Grayson was wearing for a certain period. A simple hairstyle for a simple boy... hm." Lex is looking thoughtful again. That will never, ever *do* --

"Are you really sure --"

"Yes, I am. I have a bit more in the way of corroboration about the wildly inappropriate nature of Bruce's relationship with Grayson --"

"*That's* what Mercy is doing?"

Lex smiles at him *darkly*. "You're the only one allowed to stalk the prettiest man in Gotham...?"

Tim opens his mouth --

Tim can't do a damned *thing* about his blush --

And Lex narrows his eyes and leans in to stroke Tim's cheekbones again. "I'm not going to do anything to injure anyone. A bit of consideration on contracts, a toehold in Gotham to match your mother's footprint -- or to hem that foot *in* a little if she gets too irritating about cutting the apron strings -- nothing unreasonable."

And what happens when Lex gets close to the *real* secrets? Just --

It's easy enough -- in retrospect -- to imagine Bruce falling in love with Dick just as easily and thoroughly as Tim had, to imagine him doing a better job of it, both because he's Batman and because he is, presumably, monogamous...

Most people *are* --

"You don't trust me, darling...?"

Tim knows that he looks terrified, so he doesn't look up. He doesn't --

Lex could destroy *everything* if he knew. Lex could --

No, he has to look normal. "Tell me more about this -- prostitute?"

Lex studies him. "You really disapprove of all this."

"I --"

Lex holds up a hand. "Don't say a word about the blackmail aspects or the power-hungry aspects or whatever else was about to come to the forefront of your lovely little mind. You disapprove... because of who the targets are?"

"I -- they're both very important to me. You know that."

Lex narrows his eyes. "And *that's* not the whole of the problem, either. Is it that you feel I'm being a hypocrite?"

What -- no, go with it. "The thought had occurred," Tim says, and moves his napkin from his lap to the table. "Not that I want to encourage you to be any more conservative with me than you have been," Tim says, keeping his gaze away from Lex --

Could he sacrifice his relationship with Lex? *Would* he?

Should -- no, if it came down to it, he'd have to. Batman and Robin are more important than his libido. And his heart. He turns back to Lex, who seems to be -- more than *anything* else -- watching Tim from behind a screen of mistrust and curiosity.

That hurts.

That -- Tim laughs humorlessly. "All right, yes, I have issues. I was three years old when Dick hugged me, Lex. *Hugged* me. On his *lap* --"

"And it was the last time you ever had anything of the kind. Wasn't it."

Tim smiles ruefully. "I had a nanny when I was four who would hold me when my mother wasn't around --"

"Which was often."

"She taught me how to do somersaults. She read to me even after I told her I could read for myself. She used her own money to buy me the children's books she'd liked the best --"

"Let me guess -- your mother profoundly disliked the influence she had on you."

"Milagro... my mother never specified why she was fired," Tim says, and catches himself stroking the tablecloth a little like the way Milagro would stroke his hair sometimes. "It probably would've been the books."

Lex sighs quietly. "Yes, I imagine so. I'd be tempted to fire her myself if I caught her reading poorly-written tripe to my one and only heir."

Tim lets his mouth twist --

"Ah, I see. She found *good* children's books."

Tim sets his hands on his thighs and faces Lex again. "In multiple languages."

Lex nods slowly. "*She* was the last."


"Grayson was the first."


"And, meanwhile, you're wondering what right I have to profit off the love of a man and a boy...?"

"He's not a boy anymore --"

"I believe he was when Bruce began fucking him."

Tim lifts his hands -- he puts them down again. "Look, if this is just to get back at Bruce for -- for loving champagne more than he loved you --"

"You have no *idea* how much potential he had, Tim. You -- his mind was phenomenal. His ethics were unimpeachable. I would've been *fine* if he'd simply lived up to a *fraction* of his potential --"

"*Really*, Lex?"

"Oh -- excellent quelling look, Tim. Misplaced, but wonderfully done," Lex says, and tucks a lock of hair behind Tim's ear before taking a sip of water. "You look like the kind of queen who knows how to *kick* when you do that, which suits you wonderfully --"

"Oh -- fuck."

"Trust me, *you* don't want to lie with every word, as opposed to most of them."

"Lex --"

"Darling -- Tim. I had my father murdered when I was nineteen years old. You know it, I know it, the world knows it -- for all that no one has ever been able to prove it. *Bruce* knows it, and so I would've..." Lex's expression hardens for a long moment. "I waited for him to come back to me, yes. But I also waited for him to reject me for good and all. I committed the worst sin of all in Bruce's book -- in the book of the Bruce *I* knew -- but all he did to me was drink and flirt *exactly* like someone who'd been drinking for hours beforehand. Perhaps a fitting punishment...?"

Killed --

There's a difference between knowing that and *knowing* that --

But he's -- Batman. And he didn't have any proof, or Lex would be in jail. "I don't. I have a hard time thinking of Bruce being that... subtle."

"There was a time when he could slip into a corner of the room and watch avidly, seriously... no one would notice him, Tim," and Lex picks up Tim's hand again and squeezes it. "If you'd like, you could think of the plan as a way to trigger an honest, sober conversation."

His father. He murdered. He -- but. Tim has to *focus*. "I -- you'll be using someone to do your dirty work. You -- are you *sure* you can't just talk to him?"

Lex smiles ruefully. "Perhaps if I looked more like you. Internally *and* externally, of course -- you and your mother both bear striking resemblances to Bruce's late mother.

Tim winces --

"No... no, don't do that," Lex says, cupping Tim's jaw and making Tim face him. "Even if all else fails, the prostitute in question will get a large amount of money and the opportunity to make a new life for himself. And I'll go another decade or so wondering what might have been."

"I'd rather -- let me be with you, Lex. I know I can't measure up --"

"No. Stop that."

"Pride, yes, Hope *mentioned*. Fine, I'm wonderful. I *am* brilliant, and I'm loving, and my mouth is attractive enough -- especially when I'm using it to say *snide* things --"

"And moral things, as well. "

Tim stares at Lex.

"Did you think I *didn't* have Cat On A Hot Tin Roof memorized?"

"*What*? What -- what does that even mean?"

Lex *grins*. "It's a story about a perfectly hideous family pulling together in the face of a ludicrous number of flaws, and? Morality -- of a certain heteronormative sort -- wins the day. I love it. It's beautiful. It contains the word 'mendacity' being shouted from the top of the stairs by a brilliant over-actor. I... identify, in some ways. But that's neither here nor there --"

"I -- Lex, you don't -- I'm not *going* to approve --"

"Give the plan a chance."

"*Lex* --"

"You... yes, you'll meet the prostitute in question. And then you'll get to decide whether or not *Bruce* will get to meet him."

Tim blinks.

Lex frowns -- at himself.

"I..." Tim reaches to cover Lex's hand with his own. "I have my doubts that *anything* will make me want to do this to anyone *Dick* cares about."

"And so you'll try to be fair about it *now*, when there are no consequences..." Lex nods and finishes his water before pointing to Tim's own tumbler.

Tim downs it in six even swallows --

"Gym," Lex says, standing and waiting for Tim do the same --

And the trip down in the elevator is silent and just a bit tense. There's a curious scent in the air --

And, as they're walking out into the gym, Tim realizes that it's the scent of Hope's mild cologne, and that it's also a scent Tim reads as belonging to 'home.'

He's in exactly as much trouble as he *should* be --

"Dogi," Lex says, resting a hand at the small of Tim's back and leading them to the lockers.

They change at speed -- and also in silence --

And Lex leads him through his carefully numbered attacks with a minimum amount of language until Tim is warmed up and at the end of his new knowledge of aikido -- or, rather, of the discipline Lex is all but building out of Tim's prior training and his own *will*. "You're welcome to befriend the boy," he says, and, no, it's not out of nowhere, at all.

"I doubt I'll be of much interest. I mean, what... what kind of person will you have Mercy look for?"

Lex smiles and performs a kata in front of him, fast, then normal speed, then slow.

Tim nods and works himself into the kata --

Lex corrects him with easy, professional touches -- just like always --

Tim wishes for *more* -- no. Tim deliberately shifts his shoulders incorrectly and then reaches up to cover Lex's hands when they land on him --


"Tell me, Lex. Tell me --" Something that will let me go with this, *too*.

"I want you. Specifically, at this moment, I want to renew the bruise on your throat --"

"You've left bruises on my hips."

"You sound... like you've been *pleasurably* assaulted, Tim," Lex says, and sounds pleased and *proud* --

Tim starts to turn --

And Lex stops him with a grip on his jaw and the *press* of his body against Tim's own. "Be good."

"Lex --"

"He'll be beautiful -- in manly ways. Maybe a bit hairy for his age, maybe not. He'll be... hn. Honest. Brash. And he'll demand the same sort of thing --"

"And you think you can find a prostitute like that. A *teenaged* prostitute."

"Do you have any idea how many young, generally undereducated people there are in this world who *habitually* wrap the older and powerful around their fingers? Or other things?" Lex slips his hand inside Tim's top and begins to stroke Tim's pectorals. "He'll be *very* experienced. Perhaps he'll even teach you a few things."

Tim blushes again. "I -- I know I've been a bit slow --"

"No. You've been tempting beyond words. Beyond belief, truly -- if I wasn't right here finding myself, once more, lost to images of fucking you blind."

That... is... perfect, really. Tim tilts his head back --

Lex pets his throat, *cups* him there. "You're not sixteen, yet."

"That should be a pointless non sequitur."

"And yet it isn't," Lex says, and presses his thumb against the fading suck-mark. "Let me seduce you into this."

"You -- can't we just *go* with the nonconsensual cloning? I -- oh, I have suggestions --"

"Consider them all implemented --"

"*Lex* --"

"All right," and Lex moves back --

"Oh, don't --"

"Now show me the kata. All of it, from the beginning, twice."

Instinct to do it immediately, memory -- physical and otherwise -- to do it right, *devotion* to do it right --

Devotion to what, exactly?"

"Higher on the kick -- yes, there. You're straining. We'll stretch you more."

"Yes, Lex. I --"

"Shh, not like Hope. You'll confuse my cock."

"Are you saying you *don't* want to have sex with her?"

"I'm saying that I've grown well and truly accustomed to wanting and *not* having in that respect. You..." Lex's smile is broad, *cheerful* -- and knowing. "You'll give me everything one day."

"You'll be bored by the end of that night."

"With someone like you? You wear your morality on your sleeve like you *want* someone to rip it away, but, just the same, it's *your* morality and no one else's. I'm always going to enjoy you."

Tim rears back --

"Too much tension. Come *back*."

Tim takes a deep breath, another --

"Yes, like that," Lex says, and crosses his arms over his chest. "Do the kata once more. Half speed."

Tim does it, straining where the pathetic speed he does have wants to be let out -- but Lex is teaching him control and doing it as well as he does everything else. By the end of this summer --

But Tim doesn't want to think of the end of this summer or, really, the end of this *night* --

"Good. Your body understands this."

"To be frank, Lex, my body understands the vast majority of the things you teach."

Lex hums. "Is there anything in particular it hasn't understood... or are you just hedging your bets?"

Tim feels himself blush a *little* --

"I'm going to be deeply disappointed when you grow out of that."

"Noted. Lex -- don't do this."

"Even though I'm not going to do anything especially --"

"Even so. Just -- you'd be playing with his *feelings*, and -- that's wrong," Tim says, and forces himself to stay at half-speed even though he's nearly at the end of the kata.

"He *will* know from the very beginning that the boy is a prostitute."

"That's not really --" Tim shakes his head and moves back into a ready position. "If you want Gotham, you *have* an in with my mother. If you want to know more about Bruce's and Dick's relationship, you have Mercy. If you want *Bruce* back --"

"It won't happen. If it *was* going to happen..." Lex sighs and moves into his own ready position. "Consider it a prank?"



Tim does --

"Consider it a matter of business --"

"The world of business doesn't need underaged prostitutes," Tim says, and tries for a flurry of punches --

Strikes when Lex proves more than fast enough to block --

Strikes and *kicks* when Lex is simply --

So wonderful. So --

Lex makes him give everything, makes giving everything into the only possible *option*, and this is how he teaches, this is how he *exists* in the world --

And Tim wants him. Tim wants him and wants to keep him and be kept in turn. He wants to know what Lex's penis tastes like and he wants to know how it feels when Lex buries it *deep*. He wants to talk about biochemistry and applied behavioral psychiatry -- when functionally insane scientists are the target. He wants --

Well, he wants to remember *this* state of mind, because he's managing to back Lex up even if he *isn't* managing to hit. This --

Oh, this feeling is helplessness. It's the sense that there's nothing he can do to really change anything, at all --

And Lex's expression is both avid -- so *hungry* for Tim to be just this -- and concerned. He knows Tim has -- has *doubts* --

Is that really what he's calling them? Lex is talking about *blackmail*, and even though he *says* he won't use it for anything especially --

Tim growls and pours it on, ignoring the complaints of his groin from these kicks, the complaints of his back for these twists --

Lex fights almost like another (lesser) man would fence, lunging and parrying and twisting and attacking as if he's always armed, as if he *is* the weapon --

"How," and Lex makes Tim use his flexibility to avoid a kick which *would've* taken Tim's *head* off --

"Ah -- how?"

"How can you possibly think I won't enjoy you every moment I have you?"

"People get -- bored," Tim says, trying a sweep --

Lex makes contact with a *light* kick to Tim's quadriceps -- "Boring people get bored. The rest of us *make* our own amusements."

"You hardly -- you don't keep your other lovers around -- oh, *fuck* --"

He's just good enough to have *felt* the vulnerability he'd left open --

And the rest is *pain*, because he's staggering back and gripping his own pectoral like it's trying to get *away*. Which -- it might be. "Ah -- I take it that I'm not allowed to point out certain facts?"

Lex is scowling at his own fist -- "That was... less than intentional."

Tim raises an eyebrow. "How much less?"

"Not enough," and Lex is right there, undoing Tim's top -- "Let go."

"Must I?"

"This will make it better," Lex says, and tugs on Tim's wrist -- gently.

Right. Tim lets go and narrows his eyes for the *flare* of pain -- no, he can accept it, move on, *cope* --

"Be angry with me," and Lex is massaging where he'd hit, frowning --

"You -- lost control."


"Well -- were you *trying* to punish me for pointing out what your romantic life looks like?"

Lex frowns more deeply. "You're more important than all of them."

That -- is enough to make Tim's heart beat faster. Too fast. He licks his lips. "Ah."

"You are."

"Ow -- wait, no, that wasn't the response I was going for --"

But Lex looks at him, and Tim can't really --

There *must* be things he can do other than stare, but none of them are coming to mind. Lex looks rueful, open, *honest* -- "If you say one word, then I -- I don't know. But it will be. Something," Tim says, and licks his lips again.

"Mercy told me I needed you. That it was... obvious. Hope, I'm sure, told you the very same thing. You..." Lex hums and smiles and never stops rubbing at the bruise-to-be. "You're going to grow out of me someday."

"Lex --"

"It's a perfectly reasonable supposition --"

"You never grew out of Bruce."

Lex flares his nostrils, shows his teeth -- "A case could be made that I never -- fully -- grew into him."

"You stopped yourself from... going all the way with him. Er. Just to sound like a *complete* twelve-year-old --"

"It's a good enough phrase. I... I wasn't about to throw away all of my plans for a homosexual affair with a particularly *naive* blueblood."


Lex frowns and starts massaging more thoroughly, powerfully --

He seems to almost be *forcing* the pain away --

"No, not naive. By the time he was sixteen he understood a fair amount about the world, thanks to Harvey Dent -- yes, *that* Harvey Dent. Hm. You don't look very shocked."

Oh -- right. "In Gotham, at least, there's a certain amount of programming available about the assorted... flashier criminals."

"You were about to use the term 'supervillain,' weren't you."

Tim raises an eyebrow. "Lex, if you start asking questions like Hope, my testicles will crawl away entirely."

"Mercy will catch them and bring them back for our use. I may even convince her not to cook them first," Lex says, and raises his own eyebrows. "I'm letting myself have you."

"All right. Thank you."

"You should still be angry with me."

"Would it keep you from hitting me like that again?"

Lex's expression twists itself into another scowl -- "Don't -- have low self esteem. Your parents didn't want you, but I *do*. In part because of the hash they made of your psyche, true, but *only* in part."

"You do realize that you can't actually program me, right?"

At which point Lex pinches both of Tim's nipples -- "Beg."

"*Fuck* -- please. I -- please," Tim says, and blushes hard, twitches *harder* --

"Lovely. And, yes, I know that that sort of thing *will* stop being so automatic once you get control of your hormones -- but, by then, you'll be making someone else forget your age."

"You *don't* forget --"

"I do, for, oh -- whole minutes at a time. You are..." Lex smiles *and* shows his teeth. "You're what I want, Tim. Be proud of that."

"Lex --"

"Do it for me. Do it because you know it will make me happy. Do it because it will get you what you *want* from me," Lex says, and he's twisting Tim's nipples back and forth and back again --

Tim's knees are shaking -- he stops them --

Lex sucks in a slow breath and leans in, nuzzling Tim's hair aside so he can kiss Tim's temple gently, softly...

"Lex, you. We can. We can *ask* the prostitute if he wants to be part of this."

"And you really think he wouldn't...?"

"He -- you said it yourself. He'll want to be *honest* at least more often than he doesn't."

Lex laughs quietly and sighs. "Very true. Very... mm," and he pulls back, letting go of Tim's nipples --

"Fuck. *Lex* --"

"Tilt your head to -- no, the other way -- yes," Lex says, leaning in and *biting* Tim --

Right over the mark he'd left before. It's impossible not to reach, to cup the back of Lex's head, feel his perfectly smooth scalp and want --

What is it this time? The feel of Lex's head between Tim's thighs? The feel of it while Lex kisses him?

Fucks him, *please* --

But this suck is good, too. This suck comes with Lex humming and *gripping* Tim's shoulder --

Oh, Lex's *tongue*, and it's not actually possible to press his throat to Lex's mouth while he's being held like this, but he still has to *try* --

"Mm -- stop," Lex says, pulling back and licking his own lips, which are --

Tim reaches to touch the swelling and feels himself leaning in, needing --


"You know I -- please."

"Only beg when the -- hm, spirit moves you," Lex says, grinning and cupping Tim's face. "I *do* know how you feel, as I remember being your age well enough. That doesn't keep it from being arousing to hear."

"Then I --

"Wait, and follow me upstairs," Lex says, and turns to walk to the lockers, stripping as he goes.

Well -- Tim can strip, too --

And follow Lex into the elevators *naked* --

"The things which do and don't scandalize you never cease to entertain, Tim."

"Happy to be of service, really," Tim says, and makes a point of *striding* out of the elevator first --

"My bedroom."

The *memory* of the scent of that room -- but Tim doesn't have to hesitate or stumble. He walks, and breathes deep when he reaches the room, and -- can't quite make himself crawl onto the bed.

"The mirror, Tim. And don't think that I *don't* want you on my bed."

"Ah... then?"

"I won't fuck you tonight."

"The laws you choose *not* to break will never cease to be frustrating, Lex."

"It's your own fault," Lex says and crowds behind Tim -- "No, stay far enough away that you can see yourself. Grip the edges."

"Ah -- Lex. All right." Tim follows orders -- "*How* is it my fault?"

"You're attractive when you're frustrated. *More* attractive, in some ways."

"Your kink. *Not* mine."

"No...?" Lex pushes down on Tim's penis with his index finger, lets go --

It springs back up -- and spatters the mirror with pre-come. "I -- I might simply have been aroused by the nipple-play and throat-sucking."

"Oh, you were. But you're also aroused by all the orgasm denial, which I have to say bodes well for our future sexual relationship."

Tim -- flushes, and the sight of it --

Tim lets his head hang between his arms --

"No, not that."

"Lex, I -- I'm not aroused by the sight of my own body --"

"Then watch my eyes," Lex says, and strokes down Tim's sides to his hips --

*Cups* Tim's hips --

"Look up."

Tim moans -- and does it. "It -- you shouldn't think --" Tim shakes his head --

"Tell me."

"You shouldn't think *less* of me -- or. I don't know. I don't know what you think when I follow orders like this."

"That you're mine. That you're lovely. That I'll keep you. That you need me to keep you. Hm. Do you?"

"Lex --"

"Answer the question."

Tim moans again --

"Answer. The question."

"I need you to keep me. I need you to *touch* me --"


"My throat. My nipples. My genitals. My *ass* --"

"You *did* mention spanking. Do you deserve one?"

Tim squeezes his eyes shut --


"I'm sorry -- " Tim whimpers and spreads his legs wider because he *has* to --

And Lex's breath catches in the moments before he reaches down and cups Tim's scrotum. "Look at me."

Tim does, doing his best to ignore his own face in the mirror --

And Lex's eyes seem wild and *full*, seem --

"You're hard."

Lex *grins* -- "Oh, yes. You're being a very good boy," and Lex begins stroking and petting Tim's scrotum, squeezing gently --

"Please. Please."

"You didn't answer my question."

"I. I don't know the rules well enough to know what I deserve."

"Pretend that you've been making me hard every day I've known you. Pretend... mm. Pretend that I'm going to make your birthday one to remember."

Tim groans and strains --

Remembers that he's *not* tied --

Whimpers --

Lex cups Tim's hip with his free hand. "Steady. And answer the question."

"I deserve one. I -- I need it. You like to give me what I need, ergo -- "

The spank is as good an answer as is remotely *possible*, though the sight of his scrotum swinging freely is something --

Another spank.


Another -- and then they're coming too fast to count, too *hard* --

"*Lex* --!"

"Do you like it?"

"*Please* -- I mean. I mean, *yes*," Tim says, and tries to push back into the spanks, tries to encourage with more than just his moans and helpless *jerks* --

"I *meant* to do you with a paddle, but..." Lex spanks Tim's *penis* --

"*Fuck* --"

Again --

"*Please*, Lex --"

"Do you *like* it?"

"I don't *know* --"

"Look at yourself," Lex says, and begins spanking Tim's penis lightly, steadily --

And the Tim in the mirror can't seem to close his mouth, can't seem to --

Well, obviously, he can't look away --

He's blushing, panting and *blushing* -- "Lex --"

"Keep. Looking."

He's pleading without words. He's --

He's struggling to buck his hips against the hold Lex has on his hip. He's spattering the mirror and Lex's hand --

"More. I want *more* --"

"I want you begging on your knees --"

Tim drops, turns, and looks up. "Please, Lex. Please fuck me --"

"You were in a better position for that before -- no, don't make that face, yet," and Lex cups Tim's face and strokes Tim's cheekbones. "You're beautiful, of course. You'll let me make you up."

Tim blinks --

"That was almost a question," and Lex is smiling --

He seems so *happy* -- "Ah. Um? No *cameras*, please --"

"Done. There *are* parts of this building not constantly under surveillance. You'll do it."

"Yes. Yes, Lex --"

"That I *did* want almost from the first moment I saw you..." Lex shakes his head. "Thinking about what a beautiful *woman* you'd be. Imagining your mother in my arms... well, it's humbling to discover this about my sexuality, and I've often been told that humility is an attractive character trait. What do you think?"

"In general, yes. On you, no."

Lex -- it's almost a *beam* -- "I'm so glad you think so, darling. Hands and knees on the bed. Near the edge, please."

Oh --

Oh, yes --

And it's an effort *not* to run, but he manages, and he gets himself into position, and -- "*Fuck* -- *Lex* --"

Lex holds Tim spread and there's a wet sound --

A wet sound *not* connected to Tim's ass --

"I never did this to Bruce... though he did it to me. And, of course, it's a trick I've used on various lovers over the years. Don't try to make up your mind about it until *after* I've made you come screaming."

What -- all right. All right. That -- "All right?"

Lex laughs as quietly as ever --

Lex spreads Tim *wide* --

Tim braces himself --

And then Tim cries out, because bracing himself didn't work, because Lex is licking his *anus* --

Because Lex is *thrusting* into --

Lex likes it when Tim calls his name. That -- he can do that, and perhaps make it sound like several different reasonable questions, and also --

Also --

Also the attempt to shout Lex's name turned into a wail halfway out of Tim's throat. All right. That --

He's sweating. He's sweating, and that means he's sweating *there*, and surely --

But Lex finds that taste palatable. And -- will he expect Tim to do this to *him*?

Would --

Tim groans and claws at the sheet, trying and *failing* to come up with something he wouldn't do for Lex, something --

For just *sex*, it's okay, it's --

It's not just sex. It -- Lex is --

Lex wants him. Lex thinks *Tim* will grow out of him. Lex --

Lex is fucking Tim with his tongue, and this -- perhaps this reaction, this need to wail and shake and *work* himself back for more --

Perhaps he's proving his virginity with every breath, and if so --

Lex *likes* him, wants him, needs --

Lex *growls* into Tim's *ass* --

And Tim is aware of his eyes flying open --

Of his fingers *and* toes curling --

Of Lex's thumbs digging in against the meat of Tim's ass --

There are other things, other *aspects* of this, but none of them are any more substantial than water vapor against the heat --

The throbbing, clenching *need* --

Tim thinks he might be losing something *important* to this. Something like dignity, or the kind of pride which doesn't require Lex, at all --

Lex *hums* and the vibration makes Tim grunt --

The *deeper* penetration makes Tim *shout* --

And then Lex is only holding him spread with one hand, and the need to brace himself for whatever comes next is strong enough that Tim can actually *breathe* a little --

But then Lex is *gripping* Tim's penis and stroking in rhythm with the *fuck* of his tongue --

Tim feels himself *freeze* for two seconds --

Three --

And then time is gone, replaced by a heat which should be incandescent, should burn him to nothing when he clenches --

*Every* time he clenches, and it doesn't matter that it doesn't make sense. Nothing matters but having more of *this* feeling --

Oh --

He *is* nothing, nothing at all --

Lex --

Black --

His nose is complaining. His --


Oh, yes, he's *on* it. Tim turns his head -- just in time for Lex to stroke the back of his head and down to his neck.

*Grip* -- "Welcome back."

"You're sounding smug again."

"It suits me," Lex says, letting go and moving onto the bed.

Tim does a push-up until he can get up on his knees --

Lex looks him over with something like a thoughtful *rake* of gaze. "You're exhausted."

"What? I haven't been doing that much --"

"You've been waking up at five in the morning to study -- after staying up until midnight or later to do the same thing. You've been working and studying at Cadmus. You've been learning aikido. And? You've been jerking yourself raw."

"I don't think my penis changed *texture*, Lex."

"The palm callus on your right hand is... telling," and Lex smiles at him fondly, *warmly* --

"Has it ever occurred to you that you don't *have* to make your -- lovers *tense*?"

"Ooh, you *almost* didn't trip on that. Keep up the good work. As for the *meat* of your statement... well." Lex strokes a line down the bridge of Tim's nose --

"You're about to say something about how I can improve myself. Aren't you."

"You make me sound like your *mother*, Tim."

Tim raises an eyebrow as pointedly as he can.

Lex scowls. "You want me to be gentle and kind? I can *be* gentle and kind. Come here and let me cradle you in my arms."

Tim snorts -- "Ah... no?"

Lex raises both of his eyebrows and mimes rocking an infant.

Tim flips Lex off.

"I suppose I am being a little unfair. I *enjoy* prodding you with sharp sticks. You prod back so *nicely*."

"I believe this is where I *could* mention something about fathers, therapy, and getting it... but."


"Instead," Tim says, and crawls up to straddle Lex's thighs, "I'll do this: hold me."

Lex narrows his eyes. "Happily. You're taking the day off tomorrow," Lex says, and then *grips* Tim around the chest --

"I wasn't going to try to get *away* --"

"Peons take chances. I --"

"You're a Great Man, yes, I know. Still, there's so much important work to be done, and the scientists at Cadmus just aren't suited for that sort of thing --"

"You'll tell me about all the ways they're screwing up, and, together, we'll come up with ways to fix it. You need to get used to that sort of relationship with me, anyway."

And that --

He shouldn't blush so much for the *truth* --

Lex sighs and kisses Tim's temple. "If you behave yourself, I'll let you go in after lunch."

"Lex... I think you might be too *nice*. Ah. To me, that is."

"Only if I *didn't* plan to keep you -- and keep you suited to my needs. Since that isn't going to happen... deal with being appreciated for who you are."

"And who I can be with just a little of the right sort of effort?"

"For you? It's going to require a great *deal* of effort. But you're up for it. Now relax."

"I am --" Tim cuts himself off and uses a breathing exercise.

"Mm, yes, I forgot to stretch you. Well, you'll do it before you sleep."

"Speaking of stretching --"

"You'll do that, too," Lex says, and slips a finger down Tim's cleft --

Tim moans and shivers --

And Lex cups the back of Tim's head and pulls him down until Tim's face is against his throat. "This... you should know, Tim. This is no hardship."

"Ah -- all right."

"It's also not a gift for good behavior, thought fuck knows you deserve at least one."

"What is it, then?"

Lex turns and kisses Tim's cheek. "Call it emergency rations for your inner child -- or pleasure for me. It makes no difference."

And that was a lie --

But it's one Tim can let stand.


Lex wakes up to the chime of his ear-bud --

The specific chime that means that Mercy wants to speak to him immediately --

And why is he cuddling a pillow, exactly?

Questions for decidedly *later*. Lex taps the bud -- "Report."

"I have to pull out. Nightwing showed up on my date with the secondary target, took out a few drug dealers, and recognized *me*. He informed the secondary who I worked for, and that was enough to make him clam up and shut *down*."

Lex narrows his eyes. "Was Harper surprised?"

"I -- less so than he should've been, now that you mention it. He *played* it like he was shocked -- and pissed -- but he *felt* mostly pissed. He was a lot less friendly than I expected before Nightwing showed up, too."

"Interesting. He was cold?"

"Not... quite. More distant than I was expecting from someone who came like that the other night. I *was* going to chalk it up to him just being a little cooler under the surface than he appeared, but... I don't know, Lex. This whole thing smells."

"It does, at that. Does Harper have many scars?"

"He's covered in them. You -- do you think he's a player, Lex?"

Lex shakes his head -- stops, considers -- "I don't know. How familiar is Nightwing?"

"My skull still remembers his split-kicks, if that's what you mean. I'm betting Hope's does, too."

Lex knows his smile is humorless and rictus-like, but there's no one here to see --

Except that Tim is standing at the door some ridiculous impulse had led Lex to leave partially open --

No. It wasn't ridiculous, at all. If it had been --

It wasn't, and that's that. Lex waves Tim in. "Mercy... could he be Robin?"

"I -- the way he fights..."

"Yes, think about that. I'll wait," Lex says, and turns to look Tim over. He's wearing a perfectly boring little suit that tells Lex that they need to spend at least part of the morning with Lex's tailor. There's just no time to waste.

Still, the thing *is* perfectly tailored for a certain sort of fashion. It makes Tim's shoulders seem broader than they are, while also accentuating the narrowness of his hips.

Lex cups the left hip once Tim is close, seeking out the different texture of bruises -- no, that won't work.

He uses his wrist implant to buzz Hope --

And Mercy grunts. "He could be, Lex. It would explain the timing, the flexibility, the mother*fucking* smiles --"

"All right. That's something we're going to have to spend time considering, especially if it leads to the thought of Roy Harper being... Arsenal," and Lex feels himself blinking far too *much* --

Tim is *coughing* --

Lex stands and pats Tim's back firmly. "Of course, it's only a theory...?"

"I couldn't tell if they were just pretending not to know each other. I'm sorry, Lex."

Lex pinches the bridge of his nose. "It's a theory I don't *like* very much, because it certainly implies certain things about Nightwing's identity that I don't want to --" Lex cuts himself off --

Lex paces briefly --

Tim is giving a look which mixes pleading with terror, and that's --

He should be too shocked or *amused* --

Tim shutters himself and looks down.

Lex narrows his eyes again. "Mercy, you're in Gotham for the protocol we discussed last night. However, there's a slight change: I want you to look for someone who can put up a *good* fight, should it become necessary."

"Armed or unarmed?"

"Both, if possible. The preference..." Oh, Bruce. Oh, Bruce, you -- no. No, focus. "The preference is for *unarmed* combat. Report in when you've found three possibles."

"Yes, Lex."

"Dismissed." And Lex looks up --

Tim is moving for the *door* --

"Stop *right* there."

Tim freezes. "Ah... Lex? I promise I didn't steal your favorite pillow," he says, and smiles expectantly back over his shoulder.

And that --

After that pleading look.

After all of those *shadowed* looks -- "You knew."

Tim blinks. "Knew? What did I know?"

"That's not even your *speech* pattern, you -- *how* did you know about Bruce and Grayson? *When* did you know?"

"I don't think -- I don't know what you're talking about --"

"You *stalked* them. You --" Lex moves into Tim's space --

Tim steps back --

Lex *grips* Tim's shoulders carefully. *Carefully*. He doesn't want to hurt him. He just wants to shake him until all of the information falls out in neat little *piles* --

But Tim looks frightened. He --

"I'm not going to *hurt* you --"

"It's not me I'm worried about," Tim says, and his voice is low, tired, *old* --

"You. You did know."

Tim closes his eyes --

"*Look* at me, damn you --"

Another pleading look, and this time Lex *does* shake him. *Lightly*. *Carefully* --

"You're a ringer. He's looking into me and my projects and I put you on the most important one --" Lex hears the *hysteria* in his laugh and cuts it off. "But he won't fuck you, either. *He*... has the aforementioned prettiest man in Gotham, right? You... what do you get from him? Contact with an idol? A promise that you'll be allowed to dress up in colorful tights and save the world from people like me?"

"I don't know --"

"*Don't* lie to me anymore --"

"I'm not! I'm -- I'm not," Tim says, swallowing and frowning and looking like --

Like something Lex wants and *can't* have. Lex takes his hands off Tim's shoulders --

"Oh -- don't --"


"I don't -- he doesn't know I know. At least, I don't think he does. He's never... singled me out for any degree of attention or anything like that. I used to wish I was female so that I'd have an excuse to throw myself at him at those parties --"

"Stop," Lex says, because Hope is in the doorway. "Wait right there, and feel free to listen. This impacts you, as well."

Hope nods --

Tim winces --

"Oh... really," and Lex shakes his head and cups Tim's face. "They didn't know about you."

"No, Lex."

"Don't -- don't sound like that," and Lex tries to find and *grip* his rage, his need to shake and --

And keep.

*Somehow* keep -- "Tim."

"I'm listening, Lex."

"What you are -- you're *hovering* your face just beyond my hand's *aura*. *Relax*."

Tim raises an eyebrow at him. Just --

"*Do* it, you lying bitch."

Tim winces *again* --

"Oh, come *on*," and it's necessary to grip Tim's face with both hands, to hold -- *not* shake -- and lean in until they're eye to eye, breath to breath. "You *need* me."

Tim's expression crumbles -- "I do. I do, Lex."

"*Act* like it and do what I *say*."

Tim shudders and breathes deep, clenching his hands into fists when Lex pulls back --

He relaxes them again. "*Yes*, Tim, like *that*."

"I'm *listening*."

"You -- you were keeping the secret out of some misplaced and juvenile sense of *justice*, weren't you?"

"You *could* sound a little less contemptuous --"

"No, I *can't*. Because you were all too eager to hear about Bruce, my feelings *for* that fucking -- fucking pituitary *freak* --"

"You *loved* him, Lex! You still *do*!"

"I *don't* fall for motherfucking *vigilantes*, Tim. I -- God. And he took in that *child* just to --" Lex growls and wishes he had hair to yank out by the *roots* -- "I have *watched* Grayson dive off rooftops, catwalks... out of fucking *windows* --"

"He was *born* for it!"

"You. *You* --" Lex laughs again, relieved that *most* of the hysteria is gone. "You followed him *onto* rooftops. You... what was it? Photographs? Where are they?"

Tim starts to fucking *hug* himself --

"Don't *do* that!"

"I deleted them all. I formatted the hard drive they were on three times when I found out my mother was sending me to you this summer. They weren't safe."

"Of course they weren't -- you haven't told me when you figured it out. Or *how* you figured it out --"

"I was nine. I saw Robin on the news, doing the same trick Dick Grayson promised to do for me. The one no one else his age *could* do. And I... I'd already been obsessed with Dick. And with the man who took Dick in. Lex --"

"Stop. Whatever you were going to ask me for, just -- stop."

"Fine, then I won't ask. No reprisals. No -- no horrifically dramatic revenge scenarios. The number of times Batman and Robin have saved Gotham... the number of times Batman has helped the League save the *world* --"

"From people like me, Tim...?"

"I don't even know what you did to get their *attention*, Lex! I -- I just know that you can be good -- no. I know you can be *great*, and that's what I want."

"Are you trying to tell me that you're *not* going to take everything I've taught you back to your fucking *heroes*?"

"There's nothing --" Tim firms his lips shut and shakes his head. "Nothing. The project is too important."

"And my other projects, Tim?"

"I don't know anything about them," Tim says, and raises an eyebrow. "Yet."

Oh, the hysteria is back. *Mainly* because Tim is --

Christ, he's still thinking about changing Tim's fucking *suits*. Making him --

Making him his in every possible way, really, and -- Lex smiles --

Tim rears back from it -- "Lex..."

"Maybe I should pimp *you* out, darling. Ol' Brucie would surely *love* a boy with a mind like yours, don't you think? Smart. *Deductively* smart. And just a tad conniving...?"

"I -- I'm sorry that you feel I've deceived you. In retrospect, it's a perfectly reasonable conclusion to come to. I never. I never wanted to use your secrets to hurt you."

Lex sucks in a breath --

He thinks he can feel a vein throbbing in his forehead --

That sort of thing looks ridiculous with no hair -- Lex growls and forces himself to think about Tim turning around and walking out the door past Hope.

Tim packing.

Tim flying off -- *in* a LexCorp jet, because Lex isn't -- he's not --

Lex growls again. "You're forgiven."

Tim blinks. "Ah. What?"

"You. Are. Forgiven."

"Not to steal a line, but -- I'm not sure you should. Well, no, I'm also not sure that you *do*," Tim says, and he's not hugging himself, but he is crossing his arms over his chest --

Cupping his own elbows -- "That's a tell."

"I've never *done* this in front of you --"

"Exactly. Don't do it again. Make -- make *them* work for it."

"Them *who*?"

"Your mother. Your *lack* of a father. The *world*. You -- everyone but me."

Tim blinks *more* -- "You still want me."

"*Yes*, I still want you, you prick. You've had a secret worth millions -- possibly *billions* -- for six *fucking* years and you never told anyone. Or -- Ives, was it?"

"He doesn't believe in Batman."

Lex knows his laugh is choked *and* hysterical, but -- he can cope. "I still want you. I don't *trust* you, but I still want you."

Tim winces. "That doesn't sound especially healthy --"

"What *other* secret identities, do you know? The mostly inaccurately-named Teen Titans, of course, but who *else*?"

"No one."

Lex looks at Tim, takes in those wide eyes -- so fucking *solemn* -- that *relaxed* mouth, just as if that wasn't a lie --

Was it?

Lex pinches the bridge of his nose again with the fingers of his right hand. He points to Hope with his left --

"He is not lying, Lex."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome, Lex. Do you wish him to be injured?"

Tim looks... just as horrified as Lex feels. Which proves... something or other.

"No, thank you, Hope."

"Thank you, Lex. I don't want to hurt him."

Lex blinks and turns to look at Hope, who is dressed and ready for the day -- simple, elegant cotton today -- and is staring at the nothing located mathematically centered between Lex's body and Tim's own. There are no lines showing on her face. There is no tension in either her hips or her shoulders. She looks well-rested. Just the same...

Just the *same* --

"You broke her."

"I did *not*!"

"You --" Lex growls at Tim and turns back to Hope. "*Why* don't you want to hurt him?"

"I find the idea of him remaining healthy and happy... pleasant."

Lex turns back to Tim and raises his eyebrows.

"I didn't -- all right, look, maybe she was just a little *lonely*, Lex. Like me. Like *you*."

"Like Mercy?"

"Mercy *only* needs you. I -- really wouldn't be surprised if she spent serious time considering the rest of the world drying up and blowing away."

"Yes, and that's her *job*. Hope's job is to be -- Hope," Lex says, and wonders if it's possible to develop migraines in early middle age. He's not going to rub his temples. He could, but he's not. Nor will he pinch his nose again. He's just going to walk over to Tim, pull his arms out of that awful configuration -- "You should never fucking *hurt*."

"Unless you want me to, Lex?"

"*Yes*. I -- no. Not even then. But you have to see. You have to *understand* that these people you idolize --"

"I already know that they're not especially mentally *stable*, Lex, but you -- you fucking *employ* crazy people. A *lot* of them. It's practically a prerequisite *for* the higher pay grades --"

"Yes, and *they* should get jobs. Law enforcement would *suit* Bruce. He could work the Major Case squad and solve all the crimes he wants to. He could send Grayson back to the circus where *he* belongs, or, hell, he could join fucking Special Forces if he wants to --"

"Or they could both do what they're doing for the good of the *entire world*. Look, Lex, I -- if the police could do everything which needed to be done, you'd be in *prison*."

Lex narrows his eyes. "Would you prefer that?"

"No! No, all right? I --" Tim pushes his hand back through his hair for the very first time in Lex's presence when they haven't both been showering.

Hm. "Your mother broke you of that habit."

"*Yes*. She told me that it invariably made people look for either dandruff or excessive product."

Remarkable woman -- no, he still doesn't actually want her *more* than he wants her son, so it's time to let that thought go for good and all. "All right. Tell me what you want."

"I want the project to succeed. I want -- I want to be able to continue learning from you and your employees. As much as possible. I want for there to actually be a connection between our companies, and I *really* want for us to not work on a joint project producing, I don't know, death androids. Ebola Mark IV. Super-kryptonite. You get the *gist*, Lex. I also want you. I want to. I want to know what it's like to be yours --"

"So you can try it out for a month before you move on to someone with a stronger conscience?" Oh -- that sounded far too desperate. That --

Get rid of him. Now. Nicely, but *now* --

"You should --"

"Lex, I. I don't want to. I think I might... ah. Love you," Tim says, and his blush looks precisely as terminal as it probably feels. Just --

"You don't."

"I -- okay? I'm willing to be argued out of that thought, but it's going to take a bit more effort than that, Lex."

Lex -- cups Tim's face. Strokes his lovely cheekbones --

Moves closer and looks down at the boy --

The young man --

Is this where it began for you, Bruce? A definition you couldn't make? A question you couldn't even properly *form*?


"Hope, inform the tailor that he is to be here in two hours, and inform my secretaries that my meetings are to be pushed back until eleven. None of them are to be canceled -- rearrange the schedule if necessary."

"Yes, Lex."

"Hope... where do your loyalties stand, at present?"

"With you, Lex. Though it is easier to say that with the directive that Tim's security is your own."

"And if the day comes that it isn't?"

Hope's frown would only seem mild to someone who didn't know her. *Tim* knows her well enough that he looks *alarmed* -- all right.

"It won't happen today --"

"I would. I request that you formally declare Tim a member of the family."

Family -- all right, she counts Mercy as family, and Lex himself... all right. The most important relationships in her life *were* familial -- and terrible about it. It makes sense that she would couch the matter this way --

And Tim is blushing again. Lex is very much ready to stop finding that endearing. Enticing --

It's just that, in the end, Tim has no *right* to his innocence, but it keeps right on being there. *That* is the kind of willpower the world *needs* -- "I'll begin considering the matter, Hope. Tim and I still have disagreements to work through."

Hope turns to look at Tim. "You should always follow Lex's orders, and make sure he knows everything there is to know. That will make things... easier."

"Ah -- I'll keep that in mind," Tim says, and smiles ruefully. "Certainly, I plan to never forget that there's more than one person's happiness riding on my actions."

"That's part of being a good... friend."

"Yes, it is. I think. Well -- it's mostly part of being a good person, which is *part* of being a good friend."

Hope nods thoughtfully and then turns to Lex --

"Dismissed," Lex says, and watches Hope go, looking for signs of her new outlook and finding only the smooth, unconsciously sensual stride of a well-honed weapon in her prime. She is beautiful, and if she gets much more human -- hm.

*Mercy* is far more human than Hope, and can still do her job far more than adequately well --

"I really don't think she'll have a problem destroying anyone *else*, Lex," Tim says, in the snippy voice that tends to imply -

Yes. When Lex turns, he can see that Tim's lips are pursed, his eyes narrow -- lovely. "And why, pray tell, are you angry at *me*?"

Tim blinks, blushes --

And, just for a moment, pushes in to Lex's touch. His face is warm, his skin is downy and soft --

So *young* --

"Focus, Tim. You did *have* a reason."

"Ah -- Hope. She's really -- just because she has a friend now doesn't mean you can't still use her."

"I wasn't thinking about *replacing* her --"

Tim raises an eyebrow.

"Lighter duties might just *suit* her as she comes to terms with that withered little thing she calls a *soul*, Tim --"

"Or it will make her feel that she's failed you solely by being herself," Tim says, and lifts his chin. "You know that I'm right."

Lex doesn't -- quite -- bare his teeth like an animal.

*Tim* doesn't quite glare at him, and behind that -- beyond that -- is a pride which can't be touched or breached with this kind of conversation. Something strong and getting stronger --

More *beautiful* --

And he can focus, as well. "All right, Tim, you've made your point. Think about it from my perspective: in twelve years, she has never so much as *wavered* in her loyalty."

"She didn't *today* --"

"But she would have if I'd ordered her to treat you the way she treats everyone *else* who deceives me."

Tim winces. "All right, that's... a fair point. I suppose that, technically, she should've been causing me pain *without* you first ordering her to do it?"

Lex tightens his grip on Tim's face, lest he think any thoughts about moving away. "No. I always give those orders. The only times when there's room for independent thought are when my life is in danger, and when the objective is in danger."


"Whatever the current mission happens to be. For Mercy, it was to get background information on Dick Grayson from the people closest to him. The people..."

The Teen Titans. The --

*They* had gone up against people Lex had bankrolled in one way or another in the past, criminals who were *supposed* to wreak havoc and then get themselves caught by the actual *police*.

That was the whole point of releasing the freaks and idiots in smaller cities --

But this country's police infrastructure is badly in need of centralization, not to mention training and equipment more suited to the twenty-first century and the *will* to not just sit back and let the first costumed *adventurer* risk his or her life for some --

Some foolish *ideal* --


Bruce had practically --

There had *been* vigilantes before the era of the fucking *Batman*, but they had mostly all retired away from public life -- packing up their toys and going home right when they had trained the world's police forces to count on them as unofficial *back-up*.

Batman had started it all again.

*Bruce* had started it all again, and -- wouldn't this have *had* to be in him when they were young? It's the dream of a *child* --

And Tim is reaching up to grip Lex's wrists.

"Tim --"

"You should tell him how much he meant to you, Lex. You should. You should show him what he lost."

And that's *almost* wonderful -- the sense of confidence in the *words* is powerful, perfect -- but the tone...

The way Tim is barely putting *pressure* on Lex's wrists --

"No," Lex says, twisting free and backing Tim against the wall.

Tim lifts his chin and bares his throat -- some of his throat. The collars of the jacket and shirt are too perfect to do more than *hint* about the shadows just visible beneath the suit's lines.

Lex *cups* Tim's throat and kisses him hard --

Harder when Tim *shakes* for him, so sweet, so perfect --

Lex pulls back enough to lift Tim's hands above his head and grip *his* wrists, to hold them tight enough to hurt while he *pets* Tim's throat --

Another kiss, then --

Another because he has to, because he's missed this even though it hasn't even been twelve hours.

So easy to miss him.

On so many levels. Still -- Lex sighs. "You don't think he already knows exactly what he did? It wasn't *just* me, after all. Harv must've been heartbroken to see his *best* friend spiral down into apparent alcoholism and general dissolution, and... hn. Let me guess. You probably think he was right to do it. To destroy his own reputation and relationships for his grand ideal."

Tim frowns like a child. "Sacrifices -- sacrifices *always* must be made."

Lex entertains a moment's fantasy of fixing Janet up with Bruce -- and then he lets it go. "Correct me if I'm wrong, Tim, but... don't the sacrifices usually *count* more when you make them of yourself?"

That gets him a wince --

And Tim looks down *without* shuttering. Improvement, but still -- "Look at me."

Tim does, and now he looks haunted, frightened --

"*With* me, Tim," and Lex cups the back of Tim's head, strokes his soft, fine hair, imagines running his hands through it --

He doesn't have to merely imagine it, and so he doesn't.

Tim sighs for him, and lets his eyes fall most of the way closed, and Lex realizes that he'd missed Tim in his bed last night, that there had been warmth and touch --

That there had been exactly *enough* warmth and touch to make him crave more. He doesn't usually *do* that to himself unless the touch is guaranteed to last the whole night --

It could. It *could* --

"Lex... I don't know what to say. I just -- I think you should talk to Bruce."

"The lie of the moment: I'm not usually forced to consider how young you are, Tim."

Tim laughs and smiles for him -- "What was the truth of that?"

"Usually, the fact that you're fifteen doesn't *hurt* quite as much as it does right now," Lex says, and kisses Tim before he can say a word --

Not one *word* --

And it's absolutely reasonable to strip Tim out of his jacket -- the tailor is coming -- though unbuttoning his shirt is worse than useless -- undershirt. Hm.

Lex tosses Tim's shirt back toward the bed and strokes Tim through the simple short-sleeved cotton T. It might be illusory, but he believes the conditioning he's making Tim do -- and the food Eva is making Tim eat -- is actually increasing the breadth and *depth* of Tim's pectorals.

The fact that he can't decide whether that makes him want to have Tim in a cocktail dress or a Speedo --

No, there are no excuses for Speedos.

He presses his palm between Tim's pectorals, turns his fingers downward, and strokes a *firm* line down his abdomen to his waist.

Tim grunts for that touch --

"You give me too many ideas."

"Ah. I'm not even a little bit sorry," Tim says, and raises his eyebrow at him.

"The only thing Bruce can tell me is that he loved the idea of dressing up like a giant rodent and terrorizing muggers more than he loved me, Tim."

Tim opens his mouth -- frowns, and closes it.

"You know, I'm almost disappointed that you don't have a response to that. I could've used one."

"I -- it's just --"

"Sacrifices must be made, and omelets aren't made with *whole* eggs, yes, I know."

The frown gets much, much more profound. Adorably so, really, and so it's another sort of necessary to pull Tim away from the wall enough that making him *lean* back puts his body on an exceedingly pleasant diagonal.

"I *could* blow you."

"Oh, God. I mean -- fuck. Ah. I just -- I don't like to think about Bruce *thinking* that way --"

"He has to. No matter how he actually feels about me or anyone else," Lex says, and untucks Tim's t-shirt from his waistband. "Your happy trail is impressively straight. Focused, really."

"Happy -- people actually *use* that term?"

"They do when they have pretty boys like you to irritate," and Lex drops into a crouch and nuzzles Tim's abdomen --

Tim moans -- "I want to *taste* you --"

"You will. It won't be much longer now," Lex says, admits, owns -- something. He licks at Tim's hair hard enough to make the hairs stand up --

"*Hnh* --"

"You're aware of the concept of triage, I know."

"I. What? Yes, I am."

"Good. Consider the matter this way," and Lex tugs on the hairs with his teeth before giving Tim a suck-mark just beneath his navel.

"Please, I. Please --"

Lex works a bit of the flesh between his teeth and makes it an *aggressive* bruise-to-be before pulling back and licking his lips. "Every night, Bruce has to decide which neighborhoods to visit, which criminals to risk allowing to escape while he focuses on pummeling the others... that sort of thing. Since it's *your* benighted city, he knows that everything he cuts out of his nightly perambulations is another life lost or just -- *just* -- irretrievably shattered."

"But -- to suggest he does that for his *relationships* --

"Bruce didn't *always* bury himself in brainless, soulless, corporate-media-focused debutantes and socialites. Not very long before the first reports of the Batman became coming in -- though still years after our last substantive conversations -- there was a relationship with a certain model. She doesn't have many American contracts anymore, but the Europeans still love her -- wrinkles and all -- and she was known to be one of the few top models with a brain *and* a soul -- "

"Silver St. Cloud."

"I --" Lex laughs and kisses his way down over Tim's crotch until he can find the head of Tim's cock and suck it through his clothes --

"*Lex* --"

"Of course you'd know that. Of course. Well -- we all *thought* he'd just pissed her off with his idiocy, but now..." Lex nuzzles Tim's shaft through the pants. "You can guess, can't you?"

Tim groans and bucks *once* -- "I -- you think he drove her away to protect his secrets."

"He *might* not have done it on purpose, I suppose. He never struck me as being especially *cruel*..." Lex swallows. "He never struck me as being cruel, at all."

Tim's touch to Lex's scalp is daring -- all of his touches there have been. *Noticeably* so, as if Lex has put up gun turrets and razor-wire fences around the perimeter of his head.

For that -- well, he supposes he had.

It's tempting to tell Tim that *he* is always welcome to touch him there, but the truth is that *no* one is, and Lex will never go back on his word to Tim. Never.

Tim is stroking Lex with a rhythm which would be more comforting if it wasn't quite so hesitant, though, and --

"Be more confident, Tim."

"What -- oh," Tim says, and smiles ruefully as he firms his strokes. "It never occurred to me that knowing this could make you *sad*. It should have --"

"You were thinking, perhaps, that I'd be relieved to know that he *hadn't* pickled himself?"

"When I wasn't thinking that you'd fly into a vengeful rage and release the sixteen other Bizarros you'd kept in stasis for all these years."

Lex coughs a laugh and nuzzles Tim again. "You're only tempting me to engineer another Arkham prison break. Perhaps while Blackgate is having a pleasant little riot."

"He'd just call in the League like he did *last* time, Lex."

"Not if I gave the League something *else* to do," Lex says, and smiles into Tim's eyes.

The expression there --

There's fear to be sure, and worry, too. But there's also curiosity, anticipation --

"If you emancipated yourself from your mother, Tim, there would never be anything you'd need," and Lex meant for that to come out casually, but -- it didn't.

That much is clear in Tim's wide eyes, his blush -- yes.

"Think about it. The offer is open," Lex says, and opens Tim's pants --

Tim shivers for him, reaches to help -- and doesn't fight when Lex brushes his hands aside. "Lex, I. I really hope I don't lose consciousness this time."

Lex lets himself grin. "Your body won't always have the power to *utterly* control you in this way. Enjoy it."

"Did *you* when you were my age?"

"Not even remotely. That doesn't mean I don't miss it every now and again," and Lex pushes down Tim's pants, peels down his boxer briefs...

He breathes deep --

"You smell nothing like him."

"Was Bruce -- he was the only male before me?"

"It's really quite rare that I find men as diverting as women. There are a few men I respect a great deal whose company I enjoy -- Emil Hamilton, Lucius Fox --"

"People who've rejected you for being --"

"A terrible, terrible person, yes," Lex says, and brackets Tim's cock with his fingers, eyes its straight and perfectly average length, measures his own hunger as a function of intensity of scent multiplied by the speed at which the droplet of pre-come is forming --

"You could -- you could just be *good*, Lex --"

"I'll never just be *good*, darling --"

"You know what I *mean* --"

"Lucius is too old for me. Emil is too... avuncular. Perhaps if either them looked any good in boxer briefs," Lex says, and licks a long stripe up the underside of Tim's shaft --

"*Lex* -- oh -- you can't *fuck* your way into a *conscience*."

Well. "Who," Lex says, gripping Tim's cock and flicking his tongue over and over the head --

"*Ohn* -- *please* --"

"Who are you trying to convince?"

"You. Me. You won't fuck me *out* of a conscience, either --"

"Are you sure you have one?"

"Don't -- I, please, hurt *me*, not anyone else," Tim says, and actually makes a *creditable* effort to push Lex away from his cock. The angle is against him, though, as is his age and arousal.

"Shh. It's all right --"

"It is *not* --"

"You're a good boy, Tim. I wouldn't lie about that --"

"I *know* I'm good --"

"Lie," Lex says, and nibbles along the sides of Tim's shaft --

Tim whines -- "All right. All right. It's just -- I *believed* I was good --"

"Before me."

"Don't *stop*, Lex --"

"But I haven't begun --"

"*Lie*," Tim says, and tries to push again --

"Palms against the wall."

"*Please*, Lex --"

"Palms. Against. The wall."

"Hnh --" Tim obeys --

Lex slaps his cock --

Tim *shouts*, questioningly and *hotly* --

"You hesitated, darling. You really *need* to stop doing *that*," Lex says, making a point of meeting Tim's eyes --

And seeing hunger, confusion, youth -- and growing knowledge. *Firming* knowledge.

They both know Tim's age doesn't really matter to Lex anymore. That it doesn't matter enough to make him *stop*. They both know the continued tease is now just that. They both know --

No. Tim doesn't *know* that he'll get what he wants. Not yet. He's been well-trained by Janet, but there are some things only experience teaches. Still --

"You'll make me come so hard I cry out and *snarl*, Tim. I promise you."

"When. Please, *when* --"

"I hate the 'happy birthday' song. It's one of the most insipid things ever written. We'll find other ways to mark the occasion. What time were you born?"

"I -- the early afternoon --"

Lex squeezes Tim's cock -- "You'll come home for lunch that day. You won't go back after you eat."

"Please. Please. I need."


Tim swallows. "It seems -- it doesn't seem to right to say that *now* --"

"You'll get other *chances*, darling. Say it."

"I *need* you, Lex -- I need you to -- to suck me off --"

"No, be honest."

"I need you to *fuck* me, to *hurt* me, to do it -- so -- so *hard* --"

More than enough excuse to growl, to grip Tim's hip with one hand and *squeeze* his shaft with the other --

"*Please* --"

"When you're old enough," Lex says and feels himself febrile, on the edge of something --

"I'm not old enough for *this*, Lex!"

On the edge of something beautiful, something -- right? Lex leans in and breathes hot on the head of Tim's cock --

Shivers internally for Tim's whimper -- more.

He needs more than that, and isn't it wonderful that he knows how to get it? Yes, yes, it is. Lex leans in far enough to take the head in, to suck *hard* --

Tim *shouts* for him, wordless and *damningly* high --

Lex had learned as a teenager that *every* lover allowed to do so would leave a mark -- and that some of the ones who *weren't* allowed would leave the biggest ones. Easier, by far, to keep such things to a minimum -- and Mercy had helped so *very* much. Age and power had brought him different classes of women -- all of whom knew precisely how to keep their mouths shut and *when* to leave him alone --


It's possible that he'd been too domineering over the years, too...

Too much of *something* to attract women who also knew when and how to tell him that he didn't want to be alone, at all, to *use* what genetics had given them -- *all* of what it had given them -- in order to be diverting enough to --

"Oh -- *ohn* -- *Lex* --"

It would almost certainly be a terrible idea to test this theory with a female protégée.

Tim shouts again, voice cracking, and it's an excellent reminder not to laugh...

As is the cock in his mouth. He can do a much better job than this. He can --

He can look up and take Tim in. Eyes squeezed shut, cheeks flushed, lips bitten red and swollen -- and palms pressed perfectly to the wall. A part of Lex only wants to stop for long enough to *taste* the palms of those hands --

He doesn't need to encourage Tim to kill him.

Lex smiles enough for Tim to feel it --

Tim whimpers and opens his eyes, opens them wide enough that he may as well be *twelve* --

But he isn't, and that's a kind of enough. Enough to get Lex's hands on Tim's hard and *subtly*-curved ass, enough to let him breathe deep despite everything telling him to do other things with his throat -- he wants to do those other things as well as possible. As *addictively* as possible. Tim will leave him one day -- and *this* feeling means that it *will* be some variety of too soon -- and so --

He should be preparing --

This counts. This -- swallowing Tim deep and *holding* him, making Tim associate Lex with the kind of pleasure which can bring a boy to his *knees* --

He'll have Tim as long as possible, and it will be... all right.

Lex closes his eyes and works Tim into his mouth, urging him to thrust --

"*Lex* --"

That was almost an interrobang. He'll have to work on getting more out of Tim. For now, he knows a *quick* way to get a boy to move the way he should, and that --

Lex shoves *in* with his right middle finger --

Tim's scream is high-pitched enough to be *worrying* --

But he's not too tight. Not -- not at all --

And a crook --

A hum --

A *pull* --

And Tim is shouting rhythmically, pumping into Lex's mouth the way he'd failed to last long enough to do last time. His knees are shaking to either side of Lex and he's starting to lose his balance --

Lex *isn't* strong enough to keep him from falling while they're in this position, so Tim is just going to have to work a little harder for what he wants, what he needs, what *Lex* needs --

It shouldn't be *possible* to taste someone's *age*. Health, diet, fine, but *age*? Perhaps it's an illusion based on something resembling guilt? He's allowed emotions like that. Not too *much* of them lest his bodyguards grow *tweaked*, but --

"*Lex* --!"

Oh, beautiful, beautiful, and, yes, he's gripping hard enough to bruise, thrusting hard enough to *burn* --

One day, he'll make Tim describe every *moment* of his pleasure, and if his conscience -- such as it is -- acts up, Lex will call it a matter of helping Tim with his creative writing and vocabulary.

The urge to laugh maniacally -- he's *done* with hysteria -- is strong, but he is stronger --

Or, at the very least, hungrier. He works his knuckle against Tim prostate once --

Twice --

And that may very well have been more of a shriek than a scream, which is -- what it is.

And all his own, especially when Tim starts doing his level best to *fill* Lex with come --

No, he has to taste. He pulls back and catches himself humming, clutching *harder*, thrusting *more* --

"Lex -- Lex -- *Lex* --"

Yes, that. He doesn't actually want to work Tim until he's hard again --

That's a terrible lie whose time has, fortunately *and* unfortunately, come. Lex pulls off the rest of the way --

"Breathe, Tim."

Tim whimpers -- but he nods, swallowing and squeezing his eyes shut before shaking his way into a breathing exercise.

It's enough to make Lex wonder if it's the control or the *loss* of control which works for him in this particular fifteen-year-old case -- he usually has no trouble whatsoever being sure -- but, in the end, he finds no answers when he removes his finger from Tim's ass.

(Though it's a *kind* of answer to know precisely how yet another part of his body will classify that heat --)

Just as it's an answer that he's trying to talk himself around his own lusts, just as if his id is a child to be led around a playground by his uniformed nanny of a superego. His id, if anything, should be *fucking* his superego --

And, in the end, he much prefers Jung.

And Skinner.


Tim is still breathing his way back into something resembling self-control, and Lex decides to let him do it --

After he kisses his way up Tim's abdomen and chest --

After he lifts Tim up and presses him back against the wall comfortably --

After he -- no. He's not going to stand here and make love to Tim's hands, and he *is* going to take his erection to the bathroom. Momentarily. "Tim."

Tim's eyes seem to fly open -- and the expression in them is deep and dark, needy and frightening --

*Tempting*. "Yes?"

"I didn't black out."

"Very true --"

"You want more."

"We've established --"

"Lex," Tim says, and it's a sentence, a paragraph -- or perhaps merely punctuation to the way he's turning around, palm leaving the wall for just long enough to show pink, damp in the morning light -- and then Tim is simply there, braced against the wall and -- offering.


"What *do* you like, Lex? I can't dance, at all, but I'm willing to try."

That -- "You're not bruised... there."

"I could be."

*That* -- Lex curls his hands into claws and rakes his way up over Tim's cheeks --

"*Fuck* -- Lex. Please."

"Do you honestly think I have any interest in doing this when you're not begging for it?"

"I did say 'please,' but I could --"

"No. Never that," Lex says, and cups Tim's hips again, learns their warmth, their curves and angles, their hollows --

Tim sighs and hangs his head. "You can even put me in front of a mirror."

"I will, one day," and Lex knows he sounds distracted, but that's really only because he is -- "You shrieked for me."

"You made me feel like I was on fire, Lex. I was waiting for the pain. For... other things."

"Tell me," Lex says, and lets himself lean in to breathe in Tim's scent, to look for the differences --

It's mostly a sense of warmth, as if Tim *had* been burning inside enough to change his scent in that direction --

"Lex --"

"Tell me," and Lex doesn't bite. Not -- he doesn't.

"I was waiting to lose control more, and then I was waiting to have it back enough to do *this*."

"You were ignoring your own orgasm?"

"More -- ah. I would say that I was just focused on getting more, being *able* to relax through it. Lex, you're *hard* --"

"It's nothing new."

"You're going to have someone measuring your *inseam* soon --"

"No, just yours. You need to calm down," and Lex bites Tim's ear --

"Ah -- oh. Oh, I like -- *that* --"

That for a tongue in his ear. "Noted," Lex slurs, and fucks his way in and doesn't think about the way he's edging closer, pushing himself against the small of Tim's back --

Until Tim pushes up on his toes and starts to *work* himself --

Lex stills him with the grip he has on his hips. "Stop."


"It won't happen."

"God -- fuck -- *please* --"

"Be patient. You are..." Lex laughs quietly. "No, I know you don't actually know what you do to me. That you *can't* know, yet."

"It's -- you're usually much better at protecting my self-esteem, Lex."

"'Fuck me or admit that I don't need you,' Tim?"

"I -- all right, that's horrible, but --"

"You're allowed. You are, of course, exceedingly young."

"It's *arbitrary*. These -- these age limits and rules are made for the *average* teenager -- and there's no such *animal*."

"You don't think you'd have more friends if that were the case?"

Tim sucks in a breath -- "All right. Lex. Tell me -- you have to see how I'm laying myself out for you --"

"It's beautiful, and so are you."

"I -- oh."

"Yes. I -- the laws are arbitrary. Nothing about my decision to follow them is."

"*Lex* --*hnh* -- oh, please --"

"It's not a surprise that *this*," and Lex emphasizes his words with a *dragging* thrust along Tim's cleft, "is enough to make you beg sincerely --"

"I told you, I told you what I wanted, what I want right *now* --"

"Shh, shh, let me enjoy myself in peace."

"Oh -- *fuck*, Lex, that's horrible --"

"Isn't it, though? But it's what you're asking for right this moment. You're not aroused enough for me to just shove in without you feeling distinctly used --"

"I *want* you to use me --"

"No, you want me to use you *well*. Which is what I want, too, so really -- we're on the same wavelength here," Lex says, and tries jabbing thrusts that jerk them both, *work* them both --

"Please. Please. *Please* --"

"Beautiful. You -- aren't perfect, of course --"

"I *know* that --"

"I don't... for much of the time we spend together."


That -- was that too much?

How is he supposed to *know*? It's easy to toss out mostly true declarations with lies behind them, and a truth of impermanence behind *that*, but this --

Tim is his *protégé* --

Tim is his lover, too. That -- it doesn't have to be more than it is. Or, rather, more than it is in Tim's mind --

Lex doesn't growl when he moves his hands --

Though that mainly has to do with the fact that Tim slaps Lex's hands back against his skin at speed -- despite the fact that it leads to him bumping his cheek against the wall --

"Don't do that, Tim --"

"Don't -- don't *you* do that -- I. I'm a little stunned. To be honest."

"Nobody could ever be perfect in your mother's eyes --"

"Could we please stop talking about her when I'm naked?"

Lex coughs a laugh and massages Tim's hips --

"That feels --" Tim moans and rubs the backs of Lex's hands for a moment before bracing them on the wall once more. "Don't let go of me. I. I just. I don't want you to let go of me."

He's speaking about more than just this moment --

He's a *child* --

He's even more of a child than he *should* be, thanks to Janet, and Lex *will* help him grow, help him *become* --

Lex licks his way over Tim's cheek --

"Oh, Lex --"

Lex yanks Tim's head back and kisses him from over his shoulder. It's as awkward and shallow as every other kiss of this kind he's ever had and yet -- somehow -- it's not enough to dump ice water on his crotch.

Lex *tries* to sigh, but it comes out as more of a hungry hum than anything else --

And Tim reaches up to cup the back of Lex's head, to offer himself, his body, his comfort --

And *that* is too much. Isn't it? Certainly for this time of *day* --

Lex pulls back --

"Lex, *please* --"

"Eat breakfast. I'll join you as soon as I --"

"Then let me *watch*."

Lex blinks. A part of him wasn't expecting that question even a little, apparently. And it really wasn't a question. Still -- "You'd like to watch me jerk off while neither of us have what we want?"

Tim turns around and gives him a smile which manages to be sunny, sly, and about sixty percent real, give or take a few percentage points. "I wouldn't say that it wouldn't be what I wanted, Lex."

*What* part of that was a lie? "What *would* you say?"

"That I could do better. *Be* better. Think of all the time you're wasting by not training me in this, Lex."

"I *don't* need you to be another Mercy, Tim."

Tim shrugs -- and that's definitely a lie --

"Don't pretend to casualness you don't feel around me."

Tim narrows his eyes. "Is that an order?"


"You have to allow me dignity --"

"Find it," Lex says, and cups Tim's jaw, "in other ways."

"Lex --"

"Do you *want* to watch, or are you just clawing for anything you can have?"

Tim swallows. "I've thought about it. I've thought about... being able to look in on what you're thinking about me when you're doing it."

"You want me to talk while I jerk myself off for you?"

Tim reaches back to grip the wall a little with one hand. "Ah. For me, Lex?"

He hadn't even seen *that* declaration coming -- but he's more than old enough to deal with the consequences of his actions and words. *All* of the consequences -- including the incredulous affection of a lonely boy.

Another one, even.

Lex licks his teeth. "For you."

Tim moans -- "May I -- I'd like to be on my knees in front of you."

"I won't come in your mouth --"

"You can come on my *face*, Lex. You -- you do *know* how attractive you are, so I'm forced to believe that you act like *this* out of cruelty."

Lex -- doesn't rear back. But. "You know you'll get everything you want."

Tim frowns and looks down -- "Don't listen to me."

"Tim --"

"Don't -- just don't listen. I'm not -- I'll be better when I'm less aroused. Or when you are," Tim says, looking up again and smiling ruefully.

Lex narrows his eyes --

"Don't -- Lex, it's okay. I just -- at times like these I *forget* how much I *enjoy* being jerked around --"



"Why do you forget?"

Tim looks at him like he's crazy, which --

"It's an honest question."

Tim blinks once, apparently reading the sincerity in it --

"I don't spend very much time with people as emotional as you are, Tim."

Tim hisses a bit -- "All right. That's -- fine. And the actual reason why -- you're not the one who's *supposed* to be a Vulcan who never actually goes into pon farr. Not that that --"

"Darling. Some of us had to do that sort of thing before it was *remotely* fashionable to be geeky."

"I --" Tim closes his mouth, frowns, *blushes* --

"Apology accepted."

A rueful smile, then. "Yes, okay, I'm sorry. I am, in fact, upset with you for being *better* at this whole emotionless pragmatism *thing* than I am, even though it's perfectly ridiculous to be so."

"There is no doubt in my mind that you're better at it than the vast majority of your age group -- and you'll be infinitely better than that in, say, five years."

"Well... good?"

Lex smiles and shakes his head. "You have to let some people see who you actually are inside. Bits and pieces are fine for your second-tier acquaintances, but... well. If you *don't* have someone close to you who can know everything -- or nearly everything -- you'll just wind up exposing yourself inappropriately out of a kind of desperation."

Tim makes a face --

Lex knows his smile is becoming something awful, but -- but. He strokes Tim's cheekbones. "There's nothing stopping you from choosing someone who... understands."

Tim blushes again --

"It's all right, Tim. I know I'm... putting a lot on you."

"You're asking me to believe --"

"Telling you."

"You're *telling* me -- fuck, Lex, just let me be *near* you when you get off. Give me that. Give me -- you have to know how much more *solid* that would make me feel --"

Lex shakes his head. "If sex worked that way, there'd be a lot fewer fuckups in the world, Tim."

"Yes, fine, all right, but I would like to submit that when you were my age and experimenting, you didn't have someone like *you*."

"Enough like me to fuck a teenager --"

"Listen to what I'm *saying* and stop arguing for no *fucking* reason, Lex!"

Lex grips Tim's jaw again and kisses his forehead. "I'm listening. You think I'm wonderful --"

"I *need* you --"

"You want me to get off for you, with you, on you --"

"*Please* --"

"Shh. I'm not going to let you touch my genitals or nipples *or* ass until after I get off. Can you handle that?"

Tim's eyes are wide again, full again, *young* again --

It's a wound in Tim Lex never wants to fucking *heal* -- "Tell me."

"Yes. I -- yes. I won't touch, or lick, or bite, or suck, or rub, or --"

"Sit at the foot of the bed."

"Yes, Lex," Tim says, and Lex decides he can deal with it, since most of Tim's questions fail to end in periods.

Lex pinches the bridge of his nose and climbs on at the head, sitting against the headboard and opening his suit pants. The boxer-briefs he's wearing are tented ridiculously, stained -- fuck it. He stands up again --

"Lex --"

"*Relax*," Lex says, and strips off as quickly and neatly as possible. He gives himself the sight of Tim looking over his body --

Learning his body --

He blushes when he looks at Lex's groin, and that -- ultimately -- is familiar enough. Lex strokes a path *around* his cock, watching Tim's gaze follow it perfectly. "You had to have heard the rumors."

"I thought -- I thought that was what they were."

"Even though there was no sign of hair on my head?"

Tim licks his lips and shrugs -- it's anything but casual. "Even so. I think. I think it explains why I can so rarely smell you. When we're close, I mean."

Lex smiles and grips his cock. "You'll get a good idea of my natural scents soon enough."

"You're not -- never mind."

Lex raises an eyebrow. "Tell me."

"I -- it's -- it's just that you're not at all self-conscious. I mean, you shouldn't be. It's just. It's one more thing I don't entirely understand."

Oh... Tim. Lex climbs onto the bed again and gets back into position, pulling one knee up and leaving the other leg straight enough that he can press his toes against Tim's thigh, where there is more hair than Lex will ever, ever have. "There's something to be said for rampant sluttery undertaken at a young age, Tim."

Tim frowns. "You're saying that that sort of behavior *improved* your self-esteem?"

"And ruined it in other ways," Lex says, and mimes an old-fashioned scale. "I gained more -- and more deeply -- than I lost. Consider it."

"It's not... ah. It's not exactly the best way to keep my sexuality out of the news."

That -- Lex inclines his head. "Very true. We'll find you some perfectly lovely young men who know how to keep their mouths shut --"

"If I'm paying them -- or you're paying them -- I'll never really gain anything like confidence about my prowess or attractiveness, Lex."

"There are costs and then there are costs," and Lex leans back, arches up -- "I pay Mercy because it pleases me to do so. There is no doubt in my mind that she would stay without it."

"You're *you* --"

"And you'll learn exactly who you are. Watch."

"Oh -- now?"

Lex smiles and gives himself the medium-speed stroke he likes best -- the one which involves a certain tossing motion, a sense of inherent control --

Tim moans and curls his fingers in against the duvet --

"Memorize this, Tim."

"I -- let me --"

"No. Stop asking."

Another moan, and Tim is studying him now, every motion --

Tim is testing the motion in the air -- hm. Lex reaches in the drawer and gives Tim the toy most closely patterned to Lex's cock --

"Oh. Oh, fuck. Lex --"

"Use it. Show me."

Tim nods and licks his lips --

Tim holds the toy steady with one hand and *works* it with the other, all without looking away --

Perfect --

"Look at me, Tim."

Tim does -- and whatever is in Lex's eyes makes Tim narrow his own, lick his lips again, stroke *faster* --

Lex knows what it is. He knows. He --

"Tim. Slow down."

"Yes, Lex --"



Lex swallows and speeds up to match Tim's rhythm --

"*Fuck*, Lex --"

"Exactly. But Tim... sometimes there are neither escape routes or options. Sometimes you *do* get backed into a corner and the only choices are to die or fight the battle you never wanted to fight. Sometimes you *lose* that battle... and then you must capitulate."

"To you. I want -- to *you*, Lex --"

Lex laughs and gives himself a squeeze --

Tim groans and leans in, breathes deep -- "Lex, I *need* you --"

"I'll let you suck my fingers when I'm done."

Tim's eyes *start* to roll back -- and then they stop, and Tim is staring at him, glaring and *pumping* the toy in his hand --

"Oh... yes," Lex says, and that was much less controlled than he wanted it to be, but --

It proves a point. That's the most important thing at the moment, surely --

Certainly, it's a wonderful excuse to squeeze his cock rhythmically, to make his breathing rough, dangerous --

"You. It hurts me when I do that to myself, Lex --"

"But you like it."

"*Yes*, but --"

"Go with it," and Lex strokes in between the squeezes, teases himself *just* the right way --

"Tell me -- tell me more about *surrender* --"

Lex gasps just a *bit* helplessly --

And then he has to do it again, because Tim has tossed the toy aside and is on his hands and knees with his mouth approximately three inches away from the head of Lex's *cock* --


"I'm not. Touching. *Tell* me, Lex. *Please*."

Surrender. Surrender. He *has* important things to say about the matter, but --

Lex pinches himself just behind the head --

Tim grunts, puffing warm air against Lex --

It would be so *easy* to shove a hand in that fine, fine *hair* --

"Lex, please, I -- please. You already have me on my hands and knees, and I -- you have to *know* that I'm sincere, that I want you more than I ever thought I *could* want someone... someone --"

"Someone other than Robin, yes, I know," Lex says, and laughs his way through that bit of *bracing* --

"*Lex* --"

"Surrender -- true surrender -- is nothing which can be negotiated or eased, Tim. It's *nothing* but itself, and you will be humbled. The best you can hope for is not to -- not to fucking *break* --"

Tim leans in and breathes deep over and over --

Starts to *pant* as he brings his head as close as possible without touching --

As he closes his eyes and moans, pleads -- there are no words in it, but the sounds are perfectly comprehensible, perfectly themselves --

"Sometimes -- sometimes, you *will* break, Tim. And then there's nothing to do but try to. Pick up the pieces," Lex says, and the snarl in his voice is a warning for one of them --

Both of them?

It *is* easy to shove his hand in Tim's hair, to cup the back of his head --

To pull, and, yes, the sound Tim makes for that is joyous, triumphant, *grateful* --

"Surrender never happens all at *once*," and Lex decides to focus on not thrusting, not doing anything but taking Tim's heat for his own, his hot, wet *mouth* --


"Hnh -- it's. The battle doesn't end very *easily* when you lose, when I lose -- *suck*, damn you --"

Tim does, and this time his eyes *do* roll back --

"You keep *fighting*, and you do it to prove that you're still the man you thought you were. You fight for. For the sake of the belief that you're worth fighting *for* --"

Tim makes a questioning noise *and* takes more --

"Ah -- look *up*, Tim --"

He does, but there is no focus in those eyes -- no, Tim is fighting the haze, *trying* to focus --

"Look at your mouth, so stretched..." Lex groans something *like* shamelessly and strokes Tim's lips, tugs the left side of his mouth out of true --

The *rawness* of the plea in Tim's eyes --

"Yes. Yes, I." Lex groans again and arches up --

Tim takes more and begins to hyperventilate --


Tim whimpers -- and begins working his mouth on Lex's cock in the same rhythm Lex had shown him. Of course.

He'd *told* him -- Lex laughs again and knows that he sounds drunk, *lost* --

And that's a lesson, too. That --

"The terrible. The terrible thing is that you'll learn to be -- hnh. Even more beautiful when you do this than you are right now."

"*Mm* --"

"Shh, I -- I can't take that. I can't," Lex says, and covers his face with his free hand --

He's lost.

He's *lost*.

This beautiful boy, this dangerous and needy boy, this *brilliant* and *manipulative* boy. Everything Lex should've been prepared for by his own *fucking* adolescence --

But he'd let himself think that there was an end, and that he'd found it in Bruce. He'd let himself spin lies about how he wasn't ever *really* that affected --

Nothing wrong with *experimentation*, after all --

Even his fucking father had only ever been *amused* by it --

Horribly fucking *amused* --

Tim sucks *hard* --

Lex groans and thrusts *once*, just to --

You never stop *fighting*, but you don't hurt the ones who don't deserve it. You have to remember that. You have to surrender with --

Something like honor, perhaps. Something --

And that's reason enough to laugh more when he uncovers his face and gazes ruefully, needily into Tim's eyes --

When he cups Tim's face with both hands, gets those cheeks sticky with pre-come, slick with sweat --

He drags his slick-sticky finger under Tim's nose and gets a scrape of teeth --

A shaken head --

Another raw plea.

Lex nods and strokes Tim, promises without words -- no. "It's all right, Tim. It's -- you can *tell* it's all right..."

A frustrated look, a more *specific* plea --

Ah, yes. He wants to be taught. To be *trained*, and this is another weakness within himself that Lex should've known about and *excised*. An urge to teach shouldn't make him this helpless in the advent of a studious companion --

*Protégé* --

Willing, willing fuck-toy --


And so Lex can give, and hold Tim's head still for careful thrusts which nonetheless scream of that rhythm -- and a higher speed --

"Mm -- *mm* -- *mm* --"

"Yes. Yes, Tim, you..." Lex laughs again. "Don't think the soreness in your jaw will stop me from doing this repeatedly."

*Shining* eyes, and an *attempt* to get free -- almost certainly so he can do something else maddening and perfect. But *this* control is the fight he won't let go just yet.

This -- this is *reasoned* surrender, or --

Every drag of Tim's increasingly soft lips. Every press of that clever little tongue. Every hungry *suck* --

Fuck, *please* --

"Have you -- ever swallowed a toy? Deliberately --"

Tim nods frantically, and Lex has to wonder what it was, where he *hid* the thing --

He'll ask another time. He --

For now, there is this: the slow push deeper, and deeper than that.

The vibration of a *helplessly* pleasured hum --

The memory of Bruce's look of *blank* concentration, because in that moment there had been nothing else Bruce wanted to know, nothing else that brilliantly powerful mind *could* focus on --

And there's no difference in the clench of their throats, no --

No greater *profundity* in either this moment or that --

To be this *deep* --

And Tim's hands are sweaty and cautious on Lex's hips --

"*Hold* me --"

-- until they aren't. Until Lex is being held by a boy who hadn't even *existed* when Lex was first discovering how wonderful this was, how *pleasurably* unmanning --

Lex groans and gives himself *one* more moment just to be cradled and contained, just --

And the moment ends with Lex's own moan, because older doesn't mean *dead*, and the fact of the matter is that this is much too good to *only* be savored. Tim isn't looking *away*. Tim is with him now, and will be with him --

He doesn't want Lex to let *go* --

And so he won't. Lex firms his grip and begins to *fuck* his way into Tim's throat, using him *just* as well as he can --

Grunting like the pathetic animal he is while Tim moans and moans more --

Wanting so much more --

"I won't let you go --"

This moan is louder, more desperate -- and Tim is clutching Lex's hips, digging in with his fingers enough to -- possibly -- leave bruises of his own.

A part of Lex is only fantasizing about *deliberately* strengthening Tim's hands --

The rest is trying not to hurt, not --

It's not going to work. It --

Lex pulls Tim off --

"*Please* --"

"Breathe. Fast and deep."

"Oh. I --"

"It's going to be hard. It's going to hurt. And I'm going to come so hard I forget one of our names. Possibly my own."

"I --"

"*Breathe*, Tim."

Tim blinks and does it, studying him the way he *wasn't* while Lex was fucking him. The wonder in his eyes...

"*Now*," Lex says, shoving back in --

Tim tries and fails to cough him out -- but it's clear from the way Tim is holding on that that was a unilateral gambit from his throat. This --

Yes, a *moment* to be deep, to smile down into Tim's eyes because he has to -- "Perhaps there's an art to surrender...?"

Tim narrows his eyes and sucks what must be as hard as he *can* --

Lex gasps and grips Tim's hair again, holds it, tugs it -- "Now," he says, and watches Tim jerk for the word and the tone *just* the way Mercy does --

There were bound to be *some* similarities --

And perhaps this is what he will have in lieu of hysteria from now on -- useless apologia and excuses for not being disturbed enough by the man he'd grown into without anything resembling *intent* --

But the time to examine that isn't now. Now is for the way his hips remember every beautiful moment and the rhythm needed to achieve another. Now is for the opportunity to leg-lock Tim and pull out --

"*Lex* --"

-- to flip him, shove a pillow under his head, and *fuck* his way in. To loom just the right way to throw shadows, *take* light --

And yes, Tim is shaking. Stroking Lex's thighs and hips and abdomen, clutching and clawing --

His eyes are so *wide*, but there's no fear, no --

And Lex knows that, if there were in this moment, he *would* break.

More than he already has. More --

"You're beautiful, Tim. You... hn. You're exactly who I want. *You* made me this hard. Feel me. Taste me. *Take* me."

And now the shaking is full-bodied, and the scent of Tim's sweat and hunger is deadly, insinuating --

"I'll find you cologne that will make everyone want to do this for *you*. I'll find you -- hnh. Hnh. Something -- something that won't take your scent *away*."

Pleading eyes, fading focus --

"Oh, I know you'd get hard for this. I should fucking *spank* your cock 'til you come for being such a greedy little bitch --"

Tim *bucks* --

Lex laughs in *delight* -- "You'll never have to worry about me letting go, darling. You're *mine*. You... yes, more," and Lex starts thrusting faster, harder -- "Ah, fuck, that's so -- No, you *won't* breathe until after I come. How does that work for you?"

Tim shudders and tries to pull Lex deeper, to --

"Mm. Did you want me to be -- to be *still*, Tim?"

Tim shakes his head as violently as he can without dislodging Lex --

"Good, because that wasn't going to happen, either. I won't say there's *nothing* I won't do to you, but... oh. Oh, you won't miss *much*. Fuck, you --" Lex growls and starts to *grind* in, taking a moment to pray that Janet won't decide she wants a damned *video* call --

No, not her, and not here. Not this --

Not when he can *have* this --

"*Mine*, Tim --"

Tim nods and squeezes his eyes shut --

"*No* --"

Open eyes -- and the first shining *hints* of tears --

Lex groans and tries to *remember* the last time someone had cried for him, for *sex* --

Mercy had cried after killing Lex's father, but she'd been busy telling the story and getting herself fucked the *right* way as a reward, the only reward which could ever count for someone so *horrifically* terrible, so beautifully perfect --

No one else?

*No* one?

"It's all right, Tim. It's -- I won't stop --"

Tim nods and stops stroking Lex's hips to wipe his eyes --

"No, not that. Let me see. Let me *have* that --"

And Tim's eyes are wide again, wet --

His long, thick lashes are clumping --

And Lex realizes that he's going to have a problem fucking Tim if they're not face to face --

At least the first time --

"I need -- I need more," Lex says, and it sounds like an apology and feels like an admission of guilt. It's neither of those things because he's not that good a person, but --

He wants to warn Tim, and he wants --

He's *already* warned Tim -- countless times in countless ways -- "I *need* more --"

Tim whimpers and gets choked off with Lex's cock --

Tim *whines* and gets choked off --

More. He has to have --

And Lex doesn't know if pulling out and yanking the pillow away counts as more, if lining up their cocks and *grinding* counts as more --

Tim gasps once, twice -- "*Lex* --!"

"Another time. I promise you. I --" Lex leans in and curses the height difference. He can't manage a kiss like this, but he can lick the skin beneath Tim's eyes, taste salt that seems wholly different from that of his sweat --

"Oh -- oh, *please* --"

"*Fuck* against me --"

Tim shouts and grips Lex's shoulders -- and starts bucking *precisely* like this is something he's waited for, thought about --

"You'll -- you'll tell me your fantasies --"

"*Lex* -- I mean, *yes* --"

"All of them --"

"*Please* --"

"Shh," Lex says, but he doesn't mean it, he's not capable of meaning it, he's not capable of anything other than bracing himself on Tim's bony shoulders --

So *fucking* young --

But this is heat. This is the kind of pleasure --

Tim's skin is softer than Bruce's had been, more smooth -- and he is in no way capable of pretending that he's doing this to a woman. Tim's cock is hard and *hot* for him, Tim's shouts are high but *lacking* in anything like music --

He's never going to be able to gag Tim for very long, but the image is compelling. Tim made up, corseted into a -- slightly -- different shape... and ball-gagged.

The tailor knows how to keep his mouth shut, too --

And that's a thought worth a smile and a *harder* fuck, a *promising* fuck that leads to Tim shouting his name over and over again, tossing his head and turning dark with a flush that spills all the way down his chest. And, sometimes, the secret of *good* domination is timing:

"Come for me."

A strangled scream --

And Tim is coming all over Lex's cock and abdomen, spattering both their chests --

"Beautiful," Lex says, and doesn't wait before flipping Tim onto his stomach, nestling himself between Tim's cheeks -- "Don't move."

Tim is still panting and whimpering too much to speak, but he manages to nod for Lex, to clutch at the sheets --

"I'm thinking of how it would feel to slowly, so *very* slowly, push my cock into your ass..."

Another whine, and it sounds so good Lex *has* to fuck, has to shift and move until every thrust begins with the head catching on Tim's tight little pucker and ends with a nice, hard *drag* --

"I'm thinking about how hot you are inside, Tim. I..." Lex licks his lips. "Not long."

"Six. Six days?"

"We can wait. Can't we?" And if the question comes out more honest than rhetorical --

If every last one of Tim's sounds may as well be designed to make Lex thrust faster, sweat like he's running a damned race, *pant* --

"Tim. *Tim* --"

"*Yes*, Lex, yes, anything, please --"


"Fuck, you -- you can *convince* me --"

"Use you."

"*Take* me --"

"Everywhere," Lex says, and the grin is hard on his face, but his cock is harder, needier, and every thrust is bringing him closer --

"Lex, I *need* you --"

"You *have* me. Get used to it *quickly* --"

Tim makes a gurgling sound --

Flushes down his *back* --

"Promise -- promise you'll hurt me --"

"I won't be able to --" Lex grunts and tosses his head a little, fucks *faster* -- "I *promise* --"

"Too -- it's just -- too much *control* --"

"I agree," Lex says, slipping out of Tim's cleft before he can drive himself crazy --

The fight never *ends* --

And Tim's thighs are right there, perfect and lean, longer than they have any right to be on an adolescent who should've already had a better growth spurt --

Ah, *fuck*, it's good, so --

"Yes, Tim, *tight* --"

"Like -- this --"

"*Yes*," Lex says, and now he can lean in and mouth the back of Tim's neck, now he can bite and lick and *mark* --

"Oh, *please*, Lex, don't make me hard again --"

"No *promises*," and that was more of a growl than anything else. It makes the short hairs on the back of Tim's neck rise, makes Tim shudder all over, flex his *thighs* --

And there's a moment when everything is weighing on Lex at once, when even the sunlight through the polarized and ultraviolet-radiation-blocking windows seems part of the *conspiracy* to drive him into a new mental shape --

Tim keeps *moaning*, and this can't be much fun for --

Except that Lex remembers every *moment* of Bruce doing this to him, and not even the moments of terror that Bruce would lose control enough to just shove it in were enough to keep him from crying *out* for every brush of that big, thick cock against his sac -- and his own cock when he'd finally given up on shame and shoved it back --

("*Lex* --!")

"*Lex* --"

And they sound the same even though they don't, they feel the same --

Lex cries out for himself *and* for this moment, bites the side of Tim's throat and *ruts* --

"Oh, *Lex* --"

("Your passion is the most beautiful thing about you, though it frightens me sometimes. I haven't been able to discern whether it's the fear which informs the attraction or something else entirely -- will you let me sketch you again?")

"*Yes*, Lex --"

("If you would... I think I want to touch you. Sexually, I mean. I think. Is that strange? Are you even the right person to ask?")

"Don't stop, don't -- oh, *please* let me make you come  --"

("Is frustration part of the pleasure for you? Or do you think I'll balk at some inopportune moment? I... hm. I wonder if *I* think I'll balk...")

"Fuck, Lex, *ow* --"

He's biting too hard, he's too --

"No, no, *please* --"

Please *what* --

"Don't let *go*, want me, need me, l-- *need* me --"

Lex hears himself grunt -- and that's the last coherent --

The sunlight *was* a part of it, because now he's blind, lost to everything save Tim's cries and his own guttural grunts and growls --

Oh, the *heat* --

This perfect --

"Ah -- *ahn* -- *Lex* --"

He can't stop thrusting, can't *risk* losing this perfect slide and *hump*. He *can* stop biting, but it feels too good, tastes too *right* when his canine slips enough to scratch --

One of them should always be bleeding for this, just as both of them should be shaking right now. They are, so --

So he's getting something like his *self* back. Well.

Lex makes the bite a little harder for a moment --

"*Fuck* --"

And then he lets go and settles himself over Tim like a large, awkward, sweaty blanket.

Tim moans, shifts *testingly* -- and then relaxes all over in the space of a heartbeat.

"So you *do* like this."

"You're *on* me," Tim says, incredulous and rather *offended*. Hm.

"It's not especially common to desire *this* in particular, Tim."

"I -- no?" The question isn't entirely honest. The blush absolutely is.

Lex kisses the rather ludicrous bite mark. "You're allowed to be surprised by that when you're with me. I may not know everything about your childhood, but I'm more than capable of making educated guesses."

"It's -- I would think most people would want to know -- to have *proof* -- that physical contact beyond the explicitly sexual is desired by their objects of affection."

"Oh, certainly. However, in my experience --"

"*Less* physical contact is acceptable. And, ultimately, more desirable. All right. I'll remember that. Ah -- you don't have to stay on me --"

"And I won't. I'll move when I'm ready to move -- no sooner and no later."

"Because *you* like this."

"Oh, very good. I almost didn't hear the question that time."


Lex licks a bloody stripe over the back of Tim's neck. "I *can* be talked into doing things I don't like in bed, but it tends to take a bit more effort than the other person simply lying there."

Tim squirms -- stops. "I -- do realize that wasn't a critique of my performance. Intellectually."

Oh... Tim.

("Was that all right? It did seem to be the time for a certain degree of improvisation.")

And there had been a great *deal* of slyness in those eyes, in that flat and dull little mouth --

But that had been days after Bruce had lost his virginity. Six of them, even. Lex rolls off and pushes and pulls until he's chest to chest with Tim and close *enough*.

He makes the kiss a thoughtful one, slow and cautious -- if never hesitant -- and explicitly designed to make Tim focus on something other than the worries which plague him --

("You're trying to distract me.")

Is it working, darling?

Could it have *ever* worked on you?

Tim pushes back and breathes hot and *too* well-controlled against Lex's collar bone. Damn --

"Tim --"

"I want. To be trained," Tim says, and looks up again. "You know I learn quickly --"

"I'll teach you everything... but you gave me precisely what I wanted already."

"But you -- you kept *changing* --"

"One, I've been waiting for this just as long as you have, and so have developed a *number* of fantasies. Two..." Lex shows his teeth and knows it for a smile that *Tim* knows is aimed solely at Lex himself.

It makes Tim frown and reach up to stroke Lex's scalp, just like --

"You're too fucking young --"

"*Focus*. I mean -- ah --"

Lex leans in and nips Tim's upper lip. "Go with the first, darling," Lex says, leaning on one elbow and petting Tim with the other hand. "You're beautiful, and I was looking for ways not to fuck you."

Tim narrows his eyes -- "There's something else."


"Are you going to tell me?"

Lex raises an eyebrow. "Are you going to take it the wrong way?"

Tim makes an *impressively* sour face --

"You're adorable, and I was thinking of Bruce."

Tim blinks --

Shutters himself --

Lex taps on the tip of his nose. "That doesn't help when I know what you're thinking --"

"Give me a minute to *adjust* my thinking, Lex," Tim says, *sharply* --

Lex lifts his chin reflexively -- and then inclines his head. He can be patient.

He can think about how he and Bruce were simply too large together to share one of their archaically narrow beds for any length of time --

How Bruce was not above laying his duvet on the floor of his bedroom and looking *hopeful* --

And he remembers the smell of cocoa butter from that room, and how it *still* means adolescent frustration, terror, and *pleasure* --

Had Harvey ever figured it out?

Had Bruce simply confessed it? Harvey would keep a secret like that, but would Two-Face? No, no one had known, except for Alfred Pennyworth and Lionel Luthor. Now, Timothy Drake -- and he is the only one who will ever know how much those weeks and months had meant. Or --

Perhaps he's just the only one who will ever *feel* anything like what it had meant, since neither Mercy nor Hope have ever been idiots.

Tim is still shuttered, eyes tracking fast behind the lids, and Lex has to wonder if any of Tim's friends had ever seen him focus like this. There's almost no noticeable *life* beyond the movements of his eyes --

And Lex doesn't know whether to pet him or -- no. It's Tim, and his childhood won't change while they're in bed together. Lex pets him, and builds up an idle fantasy of having Eva bring them breakfast in bed...

It ends with the image of Eva 'accidentally' dumping hot tea on Lex's crotch.

He entertains an even briefer fantasy of replacing her with someone *entirely* soulless and insane -- no. The worst he can expect from Eva is chemical castration hormones in his pheasant, and he'd probably look perfectly lovely with breasts --

"What. What are *you* thinking?"

Lex smiles. "At the moment? The pleasures inherent to genderfuckery. For me, not you."

Tim blinks rapidly, thoughtfully, *fearfully* --

Lex grips his shoulder before he can work himself up into some sort of breakdown. "Relax. Eva probably *won't* try to chemically castrate me unless and until I hurt your feelings."

"You hurt my feelings *daily*!"

Lex raises an eyebrow.

"All right, no, you don't. Which is... I can see why you'd think I'd take *your* thoughts the wrong way. And that makes me feel like a needy imbecile."

"You're young and damaged, Tim. These things happen."

Tim winces --

"And I don't actually think you're a needy imbecile. I think you're young and damaged, which leads to certain kinds of insecurity. However, you fight your way through it more often than not, and I will *help* you continue to fight it. The first step is accepting the fact that your parents did a terrible and damaging job of raising you."

"I know that -- "

"Do you?"

"I -- all right, I know that any number of people who had my childhood would wind up needing a great deal of therapy, but -- we've already established that I'm special."

"You're an extraordinary specimen -- of humanity."

Another sour face for that. "You -- you'd probably have an easier time seducing me to the dark side if you let me *keep* my mommy and daddy issues."

"And where would be the challenge in that?"

Tim looks at him like he's plotting a nerve strike, so...

Lex can dial it back a little. He cups Tim's face and strokes his downy cheek. "I may be an evil mastermind, but I happen to like reasonably healthy relationships, Tim. I'm *going* to keep you... so."

"It's necessary for me to conform to some arbitrary rule-set defined as 'mental health?'"

"It's necessary for you to trust me, and trust that a) I won't deliberately cause you emotional pain, and b) I won't let you go until..." Lex shows his teeth -- "Until you need for that to happen."

"Which you honestly believe will happen before *you* --"

"You're the one with the conscience. Darling."

"You *have* a --" Tim growls, and, yes, that's adorable, too. "If you didn't have a conscience, you *would* just use me, and use every tool I gave you to make me into your, I don't know, *henchman*."

"Why is it that the 'heroes' have sidekicks and the 'villains' have henchmen? Is it really just a question of marketing?"

"You tell me, Lex. Would Hope *or* Mercy like being referred to as your sidekicks?"

Mercy had broken several small bones in the hand of the last person who'd taken her for granted, but... hm. "Hope might enjoy it."

"I --" Tim blinks. "Yes, I think you're right. Please don't put her in spandex. Especially not brightly-colored spandex."

"She really could wear those colors a lot more attractively than most of the 'heroes' currently assaulting the eye with them."

"That -- that's not the point," Tim says, and the stubborn line between his eyebrows is just --

"You'd make a disgustingly beautiful woman."

"You -- I'll do it. I'll wear women's clothing, makeup... I'll shave, too. I mean, I'll need help -- and I'd prefer it if it wasn't Mercy who did the helping -- but -- everything. Heels. Heels, too."

"What do I need to give you?"

"Your promise that you won't sell what you know about Bruce and Dick to the highest bidder. Your promise that you won't simply use it yourself -- unless, of course, you're using it to make Bruce talk to you about how badly he fucked you over."

"I'm still going to put a ringer in his camp, Tim."

"Yes, I -- you said you'd wait --"

"Mercy *will* find someone perfect, and -- well." Lex smiles and traces a line around Tim's swollen mouth. "In the end, I won't have to do anything, at all, if I'm receiving regular reports, now will I?"

Consternation, worry, honest fear --

"Relax," Lex says, and presses on a pressure point. Lightly.

"*Lex* --"

"You have to recognize the control you have over me, Tim. You're shaping my *projects* and you haven't even spent a day under my desk."

"Oh -- fuck, I'd like to do that."

"Done. Compromise with yourself: you know you own a significant part of me, and so you should act accordingly. When you feel twitched about anything in particular, you'll tell me with the understanding that we'll work it out together."

Tim frowns precisely as if he's trying to find something to *argue* with in that --

But they wouldn't get along nearly so well if they didn't have the occasional similar emotional response. Lex strokes Tim's cheekbone with his thumb. "Compromise with me: you know that I'm always going to be thinking of terrible things to do with my money and power, so... keep me busy with other things. Convince me to play things your way... or just to play things down the middle. You know the neutrally aligned characters are always more interesting than the other sorts."

Tim opens his mouth -- and closes it again.

Lex laughs quietly. "I studied a few online guides when Hope informed me how you spent your free time."

"I. That is more believable than the image of you dressing up as a rogue while Mercy... ah. Hm. For some reason I'm seeing her as a paladin."

"She *is* devout in her own way."

"To her own god, yes. Lex... are you sure this should be *easy*?"

Oh, confidence, confidence -- "Yes. You're young but you're not a fool. I'm old and experienced. We can treat each other well enough and have a great deal of pleasure while we're at it."

"But you are going to keep fucking with me."

"You'd miss it if I stopped, darling."

Another sour face, followed immediately by Tim pressing his body closer and raising an eyebrow.

"We *do* have to get dressed again and go to --"

"Hold. Me."

Lex narrows his eyes in a pleasure which feels simple, perfect, uncomplicated...

Yes, something will undoubtedly go horribly wrong *soon*, but for this moment --

All is well. Lex holds on.


The information -- offered casually and *lightly* -- that embryo two-three-two was a mix of Superman's and *Lex's* DNA had been enough to make Tim lose most of a day to imagining the sexual possibilities. Westlake had been disgusted, but Tim's lizard brain has never actually been happier.

Not that he has any idea what Superman looks like naked beyond having a general sense -- due to news reports of Superman's more strenuous battles -- that he really is that *golden* all over --

Does he sunbathe in the exosphere?

And really, there's no telling *how* alien Superman is internally. Maybe Lex *could* get him pregnant 'the old-fashioned way.' Maybe there's some sort of abdominal pouch or something --

All right, that makes the fantasies infinitely less appealing, for reasons Tim is going to chalk up to 'overwhelming homosexuality.' Lex would almost certainly smile for that -- even if the lead-up to that thought made him shake his fist and snarl.

The knowledge that Lex actually *does* sometimes shake his fist when angry --

Lex had glared at Tim for laughing, but really --

Tim doesn't think he can be blamed. He'd wished aloud for his camera, Lex had pointed out that surveillance wasn't his kink, they'd argued about the sensibility of that stance for ten minutes --

And then Lex had made Tim sit on his lap -- right in his *official* office --

Right there in the gleaming Metropolis sunlight and in view of any flyer who happened to cruise by --

Lex had jerked him off roughly enough to make Tim *feel* fucked while making Tim's throat feel... loved. Extremely, thoroughly loved.

While -- given Tim's new wardrobe -- Lex has a fondness for starched, upright tab collars, he also has a fondness for collars of that sort which can be easily removed, in the Arrow style.

When asked if he'd picked those collars solely for their sexual utility, Lex had simply looked at him steadily, and --

No, it wasn't a question which needed to be asked.

Tim can't decide whether the new clothes -- many of which had been ready within forty-eight *hours* -- make him feel more like an artfully emaciated male model or a walking anachronism. Or, rather, several different anachronisms in one smallish body.

There are waistcoats and the aforementioned collars. There are pocket watches and check patterns -- to Lex's credit, he'd sent most of those back, along with the ascots, but it was obviously a near thing.

The colors are all either light or light-*hearted*. While Lex had eschewed the lavenders and orchids, there are indigos and shades which remind Tim of the bloom on the skins of concord grapes and certain plums. The suits, in general, are incredibly exclamatory, and while all of them are entirely appropriate for business settings --

("Attitude is *everything*, darling.")

Tim had pointed out that Lex didn't actually *believe* that --

("But I *look* like I do.")

And that's entirely true.

It's --

Well, Tim wears them. His work at Cadmus *is* still better-suited to casual clothes, but lab coats go over exquisitely-tailored suits in violet pin-striped with dove grey just as well as they go over jeans and t-shirts.

And he has to get used to them.

Because --

All right, he doesn't have the foggiest clue what his mother will say about the suits -- her taste for him has always been significantly more conservative -- but it *does* go well with the narrative they'd created for her: of course a man obsessed with his own mortality would do his level best to craft an heir in his own image.

He'll have to come up with a reason why he *likes* the suits --

Maybe he's gay? Or rather: maybe he *can* be gay now?

Bisexual. He can be --

It's fashionable, isn't it? In certain communities and walks of life and --

He's extremely ready to be out of the closet. That's -- that's just a fact.

Another fact is that he's standing in front of the tube two-three-two is currently occupying in microscopic form. There's a small cloud of amnion within the larger mess of it that's zero point three degrees warmer than the average temperature, and in there is Lex's *real* heir.

Tim *should* be going over his notes for his Q-and-A session with Westlake in an hour, but really --

"You're going to be an extremely wealthy boy, two-three-two," Tim whispers, and drops into a crouch by the tube. None of the cameras can pick up his expression, and Hope --

Well, Hope gazes deeply into his eyes and nods every morning and afternoon, and that means she approves of damned near everything going on -- including, presumably, Tim's assorted little obsessions.

"You... well, you're going to have an excellent family. An *odd* family, but I'm beginning to be sure that everyone's family is odd in some way. Especially the normal ones."


"That will make sense when you're older, I think. I. Um. I know I should be paying equal attention to all of your half-brothers, but... um. You're special."

Tim doesn't drum his fingers on the glass of the tube, but he does sort of... ghost his hands over the curve of it.

"This isn't your prison. It's your womb. I know that wombs are supposed to be private, but we really have to... ah. You could be sick, or something, and so it's important -- I'm not going to lie to you. I think I'm in love with your father, two-three-two. Your human father, that is."

Tim breathes on the glass -- no. He cleans that off *immediately*.

"I'm going to make sure we teach you some fun things along with all the physics and biochemistry and assorted other things. I'm not sure *what*, yet -- we're going to age you to adolescence before we even *try* waking you up, because that's the youngest age you could reasonably be expected to be able to help out with all the world-saving while still being intellectually malleable... er. That's their term, not mine. There are benefits to being young and... ah... protean, I suppose --"

The shadows shift --

And Hope crouches beside him. "Lex's DNA is in this one."

"Yes. He donated the Y chromosome."

Hope nods once. "It's not his son."

"Well... well, really, he's barely even an embryo."

Hope makes a -- very mild -- sour face. "Lex thinks so. You don't."

Tim blushes --

Hope sniffs him, and doesn't say a word about her conclusions, assuming she has any.

"Ah... yes. Well. I seem to have developed certain pro-life sensibilities."


"They really are -- well, they have so much *potential*, Hope."

"Because they have Superman's DNA? Or because this one has Lex's?"

Tim feels his brain try to twist in multiple directions -- but he can cope. "I... suppose I'm only pro-life in certain situations. That's... oh, dear."

"You believe you're a hypocrite."

"One with good taste? Well -- no. Or, yes, but also no. I'm very happy that it isn't the plan to deliberately discard any of the embryos."

Hope cocks her head to the side --

Frowns lightly --

And turns to Tim. "You were upset that the failed embryos weren't... mourned."

Hope is a friend. "I mourned."

"You didn't tell Lex."

"I..." Tim licks his lips. "I was -- and am -- afraid of how he'd react. It would be terrible if he thought I was being ridiculous, and it would be terrible if he assumed I was only mourning the loss to science."

Hope nods once. "It can be... difficult to predict Lex's emotions."

"He's... he's softer *and* harder than I ever thought he could be."

"Do you mean that he's both more good and more evil than you thought."

Tim thinks about it -- "Yes, but also no. Certain kinds of caring are entirely amoral, I think."

Another nod. "They are better that way. More... pure."

"I love him, Hope."

"Yes. There are times when I wish I knew what that meant, beyond having a basic appreciation for the gross definitions."

"I'm not sure I can tell you --"

"I wasn't asking."

Tim licks his lips again. Right. "All right."

"I know him better than you do."

"Of course --"

"That will not always be true, Tim," Hope says, and turns to stare into Tim's eyes.

In the carefully *warm* light of the crèche room, her eyes are a nearly solid black. "Ah... are you sure about that?"

"Yes. You should be, too. He won't like that you're not."

"Do you have to tell him?"


Tim sighs. "All right, that's fair. I -- what if I promise to talk to him about... I don't know, my doubts and fears and that sort of thing?"

"As an alternative to my reporting on your emotional failings."

"Well... yes?"

Hope blinks thoughtfully and is silent for a long moment.

Tim takes the time to search the amnion for... something he'd have to *be* Superman in order to see with his naked eyes.

"You would tell him about those doubts and fears which related to him."

"Yes. Yes, I would. I -- communication is important to healthy relationships."

"Yes, Mercy said the same. Is that why you're already talking to this embryo?"

Tim smiles ruefully. "It's not like he'll remember --"

"You will not ever call him 'it,' will you."

"No, I -- no, I won't."

Hope nods again. "Then I won't, either. Unless he identifies as third-gendered."

Tim blinks. "I. Wow. That would actually be... kind of extremely *cool*."

"For whom."

Tim opens his mouth and immediately closes it again. "Hm."

"Is it a difficult question."

Tim considers and rejects pushing a hand back through his hair. Hope already knows that he's flustered. "It's a question I hadn't considered. It... well, it's hard enough being a homosexual --"

"Is it."

"For some people, it isn't. I imagine it will be much easier for *me* once I'm legally adult and have finished my education."

"You believe your mother will... reject you."

"I... she's not a bigot, really. It's just that it interferes with her plans for my future."

"Lex's plans for your future will include much more freedom."

Tim turns to look at Hope again --

Her eyes are dark and deep and impossible to read, which means that she's either calm or plotting his immediate demise.

He's confident enough that he's approximately seventy-eight percent sure that it's the former. "You've discussed his plans for me?"

"Yes. I was... curious."

That -- "Really? How did that... ah... feel?"

Hope cocks her head to the side again, but only for a moment. "It felt like being another person with only the faintest similarities to who I am most of the time. I was... thrilled. Or frightened. Possibly both."

Tim reaches over and takes her hand in his own, squeezing gently.

"None of those things are true now, Tim."

"No, I know, it's just that... ah... well. Sometimes, Lex comforts me about things which happened before he knew I existed. It's not the same as having been comforted immediately, but I do find it to be... useful. I'll remember the contact the *next* time I'm... upset."

"Yes, I see. I like being touched. Except when I don't."

Well. "You should always let me know if you don't want to be touched."

"All right," she says, and squeezes back firmly for an exact three count.

"Also -- ah. You can talk to me. When you're feeling emotional, I mean."

Hope hums and cocks her head to the side again.

Tim waits, and shifts on his heels to ease a mild ache. Lex had kicked his thigh hard enough last night to convince Tim that that leg wasn't actually there for about five minutes of stumbling for his spar-based life. Lex had dragged it out to make sure Tim had picked up the necessary lessons.

Today, the pain is present, but much less debilitating than he'd thought it would be. The *bruise* is spectacular -- and will become more so -- but the pain is entirely livable. A lesson of a different sort.


Today, she has her hair braided in a kind of loose spiral leading to a bun. He's seen that hairstyle mainly on older women, but Hope makes it look more practical than matronly.

He's not sure if Hope is capable of making anything look matronly -- including breastfeeding, and that's another thought he doesn't precisely need. So he's going to push it away.

Right now.

Dear God in heaven, she could get pregnant someday, and that would be --

Well, the child would almost certainly be beautiful -- Lex wouldn't *allow* her to breed with anyone but a perfect specimen of manhood -- but --

Just the thought of her singing a child to *sleep* --

And Hope squeezes Tim's hand again.

"Ah... yes?"

"I don't want to ever interrupt your time with Lex."

What -- oh, yes, the offer he'd made. The offer he'd *meant*, because -- Hope is a friend. Tim smiles. "Sometimes friends interrupt each other. That's... well, friends have the right to do that."

Hope narrows her eyes.

Tim ignores his testicles. "It's true, I promise."

"Lex never wants to be interrupted when he's with a lover."

"Well... Lex doesn't get to call all the shots," Tim says, and watches for signs of emotional temblors, divisions by zero, Data using contractions --

Hope flares her nostrils. "It's better when he does, Tim."

"I -- it's *good* when he does, and -- better than good, at times. It can also be good when he doesn't. Lex and I are... compromising."

"Free will is overrated, Tim."

Tim blinks, thinks -- "Mercy?"

"Yes. She hated being free. So did I... in different ways."

All right, a different tack. Tim squeezes Hope's hand for a three count of his own. "I believe that emotions can damage efficiency."


"I also believe that they can be... pleasurable."


"I believe that Lex wants us to be both efficient and pleasured."

"Yes. He told me that my happiness is important. That I am to report to him if I feel... unhappy. That I am to define those terms in the ways which make the most sense to me."

"Well -- yes," Tim says, and raises his eyebrows.

Hope frowns slightly. "I was not unhappy."

"But you were... ah... roiled. A bit. Yes?"

Hope blinks once. "Yes. There is no protocol for that."

"Not even for Mercy?"

"Mercy's protocols are not always the same as my own. Individual tailoring of such things is the key to successful management-subordinate relations."

Tim blinks a bit -- "Is that from the LexCorp handbook?"

"For upper echelon executives, yes. I wrote it."

The fact that that information makes him *want* to be a LexCorp employee -- well, he'll be fifteen for another twenty-one hours. He's allowed to be addled and functionally insane. It's all those hormones.


Hormones. Tim squeezes Hope's hand again. "Anyway... I think -- no. I *know* Lex is interested in the... changes you've been going through --"

"He's worried that I won't be able to adequately perform the tasks he gives me."

"Well... yes, but I think he'd be less worried if he could have a better idea of what those changes were. If he could monitor them himself, I mean."

Hope narrows her eyes -- stops. "Yes, that makes sense. Lex must always understand his environment, even if he can't control it."

"Would it be better for you if he could control what's happening to you now?"

"I have two answers to that question, Tim. Neither and both of them are correct. I believe this state of being is what most of humanity is subjected to nearly all the time."

"Well... yes --"

"Do you find yourself hoping that that which makes the most sense will always be that which... feels the best, Tim."

"I -- all the time."

Hope nods once and stands, tugging Tim up with her.

"Conversation over?"

"It's time for you to study and eat."

That is absolutely true. Tim straightens the fall of his suit, buttons his lab coat, and leads the way out of the crèche room. "Hope... *will* you come to me when you're feeling emotional?"

"I'm not sure. I hope I make the right decision when the time comes."

"So do I. I -- if it makes a difference, or even if it doesn't, I hope you will. It would mean a lot to me."

Hope presses a hand between Tim's shoulder blades for a three count. "I think you're a better friend to me than you were to the people you called your friends in Gotham."

Tim blinks -- and smiles ruefully. "You know more about me than they do, but, ultimately, that's my fault, too. I'm not sure how much more honest I'll be with them than I have been. I certainly don't intend to call any of them any time soon. They might hear something in my voice."


"Something like an uncomfortable truth? Maybe," Tim shakes his head and pushes into the lab they've turned into a classroom. "I'm e-mailing all of them regularly."



"I will miss your friendship when you decide to give more of your emotional self to other people who aren't Lex, Tim. It's an interesting knowledge to have."

Tim smiles at her ruefully. "I'm certainly never going to forget you, Hope."

"I believe you," she says, and there's... something in her voice. Tim can't be sure *what*, but --


Tim flips to the right page of his notes --

And Hope gets into position just close enough to the door to take out anyone who comes in, but far enough away for the door not to be any sort of obstacle. From that position, she has an excellent view of the closed-circuit televisions showing footage of all approaches to this room -- and getting those installed had made Westlake gripe for the entire two minutes before Hope said his name *ever* so quietly -- and so *Tim* will know when the scientists are coming.

She always taps the butts of her guns to warn him.

Tim studies and eats at speed. Well, he *starts* to eat at speed, but Eva had sent him carpaccio and a truly inspiring antipasto-for-*her*-definition-of-one, and Tim isn't capable of being that much of a Philistine. He eats at a reasonable pace, and tells himself that he'll have time to eat more with his left hand while taking notes with his right --

And that's exactly what he does.

Over the past several days, Westlake has been correcting him less and less. While he'll never reach Westlake's level of knowledge -- he simply won't be *allowed* to study like this indefinitely -- he *will* someday know enough to always be able to ask intelligent questions for projects like this one, which bodes well for his future as a liaison between DI and LexCorp.

If he emancipates himself and shows that he can test out of various topics, he *could* devote his life to the companies and the kind of science education any number of geekily-inclined teenagers would happily commit murder for. The number of people who compete tooth and *nail* for LexCorp internships...

He is a lucky, lucky person. On a number of levels.

And -- he might just be in the process of skipping right past the realization that he actually has *ambition* for his *future* which doesn't involve body armor and martial arts abilities -- beyond what he'd need to keep his spars entertaining for Lex.

Tim licks his lips, continues taking notes on autopilot with his right hand, and snags a marinated mushroom with his left.

It's --

He *is* allowed to desire a future his mother wouldn't be entirely averse to. That -- he's always wanted to be a *good* son, someone she could be proud of, and that --

It's not that those desires were less important than the other ones... is it?

It's not that they were less *real*...

Hope would congratulate him for desiring the sensible thing. Lex would get *that* look, that look of *hungry* triumph which tends to mean that Tim had done something exactly right by his definitions and now it's time to reward them both for it.

And those rewards are...

Tim licks his lips again. A lifetime of that.

A lifetime, because that's exactly what Lex had offered him. Lex is convinced that *Tim* will lose interest in the brilliant, powerful, sensual, caring, dominant --

Oh, look, he's torn the page with his pen --

Making Hope stiffen --

Making Westlake stop talking and blink worriedly at both of them.


Tim gives Hope the stand-down sign she'd taught him, turns the page, rewrites the last line of notes, and looks up at Westlake expectantly.

He swallows -- and continues much more slowly and in a friendlier tone of voice.

Tim's going to have to remember that trick... or just trip his way into it again by thinking of Lex's penis in his throat --

Or his hand --

Or between his thighs --

Or between his cheeks --

It's a very, very nice penis which happens to be available to him an unbelievably large amount of the time. Lex has the stamina of -- all right, no, he *doesn't* actually know what's standard for a man in his forties, but Tim really kind of has to go with the idea that Lex... surpasses.

It just makes more *sense* than any of the alternatives.

Lex had given him a toy -- *smaller* than his cock -- to use on himself. Tim had refused himself anything larger than that, because...

Well, because he wants Lex to open him. To *hurt* him while he does it. To, possibly, make him cry.

Lex *likes* a few tears, and Tim can't say he doesn't understand. Tears for almost any other reason would be wildly embarrassing at *best*, but for this --

For *sex* -- why not? The intensity of it all is just...

Lex is a very, very experienced man who is *invested* in Tim losing his mind on a regular basis. It's only reasonable to want to, in turn, give him what *he* wants --

And he doesn't need to make excuses. This is his, this is something he's earned solely by being himself. This is something he's going to miss to rather insane degrees when he does go back to Gotham --

If he goes back.

Tim smiles ruefully down at his notebook and concentrates for the length of time it takes to discern that, for the moment, he has no follow-up questions related to Westlake's answer to his original question. Time to move on.

He does that, and the minutes pass just as steadily as they should until Hope shifts on her feet unnecessarily - the signal that it's time for Westlake to wrap up so that Tim can do his grunt work duties around the lab and get back to the penthouse in a timely fashion.

As usual, Westlake looks both relieved and irritated, which...

He's not a *bad* teacher. He lectures with a minimum of jargon, and he's passionate enough about even the basics of the subject matter that there's never a problem with boredom. Some part of him *enjoys* the opportunity to teach, which pretty much screams about opportunities missed. He would've been a wonderful addition to any university which could tolerate his eccentricities... which, of course, include a distinctly morality *lite* approach to scientific experimentation and discovery.

Possibly if there were universities for supervillains.

Of course, that thought leads to the question of what sort of fraternities and sororities such a school would attract --

The hazing rituals would pretty much have to be indistinguishable from war crimes, so... no. He won't be encouraging Lex to found *or* fund any schools like that. It's possible that he should be sending some of his allowance to the White Cross just for thinking about it.

One must *balance* the tally sheet, after all --

And Westlake stops talking with blunt finality and begins gathering his possessions. As has become usual, Tim offers to help. As has become usual, Westlake comes this close to baring his teeth at him. Really, Tim should stop. It's *obvious* what the answer will be, and there's no need to be cruel.

No matter how amusing it is.

Hope follows him into one of the other labs for Tim's note-transcription and casual reporting, and then into another of the labs for the readouts on the embryos. Ten are already showing signs of failure -- two-three-two isn't one of them, though, and that's what he's going to hold on to.

The original forty-three are all dead now -- the last having stopped growing five hours ago according to the readout -- and so Tim pauses by the artificial womb he'll be cleaning out tomorrow morning and...

Well, he doesn't say a prayer. He doesn't *know* any actual prayers. But he stands still, and touches it, and hopes for a better tomorrow. That may be the only prayer worth anything.

After exactly two minutes, Hope touches Tim's shoulder. They leave.

In the elevator in the LexCorp building, Hope touches her jaw and nods.

"Did he just... summon you?"

"No. He told me to delay you."

Tim blinks. "Um?"

"Not for long. I believe he's in an important meeting."

"That he doesn't want me to be a part of. I -- hm. Perhaps I should get an implant of my own so that Lex can inform me of these things himself."

Hope nods. "It would be useful. Though it's possible that Lex doesn't want to... mar you."

Tim blinks again and follows Hope out of the elevator. "The scarring is exceedingly minimal."

"You don't have very many scars, at all, Tim. Sometimes Lex appreciates that sort of aesthetic," Hope says, and begins leading Tim to the secondary -- and, Tim knows now, designed for *guests* -- library, which is actually quite close to Lex's home office.

"I'd say something about how he wants me in drag, but he obviously doesn't *mind* scarred women. *Has* he had lovers who were... hm... very soft?"

"Yes. Though, in retrospect, none of them became... close to him."

Tim takes that information in and saves it for later thought as he sits in his favorite armchair -- the one which just happens to be made for people Tim's size. "Sit with me?"

"Yes, Tim," Hope says, and takes the armchair opposite. It frames her pleasantly enough, but a Hope who is physically relaxed always seems to be *better* suited to furniture which would allow her to lounge. Of course, that's not true at all -- Hope probably hasn't lounged since she was *eight*, unless Lex ordered her to for aesthetic reasons -- but... still.

Her grace is at least as much natural as it is taught -- Tim trusts his eye exactly enough to make that judgment -- and people like that should *show* their comfort with their bodies. Or so some part of his mind would like to insist. "Do you think I'm the softest person Lex has ever been *deeply* involved with?"

"There were relationships before he employed me."

"Oh, yes, I know, but --"

Hope stops him with a slight frown. "I'm not sure I can answer that question, Tim. I think we define 'soft' differently."

"How do you define it?"

"As a function of malleability. A soft individual can be shaped by a firm hand, or can shape themselves as needed for a given situation. As such, you are the softest person he's been with since I've known him. You're capable of things that only Mercy was capable of before, and you can best her in some ways. If you let it happen."

"I -- you think I should."

"You've already begun, for Lex. You have to make sure you don't shape yourself for anyone else, though. I believe this is what Mercy fears about you more than anything else."

"I thought it was my morality and age that bothered her."

"Yes. But there are other things, especially now that it has been proven that your morality won't keep you from doing the things Lex wants you to do."

Tim smiles wryly. "I'm less than proud about that. People shouldn't *be* that malleable. There are -- there *should* be moral constants."

"There aren't, whether or not there should be."

Tim makes a face --

"Lex always looks as though he wants to touch you when you have that look on your face, Tim. Do you think it's a question of wanting to fix your expression."

Well -- "I think it reminds him of my age. He likes being reminded in much the same way that people like eating candy so sour it burns their mouths."

"Yes, I think you're correct. Lex deserves pain at least as much as anyone else does."

"I -- what -- oh. You're talking about the good kind of pain."

"Yes. Though many kinds of pain can be pleasurable given the correct context."

"Is that from a manual, too, Hope?"

Hope narrows her eyes in something which looks like... an emotion of some sort. "I'm writing a guide to sadomasochism for young people."

"But." Tim licks his teeth. "You don't -- ah?"

"Mercy says there are still hardly any truly informative texts which target that particular market. She is... passionate about it."

That's... true and terrifying. Still -- "There *are* good websites. I studied many of them, myself."

"How easy were they to find. How centralized was the data. How complete were the instructions."

"I... did have to do a lot of searching and even more intuiting, yes, you're right. I look forward to reading your book."

Hope nods once. "Perhaps I will interview you for it."

Tim smiles helplessly and presses against the toe of Hope's sensible flats with the toe of his entirely frivolous little black boots. Hope presses back, and the boots --  well, the things *are* technically made for men, but really --

They're nice boots. He just has to figure out how to have enough presence to wear them.

And -- "Do you think Mercy will ever... well, not *like* me, but maybe trust me? See me as someone beneficial?"

"Lex cares for you, therefore you're already beneficial."

"So long as I behave, you mean."

"Yes," Hope says, and doesn't *quite* frown. "Would you like to be her friend, as well."

"It would be... okay, no, it wouldn't be relaxing, at all. I'd still rather be her friend than her enemy."

"If you were her enemy --"

"I know, Hope, I know," Tim says, and makes a pushing motion with his hand. "If I were an enemy, I'd be in the process of recovering from internal and external injuries, assuming I was allowed to recover, at all. Still, even with her *absent*, I can feel this... this miasma of *loathing* --"

"She arrived back this afternoon."

"Well. Well. That explains it, I suppose --"

"She will like you more when you're older. It... I don't think there's anything else you can do, Tim. You know how she feels about teenaged boys."

Tim sighs. "And teenaged boys who both remind her of Robin and herself... yes, I get it. I don't like it."

"I understand. It was surprisingly pleasant once Mercy came to enjoy my company."

"Everyone likes to be enjoyed at least sometimes, Hope."

Hope nods thoughtfully and pushes against Tim's boot. "I don't think even your vowing to serve Lex the way we do would help... your case."

"No, I figured you would say so if you thought it would. Though... it's because I'm too... changeable? Mercy wouldn't be able to trust the vow?"

"Yes. I wouldn't, either. You still believe there are benefits to freedom."

Tim smiles ruefully. "Enjoying freedom is one of the things which is *allowing* me to provide for Lex's needs."

"You love him."

"Yes, but that wouldn't be enough without my... I suppose it's really just a *somewhat* non-standard form of adolescent rebellion. I'm not *supposed* to be engaging in homosexual activities, studying science, or even wearing clothes like this."

Hope is silent for a long moment, tapping one -- short -- manicured nail against the arm of her chair -- "You're old enough to remove your parents from your life."

"Almost. And -- please stop using the same euphemism for emancipation as you would for murder."

Hope inclines her head. "Lex doesn't let things stand in his way, Tim."

"Yes, I know --"

"He wouldn't want you to allow things to stand in your way."

"I don't want my parents dead, Hope. I -- love them."

Hope tilts her head to the side.

"Oh... don't contradict me. Please. I really can't take it --"

Hope's jaw tightens --

Tim winces --

"Lex wants you now," Hope says, and stands. "I would like for you to understand your emotions as well as you can, if only so that you can help me understand my own."

Tim stands up and presses his palm to Hope's own. "I promise I'm working on it." And -- "I'll try to work faster."

Hope nods solemnly, steps back, and points toward the hall leading to Lex's office.

Tim nods back -- resisting, once more, the urge to bow -- and goes.

The first thing he notices -- well. Lex had been teaching him more about the incredibly nebulous *thing* that the martial artists of Tim's acquaintance had called 'energy' without much in the way of information about why -- or what or *how*, for that matter.

As near as Tim can tell, the whole thing should be considered as something one's instincts -- one's *backbrain* -- is built *to* consider. As such, quantification is problematic from the very start. *That* puts Tim at a terrible disadvantage, but he *is* just as much of a primate as anyone else is.

Which is a long way around the fact that there's something different and *jangled* about the space *around* Lex's office, something that puts Tim on his guard --

Mercy's back. That's really *enough* --

That's not what it is. It just -- there's no *loosening* when Tim notices her shadow by the door, no sense of 'ah, yes, that's why.' There's something else. Someone else?

Tim slows down just a little bit more, moving as silently as he can reflexively --

Well, no, that's stupid. Lex *knows* he's coming, and he must be all right, because Mercy isn't covered in the blood of the hapless. So, he'll just calm right down and stare at the large man currently sprawling in the big chair in front of Lex's desk. Just --

His hair is black and *thick*, curly like something off the cover of a romance novel. His shoulders are broad, his lashes are at least as long as Tim's own, but, again, have more of a curl. He's broad all over, and his jeans are tight enough to show precisely how long and muscled his thighs are --

His *forearms* are thick --

His hands are large and square and folded together with a casualness which Tim is absolutely and *irrationally* sure is feigned --

And then he just *is* up and staring at Tim warily. He doesn't move into anything resembling a ready position, but that doesn't change the fact that he *looks* like he could beat Tim into a bloody smear on the carpets. Split lip and all.

His lips are broad and soft --

There's a bruise which can't be any more than a day old radiating out from the split lip --

And Mercy has a black eye. Hm --

"What's with the karate kid," the man says, and his voice isn't especially deep, but it's the most overtly *masculine* thing Tim has been exposed to in the past two weeks. It's also... young. Somehow.

Tim frowns and raises his hands --

And Lex stands up from behind the bar with a bottle of scotch in one hand and two tumblers in the other. "Tim Drake, meet Jason Todd. Jason Todd, meet Tim Drake. Tim is something like my intern this summer, though he'll be much more than that once his mother -- the CEO of Drake Industries of Gotham -- agrees to let it happen. Tim, Jason is the -- slightly -- underaged prostitute of my dreams."

The man -- Jason -- snorts and looks at Lex like he's crazy, which... that's fair.

Tim reaches out to offer his hand. "Ah... Jason? It's a pleasure to meet you."

Jason looks Tim up and down once -- thoroughly -- before taking Tim's hand in his own. It's abundantly clear that the once-over was for show --

Well, no, it wasn't for show. It's just that it's abundantly clear that Jason had already taken in everything there was to take in about Tim and Tim's relative levels of threat. It's one of the more *intimidating* moments of his life --

"Intern, hunh?" Jason's smile is crooked, sharp, and somewhat *dark*. "You gonna tell me what that means? Or do I get to guess?"

Tim -- doesn't blush. He has no idea *why* he doesn't -- no, it's a kind of shock. Jason smells like clean sweat and *male*, and this close --

When Jason cocks his head to the side, he looks nothing like Hope. "You're freakin' out. Does that mean I'm a surprise?"

"You -- ah." Don't look at Lex for help. Don't look at Lex for help. Be -- something like the young man who belongs in these clothes. All right. Tim smiles ruefully and pushes a hand back through his hair. "The fact that I expected Lex to bring home a boy in your profession... well. It's meaningless when held against the fact of you."

Jason narrows his eyes and juts his chin *slightly*. The effect is less belligerent than... declamatory. "You always talk like that, kid?"

Hm. "Do you always pretend that you can't follow it as well as anything else?"

Jason's smile is a *flash* coupled with a grunt of laughter. "All right, so maybe you rich-fuck types are used to -- heh -- boys like me?"

"Ah --"

"*Not* even remotely," Lex says, and sets a tumbler of scotch down in front of the larger chair. And a glass of white wine in front of the smaller one. "Tim is rather good at reading people, though, so I suggest that you only lie to him when you want to give him practice at it."

This laugh is even more derisive than all of the others, but Jason still sits down again -- and meets Tim's eyes and points to the other chair. All right, then.

Tim sits down --

Lex looms over both of them for a moment which is, at this point, probably reflexive, and then sits down, too. "I've informed Jason that I can give him fifty thousand dollars and the expungement of his juvenile record if he agrees to work for me. Jason is, perhaps understandably, somewhat nonplussed."

Jason raises his -- thick -- eyebrows at Lex and shakes his head once. "Somehow -- and this is as much of a mystery to me as, like, fucking dark matter -- it kinda puts my back up when a john fronts the money but gets coy about what they *want*."

Tim takes a sip of wine. "I believe he was waiting for me to explain it, Jason."

Jason turns to look at him -- and to look him over again. "*Am* I supposed to be your toy for the next little while, kid? I *don't* charge that much for kids your age."

Tim keeps his eyes from crossing -- badly.

Jason is doing a terrible job of not laughing at him, really, and that --

Tim smiles ruefully and sets his wine back down on the desk. "Ah... no. Lex is being... well, I'm going to just say it: he's being a manipulative ass."

Lex beams at him.

"He's also... well, he has this *plan* about using you to get to -- and get close to -- his ex. I'm less than enthused about the plan --"

"Despite the fact that all of your mental armies are *arrayed* against the alternatives --"

"*Despite* that, yes." Tim glares at Lex for a moment and then turns back to Jason, leaning in just a bit *less* than the suit demands. "Lex has rejected the idea of leaving the matter alone -- or just talking to the man like an adult -- but he's also agreed to compromise with me. If *I* agree that it's a good idea to all but *sic* you on Bruce Wayne --"

"The motherfucking *socialite*?"

Well -- "Among other things, yes," Tim says, and raises an eyebrow.

"You *could've* just left me in Gotham -- no, whatever, fine, go on," and Jason waves a hand. There is -- very -- sparse hair on his knuckles.

Tim inclines his head. "If I agree, now that I've met you, that it's a good idea to sic you on Bruce, then you go. If I *don't* agree, then Lex *will* have you brought to wherever you'd like to go at your earliest convenience."

"Because you're such a good 'intern?'"

Tim smiles wryly. "I do, actually, spend all day at Cadmus Labs six days a week doing my level best to learn biochemistry and genetics at speed while also doing assorted tasks the scientists who work there consider beneath them --"

"In clothes like *that*?"

"I --"

"Tim indulges me from time to time, Jason," and Lex smiles *fondly* at Tim. "Truly, I think of him as a son."

Tim coughs and restrains himself from tossing his wine in Lex's face. "Indulge *this*, Daddy."

Lex looks *delighted* --

Jason snorts again --

And *now* Tim is blushing. He hadn't actually grabbed his crotch, but the implication was clear, and really --

Really, really --

Tim squeezes his eyes shut for a moment.

"I think it's maybe time you hit that wine again, kid --"

"Please -- ah. Would you call me Tim?" And Tim opens his eyes to find Jason studying him thoughtfully --

"How old are you."

"Fifteen. Sixteen as of one-twenty-two tomorrow afternoon."

Jason smiles at him, crooked and warm. "That's better than you looked, Tim."

"Enough for the... ah... adult rate?"

A snicker, and Jason kicks Tim's chair. "Child prodigies pay by how annoying they are. Smart-ass kids like *you*... get to negotiate."

Jason is --

That's --

Flirting. Tim licks the backs of his teeth. "I see. Ah. Well. I'm already seeing --"

"Daddy over there. Yeah, I know. Word to the wise? It was pretty fucking obvious by the way you lit up as soon as you saw him."

"Oh... damn. Really?"

"Yeah, I'm thinking I would've twigged pretty soon even if this *wasn't* my -- heh -- career. It was *especially* loud given how you still came in ready to do a little damage on Daddy's behalf."

Tim smiles ruefully. "Noted. I'll work a little harder at repressing that."

"You can start on that a week before you go home, darling. For now... *do* continue to let it all hang out, as it were," Lex says, and, yes, he's steepling his fingers. And *winking* at Tim.

Tim glares a little more --

"Daddy always like this?"

"He's not -- I only call him that to piss him off, since he's the least parenthood-inclined person I've ever met, and I'm including his sociopathic bodyguards."

Jason snickers again. "I don't know, Mercy reads more like Norman Bates than Hannibal Lecter."

Tim blinks. "Do you like serial killer movies?"

"Books, too, sometimes. Good shit for forgetting all the *real* dangers that can fuck you over in Gotham," and Jason is swinging his chair back and forth and smiling at Tim exactly like --

Right. "I'm just going to stop being surprised that you're a person on top of a person with a career."

"Uh, huh. You got a good ten more minutes of that before I get pissy, rich boy."

Tim winces. "I'm sorry --"

Jason holds up a hand. "Relax. Go back to telling me about the plan if it'll make you feel better."

"I -- are you sure?"

Jason's eyes are... well, there's almost something like a *twinkle* in them, though Tim had thought that eyes had to have a *harder* color in order to do that. Jason's eyes are the color of clear, sunlit seas near the equator.

He really is extraordinarily attractive. He -- this is the first time his mind has *voiced* the thought flat-out, but something is telling Tim that at least a *part* of his mind has been screaming it all along. Still -- "I mean... I'm sure you have questions --"

"Yeah, Tim, I do. What am I getting close *for*? Blackmail material? Love him up until he's gagging for it and them leave 'im high and dry? Mata fucking Hari? What?"

Tim opens his mouth --

"If you can manage all of the above, I'll triple your fee," Lex says, and smiles that *sunny* smile again --

Jason snorts. "Yeah, he pissed you off, all right. Fucking hell, I have *people* who play those kinds of games for me. I *pick* my johns these days."

That -- "You're a pimp? Er -- I don't know the right term --"

"That's close enough. I run a few boys and girls who can use the protection -- which is what I *tried* to tell Ms. Bates over there before she got fucking violent."

Lex nods once before turning. "Mercy...?"

"I attempted to explain why that wouldn't be sufficient --"

"While kicking my ass all over my fucking *office* --"

"I believe I eventually made myself clear."

"With a goddamned needle in the *neck* --"

"I used a half dose of sedative one-A."

Jason downs his shot and puts his feet up on Lex's desk, folding his hands on his abdomen. "And that would be the other reason why this whole arrangement *seems* just a *bit* underhanded."

Tim winces *for* Mercy, since she won't do it herself. "I'm sorry --"

"Did you order Mercy to treat the prospects she was looking for like that?"

"Well -- no --"

"Then don't apologize," Jason says, and then looks thoughtful. "I usually hate whiskey, but that was good. What was it?"

"Macallan -- which is scotch, not whiskey, and my favorite, as well. Is there anything else you'd prefer?"

He waves a hand again. "I don't get drunk when I'm on the clock. What *did* Wayne do to you?"

Lex smiles distantly, then raises his eyebrows at Tim.

All right, then. Tim turns back to Jason. "He broke up with Lex in one of the worst ways possible: by pretending to be an entirely different person and refusing to talk about anything remotely serious."

"Hunh. For how long?"

"Twenty-four years and counting."

Jason blinks. "Uh. What?"

Tim can't tell the *whole* truth, but... but. "In the public eye, he's pretended to be a brainless, cheerful drunk who barely remembers people's names and who generally makes an ass of himself whenever possible -- except when it came to taking care of his former ward. Everyone believed that was the whole story until recently, when certain revelations came out."

"*What* revelations?"

That he's *Batman*, the best, the most wonderful, the best kind of frightening -- "That he's been having sex with that former ward for at least several years, and that he's not actually the drunk he appeared to be. That he *couldn't* have ever been that drunk. That he's. That's he's a liar, and at least something of a coward."

"So you're saying he's just like any other kidfucker -- heavy on the perv, light on the character?"

*No* --

Lex sighs and sips his own scotch. "I can't, actually, go that far. I believe he's had his reasons for doing what he did, and that, to him, those reasons were good ones. Tim is a romantic, and feels somewhat betrayed by Bruce -- Tim had something of a hero-crush on the man as a factor of their past acquaintance. I'm rather more of a pragmatist -- "

"Ah. Pragmatists don't tend to spend quarter-centuries *obsessing* over lost love. Daddy."

"Oh, darling. I'd tell you to go fuck yourself sideways, but that might leave you unfit for what we're going to be doing in eighteen hours," Lex *purrs* at him.

Tim attempts to *focus* --

And Jason is laughing a little breathlessly. "You're seriously making him wait until he's legal? How does *that* work?"

"My conscience may be new and ill-fitting, Jason, but it suits me just the same --"

"Aw, bullshit, you know you're only doing it that way to keep control, which tells me -- heh. The kid's working you pretty good already, yeah?"

Lex scowls for a moment --

And then his eyes are glittering at he's staring at Jason like a project *well* begun.

Jason narrows his eyes --

Lex *smiles* -- and turns back to Tim. "Are you going to let me continue, darling?"

Punish me for every moment of this, Lex. Aloud, Tim says, "Anything for *you*, Daddy."

"Oh... thank you," and Lex turns to Jason. "Tim believes Bruce should've found a better way to drop me. The more I consider it, however, the fewer ways come to mind --"

"*Lex* --"


"He. He hurt you. And then he *ignored* you --"

"Tim," Lex says, and reaches across the desk to cover Tim's hand. "Which of us do you want to protect right now?"

Well -- fuck. "Both of you? I -- damn. Don't listen to me."

Lex raises his eyebrows at Tim *and* looks fond again --

"All right, listen to me all you want, Lex: go to *hell*."

"We *talked* about religious references, Tim," Lex says, and gives him a *disappointed* look --

"I'm about to start throwing things at you, Lex."

Lex narrows his eyes in what looks to be *purest* pleasure -- and then turns back to Jason. "As I was saying -- no one is the villain of their own personal story, Jason. I'm quite sure Bruce has reasons for what he did to me -- and another friend of his, as well -- and I'm equally sure that he considers them good reasons. More to the point, I'm not sure it would be possible for him to be himself if he didn't harbor some degree of regret for his actions."

"You're reaching, Lex --"

Lex holds up a hand to him -- and then he smiles ruefully at him. "Tim... I've decided that I'm going to keep just a few illusions for a little while longer."

Tim frowns. "I don't. I don't think I understand."

"Neither does Mercy, judging by that frown line... hm. Mercy, visit the spa tomorrow."

"Yes, Lex."

"In any event... I *could* say something about trying to walk a mile in Bruce's shoes -- he couldn't do the things we *know* he does without a certain degree of childlike innocence working for him -- but the truth has nothing to do with that, and everything to do with a certain upwelling of *wist*," Lex says, leaning back in his chair and crossing his legs. "Is that comprehensible, Jason?"

Jason rubs at his upper lip with one finger. "Depends. Are you saying you're making a conscious choice to be a dumbass?"

Lex smiles again and spreads his hands. "It is, in fact, my prerogative."

Jason snorts again and shakes his head. "You people are fucked. You *know* you are, and you're not doing a damned thing about it. Going by my experiences with people *like* you, it would be fucking *retarded* for me to get involved with you in *any* way. But."


"Write this down," Jason says, and rattles off a bank name and two numbers that almost certainly correspond to an account number and a tracking number. "Put a nice little chunk of that fifty large in that account and I'll think about what I can do to make Bruce Wayne suffer... but not suffer *too* much."

Tim winces. "Jason, you don't have to --"

"You been rich your whole life, so I'm not going to hold my breath until you get where I'm comin' from. Leave it alone," and he turns back to Lex. "So where am I staying until that transfer clears?"

"It will be in your account tonight, Jason -- the man who owns that bank thinks of himself as my friend -- but you're going to need some time to settle in, and Bruce won't be here until the weekend. There's a guest bedroom I'll show you to in a little while... or Tim can do it himself," and Lex raises his eyebrows at him.

"I -- yes, I'd like that. Even though the fact that we both know that I'm planning to try to dissuade Jason almost guarantees the fact that you have something else planned to thwart me."

Jason claps Tim's shoulder. "You got another fifty grand lying around to keep me from doing this, kid?"

"Please --"

"Tim, I'm sorry," Jason says, and the smile in his eyes is sincere and rueful and --

Really very beautiful. "I. I don't like using people."

"Then think of it as Daddy *employing* me -- the same way he employs however many other people. C'mon, show me around."

Tim takes a moment to glare at Lex a little more, takes another sip of wine, and then stands. "All right, yes, I will. Did Mercy allow you to bring any belongings with you?"

"According to her, I *told* her what to pack for me while I was staggering around stoned off my ass. I guess I'd better make sure I don't have twelve pairs of socks and no fucking jockeys."

"Mercy's been working for me since not long after Bruce dumped me, Jason. She is, in her way, the *very* best," Lex says, and sips his scotch. "Still, if there's anything you *do* need, you should feel free to let her know. I'm going to need your measurements anyway for your tuxedo."

Jason pauses midway through standing up. "Tuxedo."

"Bruce is coming here for a *party*, Jason," and Lex is smiling again. "I just got his RSVP this afternoon. He isn't *quite* the guest of honor -- just as you won't *quite* be a party favor -- but... well."

"Heh. Got it. I've worn stupider things for this job," and Jason finishes standing up and gestures toward the door.

Tim nods and goes, pausing for a *moment* -- "Welcome back, Mercy" -- before continuing on. He doesn't manage to walk fast enough to miss *all* of her smile, but there's always next time.

"She wants to carve you up even more than she wants to drug me again. What's up with that?"

"I... ah. I've been given a few reasons for that -- some of them from Mercy herself. I remind her of people she loathes, I'm a teenaged boy, she hates the fact that Lex likes me -- strike that. She hates the fact that Lex has vulnerabilities related to someone *like* me. Other things."

"Uh, huh. But you didn't think twice about getting involved with Daddy."

"Would you? I -- all right, I can see how he wouldn't be everyone's type, but... um. He's mine. One of mine."

Jason nods thoughtfully. "Bedrooms this way?"

"This way, actually," Tim says, and points. "Only the master suite is in a standard place. The guest rooms are situated in the center of the apartment."

"Away from the windows?"

"There are skylights, but... yes. They have a certain oubliette feel to them."


"Sorry --"

Jason claps him on the shoulder again. "Don't apologize -- just answer the question."

Tim blinks, considers --

And Jason is looking sort of *gently* impatient. Right.

"Ah -- an oubliette is, generally, a deep hole in the ground where one puts people one wants to forget. The forgetting part is where the word comes from. It's --"


"Yes, actually. Um. How many more mistakes do I get to make before you give up on me?"

"Don't worry so much, kid -- Tim. It's not like we're gonna have all that much time to get to know each other, yeah?"

"I -- I'd like to."

Jason looks incredulous --

"Sorry, I -- I really am new to... flirting. Consciously flirting."

"How new."

"Ah... weeks? Lex has been educational, but I don't really want to flirt the way he does -- or even the way he likes for *me* to flirt -- with everyone."

"Uh, huh. You... you *were* a virgin when he got to you, weren't you?"

And there's the blush again --

"*That's* an answer, all right," Jason says, stopping in the hallway and scratching at his lightly stubbled jaw. He --

"Would you mind telling me how old you are?"

"Heh. Seventeen. Eighteen this August. Are you okay, Tim?"


Jason's expression is much, much harder than it was in Lex's office. "You know what I'm saying. You've seen the Afterschool Specials."

All right, the blush is going to kill him --

"If you can't answer --"

"I can! It's just. Ah. I've been... I've been finding ways to hit on him since the night we met, Jason. And I've been... pushing him --"

"That's not how it works, Tim. You're a kid and he isn't. C'mon, you know the drill. And you *ought* to know all the lines a kidfucker will trot out to get what he wants, yeah?"

His cheeks are actually *prickling* -- "He wouldn't have to give me any lines. I want him more... more than I want many, many other things."

Jason rests his hands on Tim's shoulders. "You bein' straight with me?"

"I'm not actually very good at being straight with *anyone* --"

"Don't play right now, Tim. This is important. Do you think you're *safe*? And make sure you do the thinking with the right head."

"If there had been any other children or teenagers... ah... well. He *is* wealthier and more powerful than my parents, but I'm confident that I'd know... hm."

"Wanna try that one more time?"

It's just that he's not *like* the other supervillains, and also I can change him! No, no, and no. Tim sighs. "I don't have rational reasons for feeling safe with him, but... he's managed to give me any number of *irrational* reasons to trust him. At this point, that's good enough for me."

Jason looks troubled, though, and --

"Ah -- I can walk out anytime I choose, Jason. I have credit cards and a trust fund and, even if Lex decides to out me to my parents, I have... options."

"Not if they decide to bundle you off to boot camp, you don't."

Tim smiles ruefully. "Emancipation is an option. I'm reasonably employable -- and could make a great deal of money writing tell-all novels and the like while riding on my last name. I don't particularly like thinking that way, but that doesn't stop my mind from doing it." Or from offering it up when it's appropriate. Or 'appropriate' as the case may be.

Jason frowns thoughtfully, then waggles his head back and forth. "Good enough, I guess. It's not like *I'm* qualified to save your ass," and he lets go of Tim's shoulders and starts walking down the hall leading to the guest bedrooms.

"Do you do that often? Save people, I mean."

Jason's smile is both bright and private. "Some people don't belong on the street."

"I -- does *anybody* really belong there?"

Jason's smile for him is a brighter flash coupled with another once-over --

"I don't -- I didn't dress like this before Lex suggested --"

"I can tell. You're still growing into that attitude. You should take a few minutes sometime to think about whether you *want* to grow into it."

"I -- was hoping to make an attitude that would suit me."

"Like being quiet and polite suits you?"

"I... have to admit that these clothes don't really say much about being either quiet or polite. But -- Lex brings out other sides of me." Are you going to answer my question?

"Uh, huh, he does, at that. And he likes that fine, but you're not sure about it."

"It... it would actually make my mother happy to see me acting that aggressively. Assuming I managed to be rather more heterosexual about it."

"I -- oh, hey, this is looking familiar. I think Mercy dragged me over... here," Jason says, and points to the guest bedroom next to Tim's own. "Your *official* room is that one, or are you just not even bothering anymore?"

"I -- we spend time cuddling every night now --"

"Cuddling. Daddy likes to cuddle?"

"He manages to make it both stressful and intensely satisfying."

Jason snorts. "Not a shock. Okay, lemme check my stuff."

Tim nods and hangs back in the doorway while Jason lifts a battered leather suitcase onto the bed and opens it -- empty.

Another snort -- "Wait, is there someone in this place who would've actually put my stuff *away*?"

"Ah... probably? Eva seems to do everything Lex and I don't do ourselves, though I know she... ah... outsources some things. I've yet to see any servant *but* her, though."

"Have you looked?"

Tim blinks. "Not... as much as I could've. No."

"Heh. Didn't think so. All right, *where* would Eva -- or whoever -- put my underwear?"

Tim points. "Inside the armoire. At least, that's where my underwear was relocated to after I mistakenly put in the bureau."

Jason stares at him like he's crazy.

Tim shrugs as lightly as he can. "When in Rome..."

"Fuck underaged boys and eat dormice?"

Tim coughs. "I'm reasonably sure neither of those are on the menu tonight."

"Because you don't get a cock up your ass until *tomorrow*." Jason shakes his head and opens the armoire. "You've stretched yourself, yeah?"

"Um? Yes?"

"Serious question. You don't know how many kids stick a finger up their asses once a week and then think they're good to go for cocks. There's pretty much nothing fun about getting torn up. Okay, underwear, check. Socks, check. Undershirts, check. Ridiculously expensive cologne that I don't even wear, check. Where else am I looking for my stuff?"

Focus. He can do that. He -- "Ah -- the closet. Almost certainly. And yes, I've stretched myself. Extensively."

Jason nods half-absently and moves to the closet. "Apparently, I told her to pack *both* of my leather jackets. Well, whatever. Boots, check. Shirts, check. Ridiculously tight jeans that I only wear for clients I *like* -- check. Fucking fuck, I don't even *remember* telling her to pack this shit. I don't remember *anything* for about ten fucking hours of my life."

"I'm -- not apologizing."

"Heh, good call. *Does* she do that shit often?"

"She's the LexCorp head of security, so mostly she delegates, but... ah. Lex still uses her for the most important assignments. Considering what I know about Lex and the projects he's had a hand in over the years, I think it would be fair to say that Mercy -- and to a lesser extent Hope -- have been as much Lex's partners as anything else."

"And lovers?"

"You can't tell?"

"Heh. Not even a little," Jason says, and gestures Tim out to the hall. "All I'm *sure* about with Mercy is that she's fucking unwell. What's Hope like?"

"Fucking unwell in different ways. I like her, though. She's terrifying, but... ah. Sweet."

Jason eyes him again --

"Well... she is. Sometimes we hold hands."

"They're both assassins, aren't they."

"I... believe it would be fair to say that they've had that sort of training."

Jason grunts and pushes Tim's door open. "Who are you protecting?"

"Myself, in a way. Ah... was there something you wanted to see in my room?"

Jason grins at him. "How you *live*. Gonna answer my question?"

"Will you answer mine?"

Jason sighs and flips the light on in Tim's room, looking it over in a way which makes Tim deeply conflicted. On the one hand, the room looks *boring* without any decoration. On the other hand, he's not at all sure he'd be able to make it look less boring *with* the sort of decoration he'd use.

And Jason is walking to Tim's closet --

"You're allowed to not just hover in the doorway, Tim. It *is* your room," Jason says, grinning at him again before opening the closet.

Tim steps in --

Jason whistles. "Okay, he wants you to be a *loud* little bitch."

"That... does seem to be the gist of things."

"I dig the waistcoats. They'll make you look like fucking *money*."

"Do you enjoy fashion?"

Jason waves one hand and uses the other to keep going through Tim's outfits. "I've got a professional interest. You'd be surprised how many johns just want to dress you up pretty. *Their* definition of pretty, anyway."

"You seemed surprised by Lex mentioning the tuxedo...?"

"I was. Tuxedo tells me he wants me out in the public eye a little. That's dangerous with a trick he doesn't know from fucking Adam."

"I think he's assuming his money will do the talking if there's anything which needs to be... discussed."

Jason blows out a breath and shrugs. "Yeah, I guess. I don't know *shit* about this kind of money."

There's an urge -- useless and *pathetic* -- to offer his services as Jason's *guide* through this particular world --

And Jason is narrowing his eyes at him. "What is it?"

"I -- what --"

"You think loudly. What is it?"

"Ah. All right? I was just thinking that... I could help. If you wanted help."

Jason's nostrils flare and he nods slowly. "All right. Thanks."

"You're welcome --"

"Some people belong on the street. Maybe they were born there, maybe something twisted 'em when they were kids... but they belong there. And they find their way there sooner or later -- money or no money. It's in the blood."

"Oh. I. Thank --"

"Lately -- *just* lately -- I've been wondering if I'm one of those people," Jason says, and his eyes are nowhere near seventeen years old. "I try not to be, but the fact is that Mercy had no trouble finding me once she got my name and description from the right people. Seems to me I shoulda been harder to find."

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

Jason shrugs. "It's not like we --"

"Don't. Say that. Ah. I'd like to be your friend."

Jason smiles ruefully and pulls out the periwinkle suit. "This'll make your eyes look fucking huge and gorgeous. Wear it all the time."

"Jason --"

"What you *want* is to bend over for me, Tim. There's nothing wrong with that -- I know exactly how pretty I am --"

"And interesting! And -- ah. I'd like to know you --"

Jason sighs and puts the suit back. "I'm on the clock, kid --"

"Please --"

"Tim," Jason says, and raises his hands. "I'm on the clock. Remember that I only want to be here because there's money in it for me, and we'll both be in good shape."

And everything in him is telling him to shut up and focus on giving the tour -- no. Not everything.

Some parts of him *belong* in these clothes, after all, so --

Tim crosses his arms over his chest, tosses his hair back, and raises an eyebrow.

Jason raises *both* of his eyebrows at him.

"You're very protective, Jason."

"Comes with the territory --"

"Does it? Because I think you can't actually help yourself."


Tim holds up a hand. "I will stipulate that I'm attracted to you, but it's an incredibly shallow and mostly ignorable sort of thing compared to what you're triggering in me intellectually and emotionally. You *also* know -- or you *should* know -- how diverting you are."

"I'm a *good* whore. I've been doing this since I was fucking twelve, okay? If I *hadn't* picked up a few tricks about how to *be* a trick, I would've starved when you were still in elementary school. You may be good at reading people, but don't think you're gonna get a hold on me just because I have a pretty smile."

"It *is* a pretty smile -- crooked tooth included -- but Jason... what's wrong with the two of us attempting to be friends? If you'd like, you could think of it in a mercenary sense. Lex is only interested in a handful of payments -- and he knows you're smart enough to never even *try* to blackmail him -- but I could be --"

"*No*," Jason says, stepping away from the closet and advancing on Tim. "I don't know what your problem is, kid, but you don't fucking *buy* a buddy. You --" Jason rears back. "Wait a minute. Did you have *any* friends before Lex traded with your mother for you?"

"I... have friendly acquaintances --"

"Jesus fucking Christ --"

"Lex really doesn't appreciate calling on religious figures in his home --"

"Fuck him," Jason says, and jabs Tim in the chest with one finger. "Wake up and smell the fucking dysfunction, kid. You're better than this."

"Better than *what*? I'm in love with Lex, and the way he treats me -- the things he says and does -- all right, yes, I was *ripe* for some sort of abuse and manipulation. You don't have to tell me that. But I... I think I'm reasonably capable of taking care of myself and making my own choices. Right now, I'm choosing to try to befriend someone I -- so far -- like. Maybe it will turn out that you're actually a horrible person. Maybe it will turn out that you think *I'm* a horrible person. But until then... I'd like for us to cut the bullshit. You can't tell me that you've never met someone *through* your work that you haven't wanted to spend more time with -- I won't believe you --"

"Just who do you think picks *up* underaged boys, kid?"

"Kid again. I -- look, Jason, *educate* me. Or just tell me to change the subject if you don't feel like being bothered with it. I want -- I want to know you. More than I did before, actually."

Jason squeezes his eyes shut -- opens them and glares at him.

"How *did* you manage to give Mercy a black eye?"

"No idea. I probably fell on her in a way she wasn't expecting after she shot me up. And Bruce Wayne better have a real appreciation for deep-tissue bruises in his fucks, because that's what he's gonna get," Jason says, and smiles ruefully.

As a matter of fact... but how to say it? "I believe Lex and Bruce used to spar together when they were our age."

"Yeah, hunh? All right. All right. We can -- wait, answer my question."

"Lex and Mercy began their sexual relationship when Lex was eighteen, and it's going strong even now. They... ah. Well, Lex *owns* her."

Jason cocks his head to the side again. "Does he own you?"

"I want him to... sometimes. Most of the time. I don't think I'd make a very good slave, though, since I know too well how much Lex enjoys it when I get... hm. Uppity."

"You *do* know that there's room for that in all kinds of BDSM relationships, right?"

"I do, I do, but..." Tim shakes his head. "He's Lex. He demands absolute obedience from his property and he gets it. I can't even agree with him about how much I should eat on any given day."

Jason blows out a breath and pushes a hand back through his hair. "And he really does like it when you bitch him out -- and I'm actually standing here trying to give you fucking relationship advice. Jesus. Take the whore out of Gotham..."

"You were twelve?"

A crooked smile. "My mom died and my father skipped. Shit happens."

"I'm -- I'd like to offer my condolences."

"Not-apology accepted. C'mon, show me the rest of this place."

And that's what Tim does.

Jason seems to like the balconies best, and if *Tim's* hair was capable of looking *attractively* mussed, it's possible that Tim would agree with him. As it is, Jason gives him ten seconds to fix it -- before taking over the job and doing it better in less time than Tim has ever been capable of.

He smiles wryly for that and buffs his -- short, clean -- nails on his shirt.

Tim finishes the tour with the dining room, and there's a place setting to Lex's left to match Tim's on Lex's right. There's no sign --

Jason laughs quietly and nods toward the balcony --

Where Lex has one hand in Mercy's surprisingly long, auburn hair and one hand on her breast. They're kissing -- well, no. Lex is kissing Mercy, and Mercy is submitting to it. As far as Tim knows, they've only made love once since Tim has been here, and it would be entirely reasonable for them to do so tonight --

"I wouldn't be jealous if I were you, Tim. You pretty obviously give him things she doesn't."

"I... I'm mainly jealous of how long they've been together. And rather chagrinned by the prospect of spending the *entire* night alone, even though I know that Lex will be *thorough* with me tomorrow."

"Heh. He got you used to getting some for the first time. That's always pretty intense."

"It was for you?"

Jason's expression is one of those *private* smiles again --

"Ah -- strike the question from the record."

Jason inclines his head. "Another time."

"I'd appreciate that. And... we should sit. Lex will signal Eva when it's time for dinner."

Jason nods and does it. "What's Eva like?"

"Ah... matronly. In a way. She's. Well, she's *odd*. On the one hand, she knows everything there is to know about what happens in this penthouse on top of knowing a large amount about food and wine and everything else hostessing-related --"

"And on the other hand?"

"The word I used with Lex was 'Rockwellian.' She portrays herself as a loving yet mostly distant aunt or grand-aunt to Lex, with Hope and Mercy as her surrogate daughters. She seems to be waiting for Lex to settle down with Mercy as his wife and for them to have children together. She treats my presence here as proof that Lex is getting closer to being the kind of father found on fifties television shows. She hasn't pinched my cheeks, yet, but she has buried my face in her substantial bosom."

"Substantial, hunh?"

"She's built like an aircraft carrier, Jason. Well -- all right, maybe just a battleship. I find her deeply intimidating in ways I didn't expect *Lex* to find appealing, but... he has depths. And layers. And layers of utter insanity. He *surrounds* himself with crazy people. Which, yes, does make me wonder how he thinks about me. And how I ought to be thinking of myself."

Jason narrows his eyes thoughtfully. "My guess? You're stunted a little by having a lonely childhood that was probably fucked-up in other ways, too. You're a little too comfortable with the idea of changing yourself to fit your clothes to be entirely comfortable with who you actually are. You hold hands with a fucking assassin, which means you're also not entirely comfortable with traditional morality. You're... heh. Flexible."

Tim blinks rather a lot --

Jason shrugs and leans back. "I could be wrong."

"You... had to learn how to read people quickly and well."

"Got it in one. Don't worry about anything I just said, Tim. It works for Daddy and it doesn't put *my* wind up any, either. That should tell you that you *could* have a pretty fucking broad range of friends if you put your mind to it."

More blinking --

"Yeah, I know, you didn't think of it that way. Lots of people can pretty much only handle having one kind of friend. They get online and they join some community and they never leave, or if they're a little older than that, they only go to *one* bar, and only watch *one* sports team on television... you get the picture, yeah?"

Tim nods. "You... I imagine you saw a lot of that kind of person?"

"The *vast* majority of my johns have been men. I've started getting some women now that I look like an actual adult, but still not so many. Anyway, yeah. Men like that... it's easy for men like that to get lonely. One little thing goes wrong in their lives and *bam*, they've got nobody. You know?"

"That does make sense. I've always thought it was rational to make as many friends as possible, if only to have... well, 'insurance' sounds incredibly cold --"

"Sometimes you gotta be cold. Of course, *too* cold means you get stuck with just 'friendly acquaintances.'"

Tim blushes and forces himself not to look down. "I. I'm doing better this summer --"

"Summer ends. Whatcha gonna do when it's time to head back to Gotham? Also, why *do* you have a Gotham accent? It's mild, but..." Jason shakes his head. "You're too rich for that."

"I -- I might not -- well, Lex is creating a job especially for me, wherein I'll act as the liaison between LexCorp and Drake Industries. I'm not sure I *can* be this honest with the friends -- I go to public school -- I have back in Gotham, Jason. They're used to me being one particular way --"

"Lying to them, you mean."

"Lies of omission aren't as bad, right? Please?"

Jason grins at him. "It's your life -- and your *profound* lack of people to actually talk to about all of this when you go back home."

Erk. "I... didn't think of it that way. And I think I'm going to wind up saying that a lot around you."

"Well, I *am* older and wiser," Jason says, leaning back enough that his plain green t-shirt rides up over his abdomen --

Tim only *glances* --

Jason whistles. "That's good. You managed to only look like you were wondering what was going on out of the corner of your eye."

"I do have *some* practice, Jason."

"Yeah, yeah. You kids don't know how good you have it --"

"You're less than two years older than I am!"

"In *my* day, we had to climb uphill both ways before we could come out. And it was snowing like a *bastard*," and Jason winks.

Tim laughs a bit helplessly. "Well. Coming out on sunny days means that it's more comfortable when one inevitably gets kicked to the curb."

Jason raises his eyebrows. "Inevitably?"

"My mother has already told me many of her plans for the child I'm going to give her."

"Oof. And she's not just bein' a wannabe grandma?"

Tim coughs. "Ah... no. She doesn't really... do... that sort of thing."

"And this is where we come to your fucked-up childhood. Mommy's as much of an alpha dog as Lex, isn't she?"

"More so, in some ways. She doesn't... ah. Well, no, she relaxes with my father from time to time --"

"What's *he* gonna say about you being queer?"

"I have no idea. I... my father and I don't actually speak. He tends to let my mother do the day-to-day parenting, and also the day-to-day work at DI. His focus is coming up with new products and avenues of research, as well as relating to the employees in a friendly sort of way."

"Which isn't something your mother can do."

"She *can* do it, but... ah. Well."

"Heh, I hear you," Jason says, and looks past Tim's shoulder -- "Whoa. I guess we're far enough up that not just anybody would see that, but... damn."

"Oh... dear. What --"

"Are you sure you wanna know?"

And that... it's not his business. It's not. And Mercy probably wouldn't want him to --

Mercy hates him even as she apparently acknowledges his importance to Lex. And -- Mercy hates him. The realization that he wouldn't mind as much -- if at all -- if it were Hope... is definitely a realization.

Tim sighs and smiles ruefully. "I can live without knowing. Would you tell me about your friends?"

"Well, I've got a few, yeah. My *best* friend is a dog named Dog."


"Oh, yeah. He is one of the doggiest dogs ever to dog. He's a Rottie/Shepherd mix, and it took about a month to convince him to follow me once I got a real apartment -- as opposed to a squat -- and I'm gonna be pissed if Mercy so much as *looked* at him wrong when she was dragging my high ass around."

"I'm not *aware* of her having any prejudices against dogs... ah. Do you have someone to take care of him?"

"*That* would be Snuffy, who may or may not have a real name he's not sharing at the moment. I picked him up when he started hooking in my territory without a -- heh -- license. He was a little malnourished and a *lot* bitchy, but he's settled down since I've had him staying in my place. He's about your age."

Tim blushes *again* --

Jason raises his eyebrows --

"I -- was just thinking about the road not traveled. As it were."

Jason nods slowly. "Normally, I don't bring kids in that quick, but it was pretty obvious that he hadn't been on the street for long enough for it to *get* in his blood, so..." A shrug. "It's working out, so far. Dog is a good judge of character."

"Is he... are you... ah."

The eyebrows go up *higher* this time ---

Tim does his best not to *squirm* --

"Heh. Relax. He's not my type."

"What *is* your type?"

"Smart, honest, willing."

"Is the last really that hard to find? For *you*?"

"You gotta think about everything the word *implies*, Tim. Because there's the kind of willing where you're hooking up because it's the only thing you can think of to make all the little voices shut up -- whatever those little voices may be -- and then there's the kind of willing where you're hooking up because you can look yourself in the eye and say 'yeah, I want some of *that* guy. As much as I can get,' and know you're being honest with yourself."

And that...

He thinks about Ives, who is as much his friend as Tim has let him be, who looks at Tim like he *wants* the boy Tim has pretended to be...

Has Ives played any of his own games? Is that... no, Tim knows that he would know, that he'd be able to *feel* it. He's known Ives since they were both ten, after all, and --

He's attractive, and he's smart, and he's kind, and he's often funny, and --

And Tim had never wanted him the way he wants Lex.

The way he's *starting* to want Jason.

There's something *wrong* with that -- there are a *lot* of things wrong with that, but it starts with the fact that he'd never really considered the full implications of only living a fraction of his life. Somehow doing that had added blinders, and, yes, the exact wrong kind of being willing.

Tim licks his lips -- "I need to think about that more. What you said, I mean."

Jason searches him a little. "I can see that. You sure you're okay?"

"One of my... friendly acquaintances. I'd had plans to seduce him that seem really ugly at the moment."

Jason winces. "Well... you're not alone? All kinds of people have sex for the wrong damned reasons. If life *didn't* work that way...?"

"You would've starved, yes. Still, I liked myself a lot more two minutes ago."

"Heh. Think of it this way -- you know better know, and you figured it out *before* you hurt someone who just made the mistake of being attractive *enough* near a fucked-up kid with more lust than self-awareness."

"Ah... ouch?"

"C'mon, you can tell me to fuck off anytime now. I can take it."

"It'll be much easier to do when you're not speaking objective *truths*, Jason."

Jason shakes his head. "I'm just making educated guesses and reading what you give me to read. Look, I already *know* you're better than that kinda shit, because you actually decided to stop being a closet case --"

"Lex -- Lex outed me. Well, Lex pointed out that I might as well *come* out the night we met."

"But you didn't *have* to do it. You could've dug in your heels and insisted that there was nothing going on with you but whatever dribs and drabs you let show. Yeah?"

Tim frowns. "Well, yes, but --"

"No buts. Your instincts are obviously good. You knew you had a chance to actually be yourself -- and maybe figure out who that is while you were at it -- and you took it. All kinds of people shit all over chances like that and wind up doing stupid and *ugly* shit -- often *to* people like me."

Tim winces and nods. "I... I've had thoughts about winding up in some loveless business marriage and cheating on my wife with any number of relatively nameless men... I don't want my life to look like that, but I'm not sure how to avoid that *and* still get to live the life I want to live."

"You might *not* get to -- a whole lot of good people don't. But seriously, Tim -- the happiest people I know, full stop, are the people who have dealt with all of their personal shit -- whatever it is -- enough to know exactly who they are and what they want. Even if they have no idea how to get it. Even if they never come *close* to getting it."

"I -- really?"

"Uh, huh. One guy -- one of the few johns I actually give a shit about -- said it like this: 'the more time you spend hiding, the less time you spend doing. The less time you spend doing, the more time you spend regretting. The more time you spend regretting, the less time you spend with a smile on your face, and I plan to *die* with a smile on my face.' I think there's more to it -- Jimmy never had to scramble to keep from getting stabbed in the eye by some fucking closet case -- but those are the basics."

"And I suppose you wouldn't have much respect for me if I, say, kept lying to my parents until after they'd finished paying for my college education?"

"What about that trust fund of yours?"

"Untouchable until I'm twenty-one... unless I do emancipate myself."

Jason blows out a breath and shakes his head. "Then it comes down to how much of an ass you'd have to be in order to get what you wanted out of your parents. If you're *only* hurting yourself, that's bad enough, and fucking hard to watch. If you're hurting other people, too? That puts you on the list of people I wouldn't piss on if they were on fire. *But* -- that's just my opinion. And I do all kinds of things that hurt myself."

"Like take this job?"

Jason grins. "Well, that depends on how much I wind up *liking* Bruce."

I think the answer to that question will be 'a lot.' I think --

I think if he lets himself really see you --

If you're like *this* he won't be able to *not* see you --

And then I'll have to be jealous of you, at least a little, because I'm a small, small person, and --

And Jason has his eyebrows up again.

"Would you tell me what expression was on my face?"

Jason frowns mildly. "Tough to describe. You looked a little scared, a little excited, a little *freaked* -- and a lot young."

No wonder Lex had realized that Tim knew the secret. "I... I've had one hell of a crush on Bruce's former ward --"

"Is it? Just a crush, I mean."

Tim knows his smile is a bit pained, but he goes with it, anyway. "For all I know, he's really a jerk of some sort or another. Certainly, he never noticed me --"

"Did you try to be noticed?"

"No. But facial expressions like that... aren't they rather loud?"

"Depends on the person you're looking like that around. Depends on whether or not they're *expecting* to see something worth noticing. Depends... well, how old is the guy now?"


"So ten years older than you. That's -- heh. *I* don't notice too many seven-year-olds, Tim. I mean, unless they're fucking strapped or something."

"I'm not really -- I mean, I know that I can't judge him by how he has and hasn't responded to me over the years, especially since I've never actually walked up to him and asked if we could be friends -- fuck. Do people actually do that? Ever?"

Jason's smile is... quirked. "Oh, yeah, all the time. When they're *seven*."

Tim laughs quietly and pinches the bridge of his nose. "I really am pathetic. I know that. I *knew* that, and I really need to remember that the next time Lex is whipping me into having higher self-esteem."

"Uh. He won't fuck you, but --"

"Oh! No, no. I mean, we've done a little... ah... recreational spanking, but. No."

Jason nods slowly, looking into Tim's eyes and just -- knowing him.

It makes Tim want to blush more than mentioning the spanking had done, and -- Tim looks back.

Jason doesn't *quite* open his mouth -- it's more like a parting of lips and a *deep* breath --

Tim narrows his eyes --

And Jason shakes himself like a dog and laughs. "Yeah, 'cause *that* would be a good idea."


"Just wanting a little more background for the images in my head featuring you and Daddy."

"You're going to call him that almost exclusively, aren't you?"

"God, yes. He narrows his eyes *every* time you do it. It's good to keep powerful men on their toes. *Does* he get you off? Or is he one of those selfish tops?"

"Oh, he. Ah. For a while, he would *only* get me off. And not let me... reciprocate."

"A different *kind* of selfish, when you think about it."

Tim blinks -- "All right, now I'm imagining demanding various expensive gifts for every, say, five minutes he goes without having an orgasm."

Jason snickers. "If he makes it to two hours? He pretty much has to buy you a Maybach."

Oh... ooh.

Jason snickers *more* -- "So now I know you got *good* taste --"

"He has *excellent* taste," Lex says, from *behind* Tim -- "Stay right there, darling," and Lex strokes a line down the back of Tim's neck. "I'm fond of the hairs here, for all that the softness makes me feel like exactly as much of a degenerate as I am."


Lex leans over enough that Tim can see his smile -- and it's one of the satisfied ones. Lex has *several* of those, most of which make him look like this: All is right with the world, and someone is going to get fucked blind.

As always, it makes Tim a little weak in the knees -- weak enough that he's glad to be sitting down --

And Lex strokes Tim's cheekbones. "It's going to be incredibly challenging not to do that when you're all made up for me."

Tim blushes --

"Of course, I won't be using *too* much foundation *or* rouge -- I will *not* risk covering your natural glow."

Jason coughs --

And Lex grips Tim's chin and turns him to face Jason. "Are you saying he *doesn't* have a glow?"

"I'm saying that your cock talks a lot of shit -- and knows exactly what it wants, too."

"I wouldn't say it knows *exactly* what it wants -- it often gets distracted around Tim, after all -- but yes, I can see what you're saying. It took days before I realized why I was losing my composure around Tim while also thinking of Bruce more often than I'd done since I was a teenager. I wonder how long it will take you."

Tim blushes --

"Uh. If you're trying to pimp your boy to me --"

"Not at all. I can hear everything discussed in this room on that balcony, and I'm already jealous... but I'm willing to be reasonable. Tim is allowed to have a sexual relationship with anyone he wishes... so long as he leaves a reasonable amount of time for me."

Tim blushes *harder* -- "Lex --"

"We were going to have to have this talk sometime, darling. Let it be now -- and let it be known that I'm not a hypocrite. Mercy will be my lover until such time as one of us is no longer healthy enough for it."

"Ah... where is she right now?"

"Catching up with Hope. You're usually not so distracted that you don't notice her comings and goings," Lex says, and he sounds ruefully amused.

Tim winces. "I feel I should apologize --"

"Not for being human enough to recognize remarkable beauty -- inside and out -- when it's right in your face," and Lex lets go of Tim's jaw and sits at the head of the table.

Jason is leaning back and looking thoughtful --

"You're going to hit Bruce like the world's most pleasurable kick to the scrotum, Jason. If you *don't*, then he's never been worth my notice, at all, and I'll be able to get over him once and for all. I'm still willing to believe that I was wrong all of those years ago, but certain things I've just learned about him make that even less likely than it was before."

"Because your opinion of yourself is *exactly* that high, Daddy...?"

Lex does, indeed, narrow his eyes. "False modesty is both wildly irritating and a wildly irritating alternate form of vanity. But really, in this case..." Lex sighs and smiles, hitting the button which will summon Eva. "'Smart, honest, willing' is the least of what Bruce gave me -- and what he demanded in turn. I am, in fact, worried that you'll enjoy him too much to complete the assignment, but I trust to your work ethic."

"You want me to get close enough to report on him. You want some dirty pictures. You want him at least a little hurt."

"That last can wait -- possibly even indefinitely. In the end, I want to know what's going on in his mind, and I want to be able to get a toehold in Gotham without having to depend on Tim's mother."

Tim winces *internally* --

Lex narrows his eyes at him. "*No* one should have to depend on that woman, Tim."

"She doesn't break *contracts*, Lex."

"No, she just weasels her away around and through the various loopholes in them the same way *I* do -- and she's more than intelligent enough to know that once I *do* have a toehold in Gotham I won't need her anymore except for access to her delightful son. And *that*... one of us *will* tip our hands eventually, Tim. I'd rather not let her have me by the balls."

"That's... entirely fair," Tim says, and tries not to think about all the things which *might* happen if his mother ever became more of an obstacle than a potential partner --

Lex doesn't have a good *track* record with difficult parents --

And Jason is studying Tim hard enough -- damn.

"I used to be much better at concealing my emotional state --"

"Nobody can help you out if you don't let 'em know there's something you need help *with*," Jason says, as if that's *nothing* -- no. As if it's a life lesson that's so obvious that Tim's an idiot for not knowing it -- no, not that, either.

He says it as if it's something everyone already knows, as if it's the sort of catechism that was burned into the minds of children all over the world at a young age, and Tim had just forgotten it somehow, and will -- now that he's been reminded -- of *course* live with it at the heart of his life --

Jason's eyebrows are up --

"Lex, I think you're going to have to give me *two* weeks grace time in order to fix my affect."

"Or break it, as the case may be," Lex says, and strokes Tim's lower lip. "Channel Hope, if you must. Remember to add signs of visible life, though. We wouldn't want your mother to drive a stake through your heart."

"She wouldn't -- all right, she would, but she'd make *sure* of herself first."

Lex pats Tim's hand and turns back to Jason, who has something of an air of generalized skepticism with a dash of wariness thrown in for spice. "Tim's mother is about as warm-blooded as the average iguana when it comes to everyone in the world *except* for her husband -- and even that's rather shaky, though I'm reasonably sure she's never cheated on the man and never will."

Jason nods slowly. "She's got nothing for Tim?"

Tim opens his mouth --

Lex presses a finger to Tim's lower lip --

Tim considers *biting* it --

"I believe she has been more of a master to Tim's inner apprentice than a mother to Tim's inner child. As such, I'm incredibly grateful to her for helping to shape a boy who couldn't possibly be more suited to my ridiculous needs."

"Your needs aren't *ridiculous*, Lex --"

Lex coughs and nods toward Tim for Jason's benefit.

Jason gets another of those *quirked* smiles, and really --

"I say this sincerely: fuck you both."

Lex pats Tim again.

Jason kicks out under the table and rocks Tim's chair back. "Look at it this way -- you *could* have wound up with a normal sense of right and wrong, and how relationships are generally supposed to work. *Then* what would Lex have done?"

"I -- all right, you have a point, but still. Lex is making it sound like my mother created me in a *lab* or something. Not that there's anything wrong with that."

Lex stares at him pointedly.

"Ah -- anyway. I'm only saying that it would be as much of a mistake to think of my mother as the Wicked Witch of the West as it would be to think of her as some kind of modern day Donna Reed. She's complicated. She may not be a traditional mother, and she may not be the most *permissive* mother, but she's mine, and she's taught me a great deal -- things *both* of you seem to find attractive. So... lay off. Please."

"No prob," Jason says. "So what *is* for dinner tonight?"

"I usually give Eva a list of the relevant food allergies and sensitivities and let her surprise me," Lex says, and strokes a line over Tim's knuckles. "That said, Eva is invested in putting meat on Tim's bones, so there's bound to be some amount of animal fat. So far, Tim has responded best to large amounts of butter."

Jason waggles his head back and forth. "I can do butter. Butter's a friend of mine. Still, you can't really *make* someone gain weight if they've got the kind of metabolism Tim pretty much has to have."

"Do *not* underestimate a determined Eva. She's already made a difference with Tim's chest and ass."
"I -- what -- you didn't say anything about my ass being bigger --"

"It's wonderful, darling. Relax."

Jason toasts Tim with ice water. "It's a pretty sweet little ass, Tim. Go with it."

"You -- I --"

Lex pets Tim's *hair* --

"Lex, I'm not about to have a nervous *breakdown* --"

"I'm sure you're not. And really, it's only a *little* bigger."

Enough to be noticeable. Enough -- are his pants too tight in the back? Would he feel that? Do his jackets fall right?

Jason snickers and kicks Tim's chair again. "You're totally worried about growing a fat ass."

"No! Maybe. Yes. But --"

Jason makes squeeze motions with his hands and smiles.

"It's just that my frame is too small to *support* a truly -- ah --"


Damn it. "Lex, please stop enjoying yourself."

Jason snorts --

Lex smiles that *sunny* smile again. "How could I with you near?" And Lex lifts Tim's hand to his mouth and *kisses* it --

Tim suspects his face looks like he'd bitten into the world's most concentrated lemon -- no. He can cope. "Vanity is entirely reasonable when one has someone one wants to *impress*." Or a couple of someones.

"Oh, no doubt, no doubt. You *have* to look pretty when you're on the market, and it's just -- heh -- enlightened self-interest to look pretty when you're *not*."

"Yes, precisely --"

"And," Jason says, and smiles *meanly* -- "part of looking pretty is letting that ass speak for itself."

"No one wants my ass to speak, and if I'm wrong about that? I don't want to know," Tim says, and crosses his legs.

Jason snickers --

And Lex sighs. "Is he old enough to get away with eyeliner as a style choice?"

"He might be *too* queer for it, Lex."

Another sigh -- "Yes, you're probably right. If he could just wear it *rebelliously*... well."

Tim glares at Lex.

"Yes, darling?"

"You wouldn't *want* me to wear it rebelliously. You'd want me to wear it knowing full well that it improved the lines of my eyes and made me, on the whole, look rather more dramatic. And *feminine*."

"Mm, true. Well, maybe for the party."

"Won't there be reporters taking *pictures* at the party, Lex?"

"Oh, goodness, yes. Happily, they'll all be focused on me and Bruce, waiting for one or both of us to screw up in some hideously public fashion. Bruce will be bringing someone positively brain-dead -- and possibly stoned -- as his date, and so there'll be entertainment there as whoever it is staggers around looking like next week's trip to rehab... there won't be too many cameras aimed your way, darling. Don't worry."

"Lex --"

"If all else fails? I'll *buy* the pictures. I'll blow up the best ones and masturbate furiously --"

The door to the hall leading to the kitchen opens and Eva bursts in with a tray even more massive than usual in her arms. Lex switches to a bright and *innocent* smile --

Jason starts to stand --

Eva glares at him like she's thinking of her hatchet --

Jason's eyes go wide and he raises his hands --

"*Sit*," Eva says, and glares a little more --

Jason sits, looking both worried and horrified --

"*This* one you must train, Lex."

"Oh, Tim has already begun, Eva."

"Hmph," and she sets the tray down on the table. "You must not shirk your responsibilities to the young ones, Lex."

"I would never dream of that... but I did have to greet Mercy properly after her trip."

Eva smiles maternally and pats Lex's shoulder. "I have already found the makeup she will need for her eye," and she turns to glare at Jason a bit more, which --

Well, there's only so far these games can go. "Ah, Eva?"

"Yes, Tim?"

"I believe Mercy attacked Jason first."

Eva narrows her eyes --

Lex looks like he's only curious to see how *close* to murdering him and Jason both Eva will come --

"I -- really, Eva. Jason... ah. He didn't understand the necessity of his presence here."

Jason raises his eyebrows at Tim, but --

"You understand now, don't you, Jason?"

The eyebrows are approaching his hairline --

Eva glares at him --

Jason shakes himself like a dog -- or possibly like a Dog -- and then pulls on an expression of mock-seriousness. "Oh, yeah, I totally get why I had to be drugged and kidnapped now. It *all* makes sense."

Eva reaches for her apron, which, now that Tim is paying attention, is bulging a bit more on the right than it usually does.

"Ah -- Eva!"

"You hush now and let Eva do what must be done."

The horrified look is back on Jason's face, and, yes, he's definitely thinking about what his life will look like if he winds up having to defend himself against a woman Eva's age. Damn --

"Eva! I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed lunch today! It was! Wonderful!"

He looks to Lex for *help* --

"What *did* she send you for lunch today, Tim?" And Lex manages a look of innocent curiosity so pure, so *perfect* --

Lex, Tim does not say, I'm never going to leave you, but one day I *will* kill you in your sleep. Aloud, he says, "It was antipasto! And... and... ah..."

"It was *carpaccio*," Eva says. "Many modern parents do not feed this to their children," she says, and shakes her head sadly. "It is *very* healthy, and builds *great* energy."

"Yes! I feel very energetic. Very... ah... and hungry! I feel... hungry. I'm sure we're all hungry," Tim says, and smiles in a way he hopes is more winning than ghastly.

Eva reaches over and pats Tim's cheeks, which is an excellent, non-hatchet-centric sign.

"So... what's for dinner tonight?"

Eva starts to turn back toward Jason --

Jason is staring at Eva's apron with wide eyes --

Lex is laughing *uproariously* behind his eyes --

Tim kicks him.

Lex coughs, snickers, coughs more -- breathes. "Yes, let's just see what we have today," he says, and whips off the tray's cover with a flourish, revealing what appears to be most of a pig, roasted and surrounded with root vegetables.

"Wow, that looks... intimidating," Jason says --

Eva clenches her fists --

"I mean, am I gonna have to eat quickly? 'cause... I don't think I can do justice to that *quickly*."

Eva *pauses*, all over.

Jason glances at Tim --

Tim shrugs and makes a go-on gesture --

Jason licks his lips. "I... yeah. See, back when my mom was alive, she always said that you had to slow down and *appreciate* meals like that. You had to just... start slow and *go* from there. Otherwise you don't digest it right *and* you insult the chef. Cook. Chef?"

Eva stands straight and puts her hands on her hips. "Lex and Tim eat too fast. *You* will teach them otherwise," she says, and that was both an order and an offer of probation.

Jason blows out a breath. "I can do that. Ma'am. I can -- ma'am. I always tried to listen to my mom."

"Good boys do this thing," and Eva turns and leaves without another word.

Silence reigns for a long moment --

"What. The. Fucking. Fuck."

Lex *titters* -- "Oh, I. I don't believe I've ever made that sound without meaning to before."

"Please don't do it again," Tim says, and picks up the oversized fork and hands it to Lex. "Carve the beast for us."

"Yes, I believe I will. I wonder which of Eva's boyfriends caught it for her," Lex muses and stands, carving utensils in hand.

"She has boyfriends? Who she *hasn't* murdered in their beds?"

"She'd *never* do that, Jason. Eva likes a good *fight*, you see."

"Ah... Lex. How many of your dinner guests *has* she maimed?"

"There was the scalding incident with the hot cocoa, but Eva swears that was unintentional. Even though the man in question *had* pinched Hope's ass," and Lex turns to Jason. "Eva thinks of my bodyguards as her own. They're bemused by this, but know to humor her."

Tim thinks about it... hm. "How do you plan to keep Eva from murdering Bruce?"

"The same way I've managed it every *other* time I've had the man in my territory: hire caterers."

Well, not *every* other time, but -- right, focusing... Jason. "Are you all right?"

"Uh? Yeah? My fault for letting my guard down? Fuckin' A, Daddy. Are all your servants *armed*?"

"Oh, only when they feel it's necessary," and Lex places a large hunk of meat on Tim's plate. "Remember, Tim: the faster you eat that, the more vegetables you're allowed to look at."

"Did I mention something about you enjoying yourself too much, Lex? Because I think I did."

Lex all but *beams* at him before turning back to Jason. "Eva is my chatelaine, which means that she's the head of the crowd of servants I use to keep this place running well enough that I don't have to think about any of it. As she hasn't asked for funding to *train* any of her servants in the martial arts, I'm willing to bet that none of them are. Eva would never trust anyone's work who she *couldn't* supervise."

"And, like, the fucking footmen aren't *strapped*?"

"I don't think I *have* footmen -- well, in any event," and Lex places meat on Jason's plate, "the only guns allowed on these premises belong to the security team, and they only get to come up *here* when Hope or Mercy calls them."

"Yeah? What happens if someone takes out Hope and Mercy at the same time?"

"Several metahumans and aliens *can* do that, much to my chagrin, but there comes a point when reasonable security crosses over to life-altering paranoia. I may *not* have reached that point, but I choose to believe that I have. I will not live in an armed camp, no matter how tempting that prospect becomes whenever certain aliens choose to do fly-bys."

Superman is going to have a son with Lex. Superman is going to --

What will the boy *look* like?

He could wind up having the worst features of both of them -- nature *can* be just that cruel -- but they both have so *few* problematic features --

Lex manages to make even clearing his throat sound gleeful.

Tim smiles ruefully and turns to Jason. "I'm sorry. The project I'm helping Lex with at Cadmus really is *just* that interesting."

"See, I can totally tell that was honest, but..." Jason raises his eyebrows. "What about that project is getting you *hard*?"

"That is an *excellent* question," Lex says, and serves himself a generous portion of pork -- wait.

"Don't you usually eat more *healthily* than this?"

Lex hums and takes a sip of the water Eva had provided for all of them --

Eva had provided yet another bottle of truly wonderful wine for *him* --

"Eva and I have reached a compromise, Tim. If I eat the food she's designed to make you more... ah... robust, then I'm allowed to eat fat-free yogurt with my breakfast."

"*Damn* it! You didn't tell me yours was fat-free!"

"That's because you can't have it, darling. Now eat."

The pork does smell delicious. And the juices currently swirling around on his plate could be just... juices. Not necessarily fat --

"Seriously, Tim, it's not gonna turn into vegetarian fake chicken by you looking at it."

Tim sighs.

And eats.