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do you wanna feel a little beautiful, baby

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do you wanna feel a little beautiful, baby

 

Dick is at the Manor. That’s not the problem. Dick is at the Manor while Damian is at the Manor, and that’s the problem. Damian is fourteen now, and has been thrust so ignominiously into puberty that Tim burns with constant sympathy for him. At twenty, Tim is unfortunately as tall as he’s ever going to get and long past quavering vocal cords, but he still has the muscle memory of being fourteen and subject to Dick’s incessant, careless affection.

Tim likes to think that he’s hardened to it now, or at least less likely to go abruptly half-stiff every time Dick throws an arm around his shoulders and pulls him against his body, smelling clean and musky and like sex. It was a trial, growing up around him. Once, when he was thirteen, Tim stole one of Dick’s shirts and buried his face in it while he jacked off. He’s not proud of it.

In the Cave, Dick is bringing up files on the computer on a string of old cases. Damian has his back turned, so Tim sees the danger before he does. He watches in quiet horror as Dick reaches up and pulls Damian down onto his lap as if Damian’s still ten years old and not someone who has to take three showers a day.

Damian goes rigid, bent up like a marble statue of a boy, looking as if he would very much like to put a bullet in his own brain. Tim’s not sure he’s even breathing. But Dick is oblivious, pointing at a series of photos on the screen, free arm wrapped around Damian’s waist.

Tim lasts six seconds as unwilling observer before he knocks a box of Damian’s tools off a nearby shelf. They clatter across the Cave floor with a racket that disturbs the bats overhead, and then Damian is rushing towards him with a murderous expression on his face.

“Oops,” Tim says, deadpan.

“Christ, Drake,” Damian says, face red, body hunched. He kneels on the stone by the spilled tools, but doesn’t reach to pick them up. He just sits there, breathing deeply, looking miserable.

“You’re welcome,” Tim says quietly, and leaves the Cave.

Then he walks past the open door to Dick’s room and half a minute later he’s still there, one hand on the doorframe, fighting the impulse to duck in and smell Dick’s pillow. He closes his eyes. He’s twenty years old. He’s better than this. Being around Damian is clearly giving him something like war flashbacks.

There’s always a go-bag packed and waiting underneath his bed. He grabs it and jogs back down to the Cave, and then he’s powering down the drive on his Ducati, bag slung across his back, determined to stay away at least a week.

He ends up, as usual, at Stephanie’s condo.

Steph’s in her final year at Gotham U. Bruce tried to buy her a row house two blocks from the university, but she laughed in his face, so he sidestepped the problem by forcing Oracle to buy her a fancy condo in a nearby building. When she tried to turn this one down too, Barbara superglued the keys to the glove of her Batgirl suit, and after that there was no way to back out of the gift without losing face.

The condo has two bedrooms, four secret closets, and a back exit through the hall bathroom window onto the roof of the building next door. The floors are covered with dirty clothes, the sink is full of dishes, and there are toaster crumbs in a fine layer over most of the kitchen. The furniture is forty percent IKEA, sixty percent Barbara’s hand-me-downs, and the color palette is exploded crayon box. It’s heaven.

Tim has his own key, and uses it. Everyone else has a key too, but they tend to arrive through the window. Steph says this means Tim is the only one with good breeding, and also that she can never sleep naked for fear of waking up to Bruce looming at the foot of her bed.

Steph’s not home yet from class, so Tim dumps his bag in the guest room, orders Indian food, and makes himself comfortable. Tim doesn’t have an apartment of his own. He has the Manor and the Penthouse, he has the old, memory-haunted Drake townhouse, and he has the keys to nineteen separate safehouses, supply points, and garages across Gotham that are shared by most everyone with Cave clearance. But nothing of his own, nowhere to go that’s just his, where his extended family isn’t wandering in and out at all hours, asking him about stock reports and sounding the alarm for another Arkham breakout.

Most of the time it doesn’t bother him. Steph’s condo fills most of the void, and anyway it’s a rare day that he doesn’t like having Dick down the hall and Alfred bustling around the drawing room. But some days he wishes there were somewhere he could go to be truly alone, where he could lock the door and pull up a DevilBoys video on the big screen, volume turned loud. There’s a pornstar that looks like Dick, sort of, without the scars or the blue eyes. There’s another that looks a hell of a lot like Jason from the back. Tim has a paid subscription running through a credit card hooked up to a top secret account sitting in a Swiss bank. He’s pretty sure Bruce knows about it, which is mildly traumatizing, but not as bad as the time Bruce presented Dick with a forty-page log of the sexts Dick was sending to Roy, so Tim figures he’s coming out ahead.

Tim kept an encrypted copy of that log on his computer for three months before shame got the better of him.

 “You are not watching porn in my condo,” Steph tells him later, when he’s facedown on the couch, complaining into the cushions. She’s bent into a pretzel on the floor, painting her toenails a truly eye-watering shade of violet. Tim sighs, and then has to spit couch fuzz out of his mouth.

“I’m not going to watch porn in your condo,” he says. “I’m just—I don’t know. Horny. Or lonely. Or something. I’ve been around Damian too much. He’s a tragedy and a half right now.”

“If you have time to hang around Damian, Bruce isn’t working you hard enough,” Steph says. She flips the page of the textbook she has open by her knee and runs her finger down a vocab list in the upper corner. “Neurohypophysis, hypothalamus, vasopressin. As if I can remember what any of those are.”

“Vasopressin is a hormone that retains water. The hypothalamus—“

“Literally fuck off,” Steph says. “I don’t need Professor Drake tonight.”

“Sorry,” Tim says. He pushes himself up on the couch and tucks his legs underneath him. Steph finishes her toes, muttering the vocabulary to herself as she works. “Why are you even taking bio classes, if you hate them so much?” Tim asks.

Steph flips another page. “Not really sure. Over the summer I thought, hey, what if I’ve missed my calling to be a doctor? Or, like, a scientist or something. They make good money, too.”

“And?” says Tim. “Are you the next Doc Leslie?”

“No,” Steph says, with finality. “I’m crap at this stuff. I mean, Leslie’s the reason I wanted to at least try. With our history, and the time I spent with her. I liked taking care of people. But all these twelve-syllable words—somehow, I just can’t feel the connection between neurohypophysis and helping folks. That’s stupid. I know that’s stupid.”

“It’s not stupid,” Tim says, even though he thinks it’s pretty stupid. You have to know where the neurohypophysis is to fix it when it’s gone wrong in someone. They don’t make bandaids for tiny bits of the brain.

“Don’t lie, you think it’s stupid,” Steph says, rolling her eyes. She’s wearing sweatpants and a sports bra. At the beginning of October, autumn hasn’t yet arrived in earnest, and the doors to the condo’s juliet balcony are pulled open to the evening air and wail of sirens.

“Fine, I think it’s stupid, but I don’t think you’re stupid,” Tim says. “Just drop the class, if you’re not going to use it.”

“I waited too long, and now it’s too late to drop classes,” Steph says.

“Who cares,” Tim says. “I’ll call the school in the morning and make them let you do it. There’s no point in being a Wayne if you can’t abuse the privilege.”

Steph flips her textbook closed with unnecessary force. “In case you’ve forgotten, I’m not a Wayne, and you people have to stop taking such a suspicious interest in me publically. I’m a Brown. I’m no one.”

Tim shrugs, eyeing the leftover Indian food crowded in boxes on the counter. “Okay, then I’ll hack the school records and switch your classes on the server. No problem.” If he eats more now, he’s going to be miserable on patrol in a couple hours. Maybe just the chana masala…

Steph makes a frustrated sound in the back of her throat. “You just don’t get it,” she says, and Tim blinks. “I’m doing this on my own,” Steph says. She’s on the very edge of getting mad at him, and Tim’s been in this position often enough to know that he’s once again committed the cardinal sin of not listening to her. “College isn’t a big deal to you or to anyone else over at the Manor, but it’s a big deal to me. I’m fighting my way through this, and I’m doing it without Wayne money and without Wayne influence. Okay?”

Tim nods, making a point of looking into her eyes, because even though he thinks she’s being ridiculous and stubborn and making things unnecessarily difficult for herself, he wants to be on her side. “I wish you’d let me fix things for you,” he says.

Steph tosses her long blond hair over her shoulder. “That’s your problem, Wonder Boy. You’re always trying to run everyone else’s life, instead of sitting down and dealing with your own.”

“That’s harsh,” Tim says, but grins, because they’re not going to fight.

Steph wiggles her toes and admires the polish. It’s practically neon, some eighty-cent off-brand bottle from the drugstore. Tim’s glad it’s about to be sock weather. “Huntress is a high school teacher,” she says, apropos of nothing.

“Those poor children,” Tim says.

“And Manhunter is the D.A.”

“Right.”

“I think Black Canary used to be a florist or something. And Babs was a librarian for ages.”

“Are you thinking of taking up library science?” Tim asks. He decides against the chana masala and lies back down on the couch, hands behind his head.

“God, no,” Steph says. “Babs would kill me for disrespecting the books or something. No, what I mean is, most everyone does something besides look for fights at night. Everybody has, like, a calling. Or at least a job, where they can support themselves and fund their weapons. My mom’s a nurse.”

“Your mom doesn’t fight crime in her spare time,” Tim says.

“No, but Kate Spencer does, and she doesn’t have Wayne money to buy her new suits.”

“You have Wayne money,” Tim says.

“I’m not a Wayne!” Steph says.

“You’re good as,” Tim says, getting frustrated. “Okay, maybe you don’t have the hyphen, but neither does Babs, and you better believe the Clocktower isn’t bankrolled on a librarian’s savings.”

“It’s not the same,” Steph says, and Tim can’t see her face, but he knows her mouth has twisted.

“You’re being ridiculous,” Tim says to the ceiling. “You want the name? You’re more than welcome to it. I mean really, why don’t you just marry me?”

Steph laughs. “Marry you? Are you kidding me?”

“Why not?” Tim says. “Marriage of convenience. Muddy up the pedigree with your commoner bloodline. The papers will love it.”

Steph’s face appears in his line of vision, grinning down at him, her hair sweeping across his cheeks. “Timothy Drake-Wayne, I honestly think you’re being serious right now.”

Tim smiles and wrinkles his nose at her. “Of course I’m being serious. You’d get the name, the fortune, and the status, and I would get the security of a heterosexual marriage to please my stepmother and the rest of Gotham society.”

Steph swings herself across Tim’s hips, pinning him down with her comfortable weight. He traces the caesarean scar under her navel with the pad of his thumb. “Ours would be a cold marital bed,” she says.

“We would have to take discreet lovers,” Tim says. Outside, the air is cooling as the night deepens, and Steph is deliciously warm. He runs his hands up her back, then down her ribs, and her skin breaks out in goosebumps.

“My name would be absurd. Stephanie Brown-Drake-Wayne.”

“Drake-Brown-Wayne.”

“You’re an idiot, and I’m not marrying you,” Steph says, and leans down and kisses him.

Tim opens his mouth for her immediately, relaxes into the curl of her tongue, the familiar smell of her skin. She stretches out across his chest, elbows on either side of his head, one hand brushing through his hair. He skims his fingers up her sides again and down her back, cupping her ass briefly. She hums and whispers something into his mouth, and it takes him a moment to realize she called him a dumbass.

Sometimes Tim thinks he loves Stephanie Brown more than anyone else in the world. He loved her while they dated as teenagers, while she grew and delivered her baby, while the scum of Gotham hurt her over and over on the streets at night. He loved her when they fought constantly, when they broke up and got back together, when they stopped trying to date at all.

He loved her, or maybe he was in love with her. It’s hard to tell. Tim is very definitely gay, and proves this to himself all over again whenever Steph is half-naked and on top of him, gorgeous and happy to let him do whatever he wants with her. And Tim feels safe and content and completely unaroused, just pleased to be close to her, liking the feel of her skin on his.

Tim is gay. Steph knows this, knew this even while they were dating. It’s not why they broke up. They broke up because Tim is controlling and Steph got tired of reminding him that he’s not allowed to control her. Also Steph died, for a while.

Steph’s breathing is coming faster. Steph is comfortably bisexual, with a body that responds to making out with her ex-boyfriend. Tim presses his thigh up between her legs, and she hitches her hips down against him and makes a soft sound. “Don’t tease,” she says, breaking away from his mouth. “I don't want to change underwear before patrol.”

Tim chases her mouth and kisses her again. He likes her weight on him, her mouth, her closeness. Steph lets him for another minute or two, then pulls away. She stands and stretches, arms above her head, the scars down her back pulling long and tight.

“You can be whatever you want to be, Steph,” Tim says. “I mean it. Study whatever you like to study, and everything will work out.”

She smiles at him over her shoulder. “I knew I kept you around for a reason. How long are you staying?”

“I don’t know,” Tim says, flashing back to the Manor, Damian’s misery, the itch under his own skin. Kissing Steph is nice, but it’s no relief at all. “Maybe a little while. Did you know Dick walks around in just his underwear after he showers?”

“You poor thing.”

“I feel like I’m being punished for something,” Tim says.

“Maybe it’s for keeping those sexts on your computer. Like a karma thing,” Steph says. She presses her thumb to a spot on the wainscoting on the wall, and a hidden drawer clicks open.

“I need to stop telling you about this stuff,” Tim says.

Steph pulls a pair of retractable bo staffs from the drawer, one purple and one black. Tim sits up and catches the black staff out of the air when she tosses it to him. “Between Dick being Dick and Damian stewing in hormones, you are in bad shape,” Steph tells him. “And I’m going to tell you what we’re going to do about it.”

“Uh oh,” Tim says, because there is no way this is going to end well.

“We are going dancing,” Steph says.

“We are going patrolling,” Tim says.

“We are going patrolling, and then we are going dancing. At a gay club.”

“Steph,” Tim groans. “How is that helpful?”

Steph takes off her sweatpants and kicks them into a corner, then pulls a Batgirl suit out of the hidden drawer. Her underwear has flowers across the ass. “What do you mean, how is it helpful? We’ll get you tarted up and drop you in the middle of a dance floor, and if you’re not getting off with some dude in the bathrooms in an hour, I’ll eat this gooparang.”

“I’m not doing anything with strangers in a bathroom,” Tim says.

Steph retreats to her own bathroom to pee. “Don’t freak out,” she says through the closed door, “just let someone put their hand down your pants. I mean, loosen up a little. This is Gotham, not Smallville. Or you can sit on my couch with blue balls for the rest of your life while Dick Grayson parades around the Manor stark naked.”

There’s the sound of the toilet flushing and then the sink running. Tim rubs a hand over his face. It’s true that Dick is becoming harder and harder to ignore lately. Yesterday Tim jerked off twice, once in the shower and then again after Dick slapped him on the ass in training.

“Why do you even think anyone would want to put their hand down my pants,” Tim says, finally standing and starting to strip. It’s about time to hit the streets.

Steph’s head pops out of the bathroom. “You’re kidding me, right?”

“What do you mean?” Tim says.

Steph folds her arms and pointedly looks him up and down. “Tim. Timmy. How do I say this. You are…upsettingly gorgeous.”

Tim grins. “Okay, keep talking.” He skins out of his jeans as he heads for the guest bedroom and the Red Robin uniform in his go-bag. Steph follows him, pulling the Batgirl suit up her arms.

“I mean, there’s your face, and your hair, and your body. There’s your ass.” Tim slides off his underwear and digs in the bag for the cup and jockstrap, never caring about being naked in front of her. “There’s what’s between your legs, which has been no use to me, but is very nice to look at all the same,” Steph says, gesturing to Tim’s dick. Tim gives her a bow, and when he’s tucked in and adjusted, he comes over to zip up the back of her costume.

“There’s the fact that you kiss really, really well,” Steph continues. “And I know you can dance, so if we put that whole package in a club, grinding up on some poor civilian, you’ll be in the bathroom getting a handjob before the end of the first Rihanna song.”

“You’re kidding,” Tim says.

“No, I’m not. You’re hot,” Steph says. “We’re going to hit it and quit it on this patrol, and then you, ha, you’re going to do the same thing at Adonis later tonight.”

“Don’t you have class tomorrow?” Tim asks, beginning to fear this is a losing battle.

“Everyone needs to blow off a little steam sometimes. Maybe there will be some queer girls there. Or if not, who cares. Dancing with gay boys is the best. Everyone’s just there to have fun. Now put on your pants and let’s go.”

They leave through the window in the bathroom and race each other over the Gotham skyline. October has dawned without a major gang war or villain uprising, so they’re just going where they’re needed, heading in whatever direction Oracle points them. They respond to a shooting at a pizza joint on the West Side, then swing all the way to Robinson Park to investigate reports of sentient ferns. They comb the greenhouses and grounds for forty-five minutes before Dick and Damian show up, and half an hour later they all decide Poison Ivy has either hightailed it out of there or the whole thing is a prank.

“You’re at Stephanie’s again?” Dick asks as they stand just outside the circle of light thrown by a lamppost on the park path. Steph is a few yards away, aiming straws of hay into Damian’s hair from the decorative bales scattered along the path. Damian hasn’t noticed yet. Nothing exciting is happening across the city, and no one is eager to resume patrol.

“For a little bit,” Tim says, watching Steph land another direct hit. The back of Damian’s head looks like a bird’s nest.

“Is anything wrong? You can talk to me, Tim. I’ll always, always listen.” Dick’s face is earnest behind the mask, hair wind-mussed and getting long again. A part of Tim’s heart clenches up.

“Nothing’s wrong,” Tim says, giving Dick a little laugh. “We’re just friends. I like hanging out with her. I’ll come home in a few days.”

Dick’s expression clears some. “I get worried when you vanish. I thought Damian might be giving you a hard time again.”

“I can handle Damian,” Tim says. It’s time to change the subject. “Any progress on putting him in high school?”

The worried look is back on Dick’s face, but now it’s directed safely in Damian’s direction. “None, absolutely no luck at all. He refuses completely. He’ll do online courses, but he says even private high schools are for commoners. Apparently, boys of his social class have family tutors.”

“What, like Alfred?”

“Maybe? I have no idea. Public high school was good enough for me, but then, I guess I spent my formative years living in a caravan.”

“What does Bruce think?” Across the grass, Damian has discovered the straw in his hair and is chasing Steph across the wide lawn. She doesn’t seem to be taking the danger very seriously, and is throwing cartwheels and handsprings into her escape every few feet.

“B?” Now the worry lines in Dick’s forehead are out in force. “B is content to perfectly ignore the problem. You know he forgot Damian’s birthday last month.”

“I remember,” Tim says. It wasn’t a pretty week at the Manor, for anyone. “Bruce always has a lot on his mind.”

“Right,” Dick says, voice flat.

They have to walk deep into the Robinson Park woods to find Batgirl and Robin. Damian’s treed Steph like a hound dog, and she lounges in the branches, calling down insults while Damian paces through the underbrush. If Tim tried to pull half the stunts Steph gets away with on a daily basis, he’d have been six feet underground a long time ago, courtesy of the throwing knives Dick pretends not to know Damian still carries around.

Dick calls to Damian and, again like a hound dog, he abandons his quarry to get back on the job. They vanish into the night. Tim climbs up into the tree and crouches on Steph’s branch.

“Damian’s getting taller,” Steph says. She sounds fond.

Tim wrinkles his nose. “He’s going to be taller than me by next year, I can feel it. And then what will I have over him?”

“Poise? Grace? Manners?” Steph suggests.

“No,” Tim says. “The frustrating thing is that he has all those, if he ever bothers to use them. He’s nobility, remember.”

“Then you’ll have to settle for raw intelligence,” Steph says. She stretches back against the trunk of the tree and kicks her feet through the air. “It’s only one a.m., but we just spent the last twenty minutes having a family chat in the park and no one seemed to care. Let’s go home and change. I’m calling it. Nothing’s happening tonight.”

“I’m going on record as saying Adonis is a bad idea,” Tim says. “Besides, I’ll get recognized. I’m Timothy Drake-Wayne.” That last line is unsalvageably pompous, but it’s true. He’s all over the Gotham society pages on a monthly basis, and now more and more frequently in the business journals and economics columns.

“Okay, rich boy. We’ll give you a wig or something. It’s a gay club, not the go-go float at the Gotham pride parade.”

She leads the way back in the direction of her condo. It’s not far when not restricted by streets and traffic; jump lines are excellent commute-savers. But they hang a left at the old cathedral and continue towards the harbor. “Where are we going?” Tim finally asks, when they land together on a rooftop to retract their lines.

“Cass’s place, obviously,” Steph says. “Listen, you own zero clothing that will work for what I have planned for you, and my stuff is going to be too big. Cass has little hips and is about your size. We’re stealing her clothes. And she’s in Hong Kong, so she won’t care.”

“At least ask her,” Tim says, trying to decide whether or not he’s upset about being dressed up in his sister’s clothes like a lifesize doll. He decides he doesn’t care that much, which worries him in and of itself.

“Fine, jeez, I’ll send her a text,” Steph says, pulling her WE-brand phone out of one of the pouches on her belt. They fire their lines onto the ledge of the hotel across the street and make the jump, Steph texting one-handed in the air. Her phone pings a moment later. “Cass recommends white shorts and mascara, but to go easy on the glitter.” There’s another ping. “Don’t look dumb,” Steph reads. “Well, fine, but I’m dunking my whole body in glitter, and no one can stop me.”

After the Sexting Dossier Incident, Barbara went out of her way to secure their cell networks, padding them with so much encryption that Bruce has no hope of hacking into them again. There was a slightly hunted look in Barbara’s eyes when she broke the news to Bruce, something that made Tim think she was terrified of a dossier of her own.

They land on the wide concrete balcony of a high-rise apartment with a water view. Cass is always shuttling back and forth between Hong Kong and Gotham, usually without warning, but her apartment still manages to keep a constant lived-in feel. Alfred would have a heart attack if he could see the state of her floors.

When Cass is in town, Steph is in this apartment as often as she’s in her own. “I’m sure I left a bag full of civvies somewhere in here last month,” she says, stripping off her costume as she walks through the rooms. Tim follows more hesitantly. He and Cass are sibling-close, but theirs is not a veg-on-the-couch sort of relationship. He’s spent more hours with her on the training mat than he ever has with Steph, but he’s only been in her apartment three or four times.

Steph eventually digs out a duffel bag full of her own clothes from under Cass’s bed. “Shorts and a crop top for me, I guess,” she says, frowning into the bag. “It probably doesn’t matter. I’m not exactly Adonis’s target clientele.”

There’s no way Steph could borrow any of Cass’s clothes. Steph’s chest is big enough that the compression of a sports bra isn’t nearly enough to flatten her down, and as a consequence she actually needs an inch of space built into her Batgirl suit to accommodate the overflow. The hourglass nips in at her waist and curves right back out over her hips, another necessary adjustment to her body armor. Cass, by contrast, is as much of an hourglass as Tim is himself.

When Steph’s dressed, she rummages through Cass’s closet in search of the white shorts. There is a lot of rummaging to do: Cass’s approach to storage seems to be ignoring the built-in shelving entirely and just dumping everything on the floor. Tim sits on the bed and slowly peels off the Red Robin uniform, resigning himself to his fate.

Fifteen minutes later, Tim is shirtless. He has a line of gold glitter paint running between his pecs and down the line of his abs. It disappears into the white shorts, which are very close to being too tight. He’s not wearing underwear. He is wearing his Red Robin boots and a short blond wig from Cass’s supply, expertly applied and blended into his skin. It clashes with his eyebrows, but Steph says it just makes him look like a bottle blond, which could be an asset.

He’s also wearing about a metric ton of Bat-grade scar concealer, smeared by the spoonful over the deep ruts and divots that usually track over his skin. Tim hardly notices the scars anymore, since he spends most of his time with people who sport an equally extensive collection of their own. When he’s out in public he wears pants and long sleeves, scarves in the colder months. It’s rare for him to be cleaned up like this, smoothed over. He decides it makes him look younger. 

Steph has her own concealer on, but Steph spends most of her time with civilians at school. Covering up is routine. She’s currently applying mascara to his eyes, tongue stuck between her teeth in concentration. “It’s a good thing you shave your legs,” she says. “Makes the shorts look hot as hell.”

“The Red Robin bottoms pull on my leghair if I don’t take it off,” Tim says.

“And that’s the only reason?” Steph says, and Tim doesn’t say anything.

When she’s done, Tim stares at himself in the mirror. He looks nothing like himself, somehow even more so than when he’s dressing up as Caroline Hill or another one of his female personas for a case. He cocks a hip and pushes some of the blond hair into his eyes. His shorts ride distressingly low on his hips.

Steph appears behind him and drapes her arms over his shoulders. “Jailbait, absolute jailbait,” she says.

“I’m twenty years old,” Tim says.

“But you sure as hell don’t look it,” she says, and bites him gently at the join of his neck and shoulders.

“Let’s just get this over with,” Tim says.

Adonis is the grande dame of Gotham’s gay club scene. It’s been around in one form or another since the sixties, but years of waning attendance in favor of the newer, trendier clubs on the circuit has recently prompted the owners—three aging drag queens who don’t get up on stage much anymore, on account of bad knees and a replaced hip—to change venues. The new Adonis opened last month on the bottom floor of a warehouse in the Garment District. Tim hasn’t been in, but the buzz online has been nothing short of deafening.

They take one of Cass’s vehicles, a white Prius Tim can only assume she has for undercover work. Why anyone would voluntarily drive a Prius is beyond him, but then, Tim has always turned his nose up at sensible cars.

The bouncers don’t bat an eye at Tim’s outfit. No one checks ID.

“Remember why you’re here,” Steph hisses in his ear as they walk down the entrance hall towards the only partially-muffled thumping bass of the dance floor. “Loosen up, have fun, get off, and for God’s sake, think about someone besides Dick Grayson for a change.”

“You’d better not abandon me in there,” Tim says. He’s not nervous, he tells himself. He’s just…cautious.

“Of course I’m going to abandon you. That’s the whole point. You’re an illegal vigilante who regularly takes down supercriminals, Tim. I think you can handle a gay club.”

“Maybe this was a bad idea,” Tim says as they reach the doors. Steph gives him a look. She yanks open both doors at once, and Tim’s eyes go wide.  

The central dance floor is packed. All around the perimeter are low black couches and silver tables, and beyond that are ten or twelve individual bars, each apparently serving its own type of cocktail. The center of the dance floor is built up into a series of go-go cages and platforms extending higher and higher until they’re lost to the darkness of the towering ceilings. Muscled-up boys in lamé shorts are stacked in the cages and on the ledges, dancing for their money. It’s like a giant gay Christmas tree.

“Awesome,” Steph yells in his ear. The music is deafening. Tim does not think it’s awesome. Tim thinks it’s terrifying. He wants to be back in Steph’s condo with House Hunters on tv and a bowl of microwave popcorn, or safely zipped into his Red Robin suit and alone on a mile-high gargoyle.

Steph sees the expression on his face. She puts her mouth against his ear. “Come on,” she says. “Just dance with me. Forget whatever I said about hooking up. Let’s just have fun, okay?”

“And you’re not going to abandon me,” Tim says.

Steph laughs. “You poor fragile thing.” She takes his hand and pulls him down the stairs to the dance floor. Strobe lights flash silver and pink. The place smells like alcohol, cologne, and sweat. Steph fights their way through the crush of bodies to a reasonably free space on the floor, bouncing on her feet to the beat of the song. It’s a Beyonce remix, and when they win clear of the elbows, Steph pulls Tim against her body and they dance.

Ten minutes later, Tim is having a good time. Dancing with Steph is easy, is something they do in her living room when they come back from patrol too keyed up to sleep. The music is good and Steph is happy, and Tim relaxes. The song changes into something louder and sexier, and Tim fits himself along Steph’s back, arms around her waist, moving against her.

With his chin on her shoulder Tim can watch the other dancers. Most everyone is male, and most everyone is shirtless. They grind together or grope each other outright, making out sloppily and shamelessly, skin on skin. It’s overwhelming. Tim wants their hands on him, he realizes. He wants their skin on his.

It’s been a long time, if he’s being honest. Tim doesn’t believe in nonsense like dry spells or that there’s something wrong with him if he’s not having sex, but the last time he kissed anyone other than Steph was a year ago on the roof of Titans Tower, just before dawn. They’d been battling a small but tenacious alien invasion in Oregon all night, and everyone else had gone to bed. Jaime Reyes was the only one left awake, sitting next to Tim on the edge of the roof, both of them tossing gravel into the darkness. Jaime was gray and loopy with exhaustion, and maybe so was Tim, because when Jaime leaned in and put his hand on the side of Tim’s face, Tim didn’t stop him. They kissed for three minutes, and then Jaime went to bed and neither of them mentioned it in the morning.

The last time he had sex was four years ago.

He was in high school. His best friend was called Bernard Dowd. Bernard was gay in a way that Tim admired, all flash and drawl and posture, and even though Tim was barely able to say the word gay out loud at the time, Bernard seemed to know. One night he stayed late at Bernard’s to work on a history presentation. One thing led to another, and then Bernard was kneeling between his legs, very red in the face. Tim spent a lot of nights at Bernard’s after that, having amateurish but enthusiastic sex with him while his family slept down the hall. It lasted for three months, and then Steph died and Conner died and Bart died and things generally went to hell. Tim had fewer scars before that.

When the song ends, Steph kisses his cheek and says she’s going to get a drink. Tim tells her he’ll be fine on his own. The next song is building, something without words this time, just bass and electronics, and as Steph melts into the crowd, Tim lets his body move with the beat.

Steph and Cass are good dancers. Dick is a phenomenal dancer. Tim thinks he’s probably fairly average in comparison, but maybe the white shorts are doing their work, because he’s not alone for long. A boy somewhere around his size and weight class inserts himself into Tim’s space and slows to match Tim’s dance speed. He’s cute, in a vague sort of way, white and very thin.

“I’m Jordan,” says the boy. He’s wearing an open button-up and tiny jean shorts. Tim imagines kissing him, and decides he wouldn’t mind it.

“I’m…Alvin,” Tim says, internally wincing. Of all the alter egos he could have chosen.

“Hi Alvin,” says Jordan. He pulls closer and puts his open palm on Tim’s abs. “You’re fucking ripped, did you know that?”

Tim dares to rest his arms across Jordan’s shoulders. “Is that so,” he says. Jordan’s palm slips lower, down to cup Tim’s dick for just a moment. The heat off his skin is incredible, even through the shorts.

“Mmm, yes,” says Jordan. “Do you fuck twinks?”

Tim takes a breath. This is going very fast. “Well,” he says, stalling for time. Jordan doesn’t seem to care. He puts his face very close to Tim’s. His mouth smells too sweet, like burned sugar. Up close, Jordan’s eyes are glassy. Suddenly Tim realizes Jordan is high.

“I think we should,” says Jordan. “You can pay to go upstairs, you know. Come on, Alvin.”

“I don’t think so,” Tim says, taking a step back. He’s not in his Red Robin uniform. If he were, protocol would probably be to get Jordan a glass of water and a cab ride home. But tonight he is, apparently, Alvin Draper, wearing white shorts and body glitter. What’s the play?

But then the decision is made for him. “Your loss,” Jordan says. “I should go back to my boyfriend now.” Jordan pats Tim on the cheek and vanishes into the enormous crowd, and then Tim is alone again.

It takes him a full Rihanna song to shake off the encounter. Tim has a long history with drugs, and it consists entirely of junkies on the streets throwing wild punches in his direction when he tries to escort them to clinics. He takes a deep breath. This isn’t the street. This is a gay club. Pills are probably a fact of life.

Steph still hasn’t reappeared, but Tim doesn’t mind. A devastatingly attractive couple is grinding together just a few feet from him, and he’s always loved to watch. He drinks them in, the desperation on their faces, how the blond is probably about to come. The music changes again to something slick and dirty and Tim is hot all over. He bites his lip and sinks down on his heels, and when he comes back up he feels huge hands on his hips.

The stranger pulls Tim backwards and drapes himself over his back, and Tim knows the man is tall, so tall he has to crouch some to grind his crotch into Tim’s ass. The stranger is broad and toned and shirtless, so much bigger than Tim, and he smells like cologne and sweat. Tim’s heartrate picks up and he works his hips back, wanting the stranger to get hard, wanting to feel the line of his erection pressed against his ass.

“You’re the hottest thing in here tonight,” the stranger says, voice husky, and Tim leans back against him, lets the man drag his hands over his chest. The man slips just the tips of his fingers into the waistband of Tim’s shorts and Tim’s blood is on fire. It’s a reaction like nothing he felt for Jordan a moment ago, and it has everything to do with how big the man is, how strong his arms feel, how Tim probably only comes up to his shoulder.

“I’m Alvin,” Tim says. The man’s face is wedged against his neck, and he doesn’t have to shout over the music.

“I’m Peter,” says the man. “God, you’re gorgeous.”

“Tell me more,” Tim says breathlessly. Peter scrapes his teeth along Tim’s shoulder. Tim reaches back and wraps an arm around Peter’s neck. They’re moving to the music, working their bodies together, and Tim feels Peter going hard in his pants.

“Bet you taste good,” Peter says. “Wanna get my mouth on you.” His fingers sneak lower into Tim’s shorts, stroking along just the base of his cock. Tim’s been hard since Peter first put his hands on him and his cock twitches, trapped under the zipper.

“Yes, God,” Tim says, voice strained, ready to do just about anything.

“Saw you with Jordan earlier,” Peter says. “You know him?”

He’s still fingering Tim’s cock. Tim squirms back against him. “No, I don’t know him,” he says.

“You got any H?” says Peter.

“H?”

“H-Bomb? Hydro? Happy Pills?”

Tim grimaces and breaks away from Peter. Drugs, again. Is Peter high too? Is everyone high in this club? He twists around in Peter’s arms and glares up into his face.

And stops dead.

Because Peter is Jason Todd.

Tim’s mouth hangs open and he’s so shocked he’s speechless. It takes Jason another two full seconds to recognize him, and when he does the expression on his face is so blindsided that Tim starts laughing.

“But—the hair—” Jason says, squinting into Tim’s face like he still doesn’t believe it’s him.

“It’s a wig, obviously,” Tim says, still laughing. One of Jason’s hands is still on Tim’s hip. “Peter, oh my God. Jason Peter Todd. You’ve got to be kidding me.” Jason! Jason Todd! Tim feels like he must be on whatever it was that Jordan was taking.

“Keep it down,” Jason says, glancing into the crowd. Tim obediently shuffles forward and they put their heads together again. Tim’s still hard, and the hand still on his hip is distracting. “And fuck you too, Alvin,” he says. “What are you, a chipmunk?” Jason smooths his hand over Tim’s hip to his lower back, huge and hot, like he’s not thinking about it. Then he must realize what he did because he abruptly folds his arms across his chest. Tim wants the touch back as soon as it’s gone, and then he swallows, trying to get ahold of himself. It’s Jason. Jason.

“What are you doing here?” Tim asks.

“I’m undercover on a case,” Jason says, as if it’s obvious. “What are you doing here?”

For a moment Tim wants to lie, to say that of course he’s undercover, of course he has a case, but he decides it’s too obvious. “Just having fun,” he finally says.

“Having fun with my mark?” Jason hisses.

“Who, Jordan?” Tim says.

“Of course Jordan!” Jason says. Tim narrows his eyes. Like hell Jason is getting mad at him over this.

“What do you care about Jordan? You seemed pretty busy on your own with your hand down my pants,” Tim snaps.

Jason opens his mouth and closes it again. The strobe lights play over his face in uneven intervals, and Tim has a hard time making out his expression. “Listen,” Jason says.

“Is everything okay here?” says a voice. They turn to see a young Asian drag queen in a tall orange wig. She has a hand on her hip and is looking at Tim expectantly, apparently ready to drag him to safety.

“We’re okay here,” Tim says, trying for reassuring. He steps into Jason’s chest and strokes his fingers along Jason’s collar bone. Jason hesitantly wraps his arms around Tim’s back.

“You’re sure?” the drag queen says.

“Absolutely,” Tim says. “Can you believe my boyfriend thinks I’d ever leave him? He’s so sensitive.”

The drag queen is unimpressed. She glares at Jason from beneath her long false eyelashes. “If you say so, sweetheart. I’m Daisy Mae, and you just come looking for me if you need anything.”

“They’re watching me,” Jason says, when Daisy Mae has left.

“Who, the drag queens?” Tim says. His face is an inch from Jason’s chest, and when the strobe lights flash their way he can see a drop of sweat moving down Jason’s pecs. His mind feels staticky, bouncing from general outrage to a general desire to put his mouth on Jason’s skin. He’s too horny to be rational about any of this.

“Dance with me again,” Jason says. “Stop looking so suspicious.”

They begin to move again, but slowly, keeping too much space between their bodies.

“Yeah, the drag queens are watching me,” Jason says. “That one, Daisy Mae, she’s the protégée of Rosie Mae, who’s one of the queens who owns this club. Right now they’re all under the thumb of Sam Greenfield, the drug kingpin who’s pushing Hydro. Adonis is his base of operations. Oh, for Chrissake,” Jason snaps, and drags Tim up against his body again. “I said stop looking suspicious.”

This close, Tim can feel Jason’s erection digging into his hip. He raises his eyebrows and smirks. “As if you’re not,” Jason says, and works his thigh between Tim’s legs to prove his point. Tim draws in a breath and can’t help the way his hips jerk against the pressure. A tiny sound escapes his throat. Jason’s hands sink to Tim’s lower back and he pulls him in closer, wedges them together, ruts against Tim’s hip. Tim drops his forehead to Jason’s chest and gasps, the pressure on his cock overwhelming and not at all enough.

Jason’s hands drag down to Tim’s ass and then he goes still. “Sorry,” he says. “I keep forgetting—sorry.” The music ends abruptly, a long moment of silence as the deejay fumbles the records. Tim’s breathing seems very loud. He ought to take a step back, put some distance between himself and Jason’s body, but he doesn’t think he can manage it. He’s so hard it’s starting to hurt.

“So, the drugs,” he says in what he hopes is a normal voice, forehead still resting against Jason’s chest.

“The drugs,” Jason agrees. His fingers close around Tim’s wrist. “Let’s go sit down or something.”

He leads the way off the dance floor to the perimeter of couches. Most are occupied by groups of friends with martinis and beers, or couples who are almost definitely getting each other off. Tim watches Daisy Mae interrupt one of those couples and point to the back staircase, which disappears through a red beaded curtain to what must be the upper level, the paid rooms Jordan was talking about. Tim doesn’t have the guts to look down and see how obvious his erection looks through the white shorts, but decides that Jason is probably no better.

On the dance floor Tim hadn’t thought to notice, but now he sees Jason is wearing jeans, a wide dark belt, and motorcycle boots. Apparently his preparation for going undercover at a gay club was just to take off his shirt and plaster over his scars, although not very well. The concealer wisps unevenly over the marks running down his back, giving him a sort of rough, unfinished look.  His hair is buzzed into the fade that Tim sees on a lot of hipsters nowadays. The white streak is gone, probably darkened with temporary dye.

Last week, Jason shot and killed four Scarecrow henchmen in one night. Dick brought Bruce up on videochat on the big screen to tell him, and Bruce’s face went absolutely blank with the news.

The next night, two more henchmen turned up dead.

“Oh, Jase,” Dick sighed as transmissions came in from the GCPD band. Damian stomped around in front of the crime scene photos on the monitor.

“Are we going after him?” Damian demanded.

Dick was quiet for a long moment. “I don’t think so, Little D,” he said. There was something about his voice that made Tim train his gaze to the floor, afraid of what Dick’s face might look like. No one looked at the Case, lit up and glowing, dragging at them from its corner of the Cave.

As a counterpoint, Tim’s first wet dream was about Jason’s bare legs in the Robin suit. Things have been complicated for a long time.

Eventually they find a free couch. Jason flops down and immediately kicks his feet up onto the accompanying table, dislodging flecks of cheap silver paint. He holds out an arm. Tim hesitates. “Come on, I’ll be good,” Jason says impatiently.

Tim narrows his eyes, but gives in and sits down. Jason wraps his arm around Tim’s shoulders and pulls him close.

“Now we look like everybody else,” Jason says. He launches into business. “So, the drugs. Hydro is pretty new on the market, but in the past few months I’ve heard it go by a whole bunch of names. H, Happy Pills, H-bomb, Hell’s Angel. Best I can tell, it’s a mix of ecstasy, molly, and rohypnol. Real fun on the tongue, not so fun twelve hours later when you wake up in a pool of your own vomit and can’t remember what the hell you did last night.”

“Is it addictive?” Tim asks, doing his best to keep focused on what Jason’s saying and not to stare at the way Jason’s abs move when he talks. He smells really, really good.

“Yes and no. You have to take some pretty hefty doses to really get hooked, but at places like this, the hefty doses are what’s going around. I have a bag of samples, but I’m not good enough with the microscope to really understand what I’m looking at. Basics, sure, but I’m worried I’m missing something.”

Now Tim’s interested. “I could take a look, if you want,” he says. “I could run it through the x-ray diffractometer at the Cave. You know we have just about everything under the sun on file, so it wouldn’t be hard to find patterns.”

Jason hums uncertainly. Tim didn’t miss the way his jaw tightened on the word Cave.

“You wouldn’t have to be there or anything. I wouldn’t tell anyone what it was for.”

Jason nods to himself. “Alright, fine. I’ll give you a sample.”

“Good. Now what’s this about the drag queens watching you?” Tim draws his legs up underneath him and curls himself closer into Jason’s side. Jason shifts accommodatingly.

“I’ve been poking around out of costume. I think I asked one too many questions, and now they have me flagged for an undercover cop.” He laughs a little, and Tim feels the vibrations in his own chest. “It’s not their fault, Daisy and Rosie and the others. They were just trying to keep their club going. But buying this new building, doing all this—” Jason gestures to the tower of go-go boys, the expanse of couches “—it cost a lot of money. They borrowed from Sam Greenfield. And now they have him sitting up in their offices and all but running Adonis, pushing his product on what looks like every queer in Gotham.”

Tim squints into the darkness overhead. The second level seems to be an open square of hallways framing a central cutout. The ceiling extends through it at least thirty feet to the roof. “He’s up there?” Tim asks.

“He’s up there,” Jason agrees. “Him and his cronies. As if the folks in here don’t have enough to worry about without Hydro in the mix. I don’t like drug lords,” he says.

Tim snorts. “Very few people like drug lords,” he says. Jason flicks his earlobe. “And Jordan?”

“He’s one of Greenfield’s boys,” Jason says. “He scoots around the dance floor and sells Hydro for cheap. I’m pretty sure he’s also recruiting. I thought—” Jason bites his lip. “I thought you might have been another one of Greenfield’s boys. You were chummy with Jordan, and then you do have the right…look.”

“And what’s that, exactly?” Tim says, making eye contact, waiting for Jason to say it.

“Prettyboy twink,” Jason says, voice low, holding Tim’s gaze. Tim’s insides go hot. Is that what Jason likes? Boys like Tim? “My plan was to get you alone and question you.”

“Drag me off to the bathrooms?” Tim says, remembering Steph’s plan for him, fumbling in a stall with someone’s—with Jason’s—hand down his pants.

“Drag you upstairs to the paid rooms,” Jason says.

“Oh,” Tim whispers. He drops his gaze to Jason’s mouth. Jason’s thumb runs down Tim’s arm and Tim breaks out in goosebumps.

“Do you—” Jason begins, but suddenly Steph is there.

“I’ve been looking all—oh, who is—wait.” Steph freezes. Her eyes narrow. “Is that—”

“Yep,” says Jason. “And you’re Stephanie Brown, right? Not sure we’ve met.”

Tim is suddenly overwhelmingly aware of every inch of his skin: the flush he knows is spreading down his chest, his obvious erection, the way he’s pressed against Jason from shoulder to knee. Jason doesn’t pull his arm away from where it’s wrapped around Tim’s shoulders. Tim is frozen solid for two heartbeats, and then he disentangles himself from Jason with alacrity.

“You’ll get me the samples?” he asks, not looking at Jason.

“I have a couple pills on me right now,” Jason says. There’s amusement in his voice, which only makes Tim’s ears burn. He holds out a hand for them and Jason places a plastic evidence baggy in his open palm, fingers brushing against Tim’s wrist entirely unnecessarily.

“What’s this about?” Steph asks. She’s holding a half-finished bottle of water and her lipstick is still in perfect condition, so she must have struck out with whatever queer girls might brave a club like Adonis. Tim grabs her around the waist and steers her towards the door.

“Time to go,” he says, too loudly. Behind him, Jason laughs. Tim risks a glance over his shoulder and sees Jason lounged with his arms draped over the back of the couch, legs spread wide, jeans tight on his cock. The image sears itself into his brain.

“We don’t have to,” Steph says, letting herself be guided around the islands of couches and tables.

“We definitely do have to,” Tim says. Steph slings her arm around Tim’s shoulders and Tim nearly melts into her, dependable wonderful safe Stephanie.

“It looked to me like you were having a pretty good time without me,” she says.

“You are not going to believe what I’ve been doing tonight,” Tim says.

Back at Steph’s condo, Tim is desperate to lock himself in the bathroom and jerk off in the shower until he melts his brains, but Steph demands an immediate play-by-play of Tim’s night.  

“He had his hand on your dick?” Steph squeals, when Tim reaches the good part.

“I’m not kidding you. And he was hard on my ass, and I swear, Steph, he’s clearly huge,” Tim says. He bites his lip. He’s still half-hard, and the memory pulses in his stomach.

“Ohh my God,” Steph says. She rolls onto her back on the carpet and lies spread out like a starfish. “This is so much. I never dreamed…”

“And he was still, uh, flirting, even when after he found out it was me. Like, touching me. And stuff.”

“This is the wildest thing that’s happened to us in months,” Steph says to the ceiling. “I feel like I’m going to black out. What do you mean, touching you?”

Tim shakes his head. “You saw how hard I was.”

Steph rolls to her stomach and props her chin on her hands. She grins at him with far too much devilment in her eyes. “Oh Wonder Boy. I saw.”

Tim blushes a little, but only a little, because it’s Steph.

“And you know what else,” Steph says, waving her feet in the air, “I saw how hard he was.”

Tim drags his hands down his face. “Okay, nice talk,” he says. “I’m going to shower.”

Steph laughs. “Don’t get spunk on the shower curtain like last time,” she says. Tim rolls his eyes.

“Please. I know where that shower head in the master bath has been, Steph. It has seen things.”

“Rude,” Steph says. Tim bows and retreats to the hall bathroom.

As soon as the bathroom door is safely locked behind him, Tim drags off the white shorts and squeezes his cock. He’s fully hard again in seconds, and Tim has been desperate to come since Jason first put his hands on him at the club. He yanks at the shower knobs and almost forgets to peel the wig and cap from his head before he steps into the spray. It’s nearly too hot on his skin, and he soaks himself fully before turning the shower head to face the wall. He sinks down in the tub and braces his legs against the wall, knees apart, cock against his stomach.

Steph has a bottle of baby oil she uses to shave her legs. He pours some on his hands and slicks up and down his cock, head falling back against the rim of the tub with how good it feels. In his mind he relives the feeling of Jason’s fingers slipping under his waistband, working the base of his cock, how Jason’s other hand stroked up Tim’s chest, how burning hot Jason’s skin was, pressed against Tim’s back. The feeling of Jason’s hard cock on his ass.

What would Jason have done, if Steph hadn’t shown up? Would they have gone up to the paid rooms? Would Jason have fucked him? Tim pours more oil on his hands and circles his fingers around his hole. God, Jason’s hands. Tim pushes two fingers at once inside himself, imagining. He groans, gripping his cock with his other hand, rubbing his thumb hard around the head. He twists his fingers inside his hole, searching. When he hits his prostate he breathes out a quiet moan, hips stuttering into the air. Jason’s broad chest, his huge arms. The way he looked when Tim left him, spread out on the couch, cock hard in his jeans. Looking only at Tim, the prettyboy twink.

“Fuck,” Tim whispers, pulling his knees up, trying to force his fingers deeper. Jason’s hands on his ass, his thigh between Tim’s legs, urging Tim forward, helping Tim grind against him. He’d do anything to have Jason here right now, Jason’s fingers inside him, his cock inside him.

Tim comes hard, whining and shaking, spilling across his chest. He drags his fingers again and again across his prostate, pulling aftershocks from his body until he’s wrung out. He lies there for a long time afterwards, watching the water run down the wall.

He’s heavy-limbed and sleepy when he walks into Steph’s room later, hair dripping onto his shoulders and wearing sweatpants and an old undershirt. She’s already in bed, lying on her side under the covers, the only light coming from the glow of the messenger app on her phone. It dings, and then dings again.

“I’ve updated Cass on the situation,” she tells him. Tim grimaces, imagining what’s Steph’s been saying. He doesn’t exactly talk about spunk on shower curtains with Cass.

“What does she think?” Tim asks. He climbs into Steph’s bed on his usual side and picks blond hair off the pillow. Steph rolls to her back and holds the phone at arm’s length over her face.

“Honestly, she thinks you’re crazy. And now I’m thinking, does she have a point? I mean, Jason Todd. Jason Todd. Right?”

Tim stretches out, flexing his toes. His whole body is warm and relaxed, belly still buzzing faintly with orgasm. He doesn't want to think about it, about Jason’s history. About his history with Jason, the times he thought Jason would kill him, the times Jason nearly did. It was a long time ago. Damian’s done more damage to him over the years than Jason ever did.

But then again.

Am I being crazy, Steph?” he asks.

“Didn’t he kill a bunch of guys last week?” Steph says. She switches her phone to camera mode and snaps a selfie of the two of them. The flash is absolutely blinding, and the picture turns out like something you’d find underneath a rock. She giggles and sends it to Cass.

“Well, yeah,” Tim says. “He kills a bunch of guys all the time.”

“And you’re cool with that?”

“No. Well, I don’t know. No one seems to bother chasing him down and chucking him in Blackgate anymore.”

“But he’s, like, a murderer. Right?” Steph’s phone pings. It’s a photo from Cass. She’s in the back of a car, maybe a cab, wearing sunglasses and a headband. She’s pulling a face at the camera.

“She looks like a model,” Tim says.

“I’m going to tell her you said that,” Steph says, already typing.

Tim puts his hands behind his head. “I mean, murderer? What is this, Whitechapel in 1888?”  

“What?”

“Jack the Ripper.”

“Christ, you’re a nerd,” Steph says. She sends kissy face and sleepy face emoticons to Cass and switches her phone off.

Tim ignores her. “What about soldiers in war, is what I’m saying. They kill people. Jason’s not like some gangster or psycho, pulling hits for fun.”

“It sounds to me like you’re trying to convince yourself,” Steph says. She rolls over to put her phone on the bedside table, and Tim seizes the opportunity to fit himself along her back, spooning against her. He sweeps her damp hair away over the top of the pillow and gets a cloud of coconut shampoo smell.

“You’re right,” he says into her neck. “What do you think?” He wraps his arm under her heavy chest. She sighs and tangles their feet together.

“First I want you to remember that I do not make good or smart decisions. Ever. So whatever I say, probably disregard it.”

“Right.”

“I think you should go back to the club tomorrow night,” Steph says.

“What, really?” Tim says, surprise making him inhale a strand of blond hair. He spits it back out.

“Don’t take this the wrong way,” Steph says, “but you haven’t really shown interest in a guy in a long time. I mean real-person interest, not Channing Tatum interest,” she adds, before Tim can protest. “Interest like you might do something about it. And he’s, what, working a case? So go work the case. See what happens. You’re a big boy. If you want to bang Jack the Ripper, go bang Jack the Ripper.”

“The point is he’s not Jack the Ripper,” Tim says. “I mean, on the misogyny factor alone—”

“Yeah, he’s supposed to be a real gentleman, isn’t he?” Steph says. “Babs was telling me. Like, a feminist. A knight in shining armor.” Now she’s sounding a little dreamy. Tim nudges her with a knee.

“I’m banging him, not you,” he says.

“So you are banging him,” Steph says.

“Ugh,” Tim says, and pushes his face into her neck again.

They’re quiet for a long time after that. Steph’s bed is deeply comfortable, with a cozy lavender bedspread and windows so thick they mute the sounds of sirens below. He knows he’ll probably wake up in the morning having drooled on Steph’s neck, but he figures that’s her problem, not his.

“I’m glad you’re here, Wonder Boy,” Steph says quietly.

“Love you, Steph,” Tim says, and then he yawns. Steph snuggles back against him.

“Love you too.”

Tim wakes up in the morning for a brief second when Steph disentangles herself and leaves the bed, and then goes back to sleep for another hour. When he wakes up the second time, he stumbles directly to the coffeemaker. Steph is crosslegged on the couch in an eggplant robe, biology textbook open in her lap.

“Everything you own is purple,” Tim mumbles, staring into the depths of the basket of K-cups.

“Don’t talk until you’ve had your coffee,” Steph says.

Tim leans against the counter with his mug and communes with the caffeine. Slowly his brain begins to wake up.

“Still at it with the neuroscience?” he asks. Steph makes a frustrated sound.

“I’m going to get this if it’s the last thing I do,” she says. “Final showdown: Steph Brown versus Advanced Honors Neuro-Bio 320 with Professor Keefer. Only one will emerge alive.”

“Want me to quiz you?” Tim says. He drains his mug and debates a second cup.

“No thank you, Merriam-Webster. Some battles are solo fights.”

Tim returns to the guest bedroom to put on real clothes. He checks his phone, something he’s never been in the habit of doing. Steph keeps hers glued to her hand, but Tim tends to forget about his until he needs it. He has fourteen missed texts from Conner and Bart, two from Dick that turn out to be pictures of Titus licking Damian’s face, and one from Cass that just says lol.

Tim types out a text to her. When are you coming home?

The reply is instantaneous. Soon.

It’s Saturday. The evidence bag of Hydro pills is sitting on the guest bed, waiting.

“Where are you going?” Steph asks, eyes still on her book.

“Cave. I guess I’m working Jason’s case now.”

“Tell Dami I said hi,” Steph says, waving him off.

Tim pulls into the Cave on his Ducati just as Dick is starting a workout. This is some sort of cosmic punishment, because Dick is wearing tiny spandex compression shorts and literally nothing else.

“Timbo!” Dick yells, coming to give him a hug. Tim endures. “Thought you were staying at Stephanie’s for a few more days.”

“I needed the equipment,” Tim says. “Secret project.”

Secret project?” Dick says, raising his eyebrows. Tim is very carefully keeping his eyes focused on Dick’s face, which poses its own set of problems with the blue eyes and the jawline, but is at least not as bad as the danger zone of Dick’s chest, or the sudden death of anything below the navel. “What is it? Can I help?”

“No, you can’t help, because it’s secret,” Tim says. He makes for the stairs to the upper level evidence lab.

“Well, I’m here if you need me!” Dick calls after him. A minute later, sugary pop music blasts from the radio by the training mat. Tim smiles to himself.

Damian is hanging over the railing of the upper balcony, chin on his arms, watching Dick and apparently praying for the sweet release of death. Tim joins him for a moment. Dick is stretching on the training mat below, working his hamstrings, ass in the air. Tim bites his lip, and glances over to see Damian doing the exact same thing.

“Steph says hi,” Tim says.

Damian blows out a breath. “Tell Brown she is on my list,” he says.

“I’m sure she knows,” Tim says. Dick sinks into a split like he’s made of rubber, then reaches down to adjust himself through his shorts. Damian’s mouth falls open a tiny bit, and he looks so miserable, so young and unhappy, and Tim feels such a terrible, unwelcome, bone-deep sympathy that his brain jumps the tracks and he does something crazy. “You could come stay at Steph’s for a few days, if you wanted,” he hears himself say. “Just to get a break from this.”

Damian’s lip curls. “What are you talking about, Drake?” he says.

Tim wishes he hadn’t said anything. “Steph would love to have you,” he continues. In for a penny, he supposes.

“I wouldn’t want to interrupt all the intercourse you and Brown are having,” Damian says. Tim laughs out loud.

“Damian. Surely you know Steph and I have never had and will never have intercourse. And please call it sex, you’re fourteen years old.” Tim pushes away from the railing and the show on the mat and heads for the lab. Damian follows, dragging his feet.

“Never?” Damian says, after five minutes of silently watching Tim boot up software and clean instruments.

“We did try, once, back when we were fifteen and still dating,” Tim says. There’s another minute of silence during which Tim is mildly horrified that this conversation is happening. “I’m apparently very gay,” he explains.

“But Brown is not,” Damian says. Tim glances up from where he’s grinding a Hydro tablet for analysis. Damian’s arms are folded, but he looks interested and not at all murderous, which might be a first in Tim’s entire experience of him.

“Steph is bisexual.” Damian processes this. “I don’t understand why the two of you are such good friends,” Tim says.

“Are we good friends?” Damian says.

“She sure seems to think so,” Tim says. The x-ray diffractometer is isolated in its own side room with the other Cave instruments that might cause radiation exposure. It makes a comfortable clanking noise as Tim inserts the slide of powdered Hydro and closes the chamber. Back in the main lab, the software is ready and waiting for him to fire it up. Damian is holding a Hydro tablet to the light.

“What is this?” he asks.

“Like I told Dick, it’s a secret project.”

“But Brown knows,” Damian says. He replaces the pill in the bag.

“Steph is in on the secret,” Tim says. He fiddles with the data set onscreen and starts the program. Soft whirring begins in the radiation room. The full analyses might take hours, so Tim abandons the lab for a computer near the main monitor and starts pulling up information on Sam Greenfield. Damian tags along after him, leaning against the back of his chair. Tim’s not sure what new ceasefire they’ve entered, but he decides it’s preferable to Damian trying to put his boot in Tim’s teeth again.

“Who’s Sam Greenfield?” Damian asks.

“It’s a secret,” Tim says.

“You’re not doing a very good job of keeping it a secret,” Damian says.

Tim is aware of this. The real secret is whom he’s keeping the secret for. “Just don’t go telling Dick,” he says.

“I keep things from Grayson all the time,” Damian says, bristling.

“Yeah, that’s pretty obvious,” Tim says. There’s a creak as Damian’s hands tighten down on the back of Tim’s chair, and suddenly Damian’s very close to his ear.

“I don't know what you think you know, Drake, but it’s all lies, whatever it is,” Damian hisses.

Tim turns in his chair and whispers right back. “The only person you’re fooling is Dick, you idiot,” he says. “But you’re not alone, okay? We’ve all been there. You think it was fun and games training with him when I was your age?” Damian’s face is bright red. “Even Steph. Even Jason,” Tim says. He doesn’t have proof for that last one, but he’s willing to place a sizeable bet. “So congratulations, you’re part of the club.”

“I am not,” Damian says, “part of your club.” He’s shaking with humiliation and rage. Tim thinks he’s probably pushed too far.

“All I’m saying is, this doesn’t have to suck for you,” he says, turning back to the screen. “It’s like a rite of passage. You have comrades, or whatever.”

Damian storms off, the back of Tim’s chair rattling from the force of his departure. Tim sighs. The break from murderous rage didn’t exactly last.

Sam Greenfield has a file in their system, but it’s only for having been held hostage by the Mad Hatter six years ago. Half of Gotham has a file like that buried in the annals of Oracle’s digital library. There’s nothing on him at GCPD, and a trip through Gotham’s municipal database only pulls up a birth certificate. Greenfield is thirty-seven years old. He weighed eight pounds, eleven ounces when he was born. He’s a Pisces. Helpful.

Tim finds very little on Greenfield on the web. There’s an old letter to the editor written by him in the Gotham Gazette decrying funding cuts to the Gotham Historical Preservation Society, and then there’s his profile page on the GHPS’s website: a minor board member, no obvious company ties. A businesslike photo is attached to the profile, Greenfield standing in front of the old Gotham theater. He’s white and very tall, with the thick, rounded joints of a basketball player. He has short dark hair, a smooth face, and a fish-lipped smile.

Tim bites a thumbnail and thinks. Anyone with an interest in the GHPS is going to live in one of those old-Gotham row houses in the historic district, or in one of the mansions on the outskirts of the city, like Wayne Manor. He opens the backdoor to the Gotham municipal court system and pulls up a records search. Land deeds, property sales, ownership rights—there. Four years ago, Greenfield purchased an old row house on Adams Street, number 1276. Google street view gives him a picture of the outside: red brick, bright white shutters, a wrought-iron fence around the postage-stamp yard. The old-world details are nice, molding and round stained glass set into the front door. Tim’s pretty sure he’s passed the house on foot a couple of times; he recognizes the sailing motifs.

Social media should be next on Tim’s list, but facebook’s security is ten times as tight as the court system’s, and Tim’s not quite skilled enough to hack it. He’d need Barbara, and that would really put a crimp in the alleged secrecy of the operation. Damian is one thing—he keeps information locked down like Fort Knox. Barbara Gordon is another animal entirely.

The diffractometer is still chugging along, and Dick is still on the mats. Tim accepts his fate and hits the locker room to change into workout shorts.

Living at the Manor, he trains with Dick and usually Damian several times a week. The first few minutes are awkward, but Tim is always able to shelve his libido and focus on the task at hand. And he loves Dick like a brother. No amount of attraction would ever keep Tim from circling Dick like a moth, from wanting to be around him as much as possible.

“Let’s get you up on the trapeze,” Dick says when Tim is warmed up, so Tim spends the next hour flipping high through the Cave’s rafters, grabbing for Dick’s hands, trusting Dick to catch him more than he trusts the net to break his fall.

Dick Grayson is just so good. So good-hearted. It makes Tim feel warm and kind himself, just being in proximity, and at the same time it makes him feel small and dirty, like melting snow, his insides held up next to Dick’s.

“You’re amazing, Tim,” Dick says as they sit side-by-side on the trapeze platform. “I mean it, you’re going to be better than me at this stuff pretty soon.”

This is objectively untrue no matter how you look at it, but Tim knows Dick believes it. Believes in him. Is proud of him, loves him. Tim is suddenly overwhelmed. He leans into Dick’s side and Dick scruffs his hand through Tim’s hair.

There’s a low beeping from across the Cave. The diffractometer is finished. “Next time we’ll spar,” Tim says, and slides down the platform ladder to collect the results.

The readout from the analysis is not encouraging. Tim’s seeing the components of ketamine and ecstasy, along with a really nasty streak of strychnine. The stearic acid content is also notable, which Tim takes to mean this Greenfield character has a big industrial setup somewhere secret, churning out Hydro like it’s aspirin. Long story short: anyone on this stuff is going to be drugged out of their minds, too far gone to say yes or no to anyone pawing at them, and then dropping dead from acute pesticide poisoning once they’re really hooked. Which is certainly not a sustainable business model, from Greenfield’s perspective. Maybe he doesn’t know.

Tim buries the file on the Bat system and sends a copy to his personal cloud. He showers upstairs so he can say hello to Alfred, and then he’s gone again. He does his best to use his afternoon productively: he stops in at Wayne Enterprises and reviews proposals, meets with the director of the Neon Knights, and makes it out to the ‘burbs for the ribbon cutting of a new animal shelter. He gets a photo op donating $3,000 out of the WE checkbook, which is absolute pocket change, but the shelter staff seem pleased. Then he files the tax write-off forms, stops for coffee, and picks up falafel and couscous for dinner.

Steph is grinning from ear to ear when he walks in the door, which can’t be good.

“I bought you a present,” she says. She’s holding something horrific in her hands.

“Oh no,” says Tim.

The present is a vintage pair of ‘80s running shorts. They’re bright red. They have white piping. They barely cover Tim’s ass.

“But this is how they used to wear them,” Steph says gleefully.

Tim tries to yank the shorts another inch down his thighs and exposes his crack in the process. “You cannot be serious,” he says.

“Ask anyone,” Steph says. “Whole varsity track teams racing around in booty shorts. Hand to God. And anyway, they look delicious on you.”

Tim scrutinizes his reflection in the mirror, tries to see himself as someone who looks delicious in ‘80s active wear.

“You’re wearing them to the club,” Steph insists. “Jason won’t be able to keep his hands off you.”

“Steph, if you thought those white shorts were revealing, you just wait until I get hard in these,” Tim says. They’re tissuepaper-thin, made of some godawful polyester blend. “I’m going to have to wear compression shorts underneath.”

“The point is not to make it more difficult for Jason to access your junk,” Steph says.

“I’m also on a case,” Tim reminds her. “I’m saving lives here.”

“Right,” Steph says, rolling her eyes. “Well, I’m going to put condoms in your shoes, because the one thing those shorts don’t have is pockets.”

“You will do no such thing,” Tim says, and has to chase her down and sit on her to make her see sense.

They eat, and then they spend an entire patrol corralling the crew of a ship trying to unload a hull full of unregistered plastic and ceramic pistols down at the docks. The deckhands keep trying to leap overboard to escape, and so when they get back to Steph’s condo at two in the morning they’re both soaked from repeated dunkings and stink of oily harbor water.

Tim scrubs himself down in the shower before confronting the red shorts once more. They’re even shorter than he remembers, and the outline of his dick is obvious.

“This is pornographic,” he complains to Steph. She waggles her eyebrows.

“We’re going to put a gold chain around your neck, too, and then you’ll look like a pool boy from the Hamptons. Come here and let me cover the scars on your back.”

Tim wears the white Vans he’s been scuffing up every day for weeks and the blond wig from last night. Steph doesn’t force him into body glitter again, which is a small mercy, but she does give him the gold chain and enough hairspray to style the wig into something that belongs in a boy band.

“This is what Van Gogh must have felt like when he finished Starry Night,” she says, admiring her handiwork. “My finest creation. My magnum opus. My masterpiece.”  

“I’m going to get arrested,” Tim says, tugging on the hem of the shorts.

“Oh officer,” Steph says breathily, “there must be some way we can come to an agreement.”

“I’m not a prostitute!”

“Oh Officer Grayson,” Steph moans, clasping her hands to her heart.

“Okay, okay—“

“Won’t you show me how your handcuffs work? Won’t you let me polish your badge?

“Okay!” Tim says, clapping a hand over Steph’s mouth. She licks his palm and he wipes it on her shirt. “Man, if you’d talked like that to Damian, he’d probably spontaneously orgasm and then knife you in the throat.” He tells her about the conversation he had with Damian at the Cave.

“And you said what to him?” Steph asks, horrified. “You told him everyone knows about his crush?”

“I was trying to be nice!” Tim says, unsure how he’s suddenly in the wrong.

“Tim, weren’t you ever fourteen years old? If someone had come up to me when I was Spoiler and told me they knew I was staring at Dinah Lance’s boobs when I thought no one was looking, I would have thrown myself off the Trigate Bridge!”

Tim scoffs. “He’s just too sensitive.”

“He is sensitive,” Steph says. “It’s endearing.”

“It’s obnoxious,” Tim says. “He’s obnoxious. Whatever.” He snaps the waistband of the shorts against his skin. “Let’s just go and get this over with.”

Steph drops him off at the door in the loaner Prius. She’s not coming with him this time; apparently striking out with the queer girls two nights in a row is not on her to-do list, and she has just enough compassion not to set up shop to watch Tim embarrass himself in front of Jason yet again. He doesn’t have a phone, but he’ll find his own way home.

If Friday night at Adonis was packed, Saturday night is bursting at the seams. Tim has no idea how he’s going to find Jason in the crush, assuming Jason is here at all. Because Tim doesn’t know for sure: he has no direct line of communication with Jason, and has shied away from doing the hefty legwork he’d need to track down an email address or a cell number. No carrier pigeon, no skywriting, no message in a bottle. So he’s just here, wandering aimlessly through the drunken crowd, hoping.

He edges his way through the dance floor and into one of the seating areas, brushing off hands that reach for him and edging past wild dancers. He spies Jordan across the club for just a moment before he disappears through the beaded curtain on the back stairs, and up on one of the go-go platforms is Daisy Mae, dancing with a hired boy.

And then there’s Jason, skirting a group of couches and heading straight for him. Tim’s stomach goes hot and cold simultaneously. Jason’s wearing exactly the same thing he wore last night: jeans and boots and no shirt, white streak darkened, wolfish grin firmly in place.   

“Sweet Jesus Christ,” Jason says, pausing momentarily to look Tim up and down, grin stretching at the corners. “What in the world are you wearing?”

“Fuck you too,” Tim says, trying not to fidget. He reminds himself that Jason probably likes what he sees.

“Never mind, it’s actually pitch perfect,” Jason says. “Wanna pretend to be my bitch for a meeting with Greenfield right now?”

Tim’s insides shiver.

“Sorry for putting it like that,” Jason says, inexplicably. “Babs would gut me for that kind of talk. I’m just warning you going in on what the role would have to be. How you should expect to be treated, you know?”

Tim stares. Why is he apologizing? Is this what Steph meant, how he’s supposed to be some kind of feminist white knight? “I’m a big boy. I’ve done worse for undercover,” Tim says when he finds his tongue again. “At least this time I’m not in panties and a dress.”

“Good, let’s go,” Jason says, putting a hand on Tim’s lower back to guide him to the back stairs, where the occasional couple disappears through the beaded curtain to the paid rooms. Tim relaxes his body language, softens his wrists, lets his hips swing. The only way they’re going to allow him into the meeting with Greenfield is if Tim is pegged as nothing more than vapid arm candy, a piece of ass Jason’s indulging. “Panties, huh?” Jason says lowly, and Tim nearly stumbles.

“I analyzed the Hydro,” Tim says quickly, afraid of where any conversation about panties might lead. “Your hunches on the makeup were mostly correct. Special K and E, mostly, with a pinch of strychnine that should really be the primary concern here. I also found markers that indicate mass production. Greenfield has a factory or a lab. This is no trailer park operation.”

Jason hums in thought. They start up the stairs and Tim leans against Jason’s side, lowering his voice and standing on his toes to murmur in Jason’s ear. He can’t be sure who might be listening, the further away from the main club they get. “I can also tell you that Greenfield’s rich and on the surface respectable in Gotham society. He’s part of the Historical Preservation Society. He lives in a townhouse on Adams Street.”

Jason nods, seeming impressed. “I followed him to the townhouse last week, but I didn’t know he was one of those old building blowhards. Isn’t your boss part of that group?”

“B? No, he rotated off the board a few years ago.”

“Pity,” Jason says. He wraps his arm around Tim’s waist and pulls him more firmly against his body. “Ready to look like I own your ass?” Jason asks.

“Whatever you think is best, baby,” Tim purrs, adding more lisp to his voice than is probably strictly necessary.

Jason winks at him. “Good boy.”  

They pass through the red beaded curtain and into a dark hallway that stretches out in either direction. Silver doors are set into the wall every few feet. They have number plates above the handles. A pair of burly men with tablets lean against the wall, but stand to attention when the beaded curtain rattles closed behind them.

“A room, gentlemen?” says one of the men. He looks bored. The other man eyes Tim with some interest. They’re both wearing slim black suits with skinny ties, one pink and one purple.

“I have a meeting with Mr. Greenfield,” says Jason, completely casual, like he meets with drug lords on a daily basis. “You can tell him Peter Fox is here.”

“Baby, is this going to take long?” Tim whines, stroking a finger down Jason’s abs. “I want to go back and dance.”

“Be sweet for me, okay? I have business to take care of,” Jason says. He kisses the side of Tim’s head. The man in the pink tie smirks at Tim and then shares a knowing smile with Jason. He taps away on his tablet.

“Come with me, sir,” he says. He does not say sirs. This means Tim has done his job.

They follow the man down the hallway and turn right, then continue down an even longer hallway. The doors continue, and seem reasonably well soundproofed. If anyone is inside having wild, drugged-out sex, Tim can’t hear them. The only sound is their shoes on the carpet and the thumping of the bass from downstairs, which even the best soundproofing would never be able to remove. Jason bends down to put his mouth to Tim’s ear.

“Officially, this upper floor is a legitimate hotel. It’s not a very convincing cover, but it all works out on paper.”

“Are there prostitutes?” Tim asks.

“There are always prostitutes,” Jason says, expression clouding over. “I couldn’t tell you about their working conditions or their pimps. We’ll move on to that when this Hydro mess is cleaned up. One big gay crisis at a time.”

They’re eventually shown through a set of thick double doors marked OFFICE. Nameplates under the label read ROSIE MAE, QUEEN DELILAH, and LADY LIPSTICK. But the inside is populated with armed guards instead of drag queens, four men with what look like HK submachine guns at their hips. Jordan is lounging on the black couches lining the room with a handful of boys who look very much like him, thin and pale, femme in a nonthreatening sort of way. A series of frosted glass doors lead off of the main room, all dark. At the center of the room is a desk, and on the desk is a scattered pile of Hydro, whole fistfuls of it, like someone upended a bag.

Jordan looks up from tapping on his phone and does a double take when he sees Tim. Tim tips his head to one side, as if he can’t quite place him.

“I remember you,” says Jordan, flicking his phone dark. “Alfred, right?”

“Alvin,” Tim says. “You’re Jordan.”

“That’s right,” Jordan says. He unfolds from the couch and saunters over. “Listen, I didn’t know you were taken, last time. I didn’t mean to overstep.” Tim notices the way Jordan is only addressing him, as if Jason isn’t even in the room. It’s the same way the burly guards around the edges of the room are ignoring Tim and watching Jason. The politics here are delicate, but exploitable.

“Don’t worry about it,” Tim says. “I don’t mind a little fun.”

“What about your mister?” Jordan says. His eyes flick to Jason and back to Tim. Tim thinks about what Jason said, that they all think Jason’s an undercover cop. “Does he like a little fun?”

Tim smooths his hand across the skin of Jason’s belly. “I suppose that depends on the fun,” he says.

Jordan cocks his head and smiles, but at that moment the light flips on in one of the closed rooms and a shape appears behind the frosted glass door. “Is that your boss?” Tim asks, nodding over Jordan’s shoulder.

Jordan smiles, not bothering to turn. He doesn’t seem high tonight. “He sure thinks he is,” he says.

Sam Greenfield enters the room. The picture online must have been several years old: there’s a weathered look to Greenfield’s face now, like it’s been some time since he’s slept. His hairline is receding, but he’s straight-backed and powerful, just as tall as he seemed in the photo. The boys on the couches snap to attention; the guards, interestingly, do not.

“I want everyone downstairs working by the time I count to three,” says Greenfield, voice pitched low and nearly benevolent. “I believe I have a private guest to entertain.”

The boys file out of the room and into the hallway without much enthusiasm, all except for Jordan, who goes to Greenfield’s side with a smirk at Tim. Greenfield waves his hand and the guards leave for the hallway too, which is laughably amateurish. Whatever his dark secrets, Greenfield cannot have been in the game for terribly long.

“Now, Mister Fox,” Greenfield says, smiling pleasantly. “What can I do for you tonight?” He advances on Jason and extends a hand to shake. Jason takes it, and for a moment the two are locked in a silent battle of squeezing the bones out of the other’s fingers.

Tim can’t tell for sure, but he thinks Jason may not like that Greenfield is so tall. Jason must be used to looking down on the entire world, but Greenfield easily matches him inch for inch, in height if not in breadth. Tim is used to looking up at everyone, but Jason seems wrongfooted.

“Thank you for taking a moment to meet with me, Mister Greenfield,” Jason says.

“Please, call me Sam,” says Greenfield.

Jason does not ask Greenfield to call him Peter. Everyone pretends Tim and Jordan are not in the room. Jason and Greenfield finally release each other’s hands.

“Have a seat,” says Greenfield.

Jason does, spreading out across one of the black couches, taking up as much room as possible. Then he pulls Tim down to sit on his lap, which is deeply annoying and unlikely to achieve the effect Jason’s going for. Tim has a hell of a lot of muscle, none of which is designed to make him look delicate or retiring. Jordan raises his eyebrows and drapes himself across Greenfield’s lap in retaliation, all long limbs and softness. He gives Tim a smile that says, this is how it’s done.  

Jason has a hand curled around Tim’s hip, but at the moment, Tim doesn’t really care. The case is the only thing that matters now, the danger in the room, and Tim is certain that the danger is there. He can feel it prickling at the back of his neck, that sense of dark-alley self-preservation that lets him duck before the tire iron connects with his skull. The fact that he’s sitting across Jason’s thighs, the fact that apart from the tiny shorts he’s basically naked—all that is secondary.

“I hope you’re enjoying Adonis,” Greenfield says, his arm around Jordan. “It’s come so far in such a short span of time.”

“Rosie Mae and the others must be so proud,” Jason says. “You know, I haven’t seen them around recently.”

“Oh, we’ve been encouraging them to take some time off,” says Greenfield. “They work so hard, and at our age—well, sometimes you need to think of your health. You bright young things don’t know what you’re in for. It’s a real pill, getting old.”

“A real pill,” Jason repeats, and Tim wants to kick him.

It’s obvious that Greenfield is nothing but money, and even if he isn’t attached to one of the old-guard Gotham names, Gotham society would have died out by now if it hadn’t embraced the merely third- or fourth-generation rich. The clothes, the cufflinks, the Gotham Historical Preservation Society—Tim knows Sam Greenfield. Not the man, perhaps, but the type. He’s been introduced to a hundred Sam Greenfields at the Wayne charity galas, the board retreats, the golfing lunches. And Tim grew up on the Drake name, which opened the doors of every country club in Gotham. Odds are that he shook Sam Greenfield’s hand as a seven-year-old outside the doors of the Uptown Club smoking room, his father standing by.

Sam Greenfield is politics. Everything in this room is politics, and Jason Todd is as much politics as a fistfight in a parking lot. Tim wants to tape Jason’s mouth shut and conduct the meeting himself. He takes a breath, steadies himself. At the moment, he’s not Tim Drake, Tim Drake-Wayne, or even Red Robin. He’s just arm candy, and nothing more.

“You’re an interesting man these days, Sam,” Jason says.

“I try to stay out of the limelight,” says Greenfield.

“Still, word gets around. It’s not every man who builds himself an empire.”

Tim winces internally. Empire. Lord.

Greenfield glances to the door, probably thinking of his guards in the hall. “You must be talking about my investments in Adonis,” he says.

“…Of course,” says Jason. “Very bold investments.”

“It pays to take risks,” says Greenfield mildly.

“I would tend to agree,” says Jason. He runs a hand down Tim’s thigh absentmindedly. Tim wonders if he should fake a yawn, but decides against it. “Sam, you don’t know anything about me, I appreciate that fact, but here I am nevertheless. I’m here to ask you a favor.”

“Is that right,” says Greenfield. Tucked against his shoulder, Jordan turns his head, listening.

“You’re a businessman, Sam. So am I,” says Jason. Twin expressions pass over Jordan and Greenfield’s faces: yeah, right. Jason looks like a prizefighter with a penchant for motorcycles, not someone with capital. “I seem to have recently come into a very large sum of money. I was hoping that someone with more experience might advise me on how to invest it.”

Tim wants to cry. They haven’t been here five minutes and Jason’s already talking about money. Protocol dictates at least fifteen minutes on mutual acquaintances, ten on sports, and another ten on a grab bag of recent vacations, restaurant openings, wine, and cars before the subject of money can ever be introduced. Didn’t he just tell Jason that Greenfield is a GHPS enthusiast? That should have been the opening gambit!

“Very wise of you,” Greenfield says. “I believe we should talk more privately. Jordan, perhaps you could entertain Mister Fox’s guest for a moment?”

“Of course,” Jordan says, grinning at Tim. “Come on, Alvin.”

Jason pushes Tim off his lap and smacks him on the ass as Tim leaves, which Tim thinks is probably overkill. He follows Jordan into the back room that Greenfield recently vacated, deciding it might be for the best. He’d go crazy if he had to sit quietly while Jason continued to make an idiot of himself.  

“Thank God,” Jordan says when he’s closed the door behind them. The room is spare and lit by lamps, and unfortunately the central feature is a king-size bed with the covers in disarray. Tim inwardly grimaces. He didn’t sign up for a honeypot mission. Jordan sprawls out across the bed, propped up on the pillows, and immediately pulls out his phone. “I can’t stand listening to shop talk when there’s real work to be done,” he says, tapping away.

“Work?” says Tim, hovering awkwardly by the door for a moment before giving up and joining Jordan on the bed.

“Texts don’t send themselves,” Jordan says, tongue between his teeth like he’s just another millennial with a technology addiction, but Tim sees how his face is set, and wonders.

“My boyfriend’s an idiot,” Tim tries. Jordan snorts.

“Yeah, no kidding.”

“But he is rich.”

“That excuses a lot, I’ve always said,” says Jordan. His phone is on silent, but Tim can see the new texts appearing over Jordan’s shoulder. He inches closer by centimeters, trying to read them.

“Plane tickets, clothes, fancy hotels—whatever I want,” says Tim. “You have to know how to work them.” Jordan hums in agreement, eyes on his phone. “What does yours buy you?”

“Oh, Sammy puts his money exactly where I tell him to,” says Jordan absently. He shifts his elbows and yes, Tim can read the phone.

It’s a fascinating read.

DM: arrives wednesday

JORDAN: what time exactly

DM: 11PM

JORDAN: change it. safer to move during daylight.

DM: drivers don’t like it

JORDAN: don’t care. this is gotham not newark. we have masks at night.

DM: will text driver and follow up.

“I love Adonis,” Tim says, inanely, filling the silence. “It’s my favorite.”

“That’s nice,” says Jordan.

FABI: i’m out of h can i come restock

JORDAN: not yet. guest still here. get some from the others.

FABI: beau is out

JORDAN: then get some from julian or ricky, make it work.

Jordan sighs. A new message appears.

DM: drivers will do daylight for another $150 per person

JORDAN: pay them what they want. tell them to use the mcveigh rd entrance.

DM: will do

JORDAN: and double next week’s order

DM: we have the cash for that?

JORDAN: money is not a problem

FABI: julian and ricky are out of h too

JORDAN: then you’re all on twink patrol. bring in new blood.

A web of options is opening up for Tim. This would all be so much easier if he were properly equipped: bugs or tracers would go a long way. As it is he doesn’t even have a way to smuggle Jordan’s phone out of the room, if he decides to take it—there’s no way the phone is going to be inconspicuous inside his tiny shorts, and that’s the only hiding spot presenting itself. It’s wider than Tim’s Vans, so there’s no tucking it in his shoe. And Tim thinks it would take a lot of doing to convince Jordan to accompany him downstairs.

So the phone stays in the room, and Tim stays in the room, and Jordan stays in the room. Tim makes an executive decision. He leans over and grabs Jordan in a headlock, one hand over his mouth, the other cutting off his oxygen supply. The struggle is quick and highly one-sided, especially after Jordan loses the air to scream and Tim uses the scream-covering hand for a nerve pinch. Jordan passes out elegantly. Tim arranges him to look like he’s sleeping. Then he unlocks the phone with Jordan’s thumbprint and settles in to read. He’s hoping Jason will continue to make an ass of himself for a long time.

  Tim has no way of taking notes, but he has a very good memory. If it wasn’t obvious before, by the time Tim gets five minutes into the backlog of texts, it’s crystal clear exactly who is running the Hydro operation. It looks like they won’t be needing the row house land deeds after all. Poor Greenfield, with all his money and his years in Gotham society. The guards hadn’t even glanced at him earlier when he walked into the room. As if he were nothing.

It’s fifteen minutes before Jordan starts to wake up, and by then Tim has all he needs. He slips the phone into Jordan’s hand and rubs Jordan’s back while he comes around.

“Are you okay?” he asks, as Jordan blinks muzzily.

“I—what—” Jordan mumbles.

“You said you weren’t feeling good and then fell asleep,” Tim tells him. Blacking out destroys brain cells and memory. Jordan will probably accept the explanation.

“Oh,” Jordan says, wiping his face. “Was I out long?”

“Twenty minutes?” Tim says. “Maybe? I was worried! Did you, like, take something?”

“Not today,” Jordan says. He pushes himself to a sitting position and scrapes his hands over his face. “Guess I need to cut back.”

“Do you want me to call someone?” Tim asks, but voices from outside are getting louder, and then the door opens. It’s Jason.

“Babe, let’s go,” he says, and Tim gratefully swings off the bed and inserts himself back under Jason’s arm.

“It was wonderful to meet you, Peter,” says Greenfield, and Tim notes that Jason is Peter now. “It’s both a duty and an honor to help young gay men trying to come up in the world. Lord knows I was once in your shoes.”

“Thank you so much again,” Jason says tightly. Tim has a feeling things didn’t go quite the way Jason was planning.

“You just call that number if you have any other questions. If you put on the right suit, you and I could have lunch at the Atlantic Club.” Greenfield is smiling and at ease, which is probably another bad sign.

“That sounds great,” says Jason. “Now I’m going to take this one back downstairs and enjoy your excellent dancefloor. All work and no play…” Tim doesn’t look up to see, but he gets the feeling that Jason is winking. He resists the urge to roll his eyes.

They pass the guards in the hall and the men with the tablets, and then they're down the stairs and back into Adonis. People are starting to trickle out the doors, and Tim realizes it must be getting late. The music is nearly all uncut electronica, as if the deejay has started to wind down.

“I want to wait around until Daisy Mae is done working,” Jason says, leading Tim to the emptying couches. “I need her to tell me where the other drag queens are. It’s suspicious as hell that they haven’t been here in days. I got absolutely nothing from Greenfield, about the queens or the drugs. I was in there a half hour and all I managed to do was get a list of sure-fire stock investments. Day trading!” He makes a noise between his teeth.

“What shares did he name?” Tim asks, curious despite himself. He thinks of WE’s portfolio, sadly neglected over the past few weeks. He needs to hire more people.  

“I wasn’t listening,” Jason says. He sits and doesn’t gesture for Tim to curl against his side again. Tim leaves space between them and tries not to be disappointed. “Google, maybe?”

“Google,” Tim scoffs. “Every idiot buys Google.”

“Okay, Wall Street, excuse me for not taking notes. I was busy trying to work a case while you were off getting felt up by Jordan.”

“Is that what was happening,” Tim says, amused.    

“He was all over you last night,” Jason says.

“He was recruiting last night,” Tim says. “You sure you’re not jealous?”

Jason snorts. “Fuck off,” he says.

Three men settle on one of the couches in the pod in front of theirs, directly in their line of sight. Two are older and going very slightly to fat, but Tim recognizes the boy in the middle from upstairs, Fabi or Julian or somebody, one of the names in Jordan’s messages. It’s evident that Jordan’s boy has found a moment to restock, because money is changing hands.

“We can’t both be staring,” Jason whispers to him. “Here, give me some cover.”

Tim doesn’t understand until Jason tugs his arm and pulls him into sitting across his lap, knees on the coach on either side of Jason’s legs, looking Jason in the eye. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” Tim says, unsure what to do with his hands. He folds his arms across his chest.

“Now I can watch over your shoulder,” Jason says, unrepentant. His hands settle on Tim’s hips, burning hot against his skin. Jason is focused on the group behind Tim and therefore misses the brunt of Tim’s glare.

“And why don’t I get to look,” Tim says, fighting an increasing awareness of how wide his thighs are spread.

“I’ll sit on your lap next,” Jason says, patting his hip comfortingly. “The kid’s just pulled a sleeve of Hydro from inside his shirt. I’ve been keeping an eye on him too over the past few days. I’m pretty sure his name is Fabian.”

“Fabi,” Tim corrects. Jason tilts his head, still not looking at Tim. “He and the others were sold out earlier, but they’ve resupplied. Jordan was a little annoyed,” Tim says. Now he has Jason’s full attention. He uncrosses his arms and rests his forearms across Jason’s shoulders. “Do I have a story for you, Mister Fox.”

Jason is not quite open-mouthed when Tim finishes his account of the meeting and what he learned from the cell phone, but he looks impressed. He’s also given up entirely on watching the drug deal going on behind them.

“So you’re saying that I was worse than useless with Greenfield,” Jason says, eyebrows raised. “Jordan. Wow. I didn’t even bother to figure out that kid’s last name.”

“It’s Thomson,” Tim tells him, feeling more than a little smug. “Never underestimate the prettyboy twinks.”

“Believe me, I’d never do that,” Jason says, smirking at Tim. He runs his hands down Tim’s thighs and Tim shivers. Then he does it again, and this time Jason’s mouth falls open a little. “You shave your legs,” he says softly, and it hits Tim all at once how he looks, spread across Jason’s lap in nothing but the red shorts. Jason smells like old smoke and cologne and looks like something out of a magazine, shirtless and dangerous, and Tim feels the hands on his legs like a brand. They lock eyes. Jason’s hands travel up the back of Tim’s thighs inch by inch and Tim leans forward unconsciously, balancing up on his knees, giving Jason more skin to touch.

Tim cups the back of Jason’s neck and runs his fingers over the spikey short hairs at the base of Jason’s fade. Jason’s eyes are a blue so light they’re nearly gray, and they make him look wild, like something Tim’s not supposed to touch. Jason inches his legs apart and Tim draws in a breath as his thighs are forced wider across Jason’s lap.

Jason’s fingers stop at the hem of Tim’s shorts, just under his ass. Tim waits, trembling, but Jason doesn’t move. “So, the drugs,” Jason says.

“Fuck you,” Tim says, and leans down and kisses him.

It’s nothing at all like kissing Stephanie Brown.

Jason growls and drags Tim against him. His mouth is harsh and he won’t let Tim take control, and everything is rough and fast and Tim feels like he’s drowning. Jason kisses like he owns Tim and Tim wants to let him, wants to give in and let him take what he wants. Tim bites Jason’s lower lip and Jason grunts and grabs Tim’s ass. Tim’s all the way to hard in seconds, cock straining against his shorts, thighs forced wide, and finally Jason pulls him close enough to rub against Jason’s stomach. He whines into Jason’s mouth and Jason digs his fingers into the meat of Tim’s ass. Tim eases himself down to sit over Jason’s crotch and Jason pushes up into the pressure, hard in his jeans, rutting against him. Tim cants his hips down, rocking slowly, and Jason’s mouth falls open against his.

“We have rooms upstairs for rent,” says a voice behind Tim, and Tim chokes on a yelp.

“Oh hell, yes, thank you so much,” Jason says, holding Tim tight so he can’t spring away. “It’s Daisy Mae, right?” He sounds out of breath. Tim’s face feels so red it might be giving off heat, but his cock is so hard it hurts. He can’t look at Jason.

“Do I know you?” says Daisy Mae.

“I believe so,” says Jason. “Maybe you have a minute to talk?”

“I’m not getting in the middle of whatever you’ve got going on here,” Daisy Mae says.

“My friend here was just going to the bathroom,” Jason says. He pats Tim’s side and Tim understands that Jason is sacrificing himself to work the case while Tim goes to cool off.   

“Thank you,” he whispers in Jason’s ear.

Jason’s face is red when he pulls away, and Tim realizes that Jason is equally as mortified as he is, which is somehow a revelation. Tim pushes off his lap and slinks to the bathrooms as fast as he can.

The drug money has extended into the facilities. There are huge floor-length dressing-room mirrors and artistic sink basins. Even the urinals are vaguely space age. The stalls are mostly occupied, and with the noises it seems like the paid rooms upstairs might be too expensive for some people.

Tim winces when he sees himself in the full-length mirror. He knew the shorts weren’t going to hide anything, but knowing and seeing are two different things. His lips are puffy and his jaw is a little red with stubble burn and he looks like he should be starring in a DevilBoys video, like someone should be along any second to bend him over a sink and fuck him. He wishes Jason would bend him over a sink and fuck him.

 Tim takes a shaky breath. Not helping.

Tim readjusts his wig, splashes his face with water, and attempts to enter a zen meditative state. It’s difficult, with the sounds coming from the stalls, but Tim has in the past successfully meditated even while bleeding out from a gunshot wound. It’s all in the focus.

Now that he thinks about it, he’s pretty sure that, at the time, it was Jason who shot him.

It takes four full minutes to go soft again, and when he does he leans over the sink and considers drowning himself. Tim is clearly not qualified to run his own life. He needs a panel consisting of Steph, Cass, and occasionally Kon to tell him what the hell he should be doing in situations like this. Tim knows computers, motorcycles, and how to take a kick to the gut and still come up fighting, but he’s lost when it comes to this sort of thing, when it comes to Jason, his flirting and his hands, his enormous hands, skating up the backs of his thighs—

Tim douses himself with more water.

He’s not a virgin and he’s not shy, but nevertheless he feels he’s on shaky ground here. He’s never sure what should be coming next, with Jason. He had no plan going in, beyond wearing the red shorts and hoping for the best, and he has no plan now, no goal in mind. Things just seem to happen, and then he lets his body do what it wants to do. His body seems to have a lot of opinions on what it wants to be doing with Jason, Jack the Ripper or not, and he’s reduced to a pathetic battle of wills, brain versus body, a panicky, instinctive caution versus the growing need to demand that Jason quit fooling around and screw him already.

Tim sighs and splashes his face again, just to get himself to stop thinking so hard.

Daisy Mae is gone when he comes back to the couch. Jason is fiddling with a flip phone, but stands up when Tim gets close. “She wouldn’t give me a damn thing,” Jason says. “I don’t know why. I’m clearly here to help, and she’s not some working girl on the corner, scared of her pimp. She has a college degree, I’m almost certain of it.” He rubs the spot right between his eyes with a thumb. “Well. I gave her my number, anyway.”

“That’s good,” Tim says, awkward.

Jason makes eye contact, and then glances away. “Do, uh, do you have my number?” he says.

“I do not,” Tim says slowly.

“It’s 609-oregano.”

“What,” Tim says.

“609-oregano,” Jason repeats. “Well, I mean, 609-673-4266, but oregano is easier to remember.”

Tim blinks at him. “You’re an idiot,” he says, and suddenly he knows that it's true, Jason who goes undercover as Peter Fox and thinks gay-club attire just means taking off his shirt, Jason who managed to pull nothing but stock tips from Sam Greenfield while the true ringleader sat in the next room, Jason who got jealous of Tim behind a closed door with Jordan. He’s tall and he’s built and he’s a tank in a streetfight and he’s completely and totally ridiculous. Tim holds in the laugh that’s building in his chest. He blinks hard, and looks at Jason with new eyes. Thirty seconds ago Jason was almost intimidating. Definitely not anymore.

“I go through phones pretty quick,” Jason says, explaining. “This week it’s oregano.”

“I guess I’ll text you,” Tim says.

“Do you need, like, a ride? Or something?” Jason says.

“I’m fine,” Tim says. He snaps the waistband of the running shorts against his skin.

 “Maybe next time we meet, I’ll be wearing pants.”

“That would be a shame,” Jason says, and newfound perspective aside, Tim’s ears are burning and it’s time to go.

Tim has a supply drop a couple blocks away from Adonis, which feels like six miles in the early-morning cold. October has well and truly arrived, and Tim folds his arms against his chest and jogs through the alleys at a tight clip. At least there’s no way he can keep a boner in this weather.

He pulls himself up a fire escape to the top of an apartment building. The supply drop is nothing but a suit and a spare grapple, but that's all he needs. He changes quickly, shivering and clumsy with cold, and then sets off across the city by jump line.

 It’s past five in the morning when he makes it back to Steph’s condo. He lets himself in through the bathroom window, which perfectly situates him to strip and jerk off in the tub again. He comes thinking about Jason’s fingers sliding up his thighs.

Steph is sprawled across the entire bed. He bodily shoves her back to her designated side and ignores her groggy complaints.

“How’s Jack the Ripper?” she murmurs as he gets comfortable.

“Hot as hell, unfortunately,” he says, sighing.

“You didn’t bang him yet, huh,” she says. She scoots closer and abandons her pillow in favor of his chest, one arm around his waist.

“Somehow I got pretty close, though,” he says, and yawns. “I’ll tell you in the morning.”

“You’re a stud,” she says, and falls back asleep.

Tim has been asleep for exactly one hour when he feels Steph shift against him, raise her head, and give a tiny, soft shriek.

“Really, Drake, there are two bedrooms in this property,” says Damian, and Tim sits bolt upright.

Damian is standing at the foot of the bed, arms folded, duffel bag over one shoulder. Steph shoves her hair out of her face and grabs for her phone.

“It’s 6:30 in the morning, Dami,” she groans.

“What are you doing here?” Tim says, trying to force his brain online. It’s 6:30. In the morning.

“You invited me,” Damian says. His shoulders tighten. “So I came.”

“I guess I did, didn’t I,” Tim says. Why had he done that? What had possessed him to do that? Why is he being forced to hold a conversation at this hour, with no coffee in sight?

“You’re going to stay with me?” Steph says, replacing exhaustion with unadulterated delight in one quick about-face. “That’s terrific! You can have the guest room—just shove Tim’s stuff on the ground, he never uses that bed anyway. I’m going to the farmers market later, you should totally come with. How long are you staying?” The blankets fall around Steph’s waist in the force of her excitement. Damian’s gaze darts down to Steph’s chest, where the cold morning air is doing its work under her tank top, and then he fixes his eyes determinedly on a point on the wall slightly above her head. A blush starts at his ears.

“Not sure how long,” he says. “Grayson says hello.”

“Well, you’re more than welcome,” Steph says. She nudges Tim in the side. “Tell him he’s more than welcome.”

“You’re more than welcome,” Tim repeats woodenly. He thinks he’s gone numb to the horror of the situation.

“I’m just going to shower and dress, and then I’ll be out,” Steph says. She sounds excited. Genuinely excited. Tim realizes he is the orchestrator of his own torment, which does not help matters.

“Very well,” says Damian, and leaves. He pointedly closes the door behind him.

“What the hell,” Tim whispers, when they’re alone. He has a terrible mental image of Damian with his ear to the door, listening for any and all blackmail material.

“You did invite him, you know,” Steph says, grinning. She stretches her arms above her head and cracks her back. The white tank top she’s wearing is more or less see-through. Poor Damian. From Dick Grayson to Stephanie Brown. Tim should have thought this one through better, for more reasons than one.

“I didn’t think he’d actually show up,” Tim says. He falls back against the pillow and contemplates his fate.

“Yeah, for a hot second I did think he was here to kill me,” Steph says. She swings out of bed and begins rummaging through her dresser.

“I told you that I explained to him how we’re not having sex, right?” Tim says. “Maybe you could reiterate that today.” He feels like Damian might have gotten the wrong idea, bursting in, and now he’s vaguely worried about being gutted like a fish when he least expects it.

“Yeah, sure,” Steph says. “Okay, farmers market and then what? Maybe brunch? Or is that too white-girl? What do you think he wants to do?”

“He wants to get a breather from Dick Grayson,” Tim says. “Calm down. You don’t have to entertain him or whatever. You’re not babysitting.”

“This is my big chance,” Steph says, holding up a green flannel shirt to herself in the mirror. “I could win him over once and for all. Batgirl and Robin, a team for life.”

“You’ve already won him over,” Tim says. “You’re probably his favorite, after Dick. You get the World’s Best Sister award, congratulations.”

Steph leans down and kisses him briefly on her way to the bathroom. “Gross, morning breath,” he says, so she huffs a lungful of air directly into his face.

“Thanks, but I’m not a Wayne, remember? We had this discussion, like, two days ago. Unless I’m your sister too,” she says, and smacks another kiss on his cheek.

“You win, okay, brush your teeth,” he says. A thought dawns. “But you know who is a Wayne? Do you know who I am technically related to?”

Steph clocks on immediately. “Oh my God,” she says, grin spreading across her face. “Oh my God.”

“But like, not really,” Tim says, defensively.

“Oh yes really,” Steph says. “He’s your brother,” she says over her shoulder, dancing into the master bathroom. “That’s kinky, Wonder Boy.”

“Shh,” Tim says frantically, eyes on the door. “The walls have ears now.”

“Oh, that’s right,” Steph says. “Then come sit in here and tell me about last night while I shower.”

“Hell no,” Tim says. “I’m going back to sleep. Have fun with the devil child.”

“I will,” Steph says, and closes the door.

Tim sleeps fitfully through the racket of Steph’s shower, hairdryer, and morning humming, and then through the start-and-stop conversation she attempts to drag out of Damian while she makes breakfast. Finally the front door slams, the lock turns, and Tim slips off for a solid five hours.

When he wakes up the afternoon he has the word oregano in the front of his mind. He considers what he’s going to say over coffee and fruit loops, overthinks it, has a second cup of coffee, and then goes to find his phone. It’s still in the guest room, and Tim is disgusted to see that his bag and clothes have been dumped in a corner. Damian’s duffel now has pride of place on the bed. Tim moves his things to Steph’s room in a huff, then turns to his phone.

He has more missed texts from Kon and Bart, and he’s playing a dangerous game with ignoring them for too long. It doesn’t take much effort for Kon to drop out of the sky to check up on him, or for Bart to dash over from Central City. He catches up on the group chat and sends three emojis, which will have to do, and then he keys in a new contact, quick so he doesn’t think about it too hard. His thumbs hover over the screen.

TIM: it’s me

He stares at the screen for a long moment, then shoves the phone in the pocket of his sweats and tries to forget about it, which is impossible. He’s never been one to keep his phone close, but now carries it from room to room, transferring it from sweats to jeans when he puts on real clothes. It sits in his pocket like a brick, and it doesn’t help that it’s one of the thick WE smartphones with Wayne-level encryption that they’ve been selling to the military. Tim’s pretty sure he could run over the thing with the Batmobile and it would be fine. At one point he nearly bruises his tailbone sitting down on it.

He’s an hour deep into reviewing a backlog of specs from Wayne Tech R&D when his phone rings. The caller ID reads J. He has to take a deep breath before answering.

“Hi,” Tim says.

“Hi yourself,” says Jason. “Listen, I want to bust the warehouse tonight. You said Jordan mentioned an entrance on McVeigh?”

“Yes, but there was nothing in his phone about which building exactly,” Tim says.

“I’ll sniff it out today,” Jason says. “You hack phones, but I hit the streets.”

“I didn’t hack anything,” Tim says. “I literally just opened it and read what was in there.”

“You choked a guy out,” Jason says.

“Yeah, well, he woke up eventually,” Tim says. 

“You’re pretty damn vicious, you realize that,” Jason says. “I knew it from the first second I saw you.”

Jason was also working hard on knifing Tim in the face the first time they met in person, but neither of them mentions that.

“I do what I have to,” Tim says.

“I like that,” Jason says. “We make a good team.”

Tim’s stomach swoops and he grimaces, disgusted with himself. This is no time to be forming a crush. Jack the Ripper, he reminds himself, but then he says, “Yeah, we do,” even though he sort of thinks he’s probably better than Jason at all aspects of this job, and that the case would be done and dusted by now if he were in charge. Steph tells him he’s a control freak with an ego, but egos are what get the work done.

“Meet me at nine tonight. I’ll text you the address when I get it,” Jason says.

“Fine,” says Tim.

“Good,” says Jason, and hangs up.

Tim stares at the phone in his hand and realizes how fast his heart is beating. He lets out a long, slow breath. He can do this. The trick is just not to lose his head. He can do this.

His phone jumps to life again, ringing and buzzing, and Tim has a mild heart attack before checking the caller ID. It’s Cass.

“Miss me?” she says when he picks up.

“Like you wouldn’t believe,” he says, collapsing back against the couch and feeling all the tension drain from his body.

“Good,” she says. “Then come, come…collect me from the airport.”

“Cass, I know you have a Wayne black card. There are cabs, you know.”

“Sad,” Cass says. “Doesn’t want to see—to see his own sister.”

“Fine,” Tim says, standing up. “Be there in half an hour.”

“Good brother,” she says.

Tim bikes back to the Cave to collect his latest car, a cherry red Porsche Cayman. The loaner Prius is still parked at Steph’s condo, but Tim would have to be dying or already dead before he’d get behind that wheel. Steph says his taste in cars makes him look like he’s suffering from either a midlife crisis or a small dick, but Tim likes what he likes: expensive racing motorcycles, sports cars, tailor-made suits, and laptops worth more than some men make in a year. Even his skateboard is top of the line.

Cass is waiting at the curb in the international arrivals zone, wearing yoga pants, a slouchy sweater, and sunglasses big enough to make her look like an incognito celebrity. Tim pops the trunk for her and she throws in her luggage, which consists of a yellow backpack and nothing else. She’s been in Hong Kong for three weeks and still travels lighter than Steph packs for an overnighter in Metropolis.

Tim leans over to hug her when she slides into the front seat. It’s like squeezing a mannequin: Cass is nothing but muscle and sharp corners, so lean and hard that she makes Tim look almost doughy by comparison. He holds her tight anyway. She pats the top of his head.

“How was Hong Kong?” he asks, starting the car again.

“Busy,” she says. “Good food. Dumb bad guys. Police are…more attentive.”

“It’s good to have you home. Where do you want me to take you? The Cave? Your apartment?”

“Steph’s condo,” Cass says.

Tim grimaces. “The more the merrier, I guess,” he says. “Things are a little cramped there at the moment.”

“I know,” Cass says, waving her phone in the air. Steph must have been texting her. “I like Damian. He is…League-trained. Like me.”

“Yeah, great, everyone loves Damian,” Tim says. “That’s just super.” He pulls onto the highway and fights his way back through Gotham traffic. Very few other drivers are impressed by Porsches this far up the East Coast, so merging tends to be a matter of luck and mercenary nastiness.

“Yes. And Steph is having—having a hard time.”

“What do you mean, a hard time? With what?”

“School,” Cass says. “Her class. Brain science?”

“Oh, that,” Tim says. “She doesn’t like it much, but she’ll get through it. Good for her for sticking with it.”

“You do not mean ‘good for her,’” Cass says, and Tim glances over to see her watching him. He tends to forget how frustrating her body-language fluency can be.

“Fine, I think it’s dumb as hell that she won’t just drop the class. She has enough on her plate without stressing out on something this inconsequential.”

Cass is silent, forehead furrowed.

“Inconsequential,” Tim repeats. “It means, uhh, that something’s too small and worthless to matter.”

“Don’t…patronize me,” Cass says

“Sorry,” Tim says, wincing. “I offered to help delete the class from her student record, but she didn’t want help.”

“She does not want your help,” Cass says severely. “School is in…consequential to you. Not to her.”

“Yeah, and I have no idea why. She’s a Bat. She doesn’t need a diploma. She can have any day job she wants. Who cares, she can have no day job if she wants. Why can’t she see that?” He merges a little too aggressively in front of a Lexus and narrowly avoids scratching his paintjob.

He doesn’t understand Stephanie. He works hard maintaining Wayne Enterprises as a world power, generating the income they all need to outfit their arsenals and laboratories and vehicles and digital mainframes. He doesn’t run WE for Bruce—he runs it for them all, for Barbara and whatever money she’s throwing at the Birds of Prey, for Cass and her continuous globetrotting, for Dick and the motorcycles he sends careening into bunkers every other weekend, for Stephanie and whatever the hell she wants, clothes or student loans or gooparangs or grappling hooks made of solid gold—he doesn’t care, so long as she takes the money and uses it.

And Steph, the way she talks, insisting she’s not a Wayne, refusing to take his help, it hurts. Of course he’ll never let her know it, but it’s like she’s saying she doesn’t trust him. He puts in fifty-hour weeks in a suit and tie building the strongest safety net he can manage for himself and for her and for the rest of them, and here she is, up on the wire, telling him she won’t use it, that she’s never going to fall.

Cass is still watching him. She tilts her head, and he knows there’s nothing he has to say.

“Timothy Drake,” Cass says. “Little body, big ego.”

Tim blows out a breath and laughs. “Excuse you,” he says. “How about ‘thank you for the ride, Tim, you’re the best brother ever,’ huh?”

“I will think about it,” Cass says, poking out her tongue. “Steph used to help—to help me. Reading lessons. Now I get to help her.”

“Good luck with that,” Tim says, not bothering to avoid sounding bitter. She’ll read it in his body language anyway.

“She is okay with my help,” Cass says. “We…struggle together. Hong Kong is sometimes hard. I make…mistakes. With pronouncement.”

“Pronunciation,” Tim says automatically. “And I don’t think you should worry. You went from knowing zero spoken languages to knowing two, and writing, and reading. It’s beyond impressive.”

“Flattery,” Cass says, but when Tim looks, she’s smiling.

On a Sunday afternoon, traffic on the Trigate Bridge is gridlocked with all the Gothamites streaming back into the city after a weekend spent fleeing to anywhere with marginally less smog. They stop for so long behind a window repair van that Tim debates actually putting the Porsche in park.

“So,” Cass says. “Jason Todd.”

Now Tim debates leaving the car on the bridge and just walking home, because being trapped in an enclosed space with Cass for this conversation is his idea of hell.

“What about him,” Tim says, aiming for casual and probably falling far short.

“Steph told me everything,” Cass says. She makes a truly piercing kind of eye contact over the top of her sunglasses. “Wow.”

“It’s not like that,” Tim says quickly, which must be the wrong thing to say, or the wrong body language to broadcast, because Cass sits bolt upright.

“You…like him,” she says, raising her sunglasses to perch on top of her head. Her eyes are wide.

“I think we’ve established that,” Tim says warily.

“No, um. What is…the phrase? You like-like him!”  

“I do not,” Tim says, and screw walking home, he’ll jump off the bridge right now and swim.

“You do! I can read it!” Cass says, pointing a damning finger at Tim. “This may be a…bad thing.”

“You think?” Tim says, slouching in his seat. Traffic begins to move again, inching forward towards the Gotham skyline. “It’s a disaster. Why am I such an idiot, Cass? No one can ever know about this, by the way.”

“Oh,” Cass says. “Um.” He looks over. Her phone is out. “No one…besides Steph, right?”

“Thanks a lot,” Tim says, and reaches over to flip on the radio.

 It takes a full hour to get back to Steph’s condo. Tim leaves his Porsche in the underground garage. They take the elevator up. When they get close to the door of the condo, Tim slows and puts a finger to his lips. There’s shouting coming from inside.

“Brown! The neurotransmitter is called octopamine.

“Octomom.”

“Octopamine.”

“Octopus.”

Octopamine! Good God. I see why you are failing this course.”

Tim opens the door. Damian is sitting on the couch with Steph’s textbook in his lap. Steph is spread-eagled on the carpet, but she flips to her feet and flies to the door when she sees who it is.

“Cassie!” she squeals. There’s a confusion of tangled girl limbs. “You’re staying here? That’s perfect, oh my gosh. We can make Tim take the couch if you want.”

“Hey,” Tim says.

“I will—will take the couch,” Cass says. She drops her backpack by the door.

“Hello, Cain,” Damian says. Cass nods at him. “Perhaps you would like a turn with the textbook,” he says, which is disgustingly civil of him. He even almost smiles. Cass peers over his shoulder at the vocab list. Her lips move silently.

“I cannot…pronounce these words,” she says.

“Never mind,” Steph says. “They’re too long for me too.”

“This is why we are studying them,” Damian says, aggrieved.

“I’ll tell you what we’re doing now,” Steph says, perking up. “We’re resuming our little talk about your school, Dami.”

“There is nothing more to discuss,” says Damian.

“Why will you not go to—to public school?” Cass asks. Tim slinks off to the kitchen. Any contribution of his to this conversation would probably result in a fistfight.

“I would never go to public school,” Damian says. “Public school is beneath my station.”

“Private school?” Cass asks. She gently boosts over the back of the couch and folds herself up on the cushion next to Damian.  

“I don’t need any school,” Damian insists, hackles coming up. “I learn from Father, I learn from books, I learn from the internet. I know what octopamine is, unlike Brown.”

“Octogenarian,” Steph says.

“You see?” Damian says, gesturing. “Besides, Drake never finished high school.”

At the coffeepot, Tim feels three pairs of eyes on the back of his neck.

“Tim,” Steph says slowly, “what is he talking about?”

“Uh,” Tim says. “Well. See. Things got a little crazy for a while. The world was in danger, Bruce went missing, and I really had more absences than otherwise on my attendance record anyway—”

“Tim,” Steph says.

“So I dropped out. No big deal. I took the test for my GED, and now I’m Acting CEO of a successful conglomerate, so—”

“Oh my God, Tim, you are the worst,” Steph says. She flops down on Damian’s other side and grabs him by the shoulders. “Tim Drake is the reason the youth are being led astray!”

Damian eels out of her grip and stands up, hands on his hips. “Drake is not leading me anywhere,” he snaps. “I don’t need school, end of discussion.”

“I wish I could have…gone to school,” says Cass.

“You were trained by the very best,” says Damian.

Tim grimaces. Cass is quiet for a moment. They all watch her. “I was…lonely,” she finally says. “In school I could have—could have had friends.” Steph reaches over and pats her knee.

“That’s what school is really about, Little D,” Steph says. “Meeting people. Making friends. Learning how to get along with other folks.”

“It’s like training,” Tim says, and Damian flashes him a scowl that says he’s still not invited to the conversation.

“No, it is like training,” Steph says. “Bruce and the League might have trained you within an inch of your life on how to, like, knock a guy out with just a paperclip and your pinky finger—”

“That is absurd,” Damian says.

“—but that didn’t leave much room for people skills. You need to learn how to hang out with normals. People who don’t wear masks.”

“Colin Wilkes is my friend,” Damian says stubbornly.

“Colin Wilkes turns into a three-hundred-pound muscle machine when he wants to,” Steph says. “Think about it this way: you rescue a teenager from Killer Croc and have to talk to her to calm her down. What do you say?”

“I saved her life, isn’t that enough?” Damian says.

“Gosh, I think she’s crying harder now,” Steph says. “Poor girl. I wish someone would say something to her.”

Damian glares. “There, there,” he says, voice flat. “Don’t cry.”

“It’s a start,” Steph says. “At least think about it, okay, D? I’m sure Dick would let you pick any school in the city.”

Damian picks up the textbook again. “If you pass this class, I will think about it,” he says.

Steph looks him in the eye, obviously fighting the smile that’s creeping at the corners of her mouth. “Damian Wayne, you drive a hard bargain, but I accept.”

Think about it, I said I’d think about it,” Damian says hurriedly, but then he’s enveloped in Steph’s hug and shuts up quickly.  

The afternoon progresses in much the same way. Damian and Steph argue loudly and theatrically over absolutely everything, but it’s different from the way Damian fights with Tim. There’s no malice in it, no real ill will, and at first Tim is fascinated. But the day drags on, and pretty soon he’s fed up and ready to snap at them all to shut up. Even Cass is in the middle of it, uncharacteristically chatty, and finally Tim retreats to Steph’s room and pulls the business-casual clothes from his go bag. His office at WE isn’t exactly relaxing, but it is quiet.

Tim doesn’t think of himself as a jealous person. He’s not interested in monopolizing Steph’s time or attention, doesn’t begrudge Cass or even Damian the gift of Steph’s easy laugh and too-soft heart. But Tim came to Steph’s condo to get away, to be able to lounge in his underwear and eat takeout and make out with Steph on the couch, and now it’s hard to feel like that hasn’t all been snatched away from him.

He sighs. Steph would tell him he’s being pouty and dramatic. It’s probably true. And besides, he has bigger things to think about, like jumping headfirst into a drugs bust with Jason Todd when he hasn’t done an ounce of warehouse recon on his own. He’ll be trusting Jason’s sit-rep from top to bottom. It’s uncomfortable. Tim resolves to bring more than one backup gas mask, just in case.

The hours drag by. Usually Tim can spend ten or twelve hours in this office without batting an eye, without even noticing the time passing until he’s accidentally missed dinner with Steph or movie night with Dick, but now that he’s exiled himself here, he can’t think of a single thing to do. He pulls up market reports, adjusts excel spreadsheets, and reworks the company signature on his emails. He wanders the halls of Wayne Enterprises and terrifies the new hires beavering away even on a Sunday. He orders three separate weekend interns to bring him coffee, just to see who gets there first.

The winner is a petite college girl called Sophie who’s wearing extremely non-work-appropriate strappy stilettos, on which she presumably dashed three blocks to Starbucks and back. Tim writes a memo to Lucius about offering her a job when she graduates.

Tim is already suited up and halfway across town when Jason’s address pings into his messages.

J: 1200 mcveigh rd. three bigass skylights on the roof lol

Tim lands on the rooftop of a long, bleak-faced warehouse ten minutes later. Jason unfolds from the shadows, the gloss on his helmet catching the weak glow from the security floodlights at the corners of the neighboring rooftops.

“What do you know,” Jason says, tilting his head. His voice has a metallic quality coming from behind the layers of plastic and hardware, but Tim can still hear the leer. “You’re wearing pants.”

Tim refuses to be goaded. “And you have a shirt, it’s a miracle,” he says. “We have a job to do.”   

“The replacement gets serious when he puts on the mask,” Jason says. “Okay, General, here’s the deal. We’re monkeywrenching this operation as quick as we can and stringing up anyone working the machines. First one to the foreman wins.”

It suddenly comes to Tim exactly what working with Jason might entail. Something freezes in his stomach as he imagines what Bruce would say, seeing him here with Jason, about to follow him into a fight. What Cass would say. What Dick would say.

“No shooting and no killing,” Tim tells him. It’s an attempt to take control of the situation, to remove the feeling of Dick’s disappointment from the back of his neck. Tim folds his arms, decides he’s going to dig his heels in about this.

“Yes shooting, maybe killing,” Jason says. He folds his arms right back. Tim concludes very quickly that he hates the helmet. He can’t see Jason’s face, can’t read what he’s thinking, if he’s serious or not.

Maybe shooting, no killing,” Tim says.

“Yes shooting,” Jason says. “…No killing.” 

“Glad we worked that out,” Tim says, scrubbing the relief from his voice. He kneels at the edge of one of the skylights, keeping his face away from the glass, even though the light inside the warehouse will render the window a mirror from below. Jason crouches beside him, pointing out the different areas inside. Most of the ground floor is taken up by long tables around which workers in white aprons and dust masks are gathered, sorting, checking, and bagging Hydro. Heavy presses and chutes of several different kinds line the walls, most operating smoothly, attended by more workers. But the setup at the north wall is steadily leaking a thin gray smoke, and operations have ground to a halt. One of the workers has his head poked into the belly of the setup. Another is handing him a screwdriver.

Loose drugs, leaking smoke, dust over everything. Tim fits one of his gas masks over his nose and mouth, held in place with enough straps that it won’t easily be knocked askew. He offers the backup mask to Jason.

“No need, pal.” He raps his knuckles against the dome of his helmet. “This thing filters most of the yuck. It’s why all you birds are gonna be dead of fuckin smog lung in a decade and I’ll still be going strong.”

Tim eyes him dubiously. “That helmet cannot have a true seal,” he says. “What about the neck padding?”

Jason waves him off. “Stop fussing and focus,” he says. “The guards are on the catwalk. More of those meatheads from the club with the Heckler & Kochs, if you can believe that. Haven’t seen any guns on the ground, unless one of the guards is on a piss break. We’re gonna be fast and loud enough to draw out whoever’s the big man around here, and then we’ll see what Jordan has to say about that.” Jason pulls a gun from his belt, a square-barreled Glock that Tim would recognize anywhere, because it’s identical to the one that hung from Dick’s BPD belt for years.

“Is the cop that gun belongs to still alive?” Tim asks. He’s afraid he doesn’t want to know the answer.

Jason spins the Glock showily around his fingers. “Barring any major heart attacks in the past year or so, I’d say yes. If some rookie badge wants to make a run at me in a blind alley, you better believe I’m gonna be taking souvenirs. And even better, any forensics team will trace the rifling right back to GCPD.”

“You’re very proud of yourself,” Tim says.

“I’m very clever,” Jason says, and now Tim wishes he had a helmet of his own, because he’s fighting a smile.

They stand at the edge of the skylight. Jason aims the Glock at the glass. “You ready?” he says.

“Do it,” Tim says.

Jason pulls the trigger. The glass shatters, and Tim and Jason drop through the skylight onto the catwalk. Tim has three shuriken ready in his gloves even before his boots have stopped vibrating from impact. The guards and the workers are shouting, that mess of noise Tim has long since learned to tune out. The guards are well trained, clearly part of a for-hire company, the mercenaries of the big city. They stand back and fire, but the metal grating of the catwalk might as well be a Bat jungle gym. Tim and Jason dive over the sides, catching the rims and swinging their bodies back around, forcing the fighting closer to the guards, too close for the guards to fire without lining up a clean shot, and Tim and Jason are moving too fast for clean shots.

It’s here that Jason makes up for the Greenfield debacle.

Tim is good in a fight. He’s fast and smart and could take down every guard in this building without ever thinking of calling for backup. He’s led the Teen Titans on a hundred successful missions, has thrown his body against alien invasions, metahumans, and demons from the pit. He acquits himself well enough in combat that sometimes even Batman will stand back and watch.

But Jason.

Jason fights like it’s been bred into him, like he came into the world with his hands balled into fists. He has weight to him, height, bands of bunched muscle that Tim will never possess. And more than that, he’s fast. He takes his Robin training and his League training and his street training and crushes them all together, moving from krav maga to alley brawl to Yemenese sand fighting as quick as Tim can blink. Tim has never won in a fight against Jason. He doesn’t think he ever will. A thrill of danger runs down Tim’s back, the same feeling he gets when he leaps from the roof of Wayne Tower, never quite sure if his grapple will hold.

Jason’s not flashy, but he draws the eye. Tim watches him drop to sweep the legs of one guard and twist to kick the gun from the grip of another, carrying his momentum into a spin that slams a third guard into the railing. Tim’s jealous of the way Jason seems to inhabit every inch of his own body, as if he is at home there, inside his skin. It was the same when Tim was spread across Jason’s lap at the club, how Jason leaned back and watched him and filled the air between them with the heat of his gaze. It is the same here, when Jason throws a punch like he thinks the guard’s kevlar won’t stop his fist. Tim understands. Everyone is insubstantial when they’re held up against Jason.

For a half-second too long Tim is watching so closely he forgets he’s in the middle of a fight and is forced flat against the metal grating to keep out of the flight path of a bullet. He decides to remove himself from the situation entirely and flips down from the catwalk and onto one of the long work tables, leaving the rest of the guards for Jason. Down on the ground Tim is an easier target for the HKs, but for some reason he’s not worried. He examines this reaction as he races along the work table, scattering pills and terrified white-suited workers in his wake, and then he grits his teeth because he realizes he trusts Jason to keep the gunfire off his back. How ridiculous. Red Hood is not Black Bat, is not Nightwing. There’s no logical reason for his trust, and yet here he is, baring his back to a mercenary guard with a submachine gun, safe in the knowledge that the bullet will never find him.

Tim is aiming for the closed doors at the end of the warehouse, behind which the warehouse boss is almost certainly cowering behind his desk or trying to stuff himself out the window for a getaway. No one who’s not a mask stays calm with this much gunfire echoing overhead. The doors are set into the wall just to the left of the machinery that’s still emitting the pale gray smoke, and the closer Tim gets, the stronger the smell becomes. It’s like burnt sugar, sharp and too sweet, the same scent that was on Jordan’s breath that first night in Adonis.

Tim has almost made it to the doors when a spray of gunfire echoes directly over his head, and then, as if forced suddenly away, spatters the walls to his left. Three or four shots clip the smoking machinery, which explodes.

He’s thrown sideways in a haze of heat and smoke. He allows himself one and a half seconds to lie dazed on the ground, blinking color back into his eyes, but he’s up and moving just as the noise level in the warehouse reaches a fever pitch, shouting and one or two screams, several voices crying. His gas mask is working overtime, a low grinding coming from the filters. He must have gotten a faceful of contaminates with the explosion. He imagines a cloud of Hydro dust painting his hair white, and for a moment wishes he hadn’t traded in the cowl for the red domino. But he can’t worry about it now. 

Tim wrenches open the doors to the back room, the metal handle so hot from being flash-baked that he can feel it through his glove. Several more shots ring out behind him, but this time the rapport is rounder and slower—Jason’s Glock, and it’s found its mark, judging by the noises from the catwalk. Dark smoke rushes into the room with the opened doors, and in the few seconds he has before the air is entirely gray and hazy he sees that the man sitting with his back against the wall is young and Asian and that Tim very definitely knows him.

The man shrinks back against the wall as Tim approaches him. Tim slips the extra gas mask over the man’s face, but then gently zip-strips his wrists together. He helps the man to his feet. “I’m afraid I only know your stage name, Daisy Mae,” he says. The man sways against him, a combination of defeat, fear, and, possibly, smoke inhalation. He seems much smaller without his heels and towering wig.

“It’s Rodney,” he says. “Rodney Cho.”

“Alright, Rodney,” says Tim. “We’re going to help get everybody out of here, and then you and I are going to have a very long talk.”

They walk together through the haze of smoke that’s filling the warehouse, interrupted at intervals by bright points of flame. Fire is spreading from the ruined machinery, eating through the debris on the warehouse floor and heading for the long worktables. Rodney sags against Tim when he sees it, what has become of the warehouse.

“It’s all ruined,” he whispers.

“Looks that way,” Tim says briskly. He flips the lenses of his mask to heat vision, and a few glowing orange bodies emerge from the smoke, all headed for the exit. Jason detaches himself from the herd and jogs over.

“You’re hurt,” Jason says.

“I’m not hurt,” Tim says, although he doesn’t know for sure. The blast knocked him down hard, and he hasn’t had the mental space to calculate injuries.

“I saw—” Jason waves a hand at the smoldering machinery.

“It’s fine,” Tim says. “Is everyone out? What about the guards?” He looks up to the catwalk, where the heat vision gives him a clear view of several warm, barely-moving bodies.

Jason follows his gaze. “They’re being enormous babies,” he says.  

Tim glares. “I heard you shoot them,” he says. If Jason has the grace to look embarrassed, it doesn’t show behind his helmet. “Get them outside. I’m taking Rodney to the roof of that highrise down the block so he can explain this whole situation.”

Jason seems to notice Rodney’s zip-stripped wrists for the first time. His hand goes to his gun. “I’ll be there soon. We’ll see if Rodney here can handle being shot any better than those guards of his.”

Rodney’s knees buckle a little. Tim wraps an arm around his middle and takes his weight.

“Thank you, Red Hood,” Tim says tightly, and then leaves Jason to finish clearing out the warehouse by himself. He shuffles Rodney down the street until his grapple can get a good hold on the roof of the highrise, and then they’re swinging up, Rodney a dead weight under his arm, face blank with fear. Tim deposits him against the roof ledge and takes a seat next to him.

 “I’m not going to let Red Hood shoot you, but it’s going to be a lot easier for everyone if you just tell me everything right now,” Tim says. He fits his fingers to the seals of his gas mask and pulls, then does the same for Rodney. They both breathe deeply, and after the stale fug of the mask, the Gotham smog smells almost clean.

“Are you taking me to jail?” Rodney asks. His voice isn’t shaking, but there are tear tracks running down his cheeks.

“I haven’t decided yet,” Tim says. “Let’s start with some questions. I’d appreciate honest answers. I did just save your life, you know. You’re working for Jordan Thomson?” Tim flicks on a recorder in one of his gauntlets and presses back against the ledge, trying to iron out the muscles in his back, which have started to make themselves known. He’s beginning to worry he might have fallen funny in the explosion

“I am,” Rodney says. His mouth twists. “Jordan fucking Thomson. That fucking bitch. You think I like this? Feeding H-Bomb to my own people? Selling out my community? Christ. If someone came up to me a year ago and told me this is where I’d be, well. Maybe I’d’ve killed Jordan then and saved us all a lot of trouble.”

“So why are you doing it?” Tim says. He has one eye out for Jason, and is hoping he won’t show up. This is going to be a lot trickier with the Red Hood playing with the safety of his Glock in the background. The sirens in the distance are as constant in the Gotham night as frogs are in the country, but a few are coming closer. Tim peers over the edge of the roof as firetrucks race towards the smoking warehouse. Jason must have called them.

Rodney doesn’t seem to hear them.

“You know my stage name, so you must know my mentor. Rosie Mae is…everything to me. Mother, father, teacher, friend. She taught me everything I know about drag, and everything I know about being a gay man. And then…she got sick.”

“What kind of sick?”

“AIDS kind of sick,” Rodney says. “And does it look like she’s the kind of lady to have health insurance? Before the move, Adonis wasn’t even breaking even. She poured her meds money right into that old pile of bricks and didn’t even bat an eye. And it killed me! It killed me to watch her dying, and none of us queens with any money to save her.”

“There’s the Gotham Med,” Tim says. “Free to those in need.”

“The Med can only do so much. Once HIV tailspins…there’s not a lot anyone can do. They handed over the standard cocktail and showed us the door. As if that’s good enough. She needed the high-end drugs, the experimental pills, the ones out of Europe or China. The ones they’re selling for three, four grand a pop. And I couldn’t get them for her.” Rodney lets his head fall back against the ledge. He stares up into the Gotham night sky, all cloud and smog, red and gold with the beams from the blimps and searchlights.

“And then one night, I’m standing behind the bar cleaning glasses, and a couple walks in. This was the old Adonis, remember. Ever been in?”

“Not sure I’ve had the pleasure,” Tim says.

“Boy like you in the old Adonis, wow,” Rodney says. He whistles through his teeth. “The chickenhawks would start a war.”

Tim narrows his eyes for a moment. It rubs him wrong, that Rodney can see that he’s gay. That he’s easy to read in that way. Being gay is not a weakness. Being an open book most certainly is.

“The old Adonis was a tumbledown piece of shit club that smelled like old beer and had a disco ball on the ceiling,” Rodney says. “It was ugly as sin. And it was home to every Gotham gay over the age of forty. Well, all of them and me, of course. It made no money, but it was family, you know? It was like my living room. But one day, one day this couple walks in. And everything changed.”

“Sam Greenfield and Jordan Thomson,” Tim says, shifting against the ledge. He’s sympathetic to Jordan’s story, he really is, but the longer he sits still, the more parts of his body begin to ache. He wants a hot shower.

“Yeah. Greenfield had a whole bunch of money, and he had a way of talking that made my Rosie Mae and her sisters go starry-eyed. Rosie Mae, she thought rebuilding Adonis was going to be her legacy. She was dying and she knew she was dying, and she wanted her last months to mean something. And she wanted me taken care of after she passed, and for her, that meant me inheriting an Adonis so big and so splashy that it could never fail.

“So we signed the papers and started construction and then little old Jordan sits me down and explains what’s really going on. All of that, I mean,” Rodney says, waving a hand at the plume of smoke down the street and the commotion of firetrucks and, now, a news van. “He says it’s time for us to start making some real money. He says the pills are safe, non-addictive, just party poppers from Europe. And I say no. Of course I say no, who do you think I am? But he shows me the fine print on that contract we’d just got done signing. Turns out no isn’t something I’m allowed to say anymore. And then—and then he pulls out another bottle of pills from Europe. And he says there’s more where that came from, and all he needs is a little help on my end, and I could have as much as I want for Rosie Mae or anyone else I knew who needed them, and then, well…” Rodney trails off. Tim lets him have a minute. Finally he says, in a voice that’s wavering on the edge of a sob, “Things all moved pretty fast after that.”

“And now we’re here, with a burning factory and a lot of young people who are going to need therapy after what happened to them while taking Hydro,” Tim says. “Are Jordan’s pills working for Rosie Mae?”

“It’s not just Rosie Mae anymore,” Rodney says. “I’m getting drugs for nine other late-stage HIV patients. I mean, why not? Jordan gave me as many bottles as I wanted. All I had to do was sell out my community.” He laughs harshly. “But yeah, Rosie Mae’s doing alright, comparatively. The pills are delaying the end better than I could have ever hoped. All this—it bought me time.”

They sit in silence for a moment, and Tim catches a flicker of movement on the other side of the roof. It’s one of Jason’s boots, peeking out from behind the banks of industrial air conditioners. It disappears again just as quickly, just Jason letting Tim know that he’s here, that he’s listening but not interfering. Tim nods in his direction, unsure if he can see.

“I’m going to talk for a minute, and you tell me if I’ve got any of the details wrong,” Tim says. Rodney wipes at his cheeks. “Jordan manages distribution. He has a list of regular clients, but also sends young men out into the club to sell one-on-one. He’s making a lot of money.” Tim pauses, but Rodney doesn’t contradict him. “In the beginning you smoothed the way for his operation to move forward, and now you handle production. And Sam Greenfield—he’s just the pocketbook.”

“Greenfield doesn’t even know how much money Jordan’s pulling in,” Rodney says. “He doesn’t know about the factory. Honest to God, I’m pretty sure he thinks Jordan’s handing out molly. Greenfield’s just in it for the club. He likes having an endless supply of Jordans on tap when he wants them.”

“Thank you for your honesty, Rodney,” Tim says. “You realize this is the end of the road for Hydro. My partner and I, we’re going to do our best for Rosie Mae and the others, but we can’t make promises.”

“And I’m going to jail,” Rodney says, voice flat.

“Probably not,” Tim says, sighing. He’ll follow up on Rodney’s story, make sure everything checks out, but he’s not sure even Bruce would be dropping off a young queer man of color with the Gotham police, especially one who was just trying to take care of his mentor. Besides, he thinks, as Jason’s foot comes into view again, held in balance with Jason’s rap sheet, Rodney might as well be a five-year-old pinching candy bars.

Of course, if he takes Jason into account every time he weighs the crimes of a perp, he’ll never be able to do his job.

“Is there somewhere safe I can take you?” Tim asks Rodney. “Bearing in mind that Jordan is likely not going to be very pleased when he hears about the explosion?”

“Oh God,” Rodney says. “He’ll think I’ve gone to Rosie Mae’s. He’ll come looking.”

“Text him about the explosion. Say you’re hurt. Buy yourself some time. Jordan will be at Adonis tonight?”

“He’ll have to be. He’ll be up there strategizing about this disaster until the sun comes up.”

“Fine. Go somewhere safe for now. We’ll take care of Jordan before the morning.”

“And Rosie Mae? What about her?” Rodney says. His eyes are red from crying.

“Listen. I can’t promise anything. I said we’d do our best, and we’re going to do our best. But I’m not magic. Red Hood’s not magic. We’ll do what we can.”

Rodney takes a breath, and then another one. “Fine,” he says. “Fine. You’d better get out of here. I’ll take the stairs, if you don’t mind.”

Tim stands and offers Rodney a hand up. “Good luck,” Tim says, and then Rodney leaves through the roof door. The sound of his shoes echoes on the stairs.

Tim stretches and groans with how his muscles pull. “Looks like we’re nabbing Jordan and Greenfield tonight too,” he says.

Jason appears from behind the air conditioners, hands in his pockets.

“Looks that way,” he says. “Although it’s probably not so time-sensitive.”

“I promised Rodney we’d get them before morning,” Tim says.

“I heard,” Jason says. “But since Rodney’s marching straight over to sell you out to Jordan, I wouldn’t worry about it.”

“What? Come on,” Tim says. “He’s the victim here.”

“I’m not saying he’s not, but, alright, look. When somebody you love needs pills, you do what you’ve got to to get them for her. Jordan’s got the pills. You’ve got jack-diddly. This is not rocket science, Red Robin.”

“I have faith in Rodney,” Tim says. He can’t read people like Cass can, but he heard the sincerity in Rodney’s voice. Rodney hates Jordan.

“I have faith in pills,” Jason says. “I will make you a bet that whenever we drop in on Jordan Thomson and company, there will be about a hundred guards with HKs ready to shake hands.”

“I guess we’ll just have to see,” Tim says. “What do I get when I win?”

“Oh, whatever you want, Little Red,” Jason says. He steps into Tim’s space and he smells like the explosion, like char and smoke. “Close your mouth and stop breathing.”

Tim does it without asking questions, eyes on Jason. Jason reaches out and ruffles his hand through Tim’s sweat-damp hair, and from behind the white-outs of his domino, Tim sees a cloud of gray Hydro dust fill the air.

“From the explosion, I guess,” Jason says. “You were so damn close to it. You’d laugh if you saw yourself. You’re covered in this crap.” He smooths Tim’s hair down again, surprisingly gentle, then runs his thumb across the edge of Tim’s mask, across the bridge of his nose. He holds up his gloved thumb for Tim to see. It’s caked in dust. “This isn’t safe,” Jason says.

Tim steps away, out of the cloud of gray dust in the air and away from Jason’s hands, which are making his heart beat faster. “I have another suit in a supply drop near here,” he says.

“You need a shower,” Jason says. “I have a safehouse close by. Then we can go bust Jordan.”

“Oh. Um.” Tim bites his tongue. “Okay.”

Tim leads the way to his supply drop, and then follows Jason several blocks east to what looks like a luxury apartment highrise. There seems to be valet parking downstairs.

“Seems like an odd choice for a safehouse,” Tim says. None of the safehouses he shares with Dick are nearly this fancy. They’re mostly bare-necessities supply points with mattresses on the floor.

“Are you kidding?” Jason says. “Hunkering down with the richy-rich is the best. Half these apartments are always empty anyways, assholes off to Switzerland or LA or some shit, and the other half are hiding folks who enjoy their privacy like nobody’s business. Really rich folks don’t ask questions.”

They land on the roof and slip down the side of the building to a window on the twenty-first floor. Tim blinks when Jason hits the lights. The safehouse has granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, open shelving and high-end light fixtures. It also has very little furniture. There’s a tufted velvet sofa in an unfortunate shade of green on the bare hardwood, and the door to the bedroom is open, revealing an enormous mattress on the floor. There’s nothing else.

“I love what you’ve done with the place,” Tim says, to cover up the way his brain has been running in circles ever since he agreed to follow Jason back to the safehouse. Where he’ll be alone. With Jason. Alone in Jason’s apartment. Showering in Jason’s apartment. Naked in Jason’s apartment. The mattress on the floor is huge.

“The couch came with it,” Jason says. They both stare at the couch for a long moment. It’s hideous, like stewed cabbages. Tim thinks about sucking Jason’s cock on it.

“The bathroom’s through the bedroom,” Jason says. “There’s clean towels under the sink. Try not to get contaminated water in your mouth.”

“I won’t be long,” Tim says.

Tim closes the door to the bathroom behind him, and then pauses, hand still on the knob. He watches his fingers turn, slowly, slowly. He pushes the door open again until there’s an inch between the door and the jamb, and then he opens it even a fraction wider. The bathroom light paints a damning strip across the carpet in the dark bedroom: embarrassing, desperate. All at once he swings the door open all the way, until the handle knocks against the wall. It’s the boldest invitation he dares to make.

The mirror startles a laugh out of him. He’s coated in white dust, head to toe, like he’s straight out of a b-grade ghost movie. He shakes his head and another white dust cloud forms, settling down again on his shoulders and the rim of the carrara marble sink. He strips carefully, more mindful of the dust than he’s been all night now that he can see how it’s coating him. There’s a clean patch around his mouth where his gas mask sat, and when he pulls off his domino the skin around his eyes is clear. The rest of his face looks like it’s been daubed with warpaint. The shower curtain is cheap transparent plastic, but the shower itself is the same quality as the rest of the apartment, shiny and new. He keeps his mouth and eyes closed when he steps underneath the strong spray, turning his face into the water pressure. There’s bar soap and some crappy supermarket two-in-one shampoo that’s going to leave his hair dull, and all in all it only takes five minutes for the stream of water going down the drain to run clean.

 Five minutes and he’s still alone in the bathroom. Stupid. Of course he is—why did he think otherwise? He’s jerked off in the shower so many times he’s gotten it into his head that maybe Jason would fuck him in one. But what Jason is doing right now is calmly waiting on that hideous sofa for Tim to finish cleaning off the debris from an explosion. Obviously. Tim leans back against the shower wall and bites his lip. His gut has been tight and hot ever since he jumped off the roof to follow Jason back to the safehouse, his brain giving him a thousand scenarios for what they’d do there. Jason on his knees. Tim on his knees. Both of them soaked in the shower. Jason crowding him against the shower wall until he’s pressed against the cold tile. Tim runs a hand down his chest, flicks his nipple, imagines Jason’s huge hand gripping his hip. His cock is half hard between his legs and Tim pretends his hand is Jason’s, closes his eyes and circles his fingers around it. He imagines Jason’s hot breath in his ear. How did he say it at the club? Prettyboy twink, voice low, eyes hot, enough to make Tim squirm. Tim does squirm, rolls his hips up and fucks his fist. He wants something inside him. He thumbs hard over the head of his cock and then there’s the sound of boots echoing on the tile floor, startlingly loud.

 His eyes come open and he’s staring at Jason through the blurry shower curtain. It occurs to him only after several heartbeats to take his hand off his cock.

“God,” Jason says. His mouth is slightly open, eyes tracking down Tim’s body, and somehow he’s not walking away. Tim’s brain is foggy; he doesn’t know what he should say, how to keep Jason here, how to get what he wants. He licks his lips and Jason’s gaze fixates on his mouth.

“Come on,” Tim murmurs, and feels his heart race as Jason very, very slowly shrugs out of his jacket. 

And then he stops.

“You swallowed some of that dust, didn’t you,” Jason says.

It takes a moment for Tim to process this. “What? No,” he says.

“You did,” Jason says. “You’re high on a whole bunch of crap, even if you don’t know it. It was in your hair, on your skin, on your suit…” He trails off, and his eyes are on Tim’s face now, in a very fixed sort of way, as if he’s restraining himself by force of will from looking anywhere else. 

Tim shoves back the shower curtain with an unnecessary amount of violence. “I was wearing a gas mask, in case you didn’t remember, and I think I have enough experience with contaminants not to go around licking any. You want a urine test? Take a urine test. I’ll wait.”

“You’ll wait in the shower,” Jason says.

Tim wants to scream. He’s naked and not getting any softer and Jason’s right there. How is this going so wrong? “No, I’ll dry off and go sit in the middle of your bed and—and finger myself until you stop being an idiot.”

Jason’s gaze drops involuntarily to Tim’s dick at the words finger myself, and his face goes a little red. He swallows twice before he speaks again. “I don't have the kit for a urine test,” he says, and that’s the end of Tim’s patience. The longer Tim stands there, the more a creeping humiliation is working its way into his gut, and water is getting into his eyes.

“If you don’t want to fuck me, just say so,” Tim says bitterly, and yanks the shower curtain closed again, for all the good it does. He folds his arms and glares at Jason through the blurry barrier. Jason scrapes a hand over his face, and then he closes the distance between them, pulls back the curtain, and drags Tim close by the back of his neck. He kisses Tim roughly, messy and earnest and long enough that Tim is making soft noises into his mouth by the time he pulls away.

“Of course I want you,” Jason says, looking him dead in the eyes. “I thought that was pretty clear. But I can’t, if there’s a chance you’re impaired.”

Tim leans back against the wall of the shower. In seventh grade, his gym teacher Mr. Pells informed the boys during the course of the horror show of their mandated hour of sex ed that it was impossible to die of blue balls. Tim is currently reconsidering the accuracy of that piece of intelligence. “Here is what we’re going to do,” Tim says. “We’re going to go to the safehouse on Blick Street. I am going to pee in a cup, which we will then test for any number of mind-altering substances. Then we’re going to Adonis, where we will nab Jordan Thomson and his cronies. And then you can bring me back here, and have your choice of the couch or the bed.”

“Fair enough,” Jason says, and holds out a towel. 

The safehouse on Blick Street, a garden-level apartment with a hidden basement laboratory, is all the way across town. Tim swings onto the back of Jason’s bike with his hair still damp, not any less annoyed. The bike is a throwaway Kawasaki, no great gem, and not the most comfortable two-seater experience. Tim fits himself along Jason’s back, allowing himself, as a sort of consolation prize, to enjoy the feel of Jason broad and powerful against him. Jason’s suit is warm in the cold night air, but Jason himself is tense, back rigid and neck stiff. Whatever. Tim doesn’t think Jason has much of a right to be uncomfortable, given the circumstances. Tim’s the one who’s practically throwing himself at him, which is a fact Tim hasn’t allowed himself to properly microanalyze since the first night at Adonis. An anxiety attack for another day, Tim tells himself, and flattens his hands against Jason’s stomach. The bike purrs to life between his legs with a steady pulsing vibration, which doesn’t help matters at all.

Tim leaves Jason parked around the corner while he sweeps the safehouse for cameras and mics. He finds one live in the kitchen and another older model dead and dark in the bedroom. He douses both in the sink before letting Jason in.

“Let’s get this over with,” Jason says, strolling through the front door and unlatching his helmet.

“Fine,” Tim says.

“Good,” Jason says.

They glare at each other for a moment.

“Excuse the fuck out of me for not wanting to rape you,” Jason says, crossing his arms.

“You’re excused,” Tim snaps, and disappears down the basement stairs to the lab for a urine test kit. As he rips open the packaging, he thinks back over the fight in the warehouse. He’d pulled his gas mask off to talk to Rodney, and left it off for the jump back to Jason’s safehouse. Was there a point he might have inhaled Hydro dust? He has been uncomfortably turned on for the past couple of hours, but then, he’s been uncomfortably turned on for the past couple of weeks, and the urine kit doesn’t test for excessively high levels of Damian exposure. Tim frowns down at the collection cup. It’s going to be really embarrassing for him if the test comes up positive.

When he finishes, Tim slaps the cup down on the kitchen counter, lid screwed on tight, and then they have five minutes to wait. “This is totally unnecessary,” Tim says.

“It was your idea,” Jason says. He’s tipped back in one of the mismatched kitchen chairs, balancing on the rear legs.

“It was unnecessary for me to need to have the idea,” Tim says. He’s tense with frustration and unspent energy, the feeling of coming so close to what he wanted and instead finding himself here, fully clothed and watching a cup of his own piss on the counter.

“You’re right,” Jason says. “You could have just waited twelve hours until it was all out of your system.”

“There’s nothing in my system,” Tim says.

“Then isn’t it nice we’re making sure,” Jason says, voice flat.

“Jason—” Tim begins, but there’s a thud as Jason lets his chair fall onto level ground. He leans forward, elbows on his knees.  

“Look. I don’t mess with that crap, okay? I wouldn’t touch you if you’d had more than half a beer, never mind two lungs coated in Hydro. I just—I don’t do that.”   

“Half a beer—one can of Bud Light isn’t a roofie, Jason! What’s your deal?”

Jason doesn’t respond. The seconds tick by. “It was just…a crappy childhood, I guess,” Jason says, finally. He meets Tim’s gaze and then drops it, and then, with effort, meets it again. He laughs, forced. “Sorry. Bringing down the mood here.”

Tim doesn’t know what to say. He read Jason’s casefile in the Cave a hundred times, back when Tim was Robin and still idolizing the empty uniform in the Case like it was his own personal patron saint. He can probably still quote parts from memory, all typed up in Bruce’s methodical, bald reporting. It’s all there, all of Jason’s history, all the dogshit details of supplying an addicted mother, of two years young and vulnerable and alone on the street.

Who does Jason kill these days? Drug dealers. Pimps. Rapists. It’s not a secret.

“Stop it,” Jason says. “Stop looking at me like that.” Tim tries to rearrange his face, which is betraying him. “I’m sure you have some real downers hiding in your past, too.”

“Yeah,” Tim says, because he does.

Jason tips back in the chair again, visibly shaking off the dark mood that’s descended. “Whatever. So we’re testing you, who cares. Every time I close my damn eyes I see you standing there in my shower, looking like—” He blows out a breath and shakes his head. “Lord Jesus. If you think I’m not gonna do something about that, my God.”

“So you are going to do something about it?” Tim says. He leans back against the kitchen counter and tilts his head. Jason’s gaze travels down his body inch by inch, slow enough that Tim’s breath quickens. When Jason meets his eyes again, his gaze is intense.

“You have no idea,” Jason says, “what I want to do to you.” Tim’s mouth goes dry. “Is that fucking test done yet?”

The red bars are showing up on the test strip, a neat dash in every column. “Negative,” Tim says. “I told you,” and then Jason’s there, a hand in Tim’s hair, and Tim kisses him back with the desperation born of days of frustration. There’s a very long moment where Tim isn’t aware of anything beyond Jason’s mouth.

“Had to be sure,” Jason murmurs, when he breaks away to scrape his teeth along Tim’s jaw.

“Uh huh,” Tim says indistinctly, as Jason bites down and then sucks a mark. His brain is scrambling, like static eating up a signal.

“You’re gonna have to disarm your suit if I’m getting it off,” Jason says. Tim unhooks his cape and fumbles with the live panels, and then Jason sinks to his knees and works down Tim’s leggings and jock. Tim’s hard, again, and Jason runs his hands up the back of Tim’s thighs. Tim braces himself against the kitchen counter and spreads his legs as wide as the leggings will allow, nerves alive with anticipation. Jason anchors a hand on the base of Tim’s cock and then Jason’s mouth is on him, hot and wet, and he sucks without hesitation. Tim’s legs are going to jelly, but even so he takes one hand from his grip on the counter and slips his fingers through Jason’s hair, stiff with dried sweat. There’s a small delirious part of his brain that’s wondering whether he didn’t just slip in the shower and cook himself up a fantastic concussion dream.

Jason squeezes Tim’s ass with his free hand and slips his fingers into the cleft. He presses against Tim’s hole and Tim’s hips jolt. “Yeah, please,” Tim whispers, and Jason looks up at him, cheeks hollowed around Tim’s cock and a flush across the bridge of his nose. Tim’s panting, mouth open, and he thinks Jason’s beautiful, his blue-gray eyes and the white streak in his hair, his jaw shaved clean. Jason pulls off for a moment to spit in his own hand, and then the wet heat is back and Jason’s pushing inside him with one thick finger. The spit isn’t really enough, but it’s so good to have something inside him. Tim shivers, chin falling forward against his chest. Jason adds another finger and Tim clenches down around them. Jason makes a noise around Tim’s cock, low and hungry. Tim rocks his hips forward and Jason holds still and lets him, but Tim isn’t bold enough to push too deep, some instinctive part of himself unwilling to take control. Jason holds him back down against the counter and sucks hard on the head of his cock, pumping the base with a tight grip, and Tim cries out and comes. He jerks back at the last second in a belated effort to be polite, and a ribbon of spunk paints Jason’s cheek and chin.

Tim nearly falls, after that, and Jason catches him and brings him down gently to the floor. Tim’s heart is in his ears like thunder. Jason swipes the sleeve of his uniform over his face, wiping away the come, and Tim reaches out and presses his thumb to the corner of Jason’s mouth where he’s missed a streak. Jason grins and raises his eyebrows. “Yeah?”

“Oh my God,” Tim says, with feeling. He’s considering handing Gotham over to Jordan Thomson permanently, so he and Jason will never have to leave this safehouse. There’s a lot he wants to do. A lot he wants done to him. With shaking hands he pulls his leggings and jock all the way off, and kicks them across the room. “I don't suppose you have condoms?”

Jason touches a pouch on his belt. “Bought them last night,” he says, “after you nearly killed me at the club.”

“You seem fine to me,” Tim says. He’s pulling his tunic over his head, and when he emerges Jason has a hand between his own legs.

“Think I nearly had a heart attack, seeing you like that. Nothing but those red—” He heaves out a breath and then he’s pulling Tim into his lap and his hands are everywhere. “Shaved legs, blushing down your chest, was about to come in my jeans.” He scrapes a thumb over Tim’s nipple and puts his mouth to Tim’s throat again. His suit is slick beneath Tim’s hands; there’s nowhere to find purchase. He wants Jason naked and inside him. “You have no idea what you looked like,” Jason says. He kisses Tim, slick and wet.

“Fuck me,” Tim says, when Jason lets him breathe again.

“You want that?” Jason says, low. He drops a hand to Tim’s ass.

“It’s all I’ve been thinking about for two days,” Tim says. He rubs a hand over Jason’s crotch. His suit is thick and the cup below is probably thicker. Hard to feel much of anything at all. Jason must be dying, held down like that. “There should be something like lube in the lab. Get this off,” he says, pushing down with the heel of his hand.

Jason almost doesn’t let him up, holding onto his wrist until the last second. Tim walks naked down to the lab, stomach turning flips. There’s a bottle of aloe on a shelf, which will work. He takes it to the bedroom, where Jason has his back to him, peeling down his suit. His ass is framed by the white straps of his jock, hard and tight. A fat line of scars like clawmarks runs from one shoulder down to the small of his back, and there are bullet holes on the backs of his thighs, shadow and light, thrown into relief by the light from the lamp in the corner. Jason turns, and loses the jock, and Tim has to take a deep breath. He felt big at the club, pressing against Tim’s ass. He is big.

“Give me the lube,” Jason says, and Tim does, because it frees up his hands to touch. Jason’s heavy in his palm, red and wet at the tip, and Tim wants to put his mouth on him. But Jason nudges him back until his heels hit the mattress on the floor, bare but for a wrinkled sheet, and then Jason hooks his foot around Tim’s ankle and Tim goes down on his back with a gasp, shocked and laughing.

“Thought Dicky was still training you,” Jason says, kneeling over him and holding him down with a hand on his chest. “You’re much too easy to surprise.” His face hovers over Tim’s, wide smile and eyes crinkled at the edges, and something like sunshine blooms in Tim’s chest.

“You’re an asshole,” Tim says. He brushes the white streak back from Jason’s forehead.

“I know,” Jason says. He brings their mouths together gently, kissing Tim soft and slow. Jason reaches down and hitches one of Tim’s legs around his waist, and then his fingers are between Tim’s legs, sticky and slick. Tim shudders when Jason finds his prostate, and Jason pulls back and watches Tim intently as his fingers work, which is at once delicious and embarrassing. Tim can’t help how his body responds, bucking and shaking, and he can’t imagine what his face looks like. He whines as Jason twists his fingers and bites his lip. “You really like that,” Jason says, almost hesitantly.

“God, Jason,” Tim moans. “Yeah.”

“Sorry, it’s just, I don’t, for myself,” Jason says. He rubs across Tim’s prostate again and Tim arches up off the bed.

“Then you can just fuck me and we’ll both be happy,” Tim says, panting. Jason’s fingers are a thousand times better than his own desperate fumblings, feet braced against the wall of Steph’s bathtub. Better than Bernard Dowd managed, a hundred years ago. He could come like this, will come like this. He pushes Jason’s arm away and rolls onto his stomach. “Anytime you want,” he says, and is relieved when Jason sits up, the heat of him drawing away for a moment, giving Tim just a moment to cool down. He hears the rip of foil, the slick of lube. Tim lifts up onto his hands and knees, legs spread, and Jason sucks in a long breath. Tim twitches as Jason’s thumb runs down from his hole to his balls.

“You shave everywhere,” Jason says, sounding choked. He rolls Tim’s balls in his fingers and then there’s the sharp edge of his teeth, pressing into the meat of Tim’s ass. His breath is hot, like steam, but he pulls away without coming in to lick, and Tim doesn’t have time to feel disappointed because Jason’s there again, fitting his body along Tim’s back.

The first push is a slow, powerful stretch. Tim’s head falls forward and his mouth falls open, a silent wail he’s glad Jason can’t see. It’s so much. Jason rocks out and in again, and Tim is so full he could scream. It’s good. Is it good? Yes. No. He forces himself to relax, and breathe, and relax more. It’s good. Yes, it’s good. “Hell,” Jason mutters. “Oh, hell.”

Jason wraps an arm around Tim’s chest and pulls him in tight. He mouths against Tim’s neck. Jason’s not hitting his prostate with the accuracy of his fingers, but low sparks of pleasure from every thrust are still zinging up Tim’s spine. He feels more in control of himself this way, more able to think. He cautiously tightens around Jason, just a little, and then more, all at once, and Jason swears hard and bites down on his shoulder, losing his rhythm, stuttering his hips forward. “You do want to kill me,” Jason says. He licks the aching place where he bit down, and drags the hand on Tim’s chest down to Tim’s cock. He pumps in time with his thrusts, and Tim moans, a shuddering sound that doesn’t want to stop. He goes down on his elbows and pushes his face into the mattress. Jason comes down with him, arms on either side of Tim’s head, face by Tim’s ear, hips rolling fast. “You’re so—fucking—tight,” Jason groans, and Tim laughs through a moan and clenches up around him again, tighter and tighter.

Jason yells and comes, hands clenching the sheet. His thrusts slow and then stop. “Christ,” he whispers, and drops his forehead to rest between Tim’s shoulderblades.

Tim wraps his own hand around his cock when Jason pulls out. Jason’s gone for a moment, disposing of the condom, and Tim is empty and frustrated. He fucks into his fist, shoving his hips forward, and then Jason’s back, covering him again, and it’s Jason’s fist instead of his own. Jason works him tight and fast, and it’s not enough, not after his cock. “Please,” Tim whines, feeling incoherent. He spreads his legs wider, and yes, there, Jason pushes in with three fingers, in and out, dragging over his prostate, and Tim’s bucking his hips and coming.

He lies boneless afterwards. Jason pulls away and flops down beside him, wiping his lube-sticky fingers on the sheet. “I don’t think I’ve ever been so turned on in my life. Is sex with you always like this?” he asks, and he’s smiling again with his eyes crinkled up.

With effort, Tim rolls onto his side and pillows his head on his arm. His mind still feels mushy. He has to concentrate to put one word in front of the next. “You’ll just have to fuck me again later and find out,” he finally says.

Jason laughs. “That’s a really good plan.”

They lie quiet for a long time, watching each other.

“How did you end up on the Hydro case?” Tim asks. “Last I heard, you were picking off Scarecrow henchmen.”

“Heard about that, did you?” Jason says. “I can just bet. Bet the Cave crew was real happy with that one.”

“They were not,” Tim says, and Jason laughs like it’s funny, but it wasn’t funny, it was sad and uncomfortable, watching Dick’s face shut down when he saw the crime scene photos.

“Yeah, I was on Crane’s trail for a minute. Kept coming across folks tripping off their heads, real funky stuff, all in the queer pockets of Gotham. Thought to myself, who do I know that goes in for chemical crap? Crane’s boys weren’t too ready to chat. Guess it was ‘cause they didn’t know shit after all. Oh well.” Jason voice is light, like it’s no big deal, but he’s holding Tim’s gaze, eyes bright and sharply focused, and Tim knows this is a test. He considers what to say. Six dead Scarecrow goons in five days. Jason did that. Jack the Ripper, right? Only it’s not Tim and Steph giggling in bed together, it’s real. It’s something Jason did. Something in a long string of things Jason did. Tim reaches out, and lays his fingers along the swell of Jason’s lower lip.

“Dick didn’t like it,” is what he finally says, tone equally light. Jason shuts his eyes for a fraction too long to qualify as a blink. He opens his mouth for Tim’s fingers and holds them for a moment on his tongue. Then he rolls onto his back and puts his hands behind his head. The muscles around his ribs flex and pull long. Tim drags his gaze down Jason’s body while Jason’s not looking. He’s gorgeous, scarred and strong, with long eyelashes that give his face an elemental, unexpected prettiness.

“Yeah, I’ll fucking bet Dickie didn’t like it,” Jason says. Tim sits up and Jason smiles at him, handsome, so handsome. In a flash of understanding, Tim knows that Jason would have to do a whole lot worse than Scarecrow henchmen for Tim not to want him.

It’s an upsetting insight.

Very often Tim sits by himself, maybe in his office at WE, maybe at the desk in his bedroom at the Manor, and thinks that he is not a very good person. Arrogant, snappish with his friends, unforgiving, cold. Mercenary. He thinks about Steph, about Dick. He finds there is an essential, obvious difference between them and himself.

Jason’s smile is starting to fade. “Say what you’re gonna say,” he says, raising his eyebrows, waiting for whatever condemnation he thinks is coming. And here, of course, is the heart of the matter, the ultimate black mark in Tim’s book: he doesn’t care that Jason Todd is a killer. He didn’t care when he heard that the Scarecrow henchmen were dead. What he cared about, what he cared about, was that Dick Grayson was sad about it. He doesn’t care when mob bosses turn up dead in the river. He cares that fishing them out makes Dick go silent and angry. He’s just like Damian, who sheathes his knives not because of some moral code of Bruce’s, but because of the way Dick would look at him if he used them. They’re not good people, neither of them. They just care too much about Dick Grayson.

“Well?” Jason says, and Tim takes a deep, long breath, and laughs, rough and hurting.

“Will you tell me something?” Tim asks.

“Maybe,” Jason says, looking very wary.

“When you were Robin, were you in love with Dick Grayson?”

“What the hell kind of question is that?” Jason says, eyes going wide, and that’s all the answer Tim needs.

“I figured,” Tim says. He props his elbows on his knees, his chin on his hands. “I mean, the rest of us are, too. I guess he makes it hard not to be, with the affection and the very tight costume.”

Incredibly, there’s a blush working up Jason’s cheeks. “Don’t know what you’re talking about,” he says. Tim pats his cheek.

“You’re just like Damian. He won’t talk about it either, just follows Dick around in a state of constant pubescent agony. I told him he was part of the club. You, me, Steph, and now him.” The blush has spread to Jason’s ears. Jason throws an arm across his eyes.

“You told Damian Wayne I was in love with Dick Grayson?” he asks hoarsely.

“He needed all the help he could get. You’d feel bad for him, if you saw him.” The shimmer of self-hatred in Tim’s insides is fading, replaced with a dawning wonder. This moment feels like a gift, Jason naked and blushing and vulnerable, Tim talking about their shared past, teasing him. “Being fourteen is humiliating.”

“Stephanie Brown, too?” Jason says from behind his arm.

“Oh yeah,” Tim says. “He learned about hair gel, when she was Robin. Better than a boyband. And me, you know he used to put me on my back and bend my legs up to stretch my hamstrings?”

Jason grins, despite himself. “Oh boy,” he says. Jason hesitates, and then: “When I was Robin, we had communal showers in the Cave.”

“Oh my God,” Tim says.

“Every day. Every single day.”

“What a nightmare.”

“’Jason, isn’t that water too cold for you?’ Yeah fucking right, it was one cold shower in the Cave and then a twenty-minute scalding-hot wank marathon in the shower on the third floor,” he says.

“Not the one with the pink tile?” Tim says.

“That’s the one,” Jason says, and he’s laughing now. “’Bout near chafed my dick off, swear to God. Every damn night I had to watch him dropping the damn soap in the damn locker room, and there’s Bruce over under the tap in the fucking corner, and that’s not any easier, watching him strip, lemme tell you.”

Bruce? screams Tim’s brain, and he ties a bow around that thought and sticks it on the shelf to revisit later, because he’d rather die than scare Jason off right now. “Once, when I was thirteen, I stole one of Dick’s shirts and smelled it while I jacked off,” Tim says. He’s never told that to anyone before, not even Steph. Jason pulls his arm away from his face at last and laughs at him. His eyes are bright and the blush is still there. It’s cute. He’s cute.

“I heard him having sex, once,” Jason says. “I was visiting the Titans. Him and Kori. Heard it through the wall. I can’t be sure, but I’m pretty sure she was pegging him. Or at least that’s what I told myself at the time, hand down my pants and ear to the wall.”

“Bruce pulled a forty-page log of Dick and Roy sexting. I kept it on my laptop for months.”

“Dick and Roy?” Jason says, in absolute wonder. “Roy’s built like a tank. Do you still have a copy?”

“No,” Tim says, “but I’ll tell you what was in it sometime.”

“I’m gonna—I’m gonna hold you to that,” Jason says, and he blushes again, to Tim’s delight. Jason reaches out and curls a hand around Tim’s foot, and Tim wishes he could stay in this bed, in this moment, forever.

But.

“It’s getting late,” Tim says. “We have a job to do tonight.”

Jason stretches luxuriously. “So eager to lose our bet?” he asks.

“So eager to win,” Tim says. He forces himself to his feet. Jason looks up at him.

“You really are—” Jason says, and then bites down on whatever the rest of it is.

“What?” Tim says, doing his own stretching, rotating his neck and feeling a tiny twinge from the place where Jason bit down.

Jason pauses, and wets his lips. “Gorgeous,” he says.

“Oh,” Tim says, and it’s his turn to blush. He leaves the bedroom, because after that comment it’s hard not to crawl back in bed and make out with Jason for another few hours.

He does kiss Jason once more before they leave the safehouse, because he’s somehow afraid that when he walks out that door, everything that happened inside will cease to exist, and maybe won’t ever happen again. Jason draws him close with a hand on the small of his back, and then breaks away and says, “Let’s do this, if we’re doing it,” so there’s nothing to do but swing back on the bike and head to Adonis.

It’s four in the morning. The club is closed, dark and silent, but that just makes things easier. Jason jimmies the lock on a door off the alley and they slip inside, picking their way through the couches and empty dance floor. The go-go cages are a mountain of shadows. The green beam of the exit sign cuts through the darkness, enough light for any Bat to see by. Up the stairs, through the beaded curtain, and now there’s light and movement, all stemming from behind the cracked office door. Jordan’s voice echoes down the hallway, shouting.

“—don’t care! Get him on the phone, now! And you, if you can’t stay awake, get the hell out of here and I’ll give your job to someone who can.”

Tim and Jason slink along the hallway and take positions where they can see through the cracked door. Jordan is pacing, a small pistol in one hand and his phone in the other. Sam Greenfield is nowhere to be seen, but there are three visible guards, all with the Heckler & Kochs. Child’s play. Tim pulls a pair of bolas from his belt and nods at Jason, who shrugs and draws his Glock. They enter silently, and two of the guards are on the ground, tangled in the bolas, before anyone shouts. Tim goes hand-to-hand with the final guard, which takes about a second and a half, and Jason knocks out one who was leaning out of sight against the wall.

“Jordan Thomson, you’ll have to come with us,” Tim says. There, fast and easy.

Nothing is ever fast and easy.

“These are the two?” Jordan calls over his shoulder. He’s looking neither afraid nor surprised, which can’t be good. One of the frosted glass doors behind him opens, and Rodney Cho stumbles out. Tim’s heart sinks. Jason snorts, and Tim wants to punch him.

“That’s them,” Rodney says, not looking at Tim. Tim wants to shake him. Why can’t people ever make the right choices? Why does he keep believing there are people who can make the right choices? He didn’t want to take Rodney to jail.

“Then you’ll both need to come with us,” Tim says tiredly, already slipping into one of his pouches for zip strips. “We don’t allow illegal drug manufacturing in Gotham.”

“Yeah, you might want to run up to Hoboken for that,” Jason says, and Tim shoots him a glare.

“I don’t think anyone’s going anywhere,” Jordan says calmly. He raises his phone back to his ear. “Send them in.” The other frosted doors around the room open, and twenty or thirty armed guards come through them, submachine guns pointed at Tim and Jason. “I’m sorry,” Jordan tells them. “I love a dramatic entrance.”

Jason sighs and unholsters another gun. “Lovely. Why don’t you explain to me why I shouldn’t just shoot you now,” he says. “I’ve been wanting to for days.”

“How about I explain to you why the both of you are about to go away and never bother me again,” Jordan says. His delicate face is set very smug.

“This should be good,” Jason says. “But better make it short—I’m running out of patience.”

“Indeed, Mister…?” Jordan lifts a brow.

“Red Hood. Tell your friends.”

“Red Hood, I see, because of the helmet, I suppose?”

“In your own time, Mr. Thomson,” Tim snaps. He’s never a fan of when a mark starts getting lippy.

“And you—oh, I knew you would be showing up. I like the mask. Very sexy. I had Rodney google you, obviously. Red Robin, what an honor. Of course, I haven’t told Rodney the best part. I haven’t told anyone the best part. It’s been my little secret. But I’ll tell the both of you. Just take a look at this, if you don’t mind.” Jordan picks up a sheet of paper that’s been sitting face down on the central table. He holds it out with two fingers, gesturing. Tim steps forward and snatches it out of his hand. It’s a printout of two photos, probably taken on a smartphone. Full color, no details spared. The top is of Tim walking out of the bathroom at Adonis, tiny red shorts and blond wig, body on display. The bottom is also of Tim, spread across Jason’s lap on the black couch, mouth open and face flushed. It’s taken from behind: you can see the back of Jason’s head and his bare shoulders, but Tim is up on his knees, giving Jason more room to stroke up the backs of his thighs. It’s—wow. Humiliating. But how did Jordan make the connection? He’s never seen Tim before in his Red Robin uniform. Tim hands the paper to Jason and turns back to Jordan.

“Fascinating stuff. Who is this person, and why am I looking at photos of him?” Tim asks.

“Nice try,” Jordan says. “You think some cunt chokes me out in my own office and I don’t bother to find out who it is?” Oh, fuck. “Nice to meet you again, Alvin Draper. And Peter Fox. Not very good disguises, I have to say. Rodney gives me a description of the two who busted my warehouse and you think I don’t put things together? A short twink with a hot bodyguard attacks me, and then a short twink with a hot bodyguard attacks Rodney. You must think I’m pretty damn dumb.”

Jason crumples the paper and drops it to the floor. Then he takes the safety off his gun with an audible click. “What a fun chat we just had,” he says. “Now, are you going to tell those guards to shoot up the place, or are we going to be civilized about this?”

Jordan laughs and throws up his hands. “Wait just a second, Mr. Fox,” he says. “I haven’t gotten to the best part yet. Maybe you’re not aware that my brother Bobby is GCPD.” Tim makes a mental note of this: Bobby Thomson, to be added to their list of crooked cops. “He doesn’t mind his little brother Jordan coming in for a go at the facial recognition software.” Tim hears Jason suck in a fast breath. “You know what doesn’t fool face-rec? Wigs. That’s a real nice suit and mask you’ve got there, Timoth—”

 Jordan can’t finish what he’s saying, because suddenly he doesn’t have a skull anymore. The echo of Jason’s gunshot rolls around the room, and the black couches are spattered with blood and brain matter. Jordan’s body has toppled to the ground. The guards are in an uproar, and Tim’s muscles respond long before Tim’s brain. He slides out the door and to shelter just as the rain of return fire begins. Jason is behind him, and together they pound down the stairs and fling themselves out to the alley, although only two or three of the guards are actually in pursuit. The bike speeds away, Tim silently gripping Jason’s waist.

He lasts about two miles, and then taps Jason’s side. “Pull over,” he says, just loud enough to be heard over the wind. Jason does, very meekly, slowing and turning into an alley. He stops the bike, but doesn’t get off. Instead he grips the handlebars like he’s ready to fly out of there again at any moment. Tim slides down and walks around to where he can see Jason’s face, only he can’t see Jason’s face, because of the helmet. But he’s seen Jason pull it off a couple of times, and knows the trick of it, now. He slips his fingers under the rim and finds the catch. It comes open with a click, and Tim lifts it from Jason’s head himself. Jason lets him do it. His expression under the helmet is guarded. He doesn’t know what Tim is going to do.

Tim holds the helmet between his hands, looking down at it for a long moment. Finally he looks up. “I thought we said yes shooting, no killing,” he says.

“That was the warehouse, not the club,” Jason replies, too quick, like he’s been prepping it in his head.

“I wish you hadn’t done that,” Tim says. He’s surprised at how calm he sounds. He doesn’t feel calm. He feels lost and confused. When Jason killed Jordan, he’d wanted to throw up, and it wasn’t because he’d never seen anyone be shot in the head before.

“He was going to say your name,” Jason says. “In front of all those people. Thought you’d want me to only kill him, instead of having to kill all of them.”

“I didn’t want you to kill any of them.”

“What would you have done, huh? Thirty strangers tying you to Red Robin, Red Robin to Bruce Wayne. Oh, to say nothing of tying you to a gay club, your pretty picture on my lap for the damn tabloids, for the internet, for the whole world to look at.” Jason’s unyielding, angry and not angry at the same time. “What would you have done?”

“I don’t know,” Tim says. “Not that.”

“I was protecting you,” Jason says, and there it is, the spark igniting Tim to flame. He hurls the helmet at Jason, who only brings his hands up at the last second to keep it from smashing his face.

“I didn’t ask for that,” Tim yells. “I said no killing, and you couldn’t manage it for two nights in a row.” His voice is so loud in the alleyway, and it’s inching closer to five in the morning. The early shift will be starting to move around the city. Tim suddenly wants to be anywhere but here. “Good luck with the Hydro case, Jason,” he says. “Maybe I’ll see you around.”

He shoots a grapple to the top of the apartment building and leaves Jason in the alley, silently watching him leave. Tim runs the rooftops in an angry haze, hitting the jumps quick and hard and grateful for the way the cold air burns his lungs, the way he has to think about sticking his landings instead of about what happened. But he’s been running these rooftops since long before he was Robin, and there’s not enough distraction for his brain. He’s so mad he could spit, and he doesn’t know why. But of course he knows why. He doesn’t care that Jason kills people. But he sure as shit cares when Jason kills people because of him.

The last thing Jordan said before he died was Tim’s name. Or a part of it, anyway. Before his head was blown off.

Steph’s condo is dark when he comes in by the bathroom window. The door to the guest bedroom is shut, and Cass is asleep on the couch. Cass wakes long enough to raise her head and confirm that the noises are Tim and not an assassin, and then she drops back to sleep. Tim steals into Steph’s room and strips out of his armor in the corner. His bag of clothes is in the middle of the floor where he left it, and he pulls on boxers and nothing else. Steph is asleep, a lump under the covers in the middle of the bed, and he doesn’t shove her over, but instead crawls into her arms. She’s so warm, and she wakes up to wrap herself around him, and then wakes up a little more.

“You stink like sweat, why didn’t you shower?” she complains.

Tim takes a deep breath and lets it out again. “It’s been a long night,” he says softly.

Now Steph is all the way awake. She props up on an elbow and cups her hand under Tim’s chin. “What happened?” she demands.

“It’s fine,” Tim says. “I’m fine.”

Steph squeezes his face in her hand. “Don’t even start that shit with me, Timothy Drake-Wayne,” she says, so Tim tells her.

When he’s finished with the abbreviated report, all she says is, “That bastard,” and then nothing else at all until the sky begins to lighten with morning.

At some point Steph dozed off, but Tim never did. He only tucked himself against her chest and breathed in the smell of her skin, which rose all around him from the sheets she never washes, and he felt safe. As the birds begin to sing outside the window, Steph stirs and yawns and smacks her lips and says, as if they’re in the middle of a conversation, “Sounds to me like you couldn’t have saved Jordan. That sucks, but it happens.”

“I could have saved Jordan by not teaming up with a vigilante who shoots his enemies,” Tim says, who has been in the middle of a conversation, with himself. “What will Dick say?”

“Dick’s not going to be mad at you,” Steph says. She stretches, and settles herself more comfortably around him. “Obviously.”

“Obviously,” Tim repeats, dragging out the word like Steph’s an idiot. “Of course he’s not going to be mad. But he’ll get that look, in his eyes, and this time he’ll be looking at me.”

“Stop worrying about Dick Grayson, for once in your life,” Steph says. Her fingers card through his hair. When she talks, he feels the vibrations under his cheek. “I know this isn’t comforting, but Jason kills people all the time. Dick’s given up on being actively upset over it. Look, to be honest, it sounds like Jason panicked. It wasn’t a real fight, it was just some asshole about to out you to a room full of other assholes.”

“He could have thrown a knife, or a batarang, or something else.”

“No, you could have thrown a knife or a batarang or a something else. You throw batarangs. Jason throws bullets.”

“Why are you suddenly on his side?” Tim says. “You were mad at him last night. Don’t you care that he killed a man?”

“Of course I care,” Steph says. “Of course I’m mad at him. I’m of the Dick-Grayson school of thought on killing. It even fucks me up when one of my perps pitches off the side of a building and I can’t yank him back in time.”

“On his side,” Tim mumbles.

“I’m not on his side,” Steph repeats, this time like Tim’s the idiot. “I’m on the Tim-Drake-is-not-to-blame side.”

“That’s not a side,” Tim says.

“Shut up, yes it is. Here’s my reasoning, and it’s good reasoning. I know I don’t usually have good reasoning for things, but this is really top-notch stuff, 100% accurate.” Tim makes a noise like fuh against her skin. She ignores him. “So, we’ve established that Jason kills a lot of people all the time. Like, every week. I read the reports—okay, I skim the reports. And he’s going to go on killing people more or less forever, because Bruce and Dick have honest-to-God for real decided not to stop him. They’re not doing shit about it anymore. Not lifting the tiniest pinky finger. That’s as good as a blessing, in my book. So here’s the real skinny: you’re either cool with that or you’re not. It’s a little hypocritical to be fine with murder when it’s not happening in front of you, but get your cape in a knot when he offs somebody right there.”

“I hear you,” Tim says. “I’m a hypocrite.” Steph’s fingers tighten in his hair and he grunts.

“Fuck off, Wonder Boy, that’s not what I wanted you to take out of that.”

“I think I’m missing the takeaway point, then,” Tim mutters. “He killed Jordan because of me. Me, Steph. Me!”

“So be mad. Be fucking pissed off at him, yell at him, punch him, whatever, but don’t blame yourself. You don’t make decisions for Jason, okay? We all know he’s majorly fucked up in the head—that’s not really up for debate.”

There’s logic to what she’s saying, but Tim’s brain doesn’t want to listen to logic. It wants to listen to the feeling in his gut, the one that won’t settle down. He’s tense in Steph’s arms. She shakes him, a little.

“It’s all Jason’s fault,” she repeats. Tim huffs out a breath. “I know I’m right. Say it. Say, ‘Steph, I know you’re right.’”

“Steph, I know you’re right,” Tim says. He pulls away and stretches out onto his back, and he does feel a little better. But only a very little bit.

“That’s good. For the record, Barbara still thinks Jason’s wonderful, for some reason,” Steph says. “I don’t like the way Jason handles his business, but I’m inclined to trust Barbara’s opinion on most things.”

Tim hums like he’s listening to her.

“So,” Steph says, after a long time where neither of them says anything. “How was the sex?”

Tim glances at her, and despite himself, there’s a self-satisfied smile curling at the corners of his mouth. Steph scruffs her hand through his hair again. “I think I’m going to need that in words,” she says.

Tim considers. “I guess it was…absolutely mind-blowing,” he says.

Steph’s grin could power all of Gotham. “Well, there’s a reason to forgive him right there,” she says. “Tell me every single thing.”

Tim bites his lip, and then he does.

He goes to sleep, after, exhaustion carrying him under even when his brain isn’t ready to settle down. He wakes several hours later with sun streaming full and bright through the windows and a sharp pain on the side of his neck, which turns out to be Steph’s finger, pushing down on a hickey.

“Did he try to eat you?” she asks, probing three or four other sore spots. “You look like you’ve been chewed up, Timmy.” Tim smirks at her. “Oh-ho! Look at that face,” she says. “Someone’s proud of himself.”

“It was good sex,” Tim says, stretching and groaning as all of the muscles in his back yell at him. Getting thrown in the explosion has locked everything up tight. “Is Cass here?” he asks, rolling onto his stomach and trying to flatten himself out.

“Yeah, you want her?” Steph says. She pokes the bruise at the base of his neck and he flinches away.

“She’s good at massage,” Tim says. “I don’t think I can move, otherwise.”

“The sex was that good?” Steph says, going to the door. She’s dressed, an oversized yellow sweater and black leggings.

“No, you perv. The fight at the warehouse. I told you I went down pretty hard when a machine blew up in my face.”

“If you say so,” Steph says, unconvincingly. “Cassie! We need your healing hands!”

Cass appears and immediately laughs. “So many bruises,” she says. “Enemy with a strange—a strange weapon.”

“Fuck off,” Tim says, burying his face in the pillow.

“Need to learn to better…protect you neck,” Cass says, and her cool hands are on his back, clinical and practiced. Tim groans and bites down curses as she digs into his muscles, forcing them to unlock. It hurts like hell. “Should have stretched before bed,” Cass tells him, without pity.

Steph is in the bathroom, putting on makeup. “I’m leaving in an hour for my class,” she says. “Cassie, you think you can hang with Dami?”

Damian’s voice suddenly comes from the doorway, exasperated. “I don’t need a babysitter. Good lord, Drake, what happened to you?” Tim tenses up, and Cass smacks him.

“Stop that,” she says.

“Ha, more like who happened to Tim,” Steph says, from the bathroom.

Steph,” Tim says.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Damian says, curious.

“None of your business,” Tim says, and is glad his face is in the pillow, because he just knows he’d give himself away.

“Sorry, Dami,” Steph says. “Tim enjoys having secrets.”

“Fine, whatever,” Damian says. “Brown, please remember to take your new flashcards to your class. Perhaps they will save your grade after all.”

“Thanks for looking out for me, Dami,” Steph says. She makes a kissy sound in the air. Damian huffs, and then a certain lack of angry teenage presence in the air tells Tim that he’s gone.

“There.” Cass says, and her hands are gone. “Beyond this, I cannot—cannot help you.”

Tim arches up and is relieved when everything bends the way it should. “You’re a lifesaver, Cass,” he says, swinging out of bed. He takes a step across the carpet and nearly stumbles as a shocking soreness in his ass makes itself known. “Oh fuck,” he says, and Steph and Cass shout with laughter.

“I have—have no—stretches for—for—for—for that,” Cass says, hilarity playing havoc on her diction.

“Yeah, yeah, let’s all laugh at Tim,” he mutters, tiptoeing gingerly to the bathroom, past Steph at the mirror, who’s bent double laughing with a mascara wand in her hand. He turns on the shower with a jerk.

“Thank you, Cassie,” Steph says, and Tim doesn’t have to turn to know they’re making faces at each other at his expense. Steph closes the bathroom door and goes back to her makeup, and Tim strips out of his underwear and climbs into the shower as gently as he can manage. The soreness isn’t bad, not really—just unexpected and strange. He scrubs Steph’s fancy shampoo through his hair and flexes his legs back and forth.

“I mean, you said he was big,” Steph says.

“He’s pretty damn big,” Tim agrees. Steph’s shower curtain, unlike Jason’s, is blessedly opaque. He slips a hand back to press his fingers delicately against his hole and winces. “Worth it, though.”

“I’m sure you’ll get used to it,” she says. “With more practice.” He chooses to ignore that particular comment.

He’s moving more easily when he’s dressed and paying homage to his personal lord and savior, the coffeemaker. Damian is on the couch on his phone. “Apparently Todd killed a drug lord at a club last night,” he says.

“Oh,” Cass says, and shrugs. She herself doesn’t kill anymore, on Bruce’s orders, but has never cared that others do, Jason and sometimes Helena, very occasionally Renee.

“Grayson is upset,” Damian says.

“He always is. What do you think about it, Dami?” Steph asks, shooting a conspicuous glance in Tim’s direction.

Damian frowns. “Well, Grayson doesn’t like it, and neither does Father.”

“And yourself?” Steph says, pressing.

There’s a very guilty pause. “I don’t do that sort of thing, because Grayson doesn’t like it,” he finally says.

“A divided house,” Steph says quietly, coming up to Tim.

“Stop being on his side,” Tim hisses.

“I’m on your side, oh king of hickeys. Speaking of which, I’d recommend a scarf.” Tim dodges her fingers, which are aimed at his bruises again. “I have to leave for my class,” she says. “What are you doing today?”

He should go to Wayne Enterprises and put in eight or nine hours of work. Sitting at his desk. In his giant office. Alone. With no one to distract him from obsessing over last night.

“Can I come with you?” he asks.

Steph gives him a strange look. “For real? Is this another play to make me drop the class?”

“No, I swear,” Tim says. “Please?”

“It’ll all be pretty far beneath you, I bet,” Steph says, still sounding suspicious.

“I’m sure I could use a refresher.” He commits to playing innocent.

 “I guess if you really want to,” she says, relenting.

Campus is, of course, only a few blocks away. The afternoon is crisp and sunny, and Steph points out all the trees changing colors, which feels like something special. Tim doesn’t see daylight very often, spending his time either behind a desk or outside in the dark of night. This part of Gotham is wealthy and lively, bustling with students and packed with independent bookshops and hip coffee joints. There are groups of young people everywhere. Tim has never walked these streets in the daytime, and is fascinated. He keeps on a pair of oversized sunglasses and hangs back while Steph greets a hundred different people by name. Everyone seems to want to talk to her, and what should have been a five-minute walk turns into fifteen, and then twenty.

“You’re…popular?” Tim asks, as they walk through the Gotham U gates and down the manicured paths. Gold and red leaves drift through the air.

“I just like people,” Steph says, shrugging.

Gotham U is picturesque on the outside, thanks to a sizeable endowment, but the insides of the buildings are as grimy and sad as anyone would expect of a decidedly third-rate sort of university. Steph leads him past busted water fountains and chipped paint to a lecture hall that smells like stale air and, somehow, Mexican food. They’re nearly the last to arrive, and Steph takes a seat in a row near the back. She pulls out a textbook, two notebooks, and a terrifying array of colored pens. The girl in the row below them turns to talk to Steph, and then does a double-take.

“Aren’t you—Timothy Drake-Wayne?” she asks. Her voice goes high-pitched on the Wayne.

This is one of the many good reasons why Tim doesn’t go out much in the day. “No, no, I’m not, but I get told I look like him a lot,” Tim says. “My name’s Alvin.”

“The resemblance is uncanny,” Steph says, chin on her hand. “Sorry, Melissa. He’s my cousin from Oklahoma City.”

“Oh,” Melissa says. She has red hair and freckles. She pushes her bangs out of her eyes and blushes. “How long will you be in town, Alvin?”

“My gay cousin,” Steph says.

“Gotcha,” Melissa says, and turns back around.

“Oklahoma City?” Tim mouths.

Steph scratches a note on the corner of her paper. First weird place I thought of.

Tim pulls the notebook over and thumbs through it, eyebrows getting higher and higher. It’s full, absolutely full of writing. Notes, diagrams, vocab lists, flowcharts, all in the fifteen or twenty different colors of pens cascading across the desk.

“I thought you’ve only been in this class since the start of September,” Tim says slowly.

Steph snatches back the notebook. “I studied over the summer,” she says.

“No you didn’t,” Tim says. He’d spent most of the summer with Steph, racing around the bay on jet skis and sweating on top of gargoyles. “I didn’t see you open a book even once.”

Steph scrunches up her face at him. The seconds tick by. Tim grows increasingly bewildered. Finally Steph sighs. “Fine. I’m going to tell you something, and if you act like an asshole about it, I want you to remember that I have a really astonishing amount of blackmail to hold over you.”

“Noted.”

“Fine. Okay. So. I…took this class last semester. And I failed.” She folds her arms and faces him, as if bracing for an attack.

“…So?” Tim says.

“I mean really failed. Big fat F failed. Bombed every exam. Didn’t understand any of it.”

“Right,” Tim says. “Who cares?”

“I said don’t be an asshole!” Steph snaps, too loud. Melissa turns around again, and Steph smiles at her until she goes back to ignoring them.

“Who’s being an asshole?” Tim whispers, quieter now. “What should I have said? ‘Golly, Steph, you must be dumb?’ I don’t think that, by the way. I think this class is dumb. Who the hell cares if you failed it?”

“I care,” Steph says, voice barely audible, and her eyes are going a little shiny, and oh God, she might start crying. “I tried so hard. I studied so damn hard for this class, and wrote all these notes, and worked and worked and failed.

Tim opens his mouth, and closes it again. He swallows the first thing he was about to say, and the second. Maybe you could, for once, take your head out of your ass, he tells himself. He thinks about the life Steph’s built at Gotham U, the fistfuls of people who all call her their friend. “So you’re trying again,” is what he eventually manages to say, which is pathetically bland and neutral and nevertheless makes Steph sigh with relief.

“Yeah,” Steph says. “I’m trying again. I can do this, I know I can. I’m proving it to myself.”

“I believe in you,” Tim says. It’s not quite absolutely fully true, but for once, he knows it’s the only right thing to say.

Steph laughs, and then she’s crying, just a little bit, and throws her arms around Tim’s neck. “Thank you,” she whispers. Tim bites his lip. He made her cry, just by saying that he believed in her. With sudden clarity, Tim understands how much of a dick he must be in his everyday life.

“Ms. Brown—oh, are you alright?” It’s an older, balding man who has worked his way down the row to them. He’s holding a sheaf of papers in his hands. 

“Sorry, yes, I’m fine, Professor Keefer,” Steph says, wiping at her eyes.

“If you’re quite sure…” the man says, looking not at all at home in the face of a crying twentysomething. “I wanted to congratulate you on your latest quiz.” He places a paper on the desk in front of her. It’s full of slashing red ink, and in the corner is a large, circled C+. “Improvement,” Keefer says, and picks his way back up the row and down to the front of the classroom.

Steph touches the circled grade with hesitant fingers. “Oh,” she says.

“Good job,” Tim says, trying out some more of this encouraging stuff.

“I mean, it’s still a shitty grade,” she says.

“C’s get degrees,” Tim says. “I only ever made C’s, back before I dropped out of high school. And D’s. I don’t think I ever got a C+, Miss Smartypants.”

Steph grins and tucks the quiz away in a pocket of her notebook. “All I have to do is pass this class,” she says. “Just for myself—and now, of course, because it’s the only way Damian’s going to high school.”

“You carry all of Dick’s hopes and dreams on your back,” Tim says seriously, and then Professor Keefer is calling the room to order, and he has to sit through an hour and fifteen minutes of a droning lecture on irregularities in neurotransmitters.

Then Steph has a class in forensic psychology and Tim ruins whatever brownie points he’d managed to earn by arguing loudly and at length with the hot young professor on the basic utility of the dark web, and only shuts up when Steph pats him on the back and surreptitiously digs her fingers into the most tender bruise on his shoulder.

“I don’t like Bring Your Brother to School Day,” Steph says as they head for home.

“Ha, so I am your brother,” Tim says, and she swats the back of his head.

They stop at a pizza place, and lug home four giant boxes. The afternoon is going long and golden at the edges, and it’s still a few hours before they’ll all need to be in costume and out on the town.

Cass has Damian in a headlock on the carpet when they walk through the door.

“Hello,” she says, twitching a foot to pin down one of Damian’s thrashing legs.

“Why’s she allowed to do that and I’m not?” Tim asks.

“Because she won’t accidentally kill him,” Steph says, dropping her pizzas on the table.

“It wouldn’t be an accident,” Tim says. Damian’s face is going purple. Finally he slaps the carpet with a free hand. Cass lets him go, and he rolls away, gasping.

“She got a lucky shot,” he says between heaving breaths.

“Do not…be petty,” Cass says. She picks herself up off the carpet as if she’d been having a tea party, not wrestling with a highly-trained child assassin.

Damian snorts. “I’ll take you for the best of three,” he says, squaring up again. Steph shoves a plate of pizza into his hands.

“My condo is not a gym,” she says. “I do have downstairs neighbors, you know.”

“Tomorrow, if—you want,” Cass says, taking her own pizza straight out of the box, no plate, and dropping a smattering of loose olives all over the carpet. Neither she, Steph, or Tim moves to do anything about it, and it’s Damian who finally crouches with a napkin.

“You all live like animals,” he says, face screwed up in disgust. “It’s unsanitary. Look at the state of this place.”

They glance around at the general chaos. Tim shrugs. “Every house should have its own ecosystem,” he says.

“Disgusting,” Damian says. 

There’s a rap on the door. Cass goes to answer it. “If it’s Alfred, don’t let him see the mess,” Steph says urgently.

“So you admit there is a mess,” Damian says, and then Cass opens the door and Jason is there in jeans and a hoodie, fist raised to knock again.

They all go very, very quiet. A shock goes down Tim’s spine, and then his stomach explodes in butterflies, which is humiliating. He glances at each face. Damian has stepped in front of Steph, having drawn a small blade apparently out of thin air. Steph and Cass have identical grins spreading across their faces, which is terrible and a sure sign that Tim should go ahead and make a quick exit out of the bathroom window. Jason himself looks taken aback.

“Didn’t know it was a party,” he says, shoving his hands in the front pocket of his black hoodie.

“I guess it is now,” Steph says, reaching over and plucking the knife from Damian’s fist. “Why don’t you come in?”

“Red Hood,” Cass says, inclining her head to him. She steps aside, allowing him to come through.

“Cassandra Cain,” Jason says gravely, and makes an aborted sort of bow.

“Todd!” Damian hisses. He’s resisting Steph’s attempts to push him out of her way. “Explain your presence immediately, before I drag you back to my father in handcuffs.”

“Whoa now, Robin,” Jason says, hands up, not at all intimidated. “Let’s keep things civil.”

“You crossed the line of civility long ago, Todd,” Damian says, and launches himself across the room. He uses the couch as a springboard to gain height and vaults over the back, aiming a kick to the side of Jason’s head. Jason grabs him bodily out of the air, turning his momentum against him and sending him to the floor with a room-shaking thud. Damian’s up again without pause, and this time he lands two taps to Jason’s chest and a solid kick to the back of one knee that has Jason stumbling. But Jason’s not fighting back, not really, just dodging and redirecting, mouth flat in concentration, and it does take real concentration to face off against Damian these days.

“Dami, quit,” Steph is saying. “Dami!” She steps into the fight, and with two neat moves pins Damian’s arms behind his back and pushes him against the wall. “Damian,” she says, low, leaning against him, mouth at his ear, and he subsides, going tense and then limp.

“Well, what is he here for, then,” Damian says, with venom.

“I imagine he wanted some pizza,” Steph says, with forced cheerfulness. “Cass, don’t you think we have way too much pizza for four people?”

“We have a lot—lot of pizza,” Cass says. “Would you…like some?”

“Sure, why not?” Jason says. He’s gingerly bending the leg that Damian kicked.

“Tim, give him pizza,” Steph orders, and Tim obeys mechanically, loading a slice onto a paper towel. Jason comes to take it out of his hands.

“Tracker in your boot, sorry,” Jason says. He’s trying to catch Tim’s gaze, and Tim won’t let him. “This isn’t a safehouse, is it,” Jason says. He catches one of the discarded pieces of clothing lying around with the tip of his boot and flips it up into his hands. It’s a sundress, blue and white. He lays it gently over the back of a chair.

“It’s Steph’s place,” Tim says, aligning the pizza boxes into a neat stack, just for something to do with his hands.

“Where…everyone…lives?” Jason says.

“Apparently,” Tim says.

There’s a beat where they both look at the pizza in Jason’s hands. Jason deposits it untouched on top of the boxes. “Listen,” he says, low.

“Fuck off,” Tim says.

Listen,” Jason says, and Tim walks away. Jason comes after him, and fine, if they’re going to do this, they’re at least going to do this where Damian isn’t listening in, plotting blackmail and probably murder. He slips through the bathroom window and jumps across to the roof of the neighboring building. Jason lands beside him.

“I was going to kill him anyway,” Jason says, without preamble. “He’s the kind of guy I take out. Circumstances just made things a little quicker.”

“I said no killing,” Tim says.

“And I don’t care what you said,” Jason says. He gives an almost-laugh. “I don’t care what Dick says or Bruce says or what Mahatma Gandhi says, so I sure as hell don’t care what your opinions are, Little Red. I don’t take orders from you.”

Tim glares out at the tangle of rooftops and power lines. “Great talk. Thanks for stopping by to share that with me. You can leave now.”

“Why didn’t you care before? There were a couple days very recently where I distinctly remember you weren’t acting this pissy. I’m pretty sure you weren’t suffering under any delusions of my essential goodness.”

The scattered clouds are thickening and evening is coming on, light bleeding away like there’s a dimmer on the whole world. Tim isn’t sure what to say. Steph’s right: he’s a hypocrite. “I suppose I just don’t like people being murdered in front of me,” Tim says, deciding, for once, that anger is a more comfortable state than self-recrimination. “Guess I’m weird like that.”

“Man, fuck you,” Jason says. “I’m trying to understand you, here, and you’re being a douche.”

“What’s so hard to understand, Jason?” Tim says, getting louder. “My loyalty’s all tied up. I follow the same code you used to, before you apparently decided it was too hard.”

“Oh, is that what happened?” Jason says, his own voice rising. “I must have been too dead to notice.”

“Well, you’re not dead now,” Tim says. “And you picked off six Scarecrow men last week.”

“Oh, you’re mad about that now, too? How about the week before that? Two pimps and a slum lord, and somewhere in September I think I took out about twelve pedophiles. Gonna yell at me about pedophiles, now?”

“Yeah, I am!” Tim yells, and he is yelling, now. “I’ll yell at you about the pedophiles and the gangsters and the skinheads! You don’t get a pass, just because they’re scum!”

“Then why did you sleep with me?” Jason shouts, way too loud.

“It must have been a temporary lapse in judgment,” Tim shouts back. “My mistake. Sorry for wasting your time, so again, you can fucking leave now.”

“Well, I don’t want to!” Jason roars, and then they both go quiet. “I don’t want to,” Jason says again, voice pitched rough and low, turning his face away. “You want to walk away? Fine. But I’m not ready to do that.”

Tim takes a breath, and then another. There’s color on Jason’s cheeks that’s not from the cool air, and he’s glaring at the ground. Something in Tim’s chest twists. “I don’t…want to,” Tim says, slowly, and Jason’s head comes up. “But surely… Surely I have to.” And here it is: the truth. Because Tim doesn’t want to walk away from Jason, and he’s feeling forced to it, forced by his sense of what crosses Bruce’s line.

So much of what’s inside him is an aching desperation to be good, to do right, to put heel to toe on the path Bruce and Dick lay out for him. And when he falls off the path, when he doesn’t care that Jason kills people—that hurts worse than anything. It exposes that underlyingdarkness inside of him, that slushy pit of dirty snow, that place he locks away and keeps hidden from Dick.

Jason’s closed the distance between them, and his hand comes up to Tim’s neck, fingers delicate on the bruises. Tim feels it like fire, and he wants—he wants.

“You don’t have to,” Jason says, and does he know he sounds like he’s pleading?

“I do,” Tim says.

“You don’t,” Jason says, and kisses him.

It’s electric. All of Tim’s nerves jump online, and without even thinking he wraps his arms around Jason’s neck. He wants him, he wants him, he wants him.

“I came to bring you home with me,” Jason says, after a long time.

“Yeah,” Tim says. His mouth tingles. “Okay.”

Jason’s bike is parked on the street. They go down the fire escape, and Tim takes the stairs at a walk. He feels clumsy, unsure of his limbs, not ready to flip over the railings and scale the scaffolding. Jason’s there with a hand hot on his back, and Tim lets himself be lead.

The wind whips through Tim’s hair on the back of Jason’s bike. His stomach cramps. He wants this. He doesn’t want it. He does. It’s bad, it’s wrong, it’s so good Tim can’t believe it, can’t trust that it’s real. He has Dick in his head, disappointed, and Bruce in his head, coldly furious. And he has Jason in front of him, solid, warm, deeply vulnerable. Tim’s chest presses against Jason’s back. He balls his fists in the thick fabric of Jason’s hoodie. Jason smells like laundry detergent and soap and musty cigarette smoke. Tim breathes deep and holds the smell in his lungs.

Jason leaves his bike in an alley and they walk the rest of the way to the luxury highrise, both of them trudging along in silence. Jason flashes a card to the doorman, who touches his hat and drags open the great shining metal colossus of a door. The lobby is deserted, desk unmanned. They take the elevator up.

Tim follows Jason inside his empty apartment, with its hideous couch and wide, blank floors. The door shuts behind him with finality.

“Do you want to talk?” Jason asks.

“I don’t want to talk,” Tim says.

“Fair enough,” says Jason, and comes to kiss him again. Tim is hesitant, tentative, unsure and trying not to be unsure, trying to own his decision. He feels, again, as though he’s not in control of the situation. He thinks and plans and then he throws all his thoughts and plans in the woodchipper. It’s terrifying. It’s not him, it’s not how he operates. Tim is a mentalist, a strategist, a mini-Bruce with backups for his backups. And here with Jason, none of that seems to matter. His body does things without asking permission from his brain. He’s scared. Tim is scared.

“Hey,” Jason says, pulling back. “You sure we don’t need to talk?”

“I don’t want to fucking talk,” Tim says. He yanks at Jason’s belt until he gets it open and pushes down Jason’s jeans. He’s on his knees in a moment, putting his mouth to Jason’s length through the fabric of his boxers.

“Oh man,” Jason says, dropping a hand to Tim’s head. Jason’s half-hard. His cock jumps under Tim’s mouth, filling up and going harder. Tim pulls down Jason’s boxers and approaches the situation with an analytical mind. He’s only ever blown Bernard Dowd. Jason’s a lot bigger than Bernard Dowd. He licks up the base and closes his mouth over the head, easing down until he’s fighting his gag reflex, throat constricting with the effort. He pulls back until he’s comfortable again and wraps his hand around what he can’t fit in his mouth. Then it’s a matter of sucking and moving and watching his teeth. A controlled act, something Tim can be good at. Something Tim can plan for.

Jason’s murmuring something above him, but Tim’s not listening. He tunes it out like he tunes out screaming during a fight: just background noise, a distraction. Jason’s leaking at the tip, a steady trickle of salt on Tim’s tongue. His balls are tight. Tim’s been on his knees a long time, but he knows this only distantly, absorbed in his task with his whole focus. He twists his grip and breathes through his nose. The hardwood is making his knees go numb. He works his tongue against Jason’s cock, up to the tip and back down the shaft, and then Jason’s hand tightens in his hair, tugging a burn into his scalp, and Tim moans without meaning to. He suddenly realizes how hard he is. He hadn’t noticed. But now it’s all he’s noticing, the aching need between his legs, the delicate pain in his scalp, Jason hot and musky in his mouth. He squeezes himself with his free hand and his hips twitch. It’s like waking up from a fog, feeling every inch of himself light up. He pops the fly on his jeans and works his hand into his underwear, closing around himself. His rhythm falters on Jason and he chokes, and Jason gently pulls away and sinks to his knees with Tim.

“Take these off,” Jason says roughly, cupping a hand over Tim’s crotch, over the open jeans and underwear and Tim’s own moving fingers. Tim peels them off, and his shirt too, and Jason takes him on his lap and wraps both their cocks in one hand. Jason’s slick and wet from precome and Tim’s spit, and Tim slides against him easily. The skin of Jason’s free hand is rough and dry with callouses that catch on Tim’s scars as Jason drags his palm down Tim’s back. Tim drapes his arms over Jason’s shoulders and rocks up into his grip. Jason’s mouth is slack and Tim can feel Jason’s thighs shudder beneath him, and then Jason gasps and comes. He closes his eyes when it passes and leans his forehead against Tim’s, a gesture that Tim finds shockingly intimate, much more so than anything they’ve done so far. He’s not sure how he feels about it yet, but he doesn’t pull away.

Slowly Jason’s hand starts up again, only on Tim’s cock, this time, and his free hand trails down to Tim’s ass. Tim has to reach back and stop him. “Sorry, sore,” he whispers, and Jason leans back and grins at him, eyebrows going up.

“Is that right, Little Red?” he says, looking far too pleased with himself.

“I think the proper reaction is an apology,” Tim says, flicking Jason’s ear.

“You’re right,” Jason says. “I’m so very sorry. I hope you’ll forgive me one day,” and Tim wants to say something cutting in return, but Jason’s twisting his grip and thumbing the head of Tim’s cock, and he can’t. Tim pushes his face into Jason’s shoulder and lets Jason finish him, rolling up into Jason’s fist, letting his hips jerk. His muscles spasm when he comes, and his fingers twist tight in Jason’s hoodie. 

For seating options, Jason’s apartment offers the bare hardwood, the awful green couch, or the mattress on the floor. Tim chooses the mattress, and when they’re sprawled out, it feels like the safehouse last night, like the bed is a bubble of safety where there are no bad decisions.

“So what’s the deal with that apartment I found you in?” Jason asks, propped up against the wall on the one pillow. He’s buttoned back into his jeans. Tim’s pulled his shirt and underwear back on, and is on his stomach, cheek pillowed on his arms.

“It’s Steph’s condo,” Tim says. “Bruce put her name on the deed.”

“You live there?”

“Sometimes,” Tim says. “Everyone else drops in and out.”

“Thought everybody was all pretty cozy up at the big house,” Jason says, a little hesitantly.

“We all need a break from Dick sometimes,” Tim says.

“What about your boss?”

“He’s never around,” Tim says. “He travels or stays at the Penthouse, mostly. I see him in the field.”

“Huh,” Jason says, face carefully blank. Tim knows better than to go stomping around on such clearly thin ice. Jason glances at him from the corner of his eye, and then says, “Rather than killing Rodney, I dropped him off with the police.”

Tim narrows his eyes. “Am I supposed to be grateful?”

Jason blinks. “Oh, excuse me,” he says. “He doesn’t know who you are. I checked.”

“And you would have killed him if he had,” Tim says, voice level.

Jason shrugs. Tim has been around him long enough by now to read the truth in the set of his shoulders. He supposes another man might think it’s sweet. “I also tracked down the supplier giving Jordan the experimental European AIDS drugs,” Jason says. “The supplier is giving them to me, now.”

Now Tim is grateful, but he’ll never let Jason know. “I see,” he says.

“I wanna keep an eye on the place,” Jason says. “Adonis. I’ll give it a week, and then come sniffing around. You can never be sure you’re snipping every loose end, with these things.” Tim doesn’t answer. The silence drags on, and Jason can’t handle it. Tim watches him become more and more uncomfortable, which is funny, in a distant sort of way. “You could come too, if you wanted,” Jason finally says, throwing the offer down like he’s ashamed of it.

“Oh, I could, could I?” Tim says, drawing it out, watching Jason squirm.

“Well, you’re useful to have around,” Jason says.

“Oh, I’m useful, am I?” Tim says, and Jason digs the heels of his palms into his eyes.  

“Would you quit?” he says. “I’m trying to—”

It hangs in the air between them.

“Trying to what?” Tim says, locking eyes. He wants to hear it. He wants to make him say it.

“Fuck, I don’t know,” Jason says, dropping his gaze and looking away. His jaw clenches. “Definitely not apologize, that’s for damn sure.”

“God forbid you ever apologize,” Tim says, icy.

“God forbid you ever take the stick out of your ass,” Jason bites back, and then he stops, and takes a breath, and then he says, “I’m trying to keep you around, okay?”

“Oh,” Tim says, trying not to sound as surprised as he feels. He wasn’t expecting that answer. Jason glances at him and then away again, and it comes to him that Jason is embarrassed. Tim is filled with a rush of the same thing he felt in Adonis, while Jason was giving Tim his phone number. It takes a moment for him to place the feeling as fondness. “Oregano, right?”

“What?” Jason says, caught off guard.

“Your phone number. 609-oregano.”

“I dumped that burner,” Jason says. “New one is 609-buckeye.”

“Let me give you a Wayne phone,” Tim says. “Top-level encryption. You wouldn’t need so many burners.”

“I’d rather not be dragging around anything called Wayne,” Jason says.

The joke is just lying there. “Guess I’ll leave, then,” Tim says, not even pretending to move.

“Present company excepted,” Jason says, and Tim smiles, and Jason looks so relieved that Tim cuts the crap.

“I have your idiotic phone number,” Tim says. “Guess I’m sticking around.” And he knows it’s true. He feels his rabbity brain settle into the decision with finality, and finally, finally, he feels the tension he’s been carrying drain away, like water into sand.

“Well good, then,” Jason says, working to control his face, which is trying to break into a grin.

“Yeah,” Tim says.

“Okay.”

“Sure.”

“I’m going to pee,” Jason says, and leverages himself up off the mattress.

What he’s probably going to do is to hide for a minute until he can stop embarrassing himself, but Tim lets him have it. He digs his phone from the pocket of his jeans, which are balled up next to the mattress. He has thirteen texts from Steph.

u realize Jason just screamed

that u 2 are hving sex

 for th whole world to hear!!!

for Dami to hear!!!!

I can’t fix that for u!

idk where u 2 went but u better have a nice final fuck

bc I think Dami will kill u both when he sees u next.

nice knowing u bb boy!

srsly r u ok

he didn’t kill u rite?

I’ll kill him if he killed u

Tim dammit text me!

ok fine ur dead and I’m gonna avenge u

Tim closes his eyes. Damian knows. Damian knows. Oh, Christ.

I’m fine, had a nice final fuck, please corral Damian, he texts back. He drops his phone off the side of the mattress and buries his face in his arms. That’s exactly what he needs. He just hopes to hell Damian keeps it from Dick. Of course, there’s a good chance he will, considering what he knows Tim has on him.

There’s a flush and the sound of the sink running. The bathroom door opens and Jason’s back, with newfound confidence in tow. He kneels on the bed and squeezes Tim’s ass, which Tim enjoys. “Gonna be the death of me. Want me to eat you out?” He leaves his hand there, hot and huge.

Tim bites down hard on his lip. He does, very much so, and he wants it right the fuck now, but there’s no way he’ll want just Jason’s tongue and nothing else. “Maybe tomorrow,” he says, which feels very heroic and self-sacrificing. “I need to get back to Steph’s to deal with some things,” he says, standing and reaching for his jeans.

“Oh, right,” Jason says, looking suddenly unsure, and Tim can’t leave it like this. He’s not sure what will happen if he leaves it like this.

“If you wanted,” he begins, slowly, “you could stop by the condo again sometime. Just if you wanted.”

“Yeah, maybe so,” Jason says, and there’s relief bleeding in at the edges of his voice.

“Fair warning, Damian will try to kill you again,” Tim says.

“I like Damian,” Jason says.

“Not you too,” Tim groans.

“He’s Talia through and through,” Jason says. Tim’s unsure if Damian would take that as a deep compliment or a grave insult. It could really go either way.

“I’m going now,” Tim says, buttoning his fly. His shoes are in the living room. Jason watches him leave from the bed.

“Tim,” he says.

“Yeah?” Tim says, turning, looking back into the bedroom, one shoe on and the other in his hand.

“…Nothing,” Jason says, and there’s an odd, unreadable look on his face, something fragile, easily crushed. Tim smiles, and leaves.

Four streets away, in the back of an Uber, Tim pulls out his phone and updates Jason’s contact. He taps out a new message.

See you soon.