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The Fiancé(e) Façade

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Jason tugs at the itchy collar of the stupid polo shirt he’s wearing as part of his cover and scans the room, searching the numerous exhibits for the telltale sparkles that brought him here. It’s not the first time he’s attended an event in the Hotel Belle Monico ballroom, but it’s sure as hell the first time it’s been a bridal expo and not a gala.

Nothing quite like liberating a long-lost heirloom necklace or brooch right off some entitled jerk and then returning it to the rightful owner later. He just wishes his current job were that simple.

The damn place is fucking packed, crowds thronging slowly through the rows of booths while vendors try to reel people in with fast talk, charisma, and a goddamn truckload of free shit. The plastic bag he has draped over his shoulder is testament to that, considering it’s already filled with swag and he’s only been here for half an hour. He has no idea what he’s even going to do with all of it after this case is solved.

Well, he’d better not forget and leave it around the apartment, or Tim’s sure as hell going to get the wrong idea. And while they’ve been together a solid month now and things are going great between them—he involuntarily remembers last night and mentally corrects that to really great, bordering on incredible—they’re definitely nowhere near ready for wedding bells.

Still, it would’ve been nice to have his boyfriend here with him. None of these vendors seem to be taking him seriously, and he’s starting to suspect it’s because he’s the lone dude wandering around in a sea of happy couples and groups of giggling women clearly made up of brides accompanied by their mothers and best friends.

Whatever, he has a mystery to solve. And Tim’s buried in one of his own cases, so it wouldn’t be fair to ask him to take time out to help Jason with this. Although he’d sure as hell make the time pass faster, and he’d look damn cute in a tiara. Jason smirks, then forces himself to focus.

Maybe he can keep one of the tiaras when this is over. It definitely wouldn’t be the first time he kept a souvenir from one of his jobs. Tim might even like this one more than the scarab pendant he lifted off the Mistral that one time. Probably not, but hey, a guy can dream.

Suppressing the urge to sigh, he finally locates the next potential suspects. The exhibit, set up as a mini showroom with bright lights and an opulent display of jewelry arranged on plush cushions and sleek furniture, definitely fits the bill for what he’s looking for. As he approaches, he spots what looks like some gorgeous tiaras sparkling in the center of the main display.

Bingo.

“Hey there,” he says, trying to flag down the older man who seems to be in charge of the booth. The guy’s currently smiling at a young girl and someone who’s clearly her mother, both of whom seem nervous but interested in the necklaces he’s showing them. The man displays just a few too many teeth when he grins, and the expression doesn’t reach his eyes.

Jason frowns, his irritation growing as the salesman upsells the pair despite their hesitance and they end up leaving with twice as much jewelry as they came for.

Jerk.

Still, being an asshole doesn’t make the guy guilty of smuggling blood diamonds. Putting on his best clueless idiot with money grin, Jason steps forward. “Hello, I’m looking for…” He trails off, staring in offended disbelief as the man walks straight past him to start assisting a young couple who just approached. “What the fuck? Am I invisible or something?”

He spots a second associate who just finished helping another group, and makes eye contact with her. Clearing his throat, he steps forward. “Hi, I’d like to see your—” The woman blinks, eyes him up and down and then begins to move away. Jason’s really starting to get pissed now. “Hey—”

Just as he’s probably about to say something that, while very satisfying in the moment, will not be conducive to moving this job forward, there’s a hand on his arm and a bubbly female voice in his ear that giggles and coos, “Ooh, sparkly! Are these the ones with the really big crystals? You know how much I like ‘em big.”

He turns his head, not quite sure if he actually recognized that voice, but sure enough, there’s Stephanie Brown. What the fuck is Tim’s ex doing here? The blonde grins up at him and tosses a saucy wink, then slides herself right up against him. She twines an arm around his, holding his hand, and rests her chin on his bicep.

Jason briefly considers shaking her off, but then she’d be pissed. Anyway, Blondie doesn’t understand personal space bubbles—she’s a lot like Dick that way.

“May I help you?” The previously dismissive attendant is smiling at them now, bright and sunny.

Well, if being part of a supposed couple works in his favor… Jason grins. Fuck it, he’ll wait until later to find out exactly what Steph’s doing here. Chances are, she could just be working the same diamond-smuggling ring he is from a different angle.

Might as well take advantage of her presence and team up.

Jason turns back to the now miraculously attentive-looking woman, and smiles. “We’re looking for crystal tiaras,” he says, then smirks. “Bunny here fuckin’ loves ‘em.”

Her brief glare at his spur-of-the-moment nickname is fucking awesome.

It’s less awesome when she simpers and nods. “Yeah, and Eustace here just wants me to be happy!” She somehow manages to turn her subsequent snicker into a socially acceptable giggle as she looks up at him and coos, “Stacy, you’re the best!”

He’s going to kill her.

Over the course of the next couple of hours, Jason quickly realizes that while he’s better at identifying gems on the fly, Stephanie is a goddamn natural at pretending to be a bride who demands she be a princess on “her” special day. She’s clearly banking on her blondeness to play bridezilla, and it’s almost disturbing how easily he slips into the role of her long-suffering fiancé.

Unfortunately, the damn blood diamonds don’t seem to be here. Which makes tracking down the assholes smuggling them into the country, mounted in supposedly genuine crystal bridal tiaras, a hell of a lot harder.

“Well, that was a bust,” Steph snorts, then sucks down another gulp of her cotton candy frap with extra whip. They’re sitting in the hotel lobby coffee shop, so they’ve still got to watch what they say just in case someone overhears, but they’re both used to speaking in veiled terms.

Jason’s pretty sure he’s getting diabetes just watching her. He takes a sip of his way superior drink, appreciating the black tea even as he tries not to look at the pink abomination in Steph’s hands. “Yeah,” he says, frowning. “There are a couple more expos scheduled over the next few days. Guess I’ll have to hit those up.”

A loud slurp draws his attention back to the woman sitting across from him. She grins. “Team up?”

And yeah. Considering the way those stuck-up exhibitors wouldn’t give him the time of day until Blondie showed up, faking being a couple sounds like the best way to crack this case. “Why the fuck not?” They clink their paper cups together, grinning.

Hell, this might even be fun.

 


 

Turns out Jason’s not wrong. Stephanie Brown is, by all counts, a pretty decent work partner. Not only is she fiercely street smart in a way Jason definitely approves of, she doesn’t shower away all the hot water when they check into the same room at the hotel where the next expo is being held as part of their cover, nor does she kick in her sleep. She’s also not too shabby when it comes to researching buyers, bringing a handful of her own contacts to the table and displaying a wicked sense of humor by making timely wisecracks. Jason absolutely enjoys her company and can foresee an epic friendship on the horizon.

Now, if only she didn’t eat the most atrocious combinations of junk food known to mankind. Mustard on pickled onion flavored chips. Who the fuck eats mustard on pickled onion flavored chips? Jason shudders, only to have his thoughts interrupted by the very loud crunch of said chips.

He turns away, then finds himself staring, horrified, at her bowl of ice cream with french fries on it, drizzled lightly with ketchup like the sundae from hell. He wants to look away from the culinary cataclysm, but they’re literally surrounded by food carnage. Plates of peanut butter and grilled cheese sandwiches, American cheese topped with whipped cream, and chocolate chip pancakes slathered with soy sauce surround them on the couch. Pumpkin pie covered in maple syrup and Twizzler bits, fried rice lovingly sprinkled with licorice, and carrot sticks loaded down with confetti frosting used as an unholy substitute for dip are spread out all across the coffee table in front of them like the feast from hell.

Steph ordered everything on the damn room service menu, and then for some godforsaken reason known only to her, she combined it all because apparently she’s the depraved Frankenstein of food. Why didn’t Tim warn him about this? Then again, his boyfriend has a habit of putting just about anything in his mouth when he’s distracted solving a case. Jason’s had to rescue him from drinking days-old coffee more than once.

“Just try it,” Steph demands, shoving another abomination-laden chip into her mouth. He tries not to look, but it’s too late.

Jason grimaces. “Was that ice cream and ketchup? Did you dip your chip in the—” He cuts off as she shoves something into his mouth. About to spit it out on principle, he pauses. It’s a french fry dipped in ice cream, he realizes after a moment. Cold sweetness melts across his tongue as he bites through hot, salty crispness. The blend of savory and sweet flavors is intense and he finds himself chewing and swallowing.

Looking up, he sees a shit-eating grin on Steph’s face. Also a glob of ketchup. He rolls his eyes. “Fine, that one’s not so bad. But literally everything else you are eating right now is an abomination.”

“Don’t judge before you’ve tried everything. Or wait, go ahead, that just leaves more delicious food for me—” She cuts off as a chime draws her attention to her phone and jams the rest of her chip in her mouth to free her hand up so she can reach for it. Glancing at the screen, she does an actual spit-take, spraying chip crumbs across the couch.

“Gross,” Jason glares at a crumb that landed on his arm.

“Don’t be a baby,” Steph says, picking it up and then eating it. What the fuck. She catches his probably judgmental expression and rolls her eyes. “Whatever, food’s food.”

Well, he can’t argue with that. “Yeah, whatever.”

“Anyway,” she blows past anything he might’ve been about to say, “you might wanna check your phone.” Not waiting for him to do so, she leans over and shows him hers. “We definitely managed to establish our cover, at least?”

Jason eyes the phone warily before leaning over to look. And oh, shit. That’s pictures of him and Steph, hanging all over each other, plastered across every local news feed and—he checks—trending on Twitter, with the hashtag Gotham D-lister finally moving on.

The headlines range from the mostly neutral, like Stephanie Brown, Former Squeeze of Tim Wayne, Finally Finds the One? to the less flattering Gold Digger, at it Again.

He can’t help snorting a laugh at that one. Then his phone chimes in his pocket, just as it dawns on him that Tim might, possibly, have a problem with his current boyfriend seemingly dating his ex.

Shit.

Well, might as well check. If Tim’s upset, he can smooth things over and—

Jason stares at his phone screen, a little smile growing on his face as he reads Tim’s text.

Tim: If you and Steph are going to be working that job for a few days, want me to feed Antigone?

A moment later, the phone chimes again with another message.

Tim: Btw when the job’s over we’ll just say you guys were bonding over stories about me, no worries.

Damn, Jason loves this guy. Keying in a response, he smirks.

Jason: That works. Or we can say we were just there for the free cake

Tim: I want cake

Jason: Then come have some with us when you’re done with your case

Tim: Will do

Jason: Thanks for feeding Tig

Tim: 😉

“Damn, you’ve got it bad for him,” Steph says, breaking his concentration. Jason shoves his phone back in his pocket, feeling his face heat. He scowls, defensive, then deflates when she continues. “You’re good together. He’s… happier, now.”

Fuck, that’s kinda loaded. But she’s smiling, seeming genuinely pleased for them, so Jason relaxes. “Yeah, things have been great.”

“So,” Steph says, picking up a frosting-covered carrot stick and biting in with a loud crunch while he stares in mesmerized horror, “the case. I think we should take advantage of the fact that a lot of the exhibitors for the next expo are going to be arriving at the hotel tonight. Maybe go down to dinner, or the pool tomorrow.”

Jason nods, catching her drift. “See if we can get anyone talking, or overhear something. Hell, with the hype around us now, someone might even approach us trying to make a sale. Some of those articles made it seem like I have money and that’s why you’re with me.” Wincing, he realizes that might’ve sounded kinda insensitive, but she’s nodding, a determined gleam in her eye.

Catching his expression, Steph gives him a rueful look. “People are constantly misjudging or underestimating me. I’ve just learned to use it to my advantage. Let’s see how we can spin this situation to ours.” And she grins.

Yeah, Jason’s definitely starting to like her.

 


 

 

Tim crouching down and watching Antigone the fluffy cat silently judge the food and water bowls he has refilled for her.
Tim Buying Off the One Opinion That Matters. Art by Azemex.

 


 

The water sparkles blindingly in the rare Gotham sunlight, and Steph takes full advantage of the opportunity to bask on one of the chaise longues. Jason sits at her side, dutifully anointing her back with sunscreen every time she asks. “This is the best,” she says, slurping her strawberry daiquiri and then sprawling back, grinning. She’s wearing an eggplant-colored bikini and the hugest heart-shaped sunglasses Jason’s ever seen. Also eggplant-colored, of course.

“I guess it’s not half bad,” he allows, tilting his head back and downing half his beer. “I’ve had worse jobs.”

The hotel is swanky enough guests don’t even have to leave the pool to get a cocktail. As he watches, an older man who’s been pretending to do laps trying to impress the women sunning themselves on the chaise longues snaps his fingers in the air, summoning a martini and then smirking like he materialized the damn thing from thin air while the poor, exhausted waiter scurries off.

Steph leans over like she’s going to murmur something sweet in his ear. “Your murder glare is showing again,” she whispers, then grins brightly when another camera flashes in their vicinity. “C’mon, smile and look pretty for the paps.”

“I don’t think they give a fuck if I’m smiling,” he says, but tries to oblige.

She turns to look at him, then snorts and chokes on her own laughter. “Oh my god, no. That’s worse. Just go back to the way you were!”

Rolling his eyes, Jason takes another sip of his beer as another camera flash goes off. You’d think the paparazzi would have better things to do than stalk a D-list local celebrity whose only known claim to fame was dating the heir to a billionaire back when she was in her teens. You’d be wrong.

His eyes narrow as he overhears something that sounds promising, and he jerks his head to get Stephanie to shut it. Following his gaze, she nods and then leans back in her chair, pretending to fall asleep while he gazes at her soulfully or whatever the fuck people expect engaged couples to do.

Meanwhile, Jason focuses on the conversation, searching for a repeat of the name he thought he caught before. It’s the pair of older men who sat at the chaise longues just a couple down from them after coming up to congratulate them and shmooze earlier. All that free publicity is finally paying off and bringing the suspects right to them.

Both men had made a point of checking out Steph’s rack the entire time, the dicks. If these guys turns out to be involved in the blood diamond smuggling, it’s going to be extra satisfying knocking those smug looks off their faces later.

“The shipment’s going to be on time,” the bald one is saying. Fritz, Jason remembers.

The other guy, Smith, chuckles. “Oh, yes. Our buyers will be very pleased. They’ll be here in time for the show, no doubt of that now.”

“Are you sure?” Fritz presses, sounding cautious. As well he should, considering if they’re talking about what Jason suspects, there’s over a million dollars in blood diamonds at stake just in this one shipment. According to his sources, there should be fifty genuine diamond bridal tiaras valued at over twenty thousand dollars each, disguised and hidden among crystal tiaras worth about three hundred bucks a pop. And unless he and Blondie manage to intervene, those smuggled diamond tiaras are going to be sold off tomorrow in shady black market deals hidden among the genuine legal sales being conducted at the expo.

“Positive,” Smith answers. “Fratelli took care of everything.”

Fratelli. The middleman his earlier research had linked to the sources of the diamonds, but who’d dropped right the hell off the radar once he had them in his possession. Bingo. Beside him, Steph’s body goes perfectly still and Jason has to physically suppress the urge to grin. It’s definitely them. Turning, he meets her eyes, and in an uncoordinated but perfectly timed move, they clink their drinks together.

“Fuckin’ cheers,” he says, knocking back the rest of his bottle. It’s a sign of how long he’s been sitting here that he barely even twitches when a waiter instantly swoops in to replace it.

“Damn straight.” Steph tilts her head, then gives an exaggerated little pout. “Schmoopsie, you’re burning!”

“Huh?” Jason looks down, and yeah, his shoulders do look a little red. “Ah, hell.” Maybe sometime between all those infinite sunscreen applications on Steph, they should’ve considered slathering some on him, too. But putting it on her was a good way to attract potential perps, sleazy as that is.

“Let’s get you inside,” she fusses, dragging him away. He snags both their drinks, waves apologetically at their friends as they blow past, and ends up in their room, getting aloe rubbed on his aching shoulders.

Steph pauses in her painfully enthusiastic application. “Hey, wait. Is Tim done with his thing yet? Now that we have this case practically nailed down, I think we could kinda use his help. You know, at the expo tomorrow, to carry all the bling we’re going to end up getting.”

“How we gonna explain that, though? This whole cover’s gonna get pretty damn convoluted if we try to work him in. I mean, he is your ex.” The paparazzi would probably go nuts if Tim shows up here, expecting drama and fights and blood in the water or whatever.

“And current best friend. He’s my man of honor, obviously. Besides, having a bunch of reporters causing chaos might just be the distraction we need.” She cackles gleefully, and huh. That actually sounds like a damn good plan.

“I’m in,” he says. “But there better be cake.”

“Oh, hell yeah!” Steph says, clinking their drinks together again. “After this is over, we are so all going to that cake tasting I scheduled.”

He blinks in surprise. “Wait, you really scheduled a cake tasting?”

“Authenticity is the basis for a good disguise, Jason!” She snickers. “Plus, how often do you get to try twelve kinds of cake at the most exclusive bakery in the city? I don’t know about you, but that’s exactly how I want to celebrate cracking this case, especially since Bruce’ll be footing the bill.”

“Fuck yeah.” Jason can get behind that.

 

Stephanie looking gorgeous with her daiquiri as she reclines in her tasteful two-piece while Jason sits nearby, looking redder than a ripe tomato.
Bridezilla and the Burglar. Art by clarityhiding.

 


 

What’s left of their dinner is scattered around on the table before them, along with about a dozen fliers and brochures offering everything from wedding florists to honeymoon venues. He and Steph—well, mostly Steph—are playing up their cover while keeping an eye and ear on Smith and Fritz, who are enjoying their meal a few tables over.

It isn’t too likely that they’ll try to move the merchandise before the wedding expo tomorrow, but there’s always a chance they’ll change their modus operandi. Anyway, eating in the hotel restaurant is a damn good way to make sure Steph orders something actually resembling food instead of the monstrosities she creates when left to her own devices. Also, the paparazzi are circling, and annoying as those vultures are, it won’t hurt to solidify their cover even further before tomorrow. The last thing they need is Smith or Fritz starting to suspect they aren’t genuine customers when the time comes.

Jason is halfway through a catalogue of pictures displaying different themes and color schemes when Steph’s phone begins playing modem dial-up noises. He nearly twitches at the unexpected sound, but Steph hums and fishes it out to accept the call with a funny little smile on her face, so he breathes out through his nose and goes back to grumbling under his breath at how ecru and eggshell are barely any different.

 “Hey loser, what’s up?” she says, tucking the phone between her ear and her shoulder. She continues to flip through the flower catalog as she chats with the caller, blithely ignoring the pap hovering just out of hearing range.

“Hey Blondie,” he interjects, “did you want lilac or lavender?”

“Hold on a sec, nerd wonder—I said eggplant and lilac, with accents of gold and plum red.”

“Seriously?” He raises his eyebrows, eyeing the selections critically. “That’s a lot of purple, isn’t it?”

“I picked those for a reason you doof—sorry, Tim—that’s the plan because dammit, I want my favorite color at my wedding and that’s what matches,” she shoots back.

Jason’s ears ignore the latter half of that sentence. “You’re talking to Tim right now?” he says, trying hard to keep casual and hopefully not encourage the eavesdropping paps, who have edged even closer. Given the sudden series of flashes behind them, he did not succeed. Thankfully, his excitement wins out over his exasperation.

“Yuuup~” Steph drawls, popping the ‘p’ as she grins at him mischievously over the book. “Jealous, pookie?”

“Should I be?” He can hear faint laughter from the phone speakers, and it sends a thrill of longing through him. Okay, maybe he does miss his disaster of a boyfriend and wants to hear his voice. But nobody needs to know that, and it’s only been a couple days, he’ll live.

“Nah. He’s just telling me about how his bro is pressing him for details about the wedding.”

Jason can believe it, Nightwing is a pushy one. “Is the Golden boy pouting over being left out of the loop?”

“Oh yeah, he’s moping around like a sad puppy. Anyway, you were saying?” She goes back to Tim, and Jason finds himself straining his ears to listen despite his best efforts. The nearest pap starts to inch closer.

“Definitely! He’s being a real doll! Isn’t that right, snookums?”

Jason gives her a lascivious smile and bats his eyelashes in response. “I’m being a right, angel, aren’t I?” he purrs back.

“Mm-hm, sounds about right. A perfect gentleman, and everyone’s being so helpful!” Tim says something that makes her bark out a laugh. “Oh yeah? Not a problem, ex-boyfriend of mine. See you soon!”

Jason is tempted to ask her not to hang up, but he spots their targets standing in preparation to leave and refocuses. Mission first. “Now for the real question—which roses look better, lover boy?”

 


 

“Hello, losers,” Tim says, kicking the door open and rolling in his suitcase. “I’m here to gatecrash the couple’s getaway.”

Steph tackles him into a hug. “Tim!”

Jason lets his dopey, soppy heart swell for about two seconds max before Tim’s appearance fully registers with him. “Tim,” he says. “We’re in a five-star hotel. Why the fuck are you wearing Crocs?”

Tim holds his feet up, showing off the glaringly bright, neon-yellow Crocs. “You like? They were on sale.”

Stephanie snorts. “See, Jason? This is why you can’t leave Tim by himself for more than three seconds. Last time I did that, he somehow managed to acquire a bulbasaur kigurumi, and the time before that, an actual fur—”

Tim squeezes Steph and lifts her up into the air. “I missed you guys, too,” he says loudly—and a tad too quickly in Jason’s opinion. “Not only is this rich coming from someone who dresses up as a bat in their spare time, but how about we focus on the case and not destroy what little dignity I have in front of Jason?”

“That’s okay,” Jason says, amused. “You don’t have to worry, babe. You never had any dignity in the first place.”

“Hey now,” Tim says.

“I knew what I was getting into from the first day,” Jason says. “You Bats aren’t half as slick as you think you are. But you’re right that we should finish this so we can get to the cake tasting as soon as possible.” Last night was a bust, Smith and Fritz heading back to their respective hotel rooms immediately after dinner, so now this whole job is riding on the wedding expo today. That’s fine. They’ve totally got this.

“You’re my man of honor now,” Steph says, kicking her feet until Tim lets her down. “I’m the baby of a bridezilla and a diva and I’m having the time of my life.”

“Ah,” Tim says. “So your cover is just yourself?”

“Shut up, bulbasaur,” Steph says. “Or I’m putting you in a dress that will do absolutely nothing for your figure. Not that you have one anyway.”

“Let’s not be too hasty,” Jason says. “A rectangle is a shape after all.” He and Steph keep their faces straight for barely half a minute before they devolve into a fit of giggles.

“Ah, I missed this,” Tim says. “I must be a fucking masochist, but I definitely missed this.”

 


 

The sash keeps making Jason smile.

Well, the combination of the sash and the utterly miserable expression on Tim’s face as he follows Steph around, half a dozen bags slung over his shoulders and her purse tucked under his arm. His mouth is twisted in a tiny little grimace and there's tension around the corners of his mouth. His cute little eyebrows are furrowed in concentration and he tries to hide a wince every time Steph's voice hits that one particular octave.

She’s in fine form today. A storm of purple track suit, flying blonde ponytail, and shrill demands for just about everything she sees. She's wearing a lilac-colored sash over one shoulder with the word "Bride To Be!" emblazoned in gold letters.

Tim's sporting a matching sash that says "Maid of Honor," only Steph’s crossed out the word "Maid" and written "Man" next to it with glitter glue. She’s also added a pin in purple and black leopard print that said "Fierce." He trails behind Hurricane Steph, pointedly readjusting the bags he’s carrying as she bounces from stand to stand in the exhibition hall. Jason follows behind both of them at a safe distance, trying to avoid the epicenter of Steph's chaotic rampage.

The sash absolutely stands out starkly against the tight black t-shirt Tim has on and every time it catches Jason's eye, he can't help but smile.

It doesn't take long for Steph to bound over to the booth they’ve identified as being run by the smugglers.

"Oh—oh! Oh, boys—here! Over here! Look at the sparklies!" Steph squeals as Tim winces and Jason wishes Steph wasn't enjoying herself so much. Her smile seems to get wider each time Tim shows signs of suffering.

The booth is set up against a wall in a square shape with locked display cases along three sides. Four employees, including Smith himself, are bustling around the displays, unlocking the glass cases with tiny golden keys to show potential buyers their wares. There's no cash register, just a tablet with a small block for swiping credit cards. A large sign sways above the booth on spindly supports, black with white letters. It that reads "Emile's Fine Jewelry." A small picture of sparkling crystals decorates one corner.

There’s a crowd around the stand, and all the employees there are talking with customers. That doesn't stop Steph, of course. She immediately starts poking and pointing at various tiaras and headpieces in the display case, calling Jason over to buy her things and insisting she needs to see item after item.

Smith glances over from his position behind the counter and spots Steph just as she precariously tilts one of the display cases. He rushes over and grabs it before it crashes to the floor and looks up at her as he rights the case. She gives him a dazzling grin.

"I'll need to try on all of those," Steph says matter-of-factly, tilting her head to one side and twisting her mouth into a smile that very much dares the man to say no to her.

He doesn't say no, instead smirking obsequiously, gaze locked on her décolletage.

Smith's black slacks and gray turtleneck strain around his late middle-aged paunch as he bends to finish stabilizing the case. A golden chain around his neck swings with his movement and a matching ring on his pinkie clinks against the case. Drops of sweat bead and slide through what's now painfully obvious is a combover, darkening his gray hair, and he puffs slightly with exertion.

Gross.

Once he finishes stabilizing the case, he unlocks it with his tiny golden key and looks back up at Steph.

"Which would you like to see first, sweetheart?" His tone of voice is light and easy. Smith doesn't smile, just gives her an even look with a hint of condescension around his mouth. At least he’s looking at her face this time.

Standing behind Steph, Jason can see the flush creep up the back of her neck at that. While he hasn't interacted much with her, he sure as hell knows that she hates being called "sweetheart." Especially by middle-aged men who spend more time staring at her chest than her eyes.

If this guy winks at her, they're going to have to call the whole thing off and possibly flee the country because Jason is sure she won’t hesitate to maim him.

"That one is nice," Tim cuts in, smoothly defusing the situation as he indicates a simple white-gold tiara with a small crystal centerpiece.

Steph bounces back from her anger pretty quickly. She gives Tim a bright smile and nods in agreement, turning her attention back to the tiaras.

"Oh, good eye, babe," Steph coos to Tim before turning back Smith. "I want to see that one."

"Excellent choice," he murmurs and delicately pulled the tiara from the case. He holds it lightly between his thumbs and forefingers. "This is a handcrafted Swarovski crystal bridal tiara set in white gold with two—"

Steph grabs it from his hands and puts it abruptly on her head. He can't hide his shock but she ignores him as she turns to face Tim.

"What do you think?" she asks, striking a pose. Jason leans back and crosses his arms as though admiring the view, signaling to them both that this is just a pretty crystal trinket. That’s fine. They weren’t expecting the smugglers to bring out the real goods for a couple of regular customers, no matter how rich. Although that would be extremely convenient. No, they have a plan to get around the sellers being wary of unloading their ill-gotten wares on anyone but established buyers in the know.

Tim doesn’t acknowledge Jason’s signal as he hums thoughtfully and eyes Steph with care. He scrunches his mouth up into a cute little thoughtful expression.

"Mmmmmm... needs more sparkles," he finally says.

"Right?!" Steph exclaims. "I was thinking the exact same thing." She suddenly grins at Tim and pulls him into an abrupt hug and kiss. "This is why we're besties!"

"Absolutely," Tim agrees, looking smugly pleased with himself as she pulls back and yanks the tiara off her head.

Smith goes to take it from her hands, but Tim intercedes, grabbing it away from him.

"Ahhh!" Tim cries, tugging the tiara possessively away from him with a glare on his face. "I need to take a picture."

"For posterity!" Steph chimes in with a tone of voice that very much says she thinks the man is an idiot for not realizing it. "We’re still working on my Wedding Vision Board!"

Jason watches as Tim snaps several pictures of the tiara while Steph grabs at another one from the tray. Smith ignores Tim to focus on her instead, even going so far as to lean back slightly to eye her legs appreciatively. Asshole.

The next fifteen minutes is a flurry of Steph insistently demanding to try on a series of different tiaras, Smith frantically trying to keep up with her, and Tim feigning sincere annoyance as he tries to snap pictures of each tiara.

Steph's demands get louder and shriller while Tim blends into the background in his capacity as cameraman. Steph has Smith so totally focused on her that he doesn't even notice Tim shifting around so that he's slightly behind the counter, next to the man.

If Jason weren't a professional, he wouldn't even notice Tim lifting the man's phone from his pocket. Using the shopping bags for cover, Tim fishes a device out of Steph's purse and plugs it into the phone. It takes less than thirty seconds for him to clone it.

Jason steps in close to Steph and rests a hand at the small of her back.

"Hey, babe, I'm getting hungry... Can we wrap this up?"

"Wrap it up?" Steph’s voice goes high as she whirls to face him, an elaborate tiara perched precariously on her head. "Who do you think I'm doing this for?" She pouts, lower lip wobbling alarmingly.

"Uhhh..." Jason isn't actually sure how to answer that.

"You!" Steph snaps, sounding soh hurt and furious that he finds himself taking an involuntary step back, eyes widening. "I'm doing this for you!"

Smith winces and sends Jason a sympathetic look when Steph begins to really start in on Jason, her voice rising in volume and developing a distinctly whining undertone. Jason gives a small shrug in return just as Tim slides the smuggler's phone back in the man’s pocket, leaving him none the wiser.

Tim slips back out from behind the counter and comes up to Steph, turning her to face him. "Don't listen to him," he says to her primly as he gently takes the tiara from her head. "He doesn't understand how hard it is to be as beautiful as you."

She flashes him a smile of apparent gratitude and leans forward. They kiss on one cheek and then the other, then exchange a genuine smile before slipping back into their roles.

Steph turns stiffly to face Jason and gives him a prim sort of look. "I forgive you. You don't know any better," she tells him before turning back to Tim. "Honey, I am having a Margarita Emergency. I need about two of them, stat."

"There's nothing more serious than a Margarita Emergency," Tim agrees as Steph flounces off.

Tim graces Jason with a baleful glare that Jason hopes to god is just a show for Smith. Then he tosses the last tiara back on the counter, gives the smuggler an airy wave, and follows after Steph, suggesting some spots they can get margaritas.

"You sure about this?" Smith asks Jason as he starts gathering the scattered tiaras.

"Absolutely," Jason says with a grin, watching the way the sash stretches across the curve of Tim's ass. "I've never been more sure of anything in my life."

 


 

“This is the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth,” Tim moans, eyes closing as he leans back in his chair. The round table before them is covered in small plates with delicate little morsels and tiny forks arranged on them. Steph looks up at that, eyes dancing in appreciation as she inhales her own selection of samples.

“A guy could take offense to you saying something like that,” Jason says, the corner of his mouth lifting in a crooked smile as he watches his boyfriend savor the bite. Tim looks blissed out and relaxed, clearly enjoying time with his friends after closing both his own case and the job they were working.

The blood-diamond smugglers are in Oracle’s hands now. Jason would complain about that, considering it was his job to start with and he doesn’t need the Bats to think they can come sticking their noses into his business whenever they want, but… Barbara Gordon is damn good at what she does, and he knows she’ll use that cloned phone to ferret out texts and calls and financial connections that will all contribute to nailing these smugglers to the wall.

He’s pretty good with that state of affairs. And it means he’s free now to enjoy the look on Tim’s face as he enjoys bite after bite of the really impressive array of wedding cake samples.

Tim snorts, apparently finally registering what was just said. “I meant food, Jason.”

Steph cackles. “Yeah, stop being so insecure. You should hear him go on and on about you and your amazing—” Her voice breaks off as Tim’s eyes snap open and he flails out an arm, grabbing the first cake sample that comes to hand and then shoving it in her mouth to shut her up.

Damn, and just when things were getting interesting. “My amazing what?” Jason grins, loving the flush that slowly creeps across his boyfriend’s face until it reaches his ears.

“Your amazing ability to be a jerk,” Tim mutters, but he’s smiling. “Here, try this one. It’s incredible.” He picks up a different sample and reaches over to push it gently into Jason’s mouth. His pupils go wide and his lips part slightly as Jason deliberately leans forward to suck on his fingers, swirling his tongue around them. “Oh god.” Tim swallows, still staring at his lips.

Jason would react, but he just registered the taste in his mouth, and holy shit, this is definitely the best thing he’s ever put in his mouth. He groans, vision going hazy as he allows his eyes to fall half-closed. Damn, that’s some fucking good cake. Dimly, he registers Tim, who looks like he kind of wants to climb over the table to get on Jason’s lap.

“Wait, what was that? Tim, is that the same one you just had a mouth-gasm over a second ago?” Steph ignores their heated gazes, reaching deftly past Tim’s elbow and scooping up a piece for herself, which she immediately shoves into her mouth. Her reaction is almost comical. She freezes, blue eyes going wide, then melts into her chair in the same blissed out reaction Tim had a moment ago. “Oh, wow. Yeah, we’re going to need some more of that one.”

“Fuck yeah,” Jason agrees. “Can we get, like, a to-go box or something? This is great and all, but Tig’s probably gonna scratch my face off for being gone so long.”

“Oh,” Steph says, face falling momentarily before she brightens with a visible effort. “Yeah, of course!” She signals a server, who glances over and then nods. “You guys must want some alone time now.”

And, well, they do, but…

Glancing over at Tim, Jason raises his brows, then smiles when he sees his partner’s agreement. “Actually, we were thinking of hanging out some more at the apartment, maybe bust out some margaritas to celebrate the job.”

“Really?” The uncertain expression she’s wearing right now doesn’t really fit, and he wants it to go away.

“Heck yeah!” Tim smiles. “You and Jason still need to tell me all about how you ended up working together on this.”

Jason smirks. “And after all those stories you told me about Tim and margaritas, I really need to see that for myself.”

Steph’s face lights up in a grin and she starts laughing as Tim yelps and flails in horror. “Wait, what? What stories? Steph, what stories did you tell him?”

“Only the good ones, Tim. Only the good ones,” she chuckles.

“That’s what I’m afraid of!”

As the two fall to bickering and the server begins boxing up their cake samples, Jason pops another bite in his mouth and grins.

Yeah, this was definitely a good idea.