Paper faces on parade . . .
Hide your face,
so the world will
never find you!
- Andrew Lloyd Weber, Phantom of the Opera
Every so often, someone would take it into their heads that a masquerade ball would be a fantastic idea and make it into the biggest event of the year. Sometimes, they were a smashing hit. And other times…things just got smashed.
Tim shook his head at the invitation and set it aside with all the other random ones for events he has no intention of attending. He may be the youngest CEO on the planet, having inherited his parents’ company at the ripe age of 16 when he convinced the courts he was indeed more responsible an adult than his legal guardian, but that didn’t mean he had to attend each and every social event of the season. Especially ones where Gotham’s more notorious rogues liked making appearances (as well as Gotham's vigilantes, but seeing them in action had long since lost its appeal).
He was fond of his custom-made watch. He should be, he made it. He certainly didn’t want anyone else to have it.
Turning his attention back to his computer, Tim focused on the draft of the quarterly earnings report his CFO sent him earlier, cross checking data as he went. Share prices of Drake Industries were up in anticipation of the positive earnings data, but that didn’t mean squat if the numbers weren’t there to support it. He’d done a lot in his six years as CEO to get his company to this point. Some of those years were rather lean ones too, which peeved his senior staff and board members who loved their stock options and bonus payouts, but Tim was of the opinion of why should he pay them the big bucks when DI was losing top talent to companies like WayneTech because he couldn’t offer a competitive salary?
The strategy worked, as did saying goodbye to some of the top brass from his parents’ days. He wasn’t sad to see them go.
He looked up at the knock on his door as his assistant, Tam Fox, walked in. She’d been a wonderful steal from Wayne Enterprises, where she was expected to follow in her father’s and sister’s footsteps. But the two of them became friends during college and when she graduated last year, she came to DI. Tim was grooming her to take over the head of operations, a position they both felt she would excel in.
“Hey Tim,” the young woman said as she all but stalked across his office in a pair of killer heels he still didn’t know how she even managed to walk in. “I just got off the phone with Dad. He wanted to warn us that we’re about to have a gremlin invasion.”
“Ugh,” Tim groaned and leaned back in his chair, wondering why this was his life sometimes. “I haven’t done anything to piss off Damian in weeks. What the hell is this even about?”
“He wasn’t sure, but he overheard Damian yelling at Bruce about something and when he stormed out of his office, the brat announced he was heading here.” Tam’s full lips quirked into one of her signature smirks.
“Joy of joys. Well, send him in when he gets here. I’ll make sure to send a bill to Bruce for whatever he breaks this time.” Last time Damian took it into his head to visit Tim in his office, he’d smashed a glass coffee table. Like he didn’t take out enough aggression on Gotham’s nightlife as Robin.
“Sure thing, boss-man. Also, here are those numbers you requested earlier.” Tam handed him a thick folder.
“Thanks.” He set it aside. “I think I’m going to call it a day after the brat leaves. Want to get dinner?”
“Sounds good to me. I’ll drive so you can have a few.”
“You’re the best.”
Tam left him to his work. Dealing with the Waynes was one of the few reasons Tim ever used for drinking, which he thought was pretty good considering the high stress environment he worked in. Not that the richest family in Gotham had it any easier, but he wasn’t going to be found on the front page of the Gotham Gazette with some new scandal attached to his name. They managed to make headlines even when they weren’t trying to, which he thought was counterproductive to their vigilante work.
Not that he was supposed to know about that, but Tim wasn’t called a genius for nothing. He figured it out at the tender age of nine when Dick Grayson was still running around in scaly green shorts that were probably considered illegal in some states. He stalked Batman and Robin around Gotham for a few months, practicing with his new camera and getting some amazing pictures, but after he slipped one night and broke his ankle, he stopped. The excuse he’d had to come up with stretched credibility as it was with his nanny. Mrs. Mac was a nice woman and Tim didn’t want to see her end up fired like so many others were.
Still, it would have been nice to get some more pictures. By the time he figured out one of the patrol routes, Dick was Nightwing and there was a new Robin running around Gotham.
It was rare for Tim to experience any form of hero-worship, especially now considering how often said heroes swooped in to save him from his periodic dinners with Ra’s al Ghul, but there was something about Jason’s Robin that made him wish he’d continued stalking him and Batman through the night.
He had no intention of telling their secret. But it was hard when he’d been dragged to every society event his mother thought worthwhile as a child, which often meant the Waynes were in attendance as well. He didn’t think Bruce would have appreciated being called Mr. Batman.
It was at one such event that Tim met his hero in the flesh.
A few years older than him, Jason was fresh off the streets and still learning the ins and outs of high society. The first time they met, Tim thought the boy looked lost and tried to help him out.
At nine, the thought of helping Robin about made his heart beat right out of his little chest. These weren’t the streets of Gotham though. This was Gotham high society. Tim’s world. One where he knew all the rules of survival.
“That’s Mrs. Hendrickson,” he said quietly as he sidled up next to the still dazed looking boy. “Her cheek pinches are horrible, but she’ll let you escape if she thinks Mr. Wayne is calling you. I always use Mom or Dad as an excuse to get away.”
Jason turned wary teal eyes on Tim. He knew he didn’t look like much, just a small boy in an expensive suit, but he was trying to be nice. “Thanks. Who’re you?”
“Tim Drake. My parents are Jack and Janet Drake of Drake Industries.” Tim held out his hand politely.
The slightly older boy shook it awkwardly, like the movement was still something new to him. “Jason Todd.”
“I know,” Tim said in his still piping voice that made him seem so much younger. “Want to raid the dessert table? Mom says I shouldn’t eat sweets, but I know Mr. Pennyworth always makes the most delicious lemon tarts.”
Jason smirked at him as he tugged at the stiff collar of his shirt before eying the table in question. It was all the way across the crowded room. “How do we even get there?”
Tim answered with a smirk of his own. “Watch and learn.”
His parents encouraged his friendship with Jason when they discovered it, telling him it was an advantageous connection to develop, but not to let it go too far. “He’s the second son after all,” Janet instructed him as she packed for her latest trip. “If only Bruce would get around to having kids of his own rather than adopting orphans off the streets. Those two boys of his will never amount to much.”
It was hard to keep a straight face, but Tim was proud he managed it.
When Tim turned ten, he was sent to a prestigious boarding school several hours away from Gotham. He rarely returned except for holidays and vacations, so he didn’t see Jason very often unless it was at a society event where they latched on to each other like the intervening months never occurred at all (although they texted all the time). His friend was better at comporting himself at these events, but he still didn’t see any point to them. Whenever said event was at Wayne Manor or Wayne Tower, Jason would drag Tim off to one of the private rooms where they’d sit and play video games or watch movies instead.
Those were the best nights. Tim couldn’t believe that Robin was hanging out with him. That they were friends. He wasn’t good at making friends. Sure, he had a lot of people he was friendly with at school, but none of them really knew him.
But all this came to an end after Tim’s parents died when he was 13. Their will left Tim in the hands of their executor, a man he soon came to absolutely despise. He also saw what was happening to his company and knew that if he didn’t do something, there wasn’t going to be anything left.
So Tim turned his already considerable intellect on his studies and tuned out everything else. Including the one person he ever really called a friend. Jason didn’t understand.
“What the fuck, Timmy?” Jason all but growled after he’d dragged Tim off to the side at a party his guardian had brought him to. It was the first one they’d attended since he took charge of Tim. “Why aren’t you answerin’ my texts?”
Even after four years under Alfred Pennyworth’s tutelage, Jason’s lower Gotham accent still came through whenever he was agitated.
Tim stiffened his spine, not liking what he was about to do, but he’d told himself this was the only way. “I’ve been busy. I don’t have time for anything anymore.”
It was brusque and to the point.
Jason glared and cuffed Tim on the back of the head. He’d hit a growth spurt recently and was starting to tower over the younger boy. “What’s that supposed to mean, huh? I thought we were friends. Friends talk to each other, numb-nuts.”
Tim stood his ground. “I don’t have time for friends now. Have you heard what Kaufman’s doing?” He refused to call his guardian by anything other than his last name, no matter how many times he was asked otherwise. “I need to get my company away from him as soon as possible and the only way I can do that is if I graduate high school early and show the courts I’m capable of making my own decisions.”
Jason’s eyes widened. “Tim. You’re 13. How the hell are you gonna do that?”
“Emancipation.” He’s been reading up on the topic. There was a lot of work ahead of him, but he was confident he could do it. Not only that, but he also had to prove the man was incompetent at his job as acting-CEO of Drake Industries.
That part was going to be easier, actually.
“Okay, so how does cutting yourself off from your friends do you any good?” Jason sounded hurt.
Tim turned his icy blue eyes on his only friend. It was a look he’d learned from his mom, one he’d been practicing more and more recently. He took a deep breath, not liking this in the slightest, but not seeing any other way. “Jay, unless you can figure out how to emancipate me now, I don’t see how being friends anymore is going to help. I’ve got to focus.”
The words stung, just like they were meant to as Jason’s expression fell. “I can talk to Bruce!” he gestured emphatically, trying hard to get his own point across. “He’s gotta help ya.”
It was tempting, considering who Bruce Wayne really was. Tim had even thought about going to him but decided against it. “He still sees me as a child,” he snapped back. This was harder than he thought it would be. He didn’t want to hurt Jason, but he couldn’t be distracted anymore. “They all do. No one takes me seriously right now. They think I’m just a teenager who’s eager to get his hands on mommy and daddy’s money.”
Which couldn’t be further from the truth, but only Jason knew how much he didn’t care about wealth and status, despite being raised with a silver spoon in his mouth from birth.
Jason growled again and ran his hand through his wavy hair, barely tamed for the party going on around them and now messed up completely. “Dammit, Tim! Let me help!”
“No one can help me.” Tim squared his slim shoulders. Underneath his mask, he was shaking and fighting back tears. He didn’t want to do this, but it was the only way he could see that made sense. Kaufman was already monitoring his texts, it wouldn’t be long before he was in his email too. Tim could get around that, but with his spending monitored so closely, he couldn’t figure out how to get another phone that he didn’t know about. “Just forget about me, Jason. You’ve got other friends.”
“You’re a fuckin’ asshole, you little shit.” Jason looked like he was about to punch him. “Fine. Take on the world all by yourself. See how far that gets ya.”
With that, he stalked off.
A month later, Jason was dead.
The news just about destroyed Tim. He couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if he and Jason were still talking, if he could have done something to convince him to talk to Bruce rather than run off. Tim didn’t quite believe the public story Bruce put out, not with the headlines he also saw about how badly beaten the Joker was not long after Jason’s death. He was convinced there was a connection.
But that wasn’t his life.
Tim sighed and tried to focus on the work in front of him. The memories always came back anytime he met with a Wayne. For all his grousing, Damian was the easiest for him to deal with as the kid never knew of his friendship with Jason like Dick and Bruce did.
It wasn’t long before Tam’s smoky voice pinged him on the intercom. “He’s here,” was all she said before his door all but slammed open and Damian Wayne marched into the room.
At 15, the teenager could hardly be called a boy as he was already taller than Tim and was still sprouting upwards. He was at that gangly stage though, which always privately amused him when Damian would fumble something simple, like knocking over a glass of water when he meant to pick it up.
Tim sighed and didn’t stand. “Damian. Haven’t you heard of making an appointment?”
“Don’t pretend like you didn’t know I was coming, Drake,” the youngest Wayne snapped as he took a seat in front of Tim’s large desk. “I saw Fox on my way out.”
“It’s still considered polite.” Tim glanced back at the report, mad that his thoughts kept him distracted from work he wanted done before the invasion. He turned his attention back to Damian. “So, what is it this time?”
For some reason Tim couldn’t figure out, the spoiled brat had some small modicum of respect for him. The young man didn’t quite treat him as a peer, but it was close. Tam joked that he considered him a friend, which Tim always tried to brush off, but secretly, he suspected she was right. Not that he’d ever tell her that. Tam was right about way too many things in his life.
Still, the relationship was slightly unsettling considering the odd relationship Tim had with Damian’s grandfather. He’d untangled one of Ra’s al Ghul’s plans back when the fake Bruce was wandering around (and he still didn’t know how that was even possible; not sure he wanted to) and managed to attract the man’s attention. Every now and then, he’d find himself kidnapped and brought to some lavish location where he was wined and dined as he tried to convince Tim to come work for him.
He had no plans to become an international terrorist. Sorry, not happening. But the food was good and Tam was always after him to eat more.
The Bats always found out about it though and stage a rescue. Not that Tim needed rescuing, he always had things perfectly under control. Most of the time, it was Batman and Nightwing who’d interrupt dinner. Sometimes it was Batman and Red Robin (one time, rather than throwing themselves out the nearest window like Nightwing always did, they’d hung back and watched the fight for a bit, commenting on the over the top theatrics; Stephanie had a wicked sense of humor that Tim just adored, whether she was in the mask or not).
The last time though, it was Nightwing and the Red Hood who came for him. Tim found it odd that the notorious Red Hood was working with the Bats now, but he supposed everyone was allowed to make life changing decisions, good or bad.
There was a loud explosion that rocked the dining room. Fine china quavered and one of the masterpieces hanging from the wall fell to the floor where the frame cracked. Tim eyed it sorrowfully. He appreciated Ra’s’ art collection. “I suppose that’s time then.”
“Indeed it is, Timothy.” Ra’s took a final sip of wine from his crystal goblet and stood. “As always, it was a pleasure to have such intelligent conversation from one as young as you. Until next time.”
The window crashed open, two men entering smoothly with booted feet stretched out in front of them. Nightwing was a familiar face, but this was the first time Tim had ever seen the Red Hood in person. He was a large man, almost as big as Batman, and moved just as gracefully and swiftly as he did.
The leather clad man was closer to Tim. It was usually Nightwing in this role, but he was taking the lead for the absent Batman.
“Let him go, Ra’s,” he still managed to growl like his mentor. “Isn’t this getting old, yet?”
The Red Hood snickered, the sound filtering oddly through his helmet. “That’s rich, considering just how old the bastard really is.”
Ra’s glowered at the two Gotham vigilantes, but it seemed directed more at the Red Hood. “Show some respect, boy. My daughter was not as circumspect about your training as she thought she was.”
Tim stored that little tidbit away for later. He finished his wine, knowing he would need the fortification for what was coming next. It usually involved a mad dash where he was hauled around like a sack of potatoes and a wild jump off the side of a building.
“Oh, I’m so scared,” the Red Hood growled as he reached for Tim while Nightwing engaged Ra’s. “Come on, rich boy. Time to leave.”
“If I must.” Tim stood and let the man grab his wrist.
“Someone’s a bit jaded.”
“Can’t help it. This has been happening since I was 17.” Tim gulped as he took in the view from the window. He knew they were at some coastal residence of Ra’s’, but the drop below them was easily a hundred feet into rocky waves. The full moon shone brightly, illuminating the waves below. Under any other circumstances, he would have appreciated the view.
“That long, huh?” The Red Hood wrapped an arm around Tim’s waist, enveloping him in warm leather. The scent of gunpowder and cigarette smoke tickled his nose. “What makes you so special?”
“I have no idea.” Tim grabbed hold tightly to the man’s jacket as they leaped out into the open air. The initial freefall was always the worst. They twisted in the air and he heard the sound of a grapple gun firing. He looked up at the sky and there was the familiar silhouette of the Batplane (or Batwing or whatever they were calling it now) hovering above them. They reeled upwards and he was soon tossed like so much luggage into the open hold.
He rolled with it, having learned that much in the few self-defense classes he squeezed in over the years. Sitting up, he watched as the Red Hood gave Nightwing a hand into the plane and closed the hatch. The man’s ass looked almost as good as his companion’s. And that was saying something as the first Robin had an ass of the finest caliber.
Not that Tim ever let himself dwell on it that much. He knew the man under the mask after all, even if he didn’t know that he knew.
Nightwing smiled brightly at him. “Hey Tim! How was dinner?”
Tim rolled his eyes, a reaction he always let himself indulge in when dealing with the Bats. “Perfection. One of these days, would you at least let me try dessert?”
“Now where’s the fun in that?” Nightwing laughed. “Although, it may not be a bad idea. You look like you’ve lost weight again.”
If Tim had super powers, his glare would have frosted the man to his bones. “My eating habits are none of your business.”
The Red Hood had been observing the exchange silently, his leather clad arms crossed over his broad torso as he leaned against the bulkhead of the plane. But the man chuckled darkly at the dessert comment. “Have a bit of sweet tooth, Drake?”
“Does it look like I do?” Tim gestured to his (too) lean frame. He’d been working on the annual report for the upcoming shareholders meeting, which was always the busiest time of year for him and kept him in the office for days at a time. Tam tried to keep him fed, but she was almost as busy as him. Yet another reason for him to hate spring (allergies being the foremost reason for it).
“Nah, I think Nightwing’s right for once. You weigh next to nothin’.” With those sage words, Red Hood swanned off towards the front of the plane.
Tim glared after him, somehow just now noticing the man’s tree trunk thighs. Those were impressive (as well as his grip, he would be feeling the bruises for days). “What’s his deal? He doesn’t even know me.”
Nightwing sighed as he took a seat next to Tim on the floor. He winced slightly at some unseen injury. “Long story. And one you’re not going to hear.”
“I really don’t want to know.” Tim sighed and tilted his head to the side. “Get on with it. I know it’s coming, so no need to be sneaky.”
The man laughed again and pulled a capped syringe from one of the hidden compartments in his suit. “You really have done this too many times.”
“You guys are the reason I drink so much.”
“Very funny. Good night, Tim.” The needle stabbed gently into his neck and Tim’s out like a light.
Tim once again shook himself out of his thoughts. Where was his head today? It was all over the place.
Damian didn’t seem to notice. “Did you receive it?” he asked as he made himself comfortable.
“The masquerade invitation,” the young man said like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “It was my idea.”
How did Tim miss that part? He straightened up and reached for his mail again. “Your idea? No offense, Damian, but do you know how many masquerades in this city end in confusion and chaos?”
The youngest Wayne sniffed at the audacity of the question. “Of course I do. Which is why I’ve hired a private security force for the event.”
Ninja. He had to mean ninja. Or the Teen Titans. Either one was possible with him. Tim resisted the urge to roll his eyes.
“Right,” he drawled as he found the lavish invitation and looked it over again. There it was, clear as day, down at the bottom if he’d bothered to read that far. Wayne Manor. “What does this have to do with me?”
“For some reason, you’re considered a social catch. Someone any and all hosts or hostesses would love to see grace their party. You’re notoriously picky about where you make an appearance and I’ve determined no rhyme or reason behind your selections.”
That’s because there was no method to Tim’s choices when he decided he’d hid from the world long enough. He would toss out the invitations to events he wouldn’t dare be seen at and stick the rest in a bag where he’d select one at random. Tam thought it was hilarious when she found out about it and swore to keep it a secret.
Tim sighed as he could now see why Damian was here. “You’re asking me in person to come to your little party.”
Damian stiffened. “Yes. You haven’t been out in a month.”
It was disturbing him on some level that Damian paid this much attention to his social calendar. Still, he was Robin, the son of Batman, so this was probably normal behavior. The kid liked him after all. Sort of. He at least made a show of listening to Tim’s advice when it came to dealing with older adults in the business world. If there was one thing Tim could pass on to him, it was how to deal with the perceived nepotism from being the son of the CEO.
“I’ve been busy.”
“You’re always busy. Make time. It’s three weeks from now. End of October. Plenty of time for you to finish the quarterly report I’m sure you’re already working on.” The kid smirked knowingly.
Tim knew better than to rise to the bait. Time to throw a low blow of his own. “This can’t be why you and your father were fighting again.”
The smirk turned to a glower. “Fox should mind his own business.”
“Forewarned is forearmed. Besides, this isn’t the first time you’ve come storming in here after a fight with Bruce. Want to talk about it?” He always offered, even though Damian rarely accepted. It wasn’t a surprise as it was likely something vigilante related, but sometimes he opened up about things that happened at school or WE. Never anything too personal, but the fact he did spoke more than what was actually said.
Damian hesitated longer than usual, obviously torn. “I’m being forced to have this party,” he finally admitted. “Father said it was either a Halloween party or he’d make me have a birthday party next month.” He said birthday party like it was the most vile thing he could think of.
Tim couldn’t help the laugh that escaped. “Oh wow. Okay, I did not see that coming at all.”
“Make fun all you want, Drake, but this was the lesser of two evils.”
“I agree.” The disgusted expression Damian’s face said it all. “Fine. You win. I’ll be there.”
“Thank you,” the young man replied in what passed as emphatic gushing for him. “At least there will be one sane person there.”
“If you can find me,” Tim smirked. “I’ll be in costume after all.”
Damian gave him an arch look. “I’m sure I’ll figure it out.”