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Through the Smoke and Mirrors

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“Whoa, hey,” Dick says from the doorway, and Tim freezes with the mascara brush a centimeter from his lashes. “I didn’t know that Bruce had you doing undercover work.”

“Um,” Tim says, trying to keep the blush from rising to his cheeks. “Practice.”

“Oh, right,” Dick says, smiling at Tim’s face in the mirror. “Well, wipe that crap off and come down to the dining room. Alfred says he’s making blondies for dessert, and I bet Damian I could get you to eat two.” Dick’s grin widens. “He said you wouldn’t even touch them.”

Tim’s reflection tells him that his smile looks natural enough, even though it feels like he’s forcing it out. “Well, you already know you’ll win that one. I love blondies.”

“Only dessert that you’ll ignore your girlish figure for,” Dick chirps as he walks towards the staircase. “Ten minutes, okay? And make it a show with the blondies, or Damian will think I put you up to it.”

Tim stares at his face in the mirror and sighs. He almost looks – well, it doesn’t matter. He reaches for a washcloth and the bottle at the end of his dresser and quickly takes off the makeup.

He’ll just put it back on later.

-0-

“Come on,” Rory laughs, “dance, Tim!” She leans in closer, brushing her lips against Tim’s ear as she lowers her voice. “Do you have any idea how many guys are staring at you right now?”

Tim feels his face flush, and he knows it’s not from his surroundings. The club is dark and more sedate than most in Gotham; there’s still a dance floor, though, and yeah, there are a couple of guys trying to catch Tim’s eye. He’s got the feeling it’s because he let Rory and Jen do his makeup. Jen’s more of an artist with a blusher and an eyeliner pencil than anyone Tim has ever met, and Tim knows he looks good.

Pretty, probably. Maybe even beautiful.

He’d gone modest with his clothing; the jeans are fitted without being overly tight, and he’s wearing a nice tank top with a scooped neck that manages to hint at curves he doesn’t actually have while downplaying the muscles in his arms. His shoes are classy without being overly dressy – a pair of closed-toe black heels that give him an extra inch and a half. He’s not wearing jewelry. It’s not really his thing.

Jen laughs, nudging Tim in the side. “Looks like you’ve got an admirer,” she teases, and when Tim looks at her questioningly, she nods her head over Tim’s shoulder. There’s a guy making his way towards them, cutting through the dancers at the edge of the floor. He’s about Dick’s height, with slightly broader shoulders and way less muscle definition. He has a mop of curly blonde hair and clear brown eyes. It’s a nice face, Tim decides, but he’s more here for the experience of being here than he is to actually meet someone.

“Ah,” Tim hedges. “Jen, I don’t really-”

“Hey,” the guy says, suddenly mere inches from Tim’s side. “I’m Brandon, and I’d really like to dance with you.”

Rory, the traitor, shoves at his shoulder. “Go have some fun, honey,” she says, and Tim sighs and nods at Brandon.

He seems like a good enough guy, Tim thinks; he makes small talk and keeps his hands on Tim’s hips as they sway near the edge of the crowd. Tim laughs when Brandon cracks a joke, and finds himself letting some inane details about his life slip out.

It’s nice, until Brandon unexpectedly slides a little closer under the pretext of someone moving in behind him, and his arms slip around Tim’s waist. All of a sudden they’re very, very close.

“Hey,” Brandon grins down at him, and Tim’s heart starts racing for reasons other than the thrill of being so close to a guy he’d been finding himself somewhat attracted to. Suddenly he just wants to be out, away, definitely not about to be kissed by some stranger on a dance floor.

“Brandon,” Tim starts, putting his hands on Brandon’s shoulders and pushing lightly. Brandon doesn’t seem to take the hint. He laughs and ducks his head, and Tim shoves again. “Brandon, back off.”

He could get away, of course; the problem is that Rory and Jen are here, and as far as they know, Tim’s the quiet kid who knows just enough karate to get himself into trouble. He’s not ready to disabuse them of that notion, and anyway, he really doesn’t want to break Brandon’s nose for being a little presumptuous.

There’s a sudden displacement of air behind Brandon and then Tim is free. He stumbles back a little as he takes in the scene. There’s a guy between him and Brandon, looming over Brandon and saying something in a deep, low voice. Brandon nods jerkily a few times before turning and walking the other way without another word to Tim.

“Hey, thanks,” Tim starts to say, but stops mid-phrase when the guy turns around, because the last person he expected to see swooping in to save him is staring back at him, a smirk firmly on his mouth.

“Hey,” Jason says, hands casually in the pockets of his jacket. “You okay, kid?”

Tim straightens almost unconsciously, crossing his arms over his chest. He can feel the heat flushing his cheeks as Jason’s eyebrow rises towards his hair. “Yeah, I’m good. Thanks for the save.”

“Any time,” Jason replies easily. He glances around. “Where did your friends get to?”

Tim tries to look for Rory and Jen while assimilating the fact that Jason has apparently been watching him for a while. Tim hadn’t even noticed that Jason was here. “What are you doing here?”

“Same thing you are, by the look of it,” Jason replies. He moves a little closer and drapes an easy arm around Tim’s shoulders. Tim takes a deep breath and doesn’t tense. Jason leans his head down so he can speak into Tim’s ear “Since I can tell that you’re not here undercover.”

“Really?” Tim asks. He’s still looking around, but Rory and Jen are nowhere to be found. Tim closes his eyes for a second. They’d probably seen him dancing with Brandon and decided to head off for a little private time, figuring he was suitably distracted. He likes the girls, but they’re not altogether reliable. He opens his eyes again and tilts his head up to look at Jason. “How do you figure?”

Jason shrugs. “One, those girls were calling you by your real name. Two, you’re not wired in. Three, if you were undercover, you would either have been playing along with that guy to get whatever you needed from him, or you wouldn’t have been dancing with him in the first place. At the very least, you wouldn’t have looked three breaths away from a panic attack when he got a little frisky.”

Tim opens his mouth and shuts it again. Sometimes it slips his mind that Jason has had a lot of the same training that Tim has had, and some more besides. “Great. You caught me.” He tries to sound nonchalant, but it comes out a little shaky anyway. “Thanks for the save, but I think the girls ditched, so I’m going to find a place to clean up before I head home.”

Jason’s arm tightens around his shoulders. “Let me give you a ride.”

-0-

“Please don’t tell anyone,” Tim says when Jason climbs off the motorcycle, and he knows that his voice is barely above a whisper, that he’s this close to begging. His mind supplies a helpful flipbook of his family’s facial expressions should they put the pieces together: Dick’s confusion, Damian’s laughter, Bruce’s narrowed eyes. Tim isn’t shaking, but it’s only through sheer force of will. He’s had the whole ride here to think about it, and he doesn’t really want to consider what he’d do for Jason to ensure that he keeps his silence.

Jason pauses with his helmet in his hands. “Tell anyone what?”

Tim feels his face flush, and he wants more than anything to look away. He tilts his chin up a little more instead and looks directly at Jason, who snorts and tucks his helmet under his arm.

“Look, kid, trust me when I say that telling the family that I found you in a gay club wearing makeup and heels is not high on my list of things to do for shits and giggles,” Jason drawls as he moves towards a fire escape further down the alley. “First off, that’s not really the kind of chat Daddy Bat and I tend to have, and second, if they haven’t noticed on their own, that’s their own fault.” Jason tosses a look back over his shoulder. “Though I don’t get why you’re all bent out of shape about it.”

“Are you kidding?” Tim asks, voice somewhere between disbelief and completely dry. “You can’t see why this might not be something I want everyone to know?”

Jason shrugs and jumps for the fire escape. He swings and pulls himself up onto it before looking back down at Tim. “Life’s too short to not do what you want,” he says. “I would know.”

Tim has no response for that.

“Look,” Jason adds, “are you coming or not? I’ve got a bathroom you can use to freshen up. Your hair’s a little-” He makes a motion with his hands that probably describes Tim’s hair fairly accurately. It makes Tim grimace and Jason laugh.

“Yeah,” Tim says, finally moving for the fire escape. “Yeah, thanks.”

-0-

“I’m a shitty host,” Jason says after he’s secured the window entrance, “because I invited you up here to fix your hair, but I’m actually gonna jump in the shower before I let you use the bathroom. Cable’s out, but the DVDs should work, and if you can cook it, you can eat it.” Jason is stripping out of his coat and shirt as he talks, moving around the small loft and tossing things in every direction. “I won’t be long.”

With that, Jason disappears through the door to the bathroom and pulls it shut behind him.

Tim spends several minutes arguing with himself. He should leave, he should get the hell out of here and get home, he should alert Bruce to Jason’s latest crash pad. He should, but he keeps hearing Jason’s voice in his head. Life’s too short to not do what you want. I would know.

The truth is that Tim isn’t certain what he wants, not here and not now, but he knows that he can’t just leave. For one, there’s really nowhere he can go before he takes the makeup off and changes his clothing, and for another, he’s only about half-sure he can get through the security on the windows.

“I was pretty convinced you were gonna bolt,” Jason observes from behind him, and Tim jumps and spins and lands in a ready position purely out of reflex. Jason grins and holds a hand out in a stand-down gesture, keeping his towel around his waist with the other. “Easy, kid. Just commenting.”

“Ah,” Tim says, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment. “I did consider it.”

Jason shrugs. “Bathroom is yours. You might need to give it a minute; I think the mirror is a little foggy.”

“Actually, do you have a towel and a washcloth I could borrow?” Tim asks before he can talk himself out of it. Jason raises an eyebrow. “I need to wash all of this stuff off before I go home,” Tim adds. “If it’s a problem, I can-”

Jason shakes his head, and a moment later, he’s presenting a folded towel and washcloth to Tim, who takes them with a nod.

“The water gets pretty hot,” is Jason’s only comment as Tim heads for the bathroom.

-0-

There’s one bottle of shampoo in the shower; it’s cheap drugstore stuff that smells like apples. Tim stares at it for a full three minutes before pouring some into his hand and scrubbing it through his hair. It’s a good thing he’s just heading home from here – his dad won’t notice the smell like Bruce would, and if Dana does, she’ll probably assume that Tim was hanging out with the girlfriend she’s convinced he’s keeping from them.

Tim forces himself to rinse out the shampoo and reach for the washcloth. Luckily, Jason’s soap is just soap, a bar of Dial in the cradle on the wall. Tim’s not so sure his parents would miss him smelling like lavender and vanilla.

Though they haven’t noticed to this point.

Tim resolutely scrubs at his arms and his chest and his face, removing the traces of who he can’t be and watching as they swirl down the drain.

-0-

“Thanks,” Tim says when he’s standing back in the living area. He’s back in his street clothes, his Tim-clothes, the ones he keeps in the bottom of his bag when he goes out dressed up. Jason nods from his place on the sofa, tapping something out on the keyboard of his laptop before turning to Tim.

“Hungry?” he asks, and it’s casual, nonchalant, like they’re friends, like they do this all the time. Tim’s sure that his face doesn’t give away his mental argument, just as he’s positive that Jason knows he’s having it anyway. Jason snorts. “Pizza should be here in ten minutes or so. You can stay and eat and I’ll take you back after, or you can start walking on your own.”

“If you’re sure,” Tim says, sitting cautiously on the other side of the sofa. Jason nods once and goes back to his typing. “Ah. Anything I can help out with?”

“Not unless you’re prepared to divulge a few more secrets tonight,” Jason replies. He shifts on the sofa and glances over at Tim. “That was a joke, in case you were wondering. I’m not blackmailing you here.”

“I didn’t think you were,” Tim says, blinking. “I’ve been told my sense of humor needs work, but I do have one.”

Jason snorts again. “I couldn’t be sure. It’s not exactly a character trait that Daddy Bat looks for when he’s bird hunting.”

Tim raises an eyebrow. “I know you’ve met Dick.”

“And I know you have better taste than to think he’s funny,” Jason shoots back. “He has his moments, but he’s got this obsession with terrible puns, and he chooses to live his entire life as a never-ending penis joke.”

Tim can’t help the huff of laughter, and when Jason grins, he returns it. “Okay, not the best example.”

“Really not,” Jason confirms. The silence this time is more comfortable, and when the knock sounds at the door, Tim gets up to pay for the pizza.

“Clear a spot on the table,” Tim calls as he shuts the door, pizza in hand. “Time to eat.”

“Excellent,” Jason says, shutting down his laptop as Tim comes back. “I hope you like onions and garlic, kid, because that’s what’s on this pizza.”

Tim smiles. “Somehow I expected you to order one of those deluxe meat pizzas.”

“If I had known you were springing for it, I totally would have,” Jason replies, pulling a slice from the pie and folding it in half. He takes a bite and lets out a satisfied hum. “On second thought, nah. This is damn close to perfection.”

“It’s not bad,” Tim agrees. “Not what I usually go for, but better than eating with the Titans.”

Jason snorts. “I heard Littlest Flash is a fan of anything that’ll sit still long enough to be eaten.”

“Last time he ordered, we ended up with five pies covered in anchovies, hot peppers, and pineapple,” Tim says, shuddering. “He liked it fine, but even Superboy wouldn’t share that experience with him.”

“Food a Super won’t eat,” Jason says, chewing thoughtfully. “Never thought I’d see the day.”

Tim grins and takes another slice. It’s surprisingly tasty. They eat in companionable silence until the pizza is nothing more than crumbs in a box.

“So what’s yours?” Jason asks after a minute.

Tim glances at him. “My what?”

“Pizza topping of choice,” Jason replies. “Since this wouldn’t have been what you ordered.”

“Ah,” Tim says. “I go for a somewhat unorthodox mix.” Jason raises an eyebrow, and Tim shrugs. “Canadian bacon, onions, and artichokes.”

“That’s disgusting,” Jason says, grinning. “Artichokes, man. I didn’t think anyone actually ate artichokes.”

“They’re very good for you,” Tim defends. “Low in calories, no fat, good source of-”

Jason snorts. “Artichokes,” he says again, as if that’s a point at all.

“At least there’s no fruit on it,” Tim says, and Jason grins again.

“So,” he says after a minute of silence, “you live out near the Manor, right?”

“We both know that you know where I live,’ Tim says mildly. “Digging for any particular purpose?”

Jason shrugs. “Making conversation,” he replies. “If you’re done talking, though, we can get going.”

-0-

It’s a longer ride than Tim was expecting; he hadn’t exactly been paying attention when Jason had gotten him out of the club before, and as such hadn’t realized that they’d travelled almost to the Gotham city limits to get to Jason’s place. It takes nearly forty minutes to get from there to Tim’s house.

“Thanks,” Tim says when they arrive, sliding off the back of the bike and taking a step away. “For – well, several things, I suppose.”

Jason snorts. “You’re welcome,” he drawls. “For all of those so-very-specific things.”

Tim rolls his eyes and takes another step towards the house, but Jason leans out and catches his wrist before he gets any farther than that. Tim meets his eyes cautiously.

“I meant what I said before,” Jason says seriously. “Life is too short, so if you want to be pretty, be pretty. You’re not half-bad at it.”

And then Jason leans in, brushes a kiss against Tim’s mouth, and is gone before Tim can really register what’s going on.

Tim stands in the driveway for a few minutes before turning and making his way up to the house. His dad is reading in the living room when Tim walks in.

“Hey,” he says, “you’re home early. Did one of your friends drop you off?”

“Yeah,” Tim says, glancing back towards the driveway. “Yeah, he did.”

Dad shuffles the newspaper. “Well, thank him for me the next time you see him. He saved me a trip out to get you later.”

“Will do,” Tim replies, turning towards the stairs. “Goodnight, Dad.”

“Night, Tim,” Dad says, already engrossed in the paper again.

Tim takes his time walking up the stairs, thinking about the quick press of lips against his own, the low pitch of Jason’s voice. Be pretty. You’re not half-bad at it.

When he sleeps that night, Tim dreams about a green dress and sleek heels, a dark room, slow music, and Jason’s arms around his waist, holding him close as they dance.