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Doubting Gets You Places

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Batman saves Gotham. Every night and every day. Tim knows this, he's seen it. In the news and with his own eyes. The city needs him, and he needs Robin. It's something that becomes abundantly clear after Jason- After Jason.

Tim watches as Batman descends into brutal violence. Getting more vicious than even Jason at his worst. Getting closer and closer to that line that Tim believes --with everything he has-- Batman should never cross. He doesn't think the city would ever recover if Batman killed. Others? Sure, Tim can see any of the others crossing that line, but not Batman.

Which is why Tim's determined to save Batman.

Batman needs a Robin. Bruce Wayne needs a son. Tim has all the information he needs to travel to New York and find Dick Grayson. He's ready to leave and bring the man back to where he needs to be when doubt creeps up on him.

Tim knows Bruce Wayne and his family better than anyone else in the city. Maybe even the world. He's not privy to their private affairs though. He knows there's something sour between Dick and Bruce. Something strained that's kept Nightwing out of Gotham for a while. There's no guarantee that if Tim goes straight to Dick he'll listen. There's a very good chance the man will turn him away. Won't even listen to what some strange thirteen year old boy has to say.

Tim bites his lip and looks at the maps and careful directions he has. Hand hovering over the tickets he's already purchased for the trip before dropping with a sudden realization.

Dick is in New York, and there's someone else who could help Tim with Dick and Bruce. And Barbara Gordon is a lot closer than New York.

~

Tim spends his sixteenth birthday cold and wet as he waits on a rooftop. Camera pointed at the window of a particular room in the building across the street as he waits for the light to come on. He's got photos of the mayor's aide coming into the room. Some decent ones of the woman he's paying in secrets taking his clothes off. He's even got a few dark photos of them having sex that can be enhanced with the right programing if they need blackmail in the future. What he really needs though is a picture of the man handing over a thumb drive to the woman. He has three from previous meetings, but the more he has over a period of time the better.

The light snaps on and Tim's ready. Watching for the drive to make an appearance when something in the air behind him makes him tense. Something there that wasn't there before. Tim spins on his knees. Camera clutched to his chest and finger ready to trigger the flash that will give him at least a few seconds to assess the situation.

There's a man leaning casually against the wall of the covered stairwell Tim uses to get up to the roof. Dressed in the sort of black armor that Tim's not used to seeing outside of movies and television despite having been the primary source of information for mercenary movement in the city for years now. He almost blends into the shadows. Almost, except for the bright red, full face helmet he wears.

Tim swallows and doesn't move. He's sure that the dirty dealings of the particular politician he's following don't extend to hiring muscle. At least, not yet. So he's fairly confident that the man is not here for that. Which of course leaves far too many other options open for Tim's comfort. Especially since that helmet qualifies the man as a Mask.

Tim's had ample opportunity to develop a theory about the type of person who would wear a mask, and so far he's only developed two categories for them. Hero and psychopath.

"Oh, don't stop on my account," the man waves at Tim. A gracious gesture that's at odds with how many guns are strapped to his body. The armor, mask, and gear are all new to Tim. He's never seen this man before, which means he's a new player in town. Even the older mercs who want a change keep some stuff from their old personas. Some hint or clue that can link their current persona to their old one. Banking on the built up reputation to get their new start. "I can wait for you to- finish."

There's an obvious leer in the last word that Tim carefully doesn't respond to in any way. It's a probing tactic to get him off guard. He's dealt with enough of it over the years that he barely even acknowledges it anymore. Tim doesn't turn his back on the man. The aide is long gone by now and the woman as well. "I have enough," Tim says and shifts his weight to ease the way they're going numb. He's very careful with his next words. "Did you need something?"

"Yeah," the man straightens up and the playful air slides away as he stalks forward. Tim goes tense and hyper alert. He's not much to look at physically, but that works to his advantage a lot. Not many people think he can defend himself as well as he can. A regimen of Oracle approved training that Tim's been going through since he first appeared at Barbara Gordon's door has changed that. He can't go head to head with most of the really big guys, or the really well armed ones, but he can sure get in a good paralyzing hit to let him get away. A useful tactic in his line of work.

Problem is, there aren't many areas that Tim can hit as the man crouches down in front of him. An easy motion of muscles that he makes look natural. That's not something that's easy to do. Tim knows that from experience. Several months of Connor Hawke trying to turn Tim's natural teenage clumsiness into the almost dancers gait he has, followed by intense refining from Dinah Lance. Tim twitches to hide the way his thumb slips down to hit a button that turns his very expensive camera into a camcorder. "I hear Oracle's the go to man for information here."

"She is," Tim answers warily. It's not a secret that Tim works for the Oracle, but it's also not something that any of her information gatherers like to advertise. It's especially not something that Tim likes to put out there. Not when he is one of the few people she uses to know her name and face.

"Well, I'm in the need of information," the man sounds amused again as he leans forward, and that shouldn't be as easy a move as he makes it look, "and would really like it if I could get a hold of her."

"You don't contact Oracle," Tim's reply is automatic as his fingers twitch on his camera. There's no light or anything to give away that he's recording the conversation, but he has a feeling that the man knows it anyway. "But I can let her know you're looking. Got a name she can call you by?"

"Yep," the man moves to his feet in one swift motion. Smooth and without any sign of the numbness that Tim would've had if he tried to crouch like that. "Red Hood. Looking forward to speaking to your boss."

Tim blinks and the man is gone. He doesn't bother trying to look for him. Just presses the buttons to upload everything he's taken tonight through a wireless connection to wherever Oracle sends this stuff. He grabs his bag and carefully places the camera in its case. Looking around to make sure he left nothing behind before leaving.

~

Tim would usually go straight to the Tower after a job. Spend some time helping Babs go through data or wiring up whatever new toy she's bought since he was last there. He doesn't trust that he's not being followed though.

His phone vibrates in his pocket but Tim ignores it as he gets off the bus and walks to the place he's calling home. A brownstone in a well-to-do area that would call the police in a matter of seconds if anyone was awake to see his ragged hoodie and worn jeans as he walks through it. Tim lets himself in and isn't surprised that he doesn’t have to let his eyes adjust to darkness. Light spills into the foyer from the living room with soft sound.

Tim drops his bag at the foot of the stairs and goes into the room.

Jack Drake is passed out in his wheelchair in front of the TV. A mostly empty bottle of whiskey next to him on the table. No glass in sight. Tim looks at his dad and wonders all over again how someone who can't leave the house can be more distant than someone who used to only be home two months total out of a year.

He eases into the room. Avoiding the places that creak and circling around to approach from behind. Reaching as far as his arm will go to snatch up the bottle before backing into the kitchen. He walks up to the sink and eyes the bottle. There's so little left of what Tim knows was a full bottle just yesterday. He takes a swig of it, grimacing at the burn of it going down his throat, before emptying the rest into the sink. The bottle goes into the trash and Tim backtracks.

The TV stays on, but he flips the light out and makes his way back to the stairs in the dimness. Leaving his father to sleep it off in his chair.

The upstairs is all Tim's. Jack had made noises at first about having the master bedroom as a reward for doing well in physical therapy. He'd said a lot of things in the beginning though and Tim's long past resenting the way those things turned to lies. It's been a year since his last kept appointment and his therapist has stopped trying to get him to attend. There's something there that Tim noticed in the missed calls he'd listened to before his father deleted them. Something in Winter's voice that almost made Tim go out and check, but the closed look in his father's eyes had been more deterrent than Tim liked to admit.

As a consequence, no one but Tim ever touches the top floor. Which makes it strange to reach the top and see the line of light under his bedroom door. Tim never leaves the light on. Tim lets his bag dangle from his hand as he creeps up to it. There's no sound inside and he debates with himself as he reaches for the knob.

His fingers rest lightly on it as he fishes his phone out. Five texts from one of Oracle's proxy numbers wait for him. The last one sent mere seconds ago.

He's in your home.

Tim feels vindicated in skipping the Tower as he pulls the door open and steps in. Phone in one hand, thumb pressed against the panic button that will have Babs sending everything she has his way if she doesn't already have them scrambling.

Red Hood is on his bed. Boots flaking dirt and small stones on the sheets and arms folded under his head. Looking utterly relaxed as he follows Tim with his head. Tim ignores him and goes to his desk to put his bag away. Sending the camera tucked onto of one of his computer screens a reassuring smile before turning around.

"It takes more than an hour for her to check her voicemail, you know?" Tim lies through his teeth.

Red Hood seems to hear it and snorts. "Right. Not why I'm here though, baby snitch."

"Oh?" Tim prods with the sort of smile he used to use at rich galas and charity events when everyone still called him Timmy. The one he uses around the occasional high society folks who spot him and rush over to give their condolences about his father's, 'condition.'

"You seem pretty smart. Considering," Red Hood's silence and lazy head tilt seem to encompass the entirety of the brownstone and the neighborhood. The equipment that Oracle hadn't had to pay for. The spotless room that doesn't really fit the third and fourth-hand clothes Tim is still wearing. "And I really just need a few quick answers tonight. I can wait for your boss lady to contact me on the rest."

"I'm not really equipped for independent contracting," Tim narrows his eyes at the man. Information isn't free, except for a select crowd of people. It's how Babs keeps her gear current and how Tim plans to live once his father's drunk his company into the ground.

"Oracle can add it to my bill," Red Hood goes still in a way that is rather effectively threatening. The stillness of his body drawing the eye to the obvious muscle of his frame and the weapons that are on it. A silent way of pointing out how very easy it would be to kill him. "The Joker."

Tim blinks, taken back and a bit of trivia that he'd been repressing on the ride home comes back. Because Tim has been abusing the case files that Oracle has access to for years and soaking up everything he's read, and the little fact about the last time someone used the name Red Hood was one of those things. "Yes?"

"Where is he?"

"Arkham," Tim frowns and studies the body language of the man in front of him. He's tense and waiting. Aggressive in a way that has nothing to do with threatening Tim. "That's information anyone could get. Why ask me something like that?"

"Because anyone on the street can make a wrong guess, and the docs don't like advertising when their pet psychos get loose," which is true. Usually an alert only goes out after they've done something news worthy. Not many people like to point that fact out so blatantly though, and it's not something someone completely new to the city would pick up on right away. Red Hood rolls his head back and forth. The tension changing in a subtle way that Tim can't really place. "Robin."

Tim goes still in a way that's probably telling, but he really doesn't give a damn. Red Hood has managed to link two names together in a way that Tim doesn't like in any way at all. "What about her?"

Red Hood is looking at him. Head up and off the pillow and tilted. He's silent for a long enough time that Tim starts to feel the need to fidget. Nervous energy building up in him as a tiny voice begins to panic in the back of his mind, 'He knows! He knows, he knows!'

"Nothing. Never mind that," Red Hood rolls to his feet and stalks up to Tim. There are white lenses where the eyes should be and they glint eerily as he looks down at him. His hand moves and Tim flinches back as a gloved hand catches his chin. Thumb pressing against his lip in a way that's too familiar for Tim to allow to set as a precedence. Tim snaps his hand up. Hitting hard at the weakest part of the wrist and slides out of the chair. Getting around Red Hood and nearer to the door.

Red Hood doesn't react at all. His hand is a little limp as he brings it up to nose level, as if he's smelling it, "Waste of perfectly good whiskey, baby snitch."

Red Hood folds himself out of Tim's window without making another sound, and Tim watches warily until he can make himself move to latch it shut. His last words linger in the air like an endearment and Tim has a feeling that --regardless of Oracle's decision-- he's going to see a lot more of this new mask.

~

Tim's unsurprised that he's right when a shadow detaches itself in an alley and he finds himself almost running over Red Hood in his effort to get away from the very large men who are chasing him.

"Get in there," Red Hood nearly tosses Tim into a door hiding in the shadows he'd come from and Tim falls halfway down the stairs that start immediately beyond it. Tim hisses in pain as he sorts himself out, his bag falling all the way down to thump up against a door that looks very secure for the area.

It's one of the bolt holes that Oracle hasn't been able to track down. Hood moves so fast and so frequently that keeping tabs on him is nearly impossible. The gear he has is advanced enough that bugs do very little to help her efforts. Something that's been annoying Babs for the weeks she's been exchanging information with the man. Tim limps down to get his bag and gets an eyeful of the security, debating if it'll be worth it to try something while Hood is occupied.

The sound of fighting spills down the stairs. Screams and grunts, but no shots fired yet which is encouraging. Tim has noticed that Hood tends to use his guns as a last resort in the few fights he's witnessed. Unless he's angry. Then, all bets seem to be off.

Tim's seen that once with a man caught taking little girls home, and never wants to see it again.

The man's agenda is another mystery that no one has been able to figure out yet. He jumps back and forth. Going across the full spectrum of responses seemingly just to confuse everyone paying attention to the newcomer. He patrols the streets like a vigilante. Taking out minor crimes and preventing attacks. He won't involve the police though, and his methods are brutal. He kills sometimes, quickly.

He'll turn right around and deal with the gangs in the same night he saves people though. Cut profits and jobs with rackets. Sell information and tech to rivals until they implode and he, somehow, always comes out on top. Staking out a rough hewn territory in the worst parts of Gotham and controlling it like any other gang.

He buys a complete picture of the current locations of the criminals most likely to wind up in Arkham from Oracle, but doesn't ask anything about them. Not their methods or their past. He doesn't approach any of them. Seems to go out of his way to not be around them at all in fact. Which makes him either the most cautious criminal in the city or the best budding new name in the city.

It's still up for debate pending Batman's observations.

Aside from that first night, Hood hasn't asked a single thing about any of the Batman's people. Has done an incredible job of avoiding the man himself, and that's something that's really starting to worry Babs. Tim's heard more than a few one sided conversations to know she isn't the only one.

The noise dies down and Tim hesitantly starts up the stairs. Grimacing at the way his right knee throbs and trembles when he puts weight on it. That's going to be an absolute joy getting home on.

"You hurt?" Tim looks up to find Hood in the top door. The man looks down before pulling the outer door closed and activating a lock that looks better than the door. The stairs and bottom landing aren't really wide enough for two and Tim shuffles awkwardly as Hood comes down. Trying to push back against the wall to let the man pass.

Hood doesn't do the decent thing and turn sideways to get past him. He barely breaks his stride as he pushes Tim back, one arm sweeping around Tim and pulling him up off his feet. It's an unsteady half-lift that has Tim grabbing folds of the leather jacket he's just noticing as Hood continues down.

"I can walk!" Tim snaps and tries not to move too fast or much. He can walk, but he's not stupid enough to think he can catch himself if Hood drops him now. The jacket is soft and warm under Tim's hands. It's as worn and old as Hood's gear is new. Tim fixes it in his mind as something to possibly look into.

"Sure," Hood is amused and arrogant as he keys in a code and the door opens onto what looks like a small armory. One that's in the process of being moved which explains his nonchalance in showing Tim in. "Doesn't mean you should, baby snitch."

Tim glares until he's dumped onto a table. Next to a pile of munition boxes and a map of the city that's been marked up. Lines of territory and operations that Tim knows because that's his job. Patrol routes of vigilantes overlaying it that Tim recognizes only parts of. Tim's wondering where Hood got that information from when he's distracted by a tug at his belt.

"What are you doing!?" Tim whips his head back around and grabs Hood's hands. Pulling them away from his zipper and trying to scoot back against a few boxes that don't give him any room at all.

Hood's chuckle is low and rich, the mask tilts to the side in a way that Tim's starting to equate with playfulness on the man's part. "I'm hot for your scrawny body, pretty baby," his voice drips with false lust and laughter as he pulls his hands back and takes a step away. Turning to open a container and rummage through it. "I can't fix something I can't see, Tim. So drop them and let me look at that knee."

Tim scowls at the man’s back and reluctantly does as he asks only because his knee had given a white hot flair of pain when Hood bumped it moving away. One that promises to get a lot worse if he doesn't do something about it. Tim's wearing boxers underneath, and they're not even one of the novelty ones that he's sure he'll die in one day just to give the coroner at his autopsy a laugh. He pushes the jeans off under his knees, letting them catch on the custom boots from Babs that'd been the only present he got on his birthday.

There's a nasty looking black and blue color rising around his right knee. It looks to be deep under the flesh. Nothing looks deformed and nothing twinges as Tim runs his fingers along the back of his knee. It's not too serious then, hopefully.

"Nasty," Hood says conversationally. A bundle of white and a tube smacking down next to Tim's leg. He's lost his gloves and Tim nearly jerks as his hands are pushed away and Hood's calloused fingers begin a much more clinical examination. They're slick with something that smells appropriately medicinal that gets rubbed into his skin as Hood moves. Probing the extent of the injury and dragging hisses out of Tim. "I shot someone in the kneecaps last week. Wonder if this is what it looks like when it's done healing. Never stuck around long enough to find out before."

Phil Cumberlon, a conman who got his cash addicting high schoolers to the drugs he pushed by giving freebies out like candy. Huntress had been pleased with that spot of violence. "I think," Tim grimaces as Hood works his hands down into his pants. One hand cupping his calf and the other flexing his foot. It's uncomfortable only when his foot is fully flexed. The extreme shift in muscle disturbing his knee. "I think humans don't heal that neatly."

"Hm," Hood hums and lets go of his foot. The hand on his calf running down to the top of his boot. Resting there and flexing. Two fingers rubbing against the stiff boot material, and two more testing the muscle of his leg. It's not something that Tim would expect from a doctor and the clinical nature of Hood's attention falls away in an instant. "No, I guess it wouldn't," Hood sounds distracted, and his mask is angled slightly higher than Tim's knee. "You're not as scrawny as I thought you'd be. Must be all the running."

Hood's hand comes up in something that Tim can only call a caress. Reaching for what proves to be a knee brace and turning clinical again. Tim is staring down at the man and his face is red. He can feel the burn of that blush down to his soul. "You- What?"

The wrap goes on tight and Tim holds still through the pain of it. It's not comfortable, but he knows the constriction will make getting home so much easier. Hood finishes quickly and doesn't pause as he runs both his hands up Tim's thigh. Rough fingers digging into the muscle and stopping just under the leg of his boxers. Squeezing as Hood leans close to Tim's face, voice low, "All that running, pretty boy, gave you a pair of legs I'd love to wrap around myself."

A warm hand cups Tim's chin, the rough pad of a thumb swiping over his bottom lip in a slow caress. Tim's ears feel nuclear hot and he knows he's gaping. It's only when Hood leans closer that Tim reacts. Shoves two fingers into the indent at the bottom of Hood's neck and pushes. The armor takes the brunt of the shove but the area is vulnerable enough that the man staggers back enough for Tim to get to his feet and pull his pants up. Fumbling the zipper as he tries to keep weight off his injured leg and leaving the belt alone.

His bag bumps against his back as he limps to the door. A simple thing to open from inside. Hood is laughing behind him as Tim grimly makes his way up the stairs. His voice floating out and filling the stairwell, "You're welcome!"

The air of the alley cools some of the heat in Tim's face, and he ignores the unconscious bodies as he sets out to the closest bus stop. There's a trace of salt on his lips that Tim doesn't realize is there until it's gone. The taste lingering on his tongue long after he gets home.

~

Tim's dreams are nebulous things. Flashes of solid forms or sensations. There is no coherent story to them like other people claim they have. Just bits of the things he's been working on or the problems he's been dealing with. It's always been this way for him.

He dreams of the arc of a body flipping through the air. Sometimes it's a boy, most times it's a grown man. He dreams of mocha colored skin under his hands. Soft and covering steel that moves too fluidly to be real. He wakes up to the feeling of a thumb on his lips. Hard and salty.

It's not the first time Tim's blearily made his way to the bathroom down the hall. The only room in his home that he didn't put up Oracle's surveillance equipment in. Tim shuts the door behind him and sinks to the floor. Hand already tight around his erection and seconds away from coming. Remembering the heat of Hood's hands and the pressure of his thumb against Tim's lips. Like a kiss.

Tim's head thunks back hard against the door as he comes. It's a fitting gesture so Tim does it again and again, "Tim, you idiot."

~

There's hot chocolate waiting for him when he heals enough to make the trip out to the Clocktower. With marshmallows and a tin of cookies that are homemade and most certainly not made by Babs.

"You bugged me again," Tim accuses as he snatches a few of the chocolate chip ones from the tin. This right here is the one and only reason to introduce himself to Gotham's vigilante's the he hasn't been able to argue away. Alfred Pennyworth was an absolute god of baked goods.

"Your suspicious gaps in reports forced me to," Babs replies as she watches him eat. Her own drink mostly empty as she props her head on her hand. The look in her eyes is calculating and fascinated. Tim's only reasonably sure what each emotion is for as he crams another cookie into his mouth. Unable to stop himself from losing all traces of civility and manners.

"Lies," Tim says when he takes a deep drink of chocolate. "You're speaking absolute lies right now. There are no gaps in my reports."

"Not obvious ones," Babs admits, "but it doesn't take a genius to see something's up with you."

There may or may not be innuendo in that sentence, and if Tim were to point it out Babs would blame Dick for it. Tim doesn't point that out because he can feel where this talk is going and he already doesn't like it.

"I thought you liked good boys, Tim," Babs smile is sharp and honest. Teasing and not at all judgmental as she pokes into territory that Tim's only just now beginning to come to terms with. "What's with the sudden interest in the bad boy?"

"It's-" Complicated? Try horrifyingly easy. Tim's well aware of his unfortunate reactions to anything that can be considered positive attention. He's had most of his short life to understand the hows and whys of his nature, and Babs had been there for a good portion of it so she knows as well. There's no need to go over it again. "Not the first time exactly."

"No," and her smile dims at the memory. The pictures that Tim knows she never could bring herself to destroy when Tim first brought his collection of photos to her. "I guess not."

They both drink in silence for a few seconds. Letting the unspoken name slip by them. A moment of silence and respect.

"He's dangerous though," Babs starts again. Sliding past the teasing and getting to the heart of the matter. "We still don't even know who he is, and his motives...."

Red Hood's motives are becoming clearer by the day, and the direction they lead in is not pleasant. The map in the safehouse was only the beginning. Hood has been showing up around the other vigilantes more and more. Trailing them on patrols and taunting them. Poking and prodding at weaknesses that he shouldn't know. Slinging out information that really shouldn't be available to anyone outside of their very small and insular circle.

"I know," Tim says and pretends to himself that the look in Babs eyes is sympathy. That she isn't wondering if she's looking at a potential enemy as they finish their drinks.

~

"We," Hood says as he tosses someone --and this is Tim's fault for not staying in the loop enough to realize there's a new gang moving in on territory he thought safe-- head first into the side of a dumpster, "have to stop meeting like this."

Tim bites his lip and flinches back from a boy who looks a little younger than he is. The boy charges headfirst at the hint of weakness and Tim spins. Hooking his legs out from under him and ripping the baseball bat he'd been wielding right out of his hands. A careful kick to the temple puts him out before Tim has to deal with a charging elephant of a man. "But you'd get bored otherwise."

Tim's not sure why he's fighting. His usual method is to distract and run. Get away from the danger quickly and without starting an accidental grudge that might effect his work in the future by beating someone up.

Hood's laughing. Loud and brash and carefree. It twists something in Tim's chest as he dodges a wild punch and breaks the bat against the man's face. Stepping back as he falls unconscious to the ground at his feet. Two more gang members circle Hood. Wary but too stupid to run like most of the rest have already done. Tim watches as a knife flickers out in the streetlight of the empty block.

"I'd never get bored of you, baby," Hood shoots back. His fist flying out and taking out the armed kid, spinning with the momentum to backhand the second viciously. The boy bouncing off the concrete of an apartment complex before slumping to the ground.

Hood looks around the street. Satisfaction and obvious relish pouring from his body language as he stops to eye the people Tim took out by himself. Not as many as Hood, but Tim's never felt any compulsion to compete with anyone in a fight over body counts.

The noise he makes as he kicks aside one part of the shattered bat makes Tim flush though. Stupid pride going straight to his head as Hood steps closer. Too close for Tim to think right as he blurts, "You're not exactly what people consider a people person, Hood. Some might even go so far as to say you avoid them."

"Well," Hood reels Tim in with one arm around his back. His other coming up to cradle Tim's face in a way that Tim's been dreaming about far too much recently. Thumb rubbing softly and insistently against his lips. "You're just special."

Tim doesn't think. Not anymore, he's been thinking since his knee healed enough for him to take on more jobs and it's not gotten him anywhere. He closes his eyes and tilts his head into it. Pressing against Hood's thumb like he wants to press against the man's lips. Treating the gesture like the kiss it's meant to be, and reeling at the growl that rips it's way free from Hood. His arm tightening around Tim. Almost grinding them together as he rips his hand away.

Tim's eyes fly open to see Hood fumbling at the bottom edge of his mask. Fingers going up to just under the left side of his jaw and pressing in. There's a faint click and seams appear in the side of the helmet. Tim holds still in Hood's arms as they widen enough for him to slide a finger in and tug. He doesn't realize he's not breathing until the siren wail of a cop car shatters the night.

"Next time," Hood says as he reluctantly lets Tim go, the helmet sealing closed again with another nearly silent click. Sliding his entire body against Tim's once before backing off. "I'm going to see what you taste like, baby."

It's almost as much of a threat as it is a promise. Tim doesn't stick around to watch the man fade into the shadows. The sirens are closing in and Tim has to run to not get caught up in this mess.

~

Tim wakes up to a report marked urgent from Oracle.

It details a break in at the Cave.

No footage of the culprit, no sign of anything taken.

Just things appearing where they shouldn't. At least as far as Tim can decipher from the few details. Batman's got something big going on, again, and he's not sharing all the info he has with Oracle. Again.

Tim hopes this isn't a sign of something that's going to be as big as the mess that almost ended with Robin dead.

~

"Hey, baby snitch."

It says something that Tim knows it's Hood even before he opens his mouth based only off of how his chest feels pressing against Tim's back. Tim sighs and snaps one last picture before lowering his camera. Letting his head rest on the little wall he's behind. "Red Hood. What can I do for you today?"

"Hm," Hood's hum is thoughtful and lewd in all it's potential. A hot breath of air rushes over Tim's neck making him shiver violently before freezing. Soft lips press against the thin skin of his neck and a nose nuzzles against his hair. "You could let me make good on my promise."

Red Hood isn't wearing the distinctive helmet that's getting him noticed by everyone in the city. The thought is heavier than it should be. Tim swallows and feels his cheeks heating up as he remembers Hood's promise the last time they'd met.

"Turn around, Tim," Hood whispers. One hand plucking his camera from his hands and --pointedly-- turning it away from them both. "Let me see those pretty blues of yours."

Tim turns. An awkward movement because Hood isn't backing away one bit. Forcing Tim to brush and rub against him until he's sprawled out, almost on his back, below the smirking man. And Tim's breath catches hard in his throat.

He's wearing a domino that does little to hide his features.

"There you are," gloved fingers drag across Tim's lip in the only type of kiss they'd shared before, but Tim's not thinking about kisses or masks or anything besides the Case that he's heard about and never seen. The one he's always imagined as an imposing column of glass.

There's differences. Lines and fat burned away. Sharper cheeks and a streak of pure white right at his temple. Enough to make anyone doubt. Right up until Hood's smirk turns into a grin and if he hadn't done that. If he hadn't smiled that smile....

"How," Tim knows that smile. He knows that face. Separate he could have written it off, together they're a damning combination that leaves no doubt in Tim's mind. Only confusion and shock and more than a bit of fear. Tim shakes his head and blinks hard at the man above him. Word slipping from his mouth before he can stop them. Plaintive and lost sounding even to his own ears. "You can't be. You're dead."

Hood, Jason Todd, freezes. His smile wiped out in the blink of an eye and his body going tense even as his soft lips part in surprise. It lasts for a small eternity before Jason's face hardens and the hand on Tim's face starts to hurt. "What do you know?"

"I," Tim flinches and knows there's going to be bruises on his face in the morning as Jason, Red Hood, yanks him up in an interrogation pose. One designed to be as uncomfortable as possible and push truth out from him quicker. "I know, knew, you."

"The fuck you did!" Hood shakes him and there's anger, so much of it, contorting his face. Tim's caught up in it. In the rage he's only ever seen from a distance and turned onto others. Staring as Hood slams him back into the wall. His head bouncing off the concrete. "How much? How much do you know?!"

The first slam has Tim seeing stars. The second makes his vision swim. Everything. Tim knows everything, and he tries to tell Hood that. Tries to open his mouth but a third slam draws out a pained cry that Tim can't keep in, "Jason stop!"

Tim's free in an instant. He curls up and clutches his head and works on breathing. Bright spots dancing across his vision in time with his thudding heart. By the time he can see past his own pain he's alone.