Tim’s bored and ready to plead the plague to get out of having to smile at another poorly disguised employee trying to hit on him under the protection of anonymity. It’s either that or try to kill Bruce with the power of his mind for declaring the annual company party was going to be a masquerade. As if none of them get enough of masks on a nightly basis.
He dodges Maria from accounting whose feathery owl mask has given her the confidence to try and grope him twice in the past hour. The fact that it is a masked event means Tim can’t exactly reprimand her for it like he wants to. Can only grit his teeth and accept the pinching fingers when he can’t dodge.
"Timothy," Alfred melts out from the crowd with a tray of flutes that look exactly the same as the other flutes being circulated through the crowd, but smells tellingly of apples when Tim picks one up. The older man is laughing at him.
"Thank you, Alfred," Tim accepts the drink and the amusement that Alfred’s deriving from this all. "What are my chances of slipping out through a vent?"
"Very low," Alfred brings the tray down and towards his chest when a stray hand tries for one of the flutes. It’s a fluid move that seems entirely accidental. Almost as accidental as the passing waiter who inserts himself briefly between the two. "I believe they’ve been trapped to encourage Master Damian to stay."
The last time Tim had seen Damian, the boy had been glowering at a trio of giggling women taking advantage of Dick’s really bad costume to get their hands up his shirt when they weren’t cooing at him. Tim may or may not have cell phone footage. That he may or may not have already sent to Cass. His phone vibrates in his pocket as Alfred walks away to refresh Bruce’s emptying glass. Cass has sent him a picture. It’s of herself smiling. The way her hair and scarf are blowing gives him a vague idea of how high up she is. Tim feels an insane amount of jealousy.
She should be here. Suffering with him. He opens his camera and frowns as he takes a picture to send back to her. She’ll understand everything she needs to from it, and probably leave a voicemail at his apartment of herself laughing in retaliation.
Tim tucks the phone away and notes Maria’s position as he plots a course toward Dick and Damian that will take him past the least grabby people. There’s a minor stir in the crowd and Tim turns to see what’s going on and nearly snorts apple juice out of his nose because- Well, it’s a reasonable action to Red Hood waltzing into a company party.
Tim wants to scream at Dick and bang his head against the wall and can’t decide which one to do first. Because he’d told Dick not to. Told him it was such a very bad idea to invite Jason, and look at this. Tim was right. Again. Dick really ought to know better by now.
"Aw, aren’t you glad to see me, boss?" Jason asks. Saccharine sweet and enjoying every second of Tim’s pain. He hasn't even tried making his outfit look fake so they can all pass it off as a joke later. Those are real guns and the blood stains are fresh.
Tim can see the headlines in the morning. A blurry camera shot of Red Hood standing next to one of the giant trees with the headline, ‘Wayne Hired Criminal Shocker!’ Maybe with one of the stock photos of Tim’s face under it speculating about his involvement with Batman Inc. again. Just when he was starting to get Vale off his back and onto some other promising juicy story.
"I hate you," Tim hisses and barely stops himself from gripping his hair. He can hear the whispers starting already and can see a few cameras being lifted out of the corner of his eyes. "So very much."
"I’m hurt," Jason sidles close and grabs the clenched fist that's not holding the glass. He’s leering under the helmet even though Tim can’t see it. Tim's been around Jason enough that he's developed a sense for it and just feels it. Jason doesn't shout but his next words ring loud and clear through the room. "I thought we had something more special than that, Babe."
Tim hears a sudden, high pitched giggle in the shocked silence that follows. He will not cry or scream. No matter how badly he wants to it will only make the situation worse. He can sense Bruce stalking in from the side --too late-- and mourns the fact that he’s never getting rid of Vicky Vale after this. "You're going to pay for this."
Jason laughs like Tim said something insanely hilarious instead of the threat Tim's going to make very good on. "You do that, babe, you do that."
In hindsight, it had been a pretty stupid fucking move. Jason isn't too proud to admit he hadn't thought his stunt the whole way through.
Sure, watching the Replacement turn red and frantic as he tried to do damage control had been hilarious. Seeing Bruce clenching his jaw clear through the mask of Brucie and the horror in Dick's eyes was just a bonus. The media frenzy that had descended on them after was an unexpected fallout. Watching the increasingly flustered press encounters with any of the Waynes, and reading the outrageous speculation had left Jason crying.
Worth it, he'd thought at the time, so worth it.
That was then though, and this is now.
Timothy Drake-Wayne sticks out in crime alley like- There really isn't any comparable analogy that Jason can use. The man fucking shines in the streets. Glides around like he's at the most prestigious ball and he's posing for the cameras of every gossip rag in the world.
"Are you fucking insane!?" Jason can't help it. Can't keep the disbelief and outrage out of his voice as he glares down at the spoiled rich brat who's walking the streets like every eye out there isn't sizing him up for a nice little mugging.
"But, Darling," Tim bats his eyes up at Jason, and the fucker's obviously wearing mascara and eyeliner because those Bambi eyes aren't natural to him. It's disturbing on a whole new level that Jason wasn't even aware existed before. "I've missed you so terribly!"
"Your aim'll get better," Jason says on automatic, because most of his brain is busy being horrified over the fact that he can feel his street cred bleeding away by the second.
Tim makes a distressed noise that Jason's only ever heard cute and fluffy things make when feral cats get them by the neck. It simultaneously inspires a fierce need to destroy everything harmful in a ten foot radius of the man, and makes Jason want to run for the church because Satan is lurking behind those blue eyes. Caught between the two powerful urges Jason freezes and does nothing as the women he'd been talking to edge closer.
"Aw, honey," Kelli, hardened and cynical by her years of working the streets clacks over boldly. She's wobbly on her heels but her glare cuts right into Jason as she pulls Tim into her bony arms. Cooing over him and petting him with the hand not holding the mostly spent cigarette. "Don't listen to a word that thug says. You poor thing. Did you come out here all alone?"
Jason makes a noise that he personally thinks is close to the one Tim made, but only gets another heated glare from Kelli and the other girls who are now circling around Tim. Surrounding him protectively and smiling in ways that Jason's sure they haven't smiled in a long time. Getting protective and worried over Tim who can handle himself just fine.
Movement flickers on the edge of his vision and Jason doesn't need to turn his head to know there's more than a few runners taking off to sell this new bit of information. Newspaper articles were one thing. Most people didn't believe even half the shit reporters published, but a street kid selling what his cousin's boyfriend saw? Absolute and utter truth as far as Gotham was concerned.
Tim smirks with his eyes at Jason, and snuggles into the hands petting him. Smug and viciously victorious. Jason grits his teeth and can almost hear the rumors flying through the city about Red Hood's squeaky clean boy toy. The next week is going to be hell. Every punk in the city is going to think they can start shit in his territory now, and he's going to have to work twice as hard to prove he's no pushover. Just because he-
"Touche," Jason mutters through his clenched jaw, and Tim smiles.
Bright and wide. Too innocent and guileless for who he really is as he extracts himself from the women. Winding his arm through Jason's and leaning his head against his chest just so he can look up at him through his ridiculous eyelashes. "I though we could do something tonight. A date. It's been so long since I've seen you, Darling. You're not busy," Tim gives a totally fake and unconvincing look of worry to the women, "are you?"
"Of course he's not, sweetheart," Kelli tosses her bleached hair and gives Jason the hairy eyeball. Daring him to say anything to the contrary. "You two just go right along now, and," the eyeballing gets pointed, "you treat your boy better. I know you know how."
Jason can't really do more than grit out a smile and nod for her. He turns and heads into an alley. Feeling the pricking of more eyes on him than he likes.
"I," Jason says. Deliberate and slow so he can taste the words and feel how right they are. "Hate you. So godamn much."
Tim tightens his arm through Jason's in a way that disguises the fact he's painfully digging his elbow into Jason's gut. His voice is bright and chipper, "The feeling is entirely mutual, Darling."
Jason shudders and keeps walking.
Tim gets a bouquet of a dozen roses at work. Every day for a week. The card on each one is big and flashy and leaves no doubt to anyone who sees the delivery man who it's from. A fact that the vultures circling the building seized on immediately.
"This can't be healthy for your teeth," Dick says from his casual seat on the edge of Tim's desk. The latest batch of flowers dethorned and stripped of their leaves. "You keep grinding them like that and you'll have nothing left."
"It's either my teeth or my hair, Dick," Tim says as he works through a report. Pulling the information he needs out of it and translating it into Idiot so that he can brief a table of stockholders on why this project will work to get them more money. "Considering what happens to the stocks when any of us get hit in the face, I thought my back teeth are the way to go."
"I just worry, little brother," Dick's twisting the flowers. A looks of extreme concentration on his face as he bends and moves the stems around. "I mean, you've both had your laughs over it. Shouldn't you guys let it go now? Before it gets bigger than either of you can handle?"
"Jason started it," Tim points out reasonably as he dumps things into a slide show. Throwing in graphics and line graphs because everyone loves them. "He can back out any time he's willing to give in."
"Or," Dick holds up the roses. He's shaped them into a crown that's only a little lopsided. It slides easily onto Tim's head. His vision going a little red and green at the top. "You could just stop responding to it all, and he'll give up out of boredom."
No. That is not an option anymore. Tim's had to duck too many questions about kinky sex, and Vale has paid every store in a mile radius of his apartment to inform her the second he so much as looks at a box of condoms.
Tim pulls the crown off his head and hangs it on the corner of his screen. His office smells strongly of flowers and the scent is starting to follow him home, but he won't throw them out where people can see and gossip about the possible meaning of the action. "Jason started it and he will end it. By admitting his utter defeat."
"This isn't a game of gay chicken you know," Dick says, but it's a mild statement. Tim can see the way Dick's eyes are bright with amusement. He's enjoying the hell out of himself. "How far do you intend to take this if Jay doesn't give?"
"Dick," Tim looks up from the screen to look the older man straight in the eyes. To show him how very serious Tim's taking this affront to his image, "I intend to ride this trainwreck all the way to it's inevitable, fiery end if that's what it's going to take."
The way Dick laughs his way out of the office should worry Tim, but he receives an email confirmation to the tickets he requested. Everything else takes second place to arranging things to get Red Hood to the opera by eight that night.
Bruce has a box. It's reserved just for him and not used by anyone else. Jason knows this. Has known it since the first and last time he'd been forced into a penguin suit and paraded out to the opera. A feat that was handled with the same skillful subterfuge and manipulation than and now.
The fact that Tim hadn't used it has more to do with the asshole wanting to make Jason as uncomfortable as possible than the flimsy lie that had passed so easily from his mouth when Jason realized he'd been tricked. To proud to back down, Jason had only smiled and let himself be led to the very center of the theater. His mask and armor absolutely glaring even in the subdued lighting. He hadn't felt like he stuck out any worse than the first time he'd come in a brand new suit and tie, and Tim eats it the fuck up with a smile. Enjoying every twitch of discomfort Jason can't hide.
And maybe there's a bit of making society uncomfortable as well, Jason admits when the lights come back up and the people sitting around them can't get out of their seats fast enough. Tim smiles very sweetly at them all when their pale faces turn back for furtive looks as the crowd heads for the lobby.
Jason sneers at a group of rich women who look ready to faint at the sight of him. Leather jacket stretching as he crosses his arms and leans against the marble walls. One boot planted firmly against it and probably leaving streaks behind as most of Gotham's high and mighty circle around him. Looking at him like he's some sort of wild animal at a zoo.
Tim stands next to him in an immaculate suit that screams how filthy rich he is. His smile is relaxed and he keeps touching Jason. Little touches that speak very loudly at how very comfortable he is with the dangerous Red Hood. "Did you enjoy the show?"
"Like you'd enjoy another hole in your head," Jason replies. There's no worry of being overheard. They've got a generous bubble of space around them. All Jason has to do is smirk and not look too murderous. "Hope you don't think I'm going to hold back when the police come in here. I'm not getting tossed back behind bars, Babe."
"You'd be out before the night is done," Tim says and his face is still doing that expressive dance that's disturbing when Jason's so used to reading slight shifts through a cowl. "Besides, the police won't get called. They," Tim tilts his head back to the room in a way that looks flirtatious, "don't have the sense to call 911 on you. You're my date. That supersedes the fact that you're a wanted criminal."
"Brainless twits," Jason says through his teeth as the women turn to scuttle away. "You'd think all the dumb ones would be dead by now."
"Yes, well," Tim moves closer to place his head against Jason's chest. An awkward angle with Jason's arms still in the way. "We have Bruce to thank for that. He's always around to save them so they never learn."
"Right," Jason grumbles and reluctantly uncrosses his arms to wrap one around Tim. He'd make a scene if he thought it'd do him any good, but Tim's pretty uncaring about what high society thinks. He only gets bothered by media attention and there isn't even a lone paparazzi to make it worth it. He's eying the exits but even with how hard everyone in the room is trying to ignore him, he knows they're tracking every breath he takes.
Jason forces a smile and pulls Tim away from the wall towards where the drinks seem to be coming from. Fuck if he was doing this completely sober. "Have I said how much I hate you?"
"Hm," Tim smiles and waves at an older man who looks like he's seen maggots crawling out of his salad. "Oh, not since last week at least, Darling."
Jason's smile melts into a grin and the bubble gets wider. Fuck it. If these people wanted a show he'd give them a show. "Well, I do. So very damn much."
"I'm concerned," Bruce says and Tim tries not to shout or cry as coffee goes up his throat and about halfway out his nose. It's painful and humiliating on top of being scared out of his mind.
"Bruce," Tim manages to choke out after a fit of coughing. He turns to his kitchen and doesn't bother asking how the man got in through the tiniest window in the apartment. "What are you doing here?"
It's only when he arches an eyebrow that Tim notices Bruce isn't in uniform. Which probably means he came in through the front door before Tim came home, and has been sitting like a creeper in his kitchen for the past twenty minutes watching Tim. Which in turn means that Bruce isn't just concerned, he's worried.
"Uh," Tim winces and wonders if he should even bother hoping that the man's worried about something completely mundane. Like Tim's sleep schedule, Ra's latest attempt to send him a fruit basket, or the number of apples Tim hasn't been eating lately. "I'm handling it?"
That wasn't supposed to be a question, but after the stunt Jason pulled with the champagne and torch --after Tim had thought he'd pickpocketed most of the man's deadly weapons off of him-- he's not really so sure anymore. Plus, it's Bruce. He's got a way of looking at him that makes Tim question everything he thought he believed.
"Hm," Bruce walks up to the couch and drops a folded up magazine on the couch. It's colorful and full of pictures in the way that only the very worst ones are. "As long as you're sure then it's fine. Don't kill Dick."
Tim picks up the magazine warily and it falls open to a page on celebrity gossip. He's expecting the grainy picture of Hood and himself from the party. He's expecting the salacious words and leading hints. He's not expecting the insider scoop though.
"Ride this train to-" Tim gapes as his own words, slightly edited, are printed across the page. Dick. Dick was selling things to the enemy. Tim reads to the end of the blurb and feels the blood drain from his face. "Wait! Wedding bells!?"
"You haven't been by the manor lately," Bruce says and his eyes are crinkling like they do when he's laughing silently at people. "Dick's been making plans, and Alfred has been very receptive to them."
Tim wants to scream. He waits until Bruce has patted his head and left to stuff his face under the couch cushions and let lose.
"You told Alfred!"
Nightwing dodges the kick, the punch, and the second punch. Impressive when he's so clearly out of breath from laughing. Jason growls and wishes he could draw his gun on him, but Dick's never been very impressed with that show of force.
"Hood, why would I have to tell him anything?" Dick laughs as he lands in a crouch on the ledge of the roof. "You guys are all over the papers. He was at the Christmas party too. Of course he was going to find out!"
Jason snarls and rushes the smug bastard. Not reaching him in time to push him off. Hands slam onto his shoulders from above and grip as Dick flips over him. Jason has a second to regret it before he's flipping too. Pulled by Dick's weight to slam onto the roof.
"Fucker!" Jason spits out then breathes in past the force of the fall. "You know that's not what I mean. You told him it was real!"
"Isn't it?" Dick's voice is guileless as he bends over Jason.
"No!" Jason kicks out and catches Dick in the knee, and then completely fails to roll far enough away when Dick comes crashing down on top of him. "And you know damn well none of it is."
"Dunno, Jaybird, seems real enough to me," Dick rolls so that most of his weight is squarely on Jason's upper back. An effective pin that allows him to just sprawl. "You call each other names, you go out on dates, you buy each other little things. Sounds like you're dating."
"Lies, all of it," Jason grunts as he tries to get the heavy asshole off him, but Dick refuses to budge. He relaxes after the one try and settles in to wait for Dick to slip up. "I just wanted to see the Replacement flounder a bit. Nothing more."
"Really? Alright then, how far are you going to go for this then?" Dick asks and he sound like he's ready to laugh again. Depending on Jason's answer. "Marriage? 2.5 kid and a dog?"
"Fuck no, just until the reporters get tired of it," Jason protests immediately.
"Jay," the amusement slips out of Dick's voice rapidly. "What if they don't?"
Jason goes still because that's a point. A valid one he hadn't thought about before. Really, Jason hadn't thought past that initial announcement at the party though. He hadn't anticipated Tim's retaliation. Hadn't thought that he'd have to hit back and keep taking hits in turn. That it'd all devolve into this back and forth game they were locked in to see who would blink first.
If he had, he might have remembered Tim was like a snake and didn't have the necessary eyelids to blink.
A bony chin rests on the back of his head. "Jay?"
"Fuck off," Jason says with no real heat at all. "I don't know, alright?"
Dick pats his back. Like Jason's a dog that needs reassuring. "Yeah, I didn't think so."
"You're such a big help, anyone ever tell you that?" Jason uses the shift of Dick's body to jerk away and roll to his feet. Dick flops onto his back and stretches with an easy grin. "Asshole."
Tim considers the merit of volunteering himself to be a human guinea pig for the slight chance that he'd gain a useful meta ability like being able to become intangible and melt right through solid objects. Such as, for example, the kitchen counter he's backed up against as Alfred brings out another color wheel. Coordinated perfectly with his skin tone and the combinations for the wedding that might best suit it.
"I," Tim had a voice once. He's sure of it. The cracked and wobbly thing that comes out of his mouth is not it. His voice is probably gone with his mind. Fleeing in fear into the night. "I really don't-"
"Hm," Alfred hums and it's the one he gives into when he's spotted a bit of mud in the shape of a foot in the manor. "I suppose this wouldn't do at all if it were to be a winter wedding."
Tim's mind goes to a buzzing blank space every time Alfred mentions that word, and he's starting to think it's intentional because every time he manages to restart his brain Alfred has gone onto the next item on his terrifyingly long list. It's payback. Of some kind. Tim's sure of it.
"There's also the matter of flowers. Completely dependent on the time of season and colors of course, but a few are worth mentioning on their own merits I think."
Tim hopes the gleam in the older man's eyes is laughter. He really, really does.
"I propose a ceasefire," Red Robin says after the last dealer is down and out for the count.
Jason assess the street and sees no movement. He heads to the roofline and waits. Tim hangs back, making the call for police pick up that Red Hood never bothers with. The beat down is all the warning these guys will get. The smart ones will head it. The dumb ones quickly become smart the second time he finds them.
He takes the time to school any obvious relief out of his face, because getting tailed by Tim in a suit with fucking tulips on his rounds was more than enough for him to consider the benefits of moving to the remotest planet in the universe. He had to beat so many smart asses black and blue after that when the word got out and all the fucking criminals bought flowers for him.
"What made you crack?" Jason asks with a smirk when Tim flows over the edge of the roof.
"Flowers," Tim says and his voice is distant and haunted enough to make a chill go up Jason's spine, "and how they'd work best with out coloring and wedding colors. Depending on the season we decide to set the date."
Jason swallows back a smart ass remark at that, because he doesn't want to know. He really doesn't and Tim will share if he thinks he must. "Fuck, fine then."
Tim nods and disappears into the night, and Jason feels relieved. Maybe now he'll stop finding flowers left out for him on his patrol.
It's a draw and Tim doesn't feel the least bit satisfied with it.
It doesn't all just go away, of course. He's still asked an inappropriate number of questions about his non-existent sex life to make going out for his own coffee worth it. He's managed the trick of not answering any question about Red Hood though. Just smiles and lets the speculation run wild. It branches out, collapses under it's own weight and burns to the ground. Vicky Vale is as rabid as ever, but Tim's decided that she's just his personal cross to bear and deals as best he can.
Aside from the occasional shriveled rose petal in his office it's over. There's nothing to show of what the tabloids are calling the most torrid fling of the decade. At least until Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus get tired of not being the center of media attention. Leaving Tim exactly as free as he was before the whole thing went down.
Tim should be relieved. He isn't, and that's really starting to annoy him.
He peels two rose petals off the bottom of his right shoe and considers getting the janitors in to clean his office again. The stupid things were everywhere though. Tim huffs and places his shoe next to the other before going into his room to change out of his suit. Dropping the bruised petals into a trash can on his way there.
It's stupid. Tim berates himself as he hangs the suit up --careful with the creases even though he's going to be pressing it later-- but he thinks he's actually missing Jason.
No. Tim's hand hovers over the sweats he usually wears when he's staying in and frowns down at it. He doesn't like lying. Especially not to himself. Even if the truth makes him want to bang his head in a door and question his sanity all over again. He doesn't just miss Jason. He misses dating him too, and that thought is hard to swallow even after several weeks of not thinking about it.
"You're pathetic," Tim moans and leaves the sweats. Reaching into the closet instead for actual clothes.
"Chinese?" Tim holds a white plastic bag up with one finger. He looks oddly at home in the dirty hallway of the place Jason's squatting in with his worn hoodie and jeans.
Jason blinks and fights back a yawn. He's oddly pleased to see him again. Jason blames the lack of sleep for that. "Why the hell not?"
He turns and leaves the door open. Going to sit on the mattress that's a lot cleaner and newer than anything else in the building. Tim follows and doesn't hesitate to sit next to him. The bag rustling between them.
It's been a while since they've seen each other in more than passing glimpses at night. Tim looks good. He's tired and obviously overworked but that's par for the course for any of them. Jason studies him closely as he dives into a container of rice with the flimsy plastic spork given them, and doesn't see much else. Tim looks up and Jason scowls at being caught staring.
"So, I was thinking," Tim drawls out between bites of food after he looks away. Not saying a word about the staring. It's enough to put Jason on edge.
"Those aren't words I like to hear," the Babe almost slips out. Habit, Jason tells himself. Habit and the fact that it's a name that suits Tim.
"I kind of liked it," Tim says and it takes Jason a moment to parse that Tim hasn't gained mind reading powers. Tim shrugs at Jason's blank look, but studiously avoids looking him in the eye. "The dating. I kind of liked it."
"Who wouldn't?" Jason asks with a smirk that's hard to keep up. He'd liked it too. It's something that Jason's come to terms with only after they'd called ceasefire. Not the publicity stunts or the sickly sweet nicknames, but the other stuff. The touches that had been casual, the way they'd cut at each other, the way that Tim had laughed --for real-- when Jason said outright rude things to people's faces.
"But not the," Tim twirls the spork around, ignoring Jason's smirk. "The media frenzy and the wedding stuff. That was all too-"
"Fast," Jason supplies when Tim grins. Yeah, it was all a bit much. It's not like they're in love. Jason eyes Tim over their food. They really don't know enough about each other to get there just yet, but what they do know-
It's enough know that Jason likes Tim. Enough to want to find out if that could turn into more.
"Well," Jason drawls and he can see Tim's already rolling his eyes, "I guess you're pretty enough. You need me to check a yes or no box or something?"
"Dear Jason," Tim deadpans, "Do you like like me? Eat your food for yes, jump out the window for no."
Jason looks over at the window and considers it for a few seconds before he's dodging a kick to the head. "I thought it was my choice!"
"Just eat your food, Darling," Tim mutters, and Jason kinda likes that. The way the nickname rolls off Tim's lips when he's not trying to be annoying.
"Whatever, Babe," Jason goes back to the noodles he hasn't quite identified yet and eats.