"So you're Stark's sweetener?"
He'd been promised one. That was some impressively fast service, though - sat in his hotel room before he even got back, sprawled on a window seat with three shirt-buttons open, pose deliberately casual, face a little flushed. He closed the door, and the rentboy nodded easily. "Sweet as they come."
Nice line. He'd tip his hat, if he was wearing one. He turned up the dim lights a little, and walked over to the bar. "Can I get you anything?"
"Helped myself already." There was something...off...about that, and he looked up again; in the full light, the sweetener looked a little young to be drinking, even if he'd been doing it anyway. More than a little young. Great. Jailbait. Smooth and fresh and looking just enough like trouble to tell him what sort of man Howard Stark had taken him for.
That had been easy. The hard part would be talking his way out of here. Stark wasn't used to taking 'no' for an answer. No one in his company was. And this kid, low-hanging jeans and tight shirt and a touch of cologne and a snarl hiding an inch behind his lips, wasn't the one he wanted to have bearing that message.
He sat down on the edge of the bed, a glass of whiskey in hand, not saying anything. Thinking. The teenager rolled to his feet, got behind him - can't see his face now, damn - and laid a hand on the back of his neck. Stroking. Up to his hairline, into his collar, fingernails tracing the path of least resistance. This boy was trouble - trouble that was reaching around his neck and unknotting his tie.
He gulped down another harsh mouthful of whiskey. The kid couldn't see his face. He was growing angry.
"So what's your name, sir?"
Hadn't been on the game that long, mercifully. Not long enough to know not to ask people's names. He turned around, put on a smile as fake as the kid's, and said, "Just call me Bruce."
"And what about yours?" Good time to ask. The boy was kneeling on the sheets beside him and his hands were tugging lazily at Bruce's collar, face inches from Bruce's own, blue eyes averted out of something distinctly other than modesty.
"Me? I'm Anton."
So he'd been on the game long enough to give his own hooker alias without blinking. "Anton." It sounded clipped and cosmopolitan. He wondered what you could tell about a company by the names of its whores. "You do a lot of work for Stark Industries?" It was funny how you could make the real deal pass for smalltalk sometimes.
"Oh, I'm freelance. But this is my biggest contract." Liar, I can tell they've got a hold on you somehow - The words had been punctuated by the popping of buttons, and Bruce bit the end of his tongue. He couldn't act like there was a problem - it had been too late for that from the moment he walked through the door, and problems were what he had come here to solve, but he hadn't expected a problem as thorny as 'Anton'.
The boy sat beside him, hands on Bruce's bare shoulders, his collarbone, his chest. Mouth curling again. Bruised from the inside. And his blue eyes, smouldering like hellfire.
And Bruce was going to say wait and he was going to say no but the kid was a second too goddamn impulsive and he had to settle for telling himself at least there's no law against kissing. And what a kiss. It tasted of good vodka and bad ideas, firm and confident and just slightly desperate and wrong. Bruce's body was responding, his tongue curling around Anton's and an arm wrapping round the boy's back, and, oh - but he pulled his lips away.
No. God, no. Whatever Stark thought, he was not the kind of man who fucked drunk teenage boys. He was -
He was playing a part. He was a man of the world, indulging himself while concluding his business. And his real business was getting the dirt on Howard Stark, and this? This was it. He was looking at it. He'd been hunting for evidence of sin under Stark's auspices and here it was sitting in his lap.
The boy licked his lips deliberately, leaned back, and unfastened his own shirt, letting it slip down his shoulders. It was, Bruce suddenly noticed, a very nice shirt - probably tailored rather than off the rail...so either Howard Stark spoiled his whores terribly or there was something else going on here. But Anton's hands were wrapping round his waist now - they were long and clever, running over the flesh near his navel - and his list of options was shortening as rapidly as another part of him was lengthening.
What are you made of? he thought, hands still splayed against the kid's back.
There was a steady, dull shine in those blue eyes that gave him an answer; iron.
"So how -"
The boy was straddling his lap, arms crossed behind Bruce's neck and crotch pressed tight above his own. Bruce was trying to think of Gotham, think of cold nights on rooftops and simple wrongs to right, simple crimes to solve.
"- do you want -"
Gotham whores, he understood, from the streets to the penthouse; they were on something, or they were being leant on by something, or they just loved money more than they loved their own lives. Anton was different - sleek, with an even California tan, shirt still caught on one arm but no, there were no trackmarks there, no scars, no answers. His forehead was almost touching Bruce's, lips breathing words into his own.
"- to do this?"
And those eyes were on his own. They weren't boring in. They weren't looking for anything. Just shining cold, defending this poor soul against allcomers, and Bruce knew he had no lockpicks tonight, no tool that could cut through that door behind those eyes - except the truth.
He pushed the kid back by the shoulders and snapped out the only answer he had. "I don't. Do you?"
Anton looked down at the bulge in Bruce's pants, clearly sceptical. More than sceptical. Somewhere inside he was as mad as Bruce, or more. Like he didn't care what he wanted any more.
"I'm telling you, I don't. What I want from you is something else entirely."
Anton raised a cynical eyebrow. Like he'd heard that one before. Like he was tired inside, like lights flickering out -
What he wanted was the mask. Some protection, something between his face and the boy's so they didn't have to look at each other like one man looks at another man. He didn't have his mask, only his tattered goddamn honour. "I want to know why you're doing this for Stark. You must have better options -"
The kid quit trying to hide his anger. "Think you're the first one to ask?"
"I'm the first one to care."
Anton tossed his head in a silent fuck you. Either believed him, or didn't care any more. "He doesn't give me other options."
"Howard Stark? What's he going to do to -" a pretty piece of honey with an attitude "- you?"
"He's my father. He'll do what he damn well likes."
Bruce could have recovered more easily from a fifty-foot fall. What? But it was no lie.
What kind of man was Howard Stark to be using his only son like this? "Why -"
He didn't even know how to ask. But his memory took over and filled in the blanks. Newspaper cuttings. Socialite gossip he'd pretended to care about just so no one would think that he cared about anything else. Tony Stark, heir and delinquent, with a string of DUIs and celebrity boyfriends and girlfriends; a young, strung-out embarrassment, the ruin of early promise. His hands, long and capable. Bruce could half-remember overheard rants from insipid dinner parties; 'Just think of the work that boy could do for Stark Industries if he wasn't so feckless...'
Bruce hadn't thought he had a single reason to ever care about Stark's wayward son. What did Tony have to do with the crooked business? He was only -
- halfway drunk and topless in Bruce's bed, silk sheets scrunched up in his fists. Great god, why?
Criminals were supposed to be simple to understand. They were motivated by greed, superstition and callousness towards others. So the criminal Stark had found a place in the firm for his wayward son? A use for him? A punishment?
"What the hell is this about?" Bruce's heart was thudding against his ribs. Tell me now, kid, and in a few month's time you'll be sat behind a screen telling the jury.
"Said I was weak." Tony's voice was steady, but his eyes were narrow and bitter. "Said some real work would put iron in my backbone. Make me a Stark."
"And that's why you go along with it?" Bruce snarled. "Dumb pride?"
Pride had never been so laser-sharp. "No."
Tony didn't say any more. He didn't fucking have to.
Bruce was a sea of broiling emotions; sick curiosity, fading arousal, and a steady hum of fury - those were nearly enough to block out the softer currents beneath. He needed to protect this boy. To bring a case against Stark, to put things right, yes - and more.
What sort of pity could a fatherless man have towards one who'd be better off without his father? Whatever it was, it was burning him. He wouldn't leave until he'd fixed this, until it had burned through.
"Listen." Tony glowered at him. "Do you really think this is how to be a Stark?"
"Anything for money, that's the old man's way." Tony drew a knee up to his chest and leaned his folded arms atop it. "Isn't it the same for a Wayne? This is some kind of business feud, right?"
"It isn't. It isn't." It would have been easier to speak from behind the mask. As an idea, not as another man. "The Waynes don't treat their own like toys and claim it's for their own good. You can keep the business - I'd sweep every last one of the crooks in here out for you. Don't you want to be the one who gets Stark put away?"
"You mean...get my revenge on him?"
"No." You know what lies down that path. "I mean bringing him to justice. Tony -"
He looked up at the name, grimacing, as if it hurt him to hear it while he was like this. As if he was trying to switch off who he really was. Bruce knew what that felt like. "Yeah?"
"- You deserve better than this."
Tony's chin sank behind his arms. Had he found the crack in his suit of armour?
"I don't get it," the boy said. His words were thick. Suffocating all feeling out of his voice. "Since when did Bruce Wayne give a shit?"
Batman sighed. He doesn't. I do. And though he'd rate it as one of the most foolish things he'd done since walking into this whole mess, he grabbed Tony by the shoulders and pulled him into his arms.