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Masquerade (Whose Face is Behind the Mask?)

Chapter Text

 

Masquerade!
Paper faces on parade . . .
Masquerade!
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 Wayne’s 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.

Jason Todd.

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 Wayne’s 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 was going to 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 up 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 out of 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.

“Receive what?”

“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 even 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.”

 

Chapter Text

Tim sat curled up on his sofa later that night, already dressed in what passed for his pajamas, idly swiping through images of costumes on his tablet. Nothing was catching his attention, so he tried a different approach. What came to mind when he thought of the word masquerade itself?

Elaborate costumes. Color. Drama. Masks.

Well, there were enough masks in his life. He adjusted his search parameters and nodded in satisfaction. This was more like it.

Tim was so absorbed in his search that he missed the three light knocks on his balcony door and the large helmeted figure entering his loft.

“Seriously, Drake. Your self-preservation instincts are shit. You’re leaving the door unlocked now?”

He wished he could have hid the little squeak that escaped a bit better at the interruption. Tim hung his head over the back of his sofa to glare at the Red Hood instead. It had no effect on the man, but it was better than nothing. “I always lock the door after you leave,” he snapped. “This is Gotham even if I do live 20 stories up.”

“Well, it was unlocked tonight.”

Tim sighed and turned his attention back to his tablet and pulled up the calendar. “Must be ninja,” he groused. “It’s almost that time again.”

“Fuckin’ ninja.” Hood flopped down bonelessly on the soft brown leather sofa next to him like he didn’t have a care in the world.

It was something they could both agree on.

The young executive stared contemplatively at the man. He didn’t look injured tonight, but the vigilantes were masters of hiding wounds that would otherwise incapacitate a normal person. He’d been seeing quite a bit of the Red Hood since his last dinner with Ra’s. It was…odd. Even after five months of random visits, he still didn’t know what to make of it.

Tim stared, unimpressed with the wounded man sprawled on his balcony. He’d heard a thud, followed by a sound he was pretty sure was the fake plant he kept outside for looks falling over. There wasn’t a storm (for once), so he manned up and grabbed his taser before poking his head outside to see what was going on.

A beat up Red Hood wasn’t what he expected to find.

“Do I need to call someone for you?” It was the polite thing to ask.

“No,” the man snapped as he staggered to his feet, obviously favoring one leg and clutching at his side. “Just…gimme a minute.”

Tim shook his head and stepped back inside. “How about some ice?”

A long pause and some heaving breathing answered him. Then… “Yeah.”

Red Hood slowly followed after Tim to his spacious kitchen and took a seat at the rarely used dining table. He mostly used it for files from the office when Tam would kick him out for the weekend.

Tim side eyed him warily as he grabbed a clean towel and opened his freezer to scoop out some ice. This was new. He wasn’t sure if he liked it or not. It was bad enough he had to deal with the periodic ‘rescues’ from Ra’s but outside of that, he never saw any of the other vigilantes. He saw their day faces plenty, which was more than enough for him.

Wait…did he know the Red Hood’s identity and not even realize it? Tim stewed over that as he watched the man shrug off his heavy jacket. It landed on the floor with a thunk that echoed through the quiet loft.

He was pretty certain he didn’t. Those muscles of his stood out. Tim had a thing for muscles considering he had next to none.

“Just one or do you need another?”

The Red Hood rolled his massive shoulders, working out some kink while Tim stared and felt his stomach do that floppy thing again. “That’s fine. I doubt you have anything for bruised ribs.”

Tim carefully padded across the kitchen in his socks and held out the towel. “I have tiger balm.”

“Yeah? And what does a rich boy like you use that shit for?” He didn’t accept the towel right away and instead drew a knife from a pocket. Opening it with an easy flick, he sliced at the right knee of his jeans. He set the knife on the table and finished ripping open the hole with his gloved hands.

Tim waited until he was done and icing his knee before replying. “Muscle strain, usually in my neck. I’m told I spend too many hours in front of a computer.” Tam said it all too often, but so did his massage therapist when he bothered to go. The woman was vicious with her elbows.

“You’re a nerd, aren’t you?”

“I took over my family’s business at 16. What do you think?”

The helmeted head snapped up, but Tim stood his ground. This was his home after all. He could make all the snarky comments he wanted, even if the man in front of him was a known killer who was now playing nice with the Bats. Where were his self-preservation instincts? Did he even have them?

“Do you even hear the words comin’ outta your mouth sometimes?” Apparently, it wasn’t lost on him either.

“I’m running on almost 40 hours without any sleep. I have no filter after 24 hours.”

“Fair enough. If you feel like sharin’, I could use some of that shit.”

“Be right back.”

The ointment in question was in his bathroom cabinet, which meant he had to go upstairs to the second level of the loft and across his bedroom to get to it. Tim was in a daze, trying to figure out exactly what was going on. Someone had to be messing with him. This was a cosmic joke, right?

No, the big joke was still to be played. Tim couldn’t help but stare at all the tanned skin and scarred muscle when he returned downstairs. Red Hood had somehow taken off his shirt and under-armor (while still leaving his helmet and gloves on) during his absence. His mouth was dry as he tried not to drop the small container.

“Umm…” It was obvious where the ointment was needed. A massive bruise was already visible on the man’s right side.

“I won’t bite. It was a bitch gettin’ this off, so help a guy out, would ya?” Even through the helmet, it was clear the man was in some pain.

Tim gave himself a mental shake to get his act together. “Fine. Hold still.”

It was one of the most surreal moments in Tim’s life. Later on, after Red Hood left wearing his jacket over all that skin (and carrying a bag Tim gave him for the rest of his gear), he could have sworn he dreamed the entire thing. Sleep sounded really good right about then, so that’s what he did.

He chalked the whole thing up as a weird fantasy and it was only when he found his empty duffle on his balcony a few days later with a new container of tiger balm in it that he finally flipped his shit.

But after this seemingly random event, Tim somehow found himself as the Red Hood’s go-to person for basic injuries. Nothing serious, just ones he needed a second set of hands to help with. They didn’t talk much at first, mostly making sarcastic and often caustic comments about various life choices (namely Tim’s eating habits and Hood’s tendency to not wear enough body armor to protect himself). For all the biting remarks, it was still enjoyable, though he knew not to read too much into it. Hood was studying him for some reason he’d yet to reveal, which kept Tim on his toes.

Who was he to turn down witty banter from a man who could easily snap him like a twig? He really should work out more.

Stretching, Tim set aside his tablet. “So where does it hurt tonight? I doubt you came by for a random door-check.”

“I always hurt, rich boy. Comes with the job.”

“That doesn’t answer my question.”

“Can’t a guy just catch a breather without the Spanish Inquisition gettin’ all up on my ass?”

“You never have before.” Not that Tim would necessarily mind. His thoughts on the Red Hood have been…evolving…these last few months. He wasn’t quite the brute he tried so hard to portray on the streets. The man was sharply intelligent, but also extremely compassionate, which was something Tim found insanely attractive about him.

But the little voice in the back of his mind kept flashing danger signals anytime Hood was around, despite what other parts of his body were screaming at him. When it came to this man, he was listening to it.

Before Hood started playing nice with the Bats, he had gone on quite the rampage, tearing through Gotham’s underworld like a, well, bat out of hell. He still did on occasion if the occasional news reports he read were to be believed. How that worked out for his current arrangement with Batman, Tim wasn’t entirely sure. In the mask and out, Bruce Wayne was not a man one crossed with impunity. There had to be something else going on, one of those things Tim tried very hard not to think about.

He believed in justice, but it wasn’t black and white. How could he when he very much manipulated the entire legal system to get his family’s company back? There was nothing illegal about what he did, but, as the judge so aptly observed, Tim’s dedication and drive far exceeded that of a typical teenager.

The Red Hood existed in that gray area of blurred lines, where laws didn’t quite cover for certain contingencies or where the penal system didn’t fit the crime. Tim recognized that and even respected it to a certain extent. He had a feeling the man under the hood was a former soldier. Someone who’d seen and done way too much to ever be able to function in the light again.

It would also explain why he was such an asshole.

Hood made a move to set his booted feet on Tim’s coffee table.

“Don’t even think about it,” he growled, his glare earning him that dark chuckle he secretly enjoyed way too much as the man did it anyway. His boots land with a solid thunk on the glass. “I let you do it once.”

Tim craned his neck over the back of the sofa, glancing at his balcony door. Three taps on the glass door were just able to be heard over the movie playing on his wall-mounted TV. He paused the movie and got up, wondering what trouble the Red Hood had gotten into this time.

The man in question limped his way to his usual spot in Tim’s kitchen and sat down with a weary huff. Exhaustion clearly lined the man’s large body and his head dipped forward before he straightened up. Tim knew from the news there had been another Arkham breakout the night before, so clearly, everyone had been working overtime.

He decided to cut the man some slack.

Sort of.

“What’s busted this time?” he asked as he made his way to the kitchen sink and knelt in front of the cabinet below it. Recently, he’d purchased a massive first-aid kit with all the bells and whistles, including a suture kit he really hoped he wouldn’t have to use. Hood bled all the time, but never enough to need stitches. They went through a lot of bandages and butterfly strips though. And hand towels. Tim had purchased a bunch of cheap ones from the dollar store to keep around. He made a mental note to buy more as he was almost out.

“Everything.”

“That helps.” Tim dragged the kit out and set it down on his table with a loud thunk.

Hood didn’t even twitch.

“Seriously, Drake, I think the only part of me that doesn’t hurt right now are my goddamn eyebrows.”

“Then why are you here and not wherever you hide out during the day taking a bath and passing out?” It was a valid question even if it meant Tim had to shove a very helpful mental image of a naked Red Hood (unfortunately still in his helmet) sprawled out in his bathtub. He’d seen enough of the man’s body at this point in various stages of undress that it was a very clear image.

“Because I wrenched my fuckin’ knee and need that stabilizer wrap I know is in that kit. You were closer.”

Tim dug through the box looking for said wrap. It hadn’t come standard with it, but was something he’d added on his own. Knee injuries seemed to be a common complaint.

Hood shifted and gingerly leaned over to start ripping the denim over his left knee. The material was already worn through and shredded, so it didn’t take much effort. He opened a hole that gaped up one thick thigh and part way down his shin, revealing a knee that was already wrapped in some sort of dark gray material. Unlike the first time Tim caught a glimpse of the man’s bare thigh, the material disappeared under the remaining denim.

“Finally started wearing a full body suit?” he asked, glancing pointedly at Hood’s thigh.

Even the voice modulator on the helmet couldn’t disguise the exhausted chuckle. “Yeah. I graduated to the good toys.”

“And how many cats did you need to rescue for that to happen?” Tim tried to figure out how the wrap was supposed to work over the suit.

“More like old ladies I had to help across the street.” Hood waved a hand, gesturing for the wrap. “I got this, but I want to ice it first.”

Tim gave him a pointed look. “You need to elevate it too, moron.”

“I’ll do it later.”

“You’ll do it now or you won’t be going anywhere later.”

So that’s how Tim found himself with the Red Hood sprawled out on his sofa, one leg stretched out on the glass coffee table with a couple throw pillows under his knee for support and an ice pack resting just above his knee. Tim had made him take off his boot, which he knew garnered him an amused look even through the helmet. He was dying to take a picture of Hood’s socked foot because there was just something patently ridiculous about the entire situation.

Tim curled up as far away from the man as he could and still remain on the sofa. He picked up the remote and turned the movie back on, but his concentration was shot all to hell.

“What is this?” The question came out of nowhere.

“Huh?” Tim asked, oh so intelligently.

Hood gestured at the TV. “This movie.”

“Star Trek.”

“Oh.” Hood tilted his head to the side, a habit of his when he was thinking about something. “The Next Generation? I think there was a movie with Kirk and Picard in it?”

Tim’s eyes widened in mock horror. The last time he'd seen that movie was with Jason. He'd enjoyed it, but it was obvious he didn't know anything about either series at all while Tim spent most of his time nit-picking. Jason had ended up dumping the remains of their popcorn bowl over his head when he'd gone off on a Picard versus Kirk rant. That had been fun trying to explain to his mom. “We don't speak of that movie in this house. This is the reboot.”

“When did Star Trek get rebooted?”

“Oh my god.” Tim stopped the movie and brought up the main menu to start it over. “This is a travesty, I hope you know that. You better stay awake for this.”

He didn’t. Barely fifteen minutes in, Tim heard soft snores coming from the exhausted man next to him. It didn’t surprise him in the slightest. He turned off the movie and retired upstairs, bringing his tablet with him to finish it. When he woke up the next morning, Hood was gone. It shouldn’t have disappointed him, but it kind of did.

Hood laughed, making himself comfortable on the sofa. He didn’t look like he was going anywhere soon. “Well, it’s not like you’re gonna offer me a beer.”

“Take off the helmet sometime, you might be surprised,” Tim quipped right back. It would be worth it if he got to see the man’s face. Some nights, his curiosity ate at him more than others. What did he look like? Did the rest of him live up to what he’s already seen?

Tim made a mental note to get laid soon. He needed the distraction from this ever-so-fascinating man. The thought had him laughing to himself. Like that would turn out well for him. The last time he’d gone out for the express purpose of having sex, he’d ended up with a man whose leather jacket did more for getting him off than the man himself.

Another chuckle. “Someday, rich boy. What’re you workin’ on tonight?”

It was a safe question. Tim was always working on something. “I’m looking at costumes and masks.”

That garnered a reaction as Hood shifted to stare at him. “Lookin’ for a career change?”

“Not that kind of costume, smartass. I got suckered into going to Damian Wayne’s masquerade party.”

“A masquerade party? In this town?” The voice modulator on the helmet did nothing to hide the incredulous tone.

Tim rolled his eyes and shifted on the sofa, making himself more comfortable. “That was pretty much my reaction too. He says he’s got it covered, but…” he trailed off, letting the silence speak for him.

Hood got it as his head hit the back of the sofa, face staring up at the ceiling. Tim had a feeling he was rolling his eyes too. “Jesus, fuck. I don’t know who’s the bigger moron. The kid or his dad for lettin’ him do this.”

“That’s up for debate,” he agreed. “But Damian said it was either this or a birthday party next month. Kid’s going to be 16 soon.” An age Tim didn’t look back that fondly on, but hey, he had his issues, as well as a therapist he didn’t see as often as he probably should to talk about them.

“From what I know of the kid, I can see why he chose this.” It was said in a deadpan voice, but Tim couldn’t help but hide a chuckle of his own. If the Red Hood was working with the Bats now and sharing their toys, then he had to know Robin’s real identity.

Which again begged the question of who he was.

“It’ll be more interesting, that’s for certain. Not sure if that’s a good thing or a not.”

“Just don’t wear anythin’ you don’t want donated to the villain of the week.” Hood stretched, raising his arms above his head and arching his back. The movement was unconscious, but Tim’s eyes were glued to him as his unzipped jacket fell away to reveal the new body armor he wore beneath. No more jeans and t-shirts for him of late. The dark gray armor revealed a stylized red bat instead.

It was a good look for him, but Tim couldn’t help but remember all the scarred, muscled skin he’d bandaged and wrapped beneath it. The man had some serious abs. And pectorals. Who was he kidding, if the Red Hood was anyone other than who he was, Tim would have found some way by now to see if he swung the same way he did.

“That goes without saying.”

Hood settled back against the sofa. “Just do me a solid and stay away from any clown costumes.”

Tim raised an eyebrow at the comment. It was said casually, but he could sense an undercurrent of something behind the words. Not that he would ever dress as a clown. It would be one more betrayal to his memory of Jason. “That also goes without saying, but it’s not like you’re going to see whatever it is I come up with.”

“Aren’t I?” the man replied archly. “An event like that’s gonna have more eyes on it than whatever small army Wayne Junior hires.”

He hummed in response. “Does that mean if something happens, I’m going to get hauled out of there like so much wet laundry?”

Hood laughed at that. “Dunno. How much you gonna drink that night?”

“More than I planned to now.”

 

Chapter Text

After a few more days of thinking and research, inspiration for his costume finally came to Tim. A Venetian Carnival style mask intrigued him immensely and he reached out to the artist of the one he saw online to see if there was any way she could get one made in the next two weeks. It wasn’t a lot of time, but some things were worth throwing a little extra money at to get what he wanted.

He loved the idea he came up with for his costume. Tongue in cheek to be sure, but the bird mask with the red, gold, and black feathers did it for him. The rest of the costume would take some effort to put together as well, but Tim thrived on the challenge. It wasn’t often he got an outlet for his more creative side.

The feather cape was going to be the biggest challenge. His sewing skills were almost non-existent, but again, money was the answer to that, as well as the very talented seamstress he also found online who did some amazing cosplay in the X-men universe. Namely as Jean Grey.

The bulk of his costume finally figured out, Tim turned his attention to the little details. First, hiding the fact it was him under all the feathers and sequins. He opened his closet door and stared at his bare body in the mirror, absently pursing his lips as he inspected it.

Lean immediately came to mind. He’d always been skinny, but one would think surviving to adulthood would put some muscle on his body. He grabbed his phone and set up a recurring reminder to exercise dammit. Maybe if it flashed in his face every day, he’d finally do something about it. Still, as he turned his attention back to his reflection, this could work for him right now. The cape would disguise the slope of his shoulders and most of his slight Adam’s apple. The rest…Tim stared down at his narrow hips and trim waist, at the light scattering of hair that trailed down what little definition he had. Not a lot of muscle there either, but at least he wasn’t flabby.

He’d start with sit-ups.

The rest of his costume slowly came together in his mind. He nodded in satisfaction, no longer seeing his body, but the full ensemble. No one would expect such an androgynous outfit from him. He made another note in his phone to call his seamstress in the morning to discuss the rest of the look and see what ideas she might have to make it work.

Her suggestion was surprisingly simple. Heels.

“Most of the time, people think men only wear heels or platforms when they’re dressing in drag,” she explained over the phone the next day. “But male cosplayers do too if they’re dressing as a woman, though some do just for the hell of it. No one thinks twice about it.”

“Ah. That makes sense.” Tim nodded to himself, liking the comparison to cosplay. If he let himself have a life, it was something he believed he could be into. “Thanks.”

He asked Tam if she had any old shoes she was willing to sacrifice so he could practice walking.

She gleefully brought him a bag full the next day. “If you break an ankle, you can’t blame me.”

“How do you even balance?” Tim asked Tam as he stumbled around the privacy of his loft later that evening. It disturbed him on some level that his feet weren’t all that much larger than hers.

The woman in question was seated on his sofa sipping from a bottle of Sapporo, laughing at him. Their sushi platter sat on the coffee table, barely touched. She’d insisted on coming over to see this. Not that he blamed her, as the sight of him staggering around in a pair of three inch strappy heels still dressed for the office was more entertainment than the two of them had seen in months.

“You’re not holding yourself right,” she coached. “It’s all in the hips and your pelvis.”

“Huh?”

Tam laughed and zipped her high heeled little booties back on before standing. “Watch my hips.” She paraded around in front of him.

Tim couldn’t believe he was purposefully staring at Tam’s ass. It was a nice ass and if he were straight, it would probably be doing things for him. “You’re…swaying?”

The young black woman laughed again and stopped behind him, placing her hands on his hips as she did. “Like this. Start walking.” She slowly guided him through the movement.

It soon clicked and Tim collapsed on his sofa with a new complaint. “My feet are killing me. How do you wear these things all the time?”

“Painfully,” Tam admitted as she gracefully took a seat next to him and took her shoes off again. She wiggled her painted toes at him. “They’re not always the most comfortable shoes to wear, but they make my legs look great and I need some way to inject some personality into my power suits.”

Tim suddenly understood why he caught Tam sitting all the time. “Beauty is pain or something like that?”

“Exactly.” She popped a piece of tuna nigiri into her mouth and chewed thoughtfully. “You’ll want to get your shoes as soon as possible. Practice makes perfect.”

“Noted.”

There was a reason why Tim loved the internet. He found what he wanted and had them on his doorstep within three days. They looked killer.

Of course, it was just his luck that the following week, Ra’s decided it was time for their semi-annual dinner. Tim had taken Tam’s advice to wear his costume shoes whenever possible at home, so when the ninja abducted him from his loft one evening, he had just slipped them on.

“Whatever you do, don’t ruin the shoes,” he said as he was hauled away to the waiting helicopter on the roof of his building. “I just broke them in.”

No one said a word, but they were ninja, they never did.

The shoes did generate a comment from Ra’s when he saw them. “I never suspected there was such a…wild…side to you, Timothy.”

Tim made a face as he settled into his chair. It hadn’t been a long flight; he was pretty sure they were in New York somewhere. The ninja blindfolded him this time for some reason. “They’re for a costume. I’ve been practicing so I don’t trip and make an ass out of myself.”

“Ah, you must be attending Damian’s little masquerade party then.” Ra’s steepled his hands over the table. “Dare I ask what the rest of the costume looks like?”

“You’ll find out soon enough, just like everyone else.” There was no doubt in Tim’s mind the man already knew. He was creepy like that.

Dinner was delicious, as always, but the big surprise came when they actually made it to the dessert course without any interruptions.

“This is a first,” Tim commented as he took another bite of cheesecake. Simple, but there was a rich creaminess to it that made him close his eyes as he savored each bite.

“Indeed. Did you say something to your rescuers after the last time?”

“I might have,” he admitted.

Ra’s chuckled, sounding pleased. “The Detective and his boys keep such close tabs on you. Do they have any idea what you even know about them?”

This was the first time the old man alluded to the big secret he’s carried around most of his life. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that he knew, considering some of Tim’s actions in years past, but it was unsettling as it was another thing Ra’s could hold over him if he wanted to.

Tim kept his gaze level as he replied. “No.”

The older man chuckled again. “I’m sure my association with you doesn’t help matters either.”

“Not in the slightest.” Tim finished his cheesecake and sipped his wine. It paired very well with the dessert. “But you keep kidnapping me anyway. It’s a game and I seem to be the party favor.”

“I assure you, it’s not a game on my side. I do enjoy our conversations. It’s a shame I can’t convince you to come and work for me.” Ra’s sounded genuinely disappointed by that.

Before Tim could reply, the long expected shattering of glass occurred as Gotham’s vigilantes crashed in through the windows behind him. This time, Batman was back, but he was accompanied by not only Nightwing, but Red Hood as well.

Tim sighed heavily and finished his wine in a quick gulp. Batman silently charged forward to engage Ra’s and the ninja that flooded the room. Nightwing followed, leaving him in Hood’s hands.

“How was dessert?” the man asked as he hauled Tim unceremoniously from his chair.

He stumbled as his shoes caught on the rug. “Excellent, thank you.”

Hood must have caught a glimpse of his foot-ware peeking out from under his suit. The black platforms were hard to miss. “Kinky.” Even the voice modulator on the helmet couldn’t hide the leer.

“They’re for my costume,” Tim growled as they gained the balcony. Even he knew the excuse sounded bad as soon as he said it.

Really kinky. Can’t wait to see it. Not exactly appropriate dinner-wear though; I don’t think Ra’s plays those kinds of games.” The man fired off a grapple gun and Tim clung to him for dear life as they jumped from the balcony, leaving the fight behind them. He breathed in the scent of leather and smoke, two scents that were becoming quiet favorites of his. This was bad. Really bad.

He needed to get laid. Why hadn’t he done that yet?

The rush of air as the line caught knocked Tim’s breath from him as they swung. “Not that kind of costume, asshole. I know I need to get some, but even I’m not desperate enough to go there.”

The Red Hood’s dark laugh made his insides do all kinds of squirmy things, just like it always did. But this time, Tim knew instantly it would feature in his next wank-off session. He’d been good about (mostly) keeping the man out of his fantasies, but there was just something about being rescued by him and swinging over hundreds of feet of open air that was doing it for him in ways Nightwing and Batman never did. Which was fine, because he knew who the men were under their masks. The Red Hood was still an unknown quantity, despite all the times he’s come crashing into his home uninvited.  

Or was he? The other night had been a first. They’d ended up watching Star Trek all the way through and chatting about a whole lot of nothing. It was…nice. Different. Normal. Or as normal as it got with a gun-toting vigilante sitting next to him.

Who was Tim trying to kid? He’s always been attracted to the bad boy, even before he knew what that was. He shoved away thoughts of Jason as Robin, of the amazing picture he’d taken on one of his last nights out with Jason crouched on a gargoyle lighting up a cigarette.

“I’m sure that pretty assistant of yours would be glad to help you out,” Hood commented as they land on the roof of another building.

Tim dropped to his knees to catch his breath. The rough texture of the roof dug through the thin fabric of his suit pants. Maybe he’d be able to salvage this pair. “For the record, I’m gay,” he finally gasped out.

“Oh, really? Why am I just now finding out about this?” The sound of boots on gravel had Tim looking up. In the faint light from the city below them, he could clearly see the Red Hood looming over him. This close, his thighs were massive and Tim swallowed, adding another thing to his spank bank for later. His eyes traveled up the man’s body, taking in the leather jacket, the red bat emblazoned over his chest. A body he already knew more intimately than he ever expected.

And there was the helmet, hiding a face he’d yet to see. Whited out eyes gazed down at him, utterly expressionless.

If Tim was anyone other than who he was, he’d be scared spitless. As it was, he was turned on. He needed to get back on track, thinking with his head instead of his other one. “Because there’s never been a reason to discuss it. We don’t talk about personal shit.”

A heavily gloved finger ran down his cheek to grab his chin. “Don’t we? I know a lot more about you than you think, Tim Drake. You’re a machine, ya know that? All work and no play.” He leaned in closer, a gloved thumb running over his bottom lip. “Does that make you a dull boy?”

Wait, what? Tim’s mouth dropped open before he shut it with a snap. He’s pretty sure his head just imploded at what the Red Hood was implying. Was he…flirting?

He snorted and tried to jerk his head out of the man’s hold, but he held on tighter, forcing his head still. “I have a life.”

“Bandaging me up and dinner with Ra’s al Ghul every few months doesn’t count. He’s a pervy old man, I bet he has plans for that pretty mouth of yours too.”

Tim couldn’t help but wet his lips at the words. Too. Such a short little word, but with such huge implications. He could feel the blood leaving his head, traveling south through his body to something else that was starting to awaken.

He heard the slight intake of breath from the man above him. Looks like he wasn’t the only one to notice it.

“I meant with my friends,” Tim tried to keep them on track.

The hand tightened again before relaxing. “Oh, so you have those? Uptight prick like you?”

The words stung. “I learned my lesson about cutting myself off from people when my best friend died. I could have helped him if I’d been there. I make time now.” He glowered fiercely and tried twisting out of Hood’s hold again. This time, the man let him go and stepped back.

He felt disappointed as he moved away, but then he heard the footsteps behind him. Nightwing plopped down next to him with an exhausted sigh. “So, how was dessert?”

Tim let himself relax next to him. The man’s timing was horrible and impeccable. “It was excellent.”

“Save me a bite next time?”

“Whatever.”

*****

The next day, Tim left the office early. His head wasn’t in the game, his focus shot all to hell. Tam gave him a few worried looks on his way out, but he waved her off.

“I’ll be fine.”

“Right.” She didn’t look convinced.

Rather than go home, he drove around for a time, still sticking to the better neighborhoods (he wasn’t that out of it). He stopped for a late lunch at some hole in the wall place when he decided he wanted to go for a walk. Half an hour later, he found himself strolling through Robinson Park.

It was a clear day for once and while the air was still warm, there was a dusty scent in the air Tim always associated with fall. The leaves were starting to turn. He picked up a fallen oak leaf and studied it as he walked, twirling it idly, inspecting one side, then another.

Last night had been…different. Unexpected. The Red Hood…Tim sighed and shook his head slowly. No point even going there, but damn, the man did it for him. Had almost from the first time they met. His random visits over the intervening months didn’t help matters in the slightest. He’d woken up this morning and would swear on a stack of bibles there was a lingering scent of cigarette smoke, leather, and gunpowder in his bedroom. Did he watch over Tim while he slept off the knockout drug the Bats always used on him?

Someone had put him to bed at least. And taken off his ridiculous shoes.

Who was the Red Hood? Tim had only ever given the man’s identity a passing thought or two when he first started making headlines. Even now, he still didn’t think too hard on it, knowing it would get him nowhere fast.

But he wanted to. Last night was the first time the man had shown any interest in Tim sexually. The real question was, did he want it to go that far? Their dynamic was already strange enough, adding that level of intimacy would take it to a whole other plane of existence.

Even though he was pretty sure the sex would be amazing. Red Hood didn’t look like the kind of guy who did things by halves.

“It was the heat of the moment,” he muttered, trying to rationalize it. “Don’t go there.”

He dropped the leaf and ran his hands over his face and through his hair in frustration. Maybe he did need to get laid. It’d been a while. One of the rare times he let himself get close to another person, even if both were driven purely by physical need rather than anything else.

Tim pondered that thought. Was that all he wanted? All his hook-ups were purposefully one-night stands. He was looking for relief, not to get close to the person. They’d never go back to his place, but a hotel room he’d book for the night. He’d always be gone before the other man woke up. It was hard to sleep next to someone he didn’t know, but when Tim would get home, he’d pass out for hours.

How well would he sleep next to the Red Hood? Would the man sleep in his bed, sprawled out in nothing but his helmet? Or would he finally take it off and let Tim see his face as they made an absolute wreck of his bed?

He closed his eyes and let the fantasy run through his mind. It was so tempting. But he needed to draw the line somewhere and not knowing the face of the man he was having sex with was it. Names were easy to fake. Tim gave a fake name each time he went out.

Opening his eyes, Tim continued walking, his hands shoved in his pockets as he strode through the still shaded lanes of the park. With the way he was thinking, it was almost like…like he wanted to try something deeper and more meaningful with Hood than his typical partner. Those he would use for his needs (he always made sure they knew up front what he was looking for; he wasn’t that much of a dick), but there was no way he could discard the Red Hood the way he did those other men. He didn’t think it would be humanly possible, even if the man turned out to be crap in bed.

The thought of teaching Hood what he liked and how he liked it sent a thrill through him. It was almost like turning the tables.

Tim shook his head, frustrated with the direction his thoughts kept going. What made him think Hood was proper relationship material in the first place? Because that was lunacy of the highest order. He did not want to date the Red Hood. The can of worms that was Tim’s secret was bound to come into the light of day if he did and he did not want the complications that would arise from it. Even if it would make his dealings with Damian and the other Wayne’s easier.

It may even get Ra’s off his back.

There was a tempting thought. What kind of man used ninja for kidnapping people? He knew the man was an international terrorist, that he was one of Batman’s most formidable villains, but he was also Damian’s grandfather, estranged as they were. The man always asked how the kid was doing when they’d meet, seeming like he took pleasure from Tim’s stories as opposed to other sources he undoubtedly had.

The complexity of that relationship on top of everything else threatened to give him a headache.

Tim turned around and headed back to his car. It was nice to get out of the office for the afternoon, but the fresh air wasn’t doing anything to clear his head. If anything, he was even more confused than he was before.

 

Chapter Text

That night, Tim curled up in his computer chair and tried to lose himself in World of Warcraft. He’d missed the last update, so there was plenty to explore. Still, he wasn’t so distracted that he missed his balcony door opening and Hood come waltzing in like he owned the place.

“What the hell?” Tim snapped as he turned away from the computer. “You know how to knock.”

The tall man ignored him and made a show of looking around, taking in the dark wood grains, the open-faced brick walls, the dark brown leather of his furniture, and framed pictures of the photography hobby Tim still indulged in on occasion.

“Are you hurt?” he tried instead. Hood didn’t look injured, but he was a vigilante. They ignored pain like the weirdos they were.

Still ignoring him, the Red Hood sat down on his sofa and stretched out, putting his booted feet on the coffee table and crossing them at the ankles. His long arms rested across the back of the sofa. He looked comfortable.

Tim took that as a no. “What are you doing here? And get your feet off my table, dammit.”

He glowered as he got up from his desk. It sucked that there really wasn’t anything he could do but stand there and glare down at Hood. He crossed his arms and turned it up a notch when he still didn’t get a reply. “I’m waiting.”

The man’s dark chuckle once again made Tim’s stomach flip-flop, but he kept it together.

“Don’t you look all pissy, rich boy. Where are those fancy shoes of yours?”

“In my closet.” They’d been there this morning when he woke up. Whoever had brought him home last night had taken them off, which meant they’d seen they weren’t actually shoes, but boots. Tonight though, Tim didn’t want anything to do with them. He wanted comfort and that meant boxers, an old long sleeved t-shirt that really had seen better days, and socks. Not exactly clothing that screamed young businessman but he was in his own home.

“Shame. They looked great on you.”

“A lot of things look great on me, but I hardly think three inch platform boots go with my suits.” He ignored the fact he’d been wearing just that last night.

“I suppose it depends on the costume.”

Tim pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to stem off the headache he could feel brewing. He’d arrived home earlier with a migraine that had finally tapered down to somewhat manageable levels. “Hood, what are you doing here?” he tried again.

“We were havin’ a rather interesting discussion last night before we were interrupted. I thought we’d continue it.”

The words made Tim swallow hard. “No, we weren’t.” A complete and utter lie, but when in doubt, deny, deny, deny.

“Yeah, we were. About that pretty mouth of yours. I saw the way you were starin’ at me.” The Red Hood’s voice was full of dark promise. “Done anything about it yet?”

Tim had actually. In the shower this morning, he’d come harder than he had in a while as he spun a fantasy involving him on his knees before the much taller man and then promptly felt guilty as hell over it. “None of your business,” he snapped.

“I’ll take that as a yes.” Hood stretched again, Tim’s eyes following each and every movement. He couldn’t help it. “I did some investigatin’ today. You don’t get out much, do you?”

“I go out when I feel like it.” Not a lie at all, but Tim had a feeling the man was searching for something else.

“Yeah, you’re the epitome of the social butterfly. Random restaurant openings, the occasional charity event, even more random social events. The second most eligible bachelor in all of Gotham, but I didn’t find a word about your preferences.”

Tim shrugged. “So what? I don’t advertise, but it doesn’t mean I’m in the closet.”

“Do your friends know?”

It was hard to miss the emphasis on the word. There was a bite to it that he couldn’t help but notice and wonder about. “Yes,” he replied warily. “I don’t have many friends, but I’m close enough with them that they know.”

Tam knew almost from day one. Ives took a little longer to accept it but they worked it out. Two friends. Did Damian count as three? Hood sort of made the list too, which was pathetic, but whatever. It was his life.

“What’s your point, Hood? I somehow doubt you came all the way here just to discuss my life choices. I know some of them sucked royally, but who hasn’t made dumbass decisions before?”

The vigilante stared at him in silence before a sharp bark of laughter echoed out of the mask. “I’ve been makin’ ‘em for years. Amazing I’ve lived this long.” It sounded self-deprecating to Tim’s ears.

“You run around Gotham in a mask and pick fights with whoever pisses you off most. I’m surprised too.”

Those were apparently the wrong words to say as the Red Hood was suddenly right in his face, a gloved hand wrapped firmly around his throat as he’s slammed against a wall. The picture next to his head rattled. “Watch it, rich boy. You have no idea what you’re steppin’ in.”

This was a change. He’d made smart comments like this for months and never once did the other man react to such an extreme. Tim twitched as his air supply was abruptly cut off as the fingers tightened. Struggling was useless against the much larger man, but it didn’t stop him from trying, glaring all the while to express his extreme displeasure when he didn’t have the voice to do so.

“I mean it, Drake.” Hood leaned in close, his modulated voice right against his ear, low and sinister. It sent a shiver down Tim’s spine and he stilled. “I don’t know why I put up with your mouthy ass, I really don’t. You’ve never made my life anything other than hell.”

That was…unexpected. It also hurt. Who was this man? What had he done to him?

The grip loosened, but Hood didn’t withdraw his hand. Tim gasped, relishing the feel of air back into his lungs, but the Red Hood didn’t move away. They both knew he could tighten his fingers again in an instant and there was nothing Tim could do about it.

“What…what did I ever do to you?” he choked out, eyes boring into the whited out lenses on the helmet so close to his face. If the man wasn’t masked, they’d be sharing air, they were so close. “If I did something, then why come here if you hate me so much?”

Fingers twitched and Tim flinched as they let go only to slam into the wall next to his head. The large fist trembled as Hood shook with barely suppressed rage.

What did you do he asks,” he growled. “Oh Timmy…”

Tim’s head was yanked back, his hair pulled hard by the gloved hand. His body arched forward slightly to compensate for the strain on his neck. “It’s a valid question,” he couldn’t help but comment. He really had no sense of fear. “As far as I know, the first time we met was five months ago. You’re the one who keeps coming to me.”

“It’s like I said. I don’t know why I put up you. I don’t need your shit.”

“Then why are you here?”

The answer to that question came in the form of a very muscled thigh wedging its way between Tim’s knees. A thigh that featured rather predominantly in his shower fantasy earlier, but he’ll be damned if he admitted it out loud. Still, he couldn’t help the moan that escaped as it brushed against a piece of his anatomy that’s been betraying him this entire time.

Hood didn’t miss it either. “I suppose that answers one question.” He sounded pleased.

“What part of I’m gay did you not understand?” Tim snapped as he tried not to move. The pressure felt incredible and he knew if he so much as shifted, the friction would very likely be his undoing.

“You also seem to get off on pain.”

“No, but I do have a thing for men in motorcycle jackets. So unless you really want me to embarrass myself, move.”

The Red Hood moved, but not in the way Tim expected. He found himself facing the wall, a little more space between it and him as he slammed his hands up to catch himself. The muscled thigh was back between his knees and a hand was placed on his hip, guiding him further back along the strong length.

“This wasn’t what I meant.” Tim closed his eyes tightly at the sensations running through his body. He didn’t particularly enjoy being manhandled, especially considering how often it happened, but there was no fight in him this time. Far from it. But at the same time, this was not how he wanted to have sex with the man behind him.

He heard a faint click and a soft hiss before the warm body leaned in, enveloping his shorter one. “I know it wasn’t.” A breath of air tickled at his ear, a tongue lightly traced the outside of it. Tim shivered, both at the action and what the sounds signified.

The Red Hood had taken off his helmet.

“Don’t turn around,” he ordered, biting down sharply on the fleshy part of his earlobe.

Tim gasped and nodded, but he was reeling at the implication. Hood’s face was bare to the world right behind him. The very thought turned him on in ways he didn’t think possible.

“Good boy. Seems you know how to listen sometimes.” The voice was even darker and richer sounding than he imagined it. There was a faint rasp to it that was made for forbidden pleasures and Tim couldn’t help but harden even more.

A warm hand made its way up the outside of his thigh, bare fingers teasing the edge of his boxers before moving inward. Tim kept his eyes closed, resisting the urge to peek and see just what those large fingers looked like as they danced everywhere across his lower body but where he wanted them.

It suddenly hit him that Hood wouldn’t touch him there. Not unless he asked for it. Tim read the news, he knew what the man’s MO was. He was a bane to would-be rapists (and actual rapists) across the city. This…this was a game. A power game to be sure, and just how fucked up was that?

Still…Tim liked games.

He purposefully ground his ass against the meaty thigh, openly welcoming the friction. A breathy moan answered him and the hand still holding onto his hip tightened fractionally. “Touch me,” Tim ordered.

“I think you’re missin’ the point of who’s in charge here.” Lips started working their way down the side of Tim’s neck, nipping and leaving small marks as he went. Hood must not have shaved for a day or two either as that was definitely stubble rubbing against the sensitive skin.

“That’s not you, Hood,” he replied as he leaned into the surprisingly soft lips. “You respect the word no.”

Another chuckle and Tim shuddered as the thigh beneath him started moving, rubbing back and forth. “Do I?”

Tim slammed his own fist against the wall, knowing it was nowhere near as impressive as the larger man’s. “Yes, you do. Now are you going to get me off so I can return the favor, or what?”

Hood stopped moving behind him, making Tim want to weep in frustration, but before he could say anything, a large hand finally grasped his cock through his boxers. The grip was firm and he knew right then and there he wouldn’t last very long. A few strokes in and Hood shifted his grip, calloused fingers sliding into the gap at the front his boxers to start stroking him in earnest.

Tim fell apart and pounded the wall again, this time as something to do with his hands as he knew without being told he wasn’t allowed to touch. Not until he was asked. Invited. Hood’s mouth was at the juncture of his neck, sucking and biting at the tender skin, leaving bruises Tim would gladly wear a turtleneck for if he had to.

The hand at his hip moved up his torso, under his long sleeved shirt. This one was still gloved, which was a heady sensation as leather clad fingers started teasing at his ribs and soon found a nipple to tug at.

It really had been too long since Tim had gotten laid. He arched into the grip as his body tightened in warning. “Hood.”

“Come for me, rich boy,” he growled in his ear and shoved his thigh firmly against Tim’s ass.

He did. Oh, did he ever, spilling over the man’s fingers as they worked him through the mind-blowing orgasm. As Tim’s brain slowly came back online, he changed his mind about the morning’s fantasy being the best in a while. This one, hands down. Five stars, would totally do again.

Soiled fingers bumped against his lips. Tim’s eyes opened wide at what Hood was asking. He opened his mouth, slowly sucking on fingers damp with his own fluids. There wasn’t much, he could feel the stickiness in his boxers, but he recognized it as another power play.

“Good boy,” Hood praised him again. The hand under his shirt tweaked his nipple one last time and withdrew. A light pat on his hip was all the warning he got as the thigh disappeared and Tim tried to figure out how to make his legs work again.

“Don’t move.” The hand was removed from his mouth and he heard sounds of clothing shifting around behind him.

His heartbeat spiked at the thought of what would happen next, what he wanted to have happen next, to hell with what his more rational mind thought, but there was another click and Tim felt it drop in disappointment.

The helmet was back on.

Damn.

“I hate to cut and run, Timmy, but I have places to be tonight.”

“At least let me…,” Tim tried but a hard swat to his rear had him choking on the rest of his words. Did he just?

“Fun time’s over. This was…enlightening.” The warm body moved away from him and Tim whirled around, not caring in the slightest that he was a mess with a massive wet spot on the front of his clothes.

Hood was pulling his glove back on. He looked just as put together as usual, though Tim didn’t miss the outline of his own erection straining against the front of his armor. The man didn’t wear a cup. Interesting. Or at least, he wasn’t right now.

“Enlightening, how?” Tim stood as straight as he could, knowing this was the only physical tactic he held against the man. He would not be intimated by him. “I am more than willing to return the favor.”

“I know. But I’m gonna make you wait. Patience is a virtue and all that shit.” It was very clear Hood was grinning under his helmet.

“How is waiting for a blow job a virtue? Looks more like torture to me.” Tim gazed pointedly at the other man’s crotch.

He laughed, and closed the distance between them again, leaning against the wall on one strong arm as he looked down at the shorter man. “There’s a time and place for everything, rich boy. You’ll have your mouth on me soon enough.”

“Is that so?” Tim challenged.

“Very much so. You’ll be wearing those pretty shoes of yours too.” With that parting shot, Hood left, exiting through the balcony doors and disappearing into the night like he’d never been there at all.

Tim stared after him. “What the ever-loving fuck was that?”

 

Chapter Text

“What the fuck did I just do?” Jason muttered as he swung away from Tim’s high-rise loft. He’d gone there with the intention to plant the hidden cameras Dick had dropped off earlier that afternoon, perhaps rile his former best friend up about the bomb he dropped last night.

Not give him a fucking hand job.

Christ, his life was getting complicated again and it was all thanks to one Timothy Jackson Drake.

He shifted uncomfortably as he landed on the roof of the next building over. His cock was screaming at him, even after he removed his cup and stuck it in his pocket. It had been tempting, so tempting, to accept Tim’s offer. His mouth…Jason groaned as he remembered Tim on his knees the night before, his tongue darting out to wet those lips. The young CEO was temptation incarnate.

“Fuck it.”

He found a shadowed corner against a large air conditioning unit and unsnapped the fastenings at the front of his new uniform.

When Jason returned to Gotham after his still unexplainable resurrection, he was fixated on Batman and his new Robin, a bubbly blonde girl with a vicious right hook who was so spunky it was hard to decide whether he wanted to kill her or date her. He chalked it up to hormones (one of the few rational decisions he’s proud of from the time) and did nothing. Sure, he made her life a hell because he could, but his attention was on Bruce.

Or it was until he caught a random newspaper headline when he was out grocery shopping.

Timothy Drake Wins Court Battle

He bought the paper. He didn’t want to, but there was a picture of Tim below the headline, still too short and tiny, but grinning broadly.

The story was fascinating and Jason couldn’t help but feel a bit proud of his former friend. He’d accomplished what he set out to do. Emancipation at 16. In the coming weeks, his former guardian was ousted from Drake Industries and the young college student took over.

Jason was proud yes, but he was also bitter. Bitter because of the way he’d been summarily cut out of Tim’s life like so much waste of space so he could do this. Tim had been his best friend. There were so many times he wanted to tell him that he was Robin. He trusted him and, if he were being honest with himself, he suspected the boy knew already. Tim was crazy smart like that.

His betrayal of their friendship was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Jason had been holding off on tracking down his mother, wanting to talk to Tim about it and getting his opinion, but then his parents were killed. He’d been there the best he could for Tim, but his new guardian was an asshole. Even Bruce didn’t trust the man (not that he trusted anybody, but still). But when Tim told him in no uncertain terms that he couldn’t be friends with him anymore, that he needed to focus and not be distracted, it killed him inside.

Jason didn’t see the point in waiting anymore.

And so he died at the hands of a mad clown, beaten and blown up next to his mother, a woman who betrayed him too.

Betrayal wasn’t anything new to him after all.

Even after reading that article, he never sought Tim out. That bridge had burned long ago and he was fine to leave it in the past.

It was only years later when Jason made some tentative peace with his former family that Tim’s name started coming up.

Jason was in the Batcave going over some details on a drug smuggling case he and Dick discovered they were working different angles on. Working with his older brother was still new, each one of them tentative in their actions and comments towards each other.

Bruce and Damian were warming up on the sparring mats and Stephanie was folded over in some complicated yoga stretch that made Jason’s back hurt just looking at it when Barbara’s voice spoke over the computer.

“Must be that time of year again. Tim was just abducted outside his office by Ubu and some ninja.”

Dick started chuckling and stretched. “Wonder what they’re having for dinner this time?”

Jason looked up in surprise. “What?”

The man grinned at him. “This happens at least three or four times a year. Ra’s has some strange interest in your old friend Tim Drake.”

Of course Dick knew about their friendship. One of the few acts he ever did as his brother way back when was encourage it. Said it was good for him have friends his own age, disregarding the fact Tim was three years younger.

“Ttt.” Damian looked disgusted, his little face scrunched up as he rolled his eyes in a very teenager move. “Grandfather wants Timothy to work for him.”

Jason was confused and hated it. This wasn’t any of his business, but damn, he was curious. “How did Tim even get on his radar?”

“When father was still lost in time, Timothy somehow discovered Grandfather’s plans to take over all of Wayne Enterprises’ holdings through various shell companies and stock purchases, as well as that moron Hush that Richard thought he had under control. He shut him down.”

Bruce walked past Jason on his way to the locker room. “Tim saved this family from financial ruin. He had no reason to do so, especially considering what he was dealing with at DI at the time. He’s never said, but I’m positive he knows about us. Somehow.” He shot a pointed glance at Jason.

“Hey, I never said a word to him,” he held his hands up in defense. “Not gonna lie, I wanted to. Little shit was smart enough even then to figure it out.”

From her twisted position on the mat, Steph started laughing. “Well, there goes the number one theory for that! Back to square one, B.”

Jason felt like he was being picked on and didn’t like it. “Is Tim some kind of wannabe super villain now?”

Laughter echoed from around the cave. “Not in the slightest,” Barbara replied, amusement still very evident in her voice. “Tim’s about as aboveboard as you can get. It’s just…well. He’s TIM.”

Like that explained anything.

Bruce returned to the main room, suited up. “Dick, can you spare a few hours for this?”

“Always.” He winked at Jason. “Listen in on the comms and watch my mask-feed. You’ll see what we mean.”

So that’s how he found himself sitting in front of the massive monitor in the Batcave with drinks and popcorn provided by Alfred with Damian and Steph to watch what was undoubtedly the strangest rescue mission he’d ever seen.

Batman was apparently on ninja and Ra’s duty while Nightwing was in charge of wrangling Tim.

“You’re early,” he complained as he finished his mostly full wine glass in a single gulp before Nightwing hauled him away from the table. “I didn’t get to finish my salmon.” Tim looked extremely put out by the fact.

“Ra’s didn’t even take you out of Gotham this time. It was easy to track you down.”

“He must be slacking in his old age.”

The video shook as Nightwing started laughing. “Don’t let him catch you saying that. He may break out the younger model.”

“He has a younger model. Talia is scary as hell.” Tim’s face was suddenly full screen as Nightwing pulled him close and jumped out the window. His eyes closed tightly. “Dammit, this is why I drink so much.”

Jason was fascinated. He tried hard not to be, but he couldn’t help it. It was like watching a train wreck and he couldn’t tear his eyes away from the screen.

The little Timmy of his memories had grown up. The sassy mouth he discovered in his friend was now on full throttle for the world to see. It quickly became apparent that Tim didn’t give a rat’s ass about being kidnapped or the way he was rescued. He was more upset about not finishing dinner.

“Such a waste of good food, Nightwing. Really. That fish was perfection on a plate.”

“I’m sure it was. So, what did Ra’s want this time?”

Tim sprawled on the gravel roof where Nightwing landed, hugging the ground. He rolled over and glared. He looked artfully disheveled in his suit and tie, long black bangs falling back from his face. “Same thing he wants every time, Pinky.”

“For you to help him take over the world?” Nightwing bantered right back.

The young man made a face. It tugged at Jason’s chest, his heart beating ever so slightly faster. Tim used to make that same face at him whenever he cracked a particularly bad joke.

What was wrong with him? Tim was nothing to him anymore. No one. He didn’t even spare the time to hate him as that meant he still felt something towards his old friend.

“Sometimes I wish this wasn’t my life.”

Nightwing sat down next to the young businessman. “Why? I thought you liked the food.”

If looks could kill…Jason had forgotten how frosty Tim’s glare could be. “One day, you’re gonna drop me. And I’ll go splat on the pavement. So much for continuing my family’s legacy.”

They banter for a short while longer before Batman joined them on the roof. He asked Tim the same questions Nightwing did and got the same answers, deadpan and flat like he was just so done with both of them.

“Knock me out already so I can get some sleep. I’ve got a board meeting in the morning.”

Jason couldn’t help it. He started laughing. Stephanie and Damian stared at him like he’d grown a second head. They’d never seen him laugh like this before, so it was excusable. He surprised himself too; it had been a very long time since he found anything this gut-wrenchingly hilarious. Go fucking figure it involved Tim. The kid had always been able to make him laugh.

“Is he always like that?” he finally choked out.

“More or less,” Damian replied. “He’s a bit more contained when he’s in the office.”

Steph nodded in agreement. “Or when he’s out in public. I love messing with him when we’re at the same event or party. He’s got a wicked sense of humor when he feels like unleashing it.”

Jason remembered that all too well. He gazed up at the monitor again, but his old friend was out of sight.

But not out of mind. His curiosity ate at him and after a week, Jason gave in. He started following Tim.

The young man was a machine. He worked insane hours, drank way too much coffee, and didn’t eat enough. Jason bugged his office and learned his assistant, Tam Fox, nagged the crap out of him about it and left sandwiches and snacks for him all the time. Tim’s filter was as non-existent with her as it was with Dick, but when it came time for him to put his game face on, wow. Jason felt like he got whiplash from how fast his demeanor changed when it needed to.

Tim was young, but that didn’t mean he was inexperienced or didn’t know what was going on within in his company or in the world outside it. He made sure the suits he had to deal with knew it too.

What surprised Jason was how often Damian showed up at DI. The kid was a brat of the highest order, but he showed Tim some semblance of respect that he never showed to anyone other than Bruce. They usually talked business, but sometimes Damian would act like the insecure teenager he was and let some personal things drop. Nothing Bat related, but things that Tim seemed able to talk him through.

It unsettled him enough that he mentioned it to Dick in passing one night.

“Yeah…Damian and Tim have an interesting relationship,” Dick replied from his perch on the edge of one of Gotham’s many gargoyles. He took a swig from his water bottle before he continued. “Tim’s kinda like a mentor to him.”

Jason snorted as he ashed his cigarette, leaning against the backside of the same gargoyle and not caring in the slightest that the breeze was blowing the smoke at his brother. He’d move if he wanted to. “A mentor? Him?”

“Yes, him. Damian doesn’t warm up to people very often, but Tim impressed him when he foiled Ra’s. I think he saw him as competition at first.”

“And then?”

Dick shrugged as he stepped down off the gargoyle’s head and back onto the ledge. He glared pointedly at the cigarette, but Jason ignored him, bringing it to his lips and blowing the smoke out over the city instead of in his brother’s face.

“There was a party Tim actually attended and he ended up saving Damian’s butt from making some massive social gaffe that would have had his name plastered all over the news. He never made a big deal out it or asked for a favor, but you know how D is. Nobody ever does anything for nothing.” Dick finished his water and crushed the bottle, tucking it away in an empty compartment in his suit. “But after that, he started going to Tim for random things he’d never come to us for help with.”

Jason snorted and ground out the finished cigarette under the heel of his boot. “Sounds more like the demon’s made a friend.” The thought made him bitter. Tim didn’t have friends. He didn’t have time for them.

He didn’t have time for HIM.

“I’m just happy Damian is taking an interest in something outside of beating up criminals and training all the time. What Tim thinks of the whole thing, I’m not entirely sure.”

That was a common theme Jason found amongst the Bats. No one knew quite what Tim thought about much of anything outside the office. He was notoriously private and when he did give his opinion on something, people paid attention, including Bruce, which Jason found hilarious.

The next time Tim was kidnapped by Ra’s for dinner, Bruce was out of town on Justice League business, which left Dick in charge of planning the rescue. Jason wasn’t sure why Dick thought he should come along instead of Steph or even the demon spawn, but it wasn’t like he had anything better to do that night.

It was…interesting. He thought he was ready to come face to face with Tim again, that the veil of indifference he’s been fronting would serve him well, but nothing could have prepared him for that moment when Tim turned those pale blue eyes on him and arched that eyebrow. Jason was glad he opted to wear the full helmet that night.

Dick thought the whole thing was hilarious.

They’re seated at the front of the plane, Tim knocked out and strapped in behind them. The young businessman was drooling slightly, his head sagging against his chest and overly long bangs falling over his forehead.

“So that’s the adult Tim,” Dick said, his hands resting on the controls, but in reality was letting the autopilot fly them back to Gotham. Ra’s had taken Tim down the coast to some house in Maryland that hadn’t been on anyone’s radar. “What do you think?”

“I think he needs to gain about 20 pounds.” The smart remark didn’t stop Dick from laughing.

“Yeah, he’s looking a bit underfed right now. He’s like that though. Works so hard he forgets normal things like regular mealtimes.” He looked over his shoulder at the sleeping man. “Still, it didn’t look like he snapped your head off.”

Jason resisted the urge to look at his old friend. He’d stared plenty. Tim had grown from a scrawny little boy to a still scrawny young man, but there was some promise there if he’d just take care of himself. The cut of his suit emphasized a surprising pair of shoulders. “He needs a keeper.”

Dick smirked as he turned his attention back to Jason. “You volunteering?”

“Fuck you.”

Afterwards, when he returned to his rundown apartment and allowed himself to think, Jason knew he was screwed. Dick was right. Tim did need a keeper, even more so now than he did when he was a kid. It was hard, knowing the young man had no time or interest in friends, but he wanted to see him again. The bug in his office only let him see so much.

Of course, the other issue was that Jason was technically dead. Even if he wanted to reintroduce himself (which he didn’t, nope, not going there), revealing he was alive would open a whole other can of worms. He and Bruce may not be on the best of terms, but he had siblings to think about now. Dick could take care of himself, but he kinda liked Blondie and the baby bat, as well as Cass when she was around. Not that he’d ever tell them that.

Jason ignored the video feed from Tim’s office for a week before he finally couldn't resist any longer. What he saw disturbed him. Tim’s bags had bags and he looked positively dead on his feet. He’d managed to catch Tam stalking into the office, berate Tim six ways to Sunday, and drag him out of the room, announcing that if she saw him in there at all over the next five days, she was going to call her dad and tell him Damian was invited to come to DI for a whole week to shadow Tim.

The young CEO caved. Jason fell off his sofa, he was laughing so hard.

He decided right then and there that Tam Fox was his new favorite person. But it also gave him some valuable insight into the dynamics of their relationship. They weren’t just boss and assistant. They were…friends. Tim even said that he wouldn’t put up with half her shit if she wasn’t his friend.

It hurt, seeing that Tim had friends now. Somewhere along the way, he let people back into his life. Not many, because he obviously had no life, but there were others there. Jason…he wanted that too. Being lonely sucked. It was part of the reason he finally started accepting the occasional overtures from Dick and Blondie to work with them on cases.

Perhaps it was time to be the bigger person and extend that same hand to Tim.

So that’s how he found himself going to Tim for help with various non-life threatening injuries. He looked like a fish out of water the first night, like this was something new and he wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it. It was also the first hint Jason got that maybe there was a reason Tim wasn’t seen with a new model on his arm each time he went out. The way he stared at him when he rubbed the tiger balm gingerly into the massive bruise on his side said a lot.

Since when did Tim bat for the same team?

And how did he feel about that?

Apparently, he felt pretty good about it if his current predicament was any indication. Jason leaned against the warm metal of the humming air conditioner and ripped his glove off, viciously stroking his cock, remembering the taste of Tim’s skin, the smell of his hair. The warmth of his dick pulsing in his hand as he came.

Goddammit,” he swore as he spilled over his fingers. He gasped, wishing he had thought to take his helmet off first before jacking off on the roof. There he goes again, not thinking. It was a thing that seemed to happen more and more now that he was seeing Tim again.

Jason sagged against the unit and used his free hand to open the front of his mask and rip it off his head. It landed with a clunk a few feet away. He took a few deep breaths and raised his other hand to his face, staring at it.

It was the same hand that had been in Tim’s mouth barely ten minutes before. The same hand he licked with such devotion, cleaning every bit of himself off Jason’s fingers.

“Jesus, fuck.”

He was screwed.

“What on earth are you doing, Todd?”

Jason jerked his head up to see Damian staring at him from several feet away. His posture was rigid, stiff, all kinds of uptight that screamed he was on the verge of an explosion.

Scratch that.

He was fucked.

Chapter Text

Jason did what he always did when dealing with the current Robin. Messed with him.

“I think it’s pretty obvious what I was just doin’.” He waved dirty fingers in the teenager’s direction, enjoying the look of utter disgust on his face. “Enjoy the show?”

Damian sneered in disgust. “What was that?” He pointed across the street to the tall residential building Jason had vacated just a few short minutes ago. Minutes that felt like a life time. The kid continued. “I know you and Timothy had a relationship of sorts in the past, that you’ve got some odd interest in him now. But that? You should be glad it was me who discovered this and not Father or Richard.”

Jason dug a wipe out of one of his pockets and started cleaning off his hand, pointedly appearing indifferent to the little demon, but inside, he was roiling.

The brat had seen him with Tim. He’d seen what he’d done with Tim, or at least part of it. From the outside looking in, yeah, it probably didn’t look all that great either. Damian was possibly the worst person to have found him. Dick and Bruce...well, Dick would just make that worried face and Bruce would glower and look constipated while he tried to give him a sex talk. Fucking hell, he needed to come up with something and fast.

He tucked himself away and finished cleaning up before he finally replied. “Tim and I have a history. He…used to be my best friend.”

The kid crossed his arms and glared some more. He’d hit another growth spurt recently, so he wasn’t quite the tiny little gremlin he used to be. “Like that is any excuse.”

“No, it’s not,” Jason agreed, digging into another pocket for his cigarettes. Damn if he was going to do this without some nicotine. “What’s goin’ on now, it’s complicated. But lemme tell ya, he was a very willing participant.”

It wasn’t the best excuse and they both knew it.

“This is more than I needed to know about either of your sex lives,” Damian snapped.

“Just wait until you have one. Dick’s gonna be all up in your shit.” Jason lit up and took a drag from the cigarette, holding the smoke in his lungs, letting it burn, before exhaling. He watched the smoke drift away on the slight autumn breeze while the teenager silently stewed on that.

“You want to tell him,” Damian said eventually.

“About my sex life? Hell no.” It was the little things in life, Jason decided as he watched the teen turn an interesting shade of purple.

Not Richard, you obtuse asshole. Timothy.

“Learn to take a fuckin’ joke,” Jason glowered before heaving a massive sigh. “To be honest, I don’t know what I want yet.” He stared at the burning end of the cigarette.

What did he want? Did he really want to be friends with Tim again? He snorted at the thought. Friends. Yeah, he just blew that bridge out of the water. If they were going to be anything, it was definitely not that. Fuck buddies just didn’t have the right ring to it.

Still, there was one thing Jason knew with pinpoint clarity. He wanted Tim. Wanted him in whatever way was possible with the fucked up life he led. And how messed up was that? He was nobody. Not even legally alive. Tim was…Tim was everything. Alive and so disgustingly vibrant and shiny that he couldn’t help but want to circle around the younger man’s orbit.

He’d always had a habit of wanting what he couldn’t have. And Tim…he wanted him too. That much was obvious now. For all his jokes about men in motorcycle jackets, it was crystal clear Tim’s interest stemmed from something else. Something they’d slowly been rebuilding over the last several months, even if he didn’t know it was with him.

Friendship.

“Telling him…would not necessarily be as bad a thing as you seem to think.”

Jason’s eyes flashed at the cautious words. “What do you mean?”

Damian hesitated before he spoke. “Richard and I both firmly believe he already knows about us.”

“Yeah, I know. But he doesn’t know about me. That I’m alive.” He took another drag from his cigarette. “I can’t exactly waltz in there and say hey, how’s it goin’? Besides, he’s the one who told me we couldn’t be friends anymore.” That still hurt, more than he wanted to admit.

“And yet, that didn’t seem to stop you from sticking your hand down his shorts.” There was that glare again.

Just what did the brat see? Jason knew for a fact that the wall he’d shoved Tim against didn’t have a clear line of sight view from outside, even if someone was perched on the balcony. He thought he’d done a pretty thorough search for bugs and other recording devices in the loft when he first started coming around, but he must have missed something. Or it was added after he looked.

Now he knew what he was doing tomorrow when Tim was at work. Oracle approved tech only. He didn’t care if Damian had his own eyes on his friend, but anything he used would come from Bruce’s shit and that meant it was stored somewhere on the Cave’s computer. The teen was good, but his asshole of a father was still better.

Jason forced himself to huff a laugh, trying not to show how bothered he was by that thought. He sucked another drag from the cigarette, ashing it as he exhaled. “Did it get you all hot and bothered?” he leered, trying to push the demon’s buttons. “Or is that a hint of jealousy I see?”

Bingo. Damian’s spine stiffened as he stood ramrod straight. Er. He already looked like he had a poker shoved up his ass. “I have no sexual interest in Timothy whatsoever. But he is…someone I could consider a friend if there were no more secrets between us.”

There was that word again. Friends. He had to admit, it sounded strange coming out of the baby bat’s mouth. The kid was notorious for disdaining the need for friends and other forms of companionship, but from what Jason gleaned from Blondie, Dick had done wonders in getting him this far along with changing his mind.

Kinda like someone else he knew. Jason settled his gaze on Tim’s building for a moment. Looked like Damian was trying to get something out of this mess too, even if he had a strange way of saying it.

Typical.

He finished his cigarette and ground the butt under the heel of his boot. “Secrets. Our lives are just one big secret.” Jason knew he sounded bitter, but didn’t care.

“Those secrets protect us, as well as those we care about.”

“And here we are, talkin’ about exposing it.”

“He already knows,” Damian growled. “It’ll make no difference. If anything, it’ll allow us to better protect him from Grandfather.”

That…that was a valid point. Ra’s’ interest in Tim was disturbing on so many levels, especially after the news Dick shared with him last night. It was the whole reason he’d gone to Tim’s tonight, to start installing those security cameras…

Dick followed Jason up the stairs to Tim’s bedroom. He hadn’t been up here before, but the understated shades of blue and gray suited the young man sleeping in his arms. The room was just as modern looking as the rest of the loft, but there were still touches of Tim throughout the space, even more so than downstairs.

“He’s still quite the photographer,” Dick offered quietly as Jason carefully settled Tim on his unmade bed.

Jason glanced up to take in more of the framed black and white photographs hanging from the walls. They were amazing, but some of those angles... “I swear, that one’s from the top of the water tower on the edge of Robinson Park lookin’ south towards downtown.” He pointed at a picture off to his left. The perch in question had been a favorite of his when he’d been Robin.

“I think you’re right. I wonder how he got up there?”

Shrugging noncommittally, Jason shoved up Tim’s pant legs to reveal his shoes. More like boots actually, now that he had the chance to take them in. They were covered in decorative buckles and snaps to just below his knees.

“He’s going to Damian’s party, isn’t he?” Dick sat down on the other side of the bed to tackle the leg closest to him.

“Yeah.” Jason tried tugging to see if the boot would slide off, but no luck. “Looks like he’s tryin’ to break these in.”

The statement settled between them before Dick got to the point. “Jay…what was that tonight?” He carefully didn’t look up at him.

There were a few different ways to answer that question. He’d seen the surprise on his brother’s face when he’d joined them on the roof earlier. The position he and Tim were in was suggestive to say the least.

“Tim dropped a bomb on me.” A not completely unexpected bomb, but he was still more surprised by his reaction to it. If he hadn’t known they would be interrupted any moment, he may have ended up doing more to Tim’s mouth than simply running a gloved finger over his lips. Jason had never envied his glove so much before.

“Yeah? Well, let me drop another one on you. Ra’s wants him.” This time, Dick purposefully looked up at him.

Jason finally found the hidden zipper to the boot. “No shit, Sherlock.”

“I mean…like you do.”

The words did what they were supposed to. Jason’s head jerked up so fast he felt his neck pop. “What?” he growled. His hand tightened on Tim’s ankle.

Dick explained slowly, carefully, like he was choosing his words for maximum impact, an annoying habit they had all picked up from Bruce. “It was something he let slip to B before he disappeared. That with the right training and conditioning, Tim could become his perfect heir.”

The rage was instantaneous. Rage so livid he was seeing GREEN. Sick, turgid green, green that reeked of death and pain and seared right into the tattered remains of his soul. He would sooner see Tim die than end up in Ra’s’ hands. And wasn’t that a sad thought, knowing that even death wouldn’t be an escape for him if Ra’s got his hands on Tim’s body?

“Fuck that shit.” He looked down at the sleeping man. Tim was so peaceful in his sleep, the pinched expression he often wore relaxed in slumber, the faint lines over his brow smooth for once. Jason resisted the urge to run a hand through the bangs that fell over his forehead. “Tim is…”

He swallowed the word MINE. How could this man be his when he didn’t even know he was alive?

Dick got it though. Stupid bastard could be scarily perceptive when he wanted to be. “I know, Little Wing. We’ll have to step up our monitoring on him. I know you don’t want cameras in here, but…”

Jason didn’t, but he understood they’d be needed now, at least at all the windows and doors. “Let me handle that.”

“I’m sorry.” Dick finally tugged the boot off Tim’s foot. “We’ll keep him safe.”

“The only way he’ll be safe is if I decapitate Ra’s and set his ass on fire.” Drastic? Yes, but this was Ra’s al Ghul. The man was like one of the characters from those games Tim liked to play. The undead lich who never stayed down, no matter what was done to it.

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” Dick said as he dropped the black boot to the floor. “I know you care for Tim. If you decide to tell him about everything, I’ll back you 100% when Bruce flips out.” He reached out and squeezed Jason’s wrist. “So will Babs.”

That was…reassuring actually. Jason snorted, trying to cover with his usual bluster. “Yeah, because that’s gonna end well for any of us.”

His brother shrugged, but didn’t let go. “I’ve had my fair amount of fights with him before, one more won’t matter. Even he knows that Tim knows who most of us are already. He just doesn’t want to believe it.”

Jason stared down at his former best friend. He envied Tim at the moment. Not a care in the world. No clue about what was being discussed right over his head. That one of Batman’s greatest enemies had taken more of an interest in him than previously believed. Ra’s was fully capable of doing exactly what he threatened. His little comment about Tim being a wannabe villain was coming back to haunt him. Even now, if the younger man wanted, he could take them all out.

Tim had always been smart. But he was also ethical. Morally upstanding. They’d had a few conversations about right and wrong, black and white. On some things, his views were the same as the rest of Bats. On others, they were much more in line with his. What would he be like if he lived fully in that gray twilight world Jason and Ra’s embodied?

He’d be downright terrifying, that’s what.

Dick let go and Jason yanked his hand away from Tim’s ankle, taking the boot off as he did and tossing it over the edge of the bed. He’d put them away later.

“There’s a lot of things B doesn’t want to believe,” he finally replied. “I’ll think about it.”

Nodding, Dick stood and pulled a small package from a compartment in his boot. “Trackers.” He handed them to Jason. “Oracle issued, not Bat. I’ll get you some cameras by tomorrow night.”

“Thanks, Big Wing.” Jason accepted the package and ignored the stupid smile that appeared on Dick’s face. It had been a long ass time since he used that particular nickname in front of his brother and he was reminded of why he didn’t anymore.

“You staying here tonight?” Dick asked as he strode around the foot of the bed to the stairs.

“Yeah. I’m a fuckin’ sap.”

Dick grinned. “I won’t tell.”

Telling Tim everything meant they could be more open in their monitoring of him and his movements. Perhaps it would even send a message to Ra’s to keep his paws off. But acknowledging that massive elephant in the room, plus telling Tim he’s alive and kicking…Well, even if they wanted to, the two of them could never go back to what they once were. They’d already crossed that line.

Although, the alternative was so much worse. Jason grimaced at the thought of Tim standing by Ra’s’ side. No, if Tim was going to turn to the dark side, it would be by his own free will, not some brainwashing by a man who would not take a fucking hint and just die already.

“Did Dick tell you what happened last night?” He didn’t think Bruce would say a word to Damian about it (and he really didn't want to believe there was a bug in Tim's bedroom; his family had no sense of privacy sometimes). Their relationship was complicated at best, although it was clear to anyone with eyes that the big bad bat loved his son, even if he didn’t act like it most of the time. Small wonder the brat had problems going to anyone for help.

That could be said for all of them though. Fucking Bruce.

Damian nodded grimly. “I don’t like it. Timothy is not a fighter, not like we are. But his mind…I can understand why Grandfather wants him so badly. But I am more concerned with why he's moving up his time frame all of a sudden. Something must have happened last night.”

Yeah, the thought had crossed his mind too. "You're not the only thinkin' that," Jason agreed before something else the gremlin said struck him.“That bother you at all? That he’s lookin’ outside the family for an heir?” This was pushing his luck but the brat knew more about how Ra’s thought than any of them. Some leaps in logic were beyond even Batman.

A noncommittal shrug was his reply. “Yes and no. It does not surprise me, not after his most recent failures with my clones and Mother rising against him. He is getting desperate.”

“Desperate men make mistakes.”

“They do indeed. Just make sure you aren’t one of them.” Damian paused, then continued. “You will be telling Timothy everything then?” If Jason hadn’t been looking for it, he’d have missed the ever so slightly hopeful lilt in the baby bat’s voice.

“I’ll think about it,” he said, stalking over to his helmet and picking it up. He was done with this conversation. “So until I figure out what to do, keep your yap shut.”

“I think Timothy will surprise you, Todd.” The still shorter teen marched right up to him and raised a fist threateningly. “But if you hurt him, I will eviscerate you and leave you in the closest alley like the trash you are.”

Jason reached out and ruffled Damian’s hair. “Aw, you do care.”

The outraged roar was worth it, he decided, as was the batarang the brat sent flying at him. He laughed as he threw himself off the side of the building and into the night.

 

Chapter Text

Jason walked purposefully down the hallway, his fake uniform proclaiming him to work for one of Gotham’s cable TV providers. With Barbara’s help, he had lied his way past the security desk and gained a more legitimate form of entry into Tim’s high rise residential building. It was a calculated risk, coming here during the day, but it was better than running around the roofs with his red helmet on.

He had bugs to find and new ones to replace them with.

Of course, he also had to actually fix someone else’s cable while he was here. That was easy since the disruption was Oracle caused in the first place. But it got him on the right floor and gave him a chance to assess the building itself. He’d only ever been here via Tim’s balcony. He wasn’t impressed.

Through his Bluetooth, Barbara agreed. “I can’t believe Tim pays all this money for such useless security.”

It was pathetic, but better than some places he’d seen (hell, lived). The guard who’d escorted Jason upstairs left as soon as he was let in to the loft down the hall from Tim’s. Some investment banker’s trophy wife made pouty faces at him while he fixed her cable. Or that might have been her default expression. There was definitely Botox involved.

“Well, it’s workin’ in my favor right now. If and when I tell him about me, I’ll be sure to mention it.” He stopped in front of Tim’s door and inserted the maintenance key he’d stolen last night after his little chat with Damian. “I’m going in.”

“I’ve overridden Tim’s security system already. It’s pretty good. His real talent is in network security though.” It took a lot to impress the all-knowing Oracle. He could hear it in her voice.

“Don’t worry, red. We all love you better.” Jason turned the key and knob, entering the loft through the front door for the first time.

It was strange being here during the day, but there was a certain appeal to it. The window blinds were mostly open, revealing a nice view of the Giordano Gardens and the Finger River below. He always knew they were there, but seeing them was another thing. “I think I discovered why Tim pays for this place.” He crossed living room and snapped a picture from the balcony door to send to Barbara.

“Oh, nice. Too bad he’s never here to see it.”

“No shit.”

Jason sat his bag down on his usual chair and got to work. It took him about twenty minutes to find Damian’s little recorder. It wasn’t Bat-shaped, but when he broke it open, he recognized the components. “Okay, Damian’s access is turned off. Time for yours.”

He still hated the idea of bugging Tim’s home. His private place with his amazing photography, his stupid wine collection that he never drank, and way too many memories of Tim being a disheveled dork instead of the put together businessman the rest of the world saw. In a way, this place had become as much a sanctuary to Jason as it was to Tim.

But he trusted Babs to monitor it more than he did Bruce. Bruce, the asshole who still thought Tim would betray them all to Ra’s.

The downstairs was done soon enough, all the windows and doors securely monitored now for activity, so Jason headed upstairs. As spacious as the loft was, it only had a single bedroom, which took up the entirety of the second level. The only real enclosed rooms were the half bathroom near the front door and the master bathroom upstairs. The open space looked out over the wide bank of windows revealing the river and gardens below. There were blinds on these upper windows too, which he found odd until he found the remote control on Tim’s nightstand.

Not that anyone could see in from the outside. Those windows, as well as the balcony doors, were tinted six ways to Sunday. The entire loft screamed money, but Tim’s tastes were simple. Understated even. Ostentatious wealth still made Jason uncomfortable, but this place never did.

Perhaps this was why he kept coming back.

He snorted at the thought.

“How many trackers do you have left?” Barbara asked.

“Two,” he replied. “I put one in Tim’s bag the other night. And another in those boots of his, as well as whatever shoes looked the most worn.” Jason couldn’t help but snicker at that. The strangest things seemed to happen to Tim when he was wearing those boots. “I think I got the right overcoat. The mornings have been chilly recently.”

Chilly enough to remind him winter was coming and not in the Game of Thrones kind of way. He hated winter. Despised it.

“You did,” Barbara replied after a moment. “I’ve got three signals coming from Tim’s office.”

He debated about where to place the remaining cameras. Somewhere with a good view of the stairs and the railing as these were the only ways up there. A moment’s survey of the room revealed a couple air vents along the back wall, small enough that he didn’t need to worry about someone sneaking in that way. He ran back downstairs and grabbed the step ladder he remembered seeing in Tim’s laundry room, then raced back up the stairs.

The first vent opened easily enough, camera installed without any hassle.

But the second one…Jason narrowed his eyes. He held up the camera he was about to install so Babs could see this. “Hey Barbie doll. Check this out.”

“Jason, how many times have I…Oh. That’s different.”

“Yeah.”

To the casual eye, there was nothing different about this vent. Except for the fact it wasn’t an air vent. The grate looked like one, and if Jason hadn’t just unscrewed the real one and put it back together, he’d have missed it entirely and triggered what was undoubtedly a silent alarm.

“This must be where Timmy hides the real valuables,” he offered, still not lowering the camera.

“Apparently,” Barbara agreed. “There’s an alarm there, but it’s hooked into the main security system. Let me check and make sure it’s off.”

Jason heard a few taps before she gave him the all clear.

“Just to be safe, I’m gonna take this slow,” he announced. Like dismantling a bomb slow. Tim was smart after all. Whatever was in here, it was hidden for a reason. Once again, Jason cursed his curiosity.

He was glad he took his time because the second trap would have incinerated whatever was in there.

But, in the end, he found himself sitting on the step ladder with a small photobox, decorated in some lame looking floral print, like Tim had just picked out the first one that met his size requirement. Considering this was Tim, he was most likely right.

Jason silently cursed. There he was again, knowing things about Tim Drake that no one else did. Things only a friend would know.

“Well?” Barbara asked, breaking his chain of thought. “What’s in it?”

“For someone who says she’s not technically a Bat, you sure are as nosy as one,” Jason retorted as he carefully removed the lid. The original Batgirl laughed in his ear. Curiosity was a trait this fucked up family of his all shared in spades.

In the box was a small photo album. An old album too, from the look of it. He took it out and started flipping through the pages. Over a third of the back pages were empty, but the rest…

He nearly dropped it.

That…that was a picture of him. When he was still Robin.

“Holy shit,” he breathed. He went back to the beginning of the album and almost dropped it again.

“Jay?”

“Babs…he knows. There is no fucking way he can have this and not know.” Jason held up the last camera again, giving her the eyes to see for herself.

The first picture in the album was an old photo of a very young Dick Grayson, two people Jason knew to be his parents (although the costumes they were all wearing were a dead giveaway) and an even younger Tim Drake.

“Oh wow,” Barbara gasped. “Can you take it out? Is there a date on the back?”

“One sec.” He set down the camera and carefully wiggled the photo out of the plastic sheeting. Flipping it over, he read a date that was as well known in the Wayne household as the date Thomas and Martha Wayne were murdered. “Fuck me, he was there that night.”

“The other pictures, Jason. What are they?” Barbara all but ordered him, her voice crisp and hard.

He put the first picture back where it belonged and picked up the camera again. The first few pages of the album contained somewhat blurry shots of Dick as Robin. These soon gave way to slightly better shots of Jason. The last shot, admittedly the best one, was of him crouched on a gargoyle lighting up a cigarette. The photographer had captured the moment the lighter flared up, casting a brief flash of light where his face was clear, masked though he was.

Under any other circumstances, he’d have praised the picture, because it was stunning.

“Are there dates on any of these?” Barbara asked.

“Umm…” Jason set the camera down again to check. He looked at the backs of several before announcing, “No. But some of those, at least of me? I think I was about 13, maybe 14? I mostly stopped smoking on patrol by the time I was 14.”

Barbara was silent for a time, before she sighed. “I think you’re right, Jay. Tim does know who we are. Or at least, you and Dick.”

He snorted at that. “Puh-leeze. If he knows that, then he knows it all. Two and two doesn’t make five.”

“True. So, what are you going to do now?”

Jason stared at the photo album in his hands, at the picture of him so carefully memorialized. He’d known for a long time his friend was good with a camera. Tim was always taking pictures on his phone and sent a lot of them to him when he was away at school. Sneaky pictures too, like ones of sleeping classmates, or a teacher in mid lecture. They never set off any alarms, but seeing all these, those old warning bells were going off years too late.

“I’m gonna do nothin’,” he announced and set about making sure everything was exactly the way he’d found it. The album was soon back up in the fake air vent, and the trap reset. Jason replaced the cover and that was that. “Don’t forget to turn that alarm back on when I leave.”

Barbara had been silent the entire time he worked. “I won’t.” She sighed in frustration. Jason could just imagine her running a hand through her red hair. “I wonder if this is why Ra’s wants Tim. That he somehow knows that Tim knows.”

“The only way that would happen is if Tim acknowledged it himself. All of these pictures are over ten years old, that first one even older. I seriously doubt that he’s said a word about them to anyone, let alone that asshat.” Jason stalked over to the closet and set up the last camera, this one aimed at the fake air vent rather than the stairs.

Tim knew. Inwardly, Jason was grinning from ear to ear. He always thought his friend had figured it out and now here he was, proven right. It didn’t make anything else easier for him, but it was a massive in your face to Bruce who still believed he’d told Tim back in the day, despite all his protests to the contrary.

Today was shaping up to be a good day.

*****

Tim sat in his office, pensively tapping at his phone, scrolling through news headlines but not reading a single one. Normally, it was easy for him to turn off parts of his brain, to compartmentalize, so that he could focus on the task at hand. He’d been off his game the entire day though and it was pissing him off.

Five o’clock was not getting here fast enough. He was glad it was Friday. Perhaps he could sneak out early. To do what, he wasn’t entirely certain. The urge to get laid was not as strong as it had been in previous days.

Small wonder considering what happened last night.

Last night…what the hell happened? And why did he enjoy it so much? He suspected he knew part of the answer. It was a taste of the forbidden. Hood was more than just a guy with a great body who wore leather. He was man with hidden depths, a smart mouth, and a mind Tim found completely and utterly fascinating.

But he was the Red Hood. A vigilante. Not exactly someone he could bring home to meet the parents (metaphorically speaking at least).

Who was he? He all but said Tim knew who he was. That he’d somehow made his life hell. It hurt, but how could he make it up to him if he didn’t know who he was? It’d been bugging him all day, trying to remember anyone he’s met over the years that remotely resembled Hood physically. The man was big, imposing in a way that most closely resembled Batman. The only people who came to mind were Bruce and Dick, as well as a number of bodyguards he’d had off and on over the years. But Tim always thought he’d treated them fairly; he didn’t make their job any more difficult than it needed to be. None of them had that same self-deprecating, vicious edge to their humor.

One thing he was certain of. Despite how the entire thing started last night, he was completely okay with how it ended, even if he didn’t get his hands on Hood to return the favor. It surprised him, the way the man had backed off, but now that he’d had the chance to analyze it a few dozen times, it occurred to Tim that the encounter must have thrown Hood off his game just as badly and he didn’t know how to react either.

He backed off because he thought he’d pushed his luck enough, even if Tim’s offer indicated otherwise. Tim smirked crookedly at the thought. The Red Hood, closet gentleman.

Well, he already knew the man had a penchant for classical literature. Or just literature in general. It reminded him of Jason and how he always had his nose in a book. He could easily imagine his friend and Hood screaming Shakespearean insults back and forth at each other.

His thoughts were interrupted when Tam tapped lightly at his door, poking her head in. “Hey. You got a sec?”

“Yeah.” He waved her in, still looking at his phone.

She entered and closed the door firmly behind her. Tim expected her to take a seat across from him, but instead, Tam walked around his desk and smacked him hard upside the back of his head.

“Ow!” Tim’s eyes bugged out more in surprise than pain. He looked up at her in shock, his phone falling to his desk. “What the hell?”

Tam glowered at him. “That’s for being an asshole all day. You’re entitled to having a bad day every now and then, I get it. But do you have any idea how much damage control I had to do earlier when you blew off that new hire group?”

“New hire group?” He vaguely remembered meeting a group of people earlier that afternoon.

It was the wrong thing to say. “Oh my god.” Tam shook her head, her dark eyes narrowing even more. “What is wrong with you today?”

“I…” Tim wanted to tell her. He really did. But telling his friend that he’d gotten the best hand job of his life the night before from the Red Hood wasn’t exactly something he could say.

When in doubt, evade. Tim averted his eyes and let himself flop dramatically over his desk. “These last couple days have been hell,” he said into the leather blotter.

Tam huffed a sigh and he could imagine the upturned quirk of her full lips. “Did you get kidnapped again? I noticed last week it was about that time.”

Tim welcomed the excuse. It was even partly true. “Yeah,” he muttered. “Night before last.”

The young woman took a seat on the edge of his desk and crossed her arms over her chest. “Why didn’t you say anything?” she asked.

He sat up and leaned back in his chair, the leather soft and molded to his form after so many hours spent in it. “Because,” he started and stopped, trying to find the right words. Tam knew about the kidnappings. She’d accidently witnessed one and called the police a couple years ago, which turned the normally simple proceedings into a shit-storm. It was hard to be upset about it when she only did what any sane and rational person would do when seeing her boss dragged out the window of his office by ninja.

“Because it’s gotten to the point where it’s routine now,” Tim replied. The answer was lame and he knew it.

Tam didn’t buy it. “If being kidnapped by ninja and then rescued by Batman and Nightwing is routine, then you wouldn’t be all hot and bothered. Unless…” she grinned, her entire face lighting up. “Something else happened.”

Damn her. Tim could prevaricate with the best of them, but he rarely outright lied, especially with Tam. He trusted her implicitly, but what happened with the Red Hood last night was something he was still trying to work out. But his therapist did say he needed to talk out his thoughts rather than suppress everything…

Tim sighed heavily. “The last time I was kidnapped, Nightwing and the Red Hood showed up.” He explained how Hood kept showing up at his loft for crappy first-aid from him (in his defense, he was getting better at it) and witty banter, about how they’d had an honest to God movie night last week. And then, “The other night, I let slip that I’m gay.”

Sighing again, Tim ran a hand through his hair. What little effort he’d put into taming it this morning was long since destroyed. “But it didn’t seem to bother him in the slightest. If anything, he’s interested.” He purposefully kept quiet about the hand job. No need to let her know things had already escalated even further.

Tam let out a slow breath. “Oh, Tim. Honey. Why didn’t you say anything sooner?”

“Like what?” Tim snapped. “Oh hey, Tam, how’s it going? Did you have a good night? By the way, the Red Hood crashed on my balcony last night and broke my fake plant.”

She kicked him in the knee, hard enough to feel it, her eyes flashing. “Don’t be a jackass, you know what I mean.”

“This is why I pay for a shrink. At least she doesn’t kick me.” He paused and rubbed his sore knee before asking, “So what should I do?”

Silence reigned supreme as Tam thought about everything he told her. “I think you need to get laid,” she finally came back with. “You haven’t been out in forever and you’re wound up tighter than a fiddle. It’ll need to be this weekend as next weekend is the masquerade. If you leave now, you could even go out to that club of yours tonight.”

He blinked. “What?” This was not what he expected her to say.

She started ticking points off her fingers. “You’re stressed. You make poor decisions when you’re stressed. You inadvertently take it out on the people around you. Therefore, if you get laid, you won’t be stressed anymore and can think about this whole thing with Red Hood objectively.”

“That’s your solution for dealing with Hood?” Sometimes, the female mind was simply beyond him.

“Well, it’s obvious you’re crushing on him a bit,” Tam said, one of those pleased little smirks teasing at her lips. She was enjoying this way too much. “Go find someone else to rock your world for a night. Maybe you’ll think about him for a change and want something more.”

Tim rolled his eyes. “Dating is a pain in the ass.”

“You’d know more about that than me,” she smirked even harder.

Of course Tam went there. “Remind me to be extra nice to your next boyfriend,” he teased. The last man his friend dated turned out to be homophobic and always thought Tim was hitting on him the few times the three of them met up for drinks after work. He didn’t last long, which was fine with him as he thought Tam deserved better.

“Maybe you’ll have a boyfriend too. Someone you didn’t meet in a club and screw after a few drinks.”

“You’re the one telling me to go out and get laid,” Tim retorted. The words stung, but they weren’t anything new. Tam was always after him to date in a more normal manner. The tabloids would have a field day if they learned Timothy Drake went clubbing just to have sex. He always used a fake ID when he went and paid cash.

Both Tam and Ives teased him mercilessly over the name on the ID. Alvin Draper. He didn’t see anything wrong with it. Al was a perfectly good nickname.

Tam’s expression softened. “I just want you to be happy, Tim. Physical needs aside, doing what you do doesn’t make you happy.”

“I’ll meet someone eventually,” he said, a hint of wistfulness in his voice. It’s not that Tim wasn’t opposed to being in a relationship. He’d love to be in one. But there weren’t too many men in his age bracket that ran successful Fortune 1000 companies (he was bound and determined to break into the top 500 within the next few years) or even understood the time and commitment it took to do so.  

“Just promise me you’ll stop whatever this is with Red Hood,” Tam said, looking more serious than she had before. “In all honesty, Tim, you know better. That’s not going to end well.”

“I know,” Tim sighed and rubbed at his eyes. He knew it all too well, but it didn’t stop him from wanting. “It doesn’t help he’s sharp as a tack, which does just as much for me as he does physically.”

“Then let me lay some perspective on you. He kills people.” It was said in such a flat tone that Tim couldn’t help but look closely at her. Tam appeared unruffled, but underneath, she was tense.

“I hadn’t forgotten,” he said quietly. “And I’m not going to make excuses and say he doesn’t anymore because he works with Batman or Nightwing.”

“There’s your answer, Tim.” Tam reached out and he took hold of her hand, squeezing it lightly. “You deserve to be happy with everything that’s happened to you. But I don’t see how entering into more of a relationship with the Red Hood is going to do that for you.”

Tim huffed a small laugh at her choice of words. Relationship and Red Hood should not belong together in the same sentence. He knew this, he really did.

Then why did they make him even more upset?

*****

Jason stared in horror at his computer as he listened to the conversation going on in Tim’s office. The screen was playing a live-stream from the recording device he’d placed there months ago.

He took back what he thought earlier. This was bad. Seriously, what the hell was going on?

Tim was frazzled, there was no mistaking that. On the one hand, it made Jason disgustingly happy to know he had put Tim in that state, but on the other, listening to the Fox chick flat out tell him to go get laid so he could get his head wrapped around what were feelings for Jason pissed him off.

Tim was his. His what exactly was still to be determined, but he was working on that. There were so many questions he wanted to ask his old friend about those photos he’d found earlier, but the urge to keep him safe from Ra’s was still paramount in his mind. They didn’t have a time frame for the asshole’s plans, but normally, that wouldn’t matter. Tim was a machine who had no life, so the little outing he was planning for tonight was throwing a goddamned monkey wrench into everything.

How dare he go out and have a life when he was trying to keep his ass safe?

Apparently, this wasn’t a new thing either as he listened to him and his assistant talk. This was how the young CEO got his rocks off. Under different circumstances, it would amuse him immensely.

But after last night...the hand job had not been his intention. Tim’s comment about making time for friends now stemmed from his death after all. It had pissed Jason off to no end that Tim hadn’t been there for him when he needed him, but at the same time, he got it. He’d just lost his parents and lord knows that screwed a person up.

It begged the question of how much of Jason’s rage at his old friend was misplaced childhood anger. He snorted in disgust at himself. He had a lot of misplaced anger from his childhood that he was still working through when the mood struck. If he were honest with himself, it was why he kept going to Tim, even when he didn’t have to. He could bandage his own wounds, thank you very much. But it was easier with someone else lending a hand, even if said hand didn’t know what they were doing half the time.

The knife wound was just deep enough Jason needed stitches, but it was at such an odd angle on his shoulder there was no way he could do it himself. Dick fucking Grayson, contortionist extraordinaire, he was not.

Tim stared blankly at him as he dripped blood onto his kitchen floor. “Don’t you have other places to go for this kind of thing?”

“It’s just a flesh wound.”

The younger man’s lips quirked, the first reaction Jason’s had from him since he arrived and started bleeding all over the place. “I thought Batman was the Black Knight.”

Under his helmet, Jason grinned. The first time he’d ever seen that movie was with Tim. “Dark Knight,” he corrected him. “But he’s also a dumbass who’ll keep fighting until he passes out from blood loss.” No need to mention he’d done that before too. Once. Okay, twice. Fine, three times.

Tim doesn’t say anything, but he looked amused as he pulled out the first aid kit he’d started keeping under his kitchen sink. Opening it up, he snapped on a pair of surgical gloves. “So how does this work? I’ve never stitched anyone up before.”

Jason needed Tim’s help to get out of his jacket (it sucked, he’d just gotten this one broken in too) and Tim used the scissors to cut through his ruined t-shirt. The body armor gave them some trouble as he refused to take his helmet off in front of him, but they got it shifted around enough to make it work.

“Umm…let me grab some clean towels.” Tim removed his already bloody gloves and set them aside. It went without saying that Jason was going to take any items with his blood on them when he left. Perhaps he should have gone to the Cave after all.

When he came back, he placed a folded towel over the wound. “Put pressure on it. I need to check something.”

Jason did as he was told without any comment. He watched Tim tap at his phone and stare intently at what sounded like a how-to video. He couldn’t help but chuckle. “You know I can walk you through this step by step. I’ve had plenty of stiches in my day.”

Tim quirked that damn eyebrow of his and smirked. The look worked for him, it really did, if he was going for sarcastic asshole. “I’m sure you have, but I’ve never even seen this done before. Definitely not how I thought it worked.”

“You don’t have to get all fancy. I’m not gonna whine if you can’t sew straight.”

“Fine. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Tim took a deep breath and put on a clean pair of gloves.

It hurt. There wasn’t anything they could use to numb the area besides ice and the only thing Tim had besides peroxide to keep the cut clean was some good looking vodka he pulled out of a cabinet.

“I can’t believe I’m wasting this on you,” Tim groused as he poured a shot glass’s worth over the wound.

“I can’t believe you’re wastin’ it on me either. That’s some good shit. Haven’t had it since I left Russia.” Jason had a feeling that keeping a running dialogue would help Tim’s nerves. He’d noticed the shaking hands. “How’d a scrawny little thing like you get his hands on that?”

“21st birthday gift from Ra’s,” Tim said slowly, his attention on the shoulder in front of him. “I got a crate full of different wines from all over Europe, and a second one full of different regional alcohols from all corners of the globe.”

Jason couldn’t help the low whistle. His 21st involved a lot of cheap beer and feeling sorry for himself. “That’s impressive. Lemme guess, the wine’s gone?”

Tim chuckled. “No. I put it away for a rainy day. Despite all my complaints about you guys making me drink, I really don’t indulge all that often.”

“Just when you have to jump out a window?”

“Exactly.”

Curiosity always seemed to get the best of him.

“I shoulda just fuckin’ stayed away,” he muttered into his tea. “Couldn’t even do that right.”

It begged the question of what he should do next. Jason Todd was dead to Tim Drake. There was nothing connecting the Red Hood to the Robin he used to be. No reason for Tim to even believe Jason was alive and kicking. Yeah, that was a conversation he could see going well. Assuming Tim even wanted anything to do with him after the big reveal.

All this was getting him nowhere fast. He continued listening to the conversation and grimaced at Fox’s blunt take on him. She was right. The Red Hood was a killer, no matter who he played for now. Tim didn’t need someone like him in his life.

The thought saddened him, as did Tim’s resigned acceptance.

The conversion moved on to other things, so Jason minimized the window. Curling back up on his sofa, he slowly sipped at his tea, lost in thought, lost in memories of easier times. Back when Tim’s smile lit up the room and brightened his day.

Had he known then? That somewhere, someday, the two of them would be playing this game of cat and mouse? Jason refused to believe in fate or destiny (he made his own choices, fuck you very much) but even he couldn’t deny the fast growing attraction he felt towards Tim.

In the end, he knew he was going to shadow Tim to the club tonight. It was too perfect of a venue for Ra’s to slip someone in and take Tim without anyone being the wiser. Not all of his henchmen were ninja after all. The man was the head of the League of Assassins and employed a far deadlier arsenal than the mindless drones devoted to him and his cause. A well-trained assassin could easily take on the role of Tim’s chosen playmate for the night.

Like fucking hell was Jason going to let that happen.

He trailed Tim from his loft to a hotel where he spent a short amount of time, emerging in what was a bit plain for club clothes, but he was wearing those damn boots again, this time over his snug jeans.

Jason followed him into the club. It was a calculated risk coming in here as he couldn’t wear a mask, but between the flashing lights and overall crowd, he figured the sunglasses he grabbed on his way out of his apartment would work well enough to disguise him.

Why would Tim think the dead could come back to life?

For a while, he simply watched Tim dance. He was graceful in a dorky kind of way that worked for him as he let loose and acted his age for once. But as time passed, his movements became sensual, more purposeful.

Jason recognized it for what it was. Tim was finally on the prowl and damn if that didn’t do all kinds of things for him.

He laughed to himself when Tim spotted him and gave him an assessing once over. If he only knew…

But someone else ultimately caught the young man’s attention.

Jason knew he had to think fast and make a decision over how he wanted the rest of tonight to go. He’s supposed to protect Tim and make sure Ra’s didn’t try anything funny. This was the perfect place for a kidnapping, especially if the old perv knew Tim’s preferences.

But the thought of trailing him back to that hotel so he could bang some random stranger while Jason could do nothing but watch and listen…

Fuck that shit.

 

Chapter Text

Tim closed his eyes and let the beat of the music guide his movements. He wasn’t an exceptionally skilled dancer, but he was quick on his feet and always able to adapt to whomever happened to be his partner.

This was what he needed, he decided. The lights, the sound, the press of humanity surrounding him on all sides. His preferred club catered to the LGBTQ community, so there was little chance for his intentions to be misunderstood once he found someone of interest.

Tam was right. He did need to get laid, even if he thought otherwise at first. He’d put it off long enough. No more distractions, no more excuses.

Opening his eyes, Tim scanned the crowd around him. It was a Friday night, so it was busy, but not so pressed for space that he couldn’t move around. He wove on and off the dance floor a few times, heading to the bar once for a bottle of overpriced beer. All the while, he scoped out the scene around him.

A few men caught his eye as possible choices, but he nixed two of them right away as it was obvious they were together. Threesomes weren’t his thing. The third though…

The guy worked out, that much was certain with the way his arms and shoulders bulged in the snug black t-shirt he wore. He was tall too, with a wavy mess of dark hair that Tim was dying to run his hands through. The man smirked, but Tim couldn’t tell if it was at him because of the sunglasses he was wearing. The dark shades were better suited for a motorcycle or a fast car than the dim but still flashy lights of the club. The sexy smirk sent a pleasant shiver down his spine.

Tim almost approached him when someone else caught his eye. Similar build, blonde or light brown hair; it was hard to tell in the strobing lights. But this man, he could see his face. Tempting as the other one was, he made eye contact with the light-haired man instead. He’d drawn his line in the sand about masks and sunglasses came close enough.

The chase was on. Tim caught the man’s eye and smiled encouragingly at him as he danced. He liked this game. It was a challenge of a different sort. He knew he was attractive enough to catch most people’s attention, so he didn’t have to put a ton of effort into his appearance. A pair of black jeans that hugged his hips and a simple white t-shirt were his weapons tonight. And his costume boots. He couldn’t resist the chance to test them out here; they looked very nice against the dark denim.

The blonde man had almost made his way to him when Tim saw his eyes widen slightly. He backed off, melting back into the crowd.

The hell? Tim started after him, but a firm hand wrapped itself over his hip, pulling him firmly against a wall of warm muscle. He stiffened immediately.

“Oh, did I scare him away?” a familiar voice said mockingly in his ear. “You’d have broken him way too fast, rich boy. Where’s the satisfaction in that?”

Fuck.

It was Hood. The Red Hood, here. In his club, just as he was trying to find someone to screw his brains out for the night so he could get said man out of his head.

Why was this his life?

Tim growled and kept dancing. He was not going to let Hood win. If looks could kill, he would be a dead man. What the hell was his game this time? “What would you know about satisfaction, Hood? I did offer to give you a hand, you know.”

The hand on his hip tightened, digging into bruises he’d found this morning as he got dressed. “I got my own hand. We’re not strangers.”

And there went Tim’s brain, his ever so helpful imagination supplying plenty of images of how that could look. This was not helping. “What do you want?” he snapped. “I’m here for a reason and you just scared off a potential partner.”

“I just saved you from a boring ass night.” Even over the pounding music, Hood sounded pleased with himself.

“Even a boring partner is better than no partner. Now fuck off.” Tim tried to escape Hood’s hold, but no such luck. The hand curled around his waist, pulling him in even closer. He gasped as his head fell back against the taller man’s shoulder, the extra height from his boots making it that much easier. Feeling daring, Tim looked up.

The angle wasn’t the best, nor was the lighting, but for the first time, he caught a glimpse of the man under the mask. It was the dark-haired man he’d spotted earlier, the one who looked like sin incarnate even with the sunglasses. This close though, he could see what some would perceive as a flaw. A shock of white hair marred the black hair falling over his forehead. But rather than serve as a detractor, Tim found it appealing.

Yet again, he internally groaned about this being his life. Of course, the Red Hood would be handsome. There had to be some secret Bat-requirement that all Gotham vigilantes be good looking.

Hood’s lips quirked in a small smirk as he noticed where Tim’s eyes were. “See somethin’ ya like?”

“Why are you doing this to me?” The question slipped out before he could stop it, but once it was out in the open, Tim was glad for it. For two days, his head had been wrapped up in thoughts about this man. Last night, brief though it was, had been a taste of what he could experience if he let Hood into his life, if he invited him in. Would he come? Was it worth it? Because he knew Tam was right too. The man holding him so close had started his vigilante career as a killer. He may be above board now, but it didn’t change his past.

The smirk disappeared as Hood stared down at Tim seriously. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “I’m wingin’ it as I go.”

“Fair enough.” The answer was honest, which was more than Tim expected. He closed his eyes and relaxed against the larger man, letting him guide them through the song.

Enjoyable as dancing with Hood was, this wasn’t what he came out for. A few songs later, the tall man still hadn’t moved from his position behind Tim. He was starting to think he wasn’t going to. There were definitely mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, it felt natural for Hood to be at his back, like he was some piece Tim didn’t know was missing until now.

On the other hand, he really wanted to have sex tonight. And that was not going to happen if Hood stayed where he was. Tim was determined to stick to his decision. It would only change if the sunglasses disappeared. And that…he was pretty certain Hood wasn’t ready to do.

Yet. He’d caught a glimpse of his face now. That had to mean something, right?

He sighed. Tam was going to kill him if she ever learned what they’d done already. About what he still wanted to do if the man guiding him through the song with his hand still on his hip ever made up his goddamned mind.

It suddenly occurred to him that the reason why Hood was on the fence about revealing his face was because he believed Tim didn’t know the identities of the other vigilantes. Tim wanted to smack himself because it was obvious that he should have realized it sooner. No one other than Ra’s had ever gotten him to admit to this knowledge (and he was pretty certain that had been a shot in the dark based on a very educated guess by the old man), but at the same time, he wasn’t going to start, even if it meant Hood would take off his mask.

So here he was, back at square one.

He had to get away from Hood first. A trip to the restroom should do it.

But what about the rest? Tim weighed the pros and cons of trying to find the blonde man again (or any other decent looking man for that matter) and decided the possible repercussions wouldn’t be worth it. He bit his lip and glared out into the crowd. It looked like he would have to call tonight a wash.

There was always tomorrow night. Hood had to patrol or whatever at some point, leaving him to his own devices.

That now begged the question of how he wanted to spend the rest of his night. Alone was not what he anticipated, but it was like the man behind him said earlier. It wasn’t as though he and his hand (or his toys for that matter) were strangers. It just wasn’t what he wanted. What he needed.

Best to cut this short before he ended up giving Hood the wrong idea. Tim leaned up against the man again, raising his face against his shoulder so the other could hear him. But before he could say anything, he felt warm lips brush against the top of his head.

“There’s somethin’ we need to talk about.”

Tim barely heard him over the song pulsing on the loud speakers. “I thought we covered everything already.”

The hand on his hip tightened incrementally. “It’s not about us. It’s about Ra’s.”

Us. Tim was momentarily floored by the casual usage of the word before he absorbed the rest of what Hood said. Ra’s. The old man was a pain in his ass, that’s what he was. He sighed, already annoyed. “I doubt I’ll be seeing him anytime soon after the other night.”

“Not if what B and Boy Wonder Number One discovered is true.”

The statement sent a chill down Tim’s spine. “What?”

“Not here. Let’s go somewhere we can actually talk and hear ourselves think at the same time.” There was another brush of Hood’s lips against his head, this time on the tip of his ear.

Tim shuddered, and wished with all his might that tonight was going to end differently than he suspected it would. “I got a room at a hotel not far from here. Will that work?”

“That’s fine.”

They left the club, Tim trailing after Hood as they walked down the block. The night air was cool against his skin, still warm and flushed from dancing. At some point, clouds had moved in and there was more humidity than usual in the air. A storm was brewing.

“Do I need to call us an Uber?” Tim finally asked after they walked another block. His feet weren’t hurting per se, but his boots were not made for walking long distances.

“Nah, I parked down here. C’mon.” Hood waved and disappeared down a dark alley.

Tim stopped and stared before following gingerly. He was Gotham born and bred, upper crust to be sure, but even he knew better than to go down an alley in this city, day or night. It was nice to see he had some self-preservation instincts, even if they were absolute shit when it came to the Red Hood.

Several yards in, Hood was straddling the back of a motorcycle. The light was poor, but Tim couldn’t help but notice how the position did even more incredible things for his thighs.

“You ride one of these before?” the big man asked.

“Once. With Red Robin.” It had been one of the few occasions where Stephanie came along with Batman to rescue him from Ra’s. Rather than rappelling upwards with him from the window they jumped out of, they went down to street level. He hadn’t enjoyed that part as the sensation was all too close to what he imagined falling to be like, but as soon as their feet hit pavement, she yanked him along and threw him on the back of a motorcycle that she handled like a pro.

It had been one of the best experiences of his life.

“She drives like a maniac,” Hood laughed, handing Tim a helmet. He reached around to a saddlebag to take out his leather jacket while the shorter man tried to figure out how to put the helmet on.

“I know. It was great.” Tim grinned and slid it over his head. It was a normal motorcycle helmet, of red, black, and white. The visor was down, leaving it so dark he could barely see.

It was probably a good thing. He’d seen way more of Hood tonight than he should have, even if the vigilante did his best to keep Tim in front of him or behind him so that he didn’t get a very clear look at his face. He did get a good look at his jawline though. Very sharp, strong. Clean shaven this time. It was a toss-up as to whether he preferred the stubble or not.

Tim situated himself behind Hood and hung on for dear life as he peeled out of the alley and onto the road. Between the man in front of him and the roaring machine below, he was plenty warm. The situation, however, didn’t lend itself well to his inner turmoil. As they drove to the hotel (that Tim knew he didn’t tell Hood the name of), he tried to focus on what Ra’s was up to now rather than the large person radiating so much heat under his arms.

Their last dinner hadn’t been anything unusual. Tim replayed the conversation over in his mind, and the only topic that stood out was Ra’s asking (confirming) that he knew who Batman and his birds were under their masks. He hadn’t thought too much of it at the time, other than a brief concern over the old man having leverage on him. Perhaps he should have thought more about it rather than turning his vaunted mind onto the man in front of him.

This was what happened when he thought with one head instead of the other. He lost track of the big picture.

Hood pulled up all too soon in front of the modest hotel Tim had selected for the night. He couldn’t help but grimace about how his original plans had veered so far off track. It pissed him off yet again.

The motorcycle rumbled to a stop and Hood cut the engine.

“Do I even want to know how you already knew where I’m staying tonight?” Tim asked, somewhat testily, as he slipped off the back of the bike. He pulled the helmet off and handed it to Hood.

“Probably not,” the man grinned roguishly. At some point, he’d swapped his sunglasses for a dark red domino that concealed his eyes and part of his nose.

Tim stared, feeling as though he’d been punched in the stomach. There was something familiar about that mask. He knew he’d never seen it on the Red Hood before, he’d never seen the man without his trademark helmet before tonight. No, the memory was older, buried and purposefully forgotten.

The domino was very similar to Jason’s mask. Dark red where his had been green.

Anger and rage swelled up inside him. How dare Bruce give Jason’s mask to someone else? He didn’t care if Hood deserved it or not, or if this was simply a coincidence. It was sullying and dishonoring his friend’s memory.

And he couldn’t say a word about it.

He abruptly turned away and stalked towards the hotel entrance. Tim tried to calm down, sucking in deep breaths as he strode away from the leather clad man. Jason…what would he think of the mess he was in right now? That answer was easy, he’d be laughing his ass off over it. More than ever, he missed his best friend. Sure, Tam and Ives were his friends, but neither of them could claim the title of his best friend.

That title would always be reserved for one person.

“What crawled up your ass and died?” Hood asked from behind him.

“Nothing,” Tim snapped. It wasn’t like he could come right out and say why the mask upset him so much.

Tim Drake had never met Robin after all.

The hotel lobby was empty when they entered. He started towards the elevator, but Hood snagged his arm and directed him to the stairs instead. “Really?” Tim asked in obvious annoyance. He wasn’t exactly in the best of moods and the mask had been the last straw of any charitable feelings he had for the other man.

“I have a thing about enclosed spaces,” was all Hood said before opening the door to the stairwell. He hit the lights, leaving only the emergency lights illuminating the way.

“And I have a thing about going up four flights of stairs in three inch platform boots,” Tim muttered under his breath as he followed the man up the stairs. He’d had enough exercise today.

“What was that, rich boy?”

“Nothing.”

By the time they made it to the fourth floor, Tim was winded and trying to hide it. His feet hurt and his calves were burning. He was pretty sure it wouldn’t be this bad if he’d been wearing normal shoes, like the ones he’d left in his room earlier when getting ready.

Hood waited for Tim on the landing. He’d easily outpaced him on the stairs, but slowed down after the first floor when he apparently realized the young CEO wasn’t right behind him. Under different circumstances, Tim would have appreciated the thought and the view of the man’s ass in the dark denim jeans he was wearing.

“Issues?” Hood asked, smirking slightly.

“Shoes,” Tim tried not to gasp in response, but he couldn’t hide the deep breaths he was taking.

The smirk grew. “I noticed those earlier. Very steampunk.”

Tim tried not to gape at the surprisingly modern reference. “I’m surprised you even know what steampunk is.” The suit he’d be wearing under his cape for the masquerade was influenced by the genre. Once again, he wished he had more time in his life to explore his more creative side as designing his costume had been a ton of fun, blending Carnival, steampunk, and his love of fantasy into one. His seamstress had been impressed by the designs he’d sketched out on his tablet and sent to her.

“There’s a lot of things you don’t know about me, rich boy.” Hood shrugged, his smirk morphing into something unreadable.

He opened the door slowly, poked his head out to look around, and opened it wider, gesturing for Tim to follow.

It was…odd. “Are you expecting ninja?” he asked.

“I’m expecting worse than ninja,” Hood replied as he walked down the hallway, his long legs once again sending him on ahead.

What did Ra’s have that was worse than ninja? Tim attempted to solve that puzzle as they walked and turned a corner.

Hood stopped in front of room 429 and waited.

“What, you know where my room is, but can’t override the lock?” Tim dug into his pocket and fished out his phone. He’d put his fake ID, some cash, and the keycard for his room in the case.

“Thought I’d give you a chance to be useful.”

“Asshole.” Tim held the card to the lock and watched the little light flash green. He grabbed hold of the handle and opened the door into the dark room.

Wait a second… “I left the lights on,” was all he had a chance to say before two figures dressed all in black rushed forward.

Tim was shoved hard from behind, sending him to the floor to say hello to the carpet. As he fell, he tucked into one of the poses he’d learned in a self-defense class that allowed him to roll with it rather than break his nose. Around him, the sounds of a fight erupted as Hood leapt over his prone figure and started throwing punches.

“I fuckin’ knew it,” Hood growled, sounding very much like Batman rather than the somewhat raspy baritone Tim discovered was his normal voice.

Glancing up, Tim watched as the man took on not two, but three dark figures. It was clear the big man was doing his best, but he was hampered by trying to block the short entry way from the main part of the room to keep the others from reaching him.

He was protecting him.

Tim knew from when he arrived here earlier that the bathroom was on his immediate left and a small closet was on his right. He unrolled his body and, keeping low, started inching his way to the closet. His backpack was there. More importantly, the modified taser he owned was there.

Red Robin had given it to him and made sure he knew how to use it.

She was waiting for Tim late one night when he was leaving a restaurant opening. It was his social event for the month. These he didn’t mind so much, especially if the food was halfway decent. He’d recently turned 21, so he let himself indulge a bit. Just one drink as he had to drive home to his lonely loft.

“Nice car,” a voice said from the backseat after Tim got himself situated. He nearly swung into the other lane, so great was his shock before got a look at the face in his rearview mirror.

“Red!” he shouted. “What the hell?”

Red Robin grinned, her teeth bright against the darkness. “You have the worst sense of self-preservation I’ve ever seen.”

“Tell me something I don’t already know,” Tim shot back. “What are you doing here?”

Truth be told, he liked Red Robin as well as the woman under the mask. Stephanie Brown-Wayne took shit from no one and was exceptionally proud of her humble origins. She used her position, masked and otherwise, to help the people of Gotham in ways that few outside the Wayne family would ever think of doing. Her Neon Knights program was a personal favorite of Tim’s and he was proud of being co-chair with her, along with Lucius Fox.

“Your last kidnapping left a lot to be desired.”

Tim scowled at the reminder. Rather than the ninja he was used to, someone else took it into their heads to kidnap the young CEO of Drake Industries a couple weeks before. Batman, Red Robin, and Robin had found him a several hours after he was abducted, battered and bruised. He still had the remnants of a black eye from the experience.

“Not a lot I can do about that,” he retorted. “I’m not a kung-fu master or whatever it is all of you are.”

“I already gave you the names of a few people you can go to for lessons,” Red Robin replied as she crawled into the passenger seat next to him. Her cowled head shone briefly under a street light. He noticed she'd changed the color of her uniform again. The panels of red had been slowly moving towards the violet side of the color spectrum over the last couple of years. It didn't surprise him. Stephanie loved purple. Eggplant. Whatever.

He wondered if there was a name change in the works.

“I’ve already told you I don’t have time.” Tim stopped at a red light, waiting to turn left. He didn’t need this lecture even though he knew she was correct.

“Make time,” she growled. “But that’s not why I’m here tonight.”

“Pray tell, what is it now?”

“This.” The woman held up a taser.

Tim glanced at it, but had to return his attention on the road as the light changed. “I already have one.”

She grinned viciously. “Not like this one.”

So that was how, not even an hour later, he found himself in an almost empty studio apartment he had a feeling was rented specifically for this purpose. Red Robin had let him go home long enough to change clothes before dragging him here.

“By the time we’re done tonight, you’re going to have the same background in how to use this,” she held up the taser, “as the GCPD does.”

Tim eyed it warily. “I’m getting tased by thing tonight, aren’t I?”

“Yup. It’s gonna hurt.” It sounded like a promise.

It did.

Red Robin had told him that while some people could shake off the effects of a regular taser (usually when they were drunk or higher than a kite), this one would take down a rhino if enough shocks were sent down the slender wires. If he could tase one of these guys, it would even out the fight. There was no doubt in his mind that Hood could handle two on one easier than three on one.

Tim carefully slid open the closet door. Luckily, his backpack was sitting right there on top of the small luggage rack. He grabbed it, unzipped the pouch he kept the taser in, and took it out.

Still keeping low, he turned his attention back on the fight. It had been hard to ignore, but he couldn’t let himself be distracted by the numerous hits he knew Hood had taken already.

His eyes must have adjusted to the dim light while he was getting the taser as he could see what was going on more clearly than before. Tim grimaced as Hood grunted and took a hard hit in the ribs. His unprotected ribs. He was wearing his jacket still, but under that he was in a simple t-shirt.

Tim breathed deep and, staying in a low crouch, crept back to the left side of the entry hall. He scooted forward as much as he could without getting in the way. There was only once chance for this and he didn’t want to accidently tase Hood by mistake. That would be bad.

Very bad.

The voltage on his taser was Bat-tested and Bat-approved, and was much stronger than the standard issue police models. A leg would do in a pinch, but no one was staying still long enough for him to take proper aim. He wanted to aim higher if he could. If he got one of them in the balls, all the better as they were the reason Hood cockblocked him tonight.

Fuckers.

He saw his chance. “Taser!” he shouted and pulled the trigger.

Chapter Text

Jason was aware on some level that Tim was moving around behind him rather than running out the still open door like a sensible person would when not one, not two, but three high level assassins attacked them. However, the shout and then the popping sound of the taser going off were not what he expected.

One of the assassins dropped to the ground and started twitching violently.

“Again!” Jason shouted and used the distraction to finally land a solid punch on the asshole in front of him. It was hard to tell in the dark, but he thought it was a woman. Not that it mattered to him in the slightest, Bat and League trained as he was. He heard another pop as Tim’s taser went off a second time. That should keep the bastard down for now.

The remaining man turned his attention to Tim for a split second that Jason took ruthless advantage of, kicking him in square in the knee with his steel-toed boot. The crunch was audible and the assassin staggered as his knee gave out.

The woman pressed in, trying to take advantage of the opening Jason purposefully left her. He grabbed her wrist, pulled, and twisted her around, dislocating her shoulder in the process. She didn’t make a sound, but he saw her grimace. “Sleep tight,” he said and punched her hard in the side of the head.

Down she went.

Jason turned to face the last man. “Leave or I’ll break your other fuckin’ knee.”

He didn’t expect the assassin to leave. This guy was a trained professional after all and Ra’s did not tolerate failure.

Sure enough, the man tried another attack, this time with some throwing stars. Jason recognized the feint for what it was, a distraction, and easily dodged them as he bore down him. Another swift kick to the other knee and the man crumbled to the ground. He followed, using a nerve strike to render him unconscious.

The adrenaline rush from a successful fight was always a heady feeling and Jason took a couple deep breaths to calm down before looking over at Tim.

The man was crouched against the wall, one arm still out and clutching a very familiar looking taser. His blue eyes were open wide and his lips were pressed into a thin line. There was a wild look to his eyes, one that Jason was all too familiar with.

“Hey, rich boy. Take a deep breath.”

No reaction.

Jason stood slowly and made a show of keeping his hands visible. He closed the small distance between them and knelt. “Tim,” he tried again. “It’s over. They’re not gonna get you. Breathe.”

Pale blues eyes finally came back into focus as Tim stared at him.

“Tim?”

He drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. “You okay?”

Jason smirked. “I’m fine. I know how to take a few hits."

That was putting it mildly. He’d always been a brawler and the thick layer of muscle helped protect him. But right now, he wished he was wearing at least some body armor. Once the adrenaline wore off, his ribs would hurt.

Tim let out a small laugh. “I bet you do.” He took another deep breath and licked his lips. Jason couldn’t help but stare, just like he had the other night. “Um…stop me if you don’t want this, but I really want to kiss you right now.”

Jason’s not sure who moved first, but he suddenly found himself with Tim in his arms, his lean body straddling one of his thighs, and his arms tight around his neck as he absolutely devoured him. There was nothing gentle about the kiss as Tim licked and bit his way into Jason’s mouth. He gasped and the smaller man pressed his advantage, exploring every corner. It was warm, and wet, and goddamn did this guy know how to kiss.

It irked the crap out of him that Tim had been planning to share this previously unknown talent with a complete stranger tonight. In this moment, Jason was almost tempted to thank Ra’s as this would probably not be happening if he hadn’t sent assassins to kidnap Tim and whisk him away.

He tried to regain the upper hand, digging his fingers into Tim’s hair and pulling it tight. Tim let out a moan that went straight to Jason’s dick, but didn’t relinquish his control.

Jason groaned. As much as he wanted this to continue (and Jesus fuck did he want it to), this wasn’t the time or the place. The assassins would only be unconscious for so long and they needed to be gone.

Since when was he the responsible adult?

Dammit.

He tugged again at Tim’s hair (so smooth against his callused fingers), harder this time so that Tim was forced away from his mouth. He pouted prettily, obviously not happy about it. Jason couldn’t help but lean in and place a light kiss over those pursed lips.

“We need to get outta here.”

The pout turned into a frown, but it was clear he’d gotten through. “Yeah,” Tim agreed. “Where?”

“Leave it to me. Get your shit packed up.” Jason let go and stood. Distance helped.

Tim gave him an unreadable look, but picked up his taser and approached the assassin he’d downed with it.

Jason dug his phone out of his back pocket. It somehow had survived the fight. “I’d love to hear how you got your hands on a Bat-taser,” he said as he swiped open the screen and pulled up Barbara’s number. No way in hell was he taking Tim to one of his safehouses unless he absolutely had to.

He kept an eye on the assassins as the phone rang. Tim was removing the taser prongs none to gently from the groin of the one he’d taken down. Somewhere along the lines, he’d learned how to use that thing. His money was on Dick or Steph. It made him feel better knowing Tim had at least some form of protection, assuming he could get his hands on it fast enough. He wasn’t afraid to use it either.

Barbara finally picked up. “Hey there, Jaybird. How’d it go tonight?”

“Like shit. This line secure?”

He heard a click, followed by silence, then another few clicks. “It is now,” Babs replied. “What happened?”

“Three of Ra’s’ elites were waiting in Tim’s hotel room.” Jason knew it sounded bad as soon as he said it, but plowed ahead regardless. “I took care of two of them and Tim tased the shit outta the third.”

“Son of a bitch.” He could hear her fingers flying over one of her many keyboards.

“Yeah,” he agreed. “I need a safe place for us to lay low, at least for tonight. Ra’s has eyes on Tim too if he knew to send these guys here."

Barbara hummed in agreement. “We’ll need to do a full sweep of his office, his loft again, maybe even his assistant’s apartment too. There has to be a bug we don’t know about.”

“Whatever, just send me an address I can get us to so we can bunker down.”

“Are you hurt at all?”

Jason shrugged. “Just bruises.”

“Okay, I just texted you the address. It’s not too far, maybe ten minutes. I’ll let the others know and get back to you on what we find.” Barbara paused, then continued. “If you decide telling him everything is the best route, go for it.”

He frowned. Was Babs saying what he thought she was saying? “About Ra’s?” he clarified. “Or about…everything else?” There was no way he was going into this blindly. He did that enough.

“He already knows about us, so of course about you.” Babs always had a way of making Jason feel like he was 13 again and got caught staring at her boobs. “You two were best friends. Don’t you think it’s time to see what else you could be?”

Christ did he want to. But like it always did, doubt crept in. Tim was the one who’d stopped being friends with him, shitty reason that it was. What if…what if he still didn’t? Just because he had a few friends now didn’t mean he wanted his dead, former best friend back in his life. Not to mention the timing of everything sucked balls right now. Jason felt like he was caught between Ra’s and a hard place, neither of which were very promising for him, although he’d stand between Tim and Ra’s any day of the fucking week if it meant that bastard stayed away.

He sighed heavily and ran a hand through his hair. When in doubt, put up a front. “There’s money ridin’ on this, isn’t there?”

Barbara laughed brightly. “Yep. Don’t let me down, little bird.”

With that parting shot, she hung up.

He glared at his phone before putting it back in his pocket. “Always has to get the last word in.”

“Who does?” Tim asked from somewhere behind him.

Turning, Jason saw him standing in front of the closet with his backpack. At some point, he’d closed the door to room and turned on the bathroom and hall lights. “Oracle.”

Tim’s eyes went wide again, this time in amazement. His mouth even dropped open slightly. “That was Oracle? Wow.”

This was too funny. “I take it you’re a fan?”

He nodded swiftly. “Yes. Huge fan. Just…wow.”

“Nerd.” Jason walked over and ruffled Tim’s hair. “You ready?”

“Yes.” Tim batted at his hand, which just made him do it more. “Asshole. What about those guys?” He pointed to the still unconscious assassins.

“Leave them. If they’re still here within ten minutes after we’re gone, I’ll be surprised.”

Tim eyed them thoughtfully. “Okay. But…how are they different from the ninja?”

And there was that analytical mind of his kicking back into high gear. Jason rolled his eyes. “Not now. I’ll explain later.”

“Fine. It better be part of the story about why Ra’s is after me again so soon,” he said in a snippy tone.

“You’re a brat sometimes, aren’t you?”

“Only when Ra’s and ninja are involved."

That was a totally fair statement.

The drive to the address Barbara sent him was blessedly uneventful. Quick too as they hit all green lights (which Jason was certain was the all-seeing Oracle’s doing). There was a small parking garage below the apartment building and he parked his bike in the space a second text said was for him. A third text told him where to find the apartment key.

Tim trailed along beside him silently.

It wasn’t until they were safely ensconced in the fifth floor apartment that he finally asked a question Jason was surprised he hadn’t asked earlier. “I understand why you can’t take me home tonight. But when do you think I’ll be able to?”

Jason turned from his inspection of the fridge (plenty of water bottles, some orange juice, a bottle of white wine, no beer). “Probably tomorrow.”

Tim nodded thoughtfully from his place on the sofa. The apartment was small, but comfortably furnished. He could tell this was one of the Birds of Prey safehouses as Bat-approved safehouses didn’t have overstuffed sofas or wine in them. The only light came from the fixture over the kitchen sink. Jason was glad for that. He’d tried hard to keep Tim from getting too good of a look at his face tonight. He knew he looked different enough as an adult that the man shouldn’t be able to peg him immediately, but it was best to still take precautions when he could.

But then again, who expected the dead to come back to life?

Snagging two water bottles, Jason returned to the living room and flopped down next to Tim. He handed him one and cracked open his. The cold water felt good going down and he finished half of it in one go. He set it aside on the small end table next to the sofa, then leaned over to start taking off his boots.

If he was going to be here awhile, might as well be comfortable. Tim had already taken off his boots too.

“So…” Tim said slowly. “Is it later yet?”

He huffed a laugh. “You’re a fuckin’ riot, you know that?”

“I seem to be the only one who doesn’t know why Ra’s is after me all of a sudden.” Tim turned on the barest hint of that frosty glare Jason knew he could do so well. “Which sucks considering it’s my ass on the line.”

“And what a fine ass it is.” Jason smirked as the glare grew colder. He loved pushing Tim’s buttons, he really did. “Okay, no more stalling. Here’s what I know.”

He started with what Dick told him the other night, as well as some of their theories. It wasn’t much, he knew that.

“Honestly, tonight’s really what cinched it and tells us Ra’s is willin’ to take any chance he sees to grab ya.” Jason shifted on the sofa so he could see Tim better. “I know you’ve said that you guys don’t really talk about anything too deep, but I can’t help but think somethin’ must have been said the last time that has him doing this now.”

It was something he’s had a chance to think about quite a bit over the last couple of days. Something had changed between Ra’s and Tim, something important that he wasn’t telling. What was it?

Tim bit his lip, then quickly brought his water bottle to his mouth to hide it.

Bingo.

Jason waited, knowing not to press just yet. He was capable of being patient. It didn’t happen very often, but he could do it.

“There was,” Tim finally said, his eyes downcast as he picked at the label on the plastic bottle. “I didn’t think much of it at the time, but now…” he sighed and turned those baby blues imploringly at Jason. “Just who is Ra’s al Ghul? I know he’s a terrorist and uses ninja for some odd reason. He’s Damian Wayne’s grandfather too, which just spells all kinds of trouble for Bruce if the media gets wind of that.”

This was a question Jason was willing to answer. “Ra’s is all that, but the missing piece to your little puzzle is this. He’s the head of an international organization called the League of Assassins. He rules them with an iron fist, but in recent years, he’s been on a little quest to find the perfect heir.”

He waited again, knowing it wouldn’t take Tim long to figure it out.

What the hell?” he shouted, his eyes blazing in sudden fury as he leapt up from the sofa. “I’m a businessman! Not an assassin! Don’t I get a say in this?”

Jason held up his hands calmingly. “That’s why you have all of us watchin’ your back. I’m not gonna let him take you.”

Tim was his…his something and Jason always protected what belonged to him. Christ, it would be all too easy to tell him the rest right now, to give him the extra pieces he needed to put things together about him. About how old Ra’s really was and the Lazarus Pits. But how the hell did one bring up the fact that he’d taken a swim in those nightmarish waters? They may not be why he was alive, but he’d gotten his mind back because of them.

Can of fucking worms, right there.

“Why, Hood?” Tim asked, fists clenched tightly. “Why me?”

“You know the answer to that, but you’re the one not tellin’.” Jason shrugged, but he was very curious. It was definitely a character flaw, one that’s bitten him in the ass many times.

Tim started pacing around the living room. Every time he passed in front of him, Jason couldn’t help but notice the fire in his eyes, so very different from the glacial expression he remembered from the last time he saw him before he died. Tim had cut him out of his life and now, here he was, once again probably the most important person in it. They were adults now, and that brought its own set of complications, but he was starting to think that, perhaps, it wouldn’t be so bad. He really needed to make up his damn mind.

First things first though. Ra’s needed to be shown that Tim wasn’t his for the taking.

The question was, how would he do that? A show of force? No, Jason nixed that idea right away. He was plenty good at beating the shit out of people, but that wouldn’t do anything. Not with Ra’s. The old geezer was crafty, he appreciated planning and strategic thinking just as much as he appreciated a good fight. These were skills Bruce had drilled into him years ago, skills no one ever really thought he took to heart. He knew was seen as impulsive and prone to anger, and while the latter one was probably still true to an extent, he wasn’t as impulsive as he appeared. It was probably buried on the Batcomputer somewhere, but Jason had scored very well on the situational awareness and assessment exams Bruce put him through back in the day.

His so-called impulsiveness came from quick thinking and action.

So how could he use this against Ra’s?

Jason was disrupted from his thoughts by Tim flopping down on the sofa again, growling in frustration as he did.

“Had enough exercise for the night?” he asked.

Tim ground the heels of his hands against his eyes for a moment before letting them drop wearily to his lap. “Yes. No. I need to exercise more often.”

“You also need to eat more.”

“Fuck you.”

“Only if you ask nicely.” It slipped out before Jason could help it. God, did he want to, but honestly, he needed the distraction. Welcomed it, in fact. That soul stealing kiss happened not all that long ago after all.

And it looked like Tim did too. The young man gazed at him, those pale blue eyes assessing him, ripping him apart, and putting him back together. What did he see when he stared at him like that?

“I won’t,” he finally replied and Jason’s heart stopped. “But only because I don’t know who you are, Hood. I swore to myself I’d only go that far if I could see all of your face.”

That…that made perfect sense actually. It explained what happened earlier at the club too. It also begged the question of how far Tim was willing to go with him as they were right now.

Jason raised a hand to his face and traced the edges of his mask. He sighed. “I get it and I respect it. But I’m not ready to take this off yet.” His hand dropped back to his lap. “I want to. Just…not yet.”

“Thank you,” Tim said, a slightly earnest sound in his voice that had Jason confused.

“For what?”

Tim scooted across the sofa so that he was sitting on his knees right next to him. “For trusting me enough to want to show me. You said last night I somehow made your life hell. If you still thought that, you wouldn’t be here right now.”

Smart ass.

Jason smirked crookedly. “Well aren’t you Mr. Smarty-pants?”

A matching smirk appeared on Tim’s face. It was a good look for him, especially with the heat reigniting in his eyes. “May I kiss you again?”

“So polite.”

Tim leaned in, bracing himself against the back of the couch with one arm. He was still smirking. “Is that a yes?”

To think, people called him the asshole. They really didn’t know Tim Drake that well if they were making that mistake. “Yeah, now get over here,” Jason ordered, raising a hand to cup Tim’s cheek and closed the distance between them.

He tried to take control, but once again, Tim wrested it from him. Not that Jason was trying hard, it felt too damn good. Tim was demanding, which didn’t surprise him at all, but he was also proving adept at dragging embarrassing little moans from him as well. His free hand slowly kneaded its way up Jason’s thigh, coming close to, but not touching, his groin.

Fucking cock-tease. Where the hell did Tim learn all this? Whoever it was, Jason wasn’t sure if he wanted to shake the man’s hand or drop him off a cliff.

In the few moments of clarity he was able to get when Tim pulled back to catch his breath, Jason couldn’t help but wonder just what else his mouth was capable of. He felt his cock twitch in interest and harden more.

The slight movement caught Tim’s attention. “Are you ready for a hand now?” he teased.

Jason arched his back, trying to get the other man’s hand to move closer to where he really wanted it. “I want your mouth,” he replied. Honesty was the best policy here, right? “But if you’re not willin’ to do that, your hand is fine.”

“Hmm…” Tim dropped his eyes down to where his hand rested. His thumb was just barely resting in the groove where Jason’s leg met his hip. So close, but yet so far. He looked back up at him. “And what do I get in return?”

Yup, his former best friend was a cock-tease of the highest order. Jason groaned. “Whaddya want?”

A thoughtful expression appeared briefly on the man’s face before that fucking smirk came back. “I want to ride your fingers and come all over your abs.”

Oh, Jesus fucking Christ. That was more than he'd expected, but hell if he was going to say no. “Been thinkin’ about that one, huh?”

Yes,” Tim breathed. “Almost since the first time I saw you without a shirt on. I’ve got lube in my backpack.”

Of course he did. He’d been prepared for a night of wild sex before Jason interrupted those plans. Gladly interrupted those plans. If he had his way, no one else would ever touch Tim again.

Just him.

Shit.

Jason pushed those thoughts aside, not quite ready to examine them further. “Then I guess the big question is, who’s going first?”

Tim answered wordlessly by palming his dick through his jeans, running his hand up the now fully hard length. He grinned and kissed him again, his tongue darting into Jason’s mouth and back out, teasing him. His hand continued working him through the denim as he abandoned his mouth in favor of his jaw, and then his neck, seemingly intent on leaving some kind of mark there.

Whatever. Jason knew he’d wear it proudly.

It wasn’t long before Tim abandoned his neck and stood. He was grace incarnate as he stepped between Jason’s knees and knelt. Both hands started rubbing up his thighs.

Jason fumbled with his belt, somehow managing to get it undone and popping open the button on his jeans. Tim took over from there, batting his hands away and carefully sliding the zipper down over his straining cock. He breathed a sigh of relief once he was fully unzipped, but it quickly turned into a choked moan as he felt a warm heat enveloping him through the cotton of his boxer briefs.

He really needed to stop closing his eyes because otherwise he’d be missing sights like this. Of Tim mouthing him through his underwear with sheer devilry burning in those baby blues. In all the months Jason had watched him, not once did he ever see this kind of fire in him. Cool aloofness, icy retorts, frigid glares, yes. Plenty of those.

This was where Tim’s fire was. His passion. And right now, it was all his.

Slim fingers danced along the edge of his waistband and Jason obligingly raised his hips so Tim could slide his jeans and briefs down to give him room to work. His cock twitched in the open air, demanding attention.

Jason watched as Tim eyed his length. He could see the wheels turning as the man worked out his plan of attack. Those fiery eyes unknowingly caught his again (cursed, blessed mask) as a hand came up to give him a few firm strokes, testing, gauging his reaction. His head fell back against the plush sofa.

“Gonna kill me again,” he breathed. “Fuckin’ tease.”

The hand withdrew and Jason had just enough presence of mind to force his eyes open (stop shutting them, dammit) to watch that pretty mouth envelope the tip of his dick. Tim’s eyes danced with unspoken amusement as he cursed, his tongue already teasing him.

But the best was yet to come. Jason moaned as Tim worked his way down, taking his entire cock into his mouth and swallowing. Did the man even have a gag reflex?

Holy fucking hell.

He stared in amazement as Tim easily took him into his throat. Jason could only sit back and watch. And enjoy, because Tim Drake’s mouth was a thing of beauty. Whoever taught him this…well, he may have to buy him dinner now before throwing him off that cliff.

 

Chapter Text

The next day, Jason roared down the streets of Gotham, weaving in and out of Saturday afternoon traffic. He focused on the road, using the vehicles around him as a distraction from his thoughts. Tim had been left at the safehouse under the watchful eyes (and vocal cords) of Black Canary.

Both of them had been impressed when she arrived earlier, but then again, she was an impressive woman, even if she did have horrible taste in men. He’d never liked Oliver Queen, douchebag extraordinaire.

It looked like Babs was pulling out the stops on keeping Tim safe. Ra’s would definitely think twice about sending someone to go toe to toe against someone of Dinah’s caliber. Hell, she made him think twice and not just because of her Canary Cry. If circumstances were different, he’d ask for a spar, see if he could maybe learn a trick or two.

As it was, Jason was sure she’d twist Tim up into a pretzel. He’d overheard her telling Tim when he left that she was going to show him a few things.

He growled, cutting between two cars and gunning the engine, leaving two drivers waving fists and honking horns at him. There he went again, thinking about Tim.

But it was so hard not to. After last night…Jason sighed. Who was he kidding? If Dinah hadn’t arrived when she did, they probably would have found themselves heading into round two. It was too easy and they were both getting bored as there was only so much TV either of them could apparently stand and Tim didn’t have his tablet to keep himself amused with (his phone helped, but he didn’t have a charger in that backpack of his).

Their conversation, such as it was, was awkward. He answered questions about Ra’s when asked, offered up a few stories about him that didn’t give any of his own history away. Some of his own questions, Tim freely offered up answers to, such as his photography and his woefully inadequate cooking skills before he discovered some of the cooking channels on YouTube. That had garnered a laugh, so desperately needed in the rising tension between them.

It was like they were part of some elaborate dance, drifting closer and closer until the music changed and they were torn apart to be tossed back into the crowd, only to repeat it again. And again. And again, each time somehow managing to get that much closer than before.

By the time he turned onto his street, Jason was so keyed up he wanted to shoot someone.

The feeling didn’t abate in the slightest when he finally entered his apartment. In fact, it got worse.

Stephanie was sprawled on his sofa, one of his worn paperbacks in hand. She grinned brightly. “Hey, Jay!”

“Get the fuck out,” he snapped, tearing his motorcycle helmet (if he concentrated, he could still smell Tim’s shampoo and a hint of his cologne from last night) off his head and ripping the mask from his face. It had been on so long he could feel the indents in his skin.

“I brought lunch,” the blonde replied, ignoring him. “Alfred made chicken pot pie last night. I stole all the leftovers.”

Jason’s stomach betrayed him as it grumbled. The safehouse hadn’t been stocked with much beyond some cans of soup and a box of crackers. Also, an Alfred made meal wasn’t something to be turned down, even if it was leftovers. “You may stay,” he said magnanimously. “I need a fuckin’ shower.”

He stalked off, leaving Steph to her own devices, one of which hopefully involved reheating said food. She might be a guest, but she was still an uninvited one.

In the privacy of his bedroom, he stripped down, kicking everything in the general direction of his laundry hamper. He’d pick it up when he was done. Unlike Dick, he wasn’t a slob and cleaned up after himself.

Under the harsh light of the bathroom, Jason noticed the purpling bruises that peppered his rib cage. The assassins had gotten some good hits on him, ones that he was still feeling. There had been a first-aid kit at the safehouse and after he and Tim had both taken their respective showers, he’d made use of it.

There were some other bruises too, smaller ones that mottled his collar bones and a particularly large one where his neck met his shoulder. Tim had been very enthusiastic in placing those there, especially that one. But then again, Jason’s fingers had been up his ass at the time, so it was the only place he could really bite down on to suppress his moans.

When he’d figured out what Tim was trying to do, he’d yanked his head away with his free hand.

“I wanna hear you scream for me.”

And Tim had. So beautifully and loudly that Jason almost came again from the sound of it.

But more than anything, he wanted it to be his name, not the repeated moans of Hood coming from Tim’s lips.

Jason glared at the reflection. He didn’t really need a shower; he needed to get his head on fucking straight.

They’d ended up sleeping together in the full-sized bed tucked away in the small bedroom. He was perfectly happy on the couch, but Tim insisted, pointing out that if Ra’s found them, he’d be a sitting target alone in the bedroom. The bed barely fit the two of them and Tim apparently sprawled in his sleep, so it wasn’t long before what little distance there was between them closed. Jason never thought of himself as much of a cuddler, but having the shorter man wrapped around him in some weird imitation of the big spoon was comforting. He’d slept better than he had in months.

The shower felt good, but didn’t help chase away his thoughts.

Tim.

Tim.

Tim.

Jesus fucking Christ, he needed to get Tim out of his fucking head. Needed to come up with a plan to save his ass from Ra’s fucking al Ghul. He was positive Bruce already had a bead on the man’s location. Perhaps if he asked nicely, Blondie may even tell him.

Blondie. Why the hell was she here anyways?

His thoughts sufficiently diverted, Jason finished up in the shower and quickly brushed his teeth. Shaving could wait.

When he finally emerged from his room, dressed comfortably in sweats and a tank, the smell of a (reheated) home cooked meal had his mouth watering.

“What did I do to deserve this?” he asked, making a beeline for his small kitchen. Not only was there pot pie reheating in his oven, Steph had even filled his tea kettle and had it started.

Okay, she was officially his favorite.

“Think of it more as a bribe,” she replied, leaning casually against his counter.

Jason rifled through his tea collection, but gave her a wary side-eye. “For what?” he asked cautiously.

“I want in on whatever you’re planning to do to Ra’s.”

He set down a tin with a hard thunk. “Say what?”

Stephanie smirked, her cornflower blue eyes growing hard. It was easy to forget sometimes all the shit that’s happened to her over her long and sometimes illustrious vigilante career. She was no Dick Grayson (no one could be), but she’d done her best, even when that came back to bite her in the ass. Jason respected her tenacity, her right hook, and her ability to get right up into Bruce’s face and call him out on his bullshit.

Enviable traits, really.

“I know it’s hard to believe, but even you’re going to need backup against him.”

Jason leaned against the opposite counter to stare her down. “And why do you want to help me so bad?”

Another smirk, this time more playful. “Perhaps I want to see true love come out on top for a change.”

“What?” Sometimes the female mind just made no fucking sense.

Before Steph could explain, the tea kettle went off. He glared at her, making sure she knew this respite was temporary. There was enough water in the kettle for two cups, so he took the hint and made her a mug too. The weather outside had put him in a fall mood, so rather than tea, he made them spiced apple cider instead. He’d found the mix online and wasn’t ashamed to admit he ordered it in bulk during the colder months.

Jason trekked back out of the kitchen and curled up on his old couch. He could afford better, but there was a lump that supported his back just right when he stretched out that put him to sleep faster than anything else ever did.

Blondie took a seat against the other arm, shifting so that her socked feet were stretched out and pressed against his thigh. He ran warm, he got it.

“So. True love?” he questioned once they were settled.

She grinned and took a sip of her cider. “I was at the Clocktower last night when you called Babs.”

Shit.

Jason closed his eyes and wondered what he’d have to bribe her with to keep her trap shut. “And?”

“Aaannnddd…” the grin grew larger. “We heard quite the conversation between you and Tim at the safehouse before you moved on to other things.”

Of course, the safehouse was bugged. Goddammit, he should have known better. He did, but he’d also thought, somewhere in the back of his lust fueled mind, that Babs would at least mute whatever was going on.

First Damian, now Stephanie and Barbara. “Does the whole fucking family know I want to bang Tim?”

“Yup. Alfred says he looks forward to when you bring him over for tea some afternoon.”

Jason took back whatever he thought earlier about Blondie being his favorite. She could be a complete bitch when she wanted to be. He turned his glare up a notch. “It’s not gonna be as easy as everything seems to think it’ll be.”

She dished it right back. “I think you’re underestimating Tim. He knows who all of us are, Jason. He’ll be over the fucking moon to learn you’re alive.”

“Once he’s done punching me in the dick, sure,” he grumbled into his cider.

“I don’t know why this is so hard for you. It’s like you feel the need to prove yourself to him or something.”

It was not entirely untrue. Jason often felt like he had a lot to make up for after his initial return to Gotham. He’d done some pretty fucked up things, but in the end, he was the one who had to live with them. And Tim…he didn’t need that baggage. He didn’t need him.

But fuck if Jason didn’t need Tim. There was a Tim-shaped hole in his heart that he didn’t know was even there until he saw him again.

He sighed heavily and stared into his mug, but, as usual, there were no answers to be found in its depths. “Tim doesn’t need me around,” he said. “But, damn is it hard to stay away.”

Stephanie pressed her feet against his thigh harder. “Has he ever told you to stay away?” she asked quietly.

“No.”

“Then don’t worry about it. I know Tim well enough to say that if he didn’t want you around, he’d have told you. Loudly.”

Jason snickered because yeah, he could see that.

“So,” Steph continued, her voice taking on a more businesslike tone. “Damian’s masquerade is one week from tonight. That leaves us about five days to kick ass. What’s your plan?”

He took a sip of cider before smirking roguishly at the young blonde woman. “Find Ra’s. Blow up a few things, preferably him included, and otherwise make a massive mess of the League that will take them forever to recover from.”

She grins. “Sounds good to me. I know where we can start too.”

“Do tell.”

“Hong Kong.”

*****

It was Sunday evening before Tim was allowed to return home. He slowly trudged across his living room, dropping his boots on the floor along with his backpack.

Tired and sore didn’t even begin to cover how he was feeling. Spending the weekend with Black Canary was pretty cool, but right now, his inner fanboy was quietly sulking in the corner. When she’d arrived at the safehouse yesterday, she’d said she would show him a few things to help keep him safe the next time shit hit the fan and he was attacked by ninja assassins.

Assassins. There was a word he’d never thought to associate with his life before. Assassins belonged in his video games, not in real life.

And their master wanted to make him into one. Or rule over them, or something. Hood wasn’t entirely sure what Ra’s was planning and Black Canary only told him that Oracle and the Bats were working on it.

Tim wanted a bath, badly. Soaking in warm water would help ease his aching muscles, right? He’d been more than put through his paces yesterday and today and, while he appreciated everything he’s learned (and the fact that Black Canary said he was a natural and a quick learner), he just wanted his life back. Was normalcy too much to ask for? In the last couple weeks, he’d been kidnapped (admittedly kind of normal, but not the point), almost kidnapped again by ninja assassins, and found out that the head of an international terrorist organization and master assassin extraordinaire wanted him to be his heir. Not to mention everything going on between him and Hood. That part would be okay if it weren’t for all the other problems in his life.

It galled him to know his home was likely bugged with various Bat-approved surveillance equipment for his own good. There to keep him safe. Big brother is watching and all that shit. Tim growled and stalked over to his fridge. As tempting as alcohol sounded, it would go straight to his head. He needed his wits about him right now.

Grabbing a water bottle, he rummaged around and made a face at what he found. Looked like yogurt and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich were on the menu tonight.

After his pathetic dinner, he took another water bottle upstairs with him. It was time for that bath.

Bubbles had never been his thing, but he did like bath salts and oils. Aromatherapy and hot water had long been part of his regimen for treating migraines, so this was working in his favor. He lit a few eucalyptus and mint candles, as he definitely felt a headache brewing, and liberally added some neutral smelling bath salts to the tub.

He stripped down, turned off the lights, and sank into the warm water with a heavy sigh, slipping down into the water to let himself float in the large tub. Tam always joked the tub was perfect for two but he preferred bathing by himself. Tub sex was an entertaining fantasy, but it didn’t seem like something that would work very well in reality. Not unless waterproof lube was involved.

Hood was probably flexible enough for it.

Tim glared hard at his ceiling. Hood. He’d left with barely a word yesterday and he hadn’t seen him since. Not that he expected to with Black Canary for a babysitter, but a note or something would have been nice to come home to.

He ducked his head under the water, already realizing he was being an idiot. Friday night had been nothing more than stress relief for both of them, the release of adrenaline and other pent up feelings from the club, and then the attack. Hood was one of the good guys now, he was simply protecting him.

The hotel room had been dark, but he still remembered Hood’s face, so close to his. And wearing Jason’s mask. His stomach seized at the memory, or perhaps that was his lungs screaming for air. Tim resurfaced and sucked it in. Was that why he asked to kiss him? The man tasted of mint and a chaser of whiskey, with the underlying hint of ash from the cigarettes he knew Hood smoked. It was addicting and he wanted more.

Which was why he did it again. Rather than focus on the real problem at hand, Tim let himself get carried away by his wants. He desired Red Hood, there was no lying to himself about that, not anymore. The safehouse had been kept purposefully dark, so he never got a good look at Hood’s face, but now he knew the cut of the man’s jaw, the line of his nose, and the taste of his lips.

But his mask…Jason’s mask. Tim would never forget it. And he didn’t think he could forgive the man for wearing it, not unless he didn’t know the story of the boy (his best friend) it belonged to first.

Hood wanted to take it off though. That much he’d made clear. But there was so much at stake if he did. Tim understood this. He really did, and yet, he didn’t do anything to allay the man’s concerns over the others. There was a strong implication that if Hood revealed his identity, it would compromise the rest of the Bats (which signaled even more strongly that Hood was someone Tim knew). He could have admitted his knowledge, his pictures, and soothed those fears.

They could have had actual sex rather than everything else they did. Tim was under no illusions that many considered what they’d done to be sex, but he was still of the rather old-fashioned opinion that penetration was needed. But then again, he was the one with Hood’s fingers up his ass, fingers that stretched him so carefully and…

Tim sat up with a splash, wiping his hands over his face and through his wet hair. This was not helping. He was supposed to be relaxing, not getting worked up again.

But everything changed the other night. Tam’s warning, her reminder about Hood’s past meant nothing to him now. Not with how Hood had saved him. Had protected him. How he wanted to tell him, show him, who he was. Whatever it was between them, it was coming to a head. He knew it, deep down.

Something was coming and it wasn’t just Ra’s al Ghul.

“Who are you, Hood?” Tim whispered softly into the candlelit room. “And what are you doing to me?”

*****

The following morning, Tim lay flat on his back in bed, staring at the ceiling. Sleep had not come easily for him and he was pretty certain he’s been awake for a good hour already. But unlike the night before, where his thoughts raced around over the Red Hood, they were now focused on another person.

Ra’s al Ghul.

What was he going to do about him? Over the course of the weekend and being tied up into knots by Black Canary, he’d come to a realization.

He was fully capable of taking care of this himself. No more of this damsel in distress bullshit. The Bats and Hood didn’t need to protect him. They didn’t need to get hurt over the matter. For all that Ra’s was a terrorist and some grand master assassin, he was still a man. A man that could be reasoned with.

Tim knew the stakes. Ra’s wanted him. What could he give in return to get him off his back and let him live his life without ninja or assassins crawling out of the woodwork? It was certainly a puzzle and the solution was not readily presenting itself.

When his clock read six, he got up to get ready for the office, still chewing over the problem. Another sandwich and a cup of coffee later, he was out the door. He chuckled to himself as he drove away from his loft. Black Canary and Hood both said he needed to vary his routine until this mess with Ra’s was taken care of.

It was very unusual for him to be at DI so early in the morning. The security guard on duty in the lobby stared at him in amazement as he badged in with a little wave.

Tam wouldn’t arrive for at least another hour, so Tim made his own coffee (and he made damn sure the coffee here didn’t suck; it was a point of pride for him) and got to work. He forced himself to focus, to do all the work he neglected last week. The long-suffering Tam could only do so much. He seriously owed her a dinner or two, maybe even a shopping spree at one of her favorite stores. He’d already maxed out her pay grade, so a raise was off the table, at least for now. HR frowned on him making arbitrary raises. Maybe stock options…

Around half past eight, he heard a noise from outside his office as someone arrived. Most of his senior staff, himself included, didn’t usually arrive until around nine, but the secretaries and assistants arrived a bit earlier to get things ready. Really, they’d all be screwed without their support staff.

A few minutes later, Tam poked her head in. “What are you doing here?” she asked incredulously. “You never come in early. You stay late.”

“Couldn’t sleep,” he offered in response.

The young woman entered the office and closed the door behind her. She carried her own coffee mug with her as she took a seat across from Tim. “Did something happen?”

As much as Tim wanted to fudge the truth, he knew Tam was genuinely concerned for him. “Ra’s tried to kidnap me again Friday night. Not with ninja, but with ninja assassins.” It sounded ridiculous even to him as Tam’s brown eyes widened.

“Those are a thing?”

“Apparently.”

Tam sighed and set her mug on Tim’s desk, not even trying to conceal her concern. “What changed? He just kidnapped you last week for dinner.”

Tim knew this question was coming and still didn’t have a good reply ready. “I think I know why,” he finally said. “But I can’t tell you.” He was positive the Bats had his office bugged too, so he didn’t want to even hint about what it was he knew.

But they couldn’t have bugged every room in DI, right? His office tower was nowhere near the size of Wayne Tower, but 30 stories was still a considerable amount of room. “Let’s take a walk,” he announced, picking up his coffee mug.

Tam rose without a word, following him out of the office, coffee in hand.

At the elevator, he randomly pressed a button. Tam opened her mouth to ask a question, but Tim pressed a finger to his lips, signaling silence.

They exited on a random floor in the teens. It was still relatively quiet, but Tim knew that would change soon enough. He chose a direction at will and after walking through a maze of cubicles and offices, he found a small conference room. Opening the door, he gestured for Tam to enter and closed it after him.

“What’s the deal, Tim?” she asked in exasperation, sitting down at the small table.

“My office is bugged,” he said flatly as he took a seat.

“By who? How?”

“Right now, hopefully just Batman.” Tim sighed and fiddled with his mug. He hoped and prayed this little room wasn’t under surveillance because he needed to talk to someone and fast. “Tam, I need you to keep a secret. A massive secret. A secret so huge it could destroy this entire city and then some.”

Tam’s mouth dropped open. “Tim…Wha…Okay. Okay. I’ll do it.” She nodded decisively.

“I know who Batman is,” Tim said in a rush. “I’m not telling you that part, but the reason why Ra’s al Ghul is after me is because I know. Because I figured it out on my own. I’ve never told anybody that I know until last week. I fucked up.”

In addition to the gaping mouth, Tam’s eyes widened once again, before narrowing sharply. “Oh. My. God,” she hissed, apparently feeling the need to keep her voice down even though no one was around. “You know who Batman is. And you told Ra’s al Ghul, the man who’s been kidnapping you since you were seventeen, that you know. You…you…dumb ass!”.

He deserved every bit of this and more. “In my defense, he knows who Batman is already.”

“That doesn’t matter.” Tam took a deep breath and tried to calm down. Her normally unflappable game face slowly appeared, but her eyes were still blazing. “Okay. Okay, so maybe it does,” she admitted. “But if he knows already, then why does he want you? You said ninja assassins earlier; were they trying to kill you?”

Tim sipped his coffee. It was getting cold. “I can’t tell the difference between a regular ninja and an assassin. They looked the same to me. Hood said they were assassins.”

Those were the wrong words to say as Tam leapt up from her chair. “The Red Hood was with you Friday night? Tim! We talked about this!”

“Will you sit down and let me explain?” Tim shouted back.

She sat back down with a silent thump, glaring hard. It wasn’t often they got into it like this and never at the office. Tam usually saved her yelling for later. What a way to start the week.

“Ra’s sent ninja assassins after me Friday night. They were waiting in my hotel room when Hood and I got there. And no,” Tim glared back at his assistant just as hard when she opened her mouth again. “We were not there to have sex. He found me at the club and said we needed to talk about something to do with Ra’s. Turned out to be a good thing he did, because I probably wouldn’t be here right now if I’d brought someone else back to my room with me.”

That was something Tim still felt uneasy over. He could have endangered someone without even knowing it if Hood hadn’t interrupted him.

“Hood fought off the ninja. I tased the daylights out of one, and then we were off to some Oracle-approved safehouse where I spent the entire weekend.” He was not going to tell Tam about anything that happened between him and Hood. She didn’t need to know about how he sucked his heavy cock like it was the last thing he was ever going to do and loved every single second of it or about how it felt when he rode the man’s fingers and wished with every bone in his body that it was something else. Nope. Not going there.

“You spent the entire weekend with the Red Hood?” Tam asked in a flat voice.

“Is that what you got out of all this?” Tim replied. Women really surprised him sometimes. “No, I didn’t. I spent most of it with Black Canary who felt the best way to pass time was to watch Real Housewives of Star City and tie me up into pretzels in the name of self-defense training.”

“Okay, fine. Sorry.” Tam held up her hands as she apologized. “I can’t help but be concerned about you and him. But I suppose that’s chump change compared to what else is going on. What are you going to do to Ra’s, Tim?”

Tim opened his mouth and snapped it back shut as her question sunk in. He’d been thinking about this all wrong. It wasn’t what he could give Ra’s to get him to stay the hell away, but what he could do to Ra’s. He’d done it once before, albeit without full knowledge of what he was doing at the time. His only desire had been to save the Wayne’s from the mess that fake Bruce was putting them into. And what a mess it was, once he’d gotten deep enough to see what was really going on.

The wheels started turning as Tim thought things over.

“Tim?” Tam asked in concern after his silence stretched on. “I know that look, hon. You’re plotting.”

“Yes. Yes, I am.” He grinned brightly at her. “And thank you for getting me back on track. I’ve been looking at this from the wrong angle.”

“You’re welcome?”

*****

Tim was eager to get started, but there was still work to be done here. All told, it would probably take him a few days and several gallons of coffee to find what he was looking for, so the fewer distractions on his plate, the better.

“I need you to clear my schedule starting Wednesday,” he said to Tam as they rode the elevator back upstairs. “I should be back Monday.”

“You got it,” she replied. “Do I need to make periodic health checks? And don’t forget, you’ve got the masquerade on Saturday too. Damian will kill you if you miss it.”

“Dammit,” Tim cursed. With everything going on, he’d forgotten about it. He took his phone out of his pocket to look at his calendar. The final pieces for his costume were supposed to arrive this week. “Tomorrow afternoon, then. I’ll try and get done as much as I possibly can between now and lunchtime tomorrow to make this easier on you.”

“Just be glad the quarterly report is done,” Tam said as they exited onto their floor. “You’d be screwed if…” she trailed off.

Tim looked up from his phone and bit back a curse that would make Hood proud.

Seated in the waiting area in front of his office were Bruce and Damian Wayne.

What. The. Fuck. He did not need this right now.

They rose as the two of them approached. “Good morning, Tim! And Tam, you look lovely today. Nice shoes,” Bruce said brightly, looking for all the world like he hadn’t spent the better part of the previous night scaring the crap out of Gotham’s criminal underbelly. Tim really wanted to know what kind of concealer the Bats used. They had to have the worst bags under their eyes, but damn if he ever saw them.

“Good morning, Bruce,” Tim replied, shoving his phone back in his pocket and holding out his hand for a very firm handshake. He didn’t miss the assessing look from the man. “Damian,” he added, nodding in his direction. “What brings you to DI today?”

And without an appointment. He’d have known if Bruce Wayne had an appointment. Extra coffee was needed for dealing with Brucie. Followed by alcohol. There was a bottle of Baileys Irish Cream earmarked specifically for these instances in the mini-fridge in his office.

Bruce slapped a heavy hand down on Damian’s shoulder. It was supposed to look like a fatherly gesture, but the illusion was destroyed by the clear expression of displeasure on the younger man’s face. Oh, this was going to be good. Tim could feel his day about to be ruined.

“Damian and I were having a talk this weekend and he expressed an interest in shadowing a fellow business professional for a week or two to learn different managerial styles. I instantly thought of you!”

If Tim didn’t know the man in front of him was Batman, he’d still have thought the idea completely and utterly ludicrous. “That’s nice, Bruce. I’m glad to help. Perhaps next week or the week after we can…”

“Oh, it has to be this week,” Bruce plowed right on. “Damian’s on fall break. Did you know about fall break? I don’t remember having fall break when I was kid. It must be something new.”

Tim ground his teeth and tried not to clench his jaw. Next to him, he could just tell Tam was doing that thing where she was laughing her ass off at him while keeping perfectly cool and collected. He really needed to learn how she did that.

Priorities.

“I remember having a week off in the fall for mid-terms,” he offered in response.

Damian looked like he wanted to punch someone, preferably his father. It helped Tim regain his mental footing somewhat, reminding him that he had a potential ally here.

“I don’t miss those days!” Bruce said cheerfully and slapped his hand on Damian’s shoulder again. “Damian’s all yours for the week. He’ll sign whatever NDA you need in case he sees something hush hush, but it should be all right. You’re practically family.”

Since when? Tim’s kept his distance from the Wayne’s socially as best he could since Jason died. The last time he went to Wayne Manor for anything was a charity event two years ago. Out of all of them, he saw Damian and Stephanie the most, and even that was once or twice a month, tops. All the dinner kidnappings hardly counted as that was the only time he ever saw Batman and Nightwing. It wasn’t as though Batman was chatty. That was Nightwing’s specialty.

Maybe it was all of Damian’s visits to see him. He did kind of consider the teenager a friend. Kind of. He was still an ass most of the time.

But this was going to ruin everything. It wasn’t as though Tim could tell Bruce he would be out of the office for most of the week to wreak havoc on one of the more notorious members of his rogue’s gallery.

“Thanks, Bruce, but I’m not feeling too well today,” Tim said, adding a weak cough behind a quickly raised hand for effect. “I wouldn’t want to get Damian sick.”

He knew no one was buying it, but it was the only thing he could think of.

“Don’t worry about Damian,” Bruce said, his pale blue eyes, so similar to Tim’s own, not missing a thing. “He’s got the constitution of an ox. He’s got his learner’s permit now, so he can even drive you home or to the clinic if you need to see a doctor.”

The man suddenly looked at his watch. “Oh! Would you look at that. I’ve got to get to the airport. Be good, Damian! Listen to Tim and learn lots!”

With that, and another firm shake of Tim’s hand, Bruce strode away. The elevator doors opened immediately for him and he disappeared from sight.

Tim sighed and looked at Damian. The teen looked just as displeased as he felt. “Why do I feel like I’m some kind of glorified babysitter than anything else?”

Damian scowled. “Because you are.” He didn’t elaborate, but instead picked up a massive dufflebag from next to the sofa and disappeared into Tim’s office.

Tam laid a hand on his coat sleeve. “Does this change anything?” she asked quietly.

Tim glared at the closed door. “Not a damn thing,” he growled.

 

Chapter Text

For the most part, Damian did his own thing while Tim worked. They both knew Bruce’s grand idea to be a complete and utter farce, that Damian was really here to play bodyguard. The main question was why? What was going on that Batman felt the need to have Robin at Tim’s side rather than at his own?

The question percolated in the back of his mind as he worked. Regardless of what was going on right now, there was work to do, work that had to get done before he left for the rest of the week.

It wasn’t until Tam poked her head in to remind him it was lunchtime that Tim took a break.

“Finally,” Damian huffed, standing and stretching from the low sofa he’d commandeered. “Your office furniture leaves much to be desired, Timothy.”

“Of course it does,” Tim agreed, stretching himself and feeling his back pop as he did. “The only comfortable seat is mine. It keeps meetings in here from dragging on for more than they need to.”

The young man appeared thoughtful before he smirked viciously. “I shall have to remember that.”

“See, you learned something from me after all.”

“Don’t let it go to your head.”

Lunch was a quiet affair. They walked to a little bistro a few streets down from the Drake Industries tower. Tim loved their sandwiches and promised to bring Tam a salad and her favorite soup. Damian had very little to turn his nose up at as there were several vegetarian options on the menu.

They still didn’t talk much, which was fine with him. He scrolled through the news headlines on his phone while they waited for their order. Stocks were mixed, nothing new there. Jobs reports were good, but big surprise with the upcoming holiday season. The usual October market crash hadn’t happened this year, which had the pundits offering all kinds of meaningless commentary. Tim privately thought they were mad they didn’t have anything to talk about.

He moved on to world news. A headline about a possible terrorist attack in Hong Kong caught his eye, but before he could read it, his order was called.

As they walked back to the office, Damian finally broke his silence. “Do you normally do this?” he asked.

“Yes,” Tim replied. “When I have the chance to at least. Tam insists on it whenever I’m holed up all morning. Says I need the exercise, which is not completely inaccurate.” He really did try to take the stairs whenever possible, at least a few flights of them at least. More than ten just seemed excessive.

Black Canary had found his phone reminder to exercise hilarious.

Damian hummed thoughtfully and that was the extent of their conversation.

It wasn’t until early evening rolled around and the young man made no motions to leave that Tim started wondering how much of that babysitter comment he’d made earlier was turning into a self-fulfilled prophecy. He was very aware of the time, especially when Tam sent him a message asking how late he was planning to stay. He’d accomplished quite a bit today, which was good, but he needed to get some sleep if he wanted to keep the momentum going tomorrow. His restless night was coming back to haunt him.

Tim glanced at the clock and over to Damian. He’d long since abandoned the couch to sit directly on the floor, using the (new) glass coffee table to spread all his own work out on. The kid was diligent with whatever he was working on, Tim would give him that.

“Damian,” he said, waiting until the teen looked up at him before continuing. “Tam is about to leave for the night. She’s offered to take you home if you need a ride.”

She hadn’t technically, but whatever. He’d make it up to her.

“I don’t need a ride,” Damian replied levelly.

“Okay,” Tim said. He took a deep breath, knowing he was going to regret asking this. “With Bruce out of town, where are you staying?”

The question garnered an amused smirk from the young man. “Father said I was to shadow you.”

“I had really hoped that meant here,” Tim tried not to snap. He liked Damian when he wasn’t being a spoiled little shit, he really did. Those times, alas, were few and far between.

“Come now, Timothy,” Damian said, rising smoothly from his seated position on the floor. His suit barely looked rumpled. How did he do that? Was it some magic the Bats had access to? He paid good money for his suits and they always showed their wear after the end of a long day. And don’t even get him started on ties. “Don’t try and pretend you don’t know why I’m really here. This farce has gone on long enough.”

Tim forced himself to not react. This was not happening. They were walking the border of a very dangerous conversation, one that if he didn’t traverse it carefully, either one of them could end up admitting something the other technically wasn’t supposed to know.

“What farce?” he finally asked, trying for a light tone. “I only know that Bruce dropped you off here without even asking if I wanted to be your babysitter.”

“Who’s babysitting whom, I wonder?” Damian’s lips twisted into a cruel smirk. The kid only seemed to know how to smirk. It was getting old.

“Well, last time I checked, I’m the legal adult here,” Tim retorted. “And all jokes about me needing a handler aside, I am mostly capable of taking care of myself.”

Mostly. Except when ninja and assassins were around. But seriously, how often did they appear in real life?

The smirk morphed into a quick grin. Finally, something normal.

“Drake, I’m not going to insult either of our intelligences by assuming you have no idea what is really going on. We both know you know more than you should about…certain parties. If you didn’t, then you’d be no one special and Grandfather wouldn’t be so intrigued by you.”

The statement unexpectedly stung, but at the same time, Tim knew it to be true. However, admitting what he knew was what got him into this predicament in the first place. This was not a mistake he was going to make again, even if Damian (Robin) was the one pushing.

Tim leaned back in his chair, trying hard for casual innocence. It wasn’t a look he pulled off very well, but it was worth a shot. “Your grandfather? Why would he be interested in me?”

Damian’s face started turning into a thundercloud at Tim’s obstinate refusal to play his game.

Fortunately for both of them, Tam popped her head in.

“You guys need anything before I go?” Her eyes narrowed slightly, picking up on the tension in the air.

“We’re fine,” Tim replied, sparing her a glance. “Have a good night. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Okay,” she said, obviously not believing him. “Will you be in early again?”

“Most likely.”

“All right. Good night, Tim. Damian.” Tam nodded and closed the door firmly behind her.

Tim knew his phone would be blowing up soon and put it on silent. Yet another thing to add to the massive list of things he owed Tam. Maybe he’d just pay for her next vacation out of his own pocket. She’d mentioned wanting to go to France the last time they talked about it.

Damian stalked over to the door, waited a moment, and locked it. “I don’t want any more interruptions,” he announced as he closed the gap between the office door and Tim’s desk. He took a seat across from him and leveled a steely glare at the CEO. “Let me try a different track, since you obviously refuse to make this easier on both of us. For whatever reason, my grandfather has his sights set on you to become his heir and take over his little empire. He’s been courting you for years, but it wasn’t until last week that something happened to make him take action. You’re lucky the Red Hood is so infatuated with you that he followed you the other night.”

Shit. The kid was not making this easy for him. Tim took a deep breath, held it, and let it out slowly. As he did, he felt his walls rising, the cold, icy walls that had so often protected him from the fire and vitriol he wanted to spew forth.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Damian,” he lied through his teeth. It was easier now that his walls were up. It always was.

The teenager across from him could do with a dose of calm. He was practically seething at Tim’s continued denial. Standing abruptly, Damian slammed his hands down on the desk, leaning in and glaring. Looming, though not quite like his dad managed it. “I know you know who Robin is, Drake. Who Batman is.”

Tim didn’t even flinch. “Do I?”

“Stop playing the idiot. It does not become you.”

“Why should I acknowledge if I do or not?” Tim replied calmly.

“Because we can help you,” Damian said, his voice low and fierce. His eyes told a different story. Pleading. Earnest. All things this boy never was. “Let me help you.”

This was a different tactic. One that would be easy to fall into. But at the same time, this was Damian. The grandson of Ra’s al Ghul. The odds for his success over the next few days would rise significantly if he were to help. Assuming he knew some of the information Tim needed. He knew enough from Ra’s that Damian was not on speaking terms with him or his mother.

Was it worth it? He’d be throwing years of careful indifference down the drain if he were to accept Damian’s help, if he acknowledged the unspoken truth between them. In the back of his mind, a flash of red, a smug smirk, and the memory of a mouth he’d happily spend the rest of his life devouring forced their way to the forefront.

Tim could have Hood. Openly. Without any secrets between them. Perhaps then the man would take off his mask. Jason’s mask. God forgive him, but even the anger he’d felt the other night over the mask seemed like it was a lifetime ago.

But that decision was not his. He had to remember that. Even if Tim exposed himself, his secret, it made no difference to Hood. He didn’t know who was under that helmet and hiding behind that brash exterior.

The ball was in Hood’s court now.

Tim took another slow breath, in and out. For better or for worse, he made his choice. While he may want the Red Hood (and had good reason to believe the feeling was mutual), he also had to think about himself. There was no way he would become Ra’s al Ghul’s heir.

He forced his voice to remain calm and distant. “Assuming all this is true, why should I acknowledge it to you? This secret has been mine to keep for well over a decade. What do you have to offer that could possibly help me against your grandfather?”

Damian’s hazel eyes widened in shock. He normally had a good grasp on controlling any reaction that wasn’t snide or sarcastic, so it was readily apparent how much Tim’s words shook him. Most of the time, those eyes would be dark in frustration, anger, and teenage apathy; rarely has Tim seen them on the lighter side like they are now.

“Over a decade…That’s…that’s not possible. You would have been…”

“Much younger than you are now,” Tim finished for him.

The information stunned Damian enough to have him return to his seat. “How old?” he finally asked.

“I was nine.”

“You’ve known who Batman is since you were nine years old and haven’t said a word to anyone.” The disbelief was slowly being replaced by amazement and a hint of awe. “How did you figure it out?”

“You’re my bodyguard for however long Bruce is out of town, right?” Tim asked, standing. “Come on. It’ll be easier if I show you.”

*****

“You know, when you said we were going to Hong Kong, this wasn’t what I had in mind,” Jason said, his eyes darting around the open air market. He lounged casually against a wall, fully enjoying the bowl of noodles Cass had given him. There was meat on a stick at the stall across the way that looked and smelled delicious. After such a long flight, he needed calories.

“Food first,” Stephanie replied. “Can’t plot on an empty stomach.” 

“Nope,” Cass agreed, deftly using her chopsticks to shovel her own noodles into her mouth. 

The flight was long. So long. Even with the first-class seats Steph got for them, it took forever. It sucked, but she couldn’t get her hands on one of the Batplanes, not and have Bruce breathing down their necks within ten minutes of it being gone. Of course, chances were good he already knew she was gone, but whether he’d picked up on Jason being with her, neither were sure about. Apparently, random visits to see Cass were a thing.

Jason decided that meat needed to become a reality. He caught Cass’s eye and nodded at the stall. “Any good?”

“Delicious,” she replied and handed him some cash. “Get me two.”

Who was he to say no? His Mandarin wasn’t the best, but he heard a lot of English being spoken around him, so he knew he could do this. That and he could point and raise fingers as needed.

“So,” Jason started to say when he was back, his mouth already full of the unidentified, but no less delicious for it, roasted meat. “What’s going on here that you dragged us halfway around the world to see your sister?”

Cass shoved him none to gently in the ribs. Jason grimaced as they were still bruised from the other night. “Your sister too.”

“I’m technically still dead, so no.” Calling Cassandra Cain his sister was more than he was willing to accept at the moment. She looked all cute and harmless, but Jason was under no pretense she could have him on his knees kissing pavement in less than half a second flat.

The look in her eyes told him she was letting him off the hook this time.

Stephanie shoved more noodles in her mouth and chewed thoughtfully. She’d been close lipped the entire trip, which drove Jason nuts. However, it was Cass who replied.

“I’ve heard whispers about the League trying to establish a stronger foothold here,” she explained in her quiet, almost halting, voice. “There is much money to be had here, but also, power. Disrupt this, it will upset him.”

No need to explain who him was. It made sense though. When you’re trying to make a name for yourself, money spoke, but more so were the little favors between various parties. Played right, these favors could be called in or exchanged for other things, slowly and carefully building the foundations of a little empire. He should know, he’d done the same thing back in Gotham during the worst of his crime lord days.

Not everything he did involved dufflebags full of heads.

Jason nodded thoughtfully. “Do you have any idea what the power structure is like here?"

Cassandra shrugged. “For the most part, the Triads are still in control, but their hold is weakening. We will talk about this elsewhere. For now, eat.”

He could do that and shoved the other skewer in his mouth.

*****

“Incredible,” Damian breathed, staring almost reverently at the picture in his hands of Dick Grayson and Tim Drake.

“I never forgot what happened that night,” Tim said and took a sip from his iced tea. He and Damian had ordered pizza on the way back to his loft and picked up a few drinks from a convenience store. “I have an eidetic memory and learned to read at a very young age. I kept tabs on Dick, as best I could. I was still technically a toddler after all.”

Damian tucked the picture back into its protective sleeve and turned the page of the small album. These pictures were Tim’s pride and joy, his treasure. He made sure to take extra precautions with keeping them safe, up to and including setting them on fire if someone should try and force the false vent he kept them behind open. In Gotham, a bank safety deposit box was just asking for trouble. He kept a small safe behind one of his pictures upstairs as a distraction from the vent, but nothing of real worth was kept in there.

“But you were nine when you put two and two together,” Damian stated, peering intently at a slightly blurry picture of Dick. “I still can’t believe he wore those shorts. I see them all the time in the old costume displays Father keeps in the Cave. But seeing them there versus here are two different things.”

It suddenly dawned on Tim that here he was, sitting on the floor in his bedroom with the current Robin. The son of Batman. His inner fanboy started squealing almost as loud as he had when Hood said he’d been talking to Oracle the other night.

“Those shorts were insane,” Tim agreed. “They never seemed to bother Dick though and Jason just seemed to roll with it.”

Damian stiffened ever so slightly. “You have pictures of Todd as well?” he asked.

“Yes. Keep going.” Tim couldn’t help the small sigh when the pages were turned to reveal his friend. That mask. Seeing it again on Jason’s face, even with the distance of time and the telephoto lens of his old camera, still hurt. “We became friends not long after Bruce took him in. I helped him learn his way around the ballrooms, showing him who to evade, who could be used as a distraction, and the best ways to attack the dessert tables without being caught.” He chuckled sadly at the memories. “He was my best friend.”

Tim looked over at Damian. They were seated next to each other against the end of his bed. The question he wanted to ask, that he wanted to know the answer to for so long was on the tip of his tongue. He could ask it now and chances were good he’d get an honest response.

“Damian, how did he die?” Tim asked quietly, averting his eyes back to his folded hands. “I know the story Bruce put out to the public. I didn’t buy it, not for one second.”

The teen closed the photo album and set it down carefully back in its box. He was silent for a time before he finally spoke. “It was the Joker,” he said slowly. “Todd went to the Middle East and then into Africa in search for his mother. His birth mother,” he clarified as Tim opened his mouth to protest. “Catherine Todd was not his mother. Anyhow, he found trouble in the form of the Joker…”

Tim listened in horror to the story. About how his best friend was beaten almost to death and then blown up along with his mother. He’d suspected the Joker was involved, but to have it confirmed, plus hearing his friend was blown up by a fucking bomb. The funeral he’d been to was closed-casket, so he knew it wasn’t pretty under that hardwood, but this… He closed his stinging eyes and bent his head, mourning for his friend again.

Jason had been killed barely a month after Tim told him they couldn’t be friends anymore. To this day, he believed there had been a correlation between the events and now he believed it more than ever. This was the first time he’d heard about Jason leaving Gotham in search of his mother though.

Or was it?

Tim sat quietly in his new bedroom. The room was better suited to an adult than a teenager, but his new guardian insisted he was welcome to make any changes he liked, within reason, of course. The man was obsessed with costs and seemed to think Tim would run up bills left and right if given the chance.

He was tempted, if only to see the man squirm.

It still didn’t seem real. His parents were dead in a botched kidnapping turned double murder, leaving him all alone. Well, alone was a relative term as they hadn’t been around all that much. But when they were, he was happy. Mom would show him pictures of the newest pieces they’d found on one of his dad’s digs and Dad would take him to New York or D.C. sometimes to see them in the museums there. They’d be home for a few months, a real family, and then they’d be gone, off again to some far corner of the globe.

Small wonder their company was in the trouble it was in.

His company. Or it would be as soon as he was legally able to take over. The information he’d found on emancipation at the library of his new school was helpful. His guardian at least saw to it that Tim remained in a school that could challenge him academically, even if he did have to pay for it.

Image was everything, after all.

His phone buzzed with an incoming text. Glancing at it, Tim grimaced. It was Jason.

Here was another problem he needed to figure out an answer to. If emancipation was truly his goal, then Tim had quite the uphill battle. No one would take him seriously at 13. 14, even. But it was more likely to occur at 15 or 16. He had to prove to everyone he was capable of taking care of himself financially. Luckily for him, the trust his parents set up (and that his guardian could not get his hands on) was a bit different than the standard trust. Rather than the age of majority being reached, he simply had to graduate high school and show proof of acceptance into an accredited state university.

If his calculations were correct, then the soonest he could manage this was 15. He was already in freshman classes at Gotham Academy. Tim never had to play dumb and, truth be told, school bored him. He knew he could do better and get out faster.

Which led him back to staring at the text message on his phone.

Jason. His best friend. Robin. Tim still wanted to squeal with glee sometimes that Robin was his best friend.

And yet, here he was trying to figure out how to sever all ties with him so that he could accomplish what needed to be done. He needed to save his company. It was all he had left of his parents, even if it was something they didn’t care enough about to make sure it was running properly.

There was a lot riding on this. Tim could only hope that one day, Jason would understand.

He read the text again.

Jay: Hey. You gonna be at Fireman’s Ball or whatever it’s called this weekend? I got something kinda important I wanna run by ya.

It would be easier if he started now. As soon as possible in fact. Start small.

Tim deleted the text. And then, he deleted Jason as a contact from his phone.

It had been at the same ball that Tim told Jason they couldn’t be friends anymore. The teenager’s stricken look, the hurt in those incredible blue eyes of his. This memory haunted Tim for months after his death. Years, if he was being honest. It still did on occasion.

Damian gave him his space, picking up on the fact Tim was falling to pieces and trying to put himself back together. He rubbed his shirt sleeves over his face, wiping away hot tears that pooled in the corners of his eyes. “Thank you,” he finally said. “I’ve been wondering for so long.”

“Todd never told you he was Robin.” It wasn’t a question.

“No. But I knew. It wasn’t hard to put it together after I heard Bruce adopted him. Dick was already in New York with the Teen Titans and had just become Nightwing. I never did get a picture of that first costume.”

“Be glad you didn’t,” Damian replied with a snort of suppressed laughter. “It is one of the most atrocious things I have ever seen. There is a reason we don’t let him help with any of our uniform designs.”

Tim chuckled, more so at Damian acting his age for once and making fun of his older brother. “I’ve wondered how some of those came about.”

“Practicality and an inflated sense of the dramatic.”

Yeah, Tim could see that.

*****

After dinner, Damian poked around the loft while Tim washed the few dishes they used. Sure, he had a dishwasher, but it was rare that he ever used it for anything other than coffee and travel mugs. When he returned to the living room, he found the teen standing in front of some of his pictures. The photographs hanging around the loft were ones he had taken over the years from various vantage points across the city.

“These are rather impressive, Timothy,” the young man said as Tim joined him. “You may have missed your true calling.”

This was high praise coming from Damian. He’d never made any pretense at liking more modern forms of artistic expression. Tim seemed to remember hearing somewhere that he was a painter himself. Or was it drawing?

“Thank you,” he replied. “I started going out and taking pictures again after my emancipation went through. It was nice, having the freedom to do so.”

Damian nodded in silent agreement, then turned his attention on Tim. “I think it’s time you tell me why you’re only working half a day tomorrow and plan to be off for the rest of the week.”

Tim huffed a small laugh. No beating around the bush here. “Did you break into my calendar?”

“Maybe,” the teen smirked wryly at him as he went and took a seat on the sofa.

“If you can do that, then you may be of some use to me after all.” Tim grinned at the disgruntled look on Damian’s face. “I decided to take matters into my own hands.”

He sat down next to him and started explaining his plan. By the time he was done, the normally sour teen was nodding along in what Tim hoped was at least tentative agreement.

“It certainly has merit,” Damian commented thoughtfully. “And you are absolutely correct in your assumption that there are a few places I can point you at to start.”

“That’ll save me at least a day.” Tim felt relieved at the prospect. All night hacking marathons were a thing of the past. He only ventured into that realm when he was testing the network security at DI, although he did use Barbara Gordon’s cyber security firm for when he wanted a legitimate third party to test it. She was fantastic at what she did and it privately gave him a little thrill knowing he was working with the former Batgirl. He always learned something new too, which was an added bonus.

Damian stood and stretched. “You are in for the night, correct? No random outings I need to aware of?”

“You mean do I have any midnight cravings?” Tim laughed. It was obvious the teen wanted to get out and do something rather than sit around here. “I’m not going anywhere. I slept badly last night, and with your help, tomorrow is going to go much easier, so there’s a load off my mind that should have me out like a light as soon as I crash.”

“Then I will run a brief patrol through this area,” Damian announced authoritatively. “You are secure here and all your windows and doors are monitored by Oracle. I will be alerted instantly if something happens and will return.”

Tim started in surprise. “Oracle is monitoring this place?”

“Yes,” Damian replied as he picked up his large duffle and pulled out a sword, as well as a pair of green boots with red laces. Tim gaped and couldn’t help leaning over to get a closer look at the Robin uniform that was being removed from of the bag. “Hood made the request that Oracle monitor your loft rather than Father. He thought it would make you feel better about your privacy.”

“Would have been nice to know that last night,” Tim replied faintly. It did make him feel better actually. Another thought occurred to him. “Where is Hood?” he asked. “Wouldn’t it make sense for him to guard me while you do your thing?”

The answering leer was enough so that Tim wanted to smack it right off the teen’s face. “Yes, because I’m sure he’d be so focused on guarding you if he were here.”

“We’re both adults,” Tim retorted, feeling the tips of his ears burn in embarrassment. “We know how to keep it in our pants when the situation calls for it.”

“I can only hope that if I ever find a significant other, I am not as ridiculous about it as the two of you.”

Tim shook his head. He was not having this conversation with Damian Wayne. Nope. No way. “I would hardly call us significant others,” he tried, but the teen laughed in his face.

“There is a bet at home over when the two of you move in together, assuming he ever mans up and takes off his damn mask in front of you. Or better yet, tells you the truth.”

There it was again. Another hint that Tim knew the man beneath the mask. But how?

“He’ll tell me when he’s ready,” Tim muttered sourly. He stood and wandered off to his computer desk, leaving Damian to get dressed in some semblance of privacy. The excitement of seeing the Robin uniform up close had burned out. Instead, he felt tired. It was barely after eight, but he knew he’d be in bed by the time Robin returned.

Whatever. It didn’t matter. He needed to sleep tonight as it was going to be a dicey commodity at best over the next few, even with Damian’s assistance.

It wasn’t until Tim was almost asleep later that he realized Damian hadn’t answered one of his earlier questions.

Where was Hood?

 

Chapter Text

It did not surprise Jason in the slightest that part of the reconnaissance plan the girls (his sisters) set up involved him playing the part of rich but relatively clueless American looking for a good time. He got it, he really did. It sucked, but it was more effective than any of the others they came up with. Stephanie could easily do it, but as a woman (and blonde to boot), she stood out more. Was more memorable. A Wayne heir could not be memorable on this trip.

A quick dye job, one of Hong Kong’s famous 24-hour suits, and he was ready to go. Alfred would probably weep if he saw him, but Jason rather liked the suit. It fit well, even if the tailor had grimaced when he saw his thighs. Hopefully it would survive this trip. It would be kinda nice to have something to wear if he ever got the stones to ask Tim on a real date.

The club Cassandra directed him to was one she’s had under surveillance for the better part of a few months. She’d been sending reports back to Gotham, but as she was not the best actress in the world, it was hard for her to get beyond the main floor.

“I am the first to admit my detective skills need work,” she admitted earlier as she went over the floor plan with Jason. “But I have surveyed the entire building and planted bugs where I thought they would be most helpful. Security sweeps are done regularly though, so they are found every time.”

“Have they been back-traced?” Stephanie asked in concern.

“Of course not,” Cassandra replied. “Barbara does not let that happen.”

Such faith in the all mighty Oracle, well placed that it was. Jason shrugged it off. Not his problem.

The club was busy, even for a weeknight. The money he’d flashed when he arrived ensured his place at the front of the line. Stephanie had been generous, even if she did provide it with a reminder that he could have it too if he’d just accept Bruce’s offer to revoke his death certificate and bring his ass back to life.

His ass was fine where it was, thanks.

During the time Cass’s recording devices were working, she and Babs had managed to identify three people of interest. Jason had memorized their pictures and the little profiles she’d built for them. She’d found an illegal poker room on the premises, which was a big no-no under Hong Kong’s strict gambling ordinance.  

Of course, this was where all the really fun stuff occurred.

Jason took a seat at the bar and ordered a couple fingers of scotch. The stuff always made him think of Bruce, but he forced those thoughts aside. When his drink arrived, he turned lazily to take in the scene around him.

Loud music, check.

Cute chicks in tight dresses, check.

Equally handsome men in nice suits, check.

People schmoozing up the yin-yang to get a chance to go upstairs, check.

Jason eyed the man at the foot of the stairs. He was obviously a guard, big and burly like out of some B-rated kung-fu movie. Probably knew it too, although he tried not to buy into cultural stereotypes. Even though he was playing one up himself. He’d spent enough time watching Bruce over the years that pulling off douchebag American was easy.

Cass’s report said the VIP lounge was also upstairs. If that’s where it was, then that’s where he needed to be.

But how?

A plan was starting to formulate when Jason noticed some commotion at the front entrance. He casually swung around to look and just as casually turned back, raising his tulip-shaped glass to his lips and swallowing fast.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

Talia fucking al Ghul was walking in like she owned the place. It was entirely possible she did.

Fuck.

Cass’s information was all wrong. It wasn’t Ra’s trying to get a foothold in Hong Kong. It was Talia.

Jason prayed to a god he wasn’t sure he believed in that she hadn’t spotted him. With their history…well, there was a reason he’d made a point of never seeing her again after he returned to Gotham the second time (even though he had no compunctions against taking her money; it was well earned, fuck you).

It wasn’t long before he felt a tap on his shoulder.

His luck sucked fucking balls.

He turned slowly, trying to appear like a completely normal guy. Nothing to see here, folks. It was the guard from the stairs he’d been eyeing up a few minutes before. Someone else had taken his place when Jason glanced over his shoulder.

“Come with me, please,” the man said in accented English.

Jason knew he shouldn’t, but seeing Talia made him feel belligerent. “And if I don’t?”

The man grinned crookedly. “Then I get to drag you.”

“Pass on that,” Jason said as he rose to his feet. He was pleased to see the guard was shorter than him. It made intimidation that much easier, especially now that he didn’t have to hide. “The suit’s new.”

He was led up the stairs and down the hall past the VIP rooms. At a junction, they went left, heading further into the building. From the map Cassandra had drawn for him, he knew this led away from the poker room and towards the offices she could never keep bugged for long. This was fine with Jason; it was where he’d ultimately wanted to end up, even though he didn’t expect it to be on the first night.

Not that it mattered anymore. Talia’s involvement here spoke volumes, especially with the power plays she’d been making against Ra’s over the last few years. He may not like her in the slightest but he still kept tabs as best he could to avoid being blindsided. On one hand, he was glad to see she was no longer content to remain under her father’s thumb. Talia al Ghul might be a bitch of the highest order in Jason’s book, especially with their history, but he could not begrudge her trying to find her own path. She’d make a better head of the League of Assassins than Tim ever would.

Jason chewed his lip as he stewed over that thought. Depending on what was going on here, it seemed he may actually have a card to play. That was a nice change.

At the end of the hall, two guards stood in front of a closed office door. They held themselves differently than the man leading him, he could see it even from here. These two would be trouble if it came down to it. Best not to let that happen if he could help it. He really did like this suit.

An exchange occurred between the guards that Jason could barely understand and his guy walked off, returning the way they came, but not without giving him the stink eye. Nice to see that some things didn’t need translation.

The two new guards eyed him warily, like recognizing like apparently. After a moment, the man on the right turned and knocked on the door. He opened it a crack and said something he couldn’t hear. Whatever was said, it didn’t make him happy as he opened the door wider and gestured for Jason to enter.

Sleek, modern, posh. Those three words instantly came to mind as Jason entered the room. It kinda reminded him of Tim’s office, but with a definite Asian flair. He rather liked the red screen in the corner with the golden dragon on it. It was a great hiding place for someone too.

Standing behind the desk and looking out through the room’s sole window was Talia. She was dressed in what Stephanie would call a power suit, looking every inch like she owned this place and everything (and maybe everyone) in it. Knowing her, she probably did.

Jason walked about halfway into the room and stopped. He’d come this far, it was her move next. He forced himself to remain in a neutral position, his stance open and relaxed, ready for anything.

Talia made him wait exactly two minutes before turning to face him. She gave him a small smile. “It’s been awhile, Jason.”

Not long enough. “I guess,” he replied noncommittally. He’d have been perfectly happy with spending the rest of his second life never seeing her again.

“You’re a long way from home.”

Information games sucked, but he knew this was one he’d need to play well if he were to get what he wanted. “Got something I’m working on here. It’s a short trip.”

“Hmm…” Talia eyed him closely. “I believe my son’s masquerade party is this weekend. Will you not be attending then?”

“I’m sure Damian will be thrilled to hear you’re keeping tabs on him still.” Jason grinned sharply. The brat would be furious to find out dear old mom was keeping track of his shit.

“He is my son, of course I keep tabs on his comings and goings.” Talia closed the distance between her and the desk and gracefully took a seat. “Please, sit.” She gestured to the chair across from her.

Jason pointedly looked at the chair, then the desk, and raised an eyebrow.

Talia answered his unspoken question. “You will walk out of here free from any harm. I simply wish to speak with you.”

Right. Like one of her verbal lashings wasn’t as bad as a physical beating. Still, they didn’t leave bruises and his ribs were still a little tender from the other night. Two nights ago? Three? Traveling around the world fucked with his sense of time. Jason sat and leaned back in the chair, opting for a casual pose he’d seen from Dick a million times.

Talia continued. “I understand that a friend of my son’s will also be in attendance. Someone my father is very much interested in.”

“Ra’s has been interested in Tim for years,” Jason countered. He wasn’t happy that his one ace in the hole turned out to be not as big a reveal as he’d expected. But then again, this was Talia. Her information network was just as massive as her father’s.

“From recent reports I’ve received, I understand he’s also a special friend of yours.” There was an ever so slight emphasis on special, even though Talia’s face remained neutral.

Jason snorted, opting for a nonchalance he was great at faking. “You know damn well that Tim Drake and I were friends before I died. We’re just picking up where we left off.”

Sort of.

“You must be aware of my father’s plans for this Timothy Drake.” There was a hint of bitterness in Talia’s voice.

“That’s why I’m here actually,” Jason replied. “Tim’s not exactly keen on taking over the League. I’ve no doubt he could do it if he really wanted to,” he added flippantly, just to try and get a rise out of the woman across from him. “But his interests lie elsewhere.”

A small smile appeared briefly on Talia’s lips. “Then we are working towards the same goal. I am pleased to hear your friend has no interest in the League. I will not have to take any action against him.”

Talia’s dark eyes gleamed in the low light of the office, knowing she’d struck a hit. Jason glowered, but kept silent. The reminder that here he was, on the other side of the world, and so very far from Tim was crushing. He couldn’t protect him while he was here, instead, relying on others to do it for him. And while he had the utmost respect for Black Canary, Babs couldn’t keep her on Tim 24/7.

This trip was turning out to be a waste of time.

“I assume you and Red Robin are here for a reason,” Talia continued after the silence stretched on. “A reason related to my father’s increased activity in Hong Kong. It is why I am here as well.”

Or maybe not.

“Red and I are here to cause Ra’s some massive headaches, bad enough to turn his attention away from Tim, at least for now.” It would give them time to come up with a better plan to take him out (permanently if Jason had his way).

That little smile appeared again, this time with a flash of teeth. He knew this smile. Remembered it all too well. It never boded good things for anyone. “I can think of a few places where your particular talents would be of use.”

Jason narrowed his eyes in suspicion. “I’ve got a rather diverse skill-set. You’ll have to be more specific.”

A well manicured fingernail tapped on the desk and the little smile grew. “Oh, how would you say it colloquially? Ah, yes. You get to blow shit up.”

And there was Talia’s very understated sense of humor. He’d forgotten she even had one.

“I’m listening.” Jason settled more comfortably in the chair as the daughter of Ra’s al Ghul explained her plan. There was no doubt in his mind that she was using him to further her own goals, but he was more than okay with her taking over daddy dearest’s empire. It sure beat the alternative.

Besides, as it had so often been said before, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

For now.

*****

“This is the dumbest idea you’ve ever had, Hood! And I mean it this time!” Stephanie screeched at Jason over the comms as they took cover from an explosion that rocked what was supposed to be a stable platform for them to wait out the chaos.

“I’ve heard you say that to me a dozen times, Blondie! What makes this time any worse?” Jason retorted as he ducked behind a large metal storage container.

He knew he’d made that bomb correctly. All the parts checked out, including the actual explosive material. C4 was his preferred means to make something go boom and Talia had willingly provided it. So why the extra boom? There had to have been something flammable in one of those supposedly empty storage containers. It was the only explanation.

Cass swooped in next to him, her Black Bat costume looking a little singed. She was also grinning breathlessly, so Jason knew he wasn’t in for an ass kicking. “This is an oil refinery, Red Robin. What did you expect?”

Nice to see someone on his side for a change. He smirked broadly, glad that his helmet covered it. Not that his newest sister couldn’t tell he was but whatever.

“I’m surrounded by morons,” Stephanie moaned. “Let’s get out of here before the cops find us.”

Good idea. Jason and Cass wove their way through the containers and soon found themselves outside the fence surrounding the property and a few buildings away. From a safer distance, he looked back and grinned at the sight. A fiery explosion always did make him happy. Counterintuitive, sure, considering how he died the first time around, but he liked being an ornery bastard who flew in the face of expectations.

“Where to next?” Cassandra asked, crouching next to him on the rooftop and watching the fire.

“There’s an off-site storage facility for the chemicals produced here,” Jason replied. “We go and check it out, clear the building of anyone living, and set the charges.”

He didn’t necessarily like doing Talia’s dirty work for her, but she did have a point when he mentioned it the night before. That this was what he’d come here to do anyways, to make a mess of massive proportions and force Ra’s to recoup elsewhere. The information checked out through Babs too, who was hard at work trying to track down other places in the region they could destroy over the course of the next couple of days before returning home. It also went a long way towards alleviating Steph’s concerns over partnering up with Talia.

Of course, there was bad news too. Bruce and Dick were on their way here. In all likelihood, they had already arrived to try and rein them in. Babs thought they were being ridiculous, as Bruce had said something about preventing an international incident from occurring before he hung up on her. Jason thought it was hilarious. It was not the first time the big bad Bat thought he’d start something he shouldn’t. Garzonas came to mind, even though he hadn’t pushed that asshole off the balcony. Not that it stopped Bruce from thinking he did. 

The fucker deserved it.

What was even more hilarious was the news that Damian was babysitting Tim. Jason almost laughed himself sick when he heard that. It was not going to end well for either of them, even though his money was on Tim being victorious in the end.

Luckily for them, the all-seeing Oracle was in their court. She was taking an immense amount of amusement out of helping them for some reason, which instantly made Jason suspicious. All she would say was that he’d see why soon enough.

That didn’t sit well with him. Surprises sucked.

They regrouped and made their way to the next facility in a small car Cass had found for them. It was nondescript, which was all well and good, but even with the seat pushed all the way back, Jason’s knees still knocked against the dashboard. Felt like he was in a fucking clown car.

Stephanie was next to him as he drove. “The police are going to be out en masse soon,” she commented, tapping on a burner phone she’d picked up earlier. “Between the explosion last night you said was Talia’s group and the ones we’re setting tonight, it wouldn’t surprise me if the local government tries to impose a curfew until things get under control.”

“That would be a shocker,” Jason replied. “This whole region is supposed to be semi-autonomous, right?”

“It is a special administrative region of China,” Cassandra spoke up from the back seat. She looked like she was almost folded in half. “It would be up to the local government first, but all military action would be through the mainland.”

“Let’s keep the military out of this, shall we?” Steph replied, a sour expression on what Jason could see of her cowled face.

“Agreed,” Cass nodded firmly. “The people here do not like it when the mainland tries to get involved.”

“Sounds like me when Bruce shoves his nose in my business.”

Stephanie snorted in laughter, not sounding at all like the delicate little flower her more public persona tried to portray. “When doesn’t he shove his nose into all of our business? Cass, don’t answer that one, he adores you, so you don’t count.”

“Then I probably should not tell you that Batman and Nightwing are at the refinery we just left.”

“Fuck,” Jason cursed and resisted the urge to put pedal to the metal. Right now, driving out of the norm would only attract attention. “How soon we got before they’re on our tail?”

“I don’t know,” Cass replied. “I saw them arrive just as we were leaving.”

“And you didn’t say anything sooner?” Jason incrementally increased the pressure on the gas pedal. He wanted to get at least one more explosion in tonight before he had to face Bruce and his constipated face. If they’d been seen, he very much doubted another boom would take place.

“They did not see us,” came the reply from the backseat.

Okay, so maybe they did have a chance to set off the second bomb.

The car suddenly shook as a loud thud hit the roof.

“Shit.”

*****

Tim sat at his computer desk, curled up in a pair of comfortable pajama pants, an old band t-shirt that had definitely seen better days, and a pair of socks. They were new socks, washed once and still had that fuzzy feeling new socks had before time and his feet wore them down. He sipped at his coffee and watched as his program broke through the initial layers of security at one of the larger regional banks in Southeast Asia. Very soon, manual labor would be required, but for now, he relaxed.

Next to him, Damian wasn’t so patient. “I hate this part,” he said, making a disgruntled looking face. It kind of made Tim want to superimpose an image of Grumpy Cat over his head.

“Waiting usually does suck,” he agreed.

“Oracle would be in faster than you. If we were home, the computer in the Cave would be in already too.”

Tim ignored the complaints as best he could, but really, what did he expect? “Damian, I have neither the sheer computing power that Oracle has nor do I have access to the Batcave unless you take me there. As I don’t see that happening, this is what I have available to me. Deal with it.”

It was quiet for a few minutes. Tim enjoyed it even though he knew Damian was gearing up for some other little comment. He knew that look on his face, had gotten to know it that much better over the last two days. Was it too much to ask for that the teen go patrol or whatever it was called and leave him in peace to work?

Apparently it was when Damian opened his mouth again. “No one is home right now, at least not anyone who would care about your presence. They will not be for at least another two days. Considering you know almost all of our identities, I see no reason why you can’t use the Cave computers under the proper supervision.”

Tim almost dropped the hot coffee mug in his lap as he turned to stare incredulously at the teen. “You have got to be joking.”

“I am serious,” Damian replied with a disdainful sniff. “We will get much more accomplished there than here and in a much shorter amount of time.”

Something flashed on Tim’s monitor, catching his attention. It wasn’t a warning message, but an IM.

Oracle: I’m freezing your program. Stand by.

“What?” Tim scrambled and tried tapping out commands on his keyboard. “I thought you said Oracle was on our side with all this?”

Damian looked concerned as well. “She is.”

She? He’d always thought it would be awesome if Oracle was a woman. There were so few female hackers out there, but it was easy to hide behind an online handle and pretend to be someone you’re not. It was pretty cool to have his suspicion confirmed.

His computer was non-responsive. “The fucking hell?” Tim cursed as he tried to regain control.

The monitors suddenly went black and a neon green, stylized face appeared on all three of them. Tim resisted the urge to throw his keyboard to the floor, knowing there was no point to it and refusing to be petty in front of Damian.

See? He could be a role model when he wanted to be.

Damian had no compunctions against pitching a small fit. “What on earth are you doing? It’s a logical suggestion and you know it.”

A digitized voice spoke over Tim’s speakers. “It may be logical, but if you bring Tim to the Cave, you can kiss that party of yours good-bye.”

“All the more reason to do it then.” Damian glared viciously at the screens. “I didn’t want to have it in the first place.”

“Happy sweet 16. What kind of balloons should I send you?”

As the two bickered back and forth, Tim clutched his coffee and stared. He was pretty sure his brain had gone numb at this point. This was Oracle arguing with Robin after she commandeered his computer. His inner fanboy (who really needed to get a life) was squealing in joy and laughter while the rest of him took a backseat as he tried to process this what the fuck moment.

“Um, do I get a say in any of this?” Tim finally asked, feeling almost like he should be raising his hand.

The arguing stopped and even though the green Oracle icon didn’t move on his desktop, he could feel that weighted gaze on him. “It depends,” the digitized voice said. “What do you want to do?”

“I want to wreck havoc with Ra’s’ finances and make it so that he spends the rest of his life trying to recoup them. I can do this with what I have here, even though it’ll take longer.” Tim paused and took a sip from his mug. He needed to get up for a refill soon. “As much as I’d love to see the Batcave, I don’t think that would be a good idea. Especially as I’d have to learn the system first to get it to do what I want.”

There was a long pause before Oracle spoke again, this time without the digitized voice. “I knew you were smart, Tim. I can give you the boost you need and let you piggyback on some of my systems. That’ll speed things up.”

Tim gaped, not even trying to hide his reaction. That voice…he knew that voice. “Barbara?” he asked, looking to Damian for confirmation.

Again with the damned smirks. That’s it, next time he saw Hood, he was going to ask how to properly punch someone because he wanted to be able to smack that damn smirk right off Damian’s face.

“The one and only,” she replied. The monitors flickered again, the two on the side going black while the center one opened to reveal the familiar redhead. Barbara Gordon waved at him.

Tim waved back weakly. Holy shit. Barbara Gordon, the first Batgirl, was Oracle. It made so much sense. He wanted to slap himself upside the head a few times for not seeing it sooner. But then again, why would he? He’s not part of this world, even if he was doing a damn good job at crossing that line right now.

“I think you’ve broken him,” Damian commented snidely.

“Give him a minute to reboot that big brain of his. From what I understand from Hood and Canary, Tim may be my number one fan.” Barbara grinned, looking altogether amused by the thought.

Tim blinked absently a few times, trying to sort through everything. To process. So much to take in. Data does not compute and all that jazz. Whatever that meant. He didn’t like jazz. Much. Cowboy Bebop had jazz he liked. He mentally shook himself and forced his thoughts back into focus.

“Sorry about that,” he apologized. “I was not expecting any of this.”

“Nothing to be sorry about,” Barbara replied. “Now, I believe we have someone’s financials to make a mess of? I can think of a number of fantastic charities around the world that could do with a boost.”

Tim grinned. This was going to be So. Freaking. Cool. He finished his coffee and frowned at the empty mug. “Let’s do it. But first…I need more coffee.”

*****

Jason did what any normal person would do when faced with something unwanted on the roof of his car. He slammed on the brakes and turned the wheel hard, putting the car into a semi-controlled spin. The back of the car hit something, probably a curb, and he let up on the break only to hit the gas. They barreled down the mostly empty street.

“Goddammit, Hood! It’s just me! I’m on your side, remember?” Dick shouted and emphasized his point by punching the roof.

“Fucker,” Jason muttered. He rolled down his window. “What’s the password?” he said loudly, ignoring the snickers from the peanut gallery in the car with him.

“I’m a walking penis joke.”

Stephanie lost all control when she heard that. “Oh my god, you two…Cass, you need to come home. Look what I have to deal with all the time.”

“I will. I want to meet Tim.”

The thought of Cassandra meeting Tim sent a shiver down Jason’s spine. “No. Not happening. You’re gonna love him and he’s gonna love you and before we know it, the two of you will have taken over the world.”

Cass’s grin in the rearview mirror was blinding.

“Will you pull over, Jason?” Dick asked. A blue-striped hand grasped the top of the car door. “Your driving sucks.”

“Says the walking penis joke,” he shot back, but complied, pulling into an alley for some semblance of privacy. Dick had better be on the up and up here or he would have no problem taking out kneecaps.

“Thank you,” the man breathed as the car came to a stop. “I almost didn’t catch you.”

“That was kinda the point,” Jason snapped as he got out of the car. “The fuck are you doing here, dickwad?”

Dick flipped easily off the roof to land in front of him. Fucking showoff. “Language, Jaybird.”

“Suck a cock.”

The oldest bird sighed as he put on the big brother face that always made Jason want to punch him in the nuts. “Well, Batman is here to drag everyone home. He left Robin to babysit Tim.”

“We know this already,” Stephanie chimed in as she and Cass joined them. “It also doesn’t take a genius to figure out that we’re not the real reason he’s here. We’re just the excuse.”

“Well, blowing up an oil refinery, and then those warehouses last night is a pretty good excuse,” Dick tried, but Jason cut him off.

“Nice try, but last night wasn’t us. The refinery, yes. Ra’s owns all of these through various shell companies. They checked out through Oracle.”

He was not going to bring up Talia. It was easier if they didn’t, especially considering Dick’s rather strong opinions on the woman. Jason remembered a rather heated rant from his brother about her on one of the few occasions he came to Gotham to work or train with him. The passing years had only strengthened the intense dislike. If there was one person Dick Grayson could be said to actively hate, it was Talia al Ghul.

Dick ran a hand through his hair in frustration. “Fine. B heard a rather substantiated rumor that Ra’s was here. He wants to have a little talk with him about his intentions towards Tim.”

Intentions,” Jason sneered. “You say that like B’s interviewing prospective grooms.”

Cass and Stephanie snickered, because yeah, he could see how it was funny. Not really considering his position in this whole mess, but there was a certain ironic element to the entire conversation he was sure he could appreciate later.

Much later.

Perhaps after a few beers even.

“Well, I hate to burst that bubble, but Ra’s isn’t here,” Stephanie said, crossing her arms over her ample chest. Her most recent costume redesign had removed the bandoliers (or the oh shit handles as Jason had called them), leaving a deep shade of reddish-purple behind. She’d made a comment about feeling weighed down there the night she unveiled the new costume. Jason had wisely kept his mouth shut and let Damian walk right into it instead.

It was a great learning experience for the kid as Kevlar lined sports bras were definitely not a thing they taught anything about in that private school of his.

To think, people said Jason didn’t know how to be a big brother. Primo example, right there.

“Ra’s isn’t here?” Dick asked, clearly confused. “Then who is?”

“Talia,” Jason finally said after it became clear neither of his sisters would.

“Oh,” the oldest bird replied flatly, his usually expressive face closing down at the news. “Batman is on his own then. So, where are you headed next?”

Jason really hoped neither of the girls said anything about where their little list of places to blow up came from. For once, someone was looking out for him as they stayed silent on the matter. “Another warehouse a few miles away. Want to watch more League property meet a fiery end?”

Dick’s grin was answer enough.

 

Chapter Text

Thursday morning dawned all too early for Tim. He was tired as hell but it was a good kind of tired. The tired that only came from a job well done.

“And that’s that,” he said, satisfaction practically oozing from his voice as he tapped a final command into the program he was using to clear his tracks and wipe away any record of what he’d just done.

Breaking into major banks to make life miserable for one specific client (and his multitude of companies) was definitely black hat levels of hacking, but Tim kept trying to justify it in his mind that it was done out of self-preservation. Barbara had concurred when they’d chatted about it yesterday while Damian had gone out for food.

“About time,” Damian muttered from next to him. “I am reminded yet again as to why I prefer action over activities like these.”

“I’ve seen you get around protocols back in the Cave,” Barbara said. She sounded as tired as Tim felt. Doubly so as she was also doing her job as Oracle at the same time she’d been helping him. Although that help had been more in the form of the promised system boost than anything else. She’d been an ear for him to babble to as he worked. A welcomed ear.

Damian waved a hand breezily. “It’s different when it impacts me directly."

“Of course it is,” Tim muttered as he stood and stretched. He welcomed the pop in his back and slowly rolled his head to one side, then another, feeling the muscles stretch in his neck. “I think I need to see a chiropractor after this.”

“You could always ask Hood for a massage when he gets home,” Barbara said cheekily. When Tim looked at his monitor, she winked at him.

“Does he…do they know anything about what we just did?” Tim asked, correcting himself too late for the slip to be ignored. He’d learned all too well over the last 36 hours how much Barbara loved to tease him about Hood. It got Damian to buzz off, which may have been the point, but he still didn’t like being the butt of her jokes.

But even then, neither of them said exactly where everyone was. Tim assumed it must have been something massive that would take Batman, Nightwing, Red Robin, and Red Hood out of Gotham at the same time. Maybe once he’d gotten some rest, he’d scroll through the news to see if he could spot any signs of it. His eyes burned from lack of sleep and the glare from his monitors. Backlighting and settings adjustments only did so much.

“Not yet, but I’ll be sure to let them know once I’ve had some sleep.” The woman stretched as well, raising her hands to the sky.

“And I’ll have a report to enter on the Cave computer,” Damian added. He suppressed a yawn.

It had been a long couple of days for all of them.

“Well, I don’t know about you guys, but I’m off to bed,” Barbara said with a yawn of her own that she didn’t try and hide. “Tim, I’ll send you a message later with everyone’s reactions. They all feel so smug and self-righteous right now, it’s almost disgusting.”

“We did all the hard work,” Tim agreed, completing the chain of the yawn Damian started. They really were contagious. “Seriously though Barbara, thank you. For everything.”

“You’re welcome, Tim,” the redheaded woman replied. “You could have done this all on your own, I want you to know that. You’re that good. We should have lunch sometime and talk shop.”

“I’d like that.” Tim’s inner fanboy squealed loudly before retreating back into his corner to pass out. “Good night.”

Damian yawned again, this time not trying to hide it as Tim disconnected from Barbara and put everything in sleep mode. “What plans for today?” he asked.

“Sleep,” Tim replied. “The last of my costume should arrive today too.”

“Will I see it or will you make me wait until Saturday?”

“I should make you wait, you brat.”

With that, Tim retreated upstairs to go to bed, leaving Damian on the couch in his little nest of blankets and pillows. He made sure the blinds were all closed and passed out.

*****

Several hours later, Tim dragged himself from his bed. As tempting as it was to sleep longer, he knew if he did that his sleep cycle would get all screwed up. He was a creature of daylight, as much as it galled him to admit otherwise.

Downstairs, Damian proved to be much more nocturnal as he actually hissed when Tim opened the window blinds in the kitchen. “If you want to sleep longer, you can go upstairs,” he offered as he started a pot of coffee. He was only going to allow himself one cup as he didn’t think his stomach could take anymore without solid food.

Rummaging through his fridge, he spotted ingredients he knew hadn’t been there a few days ago. It looked like Damian had done some actual grocery shopping for him (them) on some of his food runs. Egg scramble it was then. Tim couldn’t make an omelet to save his life, but he could sauté some vegetables without burning them and pour scrambled eggs over it. It was almost the same thing.

By the time he was done, Damian had dragged himself to the dining table, already nursing a cup of coffee. Tim made two plates and sat across from him. “It’s not Mr. Pennyworth’s level of cooking, but it’s edible,” he said as he tucked in.

Damian didn’t say anything, but Tim couldn’t help but notice he cleared his plate.

Dishes were soon done and the two of them took their respective showers to try and wake up even more. The two main components to his masquerade costume arrived while Damian was upstairs, so Tim took a risk and snuck downstairs to pick up the package. It was tempting to sneak a peek at the cape and mask while the teen was distracted, but he knew better. Robin would be out on patrol tonight, leaving plenty of time to ooh and ahh over them later.

“We should go out,” Damian announced once he came back downstairs. “You have been cooped up in here since Tuesday afternoon.”

Tim wasn’t going to argue with that, so after getting dressed, they left the high-rise to take a walk through the Giella Gardens that were barely a block away.

It was quiet and peaceful in the gardens, even with so many of the famed plants going dormant for the winter. When he’d been in the market for a home of his own, he liked the area because of its location and easy access to downtown, true, but it was more because his eye had been drawn to the dichotomy of nature nestled within the urban jungle around him. The entire area was one he’d photographed extensively, with many of these blown up and hung in his office at DI.

They walked for a time, enjoying the surprisingly clear fall afternoon. There was a breeze blowing in off the Finger River, giving the air a crisp, yet slightly damp feel. Tim was glad of his light jacket.

Eventually, they reached the edge of the garden that abutted up against the edge of the river. Terraced flower beds ran down the banks. In the spring and summer, they were a riot of bright color, but now, the time for color had passed, faded away in the change of seasons.

Damian stared off across the river for a time. He’d been quiet ever since they left the loft and while Tim didn’t feel much like talking himself, it seemed odd. Perhaps what they’d just done to his grandfather was upsetting him in some way he didn’t feel comfortable expressing in from of Tim.

It was worth a shot.

“Does it bother you?” he asked quietly. “What we did to your grandfather?”

The answer was slow in coming, almost like it was being dragged from the teen. “Yes and no,” Damian admitted. “For the longest time, I thought the League would be my legacy. I was the heir to two great men and with that came a great deal of responsibility. But I learned how wrong I was about one of them and so let that one go.” He sighed and glanced at Tim, his eyes looking greener in the afternoon light. “My father is a great man, but he is far from perfect. My grandfather…he is a monster.”

This was the first time Damian had ever spoken about his relationship with Ra’s. Tim knew the face the man presented to him during their many dinner kidnappings was a front for someone else underneath, that Ra’s had hoped to draw him in with urbane civility. Here was an opportunity to find out what the man was really like.

“Monsters wear many different faces,” Tim offered. “But I’m sure you know that better than most people do.”

He nodded in agreement. “I agree wholeheartedly with what we did. The blow to the League is massive and will take years to recover from. But for all that, I am confident Grandfather will find a way. He has nothing but time.”

“Your grandfather is old, Damian. You’re making it sound like he’s immortal.” Tim huffed a small laugh at that, but it died quickly at the solemn expression on Damian’s face. “Oh, geez. Please tell me that he’s human and not an actual demon.” Another thought occurred to him. “Are you human?”

His panicked reaction was enough to draw a small smile from the young man. “I am as human as you, Timothy. Grandfather though…” Damian hesitated and turned to face Tim directly. There was a serious cast to his face, lending gravity to his words. “Tell me, in all your conversations with my grandfather, has he ever mentioned the Lazarus Pit to you?”

Lazarus Pit? It didn’t ring a bell. “I can’t say that he has.”

His response seemed to please Damian. “Is it safe to assume you know the story of Lazarus?”

Tim sighed, but played along. He felt like he was being led along by the nose. “In the Gospel of John, Lazarus was raised from the dead by Jesus four days after his death.”

I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die,” Damian quoted, his eyes intent on Tim.

“This is starting to feel like Indiana Jones and I’m about to be sent on some great quest,” Tim retorted. He knew he was missing something vital here, that this was some massive hint, but what did it have to do with Ra’s? “What’s your point?”

“My point is that death isn’t as permanent as you seem to think it is.” Damian paused, crossing his arms over his chest. It was a nervous gesture, one that was very out of character for the teen.

Who was he kidding? This whole conversation was out of character.

“Are you trying to say your grandfather has risen from the dead?” It was a bit much to believe, but Tim also knew there were many things in this world that could not be explained.

“Not in the way the story implies. But…he can. And has.” Damian’s eyes grew sharp again, focusing again on Tim, this time with a hint of desperation. “The Lazarus Pit can act like a fountain of youth as well as bring back the dead and restore a person to full health from injuries they might otherwise have died from. But it also drives those who have swam in its waters mad. Grandfather is over 600 years old, Timothy. I can assure you, he is quite mad.”

The blood in Tim’s veins ran colder than ice. He’d just spent the last two days wiping out the financial resources of a 600 year old madman who wanted him as his heir. “Don’t you think you should have told me this before?” he bit out sharply.

“Barbara and I weighed the odds and determined they worked in your favor,” Damian replied. “Especially in conjunction with what my siblings were doing overseas on your behalf.”

Tim stiffened at that. “What were they doing?”

“Grandfather apparently has been building a stronger foothold in Southeast Asia. A foothold of that magnitude takes resources, as you well know. And Hood does like a big explosion after all.”

There was that smirk again. But something else Damian said caught Tim’s attention. He’d said siblings. All of the Bats save Robin had apparently gone on this trip, including Hood.

Who was the Red Hood to Damian? Was he someone close enough he’d consider a sibling? Family was not a word the teen tossed about lightly. Tim knew that, knew it long before now.

He’d apparently been quiet for too long as the smirk morphed into a more earnest expression. “Think about it, Timothy. You do know whose face is under that helmet. I’ve given you all the pieces to solve this final puzzle.”

Tim’s mind raced, running back and forth, scrambling and grasping at the implication. It wasn’t possible. It couldn’t be. The dead did not come back to life. Unless one counted Superman, but he was Superman so it didn’t really surprise anyone that he could. But there was only thing Tim could focus on, could see so very clearly in his mind’s eye.

The mask Red Hood wore last Friday night. The mask he’d been so quick to pick up on and recognize as Jason’s. He’d gotten so mad at Hood for wearing it, for not understanding the legacy behind it. For not knowing the person who used to wear it.

The green had become red. Like a bird molting its juvenile feathers to grow into an adult. A young bird who’d had his wings clipped too soon…

Tim realized he’d stopped breathing and sucked in a deep breath, trying hard not to hyperventilate as he put it all together. It couldn’t be. But it was. And it explained so damn much.

Jason.

The Red Hood was Jason Todd.

His best friend was alive.

“How?” Tim growled, taking a step closer to Damian to get right up in his face. He resisted the urge to grab the teen’s sweatshirt because that wouldn’t end well for him. “How is Jason alive?"

For once, Damian grinned at him. “I knew you would figure it out.” He sounded like the cat who’d gotten the cream. Or the canary. Whatever.

Tim wanted to throttle the teen. No, that wasn’t right. He wanted to throttle Jason. Every single moment the man (the man, oh god, he was alive) spent with him, he could have told him that he was alive. But no, he had been strung along, left in the dark, and so fucking confused that he’d lost many a night’s sleep because of him.

Was this Jason’s way of paying him back for what he’d done to him before he died?

Died. Got better.

“How?” Tim asked again, this time more desperately than before. “Damian…how?”

“You’ll need to ask Todd for all the details,” Damian replied, shoving his hands in the pockets of his hooded sweatshirt. “He hasn’t chosen to share them with everyone, but I know the Pit was used to bring back his mind. Prior to that, he was a brainless automaton. Alive, but…I believe the polite thing to say is that all the lights weren’t on upstairs.”

Brainless? Mindless? What? Tim sucked in a deep breath, trying to keep from hyperventilating or screaming, either one sounded like great options right about now. He was adrift in the tide of emotions raging through him, desperately seeking something to latch onto so as to keep his head above water. He opened and closed his mouth several times, not caring in the slightest that he looked like a fish. One thought rose to the surface though, one that managed to calm the waves.

Jason had been active as the Red Hood for over six years now. Six years. It was only in the last several months that he’d come anywhere near Tim. There was his answer. He had no one to blame for this but himself. He’d been the one to cut ties, to spit in the face of their friendship. To send Jason to his death thinking he meant nothing to Tim anymore.

He was now seeing everything that had happened in a completely different light. Whatever was going on between them, this was Jason testing the waters. Testing him. He’d fucked up their friendship so badly it was no wonder it had taken the man years to even approach him again. Or rather, be part of a rescue mission. The first time Jason had accompanied Dick to rescue him from Ra’s, it must have been so difficult for him. It explained his standoffishness completely.

“Timothy?” Damian asked with a hint of what probably passed for concern in his voice. “It is not often I find you at a loss for words. I hope I haven’t broken you.”

Tim blinked, coming back to himself, to the present. There was a lot he needed to think about. “No, you just dropped what is quite possibly the biggest bomb ever in my life on me. I think I’m entitled to be speechless for a time.”

“According to Stephanie, ice cream is required in times of emotional turmoil.”

“So is vodka.”

*****

Jason wanted nothing more than a bottle of whiskey right now. If not whiskey, then any strong liquor would do. Fuck, he’d even settle for rubbing alcohol. It would at least poison his ass out of consciousness so he wouldn’t have to deal with this shit.

They’d returned to Cass’s apartment after a successful night of blowing shit up to find Bruce looming in the living room, arms crossed over his chest and wearing one of the biggest scowls he’d ever seen. Which was saying something as he was quite often the reason for them, a fact he took immense pride in.

The lecture started immediately. Jason tuned it out, catching only little phrases here and there, “international incident” being the least of his concerns. What he was more worried about was if they’d done enough to turn Ra’s’ attention back to this side of the world to buy them some time to come up with measures to better protect Tim. It sucked, but he should probably hit up Talia again, see if there was anywhere else he could make some noise. First and foremost though, he wanted to go home and see for himself that Tim was safe.

Damian was all well and good, but he was only one person and Tim was a handful at the best of times.

“Jason!” Bruce all but shouted. He’d apparently been trying to get his attention for some time now if the snickers from his siblings were any indication. “Are you even listening?"

“Nope.” He made a pretense at rubbing the side of his helmet where his ear would be if he wasn’t wearing it. “You should really think about what you just said,” he replied dryly. With the voice modulator, it came out sounding drier than a desert.

Bruce sucked in a breath to continue the lecture, but Jason cut him off. “Look, B. Steph and I came here for a reason that didn’t involve you. Cass had some good information and Barbie vetted it. I don’t see what’s got your undies all tied up in knots."

“If it involves the League, it involves me,” the man growled.

Jason sneered, wishing for a moment his face was bare so Bruce could see it. The nerve of this man...it was in times like these that he was reminded of how goddamned glad he was to be more of an independent operator than having to deal with the hovering busybody who didn't know when to leave it the fuck alone. “You’re not the only one of us who gets to call dibs on Ra’s. And you’re sure as fuck the last person I’m gonna call for backup when I decide to get up in the Demon’s face. I’d rather ask Big Blue.”

He’d really rather call Diana or Donna, but he had too much respect for the women to involve them in his shit, even if watching them go to town on an army of ninja would be something he’d pay good money to see.

The only indication Jason had that his words struck Bruce hard was the tightening of his jaw. Too late, but he meant them. The next time he saw Ra’s, he was gonna kill him. Burn the body. Scatter the ashes. Leave absolutely no trace for anyone to even contemplate dunking him in a Pit.

“Jason,” Bruce growled, but Dick cut him off.

“Look Bruce, we were all involved with what went down tonight. Babs cleared every targeted location to make sure they were League property. You know as well as I do that this hurt Ra’s, whether he was here or not to see it.” His voice was firm, hard in a way Jason remembered him using when he was about to go toe-to-toe with Bruce and not back down. It was odd to see Dick standing up for him like this. He was more than capable of fighting his own battles with the old Bat, but at the same time, it was kinda nice to see someone else on his side for a change.

“What you did is frighten an entire city into thinking they’re being attacked,” Bruce tried, turning his attention onto his eldest.

Dick didn’t falter under that withering gaze. “No one was hurt. The authorities will soon see it’s all strictly property damage.”

“Not to mention Barbara is sending an anonymous file with information on the various shell organizations Ra’s was using to put into question the legitimacy of his business dealings in the first place,” Stephanie chimed in. She was looking a little singed, just like Cass was (like they all were) but she was also wearing what Jason had come to call her “done” face. It was a clear indication she thought all the testosterone in the room needed to be taken down a level or six.

But it was Cassandra who put the final nail into Bruce’s proverbial coffin. “You are more upset that you were not asked to help. That Jason came to us,” here she gestured to herself and Blondie, “to help him protect his friend.”

And this was why Cass was apparently Bruce’s favorite. He couldn’t hide from what she saw, what he tried so hard to keep her from seeing. Jason wondered what she saw when she looked at him in one of his unguarded moments. What she would see when she finally saw him and Tim together.

That last one might not necessarily be a bad thing. Perhaps it would finally give him the kick in the ass he needed to tell Tim everything.

Bruce stood tall under all of their eyes, not backing down. “Tim Drake is a threat to this family, not a friend.”

“Oh, for the love of fuck.” Jason threw up his arms, frustration making his body practically vibrate. “What did Tim ever do to you, Bruce? He saved this family and never said a word about it. Never asked for a goddamn thing."

Even under his cowl, he could tell when Bruce’s attention settled on him. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but he hurt you. It was his actions that made you so upset you killed Garzonas. That sent you overseas to your…”

“Don’t even fucking finish that sentence,” Jason growled, closing the distance between them. He was so pissed he was starting to see green. Not a good sign when picking a fight with Batman, but for once, he was confident his siblings had his back. He raised his fist, extending his index finger to point right in Bruce’s face. It always pissed him off when the man did it to him, so it was time to return the favor. “First off, I did not kill that fucker. He fell all on his own. And second, don’t you dare imply it was Tim’s fault I died. There is no one to blame but me for what I did. It was Joker who killed me, not him.”

Cassandra made her way between them, separating them with a gentle touch against both of their chests. But her words were directed at Bruce. “It is obvious Jason has forgiven Tim for what happened between them. He would not be here fighting so hard for him if he hadn’t. So shouldn’t you do it too?”

Okay, it was official. Cass was now Jason’s favorite sister. He had a feeling Steph wouldn’t mind being knocked to second place. She was still his favorite to go for waffles with at 4 am after a long night on patrol.

There was a quiet chime from the laptop sitting on the counter separating the small kitchen from the rest of the studio apartment Cass lived in. Another chime pinged after a moment and the screen flashed on to reveal Barbara.

Even with the thousands of miles between them, Jason could see her take in their tense positions and frown. “I apparently missed something.”

Dick walked around the three of them to perch casually on the stool in front of the counter. “Just Bruce making an ass out of himself. We’ll all be leaving soon to head home. What’s up?”

It was clear to Jason that Babs wasn’t buying what Dick was trying to sell, but that wasn’t his problem.

The redhead arched one of her delicate eyebrows (a move they all stole from Alfred; he’d put good money on it) and shook her head slightly. “Okay,” she drawled, dragging out the word. “I know you’ve all been busy with your own pet project over there, so you’ve probably been out of touch with what’s been going on here.”

Jason stiffened, instantly thinking of Tim. “What happened?”

Stephanie placed a hand on his shoulder, squeezing it lightly in support.

“Tim’s fine, so you can relax, Jay.” Barbara grinned, a sure sign that whatever she was about to say amused her immensely. “You all should be rather proud of Damian though. He finally got Tim to spill the beans.”

Dick’s jaw dropped open. “He did what?

Babs nodded in evident satisfaction. “While he wasn’t exactly subtle about it, Tim apparently decided he was legit in his desire to help him. Dick, Bruce, do either of you happen to remember that Tim was at the circus the night you met?” It was a polite way of saying the night Dick’s parents were murdered. “He has a photo of you and him, as well as your parents. I don’t think Tim was more than four at the time, but he remembered you, Dick. A little fanboy of the last Flying Grayson. And it was because of this that he was able to figure out years later that you were Robin. And by extension, that Bruce is Batman.”

“Shut the front door,” Stephanie breathed incredulously. “How?”

“He saw a clip online of Robin doing a quadruple somersault. He was 9.”

It was growing hard to breathe within the confines of his helmet. Jason yanked it off and sucked in a lungful of air. “Those pictures I found. Did he show those to the kid?”

“What pictures?” Bruce snapped, but Barbara continued speaking.

“He did. And I got to overhear a fascinating little story about how Tim went out into the Gotham night to take pictures of his hero. He only got a few of Dick, but it wasn’t long before he started taking pictures of you. Said he stopped when he hurt himself one night and had a hard time coming up with an excuse the housekeeper would buy. She apparently was in charge of him while his parents were out of town.”

Jason shook his head. “I knew it. I fucking knew he had to know. I never had to make up crazy ass excuses for him about why I was bruised and banged up whenever we’d see each other.” He ran a gloved hand through his hair, yanking on the ends slightly as his thoughts raced. His eyes started burning. “God, that means he knew who I was when he told me we couldn’t be friends anymore. He didn’t think Batman and Robin could help him. His fucking heroes.”

Stephanie’s hand moved from his shoulder to the back of his neck, clasping firmly to keep him grounded rather than fall into a seething pit of green. He wasn’t sure why, but the thought of a tiny Tim feeling like he had to brave the world alone rather ask him for help when he knew damn well who Jason was and what his adopted father was capable of was simply destroying him inside.

So, of course, he did what he always does when he was upset. He lashed out. “Whaddya think about that, huh, Bruce? Rather than come to us for help and spill the fuckin’ beans, Tim kept our secret instead. How does that make him a threat?”

“I’m agreeing with Jason on this one,” Dick finally said. The picture revelation had shaken him if Jason was reading him right. Not much visibly upset the oldest bird, but the tight line of his mouth spoke volumes.

“It doesn’t matter if he’s kept silent all these years or not,” Bruce snapped. Jason seriously wanted to punch him. The stubbornness of the Bat was legendary, but this was taking it to extremes.

“Doesn’t it?” Dick tried, rising to his feet again.

“Well, if that doesn’t, then how about this?” Barbara interrupted before the eldest bird could throw more fuel onto the fire. “I’ve spent the better part of the last two days watching Tim systemically shred Ra’s’ bank accounts to bits and send those monies to more deserving parties all around the world.”

This time, Jason’s jaw dropped too. “What?”

The tinkle of pleased laughter echoed over the speakers. “I think all of us have underestimated Tim. He was fully prepared to do this one his own when Damian got dropped on him. That didn’t stop him though.”

“This still changes nothing,” Bruce said, but there was a hint of desperation that wasn’t there before. “His actions this time were self-preservation.”

Jason started chuckling ruefully as Dick and Bruce continued to go at it. He of all people really should have known better than to think Tim was helpless. Yeah, he may not be much of a match physically, but that wasn’t where his strengths were anyway. Tim’s greatest strength was his mind. This was why Ra’s was after him in the first place. The rest could be taught if he wanted to learn, but what made Tim truly dangerous was what was going behind those glacial eyes of his.

“So everything we did here was completely and utterly pointless, wasn’t it?” Stephanie sounded absolutely disgusted.

“I wouldn’t say it was,” Cass replied, a small smile dancing on her lips.

“How do you figure?” the blonde asked.

“Jason got a new suit. He can take Tim on a date when we get home.”

As laughter broke out around him, Jason sighed heavily. This was why he hated having siblings. They all sucked.

 

Chapter Text

The first thing Tim did when they returned to his loft was grab the vodka. He didn’t even bother with a glass, but took a swig straight from the bottle. It was the good stuff, so it didn’t burn like rotgut on the way down. He took another swallow for good measure. There were too many thoughts chasing themselves in his mind, creating an endless loop of feedback that all centered on one thing. 

Jason was alive. 

Jason was alive. 

Jason was alive. 

He’d drank from this same bottle of vodka when Tim stitched him up. 

Oh god. Did he even use a glass then? Tim struggled to remember but he’s pretty sure he didn’t. What was it all the anime school girls got excited over? Second hand kiss? Fuck that, he’s had the real thing. It was Jason’s mouth he’d been mooning over for the last week. 

Shit. It was Jason’s cock he’d gone down on like a damned porn star, moaning and drooling when he fucked his mouth there at the end. Those had been Jason’s fingers he’d ridden, stretching and filling him so good. Jason who had been absolutely filthy as he told Tim exactly what he wanted to do to him even as he came all over his torso.

What Tim still wanted him to do. He felt his ears warm and took another swig. Slamming the bottle on the counter, he breathed heavily as he tried to calm down. What was wrong with him? Jason was his best friend. Former best friend. Who died. He shouldn’t want him to screw his brains out as badly as he did, even if the man seemed to want it as much as him.

Damian cautiously went around him to place the ice cream he bought on their way back in the freezer. “How drunk are you planning on getting?” he asked carefully, eyeing Tim like he was some kind of rabid beast. 

“Pretty drunk,” Tim replied after a moment. “If you don’t want to be here for it, then you’d better go.” 

The teen was silent for a moment, his hazel eyes taking in Tim’s obviously distraught form. “I’ll stay,” he said. “I’d hate to see you choke on your own vomit later.” 

“That just means I’m doing it right.” Tim picked up the bottle and went to curl up on the sofa. 

“Perhaps,” Damian replied, following him and taking a seat on the arm of the sofa. He looked like a bird with the way he perched there. “But I have no desire to explain to Todd why you asphyxiated and ended up in the hospital.”

“Your concern warms me, right here.” Tim knocked a fist against his chest, right over his heart. He took another sip from the bottle.

“If it helps at all, Todd has been struggling for months over what he should do about you,” Damian offered after a few moments.

Tim couldn’t help shooting the teen a dirty look. “And here you took that decision away from him. I don’t think he’s going to be happy about that when he returns.” That was something he remembered very clearly about Jason. He never liked it when others made choices for him. It was understandable, growing up the way he did. And yet, Tim had done just that all those years ago, didn’t he?

Damian shrugged, obviously not concerned about his brother’s wrath. “Isn’t it better this way? Now you can have your little freak-out and get your head put back together before my party.”

Oh, how he wished he could just punch the kid. Tim glared heatedly, the vodka lowering his walls and loosening his tongue as he prepared to let him have it. “Yes, because this is all about you and your fucking party. What have you been doing to get ready for it, huh? Or have you left everything to Pennyworth? That man must have the patience of a saint for dealing with all of you.”

“I’ve done enough for that stupid party,” Damian said, trying to defend himself.

“I’m sure all the texting you’ve done the last few days has been an immense help.” Tim took another swig from the bottle. How many was this now? He was bitter, he knew it. Angry at himself, at Jason, at the goddamned world. And here he was taking it out on a teenager who’d only been trying to help in his own twisted way. He sighed and shook his head. “Look, I’m not mad at you. I’m mad at me. At Jason. At Ra’s. At just…everything. I feel like I’ve been used for your family’s amusement for months now and that pisses me off.”

“The only time you have been a source of entertainment for us is when Grandfather kidnaps you for dinner. Richard usually has his mask camera on and records the rescue,” Damian replied cautiously, like he was not sure how to proceed in the wake of Tim’s mercurial temper.

But the wary comment made Tim snort into his next sip from the bottle because he knew all too well what he was like when forced to act like a damsel in distress. It wasn’t a behavior that suited him at all and everyone knew it. The vodka burned as it made its way up his nose. “I bet,” he said, coughing hard as his eyes watered. It didn’t help.

“There is popcorn,” the teen commented, smirking as he took in Tim’s obvious discomfort. “Todd was in the Cave the first time you were kidnapped this year. You could say that it was because of Grandfather that you even reappeared on his radar.”

And cue the depression again. Jason had been back five, almost six years before he even thought about him. He deserved that. He knew he did.

But what the hell was going on with everything else? Tim felt his anger rising again. Random visits for first-aid, he could understand that, even appreciate it as it was Jason obviously testing the waters. Hell, he even felt comfortable enough to stay and fall asleep while Tim watched a movie next to him on this very same sofa. All that changed the night he revealed he was gay. There was an undeniable hunger in Jason, one that hadn’t been visible before. Maybe it had been there the entire time, hiding just beneath the surface.

That begged the question of how long it had been building between them. If he hadn’t screwed up like he did and Jason hadn’t died (oh, god; he’s alive) what would things have been like between them? They were only a few years apart in age, but when you’re a teenager, that would have felt like forever. Tim supposed, realistically, that the earliest something could have happened would have been when he turned 18.

Would have. Could have. Fuck. This was why he hated his brain sometimes. All the potential possibilities playing themselves out before his eyes. His brain needed to shut up.

Tim took another swig. How many was this? He’d already lost count.

Also, what was it Damian was saying? He turned his attention back on the teenager. “I received a message from Pennyworth while we were out. Father and the others are on their way home. They should be back sometime in the early morning.”

“Does that mean you’ll be leaving then?” It was easier to ask this rather than details of what took all the Bats overseas in the first place.

Damian shook his head. “Not tonight. I imagine I’ll be relieved tomorrow afternoon.”

Tim snorted, this time without vodka going up his nose. “I’m such a chore.”

“You’re a pain in my ass, Timothy. But for all that, you’re also one of the smarter human beings I’ve yet encountered, poor taste in men aside.”

The joke wasn’t lost on either of them as they both snicker over it because yeah, Tim really did have bad taste in men. Always had. At least he was smart enough to never invite them over. Jason changed all that, but then again, he also invited himself in.

“I don’t know what to think,” Tim admitted, staring at the bottle clasped loosely in his grip. It was a large bottle, with red and white lettering he couldn’t read. Only the small English script on the label proclaimed it to be vodka. He was pretty sure the bottle started the evening about three quarters full. It was still too full, something he definitely needed to fix. “I’ve mourned Jason for years, his death, but also what I did to him. It was stupid, selfish… Why would he even want to see me after all that?”

He turned suddenly watery eyes on Damian. “I know I fucked up. Honestly, all I want is the chance to apologize to him. Anything else is a bonus.”

The teen looked uncomfortable under the weight of his drunken honesty. Was he drunk yet? Tim assessed the dull, fuzzy feeling that numbed his body. Tipsy, yes. Drunk, no. He took another drink from the bottle.

“You and Todd are perfect for each other,” Damian announced with a disdainful sniff, recovering his composure as Tim returned to his bottle. “Both of you are complete idiots. He would not have done anything with you if he believed even for a second that you didn’t want it. And you, well, it’s obvious you’ve been carrying a torch for him since day one.”

Tim lowered the bottle to stare incredulously at the young man. “Who even says that anymore? Carrying a torch? Really?”

Damian growled as he leaned over to grab one of the sofa pillows and chuck it at Tim.

*****

Jason resisted the urge to pace in the small cabin of the Batplane. He refused to show weakness in front of Bruce, so a grim tension thrummed between them, stronger than it had been for quite a while. Dick was playing co-pilot and the girls were taking the easy way out, flying first class on a passenger jet back to Gotham. He was really, really wishing he was with them right now. All of their teasing about him and Tim would be welcome in the face of this explosion waiting to happen.

Fuck it. He couldn’t smoke in here, so pacing would have to do.

He unbuckled the safety harness and got up.

Dick looked over his shoulder at him. “You alright?”

Rather than saying anything, Jason flipped him the bird and went to the back of the plane. Was he alright? No, he fucking wasn’t. What Tim had done sat like a weight on his shoulders. Not the redistribution of wealth he’d just pulled off like a modern day Robin Hood (that was actually pretty cool and he was proud of him for it), but what Tim had done almost ten years ago now. He hadn’t believed his heroes could help him. Or was it would help him?

Jason sighed and ran an ungloved hand through his messy hair. Somehow, he knew he was right on the second guess. Why would Batman help a newly orphaned boy who had massive suspicions that his guardian wasn’t all he was chalked up to be? Even back then, Tim never did anything by halves. If he believed something was wrong, he’d tell you and back it up with facts.

So what happened? What made Tim think Bruce wouldn’t help him? He remembered the song and dance he’d been fed, but was that really it? Or was there more beneath the surface? 

It was probably a stupid reason when all was said and done. His friend had confidence issues back then too, ones that Jason was only able to recognize now. Tim managed to turn it around, sure, but he suspected that when the younger man was on unfamiliar ground, those issues came back in spades. Kinda like him when it came to anything resembling emotions that weren’t anger, rage, frustration, spite…the list of negative emotions could go on forever. Happiness wasn’t something he was used to experiencing. In fact, each time he did, it was always yanked away from him, like a parent taking away a favorite toy and destroying it in front of the child.

But that didn’t mean Jason didn’t hope and even sometimes dream about it. Could he be happy with Tim? Yeah, he could see that. The real question was, did he want to inflict everything in his fucked up life on his friend? Tim’s life wasn’t exactly normal thanks to Ra’s, but even then, how could he fit into it? He’s the fucking Red Hood, not exactly someone anyone in their right minds would bring home to meet the parents. Not that Tim had parents anymore.

It was kinda the reason that put them in this situation in the first place.

The purposeful tread of a boot was his only warning that his little sanctuary was about to be invaded. Bats only made noise when they wanted to after all.

Jason turned and glared at Dick. “The fuck you want?”

“Talk to him,” was all he said. No commentary on his language or behavior. About how he was being dragged back to Gotham with them because Bruce didn’t trust him on his own.

“And why the hell should I do that?”

“Because you’re both stubborn as fucking hell and need to get over yourselves. Talk to him.” Dick didn’t swear often, so when he did, Jason couldn’t help but pay attention. Not that he’d ever admit it to him.

“He ain’t gonna listen. He never listens.” It was a well known fact about Bruce. Implacable Bruce. Unmoving Bruce. Pick a fucking synonym.

Dick rested a hand on Jason’s shoulder. “He just might if it comes from you without anyone else around. I’ll stay back here. For Tim’s sake, at least try.”

“Fuckin’ low blow, Dickiebird.” Of course his brother would drag Tim into this. Fucker knew him all too well.

“Get moving, Jaybird.” Dick pulled out one of the medical cots, opened it up, and laid down to take a nap. They all could sleep anywhere, anytime, at least for short periods of time before nightmares and other things ripped them from it.

“Asshole,” Jason muttered before he glanced back up to the front of the plane and the still cowled man seated there.

This was gonna suck ass hardcore. But Dick was right. If he didn’t try, then there was no way in hell Bruce would.

He didn’t even bother trying to be quiet as he made his way to the cockpit and sat heavily into Dick’s seat. But rather than even making a pretense at looking over the controls, Jason pushed the seat back as far as it would go so he could at least sprawl somewhat comfortably.

Only years of exposure to the man next to him told Jason he was being watched closely.

“So,” Jason started, not even bothering to return the look, staring instead out the window. Not that there was much to see. Just ocean below and the sky above. “Dickface says I should talk to you about Tim and how he’s not a supervillain in training. Which he’s not, but damn, he’d be a good one if he wanted to.” Understatement of the fucking year, but this wasn’t helping the case he was trying to make. “Anyways, I think what you really need to hear is that Cass was right. I have forgiven Tim for calling it quits when he did. If anything, it was him holding me back from doing what I wanted in the first place.”

The what if game sucked. They all played it, even though it brought nothing but pain, heartache, and migraines, not to mention hangovers from copious amounts of alcohol. Jason had spent a number of nights swimming at the bottom of a bottle when life and his nightmares were at their worst. He wasn’t proud of many of the things he’d done since his return to Gotham, but there was no going back to change any of it. That realization was a long time coming.

He continued after Bruce didn’t reply in the proffered pause. “I was gonna leave and look for my mom regardless of what Tim did. Hell, I was gonna talk to him about it the night he dropped his bomb on me.” The man next to him twitched at those words. Jason felt his lips twist into a wry smirk at the reaction. Bruce didn’t appreciate his gallows humor. None of them did. “It wouldn’t have surprised me if he offered to come with. But I guess we’ll never know how that would have played out. You can’t change the past, B. You can only move forward.”

This time, he was content to sit and wait the Bat out. He’d said his piece. The ball was in Bruce’s court now.

“Are you finally moving forward?” Bruce asked after a few minutes of silence. “Bringing Tim back into your life after all these years feels more like a step backwards.”

Jason accepted the concern for what it was. It was pretty legitimate actually. “To be honest, it feels more like we’re picking up where we left off. At least to me it does. I have a feeling when I take off my mask in front of him, he’s gonna throw something at me.”

“This isn’t exactly the start of a healthy relationship. You’ve been lying to him for months.”

“Oh, fuck you,” Jason growled, shifting in his seat to glare at the man. “What the hell would you know about healthy relationships? You’re the most emotionally constipated person on the face of this planet. Would it kill you to smile once in a while?”

Bruce didn’t smile, but he shifted ever so slightly in his seat, which Jason took as a win. Fidgets meant he was uncomfortable. Good.

“Tim grew up faster than he should have,” he eventually offered, evading the subject of emotions like the champ he was. “He was so focused and driven. Still is for that matter. In many ways, he reminds me of me.”

Jason let him have his evasion as the only person he wanted to talk about his feelings with was Tim. “You’re both workaholics and stubborn as hell,” he agreed. “Seriously though Bruce, if we can make things work, please. Just be happy for us.” It all boiled down to that one word. Happy. Christ, he wanted it, even though his track record with it sucked.

Bruce nodded stiffly, though that was probably the cowl. “If you two make it work, then I will let things be. I can’t help the way I feel about him, Jason. To me, he will always be the one who broke your heart.”

“He’s also the one who’s helped me put it back together.” That was fucking cheesy as hell and he couldn’t help but chuckle at how ridiculous he sounded.

From the look of it, Bruce found it amusing too as that was an honest to God smirk on his face, there and gone so fast if Jason hadn’t been looking right at him, he’d have missed it. “Tell me about the adult Tim,” the man asked in that annoying way that was a question couched as a statement. “I know him only through WE and the occasional things Stephanie and Damian will drop.”

They both knew that was a lie. There was a massive file on one Timothy Jackson Drake on the computer back home.

But Jason allowed it and settled further into the cockpit chair, raising one knee to his chest and wrapping his arms around it. It was something he used to do as a kid when he was getting ready to tell a story and he knew Bruce wouldn’t miss the significance of it either. “Tim Drake is a little shit…”

*****

Tim decided hangovers, even ones from good alcohol, sucked.

His head hurt, his stomach was roiling angrily at him, and any form of light sent stabbing pains directly into his brain, like someone was driving an ice pick into his skull. Hell, at this point, he’d prefer it if they were. At least it would put him out of his misery.

A cool hand rested against his brow for a moment before being replaced with a damp washcloth. “You’ll feel better if you vomit,” Damian commented oh so helpfully. Even his low voice was enough to make Tim want to scream at him to shut up.

“I did already,” he muttered and tried curling back into his little ball of misery.

Damian didn’t let him. Instead, the teen somehow maneuvered his limp noodle of a body into a sitting position and handed him one of his travel mugs.

Tim glared at it evilly. “Coffee will make me sick.”

“It’s not coffee. I made you ginger tea.”

“I have ginger tea?” he asked as he carefully took a sip of the hot liquid.

“I may have bribed one of the useless security guards downstairs to go to the store.” Damian didn’t sound ashamed in the slightest.

The tea helped settle Tim’s stomach and before long, he was able to brave his shower. Lights were still not his friends but at least the ones in his bathroom could be dimmed. He glared blearily into the mirror. He’d made a complete mess of himself the night before, but he still couldn’t see that as being a bad thing. In his own way, Damian had been right. Best to get his hurt and upset out of the way so that he could move on to other things. Like figuring out what he wanted to say to Jason when he saw him next. By this time, the man had to be back from wherever it was he’d been, so chances were good he’d make an appearance tonight.

Tim huffed a small laugh at that. If there was one thing working in his favor, it was Damian’s notorious tight-lipped nature. The teen would not be telling Jason that he’d told him anything. It was nice to have the upper hand for a change.

Now the big question was, how did he make it work to his best advantage? What did he want out of their next encounter? Crazy wild sex would be the best case scenario, but there were some things Tim needed to say first and some things he wanted to hear from Jason. How that turned out would determine where they went from there.

He finished cleaning up and got dressed. Downstairs, Damian was waiting for him with another cup of tea.

“You look somewhat better,” the teen announced after looking over him appraisingly. “Do you want to try eating anything?”

Tim sat at his dining table and sipped at the hot liquid. “I think I could handle toast,” he decided.

Without a word, Damian got up and went into the kitchen.

This was certainly odd behavior for him. Tim watched him closely, but other than observing that he was surprisingly knowledgeable of where things were in his kitchen, nothing stood out. Damian was not usually helpful, quite the opposite in fact. But then again, he’s only ever seen the teen at DI, the occasional WE event, and out in public when he would deign to show his face. For all he knew, this was normal for the prickly bird.

“Thanks,” Tim said softly when a plate of lightly buttered toast was placed in front of him. “For the tea too. You didn’t have to do any of this.”

Damian shrugged as he took his seat again and picked up his phone. “I know,” was all he said in return.

He nibbled at the toast and drank more of the tea. His headache was receding now that he was hydrated again. He glanced at the clock over his stove. It was just after ten in the morning.

There was a lot he needed to get done today, much of which was required for the masquerade tomorrow night. Makeup still to be purchased, and he really needed to decide what to do with his hair. He’d already made the decision not to wear gloves, but he supposed that meant he needed to get his nails done in something appropriately colored to match his cape or mask.

Tam would know where he should go. Hell, she’d probably want to come with. Tim got up to search for his phone. It was plugged in by his computer, something he knew he hadn’t done last night, so there was another thing to thank Damian for. He sent a text to his friend to let her know he was alive, successful, and if she wanted to take the afternoon off to go shopping with him.

Her reply of YES was swift in coming.

That done, there was something else Tim decided he needed to do before anything else. Sure, it was morbid, but he wanted to see Jason’s grave. He’d been there many times over the years, at least once a year in fact, and always on the anniversary of the date they first met. It was a date that was important to no one but him, so he never ran into anyone when he’d go. His parents were buried in the same cemetery actually. He’d visit them too, usually on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Birthdays had never meant much to them, not that he remembered at least, so these were neutral enough days.

Once the idea took root, it was hard to shake. Tim glanced back at the table to where Damian was still seated. He wanted to do this alone, but that wasn’t likely to happen. It didn’t hurt to try.

He strode past the teen and went to his fridge to take out a water bottle. Opening a cabinet, he found his Tylenol and took a couple, swallowing the pills down with a mouthful of water. The entire time, he felt Damian’s eyes on him, but it wasn’t until he was opening his coat closet to find his sneakers that he spoke up.

“Where are we going?”

We are going nowhere,” Tim said as he unknotted the laces. He must have toed them off yesterday rather than untying them. “I am going to the cemetery.”

“Why?” Damian asked, rising from his seat to approach Tim. “You know Todd is alive. There is no need to visit an empty grave.”

That was fair enough, but Tim persisted. “It’s something I need to do.” He sat down on the floor in his jeans and put his shoes on.

His houseguest stared at him like he was some fascinating creature he wasn’t quite sure what to make of. “Then I will go with you,” he finally said as Tim stood.

“I’m going alone,” he all but growled as he grabbed his coat from the closet and checked the pockets for his wallet and keys. 

“Timothy,” Damian tried, but even his most patient tone still sounded forced. “It is still not safe for you to be unguarded.”

He resisted the urge to grind his teeth in frustration. This was something he needed to do on his own. Wanted to. Had to. “Fine. Just don’t let me see you. You’re Robin, I’m sure you can handle that.”

With that parting shot, Tim stormed out his front door, not giving the teen a chance to protest. A quick elevator ride later found him in his underground garage. Less than a couple minutes later had him driving away. He knew he was being reckless, that he was still in danger from the League but he didn’t care. This was something he had to do and his own personal safety be damned. 

Besides, if Damian really wanted to stop him, he would have. Barbara too for that matter. He was under no illusions about what either them could do. A full-time businessman and part-time hacker was not a threat to either of them. 

Barbara had proven that the other day with how easily she’d gained access to his systems. Admittedly, she also used technology that he could only ever dream of but it still grated on his nerves when he allowed himself to dwell on it. Those opportunities were few and far between as all his mental energies were currently directed at Jason. 

Traffic on his way out of town was heavy like it always was on a Friday. It didn’t matter what time of day it was, people wanted to escape Gotham for a few days before dragging themselves back. The cemetery was just off the Kane Bridge, tucked back away from the river but still close enough the city skyline was in clear view. Or as clear as it ever got in the smoggy haze. 

He parked just outside the gate and made his way down the worn path. He didn’t plan to visit his parents today but he figured they’d forgive him for not visiting. Idly, he wondered what they would think about this situation. His mom had never liked Jason in the first place while his dad was indifferent. Then again, he wouldn’t be in this mess if they were alive because then he never would have had to be such a dick to Jason. 

Perhaps he could have helped him. Saved him even. 

Again with the wretched what if game. He really needed to stop that.

Tim stopped in front of an all too familiar gravestone and clenched his fists tightly in the pockets of his jacket. He knew this was going to be hard but seeing it didn’t make it any easier. 

Here Lies Jason Todd

Was there anything here that he’d missed over the years? Anything that could have clued him in sooner that Jason wasn’t six feet under? “Liar,” Tim said quietly, his voice lost in the rustle of fallen leaves blowing around him in the soft breeze. “You haven’t been here in years.”

“No, he hasn’t.”

Tim stiffened but didn’t turn around at the smoothly cultured voice he knew all too well. At this point, his attitude had definitely taken a more fatalistic turn. Whatever happened will happen. “Damian told me what he knew, which wasn’t much. Care to share, Ra’s?”

Ra’s al Ghul came to stand next to him, a cautious distance between them but one he was under no illusions could be closed quickly if the man so chose. He appeared as immaculately tailored as ever, but when Tim glanced at his face, he couldn’t help but notice he looked tired. 

Good. 

“Young Jason was under my daughter Talia’s care for many months. He was mostly catatonic but his body remembered its training, reacting to external stimuli and defending himself attacked. But there was nothing going on behind those eyes. No spark of life or recognition. I instructed my daughter to either kill him and put him out of his misery or to send him away.” Ra’s sighed in tired resignation. “Instead, she tossed him in my Lazarus Pit, and thus created a monster.”

“Monsters come in all shapes and sizes,” Tim echoed his words from yesterday. He remembered Damian’s comment about madness in those who came out of the Pit. How did that impact Jason? His early actions as the Red Hood certainly weren’t that of a sane man but there had been a definite change in the last few years. Did he finally get help? Or did the effects of the Pit wear off? So many questions and not a single one did he want to ask of the man next to him.

“Touché,” came Ra’s’ response. “I suppose by some people’s interpretation of the word, I am. But I have had many centuries to learn and cope with the madness of the Pit. Jason struggled for years before some semblance of clarity returned to him.”

Okay, so that partially answered one of them.

“I suppose this is you warning me away from him then?” Tim asked. It was a valid question. The only person in his life even doing so was Tam. The Bats were obviously biased. 

“I am hardly in a position to tell you to do anything, Timothy,” the centuries old man stated. 

“Then why are you here?” He shifted his gaze off Jason’s grave to Ra’s. 

The man’s vivid green eyes glittered in the late morning light. “You took something from me. If I wasn’t so furious with you, I’d be proud.”

Tim stood his ground. “I took something from you? You want to take my freedom. I’m not a plaything. Not for you, not for anyone.”

“Your freedom? Timothy, becoming my heir will free you in ways you can’t possibly imagine.” Even Ra’s’ voice was a weapon. Smoother than silk, his slight accent making the cultured tones that much more pleasing to the ear.

Right. Tim was certain mind altering drugs or even hypnosis would likely be involved too. Did telepaths exist? Probably. There was a whole new world of things opening up before him. Was it wrong that it didn’t surprise him? How was he this jaded already? 

Best to blame the man in front of him. Ninja kidnappings since he was 17 and all. 

“What if I’m happy with what I have, Ra’s? Did you ever stop to think that asking me directly may have been a better route than kidnapping me?” 

The man’s lips firmed into a thin line under his Van Dyke beard. It suddenly occurred to Tim that perhaps the man this style was named after took the idea from Ra’s. He was several centuries old after all. 

The things he must have seen. Done. Small wonder he wanted to destroy the world they live in today. He remembered the simpler times, even if humanity was still just as out to kill each other back then as they are now. About the only thing that changed was the means to do so, technological advancements and all that.

“We’ll never know, will we?” Ra’s said rhetorically. “But now more than ever, your actions have proven to me that I have chosen wisely.”

Tim was reminded of Indiana Jones again. “Perhaps if you’d caught me earlier in life,” he offered, not believing it for a moment but also not wanting to completely piss off the man. “When I didn’t have anyone to go home to.”

Ra’s nodded, the movement graceful in his defeat. “I hope Jason understands exactly what you’re capable of. You are either going to be his greatest ally or his worst enemy.”

“I’ll make sure he knows.” Tim suddenly grinned. “I’m not exactly a shirking violet.”

“You most certainly are not.” Ra’s turned to stare at the gravestone again. “If you should ever change your mind, Timothy, I will be waiting.” With that, he turned and walked away. 

Tim stared after him, watching him weave between the various headstones and memorials. He could just make out a car parked next to his, one that drove away a moment after Ra’s disappeared from view. 

The whole experience was starting to take on a surreal quality. There was no evidence the man was ever here. It was just him and his thoughts, which had now taken a very different turn from his original purpose. Standing here, Tim just felt tired, weary down to his very bones. For all his protests that this was not his world, it was becoming clearer and clearer that he’d been a part of it for a long time now. On the edges, admittedly, but there nonetheless. 

What was annoying was that he’d done it to himself. He chuckled darkly. He’d dug his own grave and now he had to lay in it. 

Or not. Jason certainly hadn’t. 

The thought was vaguely reassuring. Even with everything going on, Tim was still his own person. He didn’t need a mask to make a difference. 

Which reminded him that he still hadn’t opened that package from yesterday. The masquerade was tomorrow evening. And he fully intended to turn heads. One man’s in particular, even if he still hadn’t quite decided what he should do there.

He took one last look at Jason’s grave and walked away. 

*****

That night, Damian packed his bag and left, returning home to his family. He was in an absolutely foul mood, which Tim found hilarious as it served as a reminder that the teen still had a lot to learn. He hadn’t appreciated following Tim and Tam around on their shopping trip and was mortified to learn Tim was getting his nails done for his party.

Like Tim cared one way or another. It was for a costume. If he was going to go all out, then he would go all out.

What was worse though was when Tim found Damian bound securely and stuffed in the trunk of his car after his conversation with the teen’s grandfather. There had been a note taped to the windshield informing him of Damian’s whereabouts and a knife had been left on his car seat for him to cut the ropes and duct tape. 

To say Damian’s feathers were ruffled was an understatement.

Tim welcomed the peace and quiet. The last few days had been all too hectic and emotionally, he was hanging onto his control by a thin thread. He needed calm to think, to process. 

What did he want from Jason? Where did they stand now that he knew? First and foremost, he wanted to apologize to him for what he’d done all those years ago. He owed him that. But the rest...Tim sighed and poured himself a shot of vodka, finishing off the bottle he’d spent most of last night working on.

There were so many signs pointing to Jason’s identity, signs that he’d missed because he’d been firm in his belief that the dead did not come back to life. Was this why he’d thrown caution to the wind and had sex with him? Because deep down he knew the truth and just hadn’t acknowledged it yet? 

Whatever happened next, they needed to talk before they did anything else. Faces bare, with no masks between them. 

Tim slammed back his shot and strode over to the closet he’d hidden his package in yesterday.

The feathered cape was absolutely divine. He held it up and swung it around letting the light catch on the gleaming feathers. A red and gold ombre effect around his neck and shoulders, but it tapered into black as it fell to the floor.

He set it aside to unwrap his mask. The painted leather picked up the same red and gold in the cape, but with hints of orange to create a more fiery effect. As well it should considering he was dressing as a phoenix. The costume concept was all the more appropriate after the events of the last few weeks.

A simple black body suit completed the outfit. It was snugger looking than he’d expected, but then again, it was a matte spandex material, so he shouldn’t be surprised. He read the note that had fluttered to the ground upon his examination of the cape. The body suit was washed and ready to go, but his seamstress warned that he’d better take the cape to a good dry cleaner if he wanted it to last.

He would. The thought of wearing this more than once was exciting. Perhaps he’d dress up for Halloween and give his senior staff heart attacks when he strutted his stuff. It fell on a Tuesday this year, so why the hell not?

For the first time, Tim was excited to see how everything worked together. He packed everything carefully back in the box and ran up the stairs to his bedroom and try it all on.

First the suit, then his socks and the boots. He stood in front of his closet mirror and couldn’t help but preen as he settled the cape over his shoulders and fastened it over his throat. It was everything he thought it would be. The mask he held up over his eyes. Tim grinned, loving the effect of everything all put together.

He took off the mask and hung the cape carefully, double checking to make sure none of the feathers had been crushed in the box. What else did he need to do before now and the masquerade?

Tam would be coming over tomorrow to take him to her nail salon and afterwards help with his makeup and hair. She’d announced earlier that she didn’t think Tim would last 24 hours with the nails on, so it was best to wait until the last second. He had set up an appointment and was already cringing at the sheer amusement she would derive from it.

That’s okay. He owed her big time, the least he could do was let her laugh at him.

Perhaps he should experiment with the makeup tonight. He’d found a tutorial online with some amazing eyeshadow techniques that he wanted to try. At some point, the mask would come off and he wanted to keep the effect of it afterwards. Besides, it would be nice to show Tam that he’s not completely incompetent.

Tim went back downstairs to grab a water bottle before he got started, still in his boots and suit. The bag with the makeup he’d purchased earlier today was still on his dining table where he’d left it. He made a quick sandwich and pulled up the video on his tablet while he ate.

Water and bag in hand, tablet tucked under his other arm, he started across his living room when he heard it, three knocks on his balcony door.

Hood’s signal. No. Jason’s signal.

Fuck. No. Not now. Not while he was wearing this. He wasn’t ready for him, for anything. He still didn’t know what to say, what to do. Things were out of his control and that never boded well for him. What did he want? What did Jason want? What if they don’t agree on anything and…and…

And he really needed to get a grip.

Tim dropped the bag to the floor and had a moment to set the tablet down on his side table before the door started to open.

Well, it was now or never.

Chapter Text

Jason stretched lazily, luxuriating in the feel of his own bed and soft sheets. Sure, they weren’t a bajillion thread count like the ones at the Manor but he didn’t need fancy shit like those. At the same time, he could at least splurge on the ones that were a few hundred thread count and real cotton to boot. 

He scratched his stomach idly and looked over at the clock on his nightstand. It was just after six in the evening. Jet lag was a bitch, even with the nap he’d managed on the plane after his little chat with Bruce. They’d finally landed just before dawn and by the time he’d gotten home, it was well after. Rush hour, even into the Bowery, was a bigger bitch than jet lag. 

Sighing, Jason got up and trudged through his small apartment to his kitchen to start his tea. He had a decision to make, one that he’d been putting off for too long. The excuse that Tim didn’t know who they all were was gone, not that it was all that much of one in the first place. It was mainly Bruce who’d lived in denial for so long. Finally, it was time to tell him everything. The main question was how.

Anyone who knew Jason knew that he could and would play up the dramatic effect as much as possible given half a chance. Dick was quick to blame Alfred for it, what with their shared love of Shakespeare and the theater in general, but it was something Jason had always done even before Bruce found him stealing tires from the Batmobile. Quick wits and a quick mouth honed by years on the streets struggling to survive. If he wanted to, he was positive he could have been quite the con artist. 

But none of that seemed right. Tim deserved the plain, simple truth, however complicated it turned out to be. What came after that, well, Jason knew what his preference was but reality wouldn’t be that kind to him. It never was. Hence the stalling. 

The tea didn’t inspire any ideas, nor did the sandwich he made after. 

He supposed he could wait until the masquerade to reveal himself to Tim. Midnight and all that when people were supposed to remove their masks. But as fun as that sounded, chances were all too real that Tim would try and punch him or just flat out leave without saying a word. 

Big reveals like that only worked in romance novels. His life was anything but. 

Once it was fully dark, Jason got dressed in a relatively clean uniform and made sure his belt was stocked. If the night turned to shit, he could always patrol and bash some heads in. He debated about wearing a mask under his helmet like he often did but decided against it. 

Not tonight. 

The drive across town to Tim’s loft was uneventful. He parked his motorcycle a couple blocks from the building, tucked away in the alley he usually used when he visited. A grapple line brought him to the roofs, a quick jog, and another line later found him on Tim’s balcony. 

The blinds were closed for a change. Usually Tim left the lower ones open until he went to bed. But Jason could see light around them so his friend had to be home. The thought stopped him for a moment. Friend. He was thinking of Tim as his friend again. Which, yeah. He was.  

It was highly unlikely Tim had company unless the demon brat was still there but Jason was still careful as he picked the (now familiar) lock on the balcony door. When he first started coming over, it had irked him that he had a real door (glass paned though it was) with a real lock to pick but now it gave him a slight sense of comfort as it was one more thing that could potentially delay someone from breaking in. 

The door unlocked under his gloved hand. Before he knocked, he tapped the side of his helmet, activating the comm.

“Welcome home, Jay,” Barbara said after a moment. “You better not do anything stupid tonight."

Jason waved at the camera. “I sure as hell hope I don’t. Do me a solid though and turn off the audio? Whatever happens, this is between me and Tim.”

The redhead laughed in his ear. “There’s never been any audio here. The surveillance equipment Dick and I gave you was visual only. And you installed all those to watch the doors and windows rather than anything in there. Excepting the fake air vent, of course.”

“Dammit, I knew that. Shit. Sorry for bothering you, Barbie.”

“Don’t worry about it. You’re nervous.”

Yeah. He was. But rather than acknowledge it, he asked, “Is Tim alone or is the demon still here?”

“If Damian were here, he’d have drop-kicked your ass already. Suck it up, put on your big boy pants, and get in there.” Another laugh and Barbara hung up, the line closing with a familiar click.

Sometimes, Jason really wanted to throttle her.

He glared at the unoffending door and took a deep breath. It was now or never. Wrapping on it three times, he slowly counted to ten. If Tim was downstairs, he’d hear it. On the ten, he opened it.

There were a couple things he noticed right away. First, the loft was empty save for Tim, just as Barbara promised. Which was good, because no one besides him should ever be around to see whatever the hell it was Tim was wearing. The young man was dressed in a form-fitting body suit and those ridiculous (but kinda awesome) boots. It dawned on him that his friend must have been trying on his costume for tomorrow night’s party.

The sight of Tim dressed all in snug black material was really doing it for him, but he had to admit, the boots were the perfect touch. Impractical to say the least, but when paired with the right ensemble, yeah…He wondered how the rest of it looked.

Smirking, he finally spoke up. “Those boots look a lot better with that than they did in the jeans.”

Tim is silent, staring at him with some deer in the headlights look that Jason wanted to kick himself in the ass for not catching sooner. He tried again and took a cautious step forward, entering the loft and closing the door behind him. “Somethin’ wrong, rich boy?”

The silence dragged on, but Jason didn’t miss it when Tim finally seemed to decide on an emotion. His lips firmed into a straight line and his eyes took on that glacial cast. But the usual walls didn’t accompany the frigidness. Which he supposed was a good thing as Tim grabbed something from the side table and threw it at him.

Did he know how to call it or what?

“You asshole!” he started yelling, heat infusing his voice in a stark contrast to the icy eyes. His hands are clenched into tight fists and Jason’s pretty certain he’s trembling as he easily caught the full water bottle chucked at his head. “You goddamned, motherfucking asshole! Why didn’t you tell me?

“That I was going overseas?” Jason shrugged, not understanding why Tim was so mad at him. “It was a last minute decision. RR and I went to Hong Kong.” It still galled him that he could have been more effective here at home than over there, explosions aside.

“Not that,” Tim hissed, his pale eyes absolutely frigid. “You…You…You’re alive.

Oh.

Oh shit.

Jason’s first instinct was to run away from the confrontation. Sure, he’d come over with the intention to come clean, but this? It wasn’t in his hands. Tim was in control here and it left him on shaky ground. When he was on uncertain footing, there were only two choices he could make.

Fight or flight.

Both of which he knew were wrong, but that’s how he was wired. He sucked in a deep breath and tried hard to suppress those instincts. Instead, he set the water bottle he was surprised to see he was still holding on the dining table. Then, he slowly raised his hands and pressed the hidden catch on his helmet. It opened with a slight hiss, but rather than open the faceplate fully, he pulled it up and over his head in one practiced movement.

For the first time in years, Jason stood before Tim without a mask between them.

His gaze raked over him, focusing mostly on Jason’s face, but eventually settling on his eyes. After a moment, the tension seeped out of Tim’s body, leaving behind a weariness that he knew all too well. “Jason,” Tim breathed almost desperately.

“Hey,” was all he had the chance to say before he found himself with his arms full of Tim. Jason dropped his helmet as the shorter man clung to him, burying his face in the crook of his neck, a spot he could only reach with the extra height those boots provided.

In return, Jason wrapped his arms tightly around his friend and inhaled the clean scent of his still too long hair. Tim was murmuring into his skin, something too low for him to catch. “What’s that, Timmy?” he asked quietly, running a gloved hand through the man’s hair and wishing he’d had a chance to take those off too.

Tim turned his head to the side, but that was all the movement he made; his arms were still locked tight around Jason’s neck. “I’m sorry,” he whispered brokenly. “I’m so sorry.”

He was confused. “For what?”

“For telling you we couldn’t be friends anymore. I was so stupid and so wrong. When you died,” Tim choked here and buried his face against his neck again, inhaling deeply against the warm skin. Jason could feel lips brush against his pulse, although he was pretty certain that wasn’t on purpose. After a moment, he continued. “After you died, I blamed myself. That you did something reckless because you were mad at me...”

“Stop right there,” Jason interrupted, tightening his grip in Tim’s hair. “I got myself killed. No one else. The only person who deserves the blame is locked up in Arkham.” It still made him furious that the Joker was alive. But after the massive beating he delivered to the fucking clown three years ago before Dick stopped him, well, he wasn’t gonna be walking anymore. Barbara at least had her vengeance. 

Tim shuddered in his arms but at least the choked breaths calmed down. He moved so that his face rested again on Jason’s shoulder. “I’m still sorry for what I did,” he said softly. 

“Yeah, that was pretty shitty,” Jason agreed. “But I’m sorry that you felt like you couldn’t come to me and Bruce for help. You knew who Batman and Robin were and you didn’t think we’d do a damn thing.”

“Young and stupid,” Tim replied but this time with a hint of that self-deprecating humor he used so often. “Damian didn’t keep that quiet for long.”

“It was Barbie actually. Everyone’s business is her business. At least she’s better than Bruce about keeping it secret. He’ll just judge you and never say why.”

This was going a lot better than he thought it would. The other shoe had to be dropping soon. It had to, his luck was never this good.

“That doesn’t surprise me,” Tim said. He sighed and let go of Jason, sliding down his body the few inches he needed to reach the floor. There was a change in the air and he couldn’t help but stiffen while Tim played with the front of his jacket and avoided looking at him. 

“If you’re gonna yell, just do it,” Jason finally said. He felt tense in anticipation of it. Yelling from Bruce or Dick he could deal with easy. What was it gonna be like from Tim?

Tim huffed a small laugh and raised his eyes, his pale blue orbs locking with his own teal ones. “I’m trying to decide how much you deserve it when I messed up just as badly. I get why you didn’t come to me before. I wasn’t anyone to you. When you did, you didn’t know me at all, not who I am now at least.”

“S’all true,” Jason drawled lazily. He could lose himself in those eyes if he wanted to. Windows to the soul never seemed more real. Damn but he was falling fast. 

Those pale blue eyes hardened. Here it was. 

“But what pisses me off is why the hell you thought you could just string me along like this!” Tim finally started shouting, stepping out of the circle of Jason’s arms. 

“String you along? When the fuck did I do that? I think I was pretty damn clear from the start what I wanted from you. Still want from you.” Jason refused to shout as it would get him nowhere fast. He was rather proud of himself for that feat.

“Oh really?” Tim replied quickly. “I seem to remember getting a rather unexpected hand job right over there!” He pointed to the wall in question. “At least now I know why my comment set you off that night. But even the night before, on that roof...everything changed when I admitted to being gay. You’d never given any indication before then that you wanted me. What changed?”

That...was a really good question. There was more to it than just Tim admitting he batted for the same team. Hell, he knew he himself batted for both for a long ass time. “It was...,” Jason paused, struggling to find the right words. He was usually so glib so of course his gift had to abandon him when he needed it most. “It was like a switch had been flipped. All at once you went from being my old friend Timmy to...someone else. I’ll admit I didn’t handle that well as I should have.”

Tim glowered and crossed his arms over his chest. He looked hot when he was pissed off though that could be the clothes and boots adding to the image. “No shit.”

Jason decided to go on the defensive. “I never intended for any of that to happen.” Tim flinched like he’d been struck so he continued quickly. “Sure, I wanted to talk about it because I’d have to be fucking blind not to miss those fuck me eyes of yours on that damn roof. But I also wanted to tell ya about Ra’s’ plans…”

“And instead you stuck your hand down my shorts.”

“You told me to,” Jason snapped. “I’m not entirely the bad guy on that one. You could have said no at any time and I woulda stopped.”

“I know you would have,” Tim’s glare melted fractionally, but grew hard once again. “It’s just now, remembering everything we’ve already done, you knew exactly what you were doing and with whom. I didn’t.”

“Yeah, I remember your little mask rule,” Jason replied, losing the battle to keep the mocking tone out of his voice. “Not willin’ to go all the way, but that didn’t stop you from askin’ to have my fingers shoved up your ass.”

What an ass it had been. He really needed to get this back on track or else he wouldn’t have a chance with said ass ever again.

The skin on Tim’s cheeks flushed slightly, his vaunted control starting to crack. Jason pressed on. “But I toldja that night I wasn’t ready to make my mask off yet. You respected that. Seems ta me that you’re more pissed off at yourself than at me.”

“I have plenty of reasons to be pissed off,” Tim finally snapped back after an interminable pause. “They’re all selfish reasons though because of the shit I’ve had to go through in the last week.” He took a slow breath, in and out, and squared his shoulders. “I don’t want to be mad right now,” he said in a calmer tone. “You’re alive. It just hurts that you didn’t trust me enough to take off your mask sooner. That Damian had to give me the clues to figure it out.”

“He what?” Jason growled and took a step forward. That little shit. Oh, he was gonna get fucked up the next time they were alone. “I told them ta stay outta my business.”

Tim stood his ground. “We were talking about Ra’s at the time. He told me about something called a Lazarus Pit.”

Cue the green. Jason grabbed the back of the kitchen chair with a hand, gripping it so tightly his hand would be aching if he kept it up for long. “What did he tell you about the Pit?” he bit out.

The shorter man watched him cautiously as he crossed his arms loosely over his chest. “He said it was like the Fountain of Youth. Curing old age, but also injuries that people wouldn’t normally be able to recover from. Even death…” he trailed off but picked up so quickly it was barely noticeable. “But it also drives people insane.”

Jason couldn’t help the vicious, twisted smirk at that. “How sane do you think I am, Timmy?” The question was more valid than he meant it to be.

But Tim surprised him yet again. “More than you give yourself credit for,” he replied evenly. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but the side effect either wears off over time or you’ve learned to cope with it.”

“A bit of both, actually.” Jason took a deep breath of his own, but he still didn’t let go of the chair. It served as an anchor point in a green tide that was still too close for comfort. “I have certain triggers. Things that make me see green so to speak.”

The statement meant nothing to Tim, going by the blank look the phrase got him.

“The water in the pit is bright green, kinda like a lime green slushie.” Which he avoided at all costs. Lime green anything in fact.

“I’ve never liked those,” Tim commented, his eyes widening slightly, in amusement or disgust, Jason wasn’t sure. His friend still had some of his walls up, making him hard to read.

“Yeah, well, I despise them now. Bright green in general.”

“Good thing my costume isn’t a green macaw then.”

Jason couldn’t help but chuckle at that. Tim’s deadpan delivery was spot on. “Good thing,” he agreed.

“What are your triggers?” Tim asked, moving them back onto topic. “If we’re going to make a go at anything, I think I deserve to know. I can’t always promise not to step in it by accident, but I can do my best to avoid them or help you when you encounter one.”

It boggled Jason’s mind that his friend said that so simply, so matter-of-factly, without even missing a beat. No one else had done that for him. Poor, Pit-crazed Jason, let’s go stick him in Arkham for a while. They can help him. The memories of those first couple years back in Gotham hit hard and he had to brace himself against the chair, focusing only on Tim to keep him in the present. Fuck, maybe he should have come to him sooner.

“Jay?”

He took a deep breath and forced that door shut. “Sorry,” he said gruffly. “I get lost in my head sometimes.”

Tim shrugged. “Happens to me all the time, but probably for different reasons.”

Jason heaved a massive sigh. He was getting frustrated with himself for not keeping things on track, but the other man waited patiently while he got his head together. This was harder than he’d expected it to be. “My triggers,” he finally said. “I have two main ones. Clowns and closed in spaces. Or rather, feeling like I’m trapped and I can’t escape.”

“Clowns, I get,” Tim replied after a moment of thought. “But I don’t remember you ever being claustrophobic before. It explains why you forced me up the hotel stairs last week though rather than take the elevator.”

It took a moment for it to register. Tim didn’t know how he came to life. Hell, he didn’t even know, other than that it was one of those weird cosmic hiccups that really shouldn’t surprise him because the universe loved to take a shit on him. Jason forced himself to let go of the chair and started walking towards the sofa, brushing past Tim as he did. “That’s a story all on its own. But it won’t make much sense unless you hear the whole thing. Come sit down. It’s a long one.”

He’d never told this story to anyone before, not in its entirety. Bits and pieces of it have been told for him over the years as Ra’s and Talia enjoy using it to torture Bruce, which he was still mostly okay with. He may have forgiven the man a long time ago for not saving him, but leaving the Joker alive was still not something he’d been able to move past. But more importantly, Tim said earlier that Jason didn’t trust him. Not true. He did trust his friend. Which was why he deserved the full story, godawful though it was.

Jason sat down heavily on the sofa and took off his gloves, tossing them onto the coffee table. It was probably the best sofa he’d ever sat on as it seemed to contour and support his (often aching) back better than anything else ever did. Of course, it also helped that he was able to relax better here than anywhere else.

Tim took a seat at the other end of the sofa, for once breaking his own rule about shoes on the furniture as he tucked his legs up underneath him. Jason wondered if he had any idea what he looked like right now. The snug bodysuit revealed every line of his lean frame and those boots…Yeah. If things turned out alright then maybe he’d ask at some point if Tim would let him fuck him while he’s wearing just the boots.

First things first though. “This is the story of how I died…”

*****

Tim was more than prepared to go toe-to-toe with Jason, verbally at least. A war of words was one he had a much more significant chance of winning than he did a physical one. He still wasn’t fully prepared to let go the trust issue (although he could admit he was just as much at fault for letting things escalate between them the way they had), but as he sat on his sofa and listened to the story Jason told him, he let it go. What he was hearing from his friend (and yes, they were friends again) was quite possibly the most meaningful sign of trust that he could ever give him.

Everything else seemed petty and insignificant in the face of what Jason had gone through. 

Waking up one day to discover you’re in a coffin and six feet under? Pretty horrible (and explained why the man hated elevators) but Tim was almost certain it was what happened prior that was the main source of the issues the man next to him faced on a daily basis. His own betrayal of their friendship was the tip of the iceberg as over the weeks that followed Jason spun further and further out of control. He was betrayed by the woman who gave birth to him to the Joker. Beaten savagely in front of her where all she did was watch. And then he was blown up along side her. 

Tim revised his opinion of what a bad day was and privately vowed never to say that in front of Jason ever again. 

And then he started speaking about the Lazarus Pit. “The scariest part about it is that you don’t even realize you’re under its influence,” he said. “Every decision you make, every action seems like it’s perfectly rational when it’s really fuckin’ not.” Jason slouched even further against the soft leather of Tim’s sofa, weariness etched into his face. He rubbed a bare hand over his face. “It took a long time for the worst of it to wear off. And when it did, I was just sick and disgusted by a lot of the shit I’d done. At the same time, there are a few things I don’t regret. Those are the main reason why Bruce and I butt heads all the time. It pisses him off that I don’t agree with him on every point of his little mission.”

“What are those?” Tim asked quietly. He was still curled up on the other end of the sofa, close enough but keeping his distance. This wasn’t a story Jason needed someone right up against him for. 

“The Joker needs to die.” It was said in such a flat tone but there was conviction there, and also a deep seated anger that instantly told Tim he hadn’t heard all the story yet. 

“I won’t argue with that,” he replied, trying to keep his own voice even. “Not after everything he’s done. I didn’t know for certain until earlier this week that he was the one who...killed...you.” That was not going to get easier to say. Nope. “I don’t always agree with the death penalty but for him? There’s no doubt in my mind that the world would be a better place without him.” Tim stopped, surprised when Jason shifted to stare at him intently. 

“Do you really mean that?” he asked. There was something in his eyes that Tim couldn’t read. 

“Yes.”

Jason closed his eyes and started breathing heavily, his face twisting in what looked like agony. 

“Jay?” Tim scooted quickly across the sofa, closing the gap between them. His knees brushed the thigh holster Jason wore. “What is it? Did I say something wrong?” Oh god, what did he do? 

The man sucked in a few gasping breathes before he finally opened his eyes. They were very blue this close, deep and rich in ways his eyes never were. Jason reached out and cupped Tim’s face, cradling it gently in his warm hand. 

“You did nothin’ wrong,” he said softly. 

“Then what...?”

“Tim, no one in my family believes in what I think about the Joker. Barbie is the closest but she won’t cross that line unless it’s life or death. That you even think like this...” 

It dawned on him what he was seeing on Jason’s face now. Wonder. Like he was some amazing creature he’d never seen before. Tim turned his head slightly and placed a kiss in the palm of his hand. “I’m not your family.”

Jason smirked and chuckled quietly. “Nope. Damn good thing too or else we couldn’t do this.” 

The hand tightening was the only warning Tim had before Jason’s lips were pressed against his own. He groaned as the hand slid into his hair, tugging slightly as the grip strengthened. A little roughness had never bothered him, but Jason’s kiss bordered on too gentle. Like Tim was something too precious and could break easily.

Which, no. There was a time and place for slow and gentle but now was not the time for it.

Tim licked and nipped at the firm lips beneath his, begging for entrance, but Jason retreated, pulling back completely to gaze at him in bemusement. “You like being the one in control, don’t cha?”

“For the most part,” he admitted. “I usually have to assert myself with the guys I pick up at the club.”

Jason’s eyes darkened at that and the grip on his hair increased again, bordering on painful. “As long as I’m in the picture, that’s gonna stop. Your clubbing habits. Unless I’m with, of course.”

No one should be allowed to have a grin that devilishly handsome. It did more for Tim than the kiss did. “Why the hell would I even look at another guy when I’ve got the Red Hood knocking on my door?”

The hold loosened. “We’re gonna have to talk boundaries at some point.”

“Agreed.” Tim leaned in to place a chaste kiss on Jason’s cheek. “But I don’t think that will be tonight.”

“No,” Jason agreed. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but could ya scoot back over to your side? I wanna finish this story and I can’t when you’re so damn distracting.”

Tim’s playful smile dimmed, but did as he was asked. This was more important right now.

Jason gave him an apologetic look before he started speaking again. He spoke of his training under Talia al Ghul’s watchful eye, an aborted attempt to kill Batman by blowing up him and the Batmobile, as well as how he became the Red Hood in the first place. The whole idea behind the hood was to mess with Bruce’s mind, as were most of the ideas Jason came up with. What was scary was that Tim could follow the convoluted logic behind his plans. He understood now what his friend meant when he’d said the Pit made you think everything was rational and thought out.

Tim couldn’t help but shake his head at the end of the part where Jason had Joker all tied up and ready to go for Batman to kill. “It was the Lazarus Pit that made you think it would work, wasn’t it?”

“I like to think so,” Jason said wearily. His head rested on the back of the sofa, his eyes focused somewhere on the ceiling. “But even now I still wish Bruce was capable of taking his life. He said it would be too damn easy to kill Joker, but he’s afraid that once he crosses that line, he won’t ever come back. This goes back to where we still disagree.” Those teal eyes turned and focused steadily on Tim. “I still kill people, Tim. Mostly ones the law can’t do anything about, the ones that slip through the cracks. Guiltier than sin but somehow untouchable.”

Heavy didn’t even begin to describe the sensation Tim felt in his gut. “I can’t say I agree, but I also can’t say I disagree,” he finally said, trying for a diplomatic approach. “I know there are people out there almost on par with the Joker. Whether they’re here in Gotham or not, I wouldn’t know.”

Jason smirked at that, but his eyes still held a warning in their depths. “One of those people has been wining and dining you for the last five years, Timmy.” 

“Then it’s a good thing you didn’t follow me to the cemetery today,” he replied glibly. “Ra’s and I had a little chat this morning while his ninja duct taped Damian and stuffed him in the trunk of my car.”

Those eyes flashed suddenly and Tim now understood what Jason meant when he saw green. He wondered if he knew it was literal because his eyes did change color, all the blue disappearing completely. It was something he’d have to remember to ask later because right now, there was one very pissed off Jason Todd standing in front of him, hands clenched tight as he glowered down at him.

“You spoke with Ra’s today?” he all but growled.

“Yes,” Tim replied, purposefully keeping himself as relaxed as possible. He did not need to fan this fire. “He’s rather upset with me over what I did to him, but still invited me to come over to the dark side. He also warned me away from you, which I’m obviously not listening to.” Jason continued to fume, so Tim decided to take a risk. Calculated, but still a risk. “I’m right here, Jay. Nothing happened. If anything, Damian got the short end of the stick when I accidently nicked him while getting all that duct tape cut off.”

It took a moment, but Tim could see the blue slowly return to Jason’s eyes as the rage receded. He blinked rapidly as he tried to clear his head and finally a small smile cracked his mouth. “You nicked the little demon?”

Tim nodded, pleased that his gambit payed off. “The ninja left me a knife on the driver’s seat.” He shrugged casually. “It’s not exactly like I know how to use one outside of cutting a steak.”

“We’ll have to fix that,” Jason shook his head and chuckled softly. “Sorry ‘bout that. I usually have better control over my temper.”

“You’re in the midst of a nasty trip down memory lane because you feel like you owe it to me. You don’t have to torture yourself like this, Jason.” Tim was of mixed feelings about continuing actually. On the one hand, he wanted to know everything that had happened to his friend, even watered down as he knew it was. But on the other hand, the stress this was putting on Jason was becoming more and more tangible.

“There’s not much more to tell,” Jason said and took his seat again. His arms rested across his strong thighs as he stared blankly the floor. “Bruce wouldn’t kill the Joker. There’s been so many times over the years since then that I wish I’d just put a bullet his eyes when I had the chance. I almost did again a few years ago, but Dick stopped me.” He shook his head again, his bangs falling into his eyes as he kept his head down. “It wasn’t until later I learned that I apparently had the last laugh after all.”

“Was this when the Joker became paralyzed?” Tim asked. He remembered hearing about it on the news and being exceptionally happy about it. Finally, the clown would be staying in Arkham.

Jason nodded, shifting so that he was sitting up again. He looked a bit smug. “He’s got C5 complete spinal damage. Fucker’s never gonna walk again and can barely feed himself. Bruce ripped into me for that one, but Babs completely shredded his ass in return. I don’t think they spoke for six months afterwards. Dick tried to play peacemaker like he usually does but it was pretty obvious to everyone he wasn’t puttin’ a lot of effort into it.”

Tim was enthralled by what he was hearing. It wasn’t just the story, but also the little tidbits Jason dropped about how the Bats’ dynamics really worked. They always presented a united front whenever he encountered them (which was definitely more than the average law-abiding Gothamite) so hearing about all the in-fighting and family squabbles made them seem so much more human.

“After that, Dick started hangin’ around me more. Blondie and the little demon soon followed. And Cass whenever she was in town. Gettin’ in my space and tryin’ to help me in their annoying ways. Barbie and I finally had a good talk about it and she helped me set up a meeting with Alfred.” Jason sighed and spared a glance over at Tim. “You’ve gotta remember how much that man means to all of us.”

Tim nodded. All his memories of Mr. Pennyworth were good ones. While the man may have drawn the line at soda for when he and Jason would sneak out of parties to watch movies or play video games, he’d always make sure they had the best snacks. “You used to swear by his lemon tarts.”

“Still do,” Jason replied with a cheeky grin. “Anyways, once Alfie and I were talkin’ again, Bruce and I finally started. Under strict supervision too because neither of us could be trusted not to yell. Not long after that, I was allowed back in the Batcave. I think it was a couple months later that I was there workin’ a drug case with Dick when Barbie popped up on the monitor saying you’d been kidnapped again.” The grin grew as Jason looked over at him. “That was the night I learned what a little shit you’d grown up to be.”

“I’m such a troublemaker,” Tim grinned right back. “Always getting kidnapped by the same person, fed amazing food, and only once have I ever gotten to eat dessert.”

“I repeat. You’re a little shit.” But it was said with begrudging fondness, like Jason didn’t know quite why he was saying it, but that it sounded right. Somehow, he knew this was the start of a new nickname.

“Only on days that end in ‘y’.” From the look of it, Jason was finished with his story. Tim stood and stretched. It didn’t escape his notice that he was watched closely the entire time. “Want anything to drink? You must be parched after all that.” He headed towards the kitchen without waiting for a reply.

Tim decided coffee was needed and started preparing it. Under extreme duress would Jason drink it, so he also filled his electric kettle with water. After a few of Jason’s early visits for first aid, he’d learned of his preference for tea over coffee and started stocking a few different kinds. “Your tea is on top of the fridge,” he said as he took two clean mugs out of the cabinet. He knew without looking that Jason had risen and followed him.

“Thanks,” the man replied. He was standing out of the way and sipping from the water bottle Tim had thrown at him earlier.

Their hot drinks were soon ready and they retreat back to the living room. Tim curled up on what he’s starting to think of as his side of the sofa. But rather than sit on the other side, Jason sat in the middle. He fiddled nervously with his tea before giving Tim an expectant look. “Well?” he asked.

Tim took a small sip of his coffee and set the mug on a coaster on the side table before answering. “Well what?”

Jason shrugged. “I kinda feel like I’m waitin’ for you to pronounce judgement on me or something.”

“There’s nothing to judge.” Was he unsettled by some of the things he heard? Yes. But there was also a lot Jason had left unsaid, which he thought spoke a lot about the man he’d become. He didn’t sugar coat what he’d done, what he was still willing to do. There were also a shit ton of mental issues that he alluded too, many of which it sounded like he was trying to cope with alone. Which Tim could understand why because talking to a therapist involved a certain level of trust and it wasn’t as though Jason could reveal he’s the Red Hood and oh hey, by the way, my dad is Batman. Yeah, that wouldn’t go over well. “What I want to know is how I can help you.”

“Help me?” Jason asked quizzically.

“Yes, help you,” Tim replied patiently and rested an arm on the back of the sofa. His fingers grazed the leather shoulder of Jason’s jacket. “I don’t mean in the sidekick kind of way either. I’ve gotten better at the patch jobs you come here for, but I know I can do more for you. Whatever else we turn into down the road, you’re my friend first. I want to help you.”

Jason snorted and tried to hide it behind his mug. It was kind of adorable in a dorky way. So much for the mystique of the Red Hood. Tim loved that he got to see him this way.

“Tim, in case you missed the point of the story, I’m a fuckin’ mess.”

“Jay, I’m a workaholic with OCD tendencies and commitment issues. Why do you think I go out and have sex the way I do?” His list of issues didn’t even begin to compare to Jason’s but there was a point he was trying to make. “Anyways, my point is that I’m not perfect either. Neither are you. But maybe together, we can help make each other better.”

He reached around for his coffee and took another sip while Jason processed. His friend kept glancing at him and his tea. Tim was tempted to tell him the answers would not be found in the hot liquid. He’d tried staring at his coffee long enough to know better (there was one time he hallucinated it replied, but it turned out to be Tam telling him to go to bed).

Jason set the mug down on the coffee table. “I have a feelin’ I know where your commitment issues come from,” he finally offered, a knowing smirk appearing briefly on his lips.

“I do too,” Tim agreed. “And as tempting as it is to say those are disappearing now that you’re back, I know it’s not true. I’ve been dealing with them for years. You can’t just flip a switch.” He moved a little closer to Jason and snagged a hand, curling his fingers over the scarred knuckles. “I don’t expect any of your issues to just disappear either. But if you ever want to talk about them, I’ll listen.”

“You are too fucking good for me,” Jason replied, raising his hand to bring Tim’s fingers to his mouth. His breath was warm as he pressed gentle kisses into his skin.

It was Tim’s turn to smirk. He didn’t want to call this a victory, but it was. “I’m a gift,” he replied, winking as he tried not to laugh at Jason’s surprised reaction.

“Is that so?” Jason tugged lightly on Tim’s hand, drawing him closer.

He took it one step further and straddled Jason’s lap, those fantastically muscled thighs spreading his knees wide. The gun holsters dug in a bit, but Tim was fairly certain he wouldn’t have to worry about those for long. “Yes.”

“Hmm…,” Jason hands settled on his waist, his now very blue gaze giving him an obvious once over. “Does this mean I get to unwrap you?”

“You’d better do it soon because I really don’t want to have wash this.” Tim plucks at the snug fabric that’s starting to grow a little tighter just below Jason’s hands. “It is part of my costume after all.”

Jason’s eyes flashed at that, not green thank god, but with undeniable heat. “Please tell me there’s more to it than just skintight spandex.” His thumbs started kneading the dip on either side of Tim’s waist.

He rocked into the motion, just to see what kind of reaction he got. The last time he’d been in this same position, his pants were off, Jason’s t-shirt was pushed all the way up his chest and he’d been rutting against the man’s stomach while riding those gloriously large fingers. But this time, there were no more masks between them. Just one question that needed to be asked.

“There’s much more to it,” Tim said, leaning in to wrap his arms around Jason’s neck. He kissed him briefly, teasingly, licking at his lips in what he hoped was the first of many more to come. “Before you get to unwrapping, I need to know…how far do you want to take things tonight?” He rocked his hips again for emphasis, just in case his point wasn’t getting across.

Jason moaned as his head hit the back of the sofa. “Gonna kill me again,” he breathed heavily, his fingers digging in harder for a moment before ghosting over Tim’s hips and over his rear.

Tim couldn’t help the slight moan at the sensation, but he was also curious to see how long it would be before his friend noticed what he wasn’t wearing underneath. The words Jason said suddenly broke through the lust cloud in his brain. Gonna kill me again. He’d said the same thing last week at the safehouse. Tim wanted to kick himself. So many clues he’d let drop (mostly on accident, he knew that for certain) but it wasn’t until Damian started talking about the Lazarus Pit that he’d put them all together.

Well, he’d never claimed to be a detective.

“Jason?” he asked, planting a soft kiss on the corner of his mouth. “What do you want to do? I’m open to anything, even if it means I have to take a cold shower later.”

The fingers gripped his bottom tighter as Jason visibly collected himself. He took a deep breath. “I know we should probably take this slow, but that isn’t gonna fuckin’ happen unless I walk outta here right now.”

“I don’t want you to leave,” Tim admitted. Not when he’d just gotten him back. “Stay. We can pretend the rest of the world doesn’t exist tonight.”

Jason caught Tim’s mouth in one of his own soul-stealing kisses, dominating him completely as he devoured every inch of his mouth. It was something Tim was used to doing with his partners but found he rather liked having it done to him. He was short of breath when Jason finally retreated. “There’s one thing I can think of that I’d like to do.”

It was very unfair that he was barely breathing heavy. “What?” Tim asked, trying to keep his pants to a minimum. Exercise was making its way back up to the top of his list of priorities. Or maybe stamina training?

“I want you to ride me wearin’ nothin’ but those boots.”

Yes. All the yes. So much yes. Tim grinned and sat back on Jason’s lap. “I like that plan.” He raised his arms and reached behind his neck to unfasten the little catch on the back of the bodysuit.

Jason’s gaze raked over him again, but then his eyes widened. His hands had shifted when Tim moved, resting on the outside of his thighs. He’d been kneading gently, his fingers tracing random patterns into Tim’s clothed skin, but he suddenly stopped as it clicked. “You’re not wearing underwear,” he pronounced, staring disbelievingly at him.

“Nope,” Tim replied, grabbing each hand and dragging them up and over his body to settle on his shoulders. “Hence the reason why this needs to come off sooner than later. Think you can handle that?” he asked challengingly.

“Let’s find out.”

Jason shifted on the sofa, giving Tim access to his belt. He gave him an arch look.

“You better not be expecting me to undo that with my teeth,” Tim teased as he started to loosen the belt just enough to allow the straps of the thigh holsters some give. His nimble fingers made quick work of the rest of the straps.

“I can think of better things for your mouth to do,” Jason replied and set his guns off to the side where they wouldn’t be in the way.

Finally, Tim could sit firmly on his lap, muscles strong as steel beneath him as he started rocking his hips against the much larger man. The Jason of his memories was gawky teen (albeit better muscled than most) while the adult was anything but. “I know you can, but do you really think you’ll last that long?”

“There’s always later.”

Very true.

Jason reached behind him and slowly dragged down the zipper of his bodysuit. It slid down his slender back and stopped just above his waist. A large hand splayed across his lower back, softly kneading much like he’d done already. It was a comfortable touch and one that sent a surge of warmth through his body.

Tim hardened more, becoming semi-erect under the fabric. This suit needed to come off now before it spotted. He grinned, all confidence and without a shred of doubt, as he shrugged his shoulders, giving Jason a rather obvious hint as to what he wanted done. Strong hands slipped the fabric down and off of his arms, revealing his lean torso in the process.

The suit bunched at his waist and Jason’s eyes dropped, staring at the tip of Tim’s semi-erect length as it peeked out over the edge of the material. He made to touch it, but Tim slid up and off of his lap, standing before him. He raised one boot foot to the edge of the sofa. “Help me get these off?”

Somehow, Jason knew exactly where the zipper was on the boots already. The man smirked at Tim’s curious look. “Dick and I each tackled a leg after your last kidnapping,” he explained. The boot came off easily under his hands.

“There’s one little mystery solved,” Tim replied as he switched legs and Jason unzipped the other boot. “Now here’s a new one. I don’t keep lube and condoms down here. You got anything in your pockets thinking you might get lucky or do we need to move this upstairs?”

In response, the man dug into one of the inner pockets of his jacket and took out a packet of lube and a condom. He then shrugged it off, laying it over the back of the sofa. The red bat on his chest was on full display. “I hoped I’d get lucky but didn’t count on it. I’m usually not.” Jason set the lube and condom to the side, still in easy reach as he gazed up at Tim.

Tim rested a hand on the back of the sofa as he leaned in to softly capture Jason’s lips. “I’ve always believed you make your own luck,” he said. He stood up straight and rested his hands at his waist, making sure Jason’s eyes were on him as he prepared to take the rest of the suit off. “Once this is off, remember, you want those boots back on so you’d better keep your hands busy while I do.”

With that little warning given, Tim shimmied out of the rest of his bodysuit. It wasn’t as graceful as he wanted it to be (Dick Grayson he most certainly was not), but he didn’t fall flat on his face either. Jason zeroed in on his cock again, but didn’t touch. His hands fisted against his thighs though, so it was a near thing.

“Perhaps take your bat off?” Tim suggested as he started putting his boots back on. He may not have put underwear on earlier when trying the suit on (he’d buy a special pair tomorrow while out with Tam), but he did have socks, which made the job easier.

By the time he had the boots on again, Jason had removed the top half of his uniform. Somehow, he was sporting a light tan, which contrasted against the network of scars that crisscrossed his body. Tim made plans right then and there to map every single one of them as soon as he had the chance. Now was not the time for it.

Tim reached out and Jason handed him the lube. “You want me to do that?” he asked smugly.

“Not if you want me to last.” Tim opened the packet and squeezed the lube out and onto his fingers, slicking them up generously. The memory of Jason’s heavy cock loomed in his mind and while there was no doubt he could take it, a little work was needed to make that happen.

Jason undid the bottom half of his uniform and slid the pants over his hips, taking what looked to be boxer briefs with them as he did. He sighed in evident relief as his fully erect length sprung free from the confines, just as thick and hard as Tim remembered. He couldn’t help it, he stared and whined a little at the sight. To cover, he reached behind him and slowly slid one finger into his body, forcing himself to relax.

He and his fingers weren’t strangers, so it went in easily. Jason made no move to touch him, but he watched every move, stroking his own cock in the same easy rhythm Tim used to prepare his body for what was to come. A second finger soon joined the first and for good measure, a third.

By the time Tim felt he was ready, he was fully erect and weeping pre-come against his abdomen. “Time to wrap it up,” he announced, his eyes darting to the condom and back to Jason’s own slick length. He wiped his fingers on his leg, not wanting to smear the back of his sofa. God only knew what lube would do to the leather.

“You’re a fucking cock-tease, I hope you know that,” Jason replied, scrambling for the foil packet and ripping it open. He carefully slid it on and pinched the tip.

Tim handed him the packet of lube so he could use the rest. “In these boots, isn’t that the point?” he asked as he knelt over Jason again, his legs spreading wide over the steely muscles as he placed his hands on either side of his broad shoulders.

This was it. He was about to fuck the Red Hood. But more importantly, he was about to have sex with his best friend. Tam would probably have a lot to say about this if she knew but Tim was going to keep it quiet for as long as possible. What she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her.

The moment apparently wasn’t lost on Jason either as he laced a hand in his hair again and tugged his head down, capturing his mouth in what he would almost describe as desperate. “You okay?” Tim asked against Jason’s mouth.

“Yeah,” Jason replied, his breath growing heavier by the second. He wrapped a hand around his cock to keep it steady. “Just…can’t believe we’re about to do this.”

“Me neither,” Tim admitted as he started lowering his body against Jason’s. The blunt head poked against his slick entrance. He paused, keeping his eyes steady on the man beneath him. “I’m not sure exactly what we are now, but whatever it is, we’ll figure it out together.”

“Yes,” Jason barely had the chance to breathe out when Tim smoothly slid the rest of the way down, joining them together. His eyes practically rolled back into his head, which, under different circumstances, he would find hilarious as it was so cliché. But he’s pretty certain he was doing the same, so who was he to judge?

Jason’s hands took their place on either side of his hips, warm and ready to keep him steady when he decided it was time to move. Tim wasn’t sure he’d ever felt so full before; it was one of the most glorious feelings in the world. He rocked his hips slightly, testing the feel of the cock inside him as it stretched him wide. Jason moaned at that, his eyes fluttering again.

Now there was a rush. It was him, Tim Drake, drawing that sound out of one of Gotham’s most feared vigilantes. “You ready?” he asked, running a hand through Jason’s wavy black hair.

His reply came in the form of a cocky smirk that he remembered all too well. Jason’s hands tightened as he said, “I was born ready. Now ruin me for anyone else.”

If Tim had his way, there would never be anyone else. But that was a conversation for another day as he rose up and then slammed himself back down, doing his damnedest to do just that.

 

Chapter Text

Jason woke up slowly, an unusual occurrence that made him take note of it when he was aware enough. He instantly recognized that he wasn’t in his own bed so he made a quick check on things without revealing he was awake. A rather handy trick all Bats knew as waking up in strange places and not so healthy conditions was a hazard of the job. 

The first thing he noticed was that he was comfortable as hell. Whatever he was laying on, it beat even the mattress on the bed he occasionally used at the Manor. A quick mental check of his body and other than his usual aches and pains, plus what felt like some scratches on his back, nothing seemed out of sorts. 

He was torn from his musings by someone shifting around behind him. Finally daring to open his eyes a crack, Jason stared out over the open expanse of the upper level of Tim’s loft. 

Oh. He was still at Tim’s. Then that must mean...Jason peeked over his shoulder to see Tim sprawled out behind him, face down in a mountain of pillows and burrowed under a pile of blankets. He remembered being warned before they went to bed about his habit of starfishing in his sleep, so it explained why Jason was all the way at the edge of the bed. 

It also explained why he felt so rested. Sleeping next to Tim relaxed him like nothing else ever did. And it wasn’t just the sex (although it was definitely an amazing perk) because he’d tried going to sleep after getting laid before and it never gave him this level of respite. He’d noticed it after sleeping next to him at Babs’ safehouse but thought it a fluke. Long night of fighting ninja and dealing with Tim and all.

Perhaps a third test would be needed. To prove a pattern or however it went.

According to the digital clock on the nightstand, it was a little after ten in the morning. Jason wasn’t quite sure when they’d gone to bed but he remembered they made it upstairs just before midnight and managed to take a shower together with minimal extra touches (plenty of staring occurred though; he’d decided wet Tim needed to be revisited at a later date). They’d laid down and started talking about the events of the last few days. It was one thing hearing it from Barbie, but hearing it from Tim made it more real.

He’d managed to wipe out almost the entire financial empire of the League of Assassins. That was mind blowing in and of itself and while Jason was stupid proud of Tim for proving he could take care of himself, he couldn’t help but wonder what Talia thought about it. Those funds were very likely needed to further continue some of her plans.

What he found absolutely fascinating though was how turned on Tim got when he started talking about the explosions he’d set off with the help of Steph and Cass. He’d been idly tracing the network of scars on his chest at the start. By the time Jason got to the part where Dick found them, Tim was straddling his waist and sprawled across his chest, eyes wide in excitement or anticipation, it was hard to tell.

Tim had been on the bottom again but afterwards, they’d talked about preferences and even some of their previous experiences. Jason had admitted he’d never bottomed before, to which Tim had eyed him with evident delight. At the same time, there was a reason why he hadn’t either and his friend instantly respected that. 

But it was something Jason felt he could work up to, now that he had a partner he trusted. Because he did trust Tim. Trusted him in ways similar to how he trusted his crazy ass siblings. 

Whatever this was between them, it felt right. And, much like he’d said to Bruce, it felt like they were picking up where they’d left off all those years ago. Yes, Tim had betrayed that trust but Jason understood why. He’d done what he felt he needed to do, just as he had. They’d been young, and stupid. Of course, being an adult didn’t excuse them from making stupid ass decisions either but at least now they had some life experience to back them up. 

Jason laid there for a bit longer, luxuriating in the soft sheets and fan-fucking-tastic mattress before he decided to get up. Breakfast sounded good, but he had no idea what the fridge and pantry looked like. He was pretty good at cobbling together things on the fly but after months of watching Tim, he knew what a mess the young man could be. The jokes about needing a handler had some bearing in reality. 

He stood and stretched, his left shoulder popping like it always did. Looking around, it appeared that while he may have made it upstairs last night, his clothes didn’t. Well, there was no one here to stare at him except for Tim. And he’d pretty much seen all there was to see now. 

Of course, he no sooner put on his underwear when there was a loud knock on Tim’s front door. 

“Tim! You’d better be decent cuz this is all the warning you’re getting!” a voice shouted through the door. A key started turning in the lock. 

Shit. 

Jason managed to get his pants on and kick his uniform top under the sofa when the door opened but he could do nothing about his guns in the coffee table or the red helmet sitting plain as day on the dining table across the room. 

Tim’s assistant Tam Fox walked in and stopped short when she saw Jason. 

“Hi,” he said with a jaunty little wave. “Tim’s still sleeping,” he added before she could let out the scream she was gearing up for. 

 
“Who the hell are you?” She was rightfully wary, keeping the door wide open behind her. 

“I’m...,” That was a good question. Who did he want to be in front of this woman who was a very important person in Tim’s life? Well, he was gonna be around a hell of a lot more often so... “I’m Jason.”

Tam gave him a very obvious once over at that announcement. He wasn’t sure what was going on in her head but whatever it was, she closed the door. “I should probably ask why you’re here, but I think that answer is obvious.” Her dark eyes danced in amusement. 

“Huh?” Right. Real intelligent. 

The woman tapped the side of her neck. 

Jason slapped a hand to cover it but he already knew it was way too late. Tim had been very enthusiastic last night when he’d left the mark. It was a good thing his pants were on or else the one on his hip would be visible too. 

“Tim doesn’t bring his conquests home, so I can only assume you’re someone else.” Tam raised a knowing eyebrow and crossed her arms over her chest as she waited for a reply. 

This was not a conversation he wanted to have. Not now when he was only half dressed and hungry. Even so, Jason wasn’t completely without ammo here. Stephanie had let drop a rather interesting bit of information about Tim’s assistant during their trip, a fact he had no issues exploiting later if he needed to.

He opened his mouth but then he caught sight of some movement at the top of the stairs. Tim appeared and started stumbling his way down. At least he’d found a pair of boxers to put on, otherwise they’d be getting quite the show. Neither of them said anything as they watched the man somehow manage to not fall on his face. It was a near thing and Jason couldn’t help but be impressed with the shorter man’s sense of balance. It would do Dick proud.

Tim didn’t seem to be aware of his assistant at all. It was a guess if he was even aware of him but the seeming beeline he was making towards the kitchen took a detour when he paused to wrap his arms around Jason and press his lips against the bruise on his neck.

From over his head, Jason kept a wary eye on Tam. There was a war between laughter and concern going on there. 

Warm hands started running down his back, so that answered the question about Tim’s sense of situational awareness. Jason rolled his eyes and ran a hand through tousled black hair. “Hey,” he said quietly, trying to get the shorter man’s attention. “As much as I’d like another round, you’ve got company.”

It took a moment for the words to sink in. When they did, Tim stiffened and slowly turned around, still staying in the protective circle of Jason’s arms. 

He stiffened even more when he saw Tam. Judging by the now massive smirk on her face, Tim was now sporting that deer in the headlights look he pulled off too well. “Uhhh...”

Words weren’t happening apparently. Jason kissed the top of Tim’s head and let him go. “I’m gonna make you some coffee. Have fun.” 

With that, he left his friend to the wolves. Wolf? Maybe a vixen. Tam was a Fox after all.  

Jason tried hard not to pay attention to the hushed conversation going on behind him, focusing instead on the contraption Tim called a coffeemaker. He’d just found the coffee grounds when Tam shrieked “Tim! You promised!” She sounded mortified and slightly betrayed. 

He couldn’t make out Tim’s response but a quick glance over his shoulder showed him to be on the defensive. 

Well, fuck. Barely twelve hours into whatever the hell this was and they’re already in trouble. Or he’s making trouble for Tim, which was more likely the case. 

There was nothing Jason could do now so he did what he came down here to do in the first place. Make breakfast. The fridge was better stocked than he expected (probably the demon’s hand as he recognized that particular brand of tofu), so it was the work of a few minutes to get something started. Cooking was something he enjoyed, something that helped calm raw nerves, and let him focus on creating something rather than breaking things. When he was feeling particularly on edge, he’d been known to stress bake. Depending on the results, local food kitchens would get a donation (he was pretty well known at a few).

By the time the tofu was cooked into submission, a rather brow-beaten but still defiant Tim made his way into the kitchen to pour the coffee. Jason had long decided discretion was the better part of valor and stayed put while the two hashed things out. He cradled a cup of tea in one hand as he watched Tim pour.

His friend stared at the mug before raising pale blue eyes to Jason. “Tofu?” he asked, his nose turning up in distaste. 

“It was in the fridge.” Jason was rather proud of the scramble he’d concocted. It was colorful and actually tasted decent. “Don’t knock it til you try it.” He glanced over the high countertop back towards the living room. Tam was still standing there but appeared more subdued. “How’d that go?” he asked more quietly. 

“Not well,” Tim replied around his mug. “She figured out who you are.”

“I didn’t exactly have time to hide shit before she came waltzing in.”

“Yeah, the guns and the helmet were pointed out pretty quick.”

Jason shrugged, not overly concerned about the fact. It wasn’t like Tam could do anything to hurt him. Not without hurting Tim in the process. “She knows how to keep a secret.” 

Tim gave him a quizzical look over his mug, but didn’t stop drinking.

Oh, this was too perfect. He couldn’t have asked for a better opening. “She knows Blondie is Red Robin. Has for years. I think they even dated for a little while on the side.”

Blue eyes flashed at the news. Tim slammed his mug on the counter and stormed back out of the kitchen, full of righteous anger. “Tam!”

And cue the shouting. Jason smirked, feeling rather pleased with himself. Petty though it was, this was his way of getting back at Tam for sticking her nose in their business. They had enough shit to work through as friends. Whatever else evolved from that remained to be seen and he for one didn’t want someone else adding their two cents. They were bound to get enough of that from his family.

At least with them, he could tell them all to fuck off and threaten to start shooting kneecaps.

Still tuning out the shouts, he loaded up three plates, poured another cup of coffee, and grabbed some forks. The dining table was reasonably clean for once, so it was the work of a minute to have everything set. He made sure his helmet sat squarely in the center of the table facing the seat he set Tam’s coffee cup down at. Too bad his guns were still in the living room or else he’d set them on either side in some perverse mockery of a centerpiece. Never let it be said Jason Todd didn’t have a flare for the dramatic.

“If you two are done, the food’s ready,” he called out and took the seat facing the living room, his back to the balcony.

The shouting quieted down. Jason started eating. His morning after was ruined unless the Fox took a hike. If she didn’t, then he wasn’t planning to stay much longer.

Tim came and sat down at the head of the table. His face was pinched and it was clear he hadn’t had enough coffee to deal with everything. He glared sullenly at his plate before picking up his fork.

“Don’t like tofu, do ya?” Jason asked as he sipped his tea. He watched Tam take a cautious seat across from him, her eyes glued to the helmet facing her. Inwardly, he chortled as it was very clear what she thought of it and of him.

“I’m not a fan,” Tim replied. “But this is what happens when Damian is in charge of grocery shopping.”

“At least he bought groceries,” Tam decided to chime in. “Not exactly what I’d expect from him.” Her dark brown eyes locked on to Jason. “Just as I wouldn’t have expected you to make breakfast.”

Not exactly an accusation, but not table talk either. “Not all of us live on protein shakes and justice.” Jason emphasized his point with a bite from his plate.

Tim snorted into his coffee, spilling it in the process. “Please tell me he hasn’t actually said that?” he asked, tears in his eyes as he tried to wipe up the mess with the napkins Tam and Jason both hand him.

“Not that I’ve heard. But I have heard him say ‘I am justice’ and since you are what you eat…” Jason trailed off, smirking as Tim just lost it and started laughing into his food.

He caught a glimpse of Tam staring at him and turned his attention on her. “What?” he asked, trying not to sound defensive and mostly succeeding.

“Do you have any idea what you just did?” she asked, again with the slight accusation. It was getting old fast.

“Got Tim to eat tofu?” Jason took a shot in the dark because he really had no clue.

“Besides that.”

“I’m really not feelin’ the whole 20 questions game right now.”

Tam put her fork down next to her mostly empty plate. She ate fast. “You made him laugh,” she said simply.

That wasn’t what Jason was expecting. “He laughs all the time. Or does that crooked half smile thing that really shouldn’t be as effective as it is.”

Tim stood up, ineffectively wiping at his chest with the now sodden napkins. “Why do I feel like you two are picking on me?”

Jason couldn’t help but notice the man was still a sopping mess. “I dunno what she’s doing, but I’m tryin’ to eat breakfast. And you’re dripping coffee everywhere.”

“Everyone’s a critic.” With that, Tim wandered off into the kitchen to clean up at the sink.

Without Tim there to diffuse the tension between them, Jason and Tam returned to their stare-off. Her disapproval radiated across the table.

Usually it wouldn’t bother him, but this was someone very important to Tim. Someone he’s admittedly ignored over the last few weeks who wasn’t used to having her opinion on things disregarded.

“Would ya stop lookin’ at me like that?” Jason finally snapped. “It’s like ya think I’m gonna go ape-shit and pop everyone here. If I had a reason to want you dead, Tim wouldn’t have known you were even here.”

Tam flinched, which said a lot about what she was thinking. It pissed him off that people thought so little of him, that he was just a murdering psychopath. And yeah, he got that, he really did, especially since he and this gal’s boss were getting it on.

Jason sighed and forced his body to adopt a more relaxed position. He would have to be the one to try. “Do yourself a favor and ask Stephanie about Pit rage.” There was no point trying to explain it himself. The woman wouldn’t believe him.

“Tim said something similar,” Tam offered in return. “He wouldn’t go into the details, but said for a while there, you weren’t running with a full deck of cards.”

He chuckled and sipped his tea. “That’s putting it mildly.”

Tam fiddled idly with her fork, a thoughtful look gracing her face. “I also got the impression that Tim has known you for a very long time.” Her dark eyes darted up to meet his. “He refuses to say for how long or when you met. Said that it’s your decision to tell me.”

If Tim were sitting here, Jason would probably be crushing him into a hug that would do Dick proud. For once, he’s been given the choice to tell someone something about his life rather than have it told for him. He eyed Tam warily, even though he knew this wasn’t going any further than the table.

“I was twelve when I met Tim for the first time,” he said slowly. “I think he’d just turned ten.”

The news surprised Tam enough that she dropped the fork. “You’ve known each other for that long?

“Sort of,” Tim replied as he returned and took his seat. He had a new coffee mug with him and more napkins. “We were best friends until just after my parents died.”

“Wait just a minute,” Tam said, her words spoken in a rush as she sat up straight. “You’re that Jason? How is that even possible? Tim said you…died.”

Just what had Tim told his assistant about him? That was a story Jason wanted to hear sooner rather than later. “I did die. I was beaten within an inch of my life with a crowbar and then I was blown up,” he said bluntly. He took a perverse amount of pleasure in watching the woman choke and splutter.

Even though Tim knew this already, he still looked uncomfortable with how plainly Jason could talk about it. Well, this was the one part of his story everyone knew. It was mostly what came after that only he, and now Tim, knew in full.

There was a wild look in Tam’s eyes as she assessed Jason closely, but she spoke to Tim. “Okay, you’ve said many times over the years that you feel somewhat responsible for your friend Jason’s death and that he’s the reason why you have a hard time getting close to anyone. And now, I find out that the same best friend is not only alive, but is also the Red Hood and that you’re sleeping with him.” She paused and took a deep breath. “Do I have all that straight?”

“Pretty much,” Tim replied mildly and sipped his coffee.

“Good. Just checking.” Tam returned to her face off with Jason. “I’m not sure I even want to know how you two ended up sleeping together, but you’d have to be blind not to see that you both care about each other a lot. For that reason alone, I will keep my peace. I don’t like it, but I am hopeful I’ll be proven wrong about you.”

“I don’t have to prove shit to you,” Jason said as he leaned back in the chair. They weren’t that comfortable for someone of his build. “But I have a lot to prove to Tim.” He looked over at the man and chuckled at the dopey expression on his face.

“No, you don’t, Jay,” Tim tried to say, but Jason cut him off.

“I do. We’re both messed up because of what happened when we were kids. You feel like you need to prove to me that you know how to be a friend. My friend.” He paused and took another sip of tea. This next part was important and he didn’t want to fuck it up. “After last night though, I don’t know if that’s enough. I want…I want to be more.”

Was it so wrong that as soon as the words left his mouth, Jason braced himself for the world to come crumbling down? Because that’s what it liked to do to him. As soon as he found something good, it was yanked away.

Tim reached for his hand and Jason took it, squeezing tightly to the lifeline that was being offered. “I do too,” he said, his gaze intent. “I’m not sure what that will be, but we’ll figure it out, along with everything else.”

A chime rang out from someone’s phone. Two chimes actually as Tim’s phone was still on his desk. Tam was doing her best to ignore them and let them have some semblance of privacy for what was obviously an important discussion, but she frowned as she looked up from her phone. “That’s the reminder for our nail appointments, Tim.”

Jason couldn’t help it. He started laughing as the tips of Tim’s ears burned red in embarrassment.

“They’re for my costume,” he said defensively and shoved a bite of his now cold breakfast into his mouth.

“Is that so? I suppose I need to make an appearance at the brat’s party tonight to see the rest of it then,” Jason said. The memory of peeling that skintight suit off Tim’s slim body, revealing every single inch of pale skin, was seared into his brain. How he looked when he zipped those boots of his back up… Yeah, he needed to see the rest of the costume. There was a cape involved, he remembered that much from when they’d talked about it a few weeks ago.

“Of course,” Tim replied with a cheeky grin. “If you’re lucky, maybe I’ll even let you take a closer look at all the fine details.” He winked and Tam started laughing.

Oh, Jason planned to memorize every single inch of that costume before morning. He rose and started collecting plates. Tim’s was half done, but he wasn’t worried. Part of Tam’s job was making sure her boss was properly fed. “Get some clothes on. I’ll clean up here.”

While Tim ran upstairs to get dressed, Tam followed Jason into the kitchen. He’d been cleaning as he went, so washing the plates and forks in the sink was the work of a minute. The woman clearly wanted to ask something and he was damned if he knew what it was.

When she did ask, it wasn’t what he was expecting. “How are you getting home? Or wherever it is you live.”

That wasn’t what he was expecting. Not in the slightest. “I got a motorcycle parked a couple blocks over.”

“No, I meant with that.” She pointed at the red helmet he’d turned into a centerpiece on the table.

Jason grinned. “Watch and learn.”

In the living room, he dug under the sofa to grab his undershirt and body armor. The red bat still felt a bit odd to wear, but it was growing on him. It had been Alfred’s idea. Socks and boots soon followed. His guns, gloves, and jacket he took back to the table and detoured back into the kitchen for one of those reusable grocery bags he’d found tucked away in the pantry. The jacket he put on and zipped up all the way. The rest of his gear went in the bag.

“There ya go. Now I just look like a punk from the wrong side of the tracks.” Honestly, out of all their different costumes, his was the easiest to make passable in public. Assuming it was cold outside because a full leather jacket in the middle of summer just looked odd.

Tam shook her head slowly, obviously suppressing a laugh if the slight tremor to her shoulders and the glimmer in her eyes meant anything. “The Red Hood is just going to walk down the street in broad daylight with a Whole Foods bag?”

“Why not?” Jason deadpanned. “It’s not like Tim knows to shop anywhere else.”

“You really aren’t anything like I was expecting,” she said, her arms crossed loosely rather than the defensive posture she’d taken earlier.

“I tend to have that effect on people,” he replied, hefting the bag to make sure everything was hidden.

“I just hope you’re not that much of an asshole in front of Tim. He has a very hard time getting close to people. A few wrong words will send him running.”

Jason recognized the warning for what it was. Tam was giving him her version of the shovel talk. It wasn’t like she could out and out threaten him with bodily harm, but she could hit him in other ways. “We both have shit we need to work through. That doesn’t change because of a good lay. I’m a fucked up mess at the best of times. If I send him running, it’ll definitely be because of something I said.”

Tam eyed him warily, but there was finally understanding in her brown eyes. “You have PTSD, don’t you?”

“Yeah.” Amongst other things. He’d tried reading up on psychological disorders once and threw his laptop across the room after finding way too many that he showed symptoms of (at least symptoms he could recognize or acknowledge). Self-diagnosis was not the way to go.

The young woman was quiet for a moment, thinking over what he’d just said. “Well, if you do send Tim running, what are the chances you’ll come after him?”

Jason shrugged, uncertain where Tam was going with this. “I don’t know. Probably will depend on what I said and how much I hate myself afterwards.”

But Tam nodded thoughtfully, which surprised him. “So if we don’t see you within a day of a blow up, then we’ll know to come look for you.”

Wait, what? “We?” he asked in surprise.

“Yes, we,” Tam replied with a smile. “Tim is my best friend, even if he can’t say the same to me. He’s been there for me through most of my failed relationships, the least I can do is help him make his first real one work.”

This was getting a little too Hallmark Channel for Jason, even if it was nice to see Tam wasn’t wholly against him like he thought she was. “Thanks,” he offered.

Tim charged down the stairs, fully dressed in jeans and a button-down shirt that didn’t scream young and rich, which Jason appreciated. “Is there any coffee left?” he asked as he entered the kitchen.

“You and your coffee,” Jason groused, reaching out and tousling Tim’s hair. It looked like he’d tried to tame it but failed.

“That’s a yes or no question, Jay,” Tim replied, leaning into the touch for a moment before darting off to inspect the coffeepot himself.

Tam tapped Jason on the shoulder and stood on her tiptoes to whisper in his ear. “Here’s a hint for a successful relationship with Tim. The answer to the coffee question is always yes.”

*****

Later that evening, Tim drove up the long winding driveway of Wayne Manor. Damian had provided a long list of reasons why the masquerade was being held here rather than at a rented ballroom in some hotel downtown, but the main take-away from it was that the Manor sat over the top of the Batcave so if shit really did hit the fan, then they’d be prepared for it. He seemed confident his hired security for the night could do their jobs though.

Tim didn’t press for details. He’d been rather busy at the time, so most of what the teen said went in one ear and out the other.

He felt a little trepidation as he approached those massive doors. After all, this was the first time he would be encountering the Waynes (and all their massive amounts of justice grazed glory) since he admitted to knowing who they all were under their masks. There was bound to be some repercussions from this in some way. Probably from Bruce. Damian and Jason didn’t care one way or the other and they both had said Dick and Stephanie were fine with it.

Was this what it felt like on one of those meet the parent dates? Tim wouldn’t know as he’d never done it, but the butterflies in his stomach made him think the analogy wasn’t that far off the mark.

Valet parking was on the docket for tonight, so Tim put on his mask before getting out of the car.

“One moment,” he said to the young man who accepted his keys and opened his back door. His cape was in the backseat as he didn’t want to crush any of the feathers by sitting on it for too long. The drive across town was a bitch, even with weekend traffic. He shook it out and draped it over his shoulders.

“Nice,” the valet commented. “That’s different from everything else I’ve seen.”

Tim chuckled as he checked the interior pocket for his invitation, ID, and his phone. They were cleverly hidden in the lining of the cape and the weight of the phone didn’t mar the lines or throw it off balance. “I strive to be original,” he replied with a wink.

 

In the main foyer leading into Wayne Manor, there was a short line of brightly costumed people waiting to get through an actual security checkpoint. Tim couldn’t help but be amused by it. He’d followed the instructions on the invitation over what to bring and what not to wear, so he wasn’t concerned.

“Hey Tim!” a hushed voice called out from a dark recessed area off to the side.

Tim wanted to roll his eyes. Not even here five minutes and already the Bats figured him out. It really shouldn’t surprise him that they’d been keeping tabs on the arriving cars and waiting for his. He knew he should have gotten that rental for the night.

Glancing over, he spotted someone who had to be Dick gesturing to him. The bright blue of his costume was a dead giveaway.

He left the short line and wandered over. “I thought you’d retired that costume?” he asked, raking his eyes up and down Dick’s body taking in every shocking detail of the high collared blue monstrosity that was the first Nightwing uniform. He’d never seen it this close, but he had a sneaking suspicion that not only was this version functional, it was even more glammed up than the original. The mask was different too, this one in bright sequins and feathers that fit the theme of a masquerade.

Dick spread his arms wide and spun around. Tim couldn’t help but stare at the man’s ass. Seriously, it needed to be sculpted in marble for posterity. His eyes were up and where they belonged though when the man faced him again. “I brought it out for a one night only performance,” he said, grinning broadly. “Damian and Steph had never seen it before, just in pictures and in the case downstairs.”

“Disco makes a comeback,” was all Tim could think of to say. The entry hall didn’t exactly seem to be the right place to talk about Jason or any of the other things that were now out in the open.

The remark made the man laugh. “Come with me,” Dick said and opened a panel at the back of the alcove. “You’re practically family now, so you get to skip the line.”

Tim followed cautiously into the hidden passage. It was relatively dust free and was actually lit, so it apparently was used more often than not. “How did you know it was me?” he asked as they walked. He tried very hard to keep his eyes above Dick’s waist. Jason would not appreciate him staring at his brother’s ass.

“The boots,” Dick replied as he led him up a flight of stairs. “You were wearing them the last time Ra’s kidnapped you. I helped Jason bring you home. Those were a pain to get off, by the way. Too many zippers.”

There was really nothing to say about that, so Tim kept his mouth shut about it. He was curious as to why they’d gone up those stairs. The ballroom he remembered was on the main floor towards the back of the house. There was a gallery around the upper level of the room, but he didn’t remember ever seeing anyone up there before.

They kept walking in companionable silence. It was a change from the Dick Grayson he knew in public. The man was a chatterbox, but from the look of it, that was an act. He decided he liked this better. “Where are we going?” Tim asked eventually.

“Bruce wants to talk to you in private.”

Of course he did. He felt like he was being led into the lion’s den. “Oh. He couldn’t have waited until I wasn’t dressed in feathers?” Tim shook his cape in emphasis even though Dick couldn’t see.

“Apparently not. But don’t worry, Steph and I ganged up on him, so we’re not going to his study. The gallery above the ballroom isn’t used at all, but it’s still public enough that we can keep an eye on him.” Dick tossed a reassuring grin over his shoulder.

“That’s comforting.” It was. Sort of. Tim was used to dealing with Bruce in public, but this wouldn’t be Brucie Wayne he was meeting. No, this was Bruce Wayne. Batman.

Shit.

Tim wondered if it was too late to turn around and just leave, to hell with what Damian would say later. He could call Jason (he still was inwardly squealing over the fact he had a phone number for him now) and tell him about the change of plans. Perhaps invite him over for a private showing of his costume. The thought was very appealing, but at the same time, this wasn’t something that could be put off forever. Bruce could find him anytime and force this conversation. There was no guarantee those other times would be supervised either.

Dick soon led him up some more stairs and opened another door. Tim followed him and looked out over the railing to the ballroom below. Dark, muted colors seemed to be the theme of the night, but there were twinkling fairy lights and other hidden sources of light to illuminate the massive room with its glass-domed ceiling. He recognized a sped up version of a rather common orchestral piece, which was very much in Damian’s style. The teen loved classical music, but he also enjoyed modern takes on the classics if it was done well.

Tearing his gaze from the scene below, Tim turned his eyes on the lone figure standing about halfway down the gallery.

“I’ll wait here,” Dick said just loud enough to be heard over the music. “Play nice.”

“I’m always nice,” Tim retorted as he strode towards Bruce.

Perhaps not always. He’d been told in no uncertain terms before that he was ruthless in the boardroom. And in bed. But as neither of those were places he was ever planning on having a conversation with Bruce Wayne, they didn’t apply.

He stopped a couple feet from the large man, just on the edge of his personal bubble. Bruce stood with his hands behind his back, staring out over the ballroom below them. He was the master of his domain, the lord of his castle. It was an apt comparison, Tim thought. He’d grown up well off, but not like this. The Drakes were respectably high on the social pecking order in Gotham, but the Waynes were in a league of their own.

“Bruce,” he said, content to let the ball stay in the other man’s court for the moment. There were a few different ways this conversation could go. His response all depended on Bruce’s opening salvo.

“Tim,” the man finally said, turning away from the railing to look down at him. He was dressed in what appeared to be a pirate’s costume, complete with swords that were in all likelihood real. The mask was resting on the balustrade, black and gold feathers trimming the edges. “Some things have come to my attention and I believe it’s time we had a little talk.”

For all that Bruce’s posture read open and easy for the eyes watching them, his words were anything but. His eyes, his voice, all were harder than steel, just as much a weapon as the rest of his highly trained body was.

Tim may not be that kind of a fighter, but he was confident enough in his own abilities to stand his ground. He removed his painted leather mask and set it on the railing next to Bruce’s mask. It was probably hard to take him seriously with all the makeup around his eyes and the fake nails he was sporting (they looked amazing, which he hadn’t anticipated), but that wasn’t his problem. This was Bruce’s chosen venue for this conversation, so he’d have to deal with him and his feathery costume.

“I can think of quite a few things we need to talk about,” Tim replied evenly. “Where would you like to start?”

Pale blue eyes bored into his own. “I want you to stay away from Jason.”

That wasn’t quite the tact Tim expected Bruce to take, but it wasn’t completely unexpected. Damian must have said something about his talk with Tim about the Lazarus Pit. Or written a report on the famed Batcomputer.

He tried not to smirk but it was a near thing. “Is this your version of the shovel talk?”

The glare turned into a glower. “Stay away from him. You hurt him once before. I’m sure you remember what happened.”

Tim stood firm even though he was flinching hard on the inside. “That’s a low blow, Bruce. Don’t think for a second that I haven’t blamed myself for what happened every day for years. But Jason doesn’t blame me, just as he doesn’t blame you. He blames the Joker and, to a certain extent, himself, over his death.”

There. He said it out loud. If Bruce was cold before, he was frigid now.

“He was a child who was set on a self-destructive path by harsh words from someone he trusted and considered his friend.”

“I know I hurt him, Bruce. You don’t have to remind me of the fact,” Tim snapped, his own walls starting to go up. Two could play at this game and he’d learned it from the best. “But I wasn’t the one who gave him the tools that allowed him to go down that path in the first place. That’s all you.”

Bruce took a step forward and loomed over him, his body absolutely rigid from the force of his anger. Before he had a chance to say anything, Tim cut in. “However, this isn’t about who can play the blame game the best. This is about Jason. And for whatever reason, he’s the one who is willing to give me a second chance. I am not about to fuck it up and that means there is no way in hell I’m listening to you.”

A slow clapping came from behind him and Bruce’s glare shifted to someone over the top of Tim’s head.

He was expecting Dick to be the one butting in, but he’d recognize that deep, slightly raspy baritone anywhere now. “You really didn’t think this was gonna work, did ya, Bruce? Dragging Tim off by himself to put the fear of the Bat in him? C’mon. I thought you were the world’s greatest detective.”

Dick must be with Jason because that was his laugh Tim heard next. “I know you’re not used to it, Jay, but this is Bruce’s Batdad mode. It’s how he shows he cares.”

Okay, that was funny and Tim cracked a smile as he turned. The smile morphed into a grin at what he saw and he couldn’t help but start laughing.

Jason glowered, clearly taken aback by his reaction. “What?” he asked defensively.

“Did Mr. Pennyworth pick out your costume?” Tim asked, raking his friend’s tall and broad form.

If Jason wasn’t dressed as Fitzwilliam Darcy in formal black and white attire, then Tim would eat his feathered cape. Even the simple black domino edged in white gave the entire look a debonair feel. Dick looked downright tacky standing next to him.

“This was supposed to be a private discussion,” Bruce growled at his sons.

Dick was still laughing. “There’s no such thing as privacy in this house.”

“Which is why I refuse to live here,” Jason said in evident disgust. “And yeah, Alfie picked this out.” He adjusted the cuffs on his jacket.

Tim glanced back at Bruce. Their conversation was far from over, not with how vehemently the man was against him being in a relationship with Jason. But he’d also learned long ago that actions spoke just as loudly as words to him. He hoped what he did next, and would continue to do, spoke enough.

Picking up his mask, he approached Jason and smiled up at him, the added height from his boots somewhat closing the height gap between them. “Hey,” he said with a small smile.

“Hey yourself.” Jason reached out and took one of Tim’s hands, clearly inspecting his painted nails. The fiery colors rose up from the base of his fingertips to end in rounded off tips that looked vaguely reminiscent of claws. “Those would do Catwoman proud,” he announced.

Tim snorted as he drew his hand back. “They’re not that sharp. I’d probably poke my eye out if they were.”

“I need to have a few words with Bruce,” Jason said, his eyes locking on the tall man behind him. “Think you can keep out of trouble downstairs?”

“Only if there’s no ninja,” he replied with a teasing smile. He rose up on his toes and kissed the corner of Jason’s mouth softly. Neither missed Dick’s quiet gasp next to them. Tim felt Bruce’s glare practically boring a hole in the back of his skull. “I’ll see you in a bit.”

With that, he walked away, Dick following hot on his heels.

“I see you two have worked a few things out,” he said knowingly as he led Tim back downstairs, this time by a different route.

Tim carefully settled his mask back over his eyes. “We have,” he agreed, but didn’t elaborate further.

“Good,” Dick continued. “I like seeing Jason happy for a change. You too for that matter.”

“You barely know me, Dick,” Tim said, not sure he liked the knowing tone the man was using.

“I know enough,” the man replied. “Jason doesn’t tell me everything, but he’s let a few things drop. But that’s all I’m going to say about that. You’re not the only one working with a second chance.”

Tim didn’t say anything at that, but he understood where Dick was coming from with the comment. He’d rarely ever been around after Jason’s adoption. From little things that Jason let drop, they weren’t close, not in the slightest. That apparently extended into their relationship as Robin and Nightwing too.

Soon enough, Dick opened another door, this one opening into another alcove hidden in the ballroom. “I’ll keep an eye on those two,” he said. “Their arguments still end in fist fights more often than not.”

With that parting shot, Dick closed the door behind him, leaving Tim alone in the crowded ballroom. That wasn’t something he particularly enjoyed hearing, but Jason was still quick to anger, that much he knew. He wondered what kind of ID was needed for anger management classes and if they were something his friend would ever consider. Or maybe he has and did and this was the result?

His brain needed to stop with all the thoughts. Tim caught sight of a waiter with a tray full of champagne flutes. He hoped they were full of champagne and not sparkling cider. It was hard to tell in the lighting, but he already could see the crowd skewed towards a younger age bracket than the other parties he’d attended here.

He snagged a glass and made a face at the sweet cidery taste. Maybe there was a bar hidden away somewhere in room.

Tim was still searching when Stephanie approached him. He couldn’t help but smile at the vision she presented in silver, purple, and gold. “You remind me of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” he said, accepting her hand and smartly bowing over it. A formal event like this called for formal manners after all.

Her pretty purple lips, frosted ever so slightly with a gold shimmer, pursed in amusement. “That implies a couple of things, Tim. And I am neither fat nor old.”

He laughed and finished off his sparkling cider, handing the empty glass off to a passing waiter. “No, you’re definitely not,” Tim agreed. “I’ll bite. What are you supposed to be?”

“The Sugar Plum Fairy.”

They share a laugh because it was rather ridiculous. Stephanie grabbed hold his hand again. “Dance with me?”

“Of course.” Tim let the woman lead him out onto the dance floor.

Any of the few approved reporters or photographers would soon be having a field day once they were spotted. Timothy Drake and Stephanie Brown-Wayne always made headlines whenever they appeared together, especially at events like these. They’ve both lost count of how many pending engagements or secret weddings they’ve had. This was even more hilarious in light of her previous relationship with Tam. The women dated for a few months, but it explained so much why his friend laughed so hard whenever the newest article came out.

The music was more upbeat than the typical quintet provided, so he knew Damian’s hand was at play here. It must have been one of the things he was working on while Tim hacked his grandfather’s finances and redistributed them. But there was still an orchestral quality to it that made dancing easy. At least the dancing that was socially acceptable, even with the admittedly younger crowd in the ballroom.

“You know,” Stephanie said leadingly after a few turns about the floor. “What you did was really impressive.”

Tim gave her an arch look. “I’ve said before that I can handle Ra’s. Why is this such a surprise to you people?”

The blonde smirked and wrinkled her nose at him in response. “Occupational hazard. We’re so used to swooping in to save the day that it shocks the crap out of us when it turns out we don’t have to.”

Okay, that was something he could easily see. “It also explains why you’re all nosy busy-bodies.”

“Guilty as charged. There are no secrets in this family.” Stephanie grinned again, this time a bit more knowingly.

Tim couldn’t help stiffening at her words, even as he gracefully guided her around the edge of the dance floor and back into its midst. “You all have been enjoying the crap out of this, haven’t you?”

The grin dimmed somewhat. “Yes and no,” she replied. “I want to make it clear that Jason really struggled with everything. He’s afraid of what you’ll think about who he is now.”

Tim sighed and averted his eyes, taking in the other dancers without really seeing them. It was obvious Jason had only mentioned that they talked and started working things out to a couple people rather than telling his entire family. His money was on Alfred and possibly Dick. “We’ll work it out,” he finally replied. “In our own time.”

Under the bedazzled and feathered mask, he can see Stephanie’s blue eyes track off to the side momentarily before landing back on him. It was odd to see her eyes under a mask for a change. “Well, he’s watching us right now, so perhaps now would be a good time to start. I think Dick’s trying to get him to cut in.” She squeezed his hand reassuringly. “It’ll be okay. I promise.”

“It’s the fact Dick is involved that bothers me. That never bodes well,” Tim said glibly. Dick must have gotten to Jason before any blows were exchanged up in the gallery, even though he couldn’t help but hope it wouldn’t come to that.

The young woman laughed, one of her real laughs and not the little titter she used more often for society events. “Remind me to tell you about the time where he…” she stopped as someone tapped Tim on the shoulder.

“Mind if I cut in, Blondie?” Jason asked.

“Only if you keep it clean,” Stephanie replied with a wink. “Damian will pitch a fit if you get raunchy.”

“Now where’s the fun in that?”

Stephanie leaned in and kissed Tim softly on the cheek. “Play nice and good luck,” she said quietly. “We’re all rooting for you two.”

With that, she swanned off, leaving them alone together.

“You didn’t tell anyone what happened last night, did you?” Tim asked as Jason took the lead in their dance. It took a moment to adjust as he was used to leading, but considering their heights, it was easier to let the taller man do it.

“Not a word,” he said, grinning as he spun them around the ballroom. “Alfred already seemed to know though. But we’ve long ago accepted that he knows everything.”

“Dick seems like he knows too.”

“He’s more perceptive than we like to give him credit for,” Jason replied. “He’s the one who called and told me you were talking with Bruce.” His face softened as he continued. “I heard what you said there at the end before I interrupted you. I probably won’t say this enough, but thanks. That means a lot to me.”

“I meant every word.” Tim drew closer and kissed Jason lightly before pulling away. It wasn’t enough (it would never be enough) but making out in the middle of the dance floor was a little gauche for him, even though he’d seen plenty of others doing it off to the sides over the years. “Everything else go alright?”

“Yeah, just Bruce being a dick and Dick sticking his nose in where it doesn’t belong. The usual.”

Tim smiled in amusement. Only in this family would a statement like that make sense.

“So how long do you need to stay here before the demon considers your social obligations fulfilled?” Jason asked, extending his arm and sending Tim into a twirl that sent his fiery cape flaring into its full glory.

“A couple hours at most,” Tim said. “Unless something happens that is.”

Jason grinned at that. “Well, this is Gotham. I’m sure someone is plannin’ a hit here tonight. Whether they make it onto the grounds is another thing.”

“Who’s handling security?” Tim asked, curiosity finally getting the best of him.

“The JSA.”

He gaped. “The JSA? You’re kidding.” Trust Damian to hire one of the most recognized super hero groups out there. Hell, it was probably because he was Robin that he was even able to do it.

“I shit you not,” Jason replied. He gestured with his chin over towards one side of the room. “That’s Power Girl over there.”

Tim looked over and sure enough, there was a tall blonde woman with a red cape draped artfully over one shoulder. She was standing in profile to them, but he could see she wore a red and gold feathered mask over her eyes. His inner fanboy started squealing over being this close to one of the Supers.

“Do you think she’d sign the back of my invitation?” Tim asked hopefully.

“You’ve gotta be kidding me.” Jason sounded torn between laughter and disbelief.

“Hey, you’re the one who’s used to these people. I’m the fanboy living off to the side.”

Jason had a retort ready, Tim could just see it when there was a loud crack above them and then shattered glass started raining down as the roof panels gave way under some unseen force. People started shouting and screaming as they were struck with shards of falling glass.

Power Girl was in the air before Tim could even register it. Jason grabbed his arm and dragged him off the dance floor. They’d been near the edge of it already and luckily managed to mostly escape being hit by anything.

“You okay?” Jason asked, rubbing his hands up and down Tim’s arms and shoulders.

“I’m fine,” Tim snapped as he glared up at the night sky. “I’m just reminded of why I didn’t want to come here in the first place.”

“Oh? And what’s that?” Jason spun him around to inspect his back.

If his cape was ripped, he was going to be pissed. “These events are always robbed. I like my watch too much to give it up. It’s a custom design.”

Tim couldn’t help but laugh at Jason’s incredulous look as he turned back around. “I’m fine,” he repeated. “Now don’t you have somewhere you need to be?”

Jason grinned. “Not my problem tonight. Besides, I think this counts as that something you mentioned earlier. Wanna get outta here?” There was a heated look in his eyes that was hard to miss, even with the chaos erupting around them.

Time to make up for the round three they missed out on this morning when Tam (rudely in his opinion) interrupted them.

“Yes,” Tim agreed, dusting some glass shards off Jason’s shoulders. He looked fine otherwise. “Who’s driving?”