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Building Interest

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Tim leans against the table of hors d’oeuvres and surveys the ballroom of the Grand. The floor is crowded with tables draped in red and black with austere white china settings. There are no other decorations – an unusual choice for an event like this, but Tim approves. It allows the ballroom’s original Art Deco design to shine.

It’s also different from most of the benefit dinners he has attended by way of the attendees. All of the main staples of Gotham’s charity circuit are present, but the rest of the patrons are younger and more diverse than he is used to seeing. Apparently invitations for this event hadn’t discerned between new and old money.

He had been surprised at the invitation in his mail, his name embossed in bright red on the black cardstock: Mr. Timothy J. Drake. When his parents were alive everything had been addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Jackson Drake. It was odd to see his name in their place. After they died and the operations of Drake Industries had been transferred to a board of directors until he reached his majority, invitations had ceased all together. Not that he minded. The events he had been forced to attend as a child were invariably long, boring, and lonely with few other children to commiserate with as their parents socialized.

He’s only attending this one because Bruce had declared it a good opportunity to gather intel on the Sionis family. They know business magnate Roman Sionis also operates a number of illegal enterprises under the alias Black Mask, they’re less sure of his adopted son Jason’s level of involvement. Is he completely innocent and clueless to his father’s criminal dealings, a well-groomed heir to figurehead the legal side of Sionis’ holdings, or Black Mask’s favorite new enforcer ominously dubbed The Red Death?

Tim hates the pretentious name. But after witnessing The Red Death quickly and clinically take down five men with headshots and a sixth with a well-placed stiletto three weeks ago; he can’t argue against its appropriateness.

So here he is, lounging by the appetizer buffet pretending to pick at a plate of mini corndogs and fried macaroni bites while subtly eyeing the crowd. Bruce, away on League business, had sent Dick in his stead and tasked the two of them with getting close to, and ingratiating themselves with the younger Sionis if possible. Honestly, his presence here is redundant. If anyone is going to succeed in making friends it will be Dick with his Adonis looks and guileless charm. People are drawn to Dick, like satellites into orbit by his congenial gravity.

Less so with Tim.

He has friends. He isn’t a total loser. It just takes people longer to warm up to him. Knowing this, he figures he’ll leave the brown-nosing to Dick and in favor of keeping careful track of everyone else Jason Sionis interacts with tonight. Later, he’ll go back to the cave and cross-reference those individuals for any connections to Black Mask’s racketeering.

He gets shoulder-checked as Dick bounds up to him from behind, waving a colorful treat in his face.

“Oh my god, did you see these? They’re like rice crispy treats but made from Crocky Crunch. They're awesome!” Dick enthuses around a mouthful of cereal and marshmallow.

Even with his cheeks stuffed like a chipmunk Dick Grayson is obnoxiously good-looking in a deep blue velvet dinner jacket.

“Dick slow down with the snacks. You do know there’s an actual dinner that’s going to be served later, right?” Barbara huffs as she catches up to him and slides her hand into the corner of his elbow. She rolls her eyes indulgently at his antics then greets Tim with a one-armed hug. “Hi Tim, it’s good to see you. You look nice. Well, nice as possible. How’s the face?”

Tim groans, fingers flitting up to his swollen nose. He’d taken a pipe to the face as Red Robin two nights ago and not even Alfred’s old theater make-up skills could magic away the deep purple bloom.

“I’ve been telling everyone I slipped on the uneven bars,” he confesses.

Barbara hums in sympathy and digs around in her clutch then passes him a couple of pain relief tablets.

“Thought you might need some of those. And that you’d probably forget to bring any yourself. You boys need to take better care of yourselves, I swear. Anything exciting happen before we arrived?” she asks as her eyes skate over the crowd.

She wears a sleek crimson gown, blowing apart the style myth that redheads shouldn’t wear red. Tim looks at the attractive pair they make. He adores them. Really. But damn, do they make it hard for anyone around them sometimes. Stephanie had told him he looked very handsome over video-chat before he left the house, but now it’s taking conscious effort not to compare himself against his friends and mentors.

Still, he’s glad they are here and that he has someone to talk to. He had asked Stephanie to be his plus-one, but apparently morning sickness isn’t restricted to only the morning. He fiddles with his silver cufflinks, tiny versions of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

“No. I talked with Lucius for a bit. He’s over there chatting with Ted Kord now. Uh, ran into one of my old classmates from high school, Bernard Dowd. Got my cheek pinched by Mrs. Crowne. That’s about it really. I didn’t get here too much before you.”

“So you haven’t laid eyes on our host yet?”

“Nope, not yet,” he admits, slightly disappointed.

He can’t deny the invitation had piqued his curiosity even before Bruce made it a mission. The Sionises are a bit of a mystery. Their name, like the Drakes, is old enough to garner some respect and local B-list celebrity status, but it doesn’t stir up the same obsessive frenzy as ‘Wayne.’ He remembers it popping up in the news and tabloids every once in a while when he was younger, but after the accident that disfigured Roman Sionis’ face and the crash of Janus Cosmetics, its presence in the media had faded until the only time he sees it now is in the business section of the newspaper when stocks for Sionis Investments rise or fall.

This is the first time in a decade that it’s been tied to any kind of public event. To receive an invitation from the elusive Jason Sionis for a benefit dinner of all things had been intriguing.

Sure they had some grainy green-cast images of him snatched off security feeds and one or two from online gossip zines stolen by pioneering paparazzi. Yet the man had an uncanny ability to avoid good camera shots – head always tilted away just so, face obstructed by a raised middle finger or a baseball cap brim pulled low.

Dick swears he’d caught a glimpse of him once way back when he was dating Zatanna. According to Dick, they’d gone to a performance of Carmen at the Metropolis Opera House and there was a stir in one of the balconies as an  unhappy usher tried to confront the young Sionis heir for sneaking a dog into his private box, only to be bribed off with a few Franklins and a glib, ‘Oh, hes one of those therapy dogs, yanno?” Tim isn’t sure how many grains of salt to take with that story, considering Dick also admitted that it’d been too dark and distant for him to get a good look.

Regardless, Tim is a tiny bit excited to meet him in person.

A low whuff cuts through the ambient buzz of conversation around them and brings it to a halt. Heads swivel to locate the source of the distinctly not-human sound. He sees the dogs first, a massive square headed pitbull with a blue coat and white markings, next to the stage. Its dopey drooly grin isn’t quite enough to detract from its intimidatingly muscled shoulders and haunches. Maybe that’s why it’s also been dressed in a lobster costume? It’s harder to be scared of a dog dressed as a lobster. A few of the children attending the event have already left their protesting parents to pet the ridiculous thing.

He wonders if this is the dog that he took to the Opera.

He follows the leash to the man of the hour, crouched down and waving the kids closer with an encouraging grin until they work up the courage to pat the canine on her blocky head and dart away again giggling.  He inhales sharply.

Jason Sionis is striking in a way Tim is wholly unprepared for. Shorter than he was expecting, Jason is perhaps only an inch or two taller than himself. In a couple years, and another growth spurt, they may be of equal height. His build is in a word: sharp. He fills out his suit nicely. The way it clings reveals that despite his smaller stature he’s made up entirely of wiry corded muscle. Glossy black curls that Stephanie would cry over fall across his forehead and into blazing ultramarine eyes.

Tim chokes on the mini-corndog he’d been munching on and desperately hopes it goes unnoticed by the young man. His hope withers as Jason’s gaze zeroes in on him and full lips curl up in a smug smile. Overwhelmed by everything else, it takes that smile for Tim to finally notice the scar that cleaves the skin of his cheek apart in a rift from just below his eye down to his mouth, tugging his top lip into a permanent smirk.

Wow.

So that’s why he’s always hiding his face from the cameras.

The life of super-villains really is not kind to facial health. Deathstroke, Two-Face, Black Mask Tim shakes his head. It’s unfair to lump Jason in with them based on appearances only. His relation to Black Mask doesn’t exactly lean in his favor, but if GCPD records are to be believed he doesn’t have so much as a sealed juvie record. If he has committed any crimes, he hasn’t been caught doing so.

Tim grabs a champagne flute off the tray of a passing server to try and wash down the last of the corndog clinging to his esophagus. Dick snatches it deftly from his hands and quickly finishes it off.

“No drinking until you’re twenty-one,” he admonishes.

Tim glares at him.

“You know I’ve been drinking champagne at these things since I was like ten, right Dick?”

“Incoming at your three o’clock,” Barbara grinds out a hushed warning from behind a tight smile.

His eyes slide to the side, catching sight of their host shaking hands and exchanging a few words in passing with Lucius and Ted before striding their way, leash in hand. A large man with a weather-beaten (emphasis on the beaten ) face drifts a handful of steps behind him. The size of his shoulders screams bodyguard even if the scuffed leather jacket worn haphazardly over his suit is somewhat less than professional.

Tim feels the new presence breach their circle even before he hears the hushed, “Lizzie, sit,” at his right.

The dog issues a polite sounding whuff and follows the command.

Good girl.

Seated, she licks her nose and blinks up at everyone.

“Good evening! Miss. Gordon, Mr. Grayson, Mr. Drake—Ouch! What does the other guy look like?” Sionis greets them warmly in a voice deeper than Tim expects for his size.

Tim’s hand floats self-consciously to his nose again, because of course his face is going to be a bloated swollen mess the night he’s supposed to network with an important lead.

“Oh uh. Yeah. Gymnastics accident. Slipped on the uneven bars.”

“Well, thank you so much for coming tonight. I’ve broken my nose twice, so I know how much it sucks. I’m Jason by the way and this is Lizzie,” his voice lilts up an octave as he pats her on the head, making the lobster antennae bob.

“Lovely to meet you, Lizzie!” Barbara coos, automatically dropping to a crouch and holding out her hand.

Lizzie obligingly lifts a paw for her to shake. Meanwhile Jason extends his hand to Dick first, then Tim. His grip is firm, confident but not competitive. His hands are warm and calloused, knuckles crosshatched with old scars. They’re big and a little disproportionate like he never quite grew into them. Tim can’t quite account for his vague disappointment when Jason pulls his hand away. It doesn’t last long, dissipating as soon as Tim’s attention drags up to his face. And holy shiiiit. He thought Jason was striking from across the ballroom, but this close he can see Jason’s eyes aren’t just blue. No, a bright ring of sea foam green swirls out from his pupils into the darker hue at the edge of his irises.

Fingers jab into his ribs.

“What?” he grunts and glowers at Dick.

“I think it’s customary to say hi back,” Dick reminds him with a twinkle in his eye.

“Oh. Uh. Hi. Great… party.”

“Yah, great job on the snacks,” Dick praises, stealing a macaroni bite off Tim’s plate. “Way better than the usual raw beef and fish eggs.”

Jason laughs, “Well thanks, I’ll pass that along to the team. I didn’t want this to just be another stuffy shindig, you know?”

Something presses against his leg. Tim looks down. Now that Barbara has stood back up to join in conversation, Lizzie has zoned in on him. She leans her weight into him and licks her lips hopefully at the plate in his hands. Wow, her head is big.

“Guh. Lizzie,” Jason groans and tugs her away by her leash, “Sorry, don’t mind her. She’s a fat-ass, I promise I don’t starve her.” He jokes, slapping her chest, which resonates heavily in proof. He opens his mouth to continue speaking when Tim cuts him off.

“Is this the dog you brought to the opera?”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“The Metropolis Opera. Didn’t you bring a dog with you in your box? Dick said you bribed the usher to let it stay.”

“Uh. No she’s not. That was Homer. And I didn’t have to bribe anyone because he was a therapy dog.”

“Oh. Is Lizzie a therapy dog too?”

His brain registers the embarrassed flush spreading over Dick’s face and even Barbara’s hand making a harsh chopping motion at her neck behind Jason’s back, but he can’t stop the flow of inquiry.

“Yes, she is,” Jason answers shortly.

“Why isn’t she wearing a vest then?”

Jason’s eyes narrow.

“Because she doesn’t like it.”

“But she's wearing a cost—”

Jason turns purposefully back to Dick and Barbara with forced levity and asks, “Uh, so what was I saying?”

“Extracurriculars,” Dick supplies helpfully.

“Yes! Studies have proven that being involved in activities outside of the core curriculum actually correlate to higher graduation rates. So, while donations are always welcome what I’m really hoping for tonight is to make connections with people willing to invest their time and interests as well.”

“Well, if you want to offer computer classes… I could help with that,” Barbara volunteers.

“I’d love to help. I was a mathlete and an acrobat, but I live in Bludhaven and work for the BPD, between the commute and the odd hours… Don’t think I’ll be able to promise much,” Dick shrugs apologetically.

“No worries, I completely understand,” Jason reassures him, “I hear Bludhaven is almost worse than Gotham, thank you for your service. And thank you Miss Gordon for your offer. That’d be much appreciated; I’ll be in touch to set something up. What about you, Mr. Drake? Do you have anything you like to do outside of school?”

“Huh? Oh. Well, gymnastics obviously,” he grimaces, and waves at his nose. “Contrary to the evidence, I’m not terrible. But I’m not actually in school anymore.”

He fastidiously ignores the sharp look that earns from Dick.

“Oh, you’ve graduated already?”

“Um, no.”

Jason’s face crinkles in confusion.

“Private tutors?” he guesses.

“Uh…” Tim shifts uncomfortably. “No. I just… School was never all that challenging for me I guess. Always seemed like there were better ways to spend my time.”

You know, like fighting criminals like your dad .

“Huh. Interesting.”

The tight knit of those expressive dark brows inexplicably pricks at his pride.

“Wha—what’s interesting?” he asks defensively.

Their host aims that crooked grin his way.

“It’s just, well, you know this is a fundraiser for an organization committed to enriching children’s education in Gotham. Encouraging them to stay in school and graduate, right?”

Heat flashes from his sternum to neck at the other’s infuriatingly placid yet mocking tone. And this, this right here is why they should just leave any mission requiring social skills to Dick. Why couldn’t the earth have swallowed him whole before he decided to open his dumb mouth?

Wellll,” Jason drawls out, doing his best to smooth over the uncomfortable moment, “It was very nice speaking with you Mr. Grayson, Ms. Gordon… Mr. Drake. Unfortunately, it’s time for me to go up and bore everyone with a speech. Thank you once again for coming.”

Jason turns smartly and makes his way back across the room, weaving between tables and well-wishers with Lizzie in tow and his bodyguard trailing behind them.

“Wowww. You know at first, you were eye-fucking him so hard I thought I was going to have to shove you in a taxi home early so there wouldn’t be any conflict of interests tonight, but then you crashed and burned so spectacularly I don’t think I need to worry about that anymore,” Dick whistles lowly. “Oh, and by the way, we’re talking about the part where you dropped out of school once we get back to the manor, okay?”

“I wasn’t—I didn’t—!”

“Ouch,” Barbara adds sympathetically, patting his shoulder.

He wants to spit a cutting witticism back, absolutely deny that there had been any eye-fucking going on at all, but the lights subtly dim signaling to the crowd that it’s time to settle down for the evening. Barbara’s guiding hand steers him towards their table and pushes him down into his seat. He plops down miserably, barely managing to scrounge up a smile for Lucius and his wife Tanya who end up at their table as well.

On stage, Jason takes the podium and smiles benevolently out at the audience.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for braving our iconic Gotham weather and traffic to make it here tonight. There are a lot of great causes out there to devote your time, your money, and your energy to, so I’m elated to see that so many agree that education is one of the most worthy causes to champion.”

Jason’s eyes glitter and is it him, or is he looking straight at Tim when he says that? Tim sinks further into his chair as the room around him applauds. Jason clears his throat and takes a small sip of water from a glass that’s been left on the podium for him.

“Sorry, little bit nervous. It’s my first time throwing one of these. So, please let me know if I make any mistakes,” he smiles disarmingly. Anyone not trained to dissect human behavior might think he was joking, fooled by their host’s charming facade, but Tim can hear the slightest waver in his words. “Now, before I get into things like goal statements, objectives, projected costs, and capital campaigns… I’d like to take a few minutes to share why this endeavor is so important to me personally.”

Tim listens as Jason delivers a passionate retelling of his life. He knows some of it already: son of small-time drug dealers, orphaned at thirteen when the GCPD pulled his parents’ bodies out of Gotham Bay, his adoption by Roman Sionis a few years later. But knowing is different than hearing it directly from the source and the longer Jason speaks the more Tim really, really hopes Bruce’s suspicions are wrong.

“I had always loved school, loved learning. But after my parents died and my meal plan expired, survival took priority over education. I dropped out of school when I was thirteen years old. At the time, it seemed like the smart move. I needed food to survive, I needed money for food, I needed a job for money, and I couldn’t work if I was stuck in a school building all day, right? What I didn’t realize was that by giving up my education, I was also giving up my best chance to actually get off the streets.

As I’m sure you can imagine, there’s not many employment opportunities for middle-school drop outs from Crime Alley. Definitely not any legal ones. No big surprise, I ended up as an errand boy for a drug dealer just to be able to fill my stomach. I was squatting in a condemned building without running water or heat, and was trapped in a culture of violence. If I hadn’t been adopted by my father, well…” Tim can feel the crowd lean forward in curious anticipation as one of Jason’s hands starts to float up towards his marred face, “It’s highly likely I would already be dead.

But I was adopted. And my father made sure I was given the best education money could buy. And thanks to those tutors and teachers who were willing to work with a scrawny kid out of the slums who didn’t know a dangling participle from a preposition, I was able to graduate valedictorian at my high school and was accepted into every university I applied to. I went from having nothing, to having the world at my fingertips. I could be a doctor, lawyer, engineer, a—a linguistic anthropologist!—whatever the hell that is…”

The room erupts in genteel laughter.

“Now, not going to lie, my dad wasn’t quite sure how to take it when I decided to get a degree in sociology… But the point is, that thanks to my education I had the choice and opportunity; something that a lot of kids right now, right here in this city we call home, don’t. And not all of them are going to have the good luck of being taken in by a wealthy benefactor.”

Dick cringes in his seat next to Tim.

“That’s something I’d like to change, so if you’ll put up with me for another fifteen minutes…”

From there, Jason continues on with the bullet points of his charity program. The details blur as Tim’s mind churns with an unsettling shame for his behavior earlier in the evening, guilt growing in direct proportion with a new respect for the young philanthropist. Eventually, the lights rise again and food is brought out to the tables. It must be good considering how enthusiastically Dick digs into his meal beside him, but Tim pokes at his food more than he eats it.

He sets his fork down with resolve in the gap between entrée and dessert. Jason is sitting at a table close to the stage with whom Tim assumes to be the most promising contributors. He waits until their host excuses himself and rises from his seat, and Tim does the same.

Jason moves towards the back of the room, to a door set in the wall behind and left of the stage, his bodyguard hands him Lizzie’s leash and follows. If Tim remembers correctly, the door opens onto a narrow hallway with bathrooms and kitchen access. He accelerates his pace to catch up, but not so fast as to look unnatural. He passes through the doorway and looks both ways, surprised to see Jason and his small entourage heading not to the bathrooms but the kitchen.

Tim ducks through the swinging kitchen door and stalks the trio as they weave between the catering crew busily wrapping up and wiping down the industrial space.  As he walks, Jason shouts out compliments and thanks for their hard work, tossing a thumbs up as he disappears outside. Tim pauses at the final threshold, ignoring the odd looks the staff are shooting at him. He takes a preparatory breath and pushes into the night beyond.

The door empties out into a dingy alleyway at odds with the Grand’s name. Jason jumps up from where he’d been crouched by a dumpster, forehead pressed to his dog’s, hands scratching he’s pushed her costume down off her ears. Tim hears a click and doesn’t need to look to know the bodyguard has a piece leveled at him.

“Shit! You scared the fucking begeezus out of me,” Jason swears, all of his carefully cultivated charm falling away.

The voice he uses now is different; rougher, less enunciated – his accent betraying Crime Alley origins. It’s such a startling difference Tim’s mind bluescreens for a second. Jason frowns at him and leans back against the brick wall behind him. His hand pats at his chest, dipping inside his jacket to retrieve a slim silver cigarette case. He busies himself with selecting a cigarette and lighting it, taking a long pull before addressing him.

“Timothy Drake, right?”

Tim nods.

“Okay… So you uh, you follow me out here a reason? Or you just want to watch my dog take a piss?”

“Oh! No! Sorry, I didn’t mean to—I wanted to catch you privately so I could apologize?”

“For wha’?” Jason mumbles around the cigarette in his mouth.

“For what I said—or what it sounded like I said, earlier. I didn’t mean to belittle or condescend. I especially didn’t mean to insinuate that education is… plebian. I love learning. Always have. I am actually a massive nerd. If you couldn’t guess. I mean, you could probably guess, because I’m wearing Star Trek cufflinks but I probably shouldn’t have just admitted that,” oh god he’s rambling now, just get to the point! “I just didn’t love school—But that doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s an integral foundation for a successful society. I think the youth center and the programs you want to implement… Well, I think they’re a great idea. And Gotham is lucky to have someone who cares as much as you.”

Jason’s eyebrows arc towards his hairline and he motions to his bodyguard to lower his gun. The man obeys but doesn’t re-holster, he notices. Jason removes the cigarette from his mouth and the upwards crook of his lips paired with a soft snort of laughter feels like benediction.

“Dr. King said: the function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character, that is the goal of true education,” he recites. “No apology was necessary, but I appreciate it. Shows me that you’ve already got both intelligence and character Mr. Drake.”

“Call me Tim,” the words tumble out in a rush.

“Tim, then.”

The smile Jason levels at him wrinkles up the scarred side of his face and he finds himself responding in kind with a dumber goofier version. The hulking Neanderthal of a guard coughs into his hand and Jason rolls his eyes. Tim’s not quite sure how to interpret the exchange but feels his face grow hot.

“Well… Uh. Sorry to have scared you. And interrupted you. I’ll uh, I’ll head back inside now.”

“ ‘s fine,” Jason shrugs, “Just needed a few minutes alone. All of that,” he gestures at the hotel and takes another drag on his cigarette, “gets draining, yanno?”

“I know,” Tim empathizes, his fingers hovering on the door handle, “But if it’s any consolation, you’ve been doing a great job. I promise not to tell anyone you’re smoking and swearing in the alley out back.”

Jason barks out a laugh and grins at him, “Thanks, I’ll see you inside in a few.”

Tim nods and is about to wend his way back through the kitchen to the dining hall when a round of gunfire echoes deafeningly in the narrow channel of the alley. He instinctively crouches to make himself smaller even as he pivots back around. A black van blocks the mouth of the alley. Men spill from its open side door. Jason is falling to his knees beside his bodyguard who is stretched out on the ground.

“Fuck, Box! C’mon!” Jason yells, his hands scramble across the man’s chest.

At first Tim thinks he’s going to try and administer first aid but Jason’s hands reach past the red stain blooming across his bodyguard’s shirt towards his dropped gun instead. Jason’s fingers light on the backstrap but a thug’s booted foot sends him sprawling backwards before he can grasp it. Tim moves to intercept when the thug aims another kick, this time at Jason’s head, but he’s beaten to the punch. Lizzie launches herself at her owner’s attacker, teeth sinking deep into flesh of his raised leg.

The man’s howl is cut off by another round of gunfire. The speed of the shots is concerning, reminding him more of a well-organized bank robbery than typical Gotham street violence. Tim’s eyes dart back and forth, scanning and assessing the scene. There are four men in the alley with them. One is crumpled on the ground on, clutching a bloody leg. Another sweeps up the gun Jason had been trying to reach for and a third has finally taken notice of Tim and angles aggressively his way. If it was just the three of them, he’d feel confident in his ability to take them down and play it off as self-defense training later.

But the exaggerated magazine of the machine pistol in the hands of the fourth man planted in front of the van’s open door would make even Red Robin nervous in these close confines. And he’s not Red Robin tonight. No grappling hook, no body armor, no wings. He has a few smoke pellets, an audio recorder, an emergency tracker disguised as a cufflink and that’s about it.  Jason’s bodyguard is down. Lizzie is down. Jason is still on his hands and knees. Conditions are not optimal.

At least Jason doesn’t appear to be wounded. His face is twisted and ugly with a different sort of pain as he leans over his dog. As the ringing in Tim’s ears fades, it’s replaced with a ragged scream.

Bastard! I’m gonna fucking kill you!”

Jason lunges up from the ground, rage wiping out rational thought, and makes to charge the gunman. Not good. Tim bursts into action, ducking around the thug advancing on him, ready to throw himself between Jason and the coming onslaught of bullets. There’s no blast of gunfire but Jason stumbles and falls to the ground. Tim slams on the brakes and windmills, trying not to trip over the body he’d been ready to collide with and cover. It’s a split-second but it’s long enough for the thug he’d ducked around to catch up and pull his arms behind his back. He’s wrenched around to face the man who’d managed to bring Jason down, sidling up alongside him and pistol-whipping him with his own bodyguard’s gun. He must be the leader.

“Aw damnit,” the man tucks the borrowed gun into the back of his pants and frowns mightily.

He sighs and runs his fingers through his hair as he looks back and forth between Tim and Jason’s unconscious figure.

The passenger side window of the van rolls down and the driver leans across the console to yell at them.

“What the hell is taking so long? Someone’s definitely called the cops by now, we’ve got to fucking go!”

“There’s fucking two of them!”

“Two of what?!”

The leader’s face contorts in frustration and he gestures wildly with his hands, “Boss said, ‘black hair, blue eyes, busted up face.' Well there’s two of em! Black hair! Blue eyes! Busted up face!”

“Did Boss say what kind of busted up? Like… past or present busted up? Bruised or cut up? Call and ask!”

“I’m not going to call! You fucking call!”

Huh.

It’s a kidnapping not a hit.

Oh.

Oh no.

“Why don’t we just ask him?” the man holding Tim asks, jostling his captive for emphasis. “Hey kid, Jason Sionis; that you or him?”

“What? Wait—no, uh. Guys, sorry but—”

Tim’s protests are drowned out by a derisive snort.

“Christ, Louie. You can’t ask him that! He’s just going to lie!”

“So what do we do?”

“I don’t care! But we have got to go! Just grab both of them. We’ll figure it out later and dump the extra then, but I swear to god if you don’t get your asses in this van in the next thirty seconds I am leaving you all here!”

The other men exchanged harried glances and an unspoken decision seems to be made when the man who clocked Jason approaches him, hefting the pistol in his hand with purpose. Tim rolls his eyes and does his best to hunch his shoulders in a placating gesture since his arms are restrained.

“Absolutely not necessary. You want me in the van—I’ll get in the van. Just don’t hit me in the face, my nose is already broken, please?”

The thugs’ mouths drop, unprepared for easy acquiescence. But the way Tim sees it, he doesn’t really have a choice. If he claims to be Jason, they might just shoot the real one. If he reveals himself as not-Jason, they might shoot him. At least this way it will be easier for Dick to track them down by his emergency tracer. He sighs and lets himself be prodded into the back of the vehicle. Well, here’s another point closer towards tying Dick for kidnapping attempts.