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People Ruin Beautiful Things

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The bottle of wine is the shit cherry on top of this shit sundae that’s been Tim’s week. He’s not going to tempt fate and call it the worst week of his life, but all of the other worst weeks have lead up to this point, and he’s just 100% done with pretending he’s okay with it.

He hasn’t slept in over forty hours. Since the last time he saw his bed, he’s spent nine hours in the Wayne Enterprises offices, two hours stuck in traffic, one hour showering under the luke warm water of the Batcave’s increasingly temperamental showers, twenty eight hours in the sewers tracking Killer Croc with Bruce and Damian, and scant minutes stuffing energy bars into his face in lieu of actual food.

Oh, and he also turned eighteen.

He yanks his tie over his head and drops it on the kitchen table. The wine is Syrian, nineteenth century. It’s sitting on top of a small leather bound book with an Arabic word embossed on the cover. Tim’s been working on his Arabic, mostly to understand Damian’s insults, but he’s too tired to think straight in English right now, let alone something with an entirely different alphabet.

He’s bone tired, physically and emotionally. He’d been apprehensive about his birthday before it happened, anxious about the grief it might drag back up. He hadn’t even figured out how to bring it up with Bruce when he got the alert about Croc and dived in to help.

However he might have wanted to spend it, waist deep in raw sewage with the demon brat spewing bile in his ear while Bruce alternated between ignoring his sons and remonstrating with Tim for letting Damian get to him wasn't it.

His eyes burn and the wine bottle blurs in front of him.

It’s not fair.

It’s not fair his parents are dead.

It’s not fair Bruce didn’t remember his birthday.

It’s not fair that Ra’s did.

Because that’s who’s clearly set this up.

Tim’s only birthday present is a bottle of presumably-poisoned wine and a book he can’t read, and he’s achingly grateful for both.

He calls himself pathetic, but it doesn’t seem to help stem the impending tears. He shouldn’t care. He doesn’t want to care. Birthdays are for little kids; adults don’t need a pat on the head for stumbling through the world another year. Ageing isn’t an achievement. Even in his line of work.

He scrubs his hand over his eyes. He’s spent the day lying about his birthday to his colleagues, using it as a handy excuse for why he and Bruce skipped work the day before. Tam had provided cookies to the staff on his behalf, and that breaks him all over again, because they were his birthday cookies and he didn’t even get one.

He’s too tired to calm himself down, and too worked up to sleep. He gives himself permission to feel sorry for himself for as long as it takes his tub to fill with hot water. It doesn’t help, though, because he’s immediately conscious of how lucky he is. Look at this bathroom, this clawfoot tub. He’s an ungrateful little shit, isn’t he? His internal monologue picks up his mother’s nasal tones: didn’t his parents always give him money to buy himself a birthday present, a nice one? Why was always he moping about the fact they didn’t call him on the right day? He’s bought himself a new car ‘from Bruce’. He can’t demand more of Bruce than of his parents, not when Bruce is so much busier, with a mission that’s so much more important.

He’s too caught up arguing with himself about his unrealistic expectations to register his own actions, but the bath is full, the taps are off, and he’s sitting on the edge of the tub with Ra’s wine in hand.

Fuck Ra’s. Fuck him for drawing attention to the date, for forcing Tim to think about the fact no one else had. Just to spite him, Tim’s not going to let the wine breath. You know what? He’s going to drink it straight from the bottle. If Ra’s is going to poison him, Tim’s not going to do him the honour of an elegant death.

It’s not the first time the older man has sent him a token to remind Tim he’s being watched. The thoughtfulness of the gifts is always unnerving - a newspaper clipping from the eighties about his parents, new bearings for the Redboard's wheels, a custom set of D20s as a reminder to call Ives, even an umbrella on his desk at WE the day he forgot to bring one - and Tim feels ungrateful every time he tears them apart to check for toxins and bugs and incinerates the remains. Ra’s never brings up the gifts when he calls, which he does, often. Tim hates to admit it, but they’ve developed a rapport since his misadventures with Tam. Ra’s never thought he was mad.

He hasn’t checked these gifts for toxins. He isn’t going to incinerate them.

He wonders what his family will think when they find him. Will they think it was suicide? Will they go after Ra’s?

A small part of his mind, sharp despite the sleep deprivation, recognises where this thought pattern is going. Suicidal ideation. Side effect from missing his meds while fighting Croc. He’s been here before. He tests the mental waters. Should he call Dick? He recoils before he can even finish the thought: Dick forgot his birthday too, and managing his emotions around that is more than Tim can handle right now. Dick is a whole ‘nother riptide in the depression ocean, and he’s dragged back under before the sharp voice can force him to make better choices.

He slips out of his clothes and lowers himself into the scalding water. He takes a slug of wine. It’s viscous, coating his mouth, and so smooth. Notes of dark fruit and vanilla, and under that something caramalised and chocolatey. It’s good. It’s really good.

This isn’t suicide, he tells himself. It’s risky behaviour, sure. Drinking alcohol in a hot bath when you’re exhausted? It’s just plain fucking dumb. But it’s not suicide. If it were, he’d leave a note. He’s imagined the kind of note he might leave. What he’d write to assuage Bruce’s guilt - “it was the only way to save Gotham” - what he’d say to soothe Dick - “you did everything, and don’t for one minute think it wasn’t enough; it’s just that enough means something different to me, now” - what he’d tell the Titans - “let me rest”. Sometimes he goes the other way, and imagines how he might let them have it, let them know how badly they let him down, let them feel the weight of everything Tim’s been carrying on their behalf and have the whole family tear itself apart without him. The ‘that’ll show ‘em’ note, which simply reads “You were right, Jason” or “You win, Damian”. The nuclear option.

God, this wine is really good. The hot water is working its magic on the knots in his shoulders, and despite wallowing in the worst parts of him, he is feeling a little better. Why hasn’t the poison kicked in? He’s two thirds through the bottle.

“Come on, Ra’s,” he addresses the empty room. “What kind of weak ass poison is this?”

There’s no gut cramps or muscle spasms. The only creeping warmth is coming from the hot water, and the drowsiness is natural after so long awake. He isn’t seeing anything, hearing anything.

Sure, his thoughts are getting away from him a bit, and his movements are less coordinated, but Tim’s pretty sure that’s just because he’s drunk.

“Ra’sh? Is thish just… wine? Good wine?”

The bathroom tiles don’t reply.

Tim levers himself out of the bathtub and kicks the plug free so it’ll drain. Carrying the bottle with him, he wanders back into the kitchen. He grabs a glass from the cabinet and pours the rest of the wine unsteadily into it, trying not to let the dregs escape the bottle. Old wine. Good wine. Wine with lumpy bits in the bottom.

So Ra’s just gave him a present. That’s nice. It’s nice to get a present.

“Happy birthday to me,” Tim mumbles, raising the glass in a toast to the empty kitchen. He’s naked and dripping. Maybe this could be a new birthday tradition. Suicidal ideation in the bath, naked toast in the kitchen, then… Oh, the book. Tim got two presents from Ra’s.

He picked the little leather tome up, fingers clumsy, and opens it to a random page.

On the left hand side is Arabic, but on the right is English. Nice. Even if the English is swimming and doubling under his gaze.

He sits down at the table and picks up the wine in one hand, holding the book in the other, and concentrates.

Passion makes the old medicine new:
Passion lops off the bough of weariness.
Passion is the elixir that renews:
how can there be weariness
when passion is present?
Oh, don’t sigh heavily from fatigue:
seek passion, seek passion, seek passion!

Rumi

Well, he’s weary, that’s for sure, but his life is distinctly lacking in passion. Still, it’s nice.

He tries to turn the page one handed, but his uncoordinated finger skims down the edge of the page instead of turning it, slicing a neat line through the centre of his fingerprint. Twenty eight hours against Killer Croc with nothing worse than a couple of bruises, but a book of love poetry has drawn blood.

The words blur, and he struggles to pick out the stanzas. His head starts to feel like it’s stuffed with cotton, and he wonders if he should just go to bed already.

If anyone wonders how Jesus raised the dead,
don’t try to explain the miracle.
Kiss me on the lips.

Like this. Like this.

He’ll go to bed. Just as soon as he works up the energy to stand, he’ll go to bed.

When someone asks what it means
to “die for love,”
point here.

Like this. Like this.

And then his vision fuzzes like static on an old TV screen, and roaring fills his ears, and his last thoughts are Oh, the poison wasn’t in the wine.

Chapter Text

He wakes slowly, stumbling through layers of unconsciousness, collecting symptoms along the way: dry mouth, sore head, aching limbs, growling stomach, full bladder, gritty eyes, sweat-sticky skin.

So, hey, he’s alive.

He pushes his body’s demands away and focuses on the outside world. The air is hot and dry, but there’s enough movement to it to stop it from being stifling. It’s dark, but the distant sound of birdsong suggests it’s daytime, so he’s being kept inside. He’s naked but for a linen sheet. There’s the scent of oranges in the air and the sound of constantly trickling water, which is tugging on his bladder with increasing urgency.

He rubs the grit from his eyes and sits up slowly. His head throbs and stomach lurches, a sweet-sour taste rising in the back of his throat. He sits still, hoping it will ebb with time, but his bladder pulses and he has to grab himself like a child until the wave of desperation passes.

Tim hates hangovers.

He manoeuvres himself slowly off the bed, wrapping the sheet around him like a toga. The room is gloomy, its windows covered by heavy wooden shutters, but there’s a lattice at the top of the wall letting light and air in. A matching lattice covers a gutter running along the bottom of the wall, which is where the sound of running water is coming from. Between them, the running water and the air vents provide a basic sort of climate control.

Tim shifts from foot to foot. He’s pretty certain pissing in the air conditioning is going to be frowned upon.

He stares around, looking for alternatives. The room is tiled, floor to ceiling, with blue and turquoise tiles, embellished with gold and crimson. Below him tiny details are picked out in handpainted ceramic; above him the plaster forms ever decreasing stars in the kind of mathematical pattern Tim could lose himself in for days. The furniture is both imposing and intricate, the heavy wood of the bed carved into scrollwork, the fabric draped from its four posts gauzy and inviting. Oil lamps sit in place along the wall, waiting to be lit. There’s a chaise langue in the corner piled with embroidered silk cushions, and a dresser with a jug and bowl on top in porcelain so fine it’s translucent. The heavy wooden door is carved with sixteen pointed stars and arabic script, and doesn’t budge an inch, even with Tim’s whole body weight pressed against it.

It’s possibly the most beautiful space Tim has ever been in, and he resents his body for spoiling his first impressions.

He tries to think rationally. It’s not as though Ra’s wants him to ruin this place; he wouldn’t have put Tim somewhere so refined if he intended him to piss in the corner like a drunk. And he gave Tim the wine in the first place, so he’d anticipate a certain amount of urgency in Tim’s waking moments.

Maybe the gutter?

No, definitely not the gutter. It’s clearly not for that.

There’s no sign in the room of any electrical equipment, and Tim is willing to be this place isn’t on mains water either, judging by the jug and bowl in the room. If it’s not attached to sewers, either, then bodily waste has to be dealt with in a more old fashioned way. Outside privies, probably, or garderobes, or in a bedroom… He checks under the bed, and pulls out a chamber pot. It’s as delicately designed as the wash basin, and he feels almost bad about using it, but his bladder doesn’t care.

There’s a certain amount of splashing, and it belatedly occurs to him that he should have either held the pot or knelt down, but he’s too relieved to care excessively about the easily wiped-clean mosaic. He washes his hands in the basin, and retreats back to the bed to think for a little while. Lying on the cool sheets helps settle his stomach back down, but doesn’t do much for the fog in his head.

Judging by the design aesthetic - the azulejos, the geometric tiles, the calligraphic carvings on the woodwork - he’s somewhere in the south of Iberia or the North of Africa. It also explains the heat, and the attempts to mitigate it. The faint smell of oranges makes him lean towards Spain, maybe Andalusia.

He yawns. He can’t be certain without more information, but he thinks from the heat and the angle of the shadows cast by the lattice it must be somewhere around noon, or shortly after. Siesta time. Without the demands of his bladder his body sees an opportunity to make up some more of his sleep debt.

Ra’s has kept him alive for a reason, he tells himself. He’s not going to drag Tim all the way to Spain to kill him in his sleep. His family will notice he’s missing soon. They’ll come for him. And if they don’t, well… he’ll figure it out after his nap. That’s what he’ll do.

#

When he wakes for the second time it’s early evening. The oil lamps have been lit and there’s a meal laid out for him on a folding table next to the couch. The window shutters have been thrown open, revealing delicate-looking stonework he’s got no way of breaking or squeezing through.

The windows look out onto a small courtyard, bordered by windows on every side, though Tim notes the one to his left lacks the stonework, leaving a space large enough for a servant to climb through and tend the single orange tree which grows in the narrow space.

Tim turns his attention back to his room. There’s a faint smell of soap, and he finds a new chamber pot under the bed. The water in the wash basin and jug have been refreshed, judging by their temperature. A glass has been supplied as well, and he finds himself gulping down the water greedily. From the taste, he’d say he’s in a hard water area, but he hasn’t studied Spain’s geology closely enough to narrow down his location from the information.

He turns his attention to the light supper laid out for him. There’s bread and oil, stuffed green olives, dark red jamon serrano sliced to translucency, and a bowl of a thick chilled soup, like gazpacho but subtly different, with flakes of tuna on top.

The book of poetry is also on the table.

All he’s got to wear is the sheets from the bed. He wraps himself back up in them because it feels weird to eat naked, some kind of social more than even in the depths of his depression it doesn’t feel right to cross.

Tim picks at the bread and eats a little of the soup. His appetite is somewhat lacking, but it’s easier to make himself eat when he doesn’t have to think about preparing food or washing up after.

He picks up the poetry book carefully. He finds the poem he was reading before he poisoned himself. It’s longer than he expected, and more erotic than he realised. He tries reading it in Arabic and checking his translation with the English, but his studies haven’t provided the right kind of vocabulary to handle “the perfect satisfaction of all our sexual wanting”.

He particularly likes the stanza about the night sky:

When someone mentions the gracefulness
of the nightsky, climb up on the roof
and dance and say,

Like this.

He’s always aspired to that kind of gracefulness, Dick’s grace, and he imagines standing on one of Gotham’s roofs. It feels like the dream of a long ago, far away Tim.

He puts the book aside and explores the room again. The oil lamps are burning low. The night air brings something floral in with it that fills the room with perfume. Songbirds start warbling at each other in the tree outside.

Tim pops an olive in his mouth and considers his gilded cage. The simplicity of it means there’s no simple way of sneaking out. There’s no lock to pick on the door, no air conditioning vent to crawl through, no glass to break in the windows. He prizes up the decorative grate at one end of the gutter, and finds the trickling stream is less than an inch deep, entering and leaving the room through grills the size of letter boxes. The lattice at the top of the room that lets the hot air escape is barely deeper.

Servants have obviously been and gone while he’s slept, so his best chance of escape is getting the jump on them. The door opens outwards, so he can’t hide behind it. The only space in the room he might conceal himself is under the bed, but it sits opposite the door in the centre of the wall; he couldn’t sneak out from under it without being seen. He’ll need to find a way to lure a servant - all of the servants? - over to the bed and take them out, then exit.

He needs to establish whether the servants come alone or in groups, how often they come, how long they stay, what tasks they perform, what they bring with them, how they’re dressed…

Or, a treacherous part of his mind supplies, you could just stay here and wait for Ra’s to show his hand.

Ra’s remembered your birthday.

Ra’s respects you. Admires you. Compliments you.

Ra’s drugged me, Tim reminds himself sternly, and kidnapped me, and likes to kill people. Ra’s is not safe. Ra’s cannot be trusted.

He resolves to sleep tonight, to bank a bit more of that sweet surrender, so tomorrow he can feign unconsciousness and watch through lidded eyes when the servants come. Maybe he’ll gather enough information to form an escape plan, maybe Ra’s will summon him, maybe Bruce will come. He can’t control the latter two, so he might as well keep working on what he can control.

He restores the sheets to the bed, manages a neater use of the chamber pot, and rinses his mouth with water for lack of any other oral hygiene.

Despite the lack of stimulation, or perhaps because of it, it takes him a long time to drift off. Guilt and self-recrimination keep tugging him back from the abyss of sleep.

He allowed himself to be captured. He drank the wine fully expecting this outcome, or something like it, and he did it out of spite. What kind of a Robin is he, that lashes out like this? Batman deserves better. Batman has better. For all his flaws Damian doesn’t have an ounce of passive aggression in him. He’s all aggressive aggression, and normally Tim counts that against him, but Damian wouldn’t deliberately get himself caught to punish Bruce for an error Bruce isn’t even aware of committing. No. Dick was right. Was Dick right? Dick saw through him. Saw the sort of person Tim really is, and couldn’t let him keep Robin a moment longer, not once there was a viable alternative.

Damian is better trained. Damian is better educated. Damian is more committed. Damian is a better Robin.

What if they come and Ra’s kills them? It’ll be Tim’s fault for throwing himself into Ra’s trap with reckless abandon. What kind of a worm is he, that he impales himself on the hook to spite the fish? Everything he ever tried to do will be ruined, Batman will be dead, Gotham will fall, because he was a selfish child obsessed with a meaningless date.

What if they don’t come? What if they don’t notice, what if they think good riddance, thank you Ra’s for ridding us of this whining dead weight? No one is expecting to see him for days, if not weeks. The family will assume he’s in San Francisco, the Titans will assume he’s in Gotham. Tam will assume he’s undercover, Batman will assume he’s holding the fort at Wayne Enterprises. Maybe they’ll start to wonder, maybe it will cross their minds they haven’t heard from him, maybe they’ll feel a niggling relief without knowing why. Dick won’t have to worry about managing the emotional health of an emotionally stunted child who forced himself into Dick’s life and distracts him from the mission by calling him at three am to make a fool out of himself with his attention seeking behaviour. Damian won’t have to hold himself back to avoid his snitching sibling drawing Bruce’s attention to his more violent actions. Bruce won’t have to slow himself down so Tim can keep up, physically and mentally.

What if they do come and they do save him? How is he supposed to explain his actions? If he tells them the truth they’ll hate him. They’ll strip him of Red Robin and Wayne Enterprises and the Titans and the Wayne name and everything. He doesn’t deserve any of it and they’ll see that if they come.

He won’t go. If they come he won’t go. They won’t understand but that’s okay, it’s what’s best for them. They won’t miss him for long, if at all. If Ra’s doesn’t kill him, Tim will find a way to make it look like he did. He won’t burden anyone then.

His final thought before darkness claims him is that at least Bruce will finally remember his birthday once it’s carved in granite.

#

He wakes with a pounding headache and his eyes glued shut with grit, which he has to pick off his lashes before he can open them. He grinds the heels of his palms into his eyes and swallows his shame. Christ, he was wallowing last night. It happens sometimes and he always thinks if he leans into it maybe it will pass, but it doesn’t. He just works himself up and he always feels so stupid afterwards. It’s his own head, his own thoughts. He has control, so why does he do this to himself? It’s so… self-indulgent.

He wonders if Ra’s watched him cry himself to sleep.

Tim sneers at the bedsheets for a moment - he’s glad there are no mirrors here - then forces his face into a more neutral expression, and lifts his head to face the day.

The shutters are closed and the door open. He tenses, but the room is empty. All he can see beyond the door frame is a rectangle of tiles corridor. Dust motes sparkle, hanging in the still air like a photograph of falling glitter, frozen in time.

He drags his attention back to the room. There’s a toothbrush, toothpaste and floss next to the washbasin. The bright plastic looks out of place in the otherwise timeless space. A crunchy bread roll and a potato omelette sits on a tray next to the couch. There’s a tall glass of orange juice and a bowl of fruit by it.

He togas himself up and heads over to breakfast, trying not to think about how he missed the servants again.

The omelette is still hot. It’s a little wetter in the centre than Tim prefers, but he has to imagine Ra’s chickens are probably kept in better conditions than the average American hen. He wonders if Ra’s dips them in the pit when they get old or sick instead of using antibiotics. What does pit rage look like in a chicken?

The bread is freshly baked, steaming when Tim breaks it open and uses it to mop up the remains of the tortilla espanola. He drinks the juice and picks up a bunch of bananas and a couple of oranges from the fruit bowl. They’re both high energy and will keep longer in their skins that the other fruit.

He reknots his sheets around him to create a sling for his snacks. There’s no way to take water without him without carting the jug around, which is too heavy and delicate to be practical. The oranges will do in a pinch, and this is only a preliminary exploration; he’s not planning to escape on this first expedition, but if he’s lucky he might get a sense of what that escape might require.

He almost leaves without brushing his teeth, but pauses in the doorframe. The plastic glows in the mid-morning light.

Even when his executive function is failing, Tim usually manages to brush his teeth. Showering takes a step back, and there’s more than one occasion on which he’s bought clothes rather than do laundry, but as long as he maintains oral hygiene he hasn’t completely collapsed. It could be worse.

He runs his tongue over his teeth, which are noticeably furry. It’s been… ugh. Several days.

But he’s been kidnapped, so it doesn’t really count, does it? He doesn’t have access to a shower or clean clothes. Sure, he’s been spiralling, but he’s been kidnapped.

He stares at the brush.

He could just… go. Who would know? Who would care?

Would Ra’s care?

He brushes his teeth. But only for one minute. Because… well, he can’t really explain it to himself. Is he spiting Ra’s for providing the toothbrush or himself for letting things get to this point?

He does feel better afterwards, though. Readier to face the world.

Fuck Ra’s and his ability to anticipate Tim’s needs.

The corridors are tiled as thoroughly as the bed room. Tim’s overwhelmed by the complexity of the patterns as far as the eye can see. Even with the shutters closed to keep out the sun’s heat the blues and greens are vibrant. When he comes to a junction he turns right. The little courtyard his room looks out on is surrounded on all sides, but if he can find the room with the large window he might be able to get out and climb the tree.

Most of the doors are open, showing off rooms similar to Tim’s own. The beds are stripped and the porcelain hidden away in the cabinets. Some have couches like Tim’s room, others upright chairs and tables that wouldn’t look out of place on a patio. Everything is meticulously clean. GCPD CSI could come in here and Tim doubts they’d find even a single fingerprint.

He turns right again, and is confronted by a through-room connecting the private wing he’s being kept in to a shared courtyard. He emerges on a balcony overlooking a bright white square. The marble is blinding under the morning sun and he shades his eyes until he has to accept they’re not going to adjust entirely.

He edges into the sunlight. The heat on the back of his neck is reassuring, warming the blood under his skin and sending it singing around his body. The tiles are hot under his feet.

Two slim ponds run the length of the courtyard, fountains at opposite ends. Carefully pruned orange trees line the space between them, and in the centre of the courtyard sits a small pavilion. There isn’t a single leaf out of place, and if it weren’t for the fountains Tim could believe he was looking at a still photo.

He walks a loop of the balcony. There’s no obvious way down from it into the courtyard. He can’t tell from here whether the courtyard has been dug into the earth or if the tree outside his window has been artificially raised up. He suspects it may be a little of both, and the palace has been built on a slope.

Only two doors open onto the balcony, the one he came through and an identical one opposite it. The door is barred, but one of the shutters is ajar and he can glimpse the room through it. It’s hard to tell what he’s looking at, but he sees what might be the top of a staircase through the far door.

He lingers on the balcony for a while, soaking up the vitamin D. The sun is so bright and clear here in a way it never is in Gotham, the air free from pollution and unshadowed by gothic architecture. The water sparkles below him. He lets the sheet slip a little to expose his shoulders to the golden light. He eats one of his oranges, sucking the juice from his fingers and leaving the peel on the balcony railing.

He watches the shadows move below him. Assuming the private part of the house is the back, the palace as a whole is South facing. He hasn’t heard any traffic noises while he’s here, and if he squints up at the too-bright sky there are no contrails. Maybe the architecture and food are a feint, and the palace is somewhere much more remote than Southern Spain? Or maybe they’re just deep in the countryside, far from the Seville airport and North-South routes from Europe to Africa.

His shoulders start to prickle, and when he presses a finger against his flesh it radiates heat back at him. He’s been out too long without sunscreen.

Retreating back into the shady rooms feels like a farewell, and Tim promises himself that whatever happens after this he’s booking a vacation somewhere sunny.

He catches the thought and examines it. It doesn’t take much to banish the self-destructive thoughts of eternal imprisonment or… or the other thing… but apparently badly cleaned teeth and a bit of sunburn is it. Or maybe it’s the sleep and good food. Either way, the solution to his woes is not so much silently sulking about being ignored until he’s noticed and more actively seeking out the rest and relaxation he actually needs. He gives himself a mental gold star for the productive line of thought and immediately squashes the sarcastic self-mocking snarl before it’s fully articulate. Maybe he shouldn’t have to reward himself for healthy thoughts - it’s not even healthy it’s just less unhealthy you don’t deserve a smiley face let along a gold star why are you even pretending to yourself you’re normal - he cuts himself off again.

He stares around the corridor, looking for something to put in his brain instead of these stupid circular thoughts. There are seven bedrooms. An odd number, in both definitions. His is one of a set of four, grouped around the orange tree. The other three share an olive tree. He almost falls into a spiral around his lack of horticultural knowledge, but distracts himself by trying to climb the olive tree. It’s not sturdy enough to take his weight. The tiled walls are too smooth to climb and extend high enough above the windows to stop him scaling the frames.

The fourth wall of the olive tree yard is windowless. Tim’s convinced there’s something on that side too, though. It doesn’t make sense to have a whole bedroom on one side and nothing on the other, whether it’s dug into a cliff or built as a second storey.

He passes his room again and sees lunch has been laid out for him, even though he hasn’t seen a soul in the building. A simple salad with more bread and oil, and another glass of orange juice. The bed has fresh sheets and the washbasin has rosewater in it.

A small bottle of aloe gel has been put out as well. Someone has noticed that he’s gone a bit pink under the sun.

He darts back out of the room to the balcony. The orange peel he left has gone.

Even with the building’s built in cooling system the heat grows oppressive in the gloomy corridors. The air is stifling and he finds himself glaring at the shadows for their failure to provide relief. Each breath is as hot going in as it is on the way out and he feels like he’s choking on it. There’s no retreat from the warmth and he wishing he was siesta-ing through it.

It’s nothing, he tells himself. It’s a dry heat, perfectly manageable. It’s nothing like Gotham in the summer, a hot wet wall of atmospheric BO, wet dog and stale urine and grime and garbage all soupily sticking to his skin. If he can chase criminals across rooftops in full coverage body armour in that, he can stroll around this shady palace at a leisurely pace.

He follows the waterways through the rooms, tracing them back into a wall he can’t find an opening in. There’s a breath of a breeze coming through the gutter, but as he stands there he feels it coming from somewhere else. He wets a finger and holds it up to the tiles. He works his way along the wall methodically, until he finds a hairline crack between the tiles where instead of grout there’s darkness.

A hidden door to the servant’s quarters.

He can find the doorframe, but he can’t figure out how it opens. He leans on it, but it doesn’t give. There’s no handle, no keyhole. Presumably it opens from the inside, but Tim sincerely doubts it’s left open when the servants are working. Is it manned? Does someone let people back in?

It’s a dumb idea, but he knocks, just in case.

Nothing happens.

Ugh.

It’s hot, he’s tired, he’s sore, he’s not ready for another puzzle with most of the pieces missing.

The door will still be here later. And if it’s not, that’s a data point too. Time for a siesta.

#

When he wakes up his bedroom door is still open. A glass of sherry and a small bowl of battered squid have been put out for him.

It’s late afternoon and the light is liquid gold. The air is noticeably cooler and the birds outside are celebrating loudly.

He takes the tapa and sherry to the courtyard. He leans on the railing and sips the dry alcohol, taking in the view now that purple shadows stretch across the water features.

He’s about to return to the hidden door when he spies movement below. It’s not much, just a shadow shifting in the little pavilion, but Tim’s certain someone’s down there.

Tim drops to a crouch, peering through the balustrades. It’s funny how much it affects him, seeing another person. It’s only been a couple of days, but this empty, eerie palace is getting to him.

He stays in position, watching, waiting. The shadows grow longer and deeper. If he glances behind him he can see that the oil lamps have been lit. Someone has passed by while he’s been distracted. He’s missed his opportunity to see the servants’ door in operation. No matter, he can observe it tomorrow.

The moon rises, a sickle sliver of silver hooked on the end of the Milky Way. Tim’s never seen a night sky like it, but he won’t let it distract him from his vigil.

By his reckoning it’s some time around midnight that the figure emerges from the pavilion. The height immediately gives it away as Ra’s.

He could leap down, tackle Ra’s while he’s alone, demand an explanation, but Tim’s stiff from crouching for so long and very conscious he’s still only wearing a sheet. He stays hidden and watches as Ra’s disappears into one of the ground floor rooms.

At least, he consoles himself, he’s right about his captor. He repositions himself and stares up, finally taking in the spectacle of the sky above him. He’s never been somewhere so free from light pollution that the colour of the Milky Way was visible, bruise purples and deep blues. The beauty takes his breath away.

Better than that, it takes his thoughts away.

#

He wakes in the bed again. He must have fallen asleep on the balcony. Unseen hands have moved him in the night.

The same breakfast has been provided as yesterday. Tim washes himself in the basin, but his hair is getting lank and greasy, and his scalp itches. He slept better last night. Normally his dreams are vivid and distressing, a constant barrage that means he wakes less rested than before he slept.

When he starts exploring today he finds fewer doors barred to him. The servant’s door is still closed, but the door on the opposite side of the balcony stands wide open.

He was right about the staircase. He follows it down and around, and it spills him out into the courtyard.

He walks beneath the trees, enjoying the sunshine again but mindful this time of his delicate skin.

The pavilion holds a table and two chairs. A book rests on the table; more Arabic poetry. There’s a bookmark part way through it.

I have given you the
opportunity to
Choose so choose
Whether to die on
my chest or on the
pages of my poetry

Nizar Qabbani

Well, that’s less subtle of Ra’s, at least. He must have known Tim was watching last night. He’s had the doors left open so Tim will find this.

Tim’s read the Rumi poems from cover to cover now, so he takes up the book. He needs a distraction when he’s alone in his room. Some of the sting has gone from his thoughts, but they still churn and turn on him when he has nothing to distract himself. He’s never been a big poetry fan, but he doesn’t suppose Ra’s will leave him the complete Star Trek: the Original Series boxset and something to watch it on.

He considers sitting and reading for a bit, but the heat is making him drowsy. He has time to read later in his room; he should keep exploring now. Even if the sound of trickling water is a gentle lullaby, and the orange trees filling the world with a soothing scent, and his mind is pleasantly calm for once.

If he doesn’t explore now and he misses the opportunity, all of the brainweasels will return tonight, and he won’t be able to sleep because he’ll have napped the day away.

He pushes himself out of the chair he doesn’t even remember sitting in. He tucks the poetry book under his arm and steps back out into the sunshine. His shoulders prickle and he ducks into the shade from the balcony.

He’s surprised to find a door in the opposite wall, more surprised when it opens under the lightest pressure, and shocked to find a corridor sloping down and away from him. Instead of the lush glazed tiles of the rest of the palace the corridor is paved with cool terracotta. Candles are set into recessed niches in the wall.

He follows it down, trailing his free hand along the wall. He’s either walking into a spa or the world’s most feng shui dungeon.

It goes about ten feet, then turns right at ninety degrees. Tim follows it round and finds what appears to be a changing room. One wall has a bench with hooks above it, the other a set of shelves with fluffy white towels and wooden clogs. A set of robes hang on one hook, the stiff high collar and gold brocade marking them as Ra’s.

Probably a spa, then.

Three doors open off the room. One is hinged to swing both ways, one opens out from the room, and the other appears to open into it.

The door that opens in both directions leads to a room with a dividing wall. One side is divided into cubicles, connected by a long wash basin with constantly flowing water. Each cubicle is stocked with soap, washcloths, and a reminder in Arabic to wash ones private parts thoroughly before entering the baths (at least, Tim assumes that’s what is says, from the illustrations). On the other side of the dividing wall is a communal restroom, a long bench with holes in it and water running beneath. He’s seen pictures of similar designs in Roman archaeology, but it still grosses him out a little. Privacy to wash but pooping in public? The thought makes him physically shudder.

Roman baths usually run cold, warm, hot, while Turkish baths reverse the order. The amount of running water means Tim’s leaning towards assuming the Turkish order, but the toilets have thrown doubt in his mind. The lack of staff doesn’t feel right, either.

Ra’s always has to put his own twist on things, doesn’t he?

Still, Tim might as well have a wash, since he’s here.

He unwraps the bedsheet toga slowly. He doesn’t trust himself to hear danger coming in this place, not with the constant cover of running water. He feels vulnerable naked, but in practice he’s probably better prepared for a fight without tangling himself up in cloth. And he really, really wants to wash his hair.

The soap makes his fine hair matt together so he can’t run his fingers through it, but it gets some of the grease out. He’s a little alarmed at how grimey the water is coming off his body. He’s been washing his face and hands in his bedroom, but apparently he’s been a little too cursory about it.

He picks up the bedsheet but doesn’t wrap it around himself again. He can see the sweat and grime on it now, the dust picked up from trailing it around the palace, food stains where he’s been distracted reading Rumi while he’s eating. He holds it over his crotch in a vague nod to dignity, and returns to the changing room.

Tim drapes his bedsheet next to Ra’s robes and smirks at the contrast. He helps himself to a nice clean towel, wrapping it around his waist and rolling it over to secure it. He leaves the poetry book on the empty spot on the shelf.

Okay, so apparently he’s having a bath today.

The first room is a steam room. It has a domed mocarabe ceiling, geometric plasterwork in sixteen pointed stars, with carefully hidden vents and mirrors that let daylight through from the world above. Immediately beneath the dome is a marble table, worn smooth with use, and around the edge of the room is a matching bench. The steam is generated by braziers and interlinked pools.

Tim sits for a while, inhaling the steam and sweating gently. The braziers have been stoked with rosemary and sandalwood to scent the room. He inhales for the count of four, holds it for four, exhales for the count of eight, waits for eight, and inhales again. Counting keeps other thoughts out of his head.

He’s not sure how long he sits there, but his head starts to swim and he knows it’s time to move on.

There’s a small vestibule between rooms. The doors keep the heat contained (and, if Tim looks closely, also serve a very modern purpose as fire doors, which he approves of) and the space is cooler. One wall houses a set of water jugs, beaded with condensation, and silver cups to drink from. Fruit and herbs give the liquid a touch of flavour without being overwhelming. Tim rehydrates.

The next room houses a series of narrow troughs. They’re the proportion of bath tubs, if anyone made bathtubs deep enough for someone of Ra’s height to completely stretch out in. The water flows from the previous room, heated by the braziers, and Tim can feel an additional heat source coming through the floor.

His skin immediately flushes red as he lowers himself into one of the troughs. His heads and feet tingle, almost like pins and needles. He’s still hot from the steam, but the water is hotter still. He’s not sure how long he can handle it for, but even as he thinks that he can feel the water doing its job. Muscles unknot along his spine and he sinks deeper. Small jets massage his lower back and thighs, and he wonders how the effect has been achieved without electricity. Gravity, perhaps? This whole place is a feat of engineering.

He’s not sure how long he relaxes in the pool, but just as his mouth and nose slip below the level of the water a bell rings. He jerks awake.

For a moment he thinks about staying in the bath, but the bell rings again, and he takes the hint.

He picks up his towel from where he dropped it beside the bath and climbs out. There’s another vestibule room with more drinking water, and then he’s in a tepidarium, the largest room he’s been in so far. There’s underfloor heating warming his toes and the ambient temperature is a perfect match for human body temperature. A large pool of luke warm water sits at the end of the room, big enough to swim laps in, with a shallow and a deep end and a submerged seating area.

So Tim swims, reactivating his soothed muscles. It’s nice to do a little exercise after several sedentary days, and he pushes himself, stretching out the kinks and raising his heart rate.

He estimates the pool to be 25 meters across, just over 27 yards. Sixty five laps makes roughly a mile, then. He takes it at a comfortable pace, the temperature of the water making it easier than if he were fighting hypothermia, as he’s had to several times in his career. He’s floating more easily than he ever has in the Gotham Sound, and he risks sticking his tongue out. The water is salty, very salty. Enough to improve his buoyancy, but not so much he’s flopping around like he might in the Dead Sea. No doubt the minerals have been carefully selected for his bodily good, too.

A mile later, Tim climbs out. He’s feeling good. Better than he has in weeks. It’s nice to get some exercise that isn’t accompanied by poisonous vapours or manic laughter.

The last room is the frigidarium. A icy plunge pool sits against a rock wall. As far as Tim can tell it’s a genuine cliff face, the water bubbling through it in a natural spring, but he wouldn’t put it past this place to be part of the decor.

Before he can hesitate, he throws himself into the pool. The shock is instant, and only his training stops him from inhaling the water. His feet hit the bottom. Standing on tiptoes, he can just keep his head above water. He resists the urge to tread water, instead letting the cold do its work on him.

After five minutes he’s had enough, and crawls out. He’s wide awake and completely refreshed. The towel is a warm and fluffy comfort and he wishes it were big enough to envelope his whole body in.

There’s a low table to one side of the room with drinks and sherberts and fresh fruit. He helps himself and wanders around. This place should be full of bathers, chatting and gossiping. The wash room should have servants to tend the patrons; the steam room masseurs. The caldarium clearly does have some kind of invisible attendant, judging by the bell, but Tim supposes it could just be a timer. Everything is empty, lonely, wrong.

When he pushes through the final door he finds himself back in the changing room. Ra’s robe is gone, as is his bedsheet.

Tim grabs another couple of towels from the shelf. He doesn’t care if Ra’s means for him to be naked; he’s not playing. He hates this cat and mouse game. Why has Ra’s brought him here if he doesn’t want to talk to Tim?

He returns to his room. He gathers up his lunch and takes it down the the pavilion, careful to keep himself out of the sun as much as possible, and eats it while reading his newly acquired poetry.

Because my love for you
Is higher than words
I have decided to fall silent.

Nizar Qabbani

Silence isn’t love, Tim thinks. Love isn’t silent. Love is loud, demonstrative, visible. You shouldn’t be left guessing with love, wondering if you’ve earned it.

He takes his siesta in the pavilion, wakes, reads more poetry. He returns to his room for sherry and tapa - orange and cod salad - and spends the evening watching the stars come out, one by one.

He takes himself to bed, to avoid the discomfort of being touched by invisible hands again, and sleep comes swiftly.

Chapter Text

The next two days pass much the same. Breakfast. Bedsheet toga. Bath. Lunch. Siesta. Tapa. See evidence Ra’s has passed through. Dinner. Poetry. Bed. Breakfast. Bedsheet toga. Poetry. Lunch. Siesta. Tapa. Bath. Dinner. See evidence Ra’s has passed through. Bed.

Breakfast: bread and honey and melon. Today he ties the bedsheet toga like a sarong, starting behind his back, crossing it across the front and knotting it behind his neck. He tries to prize the door to the servants quarters with the butter knife provided with breakfast, but to no avail.

No new doors are open to him today, so he retreats to the baths for something to occupy him.

Steam, boil, swim, and-

And Ra’s is in the Frigidarium.

Tim freezes in the doorway. Ra’s is in the plunge pool, a glass of sherbet in hand.

“Detective. Join me.”

It’s the first words Tim’s heard from any mouth but his own in days. He takes an involuntary step forward, hands clutching the towel at his waist.

Ra’s lips curl up in a humourless smile. He’s tall enough that the water stops just below his shoulders, and he leans, comfortable, against the lip of the pool.

Is he naked?

He’s probably naked.

He’s waiting for Tim to get naked.

Tim swerves away from the pool his feet have been dragging him towards and grabs a drink of his own to occupy himself while he tries to straighten his thoughts out.

“Ra’s. Nice to see you.”

“You saw me before.”

“Nice to speak to you, then.”

He walks slowly towards the pool and sits down on the side, letting his feet dangle in the cold water.

“Shy, Detective?”

“Maybe a little,” Tim admits. “Public nudity isn’t in my usual wheelhouse.”

Ra’s waves a hand. “It amuses me,” he says, “the extent to which American culture sexualises the human body, obsessing over skin shown and secondary sexual characteristics, and yet considering the Middle East’s various cultural mores prudish and repressive. I am not the one layering sexual meaning over a simple shared bath, Detective.”

“Did I say I was? Maybe I’m just self-conscious.” Tim shrugs.

He is self-conscious, especially around his family. His ass is nothing compared with Dick’s, his thighs pale compared with Jason’s, his arms are scrawny against Bruce and his skin is littered with scars that show Damian is at least partially right in his assessment of Tim’s weaknesses.

Ra’s, he notes, must have taken a dip in the pit recently. He’s looking somewhere around fifty, peak silver fox. His shoulders are broad and his hips narrow. He’s not as heavily muscled as most of the bats but he has reasonable definition. The wiry grey curls that form a diamond between his nipples and point to a neat trail too deep underwater for Tim to make out are carefully groomed. His beard is recently trimmed and his hair is swept back, water beading at the end of the strands.

He catalogues it all as dispassionately as he can, but he’s not sure what he’s cataloguing it for. He doesn’t want to examine the impulse; it seems almost as dangerous as examining Ra’s.

“Why am I here, Ra’s?”

“A birthday present. A much needed vacation.” Ra’s smiles and sips his sherbet. “I know you wish to ascribe all sorts of over-complicated and unnecessarily labyrinthine motivations to my actions, but it’s the truth. I saw you were struggling, and thought the best gift I could offer was a break from your obligations.”

It hits Tim like a nerve strike that Ra’s noticed. Ra’s saw him, Ra’s paid attention.

“It’s been a tough week,” Tim admits.

“It has been longer than that.”

“Yeah.” Tim swings his legs in the water. “But I was managing. Until I wasn’t.”

He shouldn’t be telling Ra’s this. He’s an enemy. Tim shouldn’t be admitting weakness in front of him. But now he’s started, he can feel it, everything he’s been holding back, it’s roaring towards him like a flood and he’s stood in the middle of the Red Sea watching Bruce’s chosen people climb the far bank without him.

“Timothy?”

“It’s not that he forgot my birthday,” the words bubble from his lips. “It’s just a day. It’s not important to the mission. I’d be fine with it if it wasn’t for everyone else. If everyone just forgot it’d be fine, but they don’t all and then they remind each other, and suddenly it’s a big thing and I have to handle it. I have to handle them.”

“Why?”

“Because that’s what I signed up for! That’s why I was Robin, to handle Bruce’s emotions for him when he couldn’t do it himself. And don’t- Don’t look at me like that, Ra’s. I know how it sounds, but it’s true. The point of Robin is to balance out Batman’s darkest side. I went to him, I made him take me on, and I helped him. That’s my skillset, that’s what I bring to the family. If I can’t manage that, what’s the point of me being there?”

That’s the crux of it, the terrifying implication of failure. Anxiety claws at his chest, and he’s back in his bathroom, drunk and desperately composing justifications for giving up.

“Your emotional intelligence gives you an advantage over your siblings,” Ra’s says, “but it’s hardly all you offer. You have a gift for strategy that surpasses even your adoptive father’s, and-”

“If I’m so impressive why are you the only one who’s noticed?” Tim snaps.

Ra’s smiles at his outburst. “You don’t want to be noticed. You work hard to make your hard work invisible.”

But he does want to be noticed. He wants someone to acknowledge everything he’s doing, including the effort to make sure they don’t notice.

Even inside his own head it sounds ridiculous. It’s the sort of standard Bruce holds people to. The standard his parents held him to. He knows it’s not okay to be mad at people for not passing tests they didn’t know they were taking, but he can’t find it in himself to resent his parents for instilling it in him, not now they’re dead and gone.

“The first year after my dad died, me and Bruce and Dick were on a cruise. It was good. I thought maybe things would be okay, you know? But then the next year Bruce was dead and Dick was busy handling Damian and I was in Syria and I figured it was just one time, because Bruce would be back for my next one and Damian would have stopped trying to kill me and Dick would have time for me again and birthdays were never really a big deal in my family anyway, so it’s not like I’m missing out on an experience I would have had if my parents were still alive.

“And this year Bruce is back and Damian isn’t trying to actively kill me and Dick… Dick still doesn’t have time, and Bruce doesn’t have space in his life to be my dad as well as Damian’s, and if Damian realises Bruce forgot - that he forgot again, because it’s not like this is the first time - then he’ll hold that over me forever and maybe he’s right. I can’t handle Bruce’s brooding and Dick’s guilt and Damian’s superiority and Alfred’s sadness and everything else right now, so all I can do is hope none of them realise until enough time has passed I can plausibly lie about it and persuade them I spent the day with the Titans, or something.

“I know it’s my own fault. I’m the only one who can control my emotions. I had unrealistic expectations, and I’ve let myself wallow. I didn’t mean to, not to this extent, but I’ve been so busy I just haven’t had time to focus, to make myself let it go.

“I’m feeling a lot better about it now, I really am.” Tim glances down and allows himself a self-deprecating snort. “I let my basic self-care slip, but now, thanks to you, I’m sleeping properly, eating healthily, exercising, seeing daylight, drinking enough water-”

“- taking your medication-”

“-taking my… what?”

“Your anti-depressants. You let your regime lapse, and were suffering the side effects.”

“You’ve been drugging me?” Tim jerks his feet back out of the water.

Ra’s shakes his head. “You say that like I’ve been altering your mental state.”

“You have!”

“No more so than if you were a diabetic and required insulin.”

“It’s completely different.”

Ra’s waits for him to elaborate, but Tim isn’t falling for that. He folds his arms and glares at the older man.

“I have lived a very long time, Detective, and I have seen many people attempt to manage their mental health through lifestyle alone. You are very fortunate to be born into an age where additional support is available, and very foolish to treat it so lightly. Going ‘cold turkey’ on mood altering medication is extremely dangerous.”

“I was stuck in the sewers! Batman was right, it’s too risky to become chemically dependent on something I might lose access to.” Tim huffs. “You have no right to interfere.”

“You did not skip medication because you were fighting Killer Croc. You failed to refill your prescription some days before that.”

Oh. Right. If Ra’s knows what he’s supposed to be taking, and how much, then it shouldn’t come as a surprise he knows that, too.

“I was going to get around to it.”

Ra’s sighs. He reaches up and cups Tim’s cheek with a wet hand. Tim flinches, but lets the older man caress him. It’s the first time another human has touched him, skin to skin, in weeks.

“You are ill, Detective. You require medicine. Like many maladies, the symptoms of your sickness make it actively difficult for you to acquire and take that medicine. You tell yourself you don’t deserve it, you are weak for needing it. You struggle to find the time and energy to maintain the strict regime the medicine requires to work, and when you do take it regularly enough that it works you start to believe it is unnecessary, like a man at a banquet imagining that now he is full he will never feel the pangs of hunger again.”

“It’s not okay to put it in my food without telling me,” TIm says, but he’s leaning into Ra’s touch.

“I have told you now.”

“I want pills. I want to see what I’m taking.”

“I will arrange it. Certainly, it would be a comfort for me as well, to know you’re taking the full dose. You really should eat more.”

Ra’s drops his hand. Tim feels the loss immediately, and bites his lip to keep from saying anything he’ll regret later.

Ra’s puts both hands on the side of the pool and heaves himself out. Tim’s eyes trail over his body as it rises past him, watching water stream down from his shoulders, between his pecs, along the thin line of hair dividing his belly, guided by his iliac furrows, down his penis, and- Oh, come on. That water is freezing. There’s no way Ra’s cock should be so impressive. It’s not fair.

He raises his gaze and realises Ra’s has been watching him. Ra’s raises an eyebrow.

“What, I can’t enjoy the view?” Tim asks. The words are out of his mouth before he can stop them. Robin training at it’s finest, a taunt for every scenario whether you need one or not.

“I will give you your privacy,” Ra’s says. “You should use the pool while you’re still warm enough from the previous rooms to feel the benefit. Recent research has shown cold water swimming can help with managing depression, you know?”

“Yeah, I’ve read that.”

“You should join me for tapas this evening in the courtyard.”

“I know what you’re doing,” Tim says quietly. “The isolation, the care-taking. I’m not going to develop Stockholm Syndrome.”

“I don’t want you to.” Ra’s puts his empty glass back on the table. “I respect your intelligence enough to know you aren’t easily lead. This, all of this, you should know it comes from a place of genuine concern.”

He leaves Tim sitting on the edge of the pool.

After a few minutes, Tim shucks of the towel and lowers himself in. He stands where Ra’s stood.

How far is he willing to take this? What’s he willing to do for the respite Ra’s is offering?

He closes his eyes and pictures Ra’s, keeping his mental image carefully constrained to the shoulders and up.

Imaginary Ra’s smiles, dark eyes sharp and knowing, and Tim thinks he might be willing to do more than a hero like him ought to.

He’s not scared of Ra’s.

He’s a little scared of himself.

#

A small orange pill bottle sits next to the bowl of fruit in his room. Tim stays put, waiting to see if anyone will bring him lunch, tapas or dinner while he’s present and awake.

They don’t.

He doesn’t take up Ra’s dinner invitation. No one comes to fetch him.

He takes his pills before bed, and stares up at the ornate ceiling. He’s not an idiot, he knows what Ra’s wants and it’s not just a healthy and happy Timmy for his own sake.

He wants to say the thought makes him anxious, or disgusted, or nauseous, but the fluttering in his stomach isn’t any of those things.

He sleeps and dreams of Ra’s in the pool, magnificently naked. The water is so clear and still Tim can see everything, including Ra’s impressive erection. Tim has left his towel in one of the other rooms, and he sits bare-assed on the edge of the pool, watching Ra’s jerk himself off.

Tim slides into the water. He floats next to Ra’s, just the right height to feel Ra’s dick against his hip, to tilt his head up to look Ra’s in the eye. Ra’s cups his cheek, just like he did earlier, and the warmth of his touch travels down Tim’s body to pool in his belly. He feels… good. Better than good. He presses closer to Ra’s, wraps his hand around the older man’s and finds the rhythm. Ra’s puts an arm around his shoulders and presses his face into Tim’s hair.

Ra’s comes and Tim wakes. His hand is tight around his own cock, which pulses in his grip and demands attention. He doesn’t even think about it as he starts pumping, hips bucking into his fist, and comes with his mind’s eye occupied by Ra’s.

He keeps stroking himself even as he softens, dragging out the over-stimulation until his dick twitches and starts to get hard again. It’s been a long time since he’s felt like this. The depression suppresses his libido. It’s one of the symptoms he tends not to notice - the slow reducing frequency of the urge to masturbate, the drop in the number of mornings he wakes up with wood, the way he looks and doesn’t look at people around him - until he swings back the other way and it comes back like this: a desperate urge to make up for lost time, wet dreams and inconvenient hard ons and jerking off until he’s sore and aching and empty.

He slides his other hand behind him. He doesn’t have lube here, but he’s too horny to care. He wets his finger with spit and slips it inside himself. He can’t go deep, not just with spit, but he doesn’t need to. His cock jumps in his other hand and his squeezes it under the head, holding onto the feeling.

His mind flips back to Ra’s; not the dream, but earlier that day. Wet, naked. He tries to tear his mind away, to find Steph and her pneumatic curves, Kon’s broad chest, Dick’s ass, anything, but all he can see is Ra’s narrow hips, wet from the pool, his cock hanging heavy between his muscled thighs. He hears Ra’s voice, telling him he’s better than Bruce, telling him Ra’s respects him, telling him Ra’s cares. He feels Ra’s hands on his body, not just his cheek now but roving and exploring. He understands the weight of centuries of erotic experience and opens himself up to learning, gives himself up to the pleasure he knows Ra’s can provide him.

His fingers are Ra’s fingers, expertly probing. His fist is Ra’s fist, taking him firmly in hand. Ra’s guides him towards a second orgasm, whispered promises in his ear, telling him how good he is, how clever, how strong, how perfect, how Ra’s sees him even when nobody else does.

He comes a second time, spilling over his fingers. He presses his face into the pillows and moans, whimpering through the aftershocks until he’s completely wrung out.

He wipes both hands clean on the sheets and rolls away from the wet spot, burying himself deep despite the lingering heat of the day.

The butterflies in his stomach settle, though whether that’s a good thing or a bad one, Tim isn’t entirely sure.

Chapter Text

Tim wakes slowly. The sheets are sticking to him and he’s too hot in his little nest, but he’s slept pretty soundly. His cock is half hard and he remembers last night’s dream. He hesitates for a moment, but figures why not? He might as well enjoy the return of his libido while it lasts, and besides he’s on holiday. Ninja room service will deal with the soiled sheets.

His mind wanders, and he gives himself permission to let it fix on Ra’s. He’s always had a taste for older men, and Ra’s exudes an old world eroticism. Ra’s is willing to lavish attention on him in a way few bother, and Tim imagines a life of silk and sherbet and turkish baths, the league conveniently absent for the purpose of fantasy.

Afterwards he washes himself at the basin, slowly soaping down every inch of skin. He feels… he feels pretty good, if he’s honest, like a tipping point has been passed. He’s given himself an honest answer to an honest question, and some of the fog of uncertainty has lifted.

If what Ra’s wants is sex, Tim is willing to consider it.

If Ra’s wants him to join the League of Assassins, Tim won’t.

Those are the boundaries, and they’re nice, neat, hard lines in Tim’s sand. He knows where he stands now. He just has to find out where Ra’s stands.

Breakfast is missing, but there’s an orange branch on the table so he knows where to find it.

He’s readier to face Ra’s than he was yesterday, but a new problem presents itself. He can’t meet Ra’s with a bedsheet toga covered in cum stains. The only way to acquire fresh sheets, though, is to leave the room, and he’s pretty certain the minute he does so, even just to dart into a neighbouring bedroom and steal a clean sheet, Ra’s will be there.

There aren’t a lot of alternatives in the room. The chaise langue is upholstered and the cushions are too small to provide much coverage. There’s no convenient throw to wear like a sarong. No curtains in the room, either.

The pillows on the bed are much larger than the cushions, wider and deeper. The pillow covers are the same white linen as the sheets. They’re well made, though, the stitching tight and tiny and impervious to Tim’s prying fingers. He yanks and tugs, but the fabric won’t tear.

Hmm. He needs something to unpick the seams with. None of the food so far has come with a sharp knife or fork, not that he imagines he’d have managed to keep a potential weapon hidden here for long. He could smash the washbasin or jug (or chamber pot, but he’s not even going there) and use one of the shards, but the pieces would be too delicate to grip tightly.

Tim turns to the gutter at the edge of the room. The end he prized up previously is still loose. It’s screwed down at one end, but he bends the end up. He brings the pillow case over, and sets to work.

He releases the seam at the end of the case to make a tube. When he pulls it up his legs it’s a tight fit over his butt, and generally a snugger fit all around than he’s comfortable with, but at least it won’t fall down of its own accord. It’s also not as opaque as he’d like, the dark thatch of his pubic hair an obvious shadow, but it’s still preferable to being naked. There’s something a bit pencil-skirt-esque about the linen tightly stretched across his hips, and he feels like a half dressed secretary in a bad porn film.

He takes the orange branch and ventures out into the palace. As usual there’s no sign of life, but when he reaches the balcony over the courtyard he sees movement in the pavilion. The stairs are more difficult to navigate than he expected in the tight skirt, and he feels the seams give a little more.

He misses his toga.

No, screw that, he misses pants.

Ra’s rises as Tim enters the pavilion, the fully dressed bastard.

“I want clothes,” Tim says. “This is ridiculous.”

Ra’s inclines his head. “Your creativity in reduced circumstances never ceases to amaze me, Detective.”

“I’m done with sheets, I’m done with towels, and I’m done with getting creative. Pants and a shirt, Ra’s.” Tim folds his arms across his bare chest.

“I’m not sure I can do that, Detective.”

“You think keeping me naked will stop me from leaving? If I wanted to go I’d have gone already.”

It’s true, much truer than he’s been willing to admit to himself so far. He has sheets to turn to rope, dishes he could break to make anchors from, knows where the shortest route to the roof is. But he hasn’t tried. He hasn’t wanted to leave.

“Perhaps I have other reasons for keeping you in a state of dishabille.” Ra’s runs his gaze over Tim’s body, lingering between his legs. “Perhaps I, too, wish to enjoy the view.”

“There are sexier outfits than a butchered pillow case. You want to dress me for the dance of the seven veils, fine. Just gimme the harem pants.” Maybe that’s crossing a line, but Ra’s seems amused, so Tim thinks he’s got away with it. He knows his audience. “If you really brought me here for my own good, I can’t see how this helps. If I’m your prisoner, there are easier ways to restrain my movements. If you genuinely want my company, I’ll believe you respect me if you allow me my self-respect. We could be talking about Rumi, or world politics, or the latest scientific discoveries. We could be eating breakfast. But none of those things are going to happen until i have clothes.”

“Perhaps I am trying to break down your internal barriers. To face the naked soul, one must face the naked body. To learn to be strong, first you must learn to be vulnerable.”

“Who’s keeping you company, Ra’s? You’ve kept me in isolation so I’ll want to come to you, but I don’t think any of your usual sycophants are lurking around the corner. Certainly none of your family, who all want me dead. I can be good company, Ra’s. I just want to be comfortable.”

He holds Ra’s gaze.

“I know the contents of my soul. I am already vulnerable before you. If you respect me as much as you say you do, you’ll let me meet you on equal footing. You are in robes, I am in rags.”

Ra’s steeples his fingers and leans forward, eyes glittering.

“So, Cinderella demands her slippers. It pleases me to see you ask for what you need, Detective. I will have a selection of clothes sent to your room.”

Tim glances around. There’s no one visible to hear Ra’s order, but he’s sure if he ran back to his room now he’d find a thobe and serwal laid out.

His eye hits upon the breakfast laid out and his stomach growls. Bread and oil, tomatoes, ham, a red colour spread, fresh orange juice, and, most beautiful of beautiful, a tall pot of coffee.

“Good. Fine. I’ll dress after breakfast.”

He drops into the second chair, ignoring the ominous tearing sound coming from the pillow seams.

Ra’s pours him a cup of thick black coffee. Tim holds it under his nose, letting the bitter aroma surround him.

“Suppose I had put the choice to you: coffee or clothes?” Ra’s asks, loading a plate with delicacies and pushing it to Tim’s side of the table.

“Then I’d have to admit you are truly an evil mastermind,” Tim says. “But since you didn’t, you are clearly capable of mercy and empathy, and thus it is my duty as a hero to try and save you from yourself.” He gestures to the plate. “What’s that?”

“Manteca colora. Red lard. Try it on the village bread, this one.”

Tim wrinkles his nose, but he’s eaten weirder, and so far the food here has been good.

“Huh. That’s… I could eat a lot of that. I mean, I shouldn’t, but-”

“I am pleased to see you with an appetite.” Ra’s smiles. “Your cholesterol levels can manage a little meat fat.”

Tim takes another bite. “You measured them?”

“My physician gave you a full medical while you were drugged. You’ve been eating poorly for a while.”

“I mean, yeah, but not lard on toast.” It’s sort of spicey? And that fat-salt combo that pings all the triggers in his lizard hindbrain. “It’s not that I can’t cook. I know everyone thinks I can’t, and sure, I’m no Jason, but I’m better than Bruce. I just don’t have the time or energy in the thirty minute window between getting home from Wayne Enterprises and setting off to fight crime, or vice versa.” He finishes the bread. “Do you cook?” He’s never really thought about it before, and the mental image intrigues him.

The question seems to surprise Ra’s, who takes a moment to answer.

“Much the same as yourself, I suppose. I can cook, but I have other demands on my time and the privilege to have others provide for me. It’s been… decades? Yes, decades, since I last stood in front of a stove myself. Maybe I should make some time for it. I could resurrect cuisines lost to modern cooking.” A smile ghosts across his face. “Sora used to do so much with so little.”

Tim slices up a tomato and lays it on a piece of bread, drizzling it with oil and salt.

“Have you had date wine, Detective? Fermented the old way? I will see if I can source some while you are here, and we will feast like we have found an oasis.”

They rarely stray from the subject of food for the rest of the meal. It’s a safe topic and an easy one, no risk of running into triggers for Tim or murderous anecdotes from Ra’s. It places them on equal footing, both drawing from experience to furnish their opinions, and Tim can forget that he’s talking with a man roughly 30 times older than him.

The food is gone and the coffee is drunk. “I’m going to return to my room and change,” Tim says.

“I hope the attire meets your standards.” Ra’s stands. “You may take your leisure this morning - I have a little work to attend to - but I look forward to resuming our conversation after the siesta.”

Tim cranes his neck to look up at Ra’s. Damn the man’s tall.

“Sure,” he says. He climbs to his feet as well, but he’s still getting a crick in his neck looking up at Ra’s. The pillow case, seams thoroughly split, drops several alarming inches, and he grabs it with one hand. Ra’s smirks at him. “I’ll, ah, meet you here?”

“Indeed.”

Ra’s gestures for Tim to precede him. Tim scowls, hiking up his makeshift skirt.

Ra’s follows Tim up to the balcony. As Tim approaches the door to the bedrooms Ra’s reaches past him to open it. Ra’s shadow falls over him and Tim is conscious of being penned in. Ra’s smells of sandalwood, like the baths, and Tim can’t shake the feeling that if he leant back, a fraction of an inch, he’d find himself pressing his shoulder against Ra’s bare chest.

Ra’s pushes the door open with the tips of his long fingers, the ripple of his sleeve over his biceps belying the effort he puts into making it look effortless.

Tim swallows. He finds he’s come to a halt.

“Is this a guest wing?” he asks.

“As opposed to?”

“I dunno. The harem.”

“This evening,” Ra’s says, “I will educate you about my culture.”

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Tim says, recoiling. “I just-”

“The harem is in the South Wing.”

Tim blinks up at him. “I genuinely have no idea if you’re joking or not right now.”

Ra’s winks. “You did ask for the pants.”

He waves Tim through the door. Tim’s feet take him through it without asking his brain’s permission. The door clicks shut behind him. When he looks over his shoulder he’s alone; Ra’s has remained outside.

Suddenly Tim has butterflies. The fluttering nerves sit uncomfortably alongside the large breakfast and he leans against the wall, pressing his face against the cool tiles.

Is he really doing this?

He hopes his hasn’t misread the situation. Ra’s flirts easily, and Tim’s never taken him seriously before. What if it isn’t serious now? What if he’s a pawn in some longer game Ra’s is playing with Bruce? He’s going to make a fool of himself, throwing himself at the older man because he’s so attention-starved he can’t tell the difference between the light banter of a supervillain and the seductive techniques of an experienced lover.

He wants to be seduced so badly. If that’s not what’s happening here he’s not sure how he’ll handle it.

He isn’t sure how long he’s been standing there when he hears the whisper of receding footsteps, slippers on marble. His breath catches in his throat at the implication.

He doesn’t imagine Ra’s was pressed against the other side of the wall, contemplating Tim’s intentions, but he stayed there for a reason. Tim has won a game of chicken he didn’t know he was playing, and it gives him an odd burst of confidence, enough to peel himself away from the tiles and confront whatever outfit Ra’s wants to dress him in.

Chapter Text

Tim nervously smoothes the creases he’s already managed to get in his churidar and kurta. It’s not what he was expecting, but the heavily embroidered silk kurta hangs from his shoulders and skims over his pecs, falling to mid-thigh and drawing attention to his narrow hips. It’s got a modern mandarin-style collar that sits high on Tim’s throat, like the Robin cape used to. Even without a mirror he knows it’s a flattering look on him. It’s more tailored than a thobe - tailored specifically to his measurements, Tim notes - and the churidar are cut on the bias to show off his legs.

The embroidery is gold thread, the black silk is so fine it’s almost see-through, and Tim’s pretty certain the beading on the kurta trim is made of precious gemstones. The whole outfit is ridiculously lavish, and Ra’s has bestowed it upon him. It’s a suit for lounging on a chaise langue in, being fanned with palm fronds and fed grapes. It’s unearthing orientalist fantasies Tim never knew he had, and feels a little guilty about. Ra’s might have a point about him needing a bit more cultural sensitivity.

Sometimes Tim feel very, very white.

Ra’s hasn’t provided him with any slippers or shoes, which Tim takes as confirmation that his initial state of undress was another way of ensuring he stayed within the compound. Ra’s still isn’t entirely convinced he won’t leave.

It’s nice to be able to stride around without worrying about losing his dignity, even if it is barefoot. He walks freely, arms swinging at his sides. It’s early evening and there’s a smell of roast chorizo wafting through the door to the balcony.

Ra’s is waiting for him in the pavilion. Two glasses of red wine and a ceramic dish of thumb-size sausages in a tomato sauce sit on the table at his elbow. He too is wearing black with gold trim, though he's wearing a beautiful sherwani over his kurta, with a higher collar and swooping embroidery. His churidar are tucked into knee high leather boots.

Tim pauses in front of him and spins. Ra’s laughs, and when Tim completes the 360 turn Ra’s looks surprised by his own amusement.

“You took my measurements while I was unconscious,” Tim guesses.

“I had them from your tailor in Gotham.” Ra’s waves Tim into the free chair and hands him a two-tined fork to pick at the chorizo with. “It suits you very well.”

“It does,” Tim agrees. “Can I keep it?”

“I am not lavishing you with gifts to take them back. I’m insulted you think me so miserly.”

Tim opens his mouth to say he doesn’t need gifts, but closes it again. He does. He does need gifts. He needs physical reminders that people around him see him.

He wants gifts.

 

Ra’s is watching him.

“Thank you,” Tim says belatedly.

“You’re welcome.”

Tim takes a sip of wine. It's good, heavy on the tannin and slightly spicy. It holds up well against the chorizo.

He leans back in his chair, swirling the wine in his glass and stretching his legs out in front of him. The silk shalwar ride up a little, clinging to his calves and showing off his delicate ankles. He imagines his patent leather Dolce & Gabbana brogues on his feet, not socks, and it's a better look than his bare and dusty feet. The outfit is so much more comfortable than the three piece suits he wears as Tim Wayne but just as professional in appearance. It's unlikely he'd get away with it in the board room, though.

He feels good. He feels... classy.

He puts the wine down before he spills it on his new clothes. He’s not going to tempt fate.

“I bought myself an Aston Martin,” Tim says, reaching for conversation. "I haven't had a chance to take it out, yet."

"You bought yourself a private garage to keep it in," Ra's says. "On the opposite side of the city."

Tim grimaces. "Yeah. I mean, I didn't want to displace any of the cars I actually like. I will drive it though. At some point. I just... everyone knows James Bond, and it seemed plausibly like something Bruce would buy me."

What does it say that the gift Tim bought himself is something he doesn’t even really want? He used to be better at this, when he was buying himself gifts from his parents. Mostly because he was buying equipment to stalk Batman, which is a bit redundant now.

"I bought myself the gift of having an answer to people's questions about what Bruce got me that would withstand a little digging by Vicki Vale," he says honestly.

He reaches for another piece of chorizo, but his appetite has gone. His hand hovers over the bowl while he fights himself. Ra's is being so generous, he can't just sit and sulk here.

“Detective?”

His head snaps up and he drops the fork with a clatter.

“Perhaps we should take the tour?”

Tim nods mutely.

Ra’s stands. He picks up his wine glass, so Tim copies him.

“Have you taken your medication today?” Ra’s asks.

“Yes. I’m definitely… I’m definitely feeling better. Not a hundred per cent, but I’m finding it easier to break out of downward spirals.”

“You’re still having them, though?”

Tim glances back at the cutlery he dropped. It's ought to be a rhetorical question at this point, but Ra's is asking like Tim didn't just have a small meltdown over a car he never intends to drive.

He shrugs. “Certain thought patterns are habitual. I was working on that with a therapist for a while, but he started asking awkward questions I couldn’t answer truthfully, and it seemed pointless seeing someone just to lie to them.”

“It’s more common than you think.” Ra’s puts a hand on Tim’s shoulder. “There is more than one approach to rewiring these neural pathways. If necessary, I can source a confidante for you.”

“I’m not sharing details of my life with Batman with one of your ninja,” Tim says. “Nice try, though.”

Ra’s face remains impassive for a moment, before a smile flickers across it. “You’ve caught me as usual, Detective.”

Tim watches the smile come and go like something he wasn't supposed to notice. Ra's eyes are shrewd rather than sympathetic, and it buoys Tim's mood to know he's skirted a trap here. Ra's still sees him as an equal in a way he's not sure his family does whenever his mental health forces itself to the forefront of their minds.

Ra's uses the hand on Tim's shoulder to turn him slightly. "So, to the tour. This is one of two sahn in the palace, a private courtyard. It's my favourite, but I will show you the other as well."

"It's very pleasant."

Ra's steers Tim to the entrance room and through a door that has been kept locked until now. It leads through a narrow, curving corridor.

"The majaz keeps the sahn private, separating it from the reception rooms. We'll tour the public part of the palace, and then I'll show you my wing."

They enter a large room laid out to receive guests. A low stone bench circles the walls, covered in plush silk and satin cushions, while two long, low sofas sit opposite each other in the centre of the room. Tim's best attempt to approximate it against his architectural experience is the Good Lounge in his parents old house, the one his mother called the drawing room, that didn't have a TV in and he wasn't allowed to go in when his parents weren't there (not that he wanted to, when it was all high backed arm chairs and nothing to do).

"It's a receiving room," Tim says.

"The majlis, yes. The murals are from the thirteenth century."

"They're beautiful," Tim says dutifully, even though he hadn't noticed the faded topiary carefully detailed by ancient brushes. He likes the tiles and their bright geometry better, and he thinks Ra's can tell.

He's still carrying his wine. When he goes to take a sip, so he doesn't have to make conversation, he finds the glass is empty. As they leave the room he tucks the empty vessel amongst the cushions of the nearest bench.

Ra's takes him through several other public rooms, designed to impress visitors with their luxury and refined taste. They make up three sides of another courtyard, that Ra's refers to as the paradise garden. It's more impressive than the little sahn, a space larger than most Gotham parks, divided into four by a complex system of pools and fountains. Each quarter is planted with the indigenous species from the four corners of the ancient world: sub-Saharan grasses, Scandinavian pine trees, Chinese bamboo, and a twisted Myrrh.

"How do you keep them all alive?" Tim asks.

"A lot of money," Ra's says.

Tim cocks his head to one side. "They all come from locations of Lazarus pits, don't they? Or near enough."

"Don't hedge, Detective. Your initial conjecture is quite correct." Ra's reaches out with his free hand as they wind through the Norwegian firs. "It has made them all a little hardier than their peers."

"Is there a pit here?" Tim asks.

Ra's doesn't answer, so Tim assumes he's right. Interesting to know.

Eventually they reach the other side of the garden. The colonnade is lined with benches, and a niche contains a small fountain with a stack of cups beside it. The red wine is still clinging to Tim's back teeth, so he helps himself to one. Ra's puts his own wine glass down next to the fountain, but doesn't take up a fresh cup.

They follow the colonnade around the garden until they reach an ornate flight of stairs. The steps are narrow and high, forcing Tim to follow a couple of paces behind Ra's if he doesn't want to directly stick his face in the older man's rear.

It is a good view, though, even with the floor length robe swishing as Ra's strides up the staircase.

They pass through another majlis and wind their way through another majaz, until they emerge in another colonnade. Instead of impressive stone pillars this one is constructed around carved wooden screens. It's more intimate, but it brings to mind assassins lurking around corners and every changing shadows, and Tim thinks he knows why Ra's prefers the more open sahn.

"The palace is built on a slope," Tim says, "isn't it? That's why everything is on different levels."

"Yes. We're nestled amongst the mountains here. The original builders chose the spot due to the natural springs, which they used to feed the water features."

"Not for the Lazarus pit, then?"

"I didn't say there was one, did I?"

"You didn't say there wasn't, which is good enough for me."

"Hmm. The absence of a 'no' is not a 'yes', Detective. Sometimes things are a little more grey than that."

"There used to be a Lazarus pit," Tim guesses.

"Is it relevant? I am showing you one of my most private palaces, allowing you into the most intimate of spaces, showering you with my most personal gifts." There's a bit of bite to Ra's tone, and Tim knows he's hit the hard limit on this subject. But he resents the implication he's being ungrateful by pushing on this topic, and it's a dash of cold water to the face to be reminded that Ra's isn't doing this from the goodness of his heart. Tim is his prisoner. This is his gilded cage.

The sahn has four orange trees, one in each corner, and a square of benches in the middle around a sixteen pointed star mosaic. There's no pavilion here to provide shade. The floor is grey marble, veined with blue, one huge slab cut in a single piece apart from the star, which is black and white marble. How on earth it was brought here Tim can't imagine, and he uses his bare feet to feel for invisible seams.

Ra's leads him across the courtyard and behind another lattice screen. A wide arched doorway, no door, opens onto a bedroom.

Tim's feet scuff to a halt on the marble.

Ra's bed is set back in a recess, raised a foot higher than the rest of the room.

It's huge.

Tim thought he knew big beds. He has a superking at home, just because he can. Bruce's bed is similarly large, too, big enough to fit him and all of the robins on the rare occasions he's too injured or sick to get out of bed. Tim associates it with family and belonging and sleep.

Ra's is not showing Tim his bed with the expectation they'll curl up together and watch Property Brothers.

It's probably eight foot long, and even wider. It fills the recess completely. Cushions soften the join with the walls, and a single light linen sheet makes up the covers. The back wall is curved and from where he's standing Tim can tell the ceiling above the bed is domed, the whole thing designed like a Mihrab, except the form of devotion expected here is worship of Ra's.

Tim was raised a high days and holidays Catholic, and has been an atheist since early childhood, but there's something about sacrilege that still makes his heart race. This is an unholy place for unholy acts, and he wants to be part of that.

He tears his attention away from the bed and see Ra's has moved over to a pair of low sofas on the left hand side of the room. Tim forces himself to turn and he drags himself over to Ra's, turning his cheek to the bed.

A chess table sits between the sofas. It's set up for a game. Another pair of wine glasses sit on low coffee table.

Late afternoon, bright and hot, has turned to evening while Ra's has been showing him around, and oil lamps flicker in the corners of the room. The oil is scented, but not so much as to be overwhelming.

Ra's gestures to the board. "You are white, of course."

"Of course," Tim says.

He pushes his central pawn forward two spaces. Ra's counters by mirroring him.

They take the game at a leisurely pace.

"Do you play often?" Ra's asks.

"No. Most of my friends don't play. Bruce doesn't have time, and I can't imagine getting through a whole game with Damian without attempting to kill each other."

Ra's raises an eyebrow. "You are not joking when you say that."

"Half joking. I mean, he probably wouldn't these days."

"But you still see the potential for it in him."

"I don't think I could not. It's who he is. He doesn't regret it- no, that's not true. He does regret it, but not because he feels guilty. He regrets disappointing Bruce, but that's all."

"And you? You have toed that line more than once, and though you have walked away every time, I'm not sure you can claim it was due to your superior morals. You have a ruthless streak, Detective."

"I know. I had Boomerang right there, and I saved him, but I didn't do it because I thought the act would haunt me."

"You feared Batman's disappointment."

"I feared... No, you know what? I'm not ruthless. I'm practical. It wasn't practical to kill him."

"After all the effort you put in, you suddenly found it impractical?"

"Sunk cost fallacy." Tim shakes his head. "I was looking at him, and I asked myself if I was doing it for my dad or for me, and neither was true. It wasn't for justice. It wasn't even for revenge. I was doing it because I was mad at my family."

"And killing him would have vented that rage?"

"It would have pushed them away. I wanted them to be as mad at me as I was at them."

"What were you punishing yourself for?"

"Being mad at them. Not forgiving them. I should have. I've tried. But then Dick visits and spends all his time with Damian instead of me. Steph doesn’t trust me, which is rich: I didn’t fake my death, I didn’t conspire with her enemies to ‘test’ her and nearly get her killed. Jason can’t even say my name. No one gives a shit how many times he tried to kill me, they’d do anything, forgive anything, to bring him back into the fold. Bruce still isn't proud of me, even after I was the only one who kept faith. I saved him and he wasn't grateful.”

Tim swallows hard. He picks up his wine and holds it to his mouth to stop his lips moving and give his brain a chance to catch up, but he puts it down without drinking any.

"No, that's not fair,” he says before Ra’s can reply. “He is. I shouldn't sulk about the fact he hasn't been demonstrative about it. He’s Bruce."

"Check."

Tim looks down at the board, dragging himself back to the present. He positions a rook between his king and Ra's bishop.

"I realised I was being self-destructive so I put a halt to it. It wasn't practical to drive the wedge deeper."

"He was still disappointed. Check." Ra's knight takes up position on the other side of his bishop.

Tim moves his king a square.

"I should have stopped myself sooner. It was a stupid self-indulgent fantasy, and trying to bring it to life was a mistake."

"Do you feel that way about all your fantasies?"

"Check." Tim's queen sits too close to Ra's rook, but he forces Ra's to move back a space and the concession feels good. "Not all of them."

Ra's takes Tim's queen. "Are you sure?"

He wonders if Ra's knows about his wet dreams. Probably.

“I have more than one kind of fantasy. The negative ones - the ones about how they’d finally realise how hard I work if I died, the ones Damian or Jason finally land a blow that forces everyone else to pick a side, the ones where I Show Them All - of course I shouldn’t bring them to life. They’re not healthy. I shouldn’t indulge in them at all.”

Tim throws away his bishop to draw Ra's rook out further.

“Everyone has them.”

“Do they, though?”

“Yes.” Ra’s smiles. “Trust me, Timothy. Do you think there haven’t been days when I was tempted to walk away from it all, and watch my allies and enemies alike scramble to fill the holes left unplugged in my absence? You are right, these are the fantasies we must resist wallowing in excessively, but you must not convince yourself that having them is a personal moral failing.”

Ra's doesn't take Tim’s bait, instead positioning his queen to corner Tim's king.

“What of your other fantasies?” he asks.

“The positive ones?” Tim bites his lip. “I wish I had more time and energy to explore them, usually.” The sort of time and energy this little holiday is providing him with.

He takes Ra's knight with his bishop. "Check."

"Wh- ah, I see." Ra's smirks at the board. "Nicely done. But is it enough?"

They both stare at the board in silence for a moment.

Ra's reaches out with a long finger and tips his king over.

"Congratulations, Detective."

"You didn't want to play it out?"

"I admit defeat, but you would rather keep pushing until you have the blade at my throat?"

"It'd be a mitre, with my bishop."

Ra's doesn't deign to answer that. Instead he stands and make his way to the opposite corner of the room, where he retrieves a tray from a cabinet.

"Dinner?"

Steam rises from a heaped mound of jewelled rice. The smell of mint and lamb permeates the room.

Tim rises and goes over to the corner. He slides past Ra's and squints in the gloom.

"A dumbwaiter?"

"Yes, Detective, a dumbwaiter."

"I was hoping for invisible ninja," Tim admits. "I haven't seen anyone but you yet."

"And you shan't. I keep a skeleton staff here, and they are under strict instruction to stay out of my sight."

"On pain of death?"

"A very painful death indeed," Ra's says. "I have to keep my hand in too."

It should alarm Tim, but it's not news to him. He wouldn't say he's made his peace with the idea, but it doesn't shock him. And frankly, he doubts Ra's has had cause to discipline a servant here in some time.

They eat in silence. The lamb is so tender it falls to pieces in Tim's mouth. The rice is delicately spiced, just hot enough to wake his taste buds without overwhelming the other flavours, and perfectly balanced against the cool mint. Pomegranate seeds explode under his teeth and dried apricot provides a bit of extra texture.

Ra's mops up the last of the rice with a piece of lamb, held delicately pinched in his long nails. They're perfectly manicured, glossy and healthy looking. The points are barely filed off.

He holds out the lamb and Tim leans forwards, opening his mouth to receive it.

It dissolves into fragrant fat and juice on his tongue.

"Rematch?" Ra's asks.

Tim nods.

Ra's pours them both another glass of wine and resets the chessboard.

The second game takes a more leisurely pace.

"You're very special, Detective," Ra's says. "You're underappreciated."

"You're getting less subtle in your grooming," Tim says. "I must be about to beat you again."

Ra's sighs. "Let me put it another way. You worry so much about being a disappointment, you do not stop to question if anyone else is meeting your standards."

"I can't just hold people to the same standards as myself."

"Why not?"

Tim blinks. His head is warm with wine and his thoughts are sliding back and forth across his well-lubricated mind. "Because it's not fair. They don't know what the standards are," he settles on.

"Are you confident you do?"

"You have to keep raising the bar for yourself. Don't tell me otherwise, Ra's. You'd have stopped at one lifetime and a small country if you didn't feel the same way."

Ra's smirks, twirling the stem of his wine glass between his fingers. "True. True."

"You meet a goal, you set a new one. Check."

Ra's takes Tim's knight. "You do not appreciate how special that attitude makes you, though. So many people in this world - and the number I have met in my years means I'm not just talking anecdotally - bumble through life pleased to consider themselves basically competent in a single arena. They never even set themselves goals, let alone meet them."

"And they're happier for it," Tim says. "My therapist said I needed to learn to be happy with myself as I am, not reserve my happiness for a future self that may never exist."

Ra's shrugs, rocking his head from side to side. It's the body language equivalent of "Yeah no" or possibly "No yeah".

"I think that self will exist," Ra's says. "I have never seen you fail to strike the targets you aim yourself at. Especially the moving ones."

"You've spent eight hundred years chasing them. Are you happier?"

"You always ask the most astute questions, Detective."

"You always dodge them."

"Happiness is a moving target. What pleases me today will bore me tomorrow. That you are capable of holding my attention as you do is credit to your unique appeal."

"Flattery will get you-" Everywhere, Tim realises, and he breaks off with a snort. "Are you saying you're a hedonist? You're just chasing happiness throughout the centuries?"

"No. I am not so selfish. Hedonists take no note of the damage they do in pursuit of pleasure. I want this world to be worth living in, not just for myself. I may find the happiness of the proletariat mundane are hard to fathom, but it is infinitely preferable to their misery, which is what they will suffer should the world continue on its current path."

"You always know what's best for people, don't you? You're willing to sacrifice people for their own sakes."

"If they aren't willing to make the necessary sacrifices themselves, yes. People are so focused on the short term they can't see the long term benefits." Ra's moves his rook. "Check."

"Are we talking about your eco-terrorism, or are we talking about my self-destructive behaviour?" Tim takes Ra's piece. "Because if we're going to make this game into some sort of metaphor I need to know which analogy it is so I can either throw in some short term sacrifices or go for a most pieces left on the board strategy to make my point."

"Neither or both. Whichever is most distracting," Ra's says. "Check."

"Yeah, well, check."

"Check."

Tim can't position himself to put Ra's in check again. "It's not that I don't appreciate the need to stop climate change, in so far as we still can-"

"-you can't. The time is past-"

"-but it's pretty rich of you when you're sat in a palace in the middle of... of wherever we are, which is somewhere very hot and arid, and you're hogging all of the running water to keep yourself cool and grow exotic flora."

"This palace is completely carbon neutral," Ra's points out. "Checkmate."

"Damn. Really? Damn." Tim's not sure whether he's more annoyed to lose the game or the rhetorical point. "Is it really carbon neutral? I mean, you're burning oil, even if it's not in a generator." He waves at the lamps on the wall.

"Plant-based oils," Ra's says. "Perhaps tomorrow I will show you a little of the engineering."

"You couldn't run the world like this, though, could you?" Tim reaches over to reset the board, but Ra's rejects his attempt with a flick of his fingers. "I'm generally in favour of organic farming and food to table and self-sustainability, but you need access to a huge amount of land, and very specific land, to pull it off. Only the wealthy can afford a carbon neutral lifestyle."

"As it's currently defined. You need to change your perspective. There's no reason all the apartments in New York couldn't be cooled in much the same way this palace is, if everyone were to work together. Capitalism cannot solve the current crisis."

"So, what, you're a proponent of eco-socialism now? We all move into farming communes?"

"Or eco-fascism." Ra's shrugs. "Decisions have to be taken on society's behalf."

"I suppose the invisible servants should have cued me in," Tim says.

"I suppose they should have."

"Are we done with chess?"

"it is past midnight, Detective. We are done for the night."

Tim's attention snaps to the bed.

He stands up, and finds himself a little wobbly on his feet as the wine overtakes his blood on the way to his head.

Ra's takes his elbow and steers him around the sofas. Tim's gaze stays on the bed until his neck starts to hurt and he realises Ra's has turned him towards the door.

"Oh!"

"Not tonight, Detective," Ra's says. His lips brush against Tim's ear. "You will come to my bed clear-headed and of your own volition. You will be willing to the point of enthusiasm. You will have no doubt in your mind."

"I have no doubt now," Tim's blurts.

Ra's runs a hand down Tim's spine. "Good."

They cross the small courtyard, descend the narrow stair, walk through the garden. Tim cranes his head up.

"If we're in the mountains why can't I see them?"

"High walls, Detective." They pass through the public rooms. Tim's feet start to drag as they approach the smaller sahn.

"We should star gaze."

"Yes, we should. But not tonight."

"We could go down to the baths."

Ra's keeps his hand on Tim's lower back and pushes him up the stairs to the balcony overlooking the courtyard. Away from the baths.

"Tomorrow."

They stop in the doorway to the guest quarter. "I don't want to go to bed," Tim says. The wine is sour in the back of his throat. "I won't sleep."

"I'm sure you'll find a way."

"My head- I can't stop thinking."

"What do you want, Detective?"

He doesn't know. He just doesn't want to be left alone with his thoughts. There's too much future in them: the global catastrophe that will dominant his adult life and those of everyone who comes after him, the personal catastrophe he must brace himself for when he goes home and has to face Bruce’s disappointment in him, and the very imminent potential catastrophe of misreading Ra's husky promises... Somehow he's culpable for everything and the weight of it is suffocating him.

Ra's fingers caress his cheek, slowly tracing his jaw and lifting his chin.

"I won't sleep," Tim says again.

"You will. And I predict you will have pleasant dreams."

Ra's lips are dry and hard. His moustache tickles Tim's nose. He smells of mint and sandalwood and scented oil and Tim's neck hurts from the angle. Their bodies are a careful six inches apart and Tim's skin prickles with the temptation to press closer.

Ra's breaks the kiss.

Tim's lips part and he pants a couple of times.

"That's not going to help me sleep," he says shortly.

Ra's laughs. "I will see you tomorrow, Detective."

Chapter Text

Tim does not sleep well. There’s something bitterly satisfying about that, but he’s still cranky in a way he hasn’t been in a while.

It’s better than spiralling, but still.

Part of it’s the butterflies. He’s glad Ra’s turned him down last night, because he probably would have had regrets this morning, but he’s not sure what to make of it. He doubts his informed and sober consent was really what Ra’s decision hinged on, and he hates that even with the older man’s whispered promises echoing in his mind he still questions whether Ra’s has changed his mind.

He knows he hasn’t been here that long, and really, he saw Tam the day before he was kidnapped, and Bruce and Damian the night before that (well, from a distance, but he’d talked to them over the comms), and he definitely spoke to Dick at some point in the last month and it’s really not been that long since he went to Titans Tower and…

His point is he’s gone way longer not talking to anyone before. It’s been, what, a week? When he was tracking down clues to prove Bruce was alive he often went that long between talking to customs officials, who were pretty much the only strangers who expected him to speak out loud. Thanks to globalisation he hadn’t even had to talk to people to order coffee or take out; all his apps worked just as fine in the middle east as they did back in Gotham.

And then he’d ended up in Ra’s hands, and this, this something, had sprung up. Ra’s who saw him, who believed him, who talked to him. He’d come to Ra’s attention and fuck if he hadn’t lapped it up.

And now it’s just the two of them.

He’s spent years trying to rewire the brain his parents’ left him with, but Ra’s is just pressing every button to light them up like the Christmas switch on at Gotham Town Hall.

I’m smart! I’m good company! I can play chess and talk about poetry and swap recipes! I’m ever so good at listening and saying the right thing at the right moments to make you feel heard! I'm ticking all the boxes! Reward me!

All he needs in return is just a little attention, and Ra’s knows it. He desperately needs to impress someone and Ra’s is the only person here to impress.

He has to turn it off. He has to shut it down. If he can just make peace with being alone in his own head then he won’t need nearly so much external validation. If he can just let go of it all then he can look at the situation objectively.

He spent a lot of last night trying to achieve that point of view, and kept circling around to the idea that maybe Ra’s is just… objectively hot. For an older man. A much older man. Who murders a lot of people.

He suspects he hasn’t achieved true objectivity.

He drags himself out of bed. Breakfast has been laid out. Ra’s doesn’t want to see him bright and early, then. Well, Tim doesn’t want to see him either.

There’s another suit set out for him too, white cotton with Ra’s distinctive green and gold trim. It’s collarless, which makes Tim touch his fingers to his exposed throat. He traces his fingertips over his adam’s apple, past the scar Jason gave him, along his sharp jawline. There’s just a little scruff under his chin now, a shadow on his top lip. He’ll never share Bruce’s five o’clock shadow; he barely grows a five day one. He doesn’t get complete coverage, either, the hair sparse across his cheeks. A full beard is never going to be a good look on him.

But.

He might be able to grow a goatee like Ra’s.

He swallows, feels his throat move under his touch. Imagines Ra’s hand there instead.

He shakes himself and sits down to breakfast. There’s another poetry book on the table. He flips though it as he eats.

Tim swears he’s never read so much poetry in his life, not even in high school. Of course, none of the many high schools he attended would have dreamed of putting a book with a title like “The Khamriyyat of Abu Nuwas” on the curriculum. If he’d pulled out a poem about checking out naked guys in the showers at Brentwood he’d have been lynched.

In the bath-house, the mysteries hidden by trousers
Are revealed to you.
All becomes radiantly manifest.
Feast your eyes without restraint!

You see handsome buttocks, shapely trim torsos,
You hear the guys whispering pious formulas
to one another
("God is Great!" "Praise be to God!")

Ah, what a palace of pleasure is the bath-house!
Even when the towel-bearers come in
And spoil the fun a bit.

He shifts in his seat, the bread between his fingers forgotten. This feels like a step up from the love poetry Ra’s was leaving him before. This is something more specific, something more erotic.

Tim runs his hand through his hair. It’s tangled and greasy and his fingers catch in the knots.

He needs to visit the bath-house.

He puts the book down flat on the table. He watches the pages settle, and it falls open on the bath-house poem.

He does it again, and again, the bath house.

He picks it up and flips through. It’s far from the only poem referencing bath houses, which clearly were the place to go to pick up guys back in the eighth century, but there’s plenty about wine and parties and hash too. Still, Abu Nuwas clearly has a life philosophy that shines though::

A handful of hashish, a pound of meat,
A kilo of bread, and the company of a willing boy.

But that’s not the page it opened to when Tim flicked through it. That’s not the page that falls open.

Maybe, if he was being held by a different supervillain, he might assume that the bath-house poem is the owner’s favourite. That Luthor is amused by the juxtaposition of the poet’s honest lust and his subjects’ false piety, or Nygma is trying to find a way to work the wordplay into one of his riddles, or Ares is pining for the old days.

And sure, Ra’s probably likes the poem for all those reasons, but he’s also put this book in Tim’s room while imprisoning him in a palace that just happens to have a bath house. He’s bent the spine just enough that the book falls open at this point, just like the other poetry books he’s left Tim.

He doesn’t have to go to the baths. He can wash in his room. He can lounge around reading more erotic poetry to keep his mind from turning in on itself. He can eat oranges from the trees in the sahn.

Or he can walk into the trap Ra’s has laid, like he’s walked into every trap Ra’s has set out for him so far.

Because, so far, he’s got new clothes, delicious food, a regular sleep cycle, stimulating conversation and significantly improved brain chemistry out of walking into Ra’s traps.

He isn’t even aware of making a firm decision when he realises he’s stood outside the door to the bath house.

It’s ajar.

The smell of scented smoke drifts up the corridor. The oil lamps flicker in the gloom, sending his shadow darting across the floor. The terracotta is warm under his feet.

Ra’s robes are hanging in the changing room.

Tim strips slowly. He folds his clothes careful and lays them on the bench next to Ra’s outfit. He stands, naked, in the empty room, conscious of every inch of his skin. The air is a perfect temperature, but when he looks down he’s freckled with goosebumps and sweating lightly.

He heads into the washroom. Vents his nerves in the communal toilet - it’s still very weird to be sat at one end of what’s essentially a bench like he’s waiting for a bus and he’s terrified someone will walk in even though Ra’s has very clearly set all this up and knows him well enough not to interrupt - then gives himself the most thorough sponge bath he’s ever had. He rubs himself with the washcloth until it’s pink and raw and he’s confident he’s scrubbed away every particle of grime and drop of sweat and at least one layer of skin. He washes his hair, rubbing the soap into his scalp until he’s forced it between each follicle, then rinses it out three times until his hair threatens to coalesce into a sold matted mess in protest. He fingers combs it aggressively until it submits.

Finally he’s confident that if Ra’s were to caress him he wouldn’t withdraw his hand in disgust.

He’s not disgusting, he tells himself. Ra’s doesn’t think he’s disgusting. Ra’s wants to touch him. He’s worthy of touch.

He walks through the changing room and puts his hand flat against the door to the steam room. It’s hot under his palm. He stands still for a moment, trying to tell just through feel if Ra’s is in there. Trying to predict what’s going to happen next.

Is this good nervous or bad nervous? Is his gut trying to tell him to run away or is this adrenaline rush a sign he’s excited?

Is this going to change him?

No.

He won’t let it.

He controls himself. He controls his emotions. He controls his thoughts. He controls his personality. He controls his choices and if he chooses to go through with this he can choose the extent to which it changes him.

“Come in, Detective.”

He jerks his hand away from the door, breath catching in his throat.

His heart beats twice before he manages to swallow and put his hand back. He pushes the door open.

Ra’s sits on the opposite side of the room. Water vapour swirls around him, parting with the gust of cooler air Tim brings into the room with him. He’s completely naked, sprawled on the bench with his knees wide apart and his forearms resting lightly on his muscled thighs.

“Can you put another ladle of water on the brazier?” Ra’s says. He’s leaning back against the wall, broad shoulders resting on the tiles and his head inclined forwards, eyes half shut. He’s the picture of relaxation, his guard seemingly completely down.

What’s the etiquette, Tim wonders. Where does he sit? His first instinct is opposite, but the room is too big to comfortably converse if he does so. But it is a big room, a big empty room apart from the two of them, and it feels like a public urinal situation, like he needs to put at least one person’s space between them.

He adds more steam to the room and inhales. His lungs prickle as the steam hits his alveoli and he coughs.

He sit down so close to Ra’s their knees bump. Ra’s looks at him through lowered lids and smiles slowly, and Tim relaxes under the tacit approval.

As they sit in silence Tim slowly melts against the tiles, slouching down on the bench until he’s barely upright. His thigh is warm where Ra’s presses against it. He shuffles his foot slowly across the tiles until his shin is against Ra’s.

Ra’s legs are significantly longer. They’re well-muscled and much hairier than Tim’s. He doesn’t shave his, like Dick does, but his body hair is much lighter and sparser and against Ra’s his legs look bare. Well, bare but for the scars, which are numerous. There’s even a fading bruise from where he barked his shin in the sewers, which must have been worse than he thought if there’s still a yellow and purple smudge staining his flesh.

“For young boys,” Ra’s says, breaking the silence, “the girls I've left behind
And for old wine set clear water out of mind.
Far from the straight road, I took without conceit
The winding way of sin, because this horse
Has cut the reins without remorse,
And carried away the bridle and the bit.”

Tim shivers.

“Abu Nuwas?” he says.

Ra’s snorts, and continues to intone, “Here I am, fallen for a faun, a dandy who butchers Arabic,” he recites pointedly, and Tim grins under the criticism.
“His forehead, brilliant like a full moon,
Chases away the black night's gloom.
He cares not for shirts of cotton
Nor for the Bedouin's hair coat.”

Tim licks his lips.

“He sports a short tunic over his slender thighs
But his shirt is long of sleeve.
His feet are well-shod, and under his coat
You can glimpse rich brocade.
He takes off on campaign and rides to attack
Casting arrows and javelins;
He hides the ardor of war, and his
Attitude under fire is magnanimous.”

Ra’s twists away from the wall, reaching with his far hand to stroke Tim’s cheek.

“Comparing a young boy to a young girl,
I am ignorant.
And yet, how can you mix up some bitch
Who goes in monthly heat
And drops a litter once a year
With him I see on the fly.

“How I wish he would come
Return my greeting.
I reveal to him all my thoughts
Without fear of the imam, or of the muezin.”

Tim blinks. “That went to a much more misogynistic place towards the end than I was prepared for.”

Ra’s chuckles. “I considered editing it for your twenty first century norms, but I respect Abū Nuwās al-Ḥasan ibn Hānī al-Ḥakamī to leave his works intact.”

“Especially the bits you can use to mock me.”

“It is interesting to note that men throughout the ages have found themselves seduced by bright young men with handsome buttocks and shapely trim torsos.” The pad of his thumb runs across Tim’s cheek, brushing over his stubble. “Would you like me to provide you with a razor?”

Tim grimaces and scratches at his jaw. “It is a bit itchy,” he says, “but I feel like we’re wandering into dodgy territory here.”

“Oh, I appreciate that you are an adult man, Detective. My tastes don’t run quite in line with the ancient poets, much as I appreciate being the first to broach untouched territory.”

“Hey, I’ve been touched!”

Ra’s thumb rests on Tim’s lower lip, silencing his protests. Tim’s lips part under Ra’s gentle pressure, and the digit slips between his teeth. Tim inhales. He lets his teeth close on Ra’s thumb. He pushes his tongue up, rasps it along Ra’s thumb.

Ra’s pushes his thumb deeper. Tim sucks on it. It’s salty and a little ashy, with something bitter underneath. It takes a moment for Tim to recognise it as orange pith, and it amused him to think of Ra’s peeling fruit with his long nails in the sahn while he waited for Tim to get up.

Ra’s fucks his mouth with his thumb. Tim swallows around it, eyes fluttering shut as he devotes himself to the task. He's lightheaded from the humidity in the room, senses assaulted by sandalwood and frankincense. He's sweating freely, but it's not the kind of sweat he works up in his costume as Red Robin. He feels clean, washed and revived from the inside out. There's no stickiness to it, no worries about body odor. He leans into Ra's, scraping his thumb with his lower teeth, and sucks a like a child on their own thumb.

His forehead meets Ra's and he blinks his eyes open again, surprised to find himself so close. Ra's hand slips from his mouth and Tim's mouth falls slack. Ra's wraps his hand around the back of Tim's head, tangling in his hair, and angles Tim's head for a kiss.

Ra's taste of oranges, sharp and bright. His tongue is cool compared with the heat surrounding them and Tim sucks it as eagerly as as his finger. His hands are still clutched tight to the bench, barely holding him up at the angle he's leaning. He's half across Ra's lap and very conscious of it, Ra's thigh pressed hard against his.

Ra's breaks the kiss with a final swipe of his tongue over Tim's bottom lip.

"Detecti-"

"Tim.”

Ra's raises an eyebrow.

"Please," Tim says. "You call Bruce 'Detective'."

"Timothy." Ra’s rolls the name around his mouth in a way that makes Tim's stomach flutter. The tongue that curls around those syllables is the same he just had in his mouth. Where else might it go?

"You are in danger of overheating," Ra's tells him.

Tim wants to object, but he is feeling a little giddy. "Must be the effect you have on me."

"Don't flirt, De- Timothy. It is not where your talents lie." Ra's cups Tim's cheek. "Speak without artifice and we shall be as equals." Ra's stands. "We will take some water. Come on."

He leads Tim into the anteroom between chambers. Tim is a little unsteady on his feet and he isn't sure how long they've spent in the steam, but it might have been a little too long. The cooler air of the anteroom is a relief on his skin, which is flushed bright pink all over.

Almost all over: his cock is more of a dark red, rising between his legs and bobbing against his stomach as he walks. He cups himself in one hand, more for convenience's sake than modesty. He looks down and is disappointed to find Ra's isn't in the same state. He's maybe half-hard, thick, uncut cock plump between his legs.

Ra's smiles at him. "You do not want to enter the caldarium with an erection, Timothy."

Tim imagines the scalding water against his flesh, all his blood so close to the surface, and shivers.

"No, I suppose not."

Ra's presses a kiss to his sweaty forehead.

"Remain here and drink another cup of water," he says. "I fear my presence isn't helping your state, so I will move on. Join me when you are ready."

Tim isn't expecting that and doesn't think of an objection until Ra's has disappeared through the double doors.

Is he just a distraction here? Would Ra's rather be bathing, and Tim has forced himself into his routine?

That thought is enough to wilt his cock a little, and he casts about for slightly less anxiety-inducing thoughts to speed the process along. He doesn't want a scalded dick. Not now.

He drinks the water, thinks about the faceless servants who brought it, how Ra's might be treating them. He probably doesn't pay them. They probably think it's a treat to serve him. The League does try and foster a cult-like loyalty in its members. Being killed by Ra's himself is probably the highest honour.

It's good to remember what sort of a man Ra's really is. He's made his peace with it enough to give up his body to Ra's, but he won't give up his mind. No matter how poetry trips off his tongue, or how much he cares about Tim's well being. He's not one of Ra's lackies, ready and willing to die for him.

He pours a glass of cold water over his chest, which shocks the last of the heat from his dick.

He opens the door to the caldarium, but the room is empty. There’s a trail of footprints from the left hand bath to the exist at the far end, which evaporate before Tim’s eyes.

He glances at the hot water, but it lacks appeal without company.

What kind of cat and mouse game is Ra’s playing?

He hurries into the tepidarium and is relieved to see the long lines of Ra’s back.

Ra’s is holding a four foot stick, working his way through a series of movements that involves spinning the staff in figures of eight so fast the air around him whistles.

Ra’s must know Tim’s entered, but he continues his practice. Tim watches his muscles slide up and down his spine as his shoulders work. Ra’s skin is flawless and Tim feels a pang of envy for it, but it’s quickly lost in appreciation of Ra’s firm, square buttocks as he drops into a low sweep.

The sweep brings Ra’s around 180 degrees to face Tim. He finishes the move, twirling the staff twice more around his head, before lowering.

“I thought I was familiar with most of the staff based martial arts, but this is new to me,” Tim says.

“Fan a'nazaha wa-tahtib,” Ra’s says. “The art of being straight and honest through the use of stick. Tahtib. One of the oldest martial arts in the world. Your ignorance is no doubt due to the strain of orientalism that turns occidental eyes to the far east when it comes to fighting styles.”

“I know krav maga,” Tim objects.

“The johnny-come-lately of fighting styles. Tahtib is Egyptian, over four thousand years old. If you are looking for advantages over your triads and yakuza and so on, look to North Africa for inspiration.”

Ra’s throws him a stick. It’s lighter than Tim’s bo staff.

“This is your asa. Three strikes to the torso, or one to the head. Blows to the hand, arm or shoulder are taboo.”

Tim copies Ra’s position, holding the stick in his right hand at one end, while the left rest loosely further up. It’s an unfamiliar stance, but after a couple of swooping twists he finds the natural balance point. There’s something of a baton-twirl about the movement that makes him think of Dick and his escrima.

He mirrors Ra’s to start with, until Ra’s changes direction abruptly and brings his asa to tap against Tim’s ribs while his own is still raised in defence of his head.

“Oh.” The sting brings a smile to Tim’s face. “This is fun.”

He manages to deflect two more blows before Ra’s succeeds in landing a second on Tim’s hip. Tim lets takes advantage of the momentum of the blow to land one of his own on Ra’s chest.

“Oh, nicely done, Timothy. You do have such an affinity to staff sports. You need to be more willing to let go, though. Free the asa to follow its own path.”

Tim moves back into a defensive stance so he can watch Ra’s demonstrate. The spinning of the staff is hypnotic, and Ra’s moves with the speed of a striking rattlesnake. Tim has to move fast to fend him off, but it’s hard to balance defending his head and his body. He can see opportunities to strike but they all come at the expense of his defence, and if Ra’s lands one more blow Tim will have lost.

Ra’s isn’t going to slow, though. He isn’t tiring. If Tim needs an opening he has to find another way to get it.

“This is something like stick dancing, isn’t it?”

“They perform it as a dance for tourists now.” Ra’s exaggerates a movement with balletic grace. “A way of preserving the fundamentals, but lacking in lethality.”

Tim makes a clumsy copy of Ra’s movement, trying to tempt him to strike, but Ra’s only smirks.

“How do you know it’s four thousand years old?”

“The same way we know almost everything we do about the Old Kingdom: it was preserved on the pyramids.” Ra’s moves through a sequence Tim assumes comes from that source.

“And it changed from this to… this?” Tim moves from one sequence to the other with more grace than his earlier feint.

Ra’s nods his approval, and Tim glows with the unspoken praise. He lets it show a little - a shy smile, a ducking of the head, an aversion of his gaze - and Ra’s strikes, but Tim reverses the movement, narrowly dodging a blow to the head, and sweeps his asa round as far as he can.

Ra's leans back, letting the asa pass just under his chin. His eyes glitter, and Tim can’t bring his asa back quickly enough to defend himself against the oncoming blow. He takes it on the ribs without flinching, and lowers his stick.

“Well fought, Timothy. You adapted to the style admirably fast.”

This time Tim’s smile is genuine, and the flush on his skin isn’t entirely exertion. He looks at Ra’s through a shield of hair.

"Rematch?" He huffs the unruly mop out of the way.

"Another day." Ra's steps back, leaning the stick against the wall. "Would you like to swim?"

Tim glances at the pool. "Um. Yeah?" He's not sure why Ra’s is asking.

"I will watch you."

“Will you?” TIm asks. “Or will you disappear and make me chase you again?”

“Is that what we’re doing?” Ra’s asks. “Playing ‘catch’?”

“Catch is with a ball. You mean tag,” Tim says. “And yes, are we?”

“We have both come to the baths for our morning ablutions,” Ra’s says, spreading his hands.

Alright, Tim thinks. Fine.

“Well, I guess I’ll swim then.” He walks past Ra’s, so close the hairs of his arm quiver against Ra’s, but he denies both of them the thrill of skin contact. He rests his stick besides Ra’s, knowing full well that as soon as he stops paying attention some invisible servant will whisk it away.

He turns his back on the weapon and on Ra’s, though a mostly-buried instinct tries to warn him against it. He stalks over to the pool and slips in.

He bobs for a second, still facing away from Ra’s, and asks himself what he’s doing. He doesn’t want to swim. He didn’t want to spar. He hadn’t wanted to stand in a anteroom drinking cold water, though he can admit that was probably a good call.

He wants to be back in Ra’s lap, kissing him.

He swims to the opposite side of the pool and pulls himself out. He walks briskly to the door to the next room, not looking back.

As the door swings shut behind him he picks up speed. He knows where he wants to be when Ra’s follows him.

If he follows him.

Of course he’ll follow Tim. Isn’t that the whole point of all this? He’s making a show of giving Tim space to decide what he wants, but Tim wants to get it over with. He’s done thinking. He’s ready to give himself over to the physical.

He slides into the plunge pool, the cold water enfolding him. His skin tightens and the breath catches in his lungs. He feels alive.

He turns and rests his arms on the side of the pool, mirroring the pose Ra’s held the first time Tim saw him here. His toes barely touch the bottom, almost en pointe, and he bobs in the water, finding his balance point.

"Timothy."

Ra’s enters.

Oh, this is a nice view. All the way up, his calves, his thighs, his cock hanging heavy between his legs, his hips, his stomach, his pecs, his broad shoulders and sharp clavicle sporting a bruise Tim gave him, his slender neck, his neat goatee, his cheekbones, his bright eyes boring into Tim’s.

“Ra’s.”

His full lips curve into a predatory smile. He walks slowly across the tiles, hips swinging, snake like. He drops into the pool beside Tim in a movement so fluid the surface barely ripples.

In the water they are equal, Tim able to look Ra’s in the eye. He searches the older man’s gaze, looking for confirmation. Ra’s leans back against the ledge of the pool, expression neutral.

Tim shivers. He licks his lips.

He leans in and takes Ra's bottom lip in his teeth. It’s not a kiss, and it feels right.

Ra’s growls. Tim feels him smile under Tim’s gentle grip. Emboldened, Tim bites down harder; Ra’s lips part. Tim presses his tongue against Ra’s teeth. Ra’s lets him in and Tim plunders Ra’s mouth. His body follows the kiss, flush against Ra’s broad chest. Ra’s is hot, so hot in the cold pool.

Ra's reaches down to cup Tim's buttocks, pulling him tight against his body. His thigh slots between Tim’s legs. Tim presses Ra's back against the wall of the pool, grinding against him.

Ra's dick is hot and hard against Tim's inner thigh. Tim whimpers into Ra's mouth, hips bucking against him. His mind is vibrating, all half formed thoughts and broken sentences. All he wants is more.

Ra's runs his hands over Tim's back, one coming up to cup the back of his head, the other sliding down to tease his cleft. Tim shudders.

"Tell me-" Tim gasps. "Tell me what you want."

"This is not an examination, Timothy," Ra's says, undermining his point by probing Tim's sphincter. "There is not a right answer."

Tim nips at Ra's neck. "There is," he says. "It's the one that goes 'ah, ah, ahhh' at the end."

Ra's tangles his fingers in Tim's hair and pulls his head back to look him in the face.

"You haven't done this before," he says, frowning at Tim's flushed cheeks.

"I have! Some of this." Tim pouts. "I thought you'd be pleased. You keep spouting poetry about virgin youths at me."

Ra's leans in and kisses him, much gentler than before. "Sweet detective," he breathes against Tim's lips, "you honour me."

Tim surges forwards, going on the attack. He doesn't want gentle and sweet. He wants to get this right.

Ra's smiles against his lips and lets him take control. Tim writhes in his lap, rocking against Ra's erection. It rubs against his crotch, sliding past his cock. He'd be intimidated by Ra's size if he weren't thrilled by it.

Tim swallows. He breaks off from Ra's mouth and trails kisses along his jaw. He buries his face in Ra's neck, screwing his eyes shut while he's tries to realign his thoughts. Ra's hands knead his buttocks, long fingers teasing him with the promise of penetration, but Tim isn't ready for that yet.

Tim slides a hand between them. He finds Ra's cock and curls his fingers around it. It's different to his own, the foreskin sliding back and forth under his grip.

"You're so thick," Tim mumbles into Ra's shoulder. "God, you're big."

"You do not need to pay me compliments," Ra's chuckles. "I have had eight hundred years to grow accustomed to my physique."

"Yeah, well, it's new to me," Tim says, though he's spent the last few nights fantasising about it.

Ra's leans his head back against the edge of the pool. Tim risks looking up. Ra's eyes are flickering shut. His lips are pursed. His breath is starting to come in shorter gasps, his moustache and beard quivering.

Tim's doing this. Tim's taking him there. Eight hundred years, thousands of lovers, and Tim's doing this.

"Are you close?" Tim asks.

"Shut up, Timothy."

He's close.

Tim grins. His wrist is starting to ache and he's still half convinced he's doing something wrong because Ra's foreskin moves so much more than he expected it to. His own dick aches for lack of attention and he rocks against Ra's thigh to take the edge off. The water around them is starting to warm with their body heat, but the design of the pool means it's constantly moving and the cold currents swirling around them are stimulating in a way Tim has never experienced before.

Ra's mouth falls open and his eyes shut. Tim feels his cock pulse under his hand and he squeezes, stroking as he wrings Ra's orgasm out of him. There's a warm glow in his chest and he's so pleased with himself he's almost embarrassed.

Ra's head comes up and he takes Tim's head in both hands, dragging his face close for a hungry kiss. Tim lets him take control, mewling as Ra's ransacks his mouth. It's a wet, messy kiss, Ra's beard rough against his face.

Ra's keeps one hand in Tim's hair while the other slides down to wrap around his ribs, squeezing him against Ra's chest so tight it's hard to breathe. Tim gasps into the continuing kiss. His arms come up around Ra's neck, clinging on to him. Ra's shifts away from the side of the pool, letting his leg drop from between Tim's.

Tim whimpers at the loss of friction. The water keeps him buoyant enough he doesn't feel like he's hanging off Ra's, even though his feet don't touch the bottom of the pool, but it's hard to get any purchase when his only anchor is Ra's.

Ra's pushes him back against the far wall of the pool, so the water from the spring showers over his head. It's icy cold, making Tim's scalp prickle.

He his back is pressed against the wall and he's pinned in place by Ra's broad chest alone, Ra's finally takes Tim's cock in hand. Tim throws his head back, not caring about the water falling in his eyes, and groans aloud.

"Yudiru tarfa, yu'iru hatfa, idha takaffaand mina-t-tutthani."

Ra's hand is large, and though Tim is perfectly average (he's checked, checked against every measure he can find for his build, ethnicity and nationality) Ra's fist can almost completely encompass him. He keeps his hand still, letting Tim buck into it, and Tim fucks that perfectly manicured hand, that instrument of so many deaths, that fist that wants to grasp the whole world, and he claims it for his own.

He comes with a gasp, and chokes as the water falling on his face makes an unexpected detour down his throat.

He splutters his way through the aftershocks of orgasm, his whole body shaking with suppressed coughs. Ra's releases him, and Tim sinks until he's barely keeping his nose above water. He's embarrassed to have made such a fool of himself at the end. Easier to hide in the water than face a man who is no doubt having immense doubts about the golden age poets' obsession with virgins. Unless he's had virgins before, and it's Tim's innate capacity for failure that's disappointing Ra's. Maybe he's just bad at sex, and that's why he's subconsciously resisted having it until now.

Ra’s tugs on his waist, and he hasn’t got the leverage to resist, so he lets Ra’s tow him out from under the spray and against his side. Tim rests his head against Ra’s ribs, face still mostly below the waterline as much as he can manage without choking.

Ra’s runs his fingers through Tim’s wet hair and murmurs something into the crown of his head.

“Hm?” Tim risks raising his gaze.

“It’s not as clever in English,” Ra’s sighs. “He is a little gazelle, whose fingers do not cease to play in spinning, as my thoughts do not cease, in seeing him, to play with erotic poetry.

“Chiasmus and a pun on ghazal - Gazaal, Ḡazala, Ḡazal - a gazelle, an erotic poem, spinning. ” He frowns. “Like all jokes, it loses much in the explanation. I shall have to tutor you in my tongue, ghazalty.”

Tim lifts an eyebrow. “You’re more than capable of innuendo in English,” he points out.

“The greatest poets of the golden age did not craft mere innuendoes.” Ra’s sniffs. “However, I am sure when I bring my mind to it I shall somehow find myself distracted.”

“By tutoring me with your tongue?”

“Again, a joke ruined by the explanation.” Ra’s scratches Tim’s scalp idly. Tim shivers, partly from the sensation, and partly from prolonged time in the plunge pool “You are growing chilled.”

“Yeah, a bit.”

Ra’s releases him and turns to heave himself out of the pool. Tim hesitates, watching him. He’s not sure what’s going to happen once he gets out. He doesn’t have anywhere else to go or be - he isn’t hungry or tired - but he’s sure Ra’s has plenty left on his plate for today he doesn’t need Tim tagging along for.

“Out,” Ra’s commands, and Tim obeys.

The air in the room is balmy by comparison to the pool. Ra’s hands him a glass of sherbet and beckons him over to the bench beside the wall. Tim sits down beside him, holding the glass in both hands.

“Something is troubling you.”

Tim stares down at the cloudy liquid. He’s got what he wanted, hasn’t he? He’s crossed the line he dared himself to. This is Ra’s. A dangerous man who’s deigned to entertain him. He could have done this with Steph, or Kon, or any of the various assassins who’ve attempted to seduce him over the years - seriously, why is it always assassins? - and he’s not so naive to think that fooling around in a bath house is going to hold any particular meaning for the other man, for all his flirting. He has staked his claim to Tim, and that is that.

“I think I could have done better,” Tim admits without looking up.

“Better? Ah.” Ra’s stretches out on the bench. “You confound me. When I praise you and pay your compliments, you accuse me of grooming you, but when I keep my peace you conclude you have done something terribly wrong.”

“Not terribly!” Tim’s head whips around to glare at Ra’s. It takes him a second to see the amusement in the demon’s eyes, and he blushes at falling into so obvious a trap. “Not terribly,” he repeats more softly, “but not perfectly.”

“You wish for more practice.”

“I want feedback,” Tim says. “I know that’s not how it’s meant to work and it’s stupid of me, but I want to know so I can improve.”

“Ah, feedback. I see.” Ra’s doesn’t hide his smile any more. “Well, the coughing was a little disconcerting. Best to keep your head above water. Your enthusiasm - your aggression - was much appreciated. Is this the sort of feedback you’re looking for?”

“Try not to drown. Right.”

“Easier in bed.”

“Yeah, I can see that.”

Ra’s pats him on the thigh. “Allow yourself to be ignorant, my gazelle. Let me lead you. Let me take the responsibility of control from you, so you can simply allow yourself to be. Trust me to hold your head above the water.”

“You pushed me under the waterfall,” Tim points out.

Ra’s smiles, canines glinting in the lamp light. His eyes glitter, and Tim knows in that moment precisely how far he can trust Ra’s, which is no distance at all. So he closes the gap between them, captures that predatory smile with his lips, and kisses Ra’s lies back into his mouth.

Chapter Text

They eat lunch together in the pavilion, which goes some way toward curing Tim's rolling anxiety.

"Siesta," Ra's says when they're done, in a tone that doesn't brook argument.

"Together?"

Ra's shakes his head. "I have supplied you with a room for a reason. Your sleep hygiene is atrocious, Timothy, always surrounded by devices and screens, never taking the same hours two nights in a row. If I take you to my bed you will be distracted. I will be distracted."

"I'm not tired," Tim says.

"You will be in the right circumstances. Your circadian rhythms are already adjusting."

"That's not good though. I've got to go home at some point.

"You'll find it easier to keep your usual hours if you make time for a siesta in your usual routine. Call it a 'wellbeing initiative' and roll out long lunches across the organisation."

"Is that how you run your businesses? Ninjas get naps?" Tim taunts Ra’s to distract himself from the sudden chill in his gut at the idea of going back. Of being sent back.

Ra's stands and holds out a hand to help Tim to his feet. Tim considers ignoring it, but he can't resist the temptation to touch him again. When he's upright Ra's tries to release him, but Tim shifts his grip so that they're holding hands instead.

"You're not planning to sleep."

Ra's is still looking at their joined hands. "Perhaps not. Perhaps."

"We could play chess," Tim persists. "You could recite more poetry to me, or teach me Arabic."

"We will do all of those things, Timothy. But the sun is high and the day is too hot for any work, even the most pleasurable kinds. I have plans for tonight that require you alert and keen."

"What sort of plans?"

"Surprise plans." Ra's tries to break from Tim's grasp again, but with less effort than before. "Would you have me walk you to your room?"

"Or yours."

"Your refusal to acknowledge my refusal grows tedious, detective."

And, okay, maybe that stings a bit, because Tim doesn't like to think of himself as someone who rolls roughshod over another person's consent, even a supervillain's like Ra's, but there's something about being stuck in a room on the far side of the palace from Ra's that makes him nervous.

"Come," Ra's says.

He uses their conjoined hands to lead Tim out into the bright sunlight. The heat hits Tim in a solid wave. A yawn overtakes him and he stops, forcing Ra's to pause as well. He's learnt to associate the hot, dry air with naptime, like a small child. He belatedly remembers to cover his mouth.

Ra's sighs and tugs on his wrist. Tim falls back into step.

It's a relief to be back in the cooler upper corridors, but it's still warmer than comfortable.

"I'll be too hot to sleep," Tim tries as they approach his room.

"What is really troubling you, Timothy? Why are you so resistant to a habit you have clearly already formed."

"Like I said last night, sleep is always pretty fraught for me. It's why I put it off normally. If I'm exhausted it's easier, but you're keeping me too well rested."

"I can source you some additional medication. Do you dream?"

"Constantly. Usually nightmares. But I'm accustomed to that. I find it hard to get back to sleep if I wake from a bad dream, but they don't stop me from trying."

They're at Tim's door.

"Even with the medication it's hard to stop thinking, and I've got a lot to think about today," Tim admits.

Ra's leans down and kisses him. Tim has to go up on tiptoes to meet him. He preferred the pool, where they were equal in stature.

"Prepare yourself for sleep," Ra's says. "I will join you shortly."

He releases Tim and walks away, back the way they came.

Tim watches him go, standing awkwardly in the doorway he's come to think of as his own. Ra's doesn't look back.

Tim pushes the door open and slips into the room. It's dark and cool and welcoming, and he has to repress another yawn. He slides out of his suit, hanging it where he found it that morning. He relieves himself, pours a glass of water for beside the bed, and climbs into the bed, naked.

There's a knock on the door. Before he can answer Ra's lets himself in. He's holding a small book.

"You left this in the bath house," he says. "It's not a library."

"Sorry," Tim says. "You didn't have to go back for it right now. You could have had a ninja fetch it."

"I did have to," Ra's says, "because I'm going to read to you until you fall asleep."

"Bedtime stories? I'm not a child."

"You fear your own thoughts. To quell the chatter, I will replace it with sometimes more soothing." Ra's flips through the pages. "Listen, Timothy. Focus on my voice. Give yourself over to my words. Let them fill your mind. Let them silence your own thoughts."

Tim can feel it already happening. He settles back in the bed. He feels oddly helpless. Ra's voice is hypnotic.

"I die of love for him, perfect in every way,
Lost in the strains of wafting music.
My eyes are fixed upon his delightful body
And I do not wonder at his beauty."

More Abu Nuwas. Tim's brain tries to latch on to that, to grasp the words and tear them apart in search of double meaning. He shushes it sternly.

"His waist is a sapling, his face a moon,
And loveliness rolls off his rosy cheek
I die of love for you, but keep this secret
The tie that binds us is an unbreakable rope."

A secret. Rope. Ra's has such a beautiful voice.

"How much time did your creation take, O angel
So what? All I want is to sing your praises."

Tim blinks, resisting the pull of sleep. He wants to hear more poetry.

Ra's starts again, this time in Arabic, and Tim is out before he reaches the second couplet.

#

Ra's leaves the book on the pillow next to him. Tim rolls over and wakes when he bumps his nose on it.

He's going to have quite the library by the time Ra's seduction is complete.

There's fresh oranges in a bowl on the table and the black silk suit is back in place of the white cotton.

He dresses and pockets an orange. It's late afternoon and the air is heavy. For the first time since Tim was brought here the sky isn't a bright, brilliant blue.

All of the doors are open to him now, and he makes his way through the winding corridors and rooms. He feels sticky, and briefly contemplates another bath, but instinct tells him he won't find Ra's down there this time. They've had their bath house tryst. Ra's has promised him something different this evening.

He finds the paradise garden. The sky is off-white above him, like someone has covered a yellowing bruise with the thinnest layer of gauze. There are no bees buzzing or butterflies flapping today, only tiny thunderbugs clustering on every pale surface, including Tim's skin. He brushes them away irritably and looks around for somewhere he might find relief.

He remembers the drinking fountain on the other side of the garden and makes his way towards it. He plucks a branch from a pine tree on the way past and uses it to fan himself. Palm would be better - palm would make more sense in this climate - but Ra's has designed this garden to make a point, and that point is that he can afford other people to fan him.

He reaches the colonnade and collapses onto a bench beside the water fountain. He helps himself to a cupful, grateful it's cold. He sits with his knees spread and his elbows resting on them, creating as much space around his limbs and torso as he can. He's sweating, but there's too much moisture in the air to let it evaporate.

The garden gets noticeably darker. The white veil has been ripped from the sky, revealing the gloweringly dark clouds. The pressure drops so abruptly Tim feels it, and he only has to wait seconds before the downpour starts.

The rain hammers the garden, flattening the saharan grasses, shaking the bamboo, throwing pine needles to the ground and bouncing off the myrrh like hailstones. It hits the water in the fountains so hard it leaps out of the basins, joining the flood growing on the paths. It sounds like machine gun fire and Tim thinks of the Spanish Civil War and wonders if it came here, too, if the palace has pits and craters in its walls. The soil of the garden looks like No Man’s Land in the Somme, and the thunder booms like artillery.

Tim peels his orange and watches the rain from the safety of the colonnade. A fork of lightning splits the sky and thunder cracks, echoing around the garden.

Tim sucks orange pith out from under his thumbnail and chews the bitter pulp. The air tastes metallic, and he searches the sky for the next lightning bolt.

The water starts to encroach upon the tiled path that surrounds the garden. The grout between the tiles turn dark and a hundred tiny, geometric streams work their symmetrical ways towards him. The mosaic glows with an inner light as it gets wet, then dims as the water swallows it whole.

There's a rushing sound. He looks around, and sees the stairway up to Ra's quarters has become a waterfall, a stream gushing down from the sahn above.

The world flashes white and thunder crackles so close Tim feels like he could reach out and touch it. Kon flew him through a storm once, shielding him against his chest with his TTK, and he’d watched the clouds flicker and shimmer as the electricity built up around them, felt the air twitch and convulse. They’d both been coated in water vapour, and he’d watched the droplets bead on Kon’s lips.

They’d kissed, up there in the clouds. But they’d had to come back down to earth eventually, and only days later Superboy Prime had killed Kon.

They haven’t talked about it since Kon came back. Tim doesn’t want to. He’s not the same person any more. Kon isn’t either, and Tim’s not sure he loves him any more. He feels like a terrible person when he thinks about it - it’s not Kon’s fault that both of them have changed so much and in such different directions - but his heart doesn’t beat like it used to around Kon, and he knows Kon can hear the difference.

It’s no coincidence Ra’s can’t die.

The thunder growls around him. He’s conscious now of how high in the mountains they must be. The storm surrounds the palace.

He stands. Cold water laps at his bare feet. A piece of orange peel he dropped earlier bumps against his toes, born by the rising flood.

The torrential rain is a constant drum roll, swallowing all sound but the thunder. Tim could scream and no one would hear. He could weep and his tears would be lost in the rain. He is nothing compared to the storm, a single drop. A few steps would take him out into the rain. He could walk to the centre of the garden, climb one of the trees, turn his face to the storm, let the lightning take him.

He hears a cough over the tumult, even though he shouldn’t be able to, and looks up. Ra’s stands at the head of the covered stairs, looking down at him.

He holds out a hand. Tim’s arm lifts in immediate response, and he lets his fingers lead him along the colonnade and up the steps to Ra’s. Ra’s grip is warm and firm and out of place in this world of liquid water and electricity.

Ra’s leads him through the palace, a trail of water marking their path behind them, and Tim follows him mutely.

When they reach Ra’s room Ra’s positions him carefully in the centre of the floor, where he can’t drip on anything. Tim’s sad to see the door closed, cutting him off from the storm. The world is so much quieter in here, and his thoughts are starting to come back.

“I think maybe we need to adjust my medication,” he says quietly, as Ra’s peels the wet silk from his skin.

Ra’s lifts the kurta over his head. “‘I’m pleased to hear you propose that. I’ll have it arranged.”

Tim shimmies out of the soaking wet churidar and stands naked in the middle of the room. Even with the shutters closed the flashes of lightning from outside still penetrate this little sanctuary, though the thunder is muted. The flickering light from the oil lamps darts across his wet skin, and Tim feels like he’s brought the storm in with him. Between his legs his cock starts to swell, electricity surging inside him.

Ra’s approaches him with a fluffy white towel. Tim lifts his head from his contemplation of his own body and meets Ra’s gaze with a hint of a smile in his eyes. Ra’s returns the look as he folds the towel around his hand and reaches for Tim’s body with it. He presses the soft cotton gently against Tim’s right shoulder and runs it slowly down the length of his arm. He repeats the action on the left.

Tim shivers under the soft caress. He tilts his head back and to the left, encouraging Ra’s to repeat the action starting under his chin.

Ra’s dries him in long, soft sweeps of the towel. Tim arches into his touch, hips rolling as Ra’s strokes his torso. He teases Tim’s nipples, rubbing gentle circles over the sensitive flesh. When Tim can’t take it anymore he turns and presents Ra’s with his back. Ra’s squeezes excess water from his hair to stop it dripping, and takes up a fresh towel to chase water droplets down Tim’s spine.

The rain eases to a stop outside, but night is falling. The oil lamps do little to dispel the gloom, and the only noise is the whisper of cotton dragging over Tim’s skin. The space has become so intimate he feels like he did in the centre of the storm again, something and nothing. Ra’s is the lightning he wants to be struck by.

Tim turns back. Ra’s strokes the towel over his now dry pecs, traces his abdominal muscles with it, caresses the v of his pelvis, and cups Tim’s hard cock. It’s shiny and pink against the soft folds of the towel and the sensation isn’t entirely pleasant, but isn’t entirely unpleasant either. Tim thrusts into the fabric experimentally.

Ra’s lowers himself slowly to his knees.

Tim goes still.

He holds his breath, slows his heartbeat, wills the moment to last as long as possible. He’s never felt so powerful.

Ra’s wraps the towel around the back of Tim’s hips and dries his legs, one at a time. Tim’s thigh muscles twitch under his touch.

Tim cants his hips forwards, pushing his bobbing cock towards Ra’s face. He can’t take his eyes off Ra’s. Electricity races through his veins - he should be nervous, but he’s not. Ra’s is kneeling before him, robes pooling around him. The Demon’s Head is offering him power and he’d be a fool not to take it.

He reaches down and puts a hand on Ra’s head. It’s almost a benediction, except he can’t stop thinking about how this is a view of Ra’s he never thought he’d have (short of launching an attack from a ceiling vent, perhaps). Ra’s tilts his head back to look up at him.

Tim swallows and nods. Ra’s doesn’t move, but when Tim starts to gently guide him towards his cock he doesn’t push back either.

Ra’s opens his mouth and Tim slowly pushes his erection between his lips. He meets no resistance and when he looks down he sees he’s buried up to the hilt, Ra’s goatee tickling Tim’s balls.

He feels Ra’s swallow. His mouth is cooler than Tim expected, but maybe that’s because Tim is combusting. He’d swear the darkness in the room is sticking to his skin. All of the rain has long since evaporated and the only relief from the dry heat he’s radiating is Ra’s moist mouth.

Ra’s presses his tongue against the underside of Tim’s cock. He brings his hands up to the back of Tim’s thighs. His thumbs rest on the outside of Tim’s hips, while his fingers curl all the way around to his inner thighs. Tim leans back into his firm hold, confident that even if his knees give out Ra’s has him safe.

Ra’s remains still. Tim shifts his weight to his heels, lets his knees soften, and rocks back and forth half an inch. Ra’s takes him easily. Tim tries for a deeper thrust.

It’s intoxicating looking down at him, mouth stretched around Tim, taking everything Tim gives him. The most powerful man Tim knows is on his knees. The most dangerous mouth is filled by Tim’s cock.

Tim’s fingers curl in Ra’s hair as he tries to anchor himself. Ra’s hair is soft and thick. He's wearing some kind of hair oil, but it's not as unpleasant as Tim would have expected under his touch. Maybe it's all the years of coating his own head in thick gel, but the slightly slick texture isn't offputting.

Ra's doesn't shake him off, so Tim tightens his fingers on his scalp, knuckles blanching as he takes a firm grip on Ra's skull and starts to thrust in earnest. Heat coils in his gut and his thigh muscles start to tremble. He fucks Ra's mouth, unable to keep his eyes off the older man. The way his robes envelope Tim's lower legs, so he looks like he's rising from Ra's lap. His white thighs against that dark silk. His dark pubes against Ra's greying moustache. His dark pink cock disappearing between those pale lips.

He keeps his eyes open as he comes, though it takes the edge off the orgasm to do so. He wants to watch Ra's take him. He wants to watch himself empty his cum down Ra's throat. His knees shake and his hand fists in Ra's hair, clinging to it for dear life as Ra's swallows around his cock and milks the last of his orgasm from him.

And then it's done and his thighs ache and his knees knock and his ankles turn and he collapses, cock slipping from Ra's lips as he slides bonelessly to the floor. His knees spread and he feels the cold marble on his ass as he settles against Ra's chest.

Ra's lowers himself to kneeling as well, pulling Tim's head against his shoulder. They are more equal like this than standing, though Ra's torso is longer than Tim's as well.

Tim presses his cheek against the silk of Ra's robe and closes his eyes, determined to fix the image of Ra's sucking him off in his memory for eternity. Ra's rubs gently circles on his back with his bare hand, the towel long since discarded.

"Oh," Tim says quietly.

"Oh?"

"That was- you gave me- That was literally-" a snort over takes him "-Demon's head."

The hand on his back stills. He feels Ra's chest move and he thinks the older man is sighing with exasperation, and maybe that was his intention, but the breath catches in Ra's lungs and his ribs hitch, once, twice.

"You're laughing," Tim accuses, pulling his head back to look at Ra's.

Ra's lips are pressed in a thin line but his eyes are dancing.

"You thought that was funny? Seriously? I said it and even I don't think it was funny."

Ra's runs a hand up Tim's spine and cups the back of his head. He angles Tim's head for a kiss and Tim relaxes into his grasp, letting Ra's bring their lips together.

Tim opens his mouth and sucks eagerly on Ra's tongue, tasting his own bitter-salt taste there. Ra's pulls him into his lap, Tim's bare legs parting around his trunk, and licks at Tim's tongue.

Ra's is hard beneath him, the robes sheathing him like an luxury prophylactic. Tim rocks against him, lifting his pelvis so Ra's erection rubs against his cleft.

Ra's settles his hands on Tim's hips and eases him back to his former position. Tim breaks the kiss and blinks at him.

"You're hard," Tim says.

"I'm aware of that."

"We could..." Tim trails off and glances over his shoulder at the bed. "You said you have a surprise for me this evening."

"So impatient." Ra's strokes his head. "The surprise is not anal sex, Timothy. Anal sex should never be a surprise, in my experience."

It's Tim's turn to laugh. He does so almost silently, ducking his head to one side and letting his hair fall over his eyes. He can feel a blush rising.

"So shy, Timothy. It is polite to laugh when your companion utters a witticism; you do not have to hide it."

Tim looks out at Ra's through his curtain of hair. "Old habits," he says quietly. And then,” You didn’t laugh out loud when I made a joke.”

“That was not a witticism, Timothy. It was the worst kind of word play, and did not deserve my mirth.”

“It got it, though, didn’t it?”

Ra’s kisses Tim again, tongue sweeping over his. He pulls back. “You have me there.”

Ra's wraps his arms around Tim's waist and stands in a single fluid movement, lifting Tim with him. Startled, Tim wraps his legs around Ra's waist to steady himself. Ra’s squeezes him gently and carries him over to the sofas. He lowers Tim onto a seat and Tim unwinds his legs reluctantly, lolling back against the cushions.

"You don't want me to do... anything?"

"Not immediately, Timothy. Do you want clothing?"

He doesn't, but he made such a fuss about it earlier, so he nods.

Ra's takes off his robe and hands it to Tim. He wraps it around himself like a dressing gown. It's warm and smells like Ra's and a little like sex.

Ra's wears a belted tunic and loose trousers beneath it, still tented by his erect dick.

He leaves Tim on the sofa, heading for the far corner of the room where the dumbwaiter is. Tim twists in his seat to watch him. He presses a carefully disguised button on the wall, and a few seconds later a hatch slides silently open in the wall. It's too small for a person to fit in, but perfectly sized for a large platter. Ra's hesitates before reaching for it, one hand going for his crotch, and Tim hides a smile in the back of the sofa when he realises Ra's is adjusting himself.

Ra's returns with significantly smoother slacks and a platter filled with ice. The air around it shimmers as it condenses.

Tim sits back the right way around. Ra's lays the platter on the low table, and takes a seat next to Tim.

The platter holds ice and fresh almonds and long slices of cucumber. Ra's picks up an almond and skins it one handed. He holds it out and Tim opens his mouth to receive it.

It's bright and delicate and aromatic. It's nothing like the dried almonds he keeps at his desk to snack on, and he had no idea how different it was going to be. He reaches for another and tries to replicate Ra's deft movements, but only succeeds in pinging the seed across the room.

Ra's places another milky almond on Tim's tongue, and holds out two more, still in their husks.

Ra's peels this one more slowly, nails scraping over the delicate seed, catching on the seed coat and peeling it off in a single coil.

Tim scratches at his until he has it mostly clean. There's almond under his nails and seedcoat on the almond and he doesn't care, because it still tastes good. His technique improves over the next three almonds, after which his mouth has that too-many-dry-crackers feel and suddenly the cucumber makes sense. It's better than the stuff at home too, crisp and flavoursome in a way he didn't know cucumbers could be.

Tim leans into Ra's side. Ra’s feeds him another almond and Tim closes his lips around Ra’s thumb. He pushes the almond into his cheek with this tongue and sucks Ra’s thumb into his mouth.

He lavishes his attention on Ra’s thumb as Ra’s did on his cock, caressing the underside with his tongue and gently closing his teeth around Ra’s knuckle. He looks up to meet Ra’s eyes, and finds them creased with fond amusement.

Ra’s pulls his thumb from Tim’s mouth with a pop and cups his cheek.

“Eat the almond before you choke on it, Timothy.”

Tim does as he’s told. He’s feeling warm and a little floaty, the lingering effects of his orgasm lapping at the edge of his returning arousal.

“You are a beautiful creature like this,” Ra’s says. “Completely unself-conscious, acting on your desires. You are a man who struggles to admit his own needs, but here you are taking what you want.”

His voice drops lower and Tim shivers. He opens his mouth again and Ra’s chuckles husikly. He presses his thumb against Tim’s lower lip, still wet with Tim’s saliva, but doesn’t penetrate his mouth.

“You have a lot of wants, don’t you, Timothy? A lot of fantasies you’ve repressed over the years, preferences you subsumed into other people’s desires, aspirations you put aside to support others’ dreams. You were brought up in the knowledge that your wants weren’t as important as other people’s. You were not to interrupt their pleasure to request your own. The things you coveted were not as important as the baubles they wanted. And then you crossed his path, and plumbed new depths of self-denial. You put everything aside for his mission, his health, his family. And what was your reward? He does not even grace you with his presence any longer.

“He hasn’t even noticed you’re missing.”

Tim swallows. Ra’s hand moves again, ghosting over his cheek. Tim tries to press into it, but he keeps moving until his fingers are buried in Tim’s hair. He pulls Tim close to his chest and Tim lets him, sinking against the broad pectorals.

He doesn’t know if Ra’s is telling the truth about Bruce, but everything else he’s said is so true he’s giddy with it. Even if it isn’t true, it’s believable, and that’s nearly the same.

“You can hide your desires, even from yourself, but they’re still there. You fear your own cravings, fear the paths they’ll take you down. He fears them. He fears you.”

Ra’s heartbeat is steady against Tim’s ear.

“Let me indulge you, Timothy. Let me give you your heart’s desire.”

“You promised me a surprise,” Tim says, voice muffled by Ra’s shirt. He wants his surprise.

“Yes,” Ra’s says. He pushes Tim’s shoulder gently, and Tim sits up, blinking owlishly. Ra’s presses a kiss to his forehead. “Wait.”

Ra’s stands. Tim pulls his knees up under his chin, wrapping Ra’s robe around him.

Ra’s strokes Tim’s hair, fingernails massaging his scalp.

“Hmm. I should have dressed you in my clothes from the beginning. They are most becoming on you.”

“They’re too big,” Tim says.

“It is endearing.” Ra’s finishes caressing Tim’s hair with a twist of his hand, pulling Tim’s hair forwards over his eyes. While Tim is distracted fingercombing it back Ra’s strides quickle over to the dumbwaiter and returns before Tim is done taming his locks.

He holds another platter, this one covered with a silver cloche. He holds it before Tim like a waiter.

Something in the back of Tim’s mind squirms, writhing against the situation. It doesn’t like this, doesn’t like Ra’s, doesn’t like how easily he’s letting himself be manipulated. But the other voice - the one that so desperately wants to be seen, to be needed, to be wanted - drowns it out. Ra’s is trying to please him. He has to please Ra’s.

Tim reaches out and lifts the cloche.

On the platter is a single bloody boomerang.

Chapter Text

Some of the fog lifts from Tim’s mind, clarity returning, but it’s a painful kind of clarity, like a too bright spotlight shining overhead, blinding him to new and different shadows.

“Is he…”

“Do you want to know?”

Tim swallows.

“I don’t,” he admits. At least, not until it’s too late for him to do anything about it. He can’t let Boomerang go again, he can’t save him again, he can’t avenge him by turning his back on Ra’s. He wants so badly for Boomerang to be dead again, and for it to be out of his hands.

Ra’s smiles. “They do say ignorance is bliss.” He takes the cloche from Tim’s unresisting hand. “However, I know you, Timothy. Detective. He is dead, and has been for some time. There is nothing you can do about it.”

Tim lets out a breath he hadn’t known he was holding.

He reaches out and runs his finger along the razor sharp edge of the boomerang. The blood is still tacky.

It’s not wet, he reassures himself.

But it’s not dry, either.

Tim withdraws his hand and Ra’s lowers the cloche over the boomerang, hiding it from view again. He puts the platter down on the chess table.

‘Some time’ is, by its vagueness, completely true. Any amount of time can be defined as ‘some’.

That there is nothing Tim can do about it is equally true.

“What do you want now, Timothy?”

The question is altogether too complex for Tim to fathom. ‘Want’ has become a concept beyond his understanding. How can one word be used for everything from iced almonds to the murder of his father’s killer to the fleshy pleasures still unsampled? ‘Want’ is meaningless, and if it is meaningless that it doesn’t matter, either. There is only ‘need’ and ‘do’.

“I need some air,” Tim says.

“Let’s take a walk.”

Tim climbs stiffly from the sofa, knees wobbling beneath him as his bare feet find cool tiles. He feels decades older than he is.

Ra’s offers Tim his arm, and Tim clings to it. As Ra’s walks Tim shuffles, the too-long robe tangling around his still-trembling legs. Ra’s guides him from the room, and as they leave the evidence of Tim’s darkest desires behind, hidden by it’s bright silver cover, Tim finds movement comes more easily to him. He straightens up slowly, his steps become more measured, and his shoulders slowly ease down his spine until he’s upright and confident, or something that passes for it. He knows when they return to Ra’s room the platter and its grisly gift will have disappeared, like all of the other soiled houseware the invisible servants have whisked away.

Tim reaches down with his free arm and hooks the hem of Ra’s robe over it, lifting it high enough he can walk freely. He feels less like a child in his mother’s dress like this, though he hopes Ra’s wasn’t serious about dressing Tim in the older man’s clothes. There’s nearly a foot’s difference in height between them; under most circumstances Tim would round down, call it maybe ten and a half inches, ten if he’s feeling prickly, but when he has to tilt his head back to look up at Ra’s, silhouetted against the stars, it feels like Ra’s is halfway to the moon.

Of course, it doesn’t help that Ra’s boots have an inch or so of heel, while Tim is barefoot.

Ra’s leads him around the lattice path to the far corner. Tucked behind a painted statue of Aphrodite - quite possibly Praxiteles' original Aphrodite, Tim realises - hide a door. Ra’s raps lightly on it, and it swings open.

The narrow space inside is lit by a single oil lamp. There is no sign of anyone who might have opened the door, of course.

Ra’s gestures for Tim to go first. A few paces into the closet-like space and Tim encounters a very steep staircase, or possibly a gently angled ladder, depending on your point of view. The wall slopes away at a 70 degree angle, wedges set into it for steps. He hoiks the robe up higher and climbs with hands as well as feet.

He isn’t sure how long he climbs before he reaches the top. He knows he’s reached the top because his head his the underside of a tile, dislodging it from its position on the roof and sending it clattering away down the unseen slope.

“You should have some cladding or something under those,” Tim says. “It’ll leak.”

“I bow to your superior architectural knowledge,” Ra’s says, “of cladding.”

The heavy sarcasm is oddly soothing, a return to familiar ground.

The space below the roof is small, barely three feet. TIm crouches, tucking himself to the left, as Ra’s joins him. The taller man is forced to crawl, which amuses Tim. He leads Tim a couple of yards to the right, and out through an even smaller gap. Ra’s robe snags on the terracotta tiles as Tim shimmies through and there’s a pitter-pattering noise as beads scatter from the torn embroidery. He freezes, feeling carefully around the opening until he finds the caught sleeve, but it’s too late to save the hem, which is rapidly fraying. He can’t think of a way to get through the narrow gap without tearing any more of the robe.

Ra’s sighs. “I have others, Timothy. Join me.”

Tim forces himself through and out onto the roof, turning a deaf ear to the continued ripping noises. Ra’s reaches down and Tim slips his hand into Ra’s. Ra’s pulls him to his feet with ease and turns him, graceful as a dance partner, so Tim’s back is to his chest.

Tim tilts his head back to look up at Ra’s. He feels Ra’s chest rise behind him and he inhales in sync. Ra’s smiles down at him, then looks out, straight ahead. Tim exhales, and follows his eye line.

The night unfolds around them.

He follows the trail of stars across the sky. The milky way draws his gaze slowly to the horizon, the rich blue surrounding it draping over him like a silk sheet. The canopy of stars shimmers at the edge of the horizon where it meets the mountains, the bare stone glittering like it might still hold snow, though Tim knows it can’t. It shouldn’t.

If he tells Ra’s he wants snowcapped mountains under the summer sun in southern spain, Ra’s will make it happen for him.

‘Want’ is such a dangerous word.

The air is thick with the scent of night flowers. It’s a warm evening, but the storm has washed the air clean. Sound travels for miles with nothing to interrupt it but the mountains, and somewhere in the furthest distance a church bell is chiming midnight. Tim resents the intrusion, the reminder that there is a world beyond this palace that would lay claim to him.

Tim turns slowly in the circle of Ra’s arms to take the whole vista in. He comes to a stop after 540 degrees, cheek to Ra’s chest. He leans in.

“Well, Timothy? You wanted to star gaze.”

“Kiss me,” Tim says.

Ra’s hands starts on his cheeks, drawing his head up and back for the kiss. While their lips are sealed together his touch starts to wander, both hands caressing his jaw, his neck, his shoulders. They roam under the robe and Tim shrugs it away, letting it fall to his elbows. His arms are around Ra’s waist, and he lets go with one arm, then the other, to shake the robe to the floor.

Ra’s hands skim down his ribs, dipping in at his waist, and stroking over his hips. Their downward journey comes to an end and they move back instead, fingers spreading to firmly grasp a buttock in each hand.

Tim rises on his toes. Ra’s hums encouragement into his mouth, and Tim drops, and jumps. Ra’s lifts him easily, and Tim wraps his bare legs around Ra’s waist. He tightens his thighs around Ra’s torso and climbs him until their faces are level and he can take control of the kiss. He colonises Ra’s mouth with his tongue, staking his claim to every part of it.

Ra’s fingers wander into Tim’s cleft and his hips buck against Ra’s chest. He can feel Ra’s grinning under his lips.

He breaks the kiss. The stars are reflected in Ra’s eyes.

“You’d give me anything I want,” Tim says.

“There is very little outside my power, Timothy. You need only say the word.”

“I want your cock.”

Ra’s laughs. “You always ask for exactly what I want to give you.”

He turns. There’s a sudden rush of gravity, Tim’s stomach swooping, and he’s lying on his back beneath the stars. Ra’s looms over him.

“This isn’t a thank you,” Tim blurts. “I don’t owe you for what you did to Bo- to him.”

“I know, Timothy. That was a gift. It places you under no obligation, not even to accept it.”

Tim frowns. “How could I not accept it? You already killed him.”

Ra’s raises an eyebrow. “I am in the unique position of - shall we say - being able to return that sort of gift.”

Oh. Right.

Tim stares up at Ra’s, silhouetted against the stars. There’s no moon tonight, just a galaxy highlighting his statuesque form like a celestial halo.

He still wants Ra’s body.

Ra’s has killed for him, killed Captain Boomerang, and even that hasn’t stopped Tim wanting.

He can fight it, of course. He can repress it. He can keep his nice, neat principles intact. He can put it away in the darkest part of his mind, get up off the roof, flee into the mountains, return home and always, always wonder what it would have been like.

Fuck his principles.

“Fuck me, Ra’s.”

There’s some kind of rug under his back, soft and thick, but it’s not as comfortable as a mattress. He wonders how Ra’s will take him. He awaits instruction.

Ra’s pulls his kurta over his head and discards it to one side. He steps out of his boots and briskly pushes down his churidar. It’s the most efficient striptease Tim has ever watched, and he appreciates it.

Now the moment is upon him he’s starting to get nervous, palms sweating. He wonders if there’s a subtle way to wipe them on the mat.

Ra’s drops to a crouch, resting his hands on his knees. Tim props himself up on his elbows. His stomach is fluttering.

“Tell me how you want me,” Tim says.

“Lie back,” says Ra’s. “Let me admire you.”

Tim’s first instinct is to pose, to suck his stomach in and flex his pecs and tilt his head back, but as he starts to shift Ra’s sighs and says “Relax, Timothy,” so he lies passive instead, forcing his muscles to go slack.

“Not that much,” Ra’s says, and chuckles. He drops to his knees and lets himself fall forwards onto his hands, so his body cages Tim’s. “There is a happy medium between convulsed in pain and dead fish.”

“I know that,” Tim snaps waspishly. “I just can’t find it.”

Ra’s lowers his head and kisses Tim, presses his head back against the rug with the force of it. Without thinking Tim’s hands come up to Ra’s shoulders. It’s a wet kiss, all tongue and teeth, and Tim moans.

Ra’s lowers himself onto his elbows, his body resting lightly on Tim’s. Tim’s legs fall open so Ra’s hips can drop lower. He tries to relax into the kiss again, but now his legs feel weird, like he’s splayed on the rug like a frog ready for dissection. He brings his knees up, putting his feet flat on the floor and bracketing Ra’s body with his thighs. It’s better. But it’s not perfect.

Ra’s breaks the kiss.

“What are you doing, Timothy?”

TIm stops with his legs in the air, where he’s been trying to cross his ankles behind Ra’s back.

“I have no idea,” he says.

Ra’s curves his spine back so he can look down at Tim, which has the side effect of pressing his hips more firmly against Tim’s. Tim’s feet drop back to earth, the soles in line with Ra’s knees.

“I promised you a bed, didn’t I?” Ra’s says softly. “Instruction. Feedback.”

“I want this,” Tim says. “Here is absolutely fine. I just… I swear, I do know what I’m doing. Theoretically, at least, and god knows this bit isn’t new to me. I’ve even been complimented for my kissing. I’ve had arms and legs for eighteen years and they’ve always obeyed me before.” He sighs, head dropping to one side. “The stakes are higher tonight.”

“Mmm. Would you like to lower them?”

Tim considers.

“No.”

Ra’s roles off him. “Let me lay out my plan for you,” he says. “We will begin with kisses and caresses. I will bring you to the brink with my hands, until you are wanton and writhing. I will anoint you with scented oils, turn you over, and use those same oils to open you up. You will kneel in supplication, face pressed to the mat, hips raised to receive me. I will ease into your slowly and gently, until I am buried to the hilt and you are so full all air is forced from your lungs and all you can gasp is my name.

“And then I will fuck you, Timothy. You will come undone beneath me, and once you are spent I will have my release.

“And afterwards we will have a picnic and watch the meteor shower.”

Tim stares up at the galaxy above them. Many of the stars above them are long dead. The stardust thrown wide by their demises may already be forming new worlds, spinning beneath new suns. By the time the light from this sun reaches them there may be life there, intelligent life, looking up from their own picnic blankets and wondering if they really want to lose their virginity this way. And this Tim, and this Ra’s, will be stardust.

“How long until the meteor shower?” he asks.

“Enough time.”

Enough time. Some time. Ra’s has time enough for everything. He has seen more shooting stars than he could make wishes. He’s seen Hale Bopp and Haley’s Comet and dozens of other portents that were only passing through. He’s probably initiated hundreds of virgins in the pleasures of the flesh.

“And after that?” Tim asks. “Tomorrow? The day after?”

“Hmm. Well. I definitely want your mouth on my cock, for one. And to test your flexibility by coming together face to face, preferably in my bed. I will fuck you to sleep, and wake you with my cock inside you. I will lay a feast upon your flesh and eat sweetmeats from your sweet body. We will fuck in every room of the bath house, cleanse ourselves, and fuck our way through the baths again. How is that for an itinerary?”

“I mean, it’s definitely a start.” Tim swallows. “How long have you been planning this?”

“You have dwelt in my thoughts for some time.” Ra’s rolls onto his side and puts a hand on Tim’s chest. “Have you given my agenda sufficient consideration? Are you happy with the location? Do you have any… feedback?”

“I want to be face up,” Tim says. “I am flexible enough, and I want to be able to see what you’re doing. And I want to do this here, under the stars. I want to do it now.”

“You would be more comfortable in the other position.”

“Honestly, when I picture the experience, ‘comfort’ isn’t one of the sensations I’m really looking for. Comfortable sex seems like the sort of thing you have when you’ve been together a while.”

“Indeed.” Ra’s nails rasp down Tim’s bare chest, leaving pink trails behind them.

“Wanton, you said?”

“I did.” He pinches Tim’s nipple, rolls it between finger and thumb. Nerves fire like static shocks. Tim’s skin feels three times tighter and his pectoral muscles quiver and strain.

“Wri-i-thing?” Tim’s voice catches, half the word on the inhale, and Ra’s lowers his face to his chest and lathes his pointed tongue over Tim’s sensitive flesh.

“Mm-hm.” Ra’s closes his teeth around Tim’s nipple.

“Ah!” Tim’s whole body arcs off the mat.

He barely has time to relax back again before Ra’s mouth moves, lips closing around Tim’s other nipple while his clever fingers return to the first. The night air is cold on his wet flesh and keeps the puckered flesh hard and tender.

Ra’s shifts, throwing a leg over Tim’s thighs to hold them down as Tim squirms under his ministrations. His free hand skates over Tim’s stomach, tickling the tight curls on the path down from his navel. He scratches the dip of Tim’s pelvis, and Tim tries to raise his head to see if he’s being marked. Ra’s lifts his face from Tim’s chest and kisses him hard enough to force the back of Tim’s head down to the mat. As soon as Tim’s head is down Ra’s breaks the kiss and returns to his nipple.

Tim tries to remember if there was anything for him to do in the instructions beyond writhing. He hopes not.

Ra’s cock rests against Tim’s hip, a growing source of heat and hardness. It’s going to be inside him soon, filling him up, and Tim is gripped by a fierce joy, the last of his nerve melting before it.

Ra’s hand dips between his legs and wraps around his inner thigh. His grip is firm to the point of hurting, his nails creating five distinct crescents of pain.The hot bite is so close to the pleasure Tim is desperately seeking and he moans, mouth falling open.

“Sweet gazelle,” Ra’s murmurs against his chest. “Gazelle desired in Spain,
Wondrously formed,
Given rule and dominion
over every living thing.”

Oh god, more poetry.

Tim moans again, more loudly, drowning out Ra's recitation.

Ra’s chuckles, lips tickling Tim’s skin. “Impatient boy.” He squeezes Tim’s thigh.

Ra’s lifts his body and lowers it over Tim, hips slotting against Tim’s. His legs bracket Tim’s, squeezing Tim’s upper legs together. He reaches down to ensure Tim’s cock and balls are not trapped between then, but it’s only the briefest of fondles. Tim tries to chase his grip, but he can’t move under the pressure Ra’s is applying. He’s pinned as surely as if they were wrestling.

Hot, dry kisses trace a path from Tim’s chest to his collar bone, and then there’s a sharp pain. Tim bucks against Ra’s, throwing his head back. He expects a howl to fall from his lips, but the only sound that escapes is a breathy whimper.

Ra’s bites down on Tim’s curving clavicle, teeth scraping over his pale flesh. He’s going to leave a mark. He’s going to leave so many marks. God, Tim wants to wear Ra’s brand, to be scarred by him. Let the world know that there is at least one person who sees him.

Finally Ra’s mouth finds his and the kiss is all teeth, clacking together as Ra’s nips and bites. Tim tastes blood.

Ra’s erection grinds down against Tim’s. There’s growing moisture between them, but Tim doesn’t know if it’s his precum or Ra’s. His toes curl and he wriggles his legs, seeking stimulation.

“Lovely of form like the moon, with beautiful stature.” Ra’s pushes himself up onto his elbows and looks down at Tim. “Lie still for me, my gazelle.” And he lifts himself entirely off Tim, leaving him naked and vulnerable under the stars.

Tim stares up at the river in the sky. He mourns the long dead stars, and hopes that by the time the light from Earth reaches those far reaches of the galaxy someone will look back, and mourn him too.

A smell of sweet almonds fills the air. Tim turns his head, but makes sure he keeps the back of his skull firmly planted on the rug. First the writing, then the anointing with scented oil, that’s what Ra’s promised him, and he’s not going to distract the older man at this juncture by disobeying his unspoken commands. Tim is good at unspoken commands.

“You’re smiling, Timothy,” Ra’s says from somewhere behind his head, “and I don’t think it was entirely my doing.”

“It is,” Tim promises him. He can’t see Ra’s, but he can feel the minute changes in the air currents as he walks, hear the whisper of bare feet on tile, smell the oil drifting above him. Tim raises his arms above his head, rolling his shoulders back and crossing his wrists against the soft rug. He lets his eyes fall closed.

“Very pretty,” Ra’s says. “Like Joseph in his form,
like Adoniah his hair. Lovely of eyes like David,
he has slain me like Uriah.”

Tim catches his bottom lip between his teeth to keep from begging Ra’s to get back to business. If Ra’s wants to spout poetry Tim will indulge him.

There’s an impact on his chest. Tim gasps, arms swinging back to defend himself, before he realises it’s liquid splattering over his skin. It’s the same temperature as the night air, thick and viscous, and the only way he can register the sensation is as a weight over his heart. The smell is so much stronger now it’s so close. It settles in the back of his throat and the twin effect is something akin to drowning.

He barely registers Ra’s lowering himself back over his body. Ra’s fingertips make contact with Tim’s skin over his breastbone. Ra’s spreads his fingers like a star, kneading Tim’s muscles. He repeats the movement twice more before moving on, massaging the oil into Tim’s skin.

He’s sitting on Tim’s thighs, his buttocks warm against Tim’s legs. His weight is a grounding counterpoint to the firm massage.

It’s like Ra’s is stroking the air from his lungs. It’s not a massage technique any trained masseuse would espouse, pushing up from his diaphragm to his shoulders, hard and fast enough that Tim struggles to draw a full breath. He lets it happen, lets himself get giddy, until Ra’s abruptly changes directions and draws the heels of his palms over Tim’s stomach and down to his pelvis.

The sudden flood of air in his system makes Tim feel five times as alive as before. His senses clutch at the world around him and as Ra’s splays his fingers across Tim’s hips the anticipation of his touch brings precum beading to the tip of his erection.

When the wet heat finally envelopes him it takes Tim a moment to realise it’s not the oil. He wants to fuck up into Ra’s mouth, like earlier that evening, but Ra’s grip on his hips is unyeilding.

Ra’s pace is torturously slow. The drowning sensation returns, almond oil cloying in the air around Tim.

Ra’s pulls off Tim, lips gliding up his cock like an ice pop, coming together to a kiss on the tip. Tim squirms.

“Breathe, dear boy.” He puts his hands on Tim’s ribs, presses and releases like he’s performing CPR. “In and out.”

Tim concentrates on following Ra’s instructions, remembering his feedback from the pool. No choking.

Breathe in for four, out for four.

He remembers Ra’s holding him under the waterfall.

Breathe in for four, out for four.

He remembers Ra’s promising to fuck the breath from his lungs.

Breathe in for four, out for four.

He thinks maybe Ra’s likes it when he doesn’t breathe, too.

Breathe in for four.

Ra’s weight lifts off his legs. He pushes Tim’s thighs apart and settles between them. There’s a wet noise as he slicks his hands up with more sweet almond oil.

He grabs Tim’s ankles with slick fingers and lifts them onto his shoulders.

Tim exhales in a rush.

Ra’s chuckles and turns his head to bite Tim’s calf, eliciting another gasp from Tim.

Ra’s fingers probe Tim’s crease, teasing their way towards his hole.

“Still on board with my agenda?” Ra’s asks. “Still determined to stay on your back?”

Tim nods confirmation to both questions.

Ra’s slips a finger inside Tim. It goes in far more easily than Tim is prepared for, and his hips buck at the sudden sensation.

“He has enflamed my passions,” Ra’s says, driving his finger into Tim in time with the rhythm of the poem,
“and consumed my heart with fire.
Because of him I have been left
without understanding and wisdom.”

Understanding leaves Tim as Ra’s inserts a second finger. The stretch is sharp, and when Ra’s adds a third finger it becomes a burn. He feels full.

Tim doesn't dare move. He knows what comes next, knows how much fuller he can be.

He's played with toys before. He books cheap motels during the working day, marking out the time as a private appointment in his WE calendar. Tam assumes it's Robin work, and if Bruce ever came into the office he'd probably assume the same. He uses a miniature EMP to make sure no one is spying on him, buys the dildo on his way with cash and leaves it in the motel bathroom trash afterwards.

Honestly, half the thrill is knowing that no one has any idea what he's up to. Just like no one knows he's here.

Ra's withdraws his fingers. Tim inhales, lets the air chase the retreating feeling of fullness.

Ra's leans over him, lifting and tilting his hips. Their eyes meet.

Tim opens his mouth. He doesn't know what to say to mark this occasion. Poetry, probably, but he's not sure he could even manage Dr Suess right now.

Ra's lips stay sealed, but they curve up in a predatory smile that makes Tim shiver.

Ra's parts Tim's cheeks, lines his cock up, and thrusts.

Tim swallows. The air in his lungs is burning but he's not ready to let it out yet. Ra's has told him he'll force the breathe from him when he's buried to the hilt, and Tim can't let go of the idea he has to hold it until then.

Ra's is being patient with him, easing in slowly. The stretch goes deeper and deeper until Tim feels like his insides are elastic. He clenches his fist in the carpet. He remembers how big Ra's was in his hand and the idea he's accommodating that blows his mind. Every time he thinks he must be as full as possible Ra's pushes in another fraction of an inch.

He needs air. He needs Ra's inside him. He needs to be full and empty at once. His vision is crackling and sparkling as instinct wars with desire. His internal nerve endings spark in the same way.

Finally Ra's hips make contact with Tim's buttocks. Tim tries to hold his breath just a little longer, to make sure, but Ra's withdraws a couple of inches and thrusts back to the hilt in a single, sharp movement, and Tim's lungs release their stale bounty. His head falls back and he gasps like he's never breathed before. Ra's matches his thrusts to Tim's stuttered pants, and it's too much and not enough. Tim's fingers scrabble at the rug, desperately seeking an anchor.

He doesn't realise his eyes are shut until Ra's hand is on his face, the pad of his thumb tickling Tim's eyelashes. It's such a small feeling compared with the fireworks in his torso, but Tim's whole world shrinks to the gentle touch.

He opens his eyes and sees Ra's above him. He's supporting most of his weight on one arm, while the other continues to caress Tim's face. Tim’s bent in half, knees around his ears. The loudest sound is Tim’s own breath.

He swallows, tries to quiet himself. “Ra’s.”

Ra’s hand slides down his face and glides over his body. He has to shift his weight a little to make space between them, and Tim’s breath hitches at the movement, and hitches again when Ra’s hand closes around his cock.

“Enta ghazalty. You honour me.”

“I-” There’s a word on the tip of Tim’s tongue, one he guards carefully and has rarely spoken aloud, and that he’s so close to saying it shocks him to silence.

Ra’s grins like Tim said it anyway, and tightens his grip on Tim’s cock. He pulls and twists and thrusts at the same time and all words disappear from Tim’s head.

His world condenses to thrusts and breaths and tugs. His eyes are fixed on Ra’s.

He’s not sure how long it lasts, but suddenly the end is barrelling towards him. His body temperature leaps and he’s dripping with sweat. His balls tighten, his gut burns, and he clamps down hard on Ra’s cock.

He grabs Ra’s shoulders with both hands as he comes. He pulls himself up from the rug, crushing his mouth against Ra’s. Ra’s loses his balance, falling on top of Tim and trapping his arm between them.

It’s so awkward and human and real that Tim laughs. He throws his head back, stares up at the Milky Way, and angles his hips so Ra’s can fuck him as hard and deep as he wants to.

Ra’s frees his arm but stays chest to chest with Tim. He’s chasing his own release now, and Tim’s orgasm is ebbing away, but he feels warm and full and like he has a purpose and little aftershocks keep quaking through him every time Ra’s hits his prostate.

The stars are moving. Little white sparks that disappear when he closes his eyes. They don’t correspond with any internal sensation, and he doesn’t feel like he’s going to pass out, but his vision is slowly filling with streaks and it’s hypnotic.

Ra’s comes.

He stops moving, but the stars don’t, and Tim realises the meteor shower must have started.

Ra’s slides out of him and rolls to the side. Tim lowers his legs slowly, surprised at how stiff they feel. He tucks one arm up underneath his head and rests his other hand on his stomach, still sticky with his cum.

The shooting stars are beautiful, like the sky is rushing to meet them. No matter how many fall the galaxy is still there. Of course it is, they’re rocks and those are stars, they’re close and those are far away, but it’s like the Milky Way is raining and it’s so comforting to think it’ll never rain itself out.

A clear sky is not the same as an empty sky and that’s why Tim loves the night so much more than the day.

He feels Ra’s move beside him. Tim’s not sure how much time has passed. He tries counting shooting stars, but he’s conscious of the wind drying the sweat on his skin and the trembling of his overstretched muscles and the churning in his gut that comes from several sources at once.

A hot cloth drops onto Tim’s stomach.

Tim stis up. He cleans himself down, and when Ra’s hands him a robe he puts it on. It’s not the same one he wore earlier - it’s not Ra’s - but it’s soft and warm and it fits. It’s another gift.

Ra’s drops a couple of cushions, which Tim really appreciates, and sits down behind him. He pulls Tim back against his chest.

Tim tilts his head back, resting it on Ra’s shoulder.

Ra’s reaches for something outside of his field of vision. Tim keeps his eyes on the sky. Something touches his lips and he parts them.

His mouth is filled with lemon-garlic-ocean. It’s wet and rubbery and soft and chewy and he barely bites down on it twice before swallowing because he’s so hungry.

He tears his gaze from the stars and looks at the shell Ra’s is discarding. Mussels.

“Another?”

Ra’s chuckles and feeds him another. The mussels rest on a platter of ice. They’re stuffed with garlic bread crumbs and drenched in lemon juice and olive oil and taste incredible.

“Mmf.” Tim stuffs a third mussel into his face, reaching for another two with his other hand. “I didn’t expect to be so hungry.”

“It’s a long time since your last meal, and almonds aren’t a real substitute. How are you feeling otherwise?”

“Sore. Sort of… full and empty simultaneously. Even more relaxed - physically - than I usually do after an orgasm.”

“Hmm. And emotionally?”

“Also more relaxed. Less anxious than this morning.” Tim choses to smile at Ra’s. “Very glad it happened.”

He’s eaten all the mussels. Ra’s hands him a napkin to clean his fingers, and once he’s done that a small goblet. Tim sniffs it.

“I told you we would have some of the old date palm wine,” Ra’s says. “Lagmi. I think you’ll enjoy it.”

The liquid is a yellowish white, viscous, and smells incredibly sweet.

“It ferments itself, so one must time when they drink it very carefully. You have a matter of hours in which it’s both alcoholic and pleasant, before it turns to vinegar.”

It’s like watered down maple syrup, with just a bit of kick to it, and something vaguely date-like right at the back of the taste. It’s not strong in terms of alcohol, but Tim’s veins are fizzing from the sweetness.

He licks his lips when he’s drained his glass, spreading the stickiness around. Ra’s cups his chin and twists his head so he can kiss Tim’s mouth clean again.

“You like it?” he asks, and Tim thinks he can hear genuine trepidation carefully hidden under the casual question. Ra’s wants him to like it.

Tim relaxes back into his original position, facing away from Ra’s again.

“Yes,” Tim lies, and continues truthfully, “though I couldn’t drink a lot of it. It’s almost more of a desert than a drink.”

“I prefer it as a digestif. We always used to finish a meal with fruit or a sweetmeat of some kind, to close the stomach. I know-” Ra’s waves off Tim’s attempt to interrupt him “-that digestion doesn’t work like that. I have kept my medical knowledge up to date. But it’s a pleasant way to signal the end of a meal.”

Tim nods.

The meteor shower is starting to slow. The ice the mussels had been resting on is mere water again. Tim leans against Ra’s.

“How would you have defined virginity, back then?” Tim asks.

“The presence of a hymen, which you have never had, Timothy.” Ra’s runs his fingers through Tim’s hair. “You are no longer a virgin in your own reckoning, I assume.”

“No. I mean yes. I mean… I’m not sure precisely when I lost it,” Tim says. “I don’t like the idea of defining it by penetration, because that excludes a lot of sexually active people. But then, by similar reasoning you can’t use mutual orgasms, because that’s not a given in sex, but can occur in scenarios that, well, aren’t sex.”

“Are you sure they’re not sex?”

“I don’t know! If you’re both fully dressed and fooling around and get ‘over excited’, is that sex?”

“Virginity is a social construct. It follows if a virgin is defined as someone who has not had sex, then sex must be a social construct as well. ‘Over excitement’ is a social construct. Using an excess of excitement to shame someone is a concept rooted in a specific idea of sex, for a specific purpose.

“You feel like you have lost your virginity now, when you didn’t this morning? But you feel guilty for privileging anal intercourse as sex but not manual, for the reasons you detailed, so you are deliberately confusing yourself.” Ra’s kisses the crown of Tim’s head. “It is just you and I here. You need not obfuscate the significance of penetration to you.”

Something unknots in Tim’s chest. He nuzzles closer to Ra’s.

“Sometimes I wonder if you really know me as well as it seems,” Tim says, “or if I’m just an… an archetype, the sort of too-clever-for-his-own-good boy you’ve seen a hundred times throughout the centuries.”

“And who am I to you? An orientalist stereotype, an older man seeking a young lover, a Bond villain? Or am I a person?”

“A person,” Tim says without hesitation.

“You accept me for who I am, don’t you?”

Tim considers. “Ye-es. I accept you. I’m not sure I entirely like you, not all of you, but the megalomaniac, the murderer, the manipulator, they’re all you, and if you lost those qualities you wouldn’t be you. So I accept them.”

“A very diplomatic answer,” Ra’s says. “But very clear sighted for a man your age. I wish your father had had as much clarity when he pursued my daughter.”

“Bruce was a lot more optimistic at my age,” Tim says. “He was a lot more open to new experiences, to the idea people can change.”

“Hah. Change. Bruce never loved my daughter. He couldn’t. He couldn’t accept those fundamental parts of her that you can of me. He was waiting for her to change.”

“I don’t know. I think he did love Talia.” He’s seen the look in Bruce’s eye when he talks about Talia, the way he stares at Damian when he does something that reminds Bruce of his mother. Talia broke Bruce’s heart, and still breaks it every time they meet.

“He lusted for her, but the woman he loved was one who didn’t exist. He pressured her to change. He held her to a standard she couldn’t reach and demanded she play false to her true nature in order to earn her affection.” Ra’s sips his wine. “And he measured himself against her success. If he was perfect, she would have the motivation to be so as well. If she failed to meet his standards, he pushed himself to new heights of self-denial so those standards would be even further out of her reach. You see? A dynamic that hurt both of them.”

Tim tries to align this vision of Bruce with the Batman he used to stalk around Gotham, who would play tag with Jason, flirt with Catwoman, do doughnuts in the Batmobile. Of course he took the mission seriously, of course he was driven to continuous self-improvement, of course he couldn’t accept Talia if she were still enmeshed in her father’s plans. But the Bruce that Ra’s is describing is different, more like the Bruce Tim trained under.

“It’s a relationship,” Tim says slowly, “that’s lasted through several phases of Bruce’s life. When she’s around it throws him back to a younger version of himself. More idealistic, less repressed. But he’s carrying everything that’s happened since they met, too, so those ideals... He's more hurt by her past actions than he was at the time, because they're crossing different phases.”

“She reverts too.” The disapproval is heavy in Ra’s voice, and Tim has to suppress a laugh at his dour tone. He doesn’t think of Ra’s as a parent often, but his disappointment in his daughter’s relationship is peak dad. “It’s not a good thing, to return to that black and white idealism.”

“All those teenage emotions, all that adult trauma.” Tim smirks. “He’s exhausting, you know, when Talia is around.”

That makes Ra’s laugh. “So is she.”

“She doesn’t like me, does she? She set both Jason and Damian to kill me, specifically.”

“No, she doesn’t.” Ra’s pauses for a moment. Tim looks back to see Ra’s head tilted back to look at the stars. “Would you have me kill her?” he asks.

A shooting star, the only one for several minutes, burns brighter and longer than any of its predecessors. Tim is sure it’s the last one of the shower. He follows it with his eyes until it disappears behind the mountains.

“You know I’d never ask for that,” he says, breaking the silence coagulating around them. “I wouldn’t ask you to kill any one; it’s not different to killing them myself. I didn’t ask you to kill Boomerang.”

“You wanted him dead.”

“That’s not the same thing.”

“Do you want Talia dead?”

“No. I don’t like her, and I wish she’d leave all of us alone - Bruce, Jason, Damian, all of us - but I think she still has the potential to make a positive contribution in the future. Even if she didn’t, I don’t think the solution is to just remove her. Everyone has a right to live, no matter how they choose to use their life. I didn’t want to kill Boomerang after he killed my father. I resented that he got a second chance when dad didn’t. I wanted him to have stayed dead.” He glances at Ra’s. “You said earlier I always ask you for what you want. You don’t want to kill her. You wouldn’t be asking me if you did. Why are you testing me?”

“I’m not testing you.” Ra’s presses a light kiss to Tim’s lips. “You are perfect, Timothy. And so I am. This, between us, acknowledges that in a way Bruce and Talia could not. We are not trying to change each other. I love you for who you are, not who you might be.”

Tim looks out across the mountains. The galaxy has moved across the sky in the time they’ve been on the roof, travelling towards the Western horizon. Tim feels like he’s spinning on his own axis.

“I love you too.”

Chapter Text

Ōdī et amō. Quārē id faciam fortasse requīris.

He’s lying.

Of course he’s lying.

He’s just saying what he knows Ra’s wants to hear.

This… whatever it is, that he feels so strongly, isn’t love. He’s been in love before. It’s pleasant. It makes him smile to himself when he’s alone. He looks forward to seeing the object of his interests. He hopes he makes them smile too.

He needs to see Ra’s. When they are apart he is consumed by thoughts of him, his whole energy turned towards bringing the moment he sees Ra’s again closer. He can’t smile without the man. It’s not the same thing at all. It is, if anything, deeply unpleasant.

If this is love, then there’s something wrong with him. He’s not the person he thought he was. Love isn’t the emotion he thought it was. This all consuming obsession, this constant churning, this terrified burning, this need to be seen and acknowledged and attended to, this can’t be love.

Love is flowers and chocolates and carefully crafted couplets. This is blood sacrifice and unholy screams.

Ra’s leads him back down from the roof. They share the bed in Ra’s quarters, and Tim tells himself that this is proof he only said what he did to please Ra’s, because Ra’s is rewarding him for it. If it were love, the reward would be the reciprocation.

The bed is huge and soft and even if he flails in his sleep he can’t disturb Ra’s. Tim’s rest is fractious. If he were at home he’d be watching the glowing numbers tick by on his alarm clock, but there’s no way to measure the passing time here until the edges of the shutters start to glow with dawn’s light. He only knows he’s sleeps at all because he dreams.

He dreams of The Bat.

Not Batman. Not Bruce, nothing like Bruce at all. The Bat.

He’s been dreaming of The Bat since the first time he figured out Batman’s identity. Something in his mind that day detached then, split The Bat and all the fear it inspired from Batman, who was just their affable neighbour Bruce Wayne. He couldn’t be scared of Bruce Wayne, who snuck him snacks at galas and ruffled his hair. Batman was a figure of fear and superstition, but Bruce was the guy who’d talk to him through the fence and pretend he didn’t know who the childish voice belonged to. Bruce was a - would be his - dad. No one should be scared of dads, even if intellectually young Tim knew a lot of people had reason to be.

Even as he found excuses to talk to Bruce more, to attend events he was invited to, to try and catch the transition, he’d started to have nightmares about The Bat. Night terrors, according to his research. Glowing eyes were common in night terrors. Shadowy figures. Being unable to move. Just a normal childhood phase. Nothing to bother his parents about.

The Bat would stalk him unseen, until Tim was trapped and then it came, it came in a rush, wings of darkness and eyes of flame and he’d try to run but he’d move slower and slower and it would get closer and closer and his limbs were heavier and heavier and its breath was hotter and hotter and

and he’d wake up screaming and thrashing and alone.

Alone but for The Bat, watching him from the edge of his subconscious.

The Bat was angry with him. The Bat didn’t like that he had knowledge he shouldn’t. The Bat knew there was no one around to protect him.

The dreams have come and gone over the years. The worst period was after his mother died and his father was in a coma. He was living with Bruce, plagued by imposter syndrome, spending his days rattling an empty manor even bigger than the one he’d grown up in and his nights in a too large chair staring at a bat-themed computer rig and trying not to look at the carefully positioned bloody costume, and The Bat stalked the few snatched moments in between.

Sometimes he woke up sweating and afraid.

Sometimes he woke up sticky and ashamed.

Most nights it was both at once.

Tonight is one of those nights. The Bat is angry at his betrayal. It doesn’t like that he has carnal knowledge. It stalks him around the palace. The faster he tries to run the slower he gets. He feels it getting closer, but unlike the old nightmares, when it catches him he doesn’t wake.

No, he stays under, trapped in the nightmare, knowing it’s a nightmare. The Bat’s breath is hot against the back of his neck. It’s flesh is leathery against his and somehow he’s naked when he wasn’t before, and he knows it’s so The Bat can claim every inch of his skin. He presses his face against the cold tiles and closes his eyes, but because it’s a dream all it achieves is a change of perspective, placing him outside of his body. The Bat covers his body with its own and parts his legs with a miscellaneous limb.

He’s watching it from the outside and inside at once. He watches it move, feels it probe. Watches it thrust, feels it fill him.

There’s no pain, just a sensation that he somehow knows is the feeling of darkness, even if he couldn’t define it while he’s awake. He knows he has to lie on the tiles and take it, so he does.

He wakes without the flailing and screaming that marked his childhood terrors, just the ghost of pressure still burning deep inside him. It’s probably last night still making its effects known, but he can’t shake the feeling that he’s let The Bat inside him.

The Bat isn’t Batman. The Bat kills.

Ra’s kills.

Ra’s killed Digger Harkness, and Tim had sex with him.

Guilt wraps itself around his larynx and chokes him. His lungs are burning, which just reminds him of last night.

Tim throws himself onto his front and buries his face in one of the many pillows, forcing himself to breath into the fabric until the crushing pressure subsides. As soon as he can catch his breath he screams into the fabric, forcing all of the guilt and shame and confusion out of his body and into the silk. It muffles everything, and when he’s done the feelings are muted too.

Ra’s killed Digger Harkness. Tim had sex with him.

Just taking the ‘and’ out makes it easier to handle, helps keep the emotions at bay. They are not linked events.

Still, it’s a lot to process.

He figures maybe he can put some of it off, at least for a little while. If he breaks it all down into moments in time and single decisions and passing thoughts he can make his peace with each piece.

He sits up in the bed. He’s not sure when Ra’s got up or where he’s gone, but he’s alone in Ra’s room.

The bed is magnificent. Even better viewed from within it. The sheets are such a high thread count they look like they’ve been made from a single, solid substance. The mattress is the perfect balance of soft and firm. The silk cushions provide precisely the right amount of support.

He flops onto his back and starfishes out on the bed, pushing his hands and feet as far from his body as he can, and doesn’t come close to meeting the edges of the bed. Above him the mosaiced ceiling twinkles. The ever diminishing fractal star patterns draw his mind away from earthly concerns like shoulds and shouldn’t’ves, and he starts to slip into a meditative state, helped by his lack of sleep.

He wanted this.

He wanted it before Ra’s showed him the boomerang.

The boomerang didn’t stop him wanting it.

Because Ra’s is right, he’s got no illusions about the man’s nature. And Ra’s has no illusions about his. It’s almost transactional, the way Tim gave him his body and Ra’s gave him access to his bed.

It’s an amazing bed.

And. Well. He did want Harkness dead.

He feels like things are starting to slot back into place. The freewheeling panic has receded, and maybe his state is more dissociative than dispassionate, but he’s in control again.

Well. And.

He’s in control of himself, at least. In control of his feelings and desires enough to make sure they align with what Ra’s wants.

The little voice at the back of his mind baulks at that framing, but Tim shushes it before it can set off another spiral. Stable is more important that healthy, right now.

Peace with each piece.

He props himself up on his elbows and peers towards the end of the bed. The recessed nature means he can’t see much of the rest of the room from where he’s lying, even though the bed dominates the space. It’s somewhere between a sanctuary and a throne, and he can imagine running an empire from it without ever getting up.

He has to scoot his butt down the bed like a child to reach the end. He dangles his feet off the edge and looks around.

The room looks much like it did last night. The cloche and platter are gone, as he expected. A bowl of fruit has taken the place of the iced almonds next to the chess table. Where his clothes were left in a damp pool on the floor there’s now a rack with a fresh suit. This one is dark green with gold buttons.

Ra’s colours.

His pills are next to the basin. There’s a wooden toothbrush - Ra’s may have given him a plastic one, but apparently he can’t bring himself to sully his own room with it - and an old fashioned tin of toothpaste, a badger brush, cut throat razor and shaving foam, a walnut jewellery box and a small stick of kohl.

It’s nice when it’s easy. Clues laid out before him like a crime scene after forensics have been through.

He washes and shaves and cleans and brushes and dresses himself. The green silk kurta is more understated than his previous suits, only the buttons for decoration, but they’re warm and heavy and solid gold. He selects a delicate rope chain from the jewellery box, the links styled like a series of knots. He loops it twice over his head, so one loop sits tight around his throat and the other hangs to his mid chest.

After some consideration he also picks a pair of emerald studs. He had his ears pierced for Alvin Draper - told his dad they were clip ons, but they weren’t, and it had felt so good to have a moment of teenage rebellion that wasn’t wholly about capes and criminals - but he hasn’t had a reason to be Vinnie in some time. The holes have started to heal over, and when he forces the pins through he’s rewarded with a bead of blood on the tip of his finger. He blots his ears with a facecloth so he doesn’t stain his kurta. The pain feels right.

The kohl takes several tries and a lot of swipes with the facecloth to get right, but eventually he has something broadly even that makes his eyes look huge.

He stares at his reflection. The person looking back isn’t Tim Drake. It’s not Red Robin.

Ghzal Al Ghul.

Gazelle of the Demon.

It sounds better in Arabic.

Tim purses his lips, mouth drawing to one side.

Sure, he likes having all the pieces of the puzzle laid out for him, but when he’s looking at the bigger picture he needs to feel like he brought something to the table.

He returns to the bed and finds an embroidered cushion. He pulls a thread free and wraps it around his hair, pulling it up into a messy bun. He shrugs off the kurta and raps on the dumbwaiter.

“I want Ra’s sherwani, the black and gold one,” he addresses the wall sternly. “A gold watch. Two rings, one sized for my thumb, and a gold ear cuff. Arabic to English dictionary and a pen and paper.”

He tries to think if there’s anything else.

“And hot coffee.”

When Ra’s returns to the room Tim is lounging on the sofa with a cup of coffee and a pad of paper. He’s shirtless, the sherwani falling open over his bare chest. Instead of a ballpoint the invisible servants have delivered him a quill and inkwell, and Tim’s managed to drip ink on his churidar already, but he’s covering the stain with the notepad for now.

Ra’s hovers in the doorway.

“I see you’ve made yourself at home.”

Tim nods, and gestures with the quill. “I’m not just another accessory to decorate your chambers with.”

“I can see that.”

“Coffee?”

Ra’s takes a seat opposite Tim, and lets Tim pour him a cup. While he’s doing so the notepad slips, and Tim feels Ra’s eyes fall on the stain. When his gaze lifts as Tim passes him the coffee it’s warmer.

Oh, Tim thinks, he assumes I ditched the Kurta because I ruined it. And Ra’s is happier with that narrative than Tim taking control over his own presentation.

Tim taps the quill against his notepad, filing the thought away.

“Practising your arabic?”

Tim nods. “My handwriting is bad enough in the roman alphabet. I’m not sure it’ll ever be neat enough to write arabic legibly.”

“Have you considered a crossword?”

“Surely the point is to have the letters flows, not separate them out into little boxes.”

“First, once must learn to form the letters.” Ra’s taps a long fingernail on Tim’s notes. “What is this supposed to be?”

غزال الغول

He reaches over and adjusts Tim’s writing with a few broad strokes, so it reads رأس الغول - Ra's al Ghul.

Tim runs his thumb over the fresh ink, smudging it.

“I suppose my handwriting must be bad,” he says. “At least Al Ghul was legible.”

Ra’s frowns at Tim’s inky digits. “I missed something,” he says. “What?”

Tim chuckles. “Just me acting like a teenage girl.” He puts the notepad to one side. “What’s today’s agenda?”

“Well, I had planned to wake you as promised this morning, but you seemed to be having such a pleasant dream.” Ra’s looks over at the bed. “I was concerned I might have wrung you out last night, but it seems you have untapped reservoirs.”

Tim twists in his seat to follow his gaze.

“It wasn’t pleasant,” he says.

“You cannot lie to me.”

“I’m not. It was a, uh, wet nightmare.” Tim cringes internally. There has to be a better way to describe it. “Not something you’ve suffered through?”

“I’m sure I must have, over the centuries. I didn’t realise you were so troubled by what transpired last night.” Ra’s sounds serious, and it tugs on all the bits of Tim’s guilt he’s swept under the carpet.

“I enjoyed last night,” Tim hastens to reassure both of them. “It brought some stuff to the fore, that’s all. About my choices.”

“About whether the Detective would approve of them?”

“In some respects.” He doesn’t want to try and explain to Ra’s the difference between Batman and the Bat. Honestly, he’s not sure how to articulate it without sounding like he’s been dreaming about Bruce on some level.

Maybe he is dreaming about Bruce, on some level. Some fucked up Electra complex Fruedian bullshit level. Ra’s is just some replacement daddy for him to lust after like a barely legal girl in suspiciously well lit and shot ‘amateur’ porn.

He puts the coffee cup on the table.

“Are you going to keep your promise?” he asks, suddenly craving a distraction. “I might be wide awake now, but there’s plenty of ways we can use that bed.”

“No, I fear the window has passed.”

“What? How?” Tim feels affronted at the idea. What has Ra’s been up to in the scant hours since dawn that sex is off the table?

“I have an appointment, and were I to take you to bed, I fear I would miss it.”

“An appointment?” Somehow, that’s even more offensive. “We’re alone here. Are you planning to skype someone?”

“The nature of it is not your concern.”

He asked Ra’s - he made Ra’s reassure him - last night, that this wasn’t a matter of one and done. Ra’s is supposed to be lavishing attention on him, not dropping by to check in and then abandoning him.

Tim’s mouth sets in a firm line.

“Of course it’s not,” he says, “because you’re right, you are going to miss it.”

He uncoils from the couch like a striking python, launching himself at Ra’s.

The older man is taken by surprise as Tim lands squarely in his lap, the momentum throwing both of them and the chair to the floor. Ra’s coffee cup flies across the room and smashes against the far wall.

Tim inhales sharply, and presses his advantage, sinking his teeth into Ra’s lip. He doesn’t need to see what he’s doing to twist Ra’s arms behind his head and pin them there, and the chair keeps his legs from interfering admirably. Were this a fight, Tim would be winning.

Tim is winning.

Ra’s shifts beneath him, testing Tim’s strength and leverage. Tim lets him, releasing his mouth to suck a path along Ra’s jaw and down his neck. His high collar is held together by solid gold toggles and silk cord. Tim uses his tongue to push them free, gaining access to Ra’s throat.

“What-” Ra’s voice comes out breathier than he apparently expects, because he cuts himself off.

Tim keeps working his way down Ra’s robe, sucking bruises across the expanse of his chest. Ra’s is getting hard beneath him, and Tim presses his hips down firmly against Ra’s lap.

“What spontaneity,” Ra’s hisses. “What passion.”

“Tell me to stop,” Tim says, and hopes his sincerity bleeds through his rising lust.

“Never,” Ra’s says. “Take what you want, Timothy.”

Satisfied with the granted permission, Tim sits up astride Ra’s. He catches his breath and contemplates his next move.

The chair is becoming an impediment, Ra’s raised legs forcing Tim to sit further forwards than ideal. They could move to the bed, but something about taking Ra’s here, on the hard floor, mere feet away from comfort, appeals.

He lifts his hips and leans forward, reaching behind him for the seat of the chair. Ra’s obligingly raises his back as far as he can with his arms still pinned behind his head, and Tim manages to shove the chair out from under him.

It’s good. It’s a start. What next?

Tim climbs to his feet. Ra’s starts to follow, but Tim places a bare foot on the centre of his chest.

He glances over at the dumbwaiter, and barks, “Oil.”

Ra’s relaxes back against the floor, and when Tim hears the now-familiar clank of the dumbwaiter he’s confident enough in Ra’s compliance to leave him in place.

He sheds his sherwani as he walks, leaving it in a crumpled pile on the floor. He collects the small bottle of oil, and on the return journey shimmies out of his churidar, kicking them off by the chess table.

He feels sexy like this, naked but for gold and kohl. He tangles his free hand in the necklace, running his thumb along the knots, and looks down at Ra’s.

If any man could look powerful laid on his back, it’s Ra’s, but when Tim stands over him he feels like he rules the world. All the confusion and guilt of earlier has been burned away by the coiling heat in his gut.

Why did he wait so long to have sex? How much easier would the last few years have been if he’d had this outlet?

He shifts his weight to one leg and places the other foot on Ra’s chest again. Ra’s cocks a sharply arched eyebrow, and Tim smirks at him as he uncorks the bottle of oil.

He drizzles a little of the oil on his fingers and rubs them together, letting a couple of drops fall onto the man below him.

He slides his foot up Ra’s chest, wrinkling his robe, until his toes meet another toggle. He’s picked locks and untied knots with his toes in the past; the fastening concedes defeat to him almost immediately.

He makes short work of the rest of Ra’s toggles and parts the robe with his foot. Ra’s has a shirt on underneath, which is disappointing, but Tim nudges it up until a strip of bare stomach is exposed.

He drips a little oil on it, just to see it splash. It pools quickly on Ra’s skin and runs in wide rivulets towards the waist of his churidar, where it’s absorbed to form a dark stain.

Tim curls his toes around the top of the soft pants and pulls them down, exposing Ra’s thick cock. It’s heavy with blood but not completely hard, resting against his corded thigh.

Tim pouts, a little peeved he hasn’t managed to bring Ra’s to full attention with his appearance alone, but he supposes Ra’s is an old man, and needs a bit more coaxing than Tim might in the reversed scenario.

He turns and drops to straddle Ra’s waist, back to Ra’s face. He slicks his hands with oil. He starts with a firm grip on Ra’s with one hand, but as he swells and hardens Tim uses both to pump him. His foreskin slides back and forth, revealing the wet, red tip like a well sucked candy, and Tim feels saliva gathering under his tongue. He squirms on Ra’s chest, his own cock so erect it’s smearing precum in his happy trail.

He lets go of Ra’s cock with one hand and reaches behind himself. He walks his fingers down his cleft, letting Ra’s watching him tease himself. When he reaches his goal he circles it with his forefinger.

“You like to be watched as much as you like to watch, don’t you, Timothy?”

It is the exact right thing to say to him at that moment, and Tim has to bite down on his lip to keep from moaning his agreement. His hole flexes, and his finger slips inside.

He’s still slowly pumping Ra’s cock, and as his hand slides down to Ra’s hips he lowers his head and follows it with his lips, his own hips coming up. He relies on his core strength to keep his balance - if he falls he’ll literally choke on Ra’s cock - and rocks back and forth, sucking on Ra’s and opening himself up with his fingers. He seesaws like one of those old perpetual motion drinking birds, but he doesn’t want this to last forever.

He’s up to two fingers inside himself, but he needs to add a third to be ready for Ra’s. He has to change the angle of his hand, and he pulls up off Ra’s cock so he can concentrate.

Ra’s hips twitch, an aborted thrust. Ra’s cock is dripping with Tim’s spit, soaking wet. It makes Tim happy how sloppy he’s made it and he pauses to admire his work.

Suddenly there’s a third finger at his entrance, one that isn’t his. It’s dry, and he has to bear down on it to persuade his body to accept it alongside his own lubed up digits. Ra’s other hand grips his hip, and he rides their joined hands until the oil is evenly distributed. It burns more than last night, the ring of muscle unrecovered, and he welcomes the bite of pain.

Ra’s hand lifts his hip, tilting Tim forwards over his cock again, but Tim resists him. He grabs the bottle of oil from where he placed it on the floor with his free hand and pours it liberally over Ra’s cock. The pressure at his hip subsides as Ra’s guesses his intentions.

For a moment Tim considers turning around, but the idea departs as swiftly as it arrived. He doesn’t want to look Ra’s in the eye right now. He doesn’t want to look at anyone. He's doing this for himself.

He pulls his fingers from his entrance and shuffles forwards. He takes Ra’s cock in his fist and holds it at what he hopes is the right angle, and starts to lower himself slowly onto it.

He exhales and relaxes, ignoring the sting of over-stretched flesh. His body resists him at first and he forces himself down, determined to have what’s he’s already claimed as his own. He stills when he’s full, finds he’s closed his eyes and forces himself to open them again, and throws his head back to survey the room from his new seat.

It’s late morning and the air in Ra’s apartment is hot and heavy. The smell of baked stone and dry dust wafters through the closed shutters. The world is quiet, not even birdsong to interrupt their idyll. Tim takes a deep breath and holds it, trying to silence even that minor sound, but all too soon his pulse starts to rush in his ears and he has to release it again to quiet that instead.

Ra’s lies still beneath him. Tim wonders if he’s enjoying this, and hopes for a vicious moment that he isn’t. There’s something about taking what he wants from Ra’s body without consideration of the other man’s needs that’s so breathtakingly dangerous to Tim’s own sense of self his cock spurts precum over Ra’s thighs. This whole misadventure is challenging everything he knew about himself, all the parameters he uses to define himself, so why not this, too?

He starts to rock his hips, looking for a rhythm that gives him the depth and angle to sparks stars behind his eyes. There’s an unfamiliar presence on his skin and he brushes it away, only to realise it was Ra’s hand. He doesn’t want Ra’s touching him. He just wants to fuck himself into mindlessness.

So he does. He grinds down on Ra’s cock and thrusts up into his fist and finds a rhythm that throws his head back and brings his thunderous pulse back to his ears and reduces the world to sights, sounds and sensations that are all his own.

He comes before he’s ready to, thighs cramping as his hips buck of their own accord, and he nearly loses his balance. He grunts and folds over himself, both hands falls to grip Ra’s legs as he pushes through the orgasm like a physical trial.

He stays there, hunched over and panting, feeling altogether like he’s over-exerted himself in a way he didn’t know possible.

Ra’s coughs politely, and Tim can’t bite back a laugh.

He climbs off Ra’s slowly, legs stiff, and lies back beside him on top of Ra’s half-opened robe. He rests his head against Ra’s shoulder and reaches down his body. Ra’s cock is slick with spit and sweat and oil and isn’t entirely pleasant under Tim’s palm, but he compartmentalises the sensation and focuses on bringing Ra’s to orgasm, which does not take long, the older man spilling over his barely-lowered trousers.

Once it’s done, Tim rolls onto his side. It’s like he’s comfortable facing his lover again now the act is over. Ra’s is rumpled and stained, and repaying Tim’s earlier disinterest by ignoring him now.

“Were you circumcised?” Tim asks idly, while Ra’s examines his ruined clothes.

“What?” Ra’s releases the hem of his kurta. He waits a beat before turning his head to look at Tim.

Tim shifts, lifting his head to rest it on Ra’s shoulder and look down his body. He reaches down and fondles Ra’s now-soft cock, warm and damp against his palm.

“Does the pit heal circumcision?”

Ra’s raises an eyebrow. “I don’t know,” he says. “I never was, and I cannot say I’ve marked the phallic state of the few others I’ve permitted access to the pits.” He runs his long nails along Tim’s naked side. “Perhaps, if one day your reckless behaviour puts you in need of it, you can be the first to find out.”

For the first time in his life the idea of taking a dip in one of the pits doesn’t seem so extreme. He hopes it’s a sign the antidepressants are working, and he’s keen to live in a way he hasn’t always been, but there’s something about the offer that he wants to take up now, to show he’s willing (and to satisfy his curiousity) that speaks more to Ra’s power of seduction than his access to pharmaceuticals. What little self-preservation instinct he has bites Tim’s tongue for him, and Tim hums non-committedly.

Ra’s sits up. His robe is pulled sharply out from under Tim, dislodging him from his side and sending him rolling across the floor. He completes the turn so he’s on his front, and pushes himself up to standing.

“You have made very sure I won’t make my appointment, haven’t you?” Ra’s says, returning the furniture to its upright and correct positions. “I didn’t think it would offend you so.”

“Well, it did,” Tim says. “You can’t tell me to indulge me wants and then not be around when I want to do so.”

“You think my promises would go unfulfilled? I’m wounded you doubt me so.”

Ra’s shucks off his robe, leaving it on the sofa. He walks over to the dresser and strips off his soiled clothes, leaving them folded on the floor, and takes one of the face cloths Tim used earlier.

Tim wanders over to join him and grabs another cloth. Ra’s runs his over Tim’s chest, and Tim leans into the touch.

“Ah, Timothy.” Ra’s cups his cheek and pulls his face up for a kiss. It’s their first today, Tim realises. “So desperate for touch. Are your urges sated? May we be tender with each other again?”

Tim raises an eyebrow. “Maybe it’s because I’m so 'desperate' for basic human interaction,” he says, sarcasm heavy on every word, “but I find you much harder to trust when you’re being ‘tender’.”

“Come now, don’t take offense where none was meant.” Ra’s swipes some dried come from Tim’s abdomen with the damp cloth. “What brought this on?”

Tim sighs. “Did you really have an appointment?”

“I had… something I planned to do this morning, yes.”

“Who with?”

“One make may an appointment with oneself.”

Tim snorts. “One may make up an appointment to see what kind of reaction it provokes, too.”

Some of Ra’s good humour dissolves, and he drops the cloth back into the basin, leaving Tim to finish cleaning himself up. “I don’t like being called a liar, Timothy.”

Tim shakes his head. “Fine, then. One may mischaracterise another solo task to make it sound like it’s with another person, in order to provoke jealousy.”

Ra’s picks up a robe from the floor and puts it on, along with a fresh pair of churidar from the dumbwaiter. It’s the sherwani Tim wore earlier, so Tim puts on Ra’s, but chooses to stay naked underneath. He has a feeling he’s on thin ice, and Ra’s has already implied he likes Tim dressed like this.

He dabs a little more kohl on his eyes, adjusting it where it smudged during sex, and toys with the chain around his neck.

“Do you like this one?” he asks Ra’s.

“It’s fine.” There’s still a bite to it, but Ra’s seems to reconsider his curtness and grants Tim a brief smile. “I selected only the ones I thought would suit you best. I like seeing you in any of them. Will you join me for a little lunch?”

Tim nods.

For once, the food is not delivered via the dumbwaiter. Instead, Ra’s opens the door to the sahn, where a small table has been set up with a metre-wide platter on it, too big for the small elevator, one which rests an entire cod, split down the middle, surrounded by potatoes.

Tim balks at the heat.

“How long has that been out there?” he asks.

Ra’s presses the back of his hand against the metal platter. “Less than a minute, Detective. Besides, it is bacalao.”

Tim frowns. “If this is a way to get me into a lazarus pit sooner rather than later, it’s not the way I want to go.”

That draws a chuckle from Ra’s. “I promise, Timothy, it is perfectly fine to eat. It’s bacalao al pil pil, a hot dish. You will need to be mindful of the bones, though.”

They sit side by side on the sofa, Tim’s coffee and notebook set aside to make space for the cod on the coffee table. A whole cod is ridiculous between two of them, ostentatiously wasteful for a light lunch in this heat, and Tim wonders what Ra’s is trying to prove this time. Some of that off-balance feeling returns as he eats, and he picks at the white flesh and its oily garlic sauce without much appetite. He breaks it into smaller and smaller pieces, occasionally forcing a flake between his lips, but finally Ra’s is done eating his share and he can abandon the rest.

Ra’s frowns at Tim’s messy plate, the childish attempt to make it look like he’s eaten more than he has failing to fool him.

“I’d like another coffee,” Tim says, glancing at the now cold cup on the floor.

“No.”

Tim blinks. “Please?”

“You won’t sleep during the siesta.”

“I’m not tired,” Tim says. “It’s just an after dinner coffee.”

“You didn’t wear yourself out?” Ra’s raises an eyebrow.

“No.” Tim sighs. He’s clearly not getting more coffee while Ra’s is here, like a child being denied desert because they haven’t eaten their vegetables. "We’re not at the hottest part of the day yet. Before we siesta, do you want a game of chess?"

Ra's glances past him, towards the bed.

“I promise,” Tim says, “I’ll sleep after.”

"Yes, alright then."

Ra's is easy to please. Tim just has to sleep regularly, eat regularly, take his medication, and orgasm on demand. It's the sort of list that looks impossible when he has to do it for himself, but when the lure of praise is dangled in front of him suddenly it seems eminently achievable. Even when his brain revolts and tells him it's all so basic, so business as usual, that needing motivation makes him weak and pathetic, he finds it easier to squash it because he knows Ra's would be proud of him for doing so.

As Tim sets up the chess board, Ra’s removes the remains of their lunch, and returns with a samovar of mint tea and a platter of baklava. He puts the baklava in the centre of the chess table while he pours them both a cup of mint tea. Tim frowns at the sweet treats and moves the dish to the coffee table next to him. He accepts a porcelain cup, takes a sip to be polite, and puts it down without looking, grabbing a flaky cube of honeyed pastry to drive the not-coffee-not-caffienated taste of the tea away.

Ra's smirks, but Tim gets the impression he approves of Tim claiming the baklava.

Sleep. Eat. Orgasm.

He can keep Ra’s happy.

Tim takes another piece of baklava and watches Ra's as he eats it, looking for that flicker of pleasure in Ra's eyes.

Ra's leans over and presses a kiss against Tim's forehead.

"You are easy to read when you want to be," Ra's says.

"Tell me I'm good," Tim says with his mouth full of flaky pastry. "Tell me you appreciate me."

"You are brilliant, young Detective. You are bright and smart and driven and you need to hear it more often than you do. You are so sweetly broken, so perfectly prepared for me."

"That took a creepy turn," Tim says. "Go on."

Ra's chuckles. "Kintsugi."

"Is that the thing with repairing broken crockery with gold?"

"Indeed. You're beautiful."

He's also clever, and he knows Ra's is willing to break whatever he was before to make Tim into something new of Ra's own devising.

Tim tucks his legs under him, enjoying the way Ra's robe envelopes him. He’s always enjoyed oversized clothing, and this is another way to please Ra’s without having to cross any lines. He’s not sure if the switch really is accidental, or if this is another way Ra’s has perfectly prepared him.

He withdraws his hands into the heavy sleeves like a too-large hoodie. The brocade not only gives the sleeves shape that lends drama to Ra's grand gestures, but also conceal what feels like a kitchen's worth of knives.

He can't resist the urge to investigate. The cuffs are folded over and hemmed on the inside. Tim runs his nails along the row of tiny stitches until he finds a break he can slip a finger into. He probes carefully.

Ra's coughs. Tim jerks his hand free guiltily and realises Ra's is waiting for him to make a move.

He starts safely, moving his king's pawn forward two squares. Ra's mirrors the move.

He picks up the queen's bishop and moves it four squares.

Ra's raises an eyebrow. He moves his queen's pawn.

Tim moves his queen on autopilot, unable to resist returning to Ra's sleeves. Why load them with weapons if one can't extract them in a hurry? If you're drawing a knife at your leisure why keep it in your clothes?

Ra's sighs. "Really, Detective?"

"I told you not to call me that."

"You proposed this game, but appear to have no interest in playing."

"I do!"

"You cannot expect me to fall for a fool's mate."

"Sometimes the wood gets lost for the trees, and the most obvious traps are overlooked while you're anticipating the subtle."

Ra's defends his king with his queen. "What really has your attention?"

Tim wiggles a finger inside the seam and finds a blade pointing towards his wrist. He withdraws to find a thin red line blooming on the pad of his finger.

"Of course." Ra's takes Tim’s hand and wets his lips with the bead of blood. He parts his lips with a soft smack and Tim realises he’s been kissed better, even if he feels more like he’s been consumed. "Drawn to shiny metal like a magpie."

Tim snorts, pulling his hand back and smearing the already clotting blood with his thumb. "I'm missing something," he says.

"A sense of self-preservation?"

Tim feels around the outside of the sleeve. Some of the beads are heavier than others, the embroidery holding them in place catching on the blades inside. Or... no. He plucks a bead with his fingers, and a stiletto blade emerges.

"One of your sheathes has split," he says. "The blade is causing your hem to fray."

"Perhaps if you hadn't tugged on the threads so."

"I assumed you wanted to withdraw the blade with your hand hidden inside the sleeve. If you have to pluck and fiddle at the opposite sleeve it's much too obvious."

"If I find myself in a position where I am reliant on blades hidden in my outerwear to defend myself, I have already lost too many battles to make winning the war more than a pyrrhic victory."

Tim takes Ra's queen. Ra's looks down at the board in mild surprise.

"You're saying you'd rather surrender?" Tim asks.

Ra's takes Tim's queen. "I would rather sacrifice a small fraction of my pride in pursuit of complete victory than soothe my ego surrounded by the ashes of my empire."

"Then why arm yourself like this at all?" Tim brings his knight forward to support his bishop.

"To have sufficient tools are my disposal to respond creatively to a changing situation."

Ra's reaches over and takes Tim's hand in his. He pulls it into his lap and begins to extract the slender weapons from his robe. There's another stiletto in there, three darts, two lock picking tools and a narrow glass vial holding a glistening, viscous gold liquid, which Ra's holds up at Tim's eye level.

"Had you shattered this in your exploration, we'd both be unconscious now," he says.

Maybe Tim is a magpie, because it's shiny and beautiful and he wants it. To analyse, of course, and find an antidote to, and incorporate into his own non-lethal arsenal. Not just because it's pretty.

"Can I keep it?" he asks, cocking his head to one side to watch the beads of liquid roll though the tube as Ra's spins it between his fingers.

"If you win this game," Ra's says.

Ah. Well. He probably should have been paying more attention to the board.

They play on, but Tim is careful to moderate the effort he puts in so Ra's won't think he's only interested in winning the vial. Conversation is absent, and Tim find Ra's gaze on him more often than he'd like, sharp and evaluating. Ra's beats him, but narrowly, in the end, and Tim bids a temporary farewell to the mysterious liquid.

"Another game?"

"Please, Timothy, don't force yourself." Ra's snatches Tim's king out from under his fingers and packs it into the delicate shell box it came in.

Tim swallows. "I've upset you."

"You've thought yourself in a position to patronise me." Ra's continues to clear the board. "It is my fault. I have brought you here, dressed you in my clothes, fed you my delicacies, offered you the pleasures of my body, given you sway over my servants, and you have come to take me for granted."

A sharp stab of panic lances between Tim's ribs and he wraps the robe tightly around himself.

"Perhaps a few days of solitude will make you more appreciative."

"No. Please." Tim can't go back to that. "I can show you how much I appreciate you."

He slips from the sofa, onto his knees in front of Ra's. His mouth is inconveniently dry.

Ra's places a hand on Tim's head and shifts in his seat, legs parting around Tim's body. "Have I ever asked you to kneel before me?"

"You've asked me for many things before. You've taken some of them without asking, or tried to." Tim keeps his head low, but his eyes are fixed on Ra's crotch.

"I have wanted your body for some time, and in more than one way, it is true." Ra's pets his hair. "You would make a beautiful vessel for my essence, and a powerful genetic donor to my future lineage, but neither are why I brought you here, now. I want your mind and body in harmony here. When your thoughts stray from my company to dwell on the material possessions around you, I fear I have taken the wrong tack."

"It's your robe," Tim says huskily.

"Ah." There's movement beneath Ra's tunic and Tim watches it, hungrily. "What would happen, Timothy, if I left you here, in it? How long would you wait on this sofa for me, enveloped in the silk of my choosing, surrounded by my personal scent, comfortable in my own chambers, before you began to pleasure yourself?"

"I could do it now," Tim says. He parts his robe and slides a hand down to his cock.

Ra’s shakes his head. “This isn’t about your pleasure, Timothy. You’ve already taken your pleasure, at my expense.”

Ra’s made such a big deal about much he liked seeing Tim take what he wants, but Tim’s crossed an invisible line and he doesn’t know how to get back to the right side of it.

Ra’s like it when he asks Ra’s for the things Ra’s most wants to give him.

“What can I give you?” He lets go of his dick and puts his hands on Ra’s knees. “Please, Ra’s.”

“Address me properly.”

Tim swallows.

“Please,” he says, but the rest of the sentence sticks in his throat. The balance of power has shifted so suddenly he’s reeling, and he’s not willing to let things change.

“I like you like this, on your knees and begging. You are the picture of contrition.”

Tim keeps his gaze fixed on Ra’s crotch. If he’d just get hard, that would be the signal for Tim to lean in, but despite a little movement there’s no tell-tale tenting.

He leans forwards anyway, mouth open, but Ra’s stops him with the hand on the friendship if his head. He tilts Tim’s head back to look him in the eye.

“Do you think you deserve that?”

Tim blinks up at him.

“Answer me.”

“No.”

Ra’s hand curls in his hair, suddenly gentle, and Tim leans into the touch.

“Good boy.”

Tim stays quiet, letting Ra’s caress him.

“I think it’s time we put you to bed,” Ra’s says. “I’ve let you become overwrought. No wonder you can’t focus.”

“You know what’s best for me.”

“You forgot for a while there, didn’t you?”

Ra’s stands. Tim waits a beat before climbing to his feet.

He shucks off the sherwani and climbs into Ra’s bed. Ra’s sits on top of the covers next to him, smoothing them down over Tim’s prone form.

Tim closes his eyes, slows his breathing, and lets Ra’s think he’s fallen asleep.

He’s starting to think he’s not the only one who’s spiraling.

Nesciō, sed fierī sentiō et excrucior.